Outside In…

You’re a product of your environment…

I actually agree with this statement to some extent. When I was in college, I had a roommate from Tennessee who had a southern drawl that I quickly picked up. I mean, after so many conversations and hearing it over and over and over again, it just started to come out of me. Other people actually started to ask me if I was from the South…

When I think about my life, faith, actions, and such… I wonder how much of it is correlated to my time spent with God and in an environment that helps foster my growth as a Christ follower. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that we should have our “holy huddles” and separate ourselves from the rest of the world, but what about time with God and time with fellow believers who encourage us and build us up? I think it’s necessary for us to be in an environment that strengthens as well as challenges us in our journey of faith.

Would love to hear feedback on this. Do you have this kind of environment? Do you think it’s necessary?

in it together…

i’ve been in denver all week at our annual mid-winter conference for the evangelical covenant church (www.covchurch.org). it has been an amazing time of hearing God’s word, praying, making new friends, and catching up with other friends. what i’ve learned most from this trip is the beauty and power of living and serving together.

we are typically individualistically driven (at least I am.;)) and concerned with our own progress and growth in life, but it’s so apparent, when gathering with others, that it’s so much sweeter when we have a communal and collective mindset. the covenant church pastors refer to one another as ‘mission friends’ which is a great description of God’s kingdom. it means we have a high value of our mission as well as a high value of relationship. we ARE in it together and need to remember that others need our encouragement just as much as we need it.

i’m so excited to be a part of building the Kingdom rather than a single church. i’m grateful to be part of the greater body of believers and value our friendships as we move forward to change lives and make disciples of all nations!!!

Core Strength…

I have to admit that 2009 was my worse and toughest physical year yet. I slacked on my workouts and slacked even further when I fell from a ladder in my garage and tweeked my back. In the Fall, I passed out from fatigue and had to force myself to rest and take my health more seriously. Through all of this, I’ve definitely become more aware of the necessity to keep my core strong. I don’t work out the vanity muscles anymore (c’mon guys, you know what i’m talking about – the biceps) but rather make sure that my core muscles are in shape – i.e. abs and lower back.
This idea of “core strength” is challenging to me as I consider my spiritual well being as well. I think that it’s what Christ means when he talks about doing things like praying and giving in secret instead of displaying them in public. I think it’s what Paul means when he talks about Christ in us and growing in “inner strength” through his Spirit (Ephesians 3:16). If we remain focused on our public display of strength and only work out those muscles (spiritual or physical), we may be weaker than we think. My inner strength grows as I continue to trust in HIm and as I continue to give more and more of my will over to Him. It’s from this “core” that I’m able to make tough decisions, remain steadfast in times of uncertainty or opposition, and love when it seems like it’s impossible to do so… How’s your core? How would you gauge your inner strength?

A Day, A Week, A Month, A Year, A Decade, A Generation…

How long are we wiling to wait to see results? We typically have short-term goals and long-term goals that we create and aim for, but there’s this nagging monkey on our back that’s called impatience and pressure to always meet our goals on time if not ahead of time. In business and in ministry, we’ll make annual evaluations to see what we’ll continue to do and what we’ll stop doing. This has always intrigued me because the expectation of the “speed of change” is so high.

When I consider the pressure to perform and create results in this fast-paced environment, I can’t help but think about the ramifications (good and bad) that emerge. It’s good to be highly flexible and adaptive, but I also think that we can end of short-cutting and killing some things that are good, but take time. I also think that the shorter time intervals reinforces a selfish nature. I consider philanthropy and how at times there is pressure from donors to “perform” based on their investment. They want a return on their charitable contribution because they want to know that their money is well invested (even charity). This, however, is a self-fulfilling, demand driven philanthropy that can choke the beauty and long term development of an organization/movement.

All this is to say… how long are we willing to wait? Do we believe in patience? Moses led a movement through the desert to the promised land but never made it. Are we willing to be a generation that moves without ‘seeing’ results? Are we willing to invest everything that we have and every fiber of our being for the sake of the next generation? Imagine the potential for true, sustaining change…

The Manna Project

Israel, Egypt, and the Exodus

Where we see ourselves…

The old testament is filled with story.  When we typically read any story, we find ourselves choosing a perspective.  This perspective is typically the one of the protagonist/hero or the victim/oppressed in need of saving.  Very rarely if at all do we read ourselves into the role of the antagonist/villain.

A call to repentance…

God poured out grace to Pharaoh.  He was allowed the opportunity to repent and free the Israelites.  His heart, however, grew harder and his stubbornness became impenetrable.  Egypt was an empire and Pharaoh was the center of its leadership, authority, and power.  Its economy demanded more so that it could consume more.  It was oppressive in nature because of the demands for excess.

The desert…

God calls us into the desert in order to simplify and purge out the strongholds that have become mini-gods in our lives.  It is a trying time that sometimes leads us to believe that God is absent more than He is present.  It’s a time where we feel displaced and unsure of our survivability.  We feel like we’re living backwards because we hold on to the belief that adding things to our lives creates our identity.  It is in the desert, however, where we learn to wholly depend on God and truly discover that He is all we need and the source of our true identity.

Manna…

God is our provider in every way.  When the Israelites were walking through the desert, they began to hunger and so God provided manna.  The caveat of manna was that you were only to collect what was needed for the day.  If they collected more (hoarding), it would mold.  Why would God do this?  Maybe the better question is “Why would we do this?” Hoard that is.  Maybe it’s because deep down they didn’t trust that God would provide for them day after day.  Deep down they weren’t sure about God.  Are we any different?

Present Day Significance…

We are facing one of the greatest economic crises in history.  We are a credit-based community and it has now reached a point where we are over leveraged and our debt must to be paid.

Who are we in the story?  Are we the Israelites in need of saving? Yes.  Are we the Egyptians who are held captive to a self-power driven, empire model of life? Yes.

In either role, we are a people being called to repent and a people called to the desert where we can once again learn that God is our sustenance.  We are to relearn discipleship – a genuine following of and trust in Jesus.

What will we do? Where do we begin?

I believe that we are to examine our lives and make some changes.  There needs to be an evaluation of our life that includes: what we buy, who we buy from, how much we consume, how much we give, etc…

We can begin by taking an inventory of our assets (money and goods).  And, as we pray, we can consider what we need and what is genuine excess in our lives.  This is not a “get rid of our junk” session. It’s a time to be honest with God and with ourselves about who and what we live for.

Next Step?

My conviction is that we are to take our excess and find some way to match it up with those who are in need.  There are still questions (i.e. how do we determine who is in need? Or how do we find those who are in need?) that are unanswered, but this is version 1.0 of this conviction that God has given me.  I share it with you for your feedback, your counsel, and potentially your support.

you adulterous people!!!

ok, so the title of this entry might strike  a defensive or even hostile chord in your heart, but it’s an important truth that we “all” need to understand.  at times in Scripture, God’s chosen people are referred to as “adulterous people” or an “adulterous generation” or as “adulterer’s.”  though the language may seem incredibly harsh and may make us want to cringe, we are adulterers and need to understand why it’s such an important truth for us as Christians and as human beings.

many of us will look at our Spiritual lives and think that we’re doing well or not doing so well and we’ll typically gage this based on a list of actions and morality: i pray or i don’t pray, i read my Bible or i don’t read my Bible, i’m serving or i’m not serving, i’m not ‘sinning’ or i’m ‘sinning’ more than i ought.  then, once we’ve assessed ourselves, we’ll make some kind of correction by trying harder.  the issue with this is that everything is relational in God’s kingdom and in this world.  our spirituality and our growth is not a list of tasks that we “must” fulfill, but a relationship with the living God.  doing the right things is meant to be the fruit of a devoted relationship with God through Christ.  We, however, make it about self development and self improvement.

So, why are we adulterous? because if everything is relational, then when we sin it’s not merely about doing something wrong or being wrong; it’s about breaking our relationship with God.  it’s about breaking our covenant with Him.  it’s like breaking our marriage vows (adulterous).  i can’t go to my wife and tell her that i love her and am devoted to her but still demand that i will still do whatever i want.  that doesn’t make any sense at all.

now, if we look at “sin” in this context, it changes everything.  maybe we would grieve more about breaking God’s heart rather than only focusing on our failure.  maybe we would understand that our “sin” doesn’t just affect us, but it has impact in our relationships and relationship with God.  maybe repentance would look different too since it’s not about doing it better, but about loving more.

It’s Not about Size…

we always think that size determines our success or ability to influence. but it’s not necessarily true. i’m in the midst of reading and studying the book of James and he reminds us that destructive power is beheld in this tiny entity called the tongue. remember when we were kids and chanted the mantra, “sticks and stones will break our bones, but names will never hurt me!” i’m not so sure about that. i think that physical pain heals, but emotional scars can last a lifetime. i still remember when someone took a shot at my preaching by saying that “a dog could preach better.” i brushed it off, but it hasn’t left my memory. it’s a remark that somehow enhances an existing insecurity and makes it all the more difficult to move forward and grow. i also remember when a teacher long ago told me that she saw incredible success in my future. these words embedded hope and inspiration whenever i feel like a failure. words are absolutely powerful. they can inspire us to accomplish more than we ever imagined possible or they can kill our spirit to a point where we are physically immobilized. what words do you speak? do you give life? or do you destroy life? james calls us to tame our tongue. he questions how we bless God and yet curse people who are made in His likeness. And he tells us that this should not be so. know that your tongue has great power – power to kill or power to heal. and, know that what you speak changes our world!!!

Worthless Religion…

as i’m continuing to study the book of james, i realize more and more the connection between what we believe and our day to day actions. james goes so far as to say that the lack of an outward expression of our faith makes our religion worthless!!! (1:26) in fact, we deceive ourselves if we think that don’t live what we believe. i was reading an excerpt from ReJesus where it talks about Shane Claiborne (author of The Irresistable Revolution) taking a survey of a group identifying themselves as “strong followers of Jesus” and asking them, “Did Jesus spend time with the poor?” 80% of the group replied “yes,” while 20% responded “no.” The more baffling and humbling statistic is when the same group was asked if “they spent time with the poor,” only 2% responded that they did. I think that James would call their religion useless. sounds harsh doesn’t it? but it’s truth. even if they were some of the nicest people on the planet, their lack of action makes their religion worth nothing at all.

so… what happens when we read the Bible? do we read it as if it were an entertainment magazine? do we read it to stimulate our minds? or do we know it as the breath of God that gives us life and directs our life? it makes all the difference in the world! it may be the difference between true religion and one that’s worthless. it may be the difference between life and death!

next week, i’m going to be sharing a new initiative that i’m starting over the summer called the “manna” project. if you have been reading my blog and are interested in being a part of changing your community and living our your faith, then stay tuned next week and please invite everyone you know to connect with me here!!! 🙂

Love Can Change the World

Do you believe that “Love can change the world?” I think that we think it, say it, but don’t necessarily believe it or live like it. As I’ve been reading scripture, I’m constantly reminded about the power of love and the need to give it freely. I also am constantly reminded that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (change) and not control or manipulation. I still admit that I default at times to control games and subversive forms of manipulation to try and change people. As a parent, I sometimes have to punish my kids. But do I really think that punishment will change their behavior in the long run? I don’t think so. I believe that a moment of love has more power than years or even decades of judgement.

I was watching a clip from “les miserables” last week. It’s the opening scene where jean valjean is just released from prison (20+ years of hard labor for stealing bread) on his way to meet his parole officer and is invited into the home of a catholic bishop for dinner. Jean Valjean can’t believe that he’s being let in and keeps reminding the bishop that he’s a criminal, he just got out of prison, and he’s dangerous. The paper in his hand says that he’s dangerous. In the night, Jean has nightmares of his time in prison. He woke up remembering exactly who he is (or at least who he’s been told he is). Then he gets up and steals the bishop’s silver spoons and when he’s caught in the act, he knocks out the bishop and flees. The next morning, he’s caught by the police and brought back to the bishops home. When the police ask the bishop if he knows the man, he says, “yes.” And when asked if he really had given Jean the silver spoons as a gift (Jean’s story to the police), he says, “yes I did. But I’m very disappointed in you Jean. Why did you not take the candlesticks? They’re worth more than the spoons.” Then he draws up close to Jean and stares into his most humbled eyes and declares that he’s bought his life back unto God.

In this moment, Jean’s whole life is changed. Year’s of prison that was supposed to reform him did nothing but destroy his humanity. Yet, in a moment of radical love and radical grace, his life is changed forever. Love can change the world! And if we choose to love, perhaps we can be a part of changing it!

Speed…

so, my big question that i’ve been wrestling with for some time now that always gets rekindled when i come to a gathering of pastors and leaders is: “what does speed have to do with the power of the Holy Spirit?”

i ask this question because it seems that we’re mezmerized by the “fastest growing this…” and the “speed at which things get accomplished…”  oddly, it creates this anxiety in me that i’m moving too slowly and that i’m always fighting failure since i’m slowing down.  the affirmation of speed as it correlates to the power and presence of God also makes me feel like I don’t have that much power and presence of God in my life.  i’m sure i’m writing and thinking out of insecurity, but it’s hard when it’s in your face all the time and all around you.

what does the affirmation of speed create in me?  i think that i become more shallow.  i move from person to person because i don’t have time.  i’m very selective with my meetings in order to accomplish my agenda which needs to be accomplished quickly.  i work so hard that i can never “enjoy” the moment or the blessing right before me.  what’s worse is that i’m pretty sure i make others around me more anxious about moving too slowly and make them feel like lazy sluggards for not helping our community grow.  sorry…:)

i always think about the high probability that Jesus would be fired from most churches today because he wouldn’t be effective enough.  I think that he would be judged for only amassing 12 followers over the course of 3 years and the fact that 1 of them betrayed him only adds icing to the cake of the argument.  he deeply invested in his disciples and gave himself away.  he took the time to be with them and walked with them through ministry.

i fight for peace in my life all the time.  when someone asks how my church is going (codespeak for how’s attendance?) i always cringe a bit.  but, i believe that people in my church are growing.  i believe that we’re learning through the scriptures and through our experiences in our community.  i believe that strongholds are being broken and people are feeling more and more liberated.  i believe that we’re seeking after Christ and valuing our “relationship” with our Savior verus just trying to “fix” our junk.  so… i think we’re growing… really growing…