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…

Out of Control…

So, I’m breaking my hiatus from blogging today!!! I’ve been spending time offline but am getting back into the swing of writing, sharing, and blogging.

To start things off, here’s a lesson from tomatoes: I came home on Saturday afternoon to find a huge bowl of tomatoes on our dining table.

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My daughters had actually picked the tomatoes from our backyard. A little background and context on this: I planted tomatoes months ago in an attempt to slow down and enjoy the hobby of gardening. I planted them, watered them for a few days and then they were on their own until now. I got really discouraged because ‘tree like’ weeds started growing all around them and seemed to have swallowed them up. I wrote off my tomato plant and thought it was a lost cause. But my kids (Sami’s in the pic below swimming through the weeds to get a tomato) fished through the weeds and pulled out some really solid tomatoes!

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Two things I learned from this day:

1. Just because I didn’t take care of every little detail doesn’t mean that God’s not at work or can’t work…

2. I may plant the seed and not see any growth and the next generation may see and reap the fruit…

It’s absolutely crazy what you can learn about life and ministry from tomatoes…

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!!!

redefining good in a bad way…

i was reading an book on raising infants and it raised a really interesting and insightful truth. why do we refer to babies as “good” or “bad” when it comes to their actions? if a baby cries, doesn’t sleep, and is unconsolable we refer to him/her as a “bad” baby. but if he/she eats well, sleeps well, and rarely cries, we refer to him/her as a “good” baby. interesting… how does that make them good or bad?

i’m wondering if we start redefining things in our lives when things don’t match up. and then i’m wondering if we take these new definitions and use them to evaluate everything… even God. for instance, a “good” baby is one that doesn’t disrupt our lives and makes our lives easy. so now, a “good” God is one who doesn’t disrupt our lives and makes our lives easy. hmmmm… that’s maybe why we ask ourselves the questions, “why would God do this?” “if God is good, why would he make me suffer?” “how could a good God allow pain in my life?” So, is God good? if we define good as not interrupting our lives, not transforming us, not helping us, and making our lives as easy and as comfortable as possible, then maybe not… So, maybe it’s time for us to look to Him to our definition of good and to see Him as truly God. Maybe we should approach God with humility and brokenness so that we can be formed and informed by Him.

The Truth: God is a never changing constant and He is always good.

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!

the “vibe” of success…

whenever we consider success in anything, we need to find some kind of measurable metric.  for church, we look at number of members, number of attendees, tithes and offerings, number of baptisms, etc.  but if we’re genuinely seeking Christ and His transforming power in our lives, how are we going to measure that?  how do we measure “fruit” in someone’s life?  on a broader scale, how do we measure the success of our activity as a missional community? the word that comes to mind is “vibe.”

so, we’re having this community barbecue tomorrow and have passed out over 1,000 fliers all over oakland in hopes of catalyzing community with one another.  being a small church, there’s no way we could accomplish our vision of serving everyone that came so we’ve asked/challenged the community to serve their fellow neighbors.  the response has been amazing!  we have over 30 volunteers who are not part of our church agree to serve at this event.  there are already new relationships being formed because we’ve made the effort to meet new people.  so, how do we measure success?  we established early on that our goal is not to fill our seats on Sunday.  we decided that our goal was to make sure that people spent time forming new relationships throughout the day.  the feel (or the “vibe”) has been awesome so far and we’ll have to rely on that in the short term.  oh, how’s this for vibe? one of our church leaders was passing out fliers in West Oakland the other day and a young boy came up to her and told her that he heard kids at the skate park talking about our “party” this Saturday.  Cool “vibe…” i’m not sure if we can quantify transformation all the time.  i believe that it’s something that we know and feel when we see it and experience it…  vibe…