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!!!

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.

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!

how our dreams shape us…

i was reading joshua 1 last week where God tells Joshua that Moses is dead and he is now in charge and will lead the people into the promised land.  what kept sticking out to me was the fact that God tells Joshua to enter the land that God had promised them but to be, “strong and courageous.”  he says it three times in the first nine verses!  now, why would Joshua need to be strong and courageous if he was about to enter the “promised land?”  this was the cumlination right?  i mean, they had escaped Egypt, walked through the desert for 40 years so i figure the destination should be a walk in the park right?  NO!!!

as i read through this passage over and over again, i started to see how God was telling Joshua to be strong and courageous in keeping His word; making sure that he doesn’t stray from it at all.  he didn’t say, “be strong and courageous” and go and build up your army.  he calls Joshua to trust in Him and to keep His word. what does this have to do with entering into the promised land?  maybe more than we think…

maybe the pursuit of our dreams has just as much to do with our formation as it does with reaching the destination.  maybe our formation is the purpose for God even giving us the dream/destination in the first place.  maybe walking 40 years in the desert was preparing everyone to trust in God’s provision every day rather than reacting to the environment. He keeps saying that He’s with us and will never leave us or forsake us.  But do we “believe” Him?  Do we “trust” Him?  More often than not, we don’t.  We give in to our fear, the circumstance and believe what we see rather than what we hear from God.  So, maybe God is constantly working to transform our life so that we’re looking to Him rather than what lies before us. Our dreams, then, have just as much to do with changing us as they do with changing the world around us…

remember where you came from…

where do you see yourself in a story?  i believe that more often than not, we assume the role of the hero and the protagonist.  so, when we read the Bible, we always ask ourselves the question of “what would Jesus do?” and live our lives from that perspective.  i was reading the story of the samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and my first instinct was, “i should talk to people that are social outcasts because that’s what Jesus did and would do.”  but as i read the story over and over again, i started to realize that if my perspective changed, so would my life.  i started to realize that i am the samaritan woman.  i have the tendency to isolate myself because of sin.  i am in desperate need of a savior.  i am lost and now found because of Jesus.  i don’t get what Jesus is saying to me all the time and can’t always see beyond what my physical brain understands.  i am the outsider…

knowing that i’m lost and in need of Jesus for my life changes the way i look at everything and everyone.  i think that there’s a difference when we look at those on the margins and find them to be different than us.  i think there’s a loss of humanity that occurs when we no longer know where we came from.  i think that we’ll have a limited compassion and see life from an egocentric worldview instead of a relational one.  we’ll never truly be able to love the way Christ calls us to love unless we know our own need for Him at every moment.

so, as i think about my brothers and sisters who are orphans, widows, homeless, and poor…  they are more than a recipient of my ministry…  they are my family, they are human, they are dearly beloved children of God…

shortsidedness…

i spent last thursday and friday at our denominational conference (PSWC) annual celebration.  it was a powerful time of listening, praying, and reflecting.  one deep conviction that is brewing in me since then is the importance and need to pray more.  i wrestle with this because most of the time nothing “happens” DURING my prayer time.  i’m always hoping that something miraculous will happen on the spot.  don’t get me wrong…  i think that there are moments where revelation and miracle happens in the midst of prayer, but for the most part, i don’t “feel” or “see” anything change during my time of prayer.

as part of the celebration, they honored our previous superintendent (John Notehelfer).  They particularly emphasized the fruit of his prayers in us ten years later.  it was at that moment that i realized that i am so shortsided.  i always want things to happen now.  i always feel like it’s pointless if things don’t change right before my eyes.  i think that it’s more productive to focus on what i can accomplish and finish quickly.  but real, lasting, impactful transformation happens through the power of God and the Holy Spirit.  and, it may not happen in a moment.  and it definitely happens when God’s people fall on their knees and pray. i mean, God calls us to this posture for healing of our communities:

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14

so, maybe we if we can get beyond the shortsidedness of our “quick results” oriented life, we’d get on our knees and truly know in our hearts that it makes a difference in our world when we pray…

the church’s response in oakland…

as everyone knows by now (or should know by now), this past weekend was wrought with tragedy in our city as four oakland police officers were killed.  it’s been tense to say the least.  as a city, we’ve had to deal with the bart shooting (where bart officer shot and killed an unarmed passenger) and now are mourning over the death of four police officers – all within the past 3 months.  it’s a lot for a city to bear.  combine all of this with a national economic crisis and you can only imagine the anxiety and tension that is stirring in our communities.  i was reading this article this morning from the sf chronicle on the church’s response to this crisis (read it here) and i would love to open up the conversation and hear more response from the christian community. let’s talk about this…