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!

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…

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…

Dreams and Fears…

Our church is launching a new teaching series on ‘Fear’.  As we launch this new series, we’re asking people that we connect with over the internet to join us in the conversation.  We’re hoping to hear your visions and dreams that are lying dormant because of fear and we’re also hoping to name the fears that are preventing you from living out those dreams.  You can join in here at my blog by posting comments, our facebook group, or follow us at twitter.  Either way, I hope you’re willing to join us as we discover our fears as well as discover what the Scriptures say about dealing with them.
So, to get things kick started, I thought I’d share a fear of mine that prevents me from being free with my thoughts, words, and ministry.  I have a dream of this church (convergence) and in my journey to plant this church; I’ve encountered my own fears of criticism and rejection.  My fears of rejection actually prevent me from writing, talking, and broadening my communication of this message that I believe that God has given me.  It’s so crazy.  I sometimes catch myself deleting words that I’ve written for blogs, sermons, and other communication because I feel like “It’s not perfect enough” or because I convince myself that it won’t amount to much.

my dream is for a church that reflects our city (Oakland) in all of its diversity.  my hope is for a community of faith that would seek Christ with every ounce of its being.  i imagine a community that serves their city and emanates the compassion, mercy, and justice of Christ.

what are you dreams?   what are your fears?  let’s help one another live the life that God calls us to live.  let’s serve one another by breaking down the barriers that prevent us from living our fullest life.  let’s be liberated and liberate!!!

eating humble pie… sort of…

my shortsidedness and hard headedness never ceases to amaze me.  i was preaching this past sunday on John 4.  on of the sections was about the disciples urging Jesus to eat and him responding, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”  He’s talking about doing this will of his Father and they’re still thinking about food.  i’ve been so convicted of this truth.  I believe that we still think that we’re “not ready” or that we “need to be fed more.”  but, the truth is that when we act and step out in faith, we grow and we become stronger.  in essence, we are fed.  it’s crazy that the disciples have been walking with Jesus and yet when he talks about this, they are wondering what literal food he’s talking about.  Whereas, Jesus will always talk about the nourishment of our souls being the thing that satisfies us to our deepest core.

anyhow, i’m preaching this word and  i’m thinking that i’m getting it in me as well.  but that wasn’t necessarily the case.  we had our monthly potluck dinner after our gathering and while i’m eating and talking a guy taps me on the shoulder to say hi.  it’s one of our brothers from the street that hasn’t been around in a while.  he’s talking to me and telling me that it’s been a long time and that so much has changed.  i tell him that it’s good that he’s here and that it’s good that he came tonight since it’s potluck night and he’d be able to eat.  he comes up to me again about 20 minutes later and says, “you know… life is more than just food.  i want and need something more.  i’ll be here next week for the service.”

i sat there speechless and humbled.  i had just finished preaching a message about a greater food that satisfies our soul, and immediately need to be reminded by my homeless and hungry brother that life is about more than just food for our bodies.  this was definitely a humbling reminder that God’s word doesn’t need to just flow through me, but needs to flow in me as well…

Solitude is the Furnace of Transformation – Henri Nouwen…

I hate being alone!!!  I can’t stand it.  On a Meyer-Briggs personality profile, I’m a capital “E” for Extrovert.  I have no “I” in me.  I get so fueled by being surrounded by people and have to be pulled away from the crowd in order to get me out of it.  But… this past year has been a season of more alone time than I’m particularly used to.  And it has been in this alone time that I’ve had to face some incredible, dysfunctional junk in my life.  People have asked me about my journey of church planting and I’ve openly shared that it’s been a hard and painful year.  Mostly, I’ve had to face the incredible fear and insecurity that is deeply rooted in my heart and soul.  Being alone forces me to find my identity in Christ alone.  I’m so easily swayed to find significance and worth in others and how they “feel” about me.  Simply put, I’ve heard the question from God: “Why do you want to plant this church? Is it because you love people? Or is it because you want to be successful in your ministry?”  It’s humbling and almost shaming to answer honestly.  I do love people!!!  But when I’m honest with myself, I know that I love me more.   And I know that I wrestle with my sense of self-worth.  This is why my times of solitude shape me and help me cling to Christ all the more.  It’s in my aloneness that I have no one to turn to and have no way to fix me on my own.  It breaks me into a posture of opening my life to Jesus.  I was sharing my process and journey with my previous pastor (Dave Gibbons – Newsong Community Church) and he recommended reading Henri Nowen’s book “The Way of the Heart.”  Nouwen beautifully portrays my struggle and has helped me to embrace my time of solitude rather than run from it.

There is so much more I’ve learned from my times of solitude.  More will come next week…

More Faith Please…

Faith is such an interesting thing.  We yearn for more of it and yet have a hard time when God starts to culitvate it in us.  I would pray the prayer, “increase my faith God!!!”  and for some odd, ironic reason, I think that life is supposed to get easier.  I’ll read more Scripture, pray more, share more and think that I’m growing in my faith, but am I really?  I’m growing in knowledge and maybe some wisdom, but I really am growing in my faith, I think that life is supposed to get really crazy.  I’m thinking that I’m going to have to face major pain and struggles and there find greater faith.  Isn’t it weird?  I think that we want more faith so that life can get easier.  I ask for it so that I can handle what comes my way.  But when I ask for more… life starts to get pretty dangerous, difficult, and crazy.

I’m a church planter (Convergence) in an urban context (Oakland) which completely doesn’t match up with my upbringing.  I moved my family out here to follow a calling on my life.  I’ve been living the last two years in absolute uncertainty and yet I’m growing in peace, I’m growing in faith, and I’m learning to trust in God.  So, my prayer to God for more faith is coming true.  It isn’t what I expected, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world…

vision enabler…

I’m sitting here at the Catalyst West Conference and just heard Erwin Mcmanus speak on leading our most heroic life by helping others pursuit their dreams. It reminded me of this word that was given to me years ago. I remember wrestling with my role as a pastor and leader. I remember having a conversation with my friend and sharing about the concept of venture capitalism (VC). I told him at that moment that I think I’m supposed to be a ‘VE’- a Vision Enabler. I want to help people discover and realize the vision/dream that God places on people’s hearts an minds. I am constantly reminded of this role for me as I was contemplating creating Convergence in Oakland. Two years ago, I was reading the Bible which says, ‘the purposes in a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws it out.’ (Proverbs 20:5). I read that in the morning and then another pastor friend of mine (Dale Sanderson of Wellspring Covenant Church) started to share with me how his entire church was trying to become the ‘man of understanding.’ Imagine what our communities would look like if we started to unlock and enable the ‘God-given’ purpose and potential in those around us. What would our communities look like if we genuinely and fully gave our lives to others. Imagine…