A Posture of Openness…

I was thinking last night about how I approach scripture and God in prayer. I have so many questions about my life and am typically seeking answers. So, I open up my Bible in hopes to find some kind of wisdom for my circumstance/problem. Or I’ll ask God for clarity or help to see my plans through.

I started to wonder, however, if I’m coming at this from a wrong angle. What if I didn’t come in looking for answers to “my” questions or looking for clarity for “my” plans, but instead came in posture of openness and listened more broadly? What if I sought God to and allowed Him to really direct my steps and future instead of asking Him to bless what I bring before Him? I thought of how scary and yet how freeing it would be. It’s scary because I know it would stretch me, break me, and challenge me. It’s freeing because I wouldn’t be so locked into my plan and what I perceive to be “detours” would actually be “the” path…

I come today in a posture of openness…   

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Biblical Time…

More than ever, I’ve been in conversations that have made me think of time from a biblical standpoint. We live in a world where we have weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual goals. And, when something goes wrong or nothing goes on for a bit (like a week or two), we start to stress and worry if what we’re doing is making any difference.
The Bible, however, talks about generations and time spans years, seasons.  The one that sticks out the most is 40 years in a desert. I think about the plight of the Israelites in the desert and how I too would be grumbling and complaining after a few months of daily walking in the desert. Or how I might be tempted to melt some gold after a few decades.
I’m reminded of pace. I’m reminded that we must “daily” give our lives to the Lord and trust that the Holy Spirit will do the rest. I’m further reminded that faith is: “to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1).

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.

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…

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…