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?

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!

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!!!

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…

The Passion of the Christ…

Our core group got together tonight to watch the Passion of the Christ.  I’ve watched this movie twice now – once when it first came out in theaters and once again tonight.  I have to say that it’s an incredibly made movie and really brings the Scriptures to visual life.  So, kudos to Mel Gibson for a job well done…

I wanted to write my thoughts this time around, however, because they’re a bit different from my first viewing.  The first time I saw this move and even this time around, my heart breaks at the sight of Jesus being brutalized for our sin.  I was overwhelmed by guilt, shame, and gratitude all at the same time.  I couldn’t help but think about how I am like the Roman soldiers at times, like the Jewish Pharisees at others, and even like Pilate who thought that indifference would absolve him from responsibility.

This time, however, I kept hearing Jesus’s powerful words of forgiveness piercing my heart.  I kept hearing his voice speak out, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do…” and “You’ve heard it said, ‘love your friends and despise your enemies,’ but i tell you, “love your enemies…”  Jesus is praying for those who are persecuting Him.  He says to take heart when people hate you on account of Him because they hated Him first.  My gut kept yearning for justice.  I was hoping for vengeance.  I kept thinking about everyone who was persecuting Him getting theirs in the end.  I kept wanting WRATH!!!  But, His unconditional, never changing, ever forgiving love kept piercing my heart and soul. His voice kept whispering through my anger and disdain “He dies FOR us.”  He didn’t just bear the cross, He laid His life down on the cross FOR us.  This whisper started to change every emotion in me and started to affect me more than the loudest shouts of revenge.  HE GIVES HIS LIFE FOR US…

I am in desperate need of this grace.  And in my desperation, I now have this incredible desire to offer it…