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.

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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!!!

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…

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…

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…

Weeds…

Sami and Jaci helping give perspective to my weed problem...

Sami and Jaci helping give perspective to my weed problem...

i’ve got weeds growing everywhere!!!  i put a couple shots of one patch that’s in front of my house.  One with my kids and car to give you some perspective on how tall they are and one that’s a bit closer up.  now, i’ve actually got to do some major work to get rid of these bad boys.  i can’t believe how fast they’ve grown.  this patch was dirt when we first moved in 9 months ago and now i can’t even see the dirt!  being a pastor and theologian, i can’t help but look at my weed garden and see the correlation to our lives.  i’ve put off taking care of my garden for almost a year and now i have

Yes, They're ALL Weeds!!!

Yes, They're ALL Weeds!!!

a serious problem that seems totally out of control and overwhelming.  i almost don’t know where to start.  i thought of weeds in my life that are now deeply rooted within me and think of how overwhelming they become when i choose to look away and ignore them.  when they started, they were just small little patches so i thought, “no biggie…  i’ll take care of it later.” after a while though, the crap in my life gets overwhelming and i feel like it’s a lost cause.  did you know that some weeds actually produce these little flowers that almost make them look pretty?  but no, they’re still weeds that grow out of control and start screwing up the rest of the garden.  weeds can be subversive that way.

i sat there thinking about all of the different strategies to kill them.  i’ve heard of different organic solutions (water and vinegar, boiling water, soap and water, etc.) but i’ve chosen to go the old school route of pulling them by hand.  one by one, i’m going to go after them.  since there are so many, i’ve asked my friend to help me out.  interesting isn’t it?  even in this, i can see how community makes such a difference in helping us figure out our junk as well as help us deal with it. wow, when i decide to deal with weeds, it actually brings me closer with people.  interesting.

weeds…  a curse, a blessing…

i’m pretty obsessed with my weeds right now…  enough talking about them.  time to get dirty and deal with them…

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…

finding your voice… a thought on prayer

Praying Manas a pastor, one of the burdens of my heart is the prayer life of my church.  so, in an effort to grow in this area, i thought i would teach our core team this spiritual discipline over the course of four weeks.  when i began to think about how i would teach this, i had to ask myself an even more basic question: what would make me feel like my church was prayerful?  unpacking this quite a bit, i realized that deep inside, there’s a need for people to pray like me.  i wanted people to be eloquent (ok, i may not be that eloquent, but enough to pass in a group prayer), comfortable praying in public, and sharing their prayers.  but, is this what it’s about?  i thought about my own journey and remembered a season when i wanted to listen and hear God.  I remember being at a prayer retreat trying to listen to God when a 1st generation korean woman (these women are true prayer warriors) came up behind me and told me that i needed to start praying.  i thought in my head, “but i’m listening for God.”  she kept pounding my back and egging me on to pray.  so, in a moment of frustration, i shout out, “God, IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT FROM ME???!!!  IS SHOUTING OUT TO YOU WHAT MAKES MY PRAYERS EFFECTIVE???!!!  IS THIS WHAT MATTERS MOST???!!! THEN I’M TRULY LOST!!!”  the woman looked at me said, “good…  keep going…”  i felt completely empty at that moment.

i realized that we enter into prayer in different seasons of life and in different ways because we’re in different places in our faith journey.  i realized that we have different needs, different backgrounds, and different degrees of education.  so would we or should we all pray the same?  maybe as a leader, pastor, and teacher i’m called to help people find their voice in prayer.  maybe i’m more of a barrier breaker than a method maker.  maybe we’d all be more honest in prayer if it reflected who we are… have you found your voice?