Outside In…

You’re a product of your environment…

I actually agree with this statement to some extent. When I was in college, I had a roommate from Tennessee who had a southern drawl that I quickly picked up. I mean, after so many conversations and hearing it over and over and over again, it just started to come out of me. Other people actually started to ask me if I was from the South…

When I think about my life, faith, actions, and such… I wonder how much of it is correlated to my time spent with God and in an environment that helps foster my growth as a Christ follower. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that we should have our “holy huddles” and separate ourselves from the rest of the world, but what about time with God and time with fellow believers who encourage us and build us up? I think it’s necessary for us to be in an environment that strengthens as well as challenges us in our journey of faith.

Would love to hear feedback on this. Do you have this kind of environment? Do you think it’s necessary?

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Moments…

As I’ve been stretching and growing these past couple of years, I’ve wrestled much with my faith as a process and a journey. I have to admit that I’m a pendulum swinger when it comes to my thoughts and ideals. I moved so much into the idea that our faith is a process that I completely discounted “moments.” I devalued Sunday service thinking, “it’s just an hour on Sunday.” I wanted to get away from creating events and focus on the long-haul. I know that we yearn to be incarnational and live among the lost that we might build strong relationships and solidarity. We want to move away from programs and events that get in the way sometimes of real, authentic relationship.  

But… are “moments” meaningless? Aren’t there moments that change our lives forever? I think of my revelation of God and Christ. I think about the moment in worship where I felt like God was compelling me to go into the ministry as a pastor. I still remember the sermon that changed the way I looked at my finances and started giving radically. Or, the moment where I heard the word, “Convergence” and ultimately moved my family to Oakland to plant this seed of a dream. There are moments that we experience that lead to real, genuine life change. Moments have more impact than we can ever fully realize…

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.

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!!!

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!!! 🙂

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…