5 Things We Need to Remember


Over the last 48 hours I’ve experienced the full gambit of emotions and have seen inspiring and terrifying responses from people all across the political and religious spectrum. In my attempts to process where I am at, what I believe, and how I move forward, I’ve written down these five things I know to have been true before the election and will continue to be true.

There has never been and will never be an obvious or clear “Christian” vote. Politics, and people in particular, are far too complicated, nuanced and multilayered to propagate the notion of “obvious” or “clear” votes for all Christians. There will always be faithful and thoughtful followers of Jesus who vote differently. The Church has always been built on diverse people. This diversity cannot be avoided. We must remember there has only been one clear embodiment all that we should desire and place our hope in, Jesus, and He allowed himself to be murdered by a mob consisting of all political and religious affiliations. Since Christ, every person with any degree of influence has held (and will hold) unimaginable brokenness as well as potential for good. It is important to recognize this in ourselves and others.

Recognize and call out the humanity in all people. As I said already, people are incredible complex and multilayered. We must not reduce a person’s or group of people’s humanity to an oversimplified caricature based largely on our assumptions of who we think they are or what their motivations might be. We must stay away from broad brush generalizations and keep ourselves from creating false dichotomies (i.e Vote for Hillary or accept that you’re a racist. Vote for Trump or accept you’re a baby-killer.) which do nothing except dehumanize, over-simplify, and further entrench divisions between people. Recognize and call out people’s inherent good as image bearers of God by bestowing honor, dignity, and grace upon while consistently inviting them to join you in a deeper and more faithful pursuit of holiness, righteousness, and justice in our lives.

Do not become what you were afraid of or hate in others. One of my biggest fears if president-elect Trump lost was that he would refuse to accept the results of the election and, even worse, those who support him would refuse to accept the results as well. While we have avoided this scenario, #NotMyPresident has been trending real strong on social media and protests have begun all across the country. As Christ-followers, and really as a nation, regardless of who you voted or why you chose not to vote, we must be self aware enough to not exhibit the qualities we are most repulses us in others. We must not disengage or close ourselves off and/or pridefully gloat and kick others while they are down. President-elect Trump is our president so together we must fervently demand/expect and encourage/call out the best of him while he is in office.

Christ stands in favor and opposition of all of us. Let us not over complicate this matter. The cross, that we as Christians hold central to all we believe and all of who we are, stands as the exclamation point on this statement. I’ve learned this from Mike Erre as I’ve listened to his podcast. We must remember tChrist leads with grace for all people on every issue while simultaneously show us where we are wrong or coming up short on every issue as well. This is what the cross emphasizes. He leads with grace by willingly and voluntarily giving up his life but in that very act places the evil within all of us in the spotlight. We need to approach our views of and conversations with people with the confidence and humility this understanding brings. In this recognition there is room to believe that celebration does not vilify grief and that grief does not shame celebration.

We must seek the Kingdom of God in tangible ways here on earth as it is in Heaven. Taking all four of these thoughts into consideration, we recognize there was never, and will never, be a candidate who expedites the manifestation of the Kingdom of God hear on earth. It will always grow as a seed from the ground through the expressions of love, pursuits of justice, acts of compassion, and expectations for righteousness from those who stand as one in Christ. The kingdom of God, as described in the Bible, has room for ever tribe, nation, and language. We need to create room at our tables for all people so that there can be a recognition of the complexities of life, dignity in all people, the grace and admonition of Christ in our lives, and the Kingdom seeds bearing fruit in all places.

I need your help believing and living into these five thoughts because I know I have failed in many ways and have significant blindspots. Lets we walk forward together in this as we break bread of fellowship, drink the wine of sacrifice, and experience the freshness of Christ’s love, grace, and God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in Heaven.

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The Years Have Seemed Like Days


I have been in full-time church based ministry for seven years now. I began working as one of two full-time pastors at a church in Stockton, California three months after my December graduation from North Park University.  This past weekend I took some time to think about the past seven years and there were two passages that kept resonating like songs in my soul. They are: 

2 Corinthians 3:18

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

 

Genesis 29:20

Jacob worked for Rachel for seven years, but it seemed like a few days because he loved her.

I’ve learned over the past seven years that God has never seen his task with me as fixing one problem after another but rather moving me from one degree of glory to another. Understanding how God sees you and what he says about you is pivotal in negotiating the tormenting waves of success and failure while you’re choosing to live out that which you feel you’re being called to.

I have also learned there is no substitute for genuine love. Too many times I’ve fooled myself by calling my cynical opinions and views “apostolic” or “prophetic” words for the bride of Christ. While these flowery and “authoritative” words seem to hold a lot of weight, they truly slowed my days, and ministry, to a crawl. The times when the days turn into weeks which quickly have turned into years is when my love for the calling God has laid upon me is consumed with a genuine love for the one who has called. 

As I reflect on the past seven years I can’t help but ask; is the Church in better shape since I started seven years ago? Are the communities I’ve been privileged to serve in stronger because of my time with them? Maybe. Maybe not. Will I still be working within the youth ministry world in another seven years? Will my calling to serve in full-time church based ministry continue over the next seven years? Maybe. Maybe not. Will God continue to transform me from one degree of glory to another through what he has planned? Will my love for him continue to make the next seven years seem like mere days? Absolutely. While Christina and I have no plans for any big moves or changes I will fervently grasp to the present while dreaming of the future with great excitement! 

The Secret Behind Becoming a Radical Christian


Longevity.

There it is. I wish it was something that was deeper and more profound. I wish I had some witty antidote or could break new theological ground in it’s unveiling or even wish that I came to me in a vision that I can now share with the world. But truth be told – I’ve learned the secret behind becoming the Radical Christian that is so hotly talked about and debated these days simply by sticking around.

Why did we start listening to some southern white boy with dreads, dawned in clothes he made himself, living in the ghettos of Philadelphia? Because it was crazy. Why do we keep listening to Shane Claiborne? Because he’s still living there. He’s still making his own clothes. His still championing the poor, the Gospel, the messages he was espousing since day one. He’s still there.

Why did I read some book that challenged everyone’s understanding of God’s crazy love, written by another Southern California mega-church pastor? Because it was a New York Times Bestseller and I like edgy things. Why do I keep listening to Francis Chan for wisdom and council? Because he’s continued to press further and further into the vision that Christ has placed in his heart and the message on placed in his mouth.

Why do I heed every word about faith and church that comes from my 93 year old grandfather who does little by way of today’s “radical faith” definition? Because he’s shown a dedication to his community of faith that is unmatched and unseen any where else in my life. He’s been a bedrock voice, support, challenger, and encourager in his family of faith for more years than I can imagine.

What is it about my grandmother’s life that humbles my greatest theologies, paradigms, programs, and experiences in ministry? Her 50 years of teaching Sunday at the same church. If I’m conservative and say she had 6 kids every year she taught Sunday school, that’s 300 kids the spent an entire year with! Judging by the attendance at her funeral a few years back, she had well more than 6 kids each of those years.

We debate what makes radical faith. We die on hills we call social justice, faith alone, modernity, post-modernity, depth in tradition, life in relevancy, and a thousand more hills with a thousand more names. Here’s the deal: We worship a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He’s sovereign over that which makes your soul burn deep and bright and hot for the Gospel of Christ and his Kingdom come. Yet, whatever it is that is burning deep in your soul leading you to make great sacrifices, go on great adventures, invest deeply, and submit continually here’s my plea: STAY WITH IT!

In four years, my parents will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. In a country where approximately half of all marriages end in divorce, 40 years of faithful marriage is radical. In a country of church shopping, splitting, and reinventing 50 years of faithful attendance, service, and membership is radical. In a country where everyone wants to be the change in every #trending cause, 20 years of dedication to serving the homeless, advocating the end of human trafficking, or raising generations whose faith sticks past adolescence is radical. If we set out to be a radical Christian today. We can call myself radical today. If we set out to have longevity in our faith, mission, and call in Christ, we’ll be remembered as a Christians who undeniably lived radically.

Thoughts on Confessions and Compliments


There’s a new trend on Facebook (though it’s not a new idea or outlet) where someone will create a Facebook page for their city or school as a platform for people to anonymously make confessions or leave compliments. As a high school youth pastor both these have been filling up my Facebook newsfeed with students comments and my inbox from concerned parents. I have two thoughts about this all; one to high school students, who seem to be the primary demographic for both confession and compliment pages, and one to parents, who seem to be the most shocked and appalled by the confession pages.

To our teenagers: An anonymous confession is like jumping out of a sinking boat without a life raft. In one moment you’re relieved to have escaped the sinking boat only to find yourself now struggling by yourself to keep yourself afloat on your own strength. When we have the courage to bring people with us into our pain, shame, and insecurity that riddles all our lives (yes, everyone!) we become a people who keep each other afloat. There have been many times in my life where I have had anonymous notes complimenting me on something I’ve done or something that someone sees me to be. As much as I value these gestures, the compliments that have most impacted my life or shaped my view of myself are the ones spoken to me face-to-face or read in an email from someone who personally acknowledges what they appreciate about me.

Confessions and compliments are best done and received in relationship. Why? Because as humans we have this amazing, relentless desire to be known. When we confess something, whether its a shock-and-awe confession on a Facebook page or the last hope confession of a broken heart, we want to be recognized and seen as valuable. (“Wow, you’re the one who wrote that crazy post on the confession page! You’re hilarious!” or “I’m so sorry for the pain that you’re experiencing, I can imagine and will be with you while you heal.” Both are desired responses in attempts to be recognized.) This is why face-to-face compliments are so essential. Don’t steal an opportunity to potentially change the trajectory of a kid’s day because you’re afraid to publicly affirm them.

When I look at Jesus, he is always present to hear my confessions and speak affirmation   in grace and sincerity. Read the Gospel. Jesus came not in anonymity, not as some far off deity that hides behind stone statues, monstrous cathedrals, or religious song and dance. He came to see us in our brokenness then walk us into transformation through his most public affirmation of his love for us, the cross. As the Church, can we be better at cultivating a community that can handle people’s confessions in grace and lead each other to Jesus through our constant public affirmations of each other? Be vulnerable in our confessions and bold in our compliments because you are a generation who values relationships and connection in profound ways. I want to argue that for teenagers in Lamorinda this is the greatest way you can make significant changes in your circle of friends, our school, and our city.

To Parents: These confession and compliment pages should be great news! Has there ever been an easier segway to connect with our kids and their friends in ways that lead to significant conversations? Teenagers in our town are creating PUBLIC PLATFORMS to air what can be very PRIVATE REALITIES! If you have spent any time browsing the confessions page, it can be disconcerting to say the least thinking about what our teens are thinking, writing, or even doing. Yet if we can keep a broader perspective of what is being posted we can begin asking some really awesome questions! “What do you think about the confessions page?” “How seriously do you take what is written?” “What are the benefits or drawbacks of anonymous confessions and compliments?” “If you have a big confession to make, who would you feel most comfortable talking to?”

Parents, let’s be aware and discerning in all that our kids and teenagers in our community are participating in. I pray that within that process we can see how, with a Kingdom of God redemptive perspective, we have great opportunities to build relationships, teach accountable confession, and affirm our teens in amazing ways!

The Kingdom of Heaven Belongs to Such as These


Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

Christina and I have the sweet pleasure of knowing dozens of close friends doing amazing kingdom work all across the world. One of our closest friends who has sacrificed, labored, and benefited greatly in her following and reflecting of Jesus is our friend Autumn Buzzell.

Autumn works with City of Refuge Ministries and founded Faith Roots International Academy in conjunction with City of Refuge. The purpose of COR is to rescue children who are enslaved as forced laborers in fishing villages on Lake Volta, the worlds largest man made lake. Children are often sold or given away to fishermen from families who are either too poor and hopeless to believe they can care for their children or are manipulated into believing that their whole family will benefit financially from sending their children away. COR ministry rescues, rehabilitates, nurtures, educates, and raises children they have negotiated for (as opposed to re-captured) as well as orphans who are brought to them.

Recently Andrew and Kika Grupe decided they were going to spend three weeks with Autumn and City of Refuge Ministries. One amazing side note: They brought their 13 year old daughter with them!

Kika, who is a preschool teacher, went knowing she was going to be providing, training, and implementing preschool curriculum at Faith Roots. Andrew, who is a photographer by hobby & passion, went knowing he was going to be capturing the stories, truths, and realities they experienced so they could be shared back in the US. Kaley wasn’t sure what she was going to be doing but recently she wrote about her experience and it greatly inspired, challenged, and moved me. I’m thankful that this family, particularly Kaley, are good friends of ours and are passionate Christ followers within our community and world! Here is Kaley’s story.

Oh man. Ghana. I mean, what can I say? It’s kind of expected to say that it was amazing. But, truly, it was more than that. It was more than I could ever really describe to someone. It was eye opening, full of love, full of sadness, full of wicked attempts of evil, and full of hope. There was so much that happened, and it’s so hard for me to respond when someone asks how it was, or what it was like. I mean, yes, it was great, but it goes beyond that. It was like a message straight from God, there, opening my eyes to his wonders anew.

            I guess, if I had to say one story, one thing that happened in Ghana that really touched my heart, it would be about the first few days I was there. At first, I came into Ghana, almost weary of how different the culture was. The food was too spicy for me, it wasn’t a very varied diet, and the people all seemed the same. When I first came, I was dreading the action I had taken. I didn’t want to be there, where the electricity had it’s own mood, where the plumbing was sometimes non-existent, where the food was so.. odd… I didn’t want to have to make bonds with people, and come so close to them, let them take a place in my heart, only to have to leave after three weeks. What could three weeks of service even do?

            So, with these thoughts in my head, I stayed to myself more or less. I’d wake up, take my shower, go eat bread for breakfast, then return to my room, and stay in there. I didn’t know what to do. I’m always rather awkward about meeting new people, and I didn’t know how to go about making any friends with the kids in the Freedom Center, in the home. So I was just locked up in my room. Occasionally I’d go out, play with the little kids, the 2 and 3 year olds, because that’s always a rather easy task. I’d also help my dad sound record, which I didn’t like a whole lot either. I was close to just screaming. I had come here to do service, not to be a lazy person all day. But I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was tricked into coming to Ghana.

            It all changed soon enough. At the story time, which was after dinner almost every night, I had caught the eye of a few kids. One in particular was a twelve year old boy named D.K. He was a rather rambunctious kid, who I wanted to definitely stay away from. He’d pull on my hair, and was just a nuisance. Little did I know, this was him extending his hand for friendship.

            On the first Saturday I was there, the  heads of City of Refuge, Stacy and Johnbull, their kids, a few of the volunteers, my family, and I went out to the mall in Accra to celebrate Stacy’s son, JJ’s, birthday. I went to the mall, and had a fun day. I was easily reminded of America, because the mall truly seemed like it. We went and watched a movie, got to eat pizza, and it wasn’t anything like the small, middle of no where villages that were common in Ghana. It felt like home.

            Of course, all this had to end sooner or later. We had to go home, and on the ride back, I started to become closer to Johnbull and Stacy’s kids. I laughed with them, and was happy that I could be in Ghana. The long ride was bumpy and tiring, and I was pretty excited to be able to get back to the ministry’s volunteer house.

            When I got back, I went into the volunteers’ house, where my bunk was. On it, I noticed a letter in an envelope. Inside was a letter from D.K., a sweet letter about how he wanted me to come and play with him and the other kids, and he asked why I was so quiet. He told me that I needn’t be quiet, and that he loved me so much.

            Finally, I realized what I was supposed to do. God was calling me to play with the kids in the Freedom Center. So, the Freedom Center became my new home. I hung out with the kids, day in and day out. I ate dinner with them, not with Stacy, Johnbull, Autumn, or where the other volunteers were supposed to eat, I ate with the kids, even though it wasn’t my favorite. I gave them all the love I could. And in return, they all loved me back, and became my new family. I made friends, and I started to learn the stories of these kids. For example, D.K. had been a fisher’s slave, he had to get the net out of the water in the lake. This was a hard task because the net would sometimes get caught on the underwater trees, making it very likely for someone to drown while detangling the net. His time there was so hard, but it seems impossible, that this kid, who had had such a horrible life, is now smiling so much, and loving with all he can. Now, instead of being a fisher’s slave, he’s a fisher of men. It’s just completely amazing how City of Refuge changed them so much. But it hasn’t only changed them, it’s changed me too. I’ve realized how important it is to give your love to anyone and everyone, and how great it feels to latch onto that love. A love that grows with time, and gets sweeter and better by the day.

Man’s Praise; a Love, Hate Relationship


Two things I’ve learned over the last two years of parenting, four years of marriage, eight years of youth ministry, 28 years of life.

As human beings, our soul needs affirmation of those who know us, live with us, and walk this life with us.

As human beings, our soul needs to be on a short leash when running in a field of affirmation lest it wonder off the path that led it to the field in the first place. 

There’s been a few circumstances in the last two weeks where I was reminded how hard ministry was when the motivating voices around me spoke from a place of lacking, insult, and degradation. Hope was hard. Identity was confused. Ministry seemed counter-intuitive.

There’s a strange thing with being lost in an open field of praise and affirmation from the people around us – it so easily becomes a drug. We become addicted to it. A quick hit strikes us to the core – swiftly and powerfully. We are validated, known, seen, and valued so quickly. It stimulates our brain, heart, soul, perspective, ego, and pride. It is definitely all inclusive. Hope is manufactured. Identity is manipulated. Ministry becomes self-seeking. Worst of all, like any addict, we begin to compromise that which seems most basic and fundamental, in order to keep the hits coming.

The great beauty and confusion of the cross is that in Christ’s death and Resurrection, reciprocated with our belief, Christ’s holiness, his identity is transferred to us. Two weekends ago as I was leading a retreat in Tahoe with 6 guys in college, the Holy Spirit highlighted the magnitude this identity transfer has on us, particularly in regards to our soul’s need of affirmation.

Twice in the New Testament (Jesus’ Baptism & the Transfiguration) God the Father says of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” If we believe what God has written in the Bible then we must believe that we now bear the identity of Christ (his Holiness). So if this is true, when God says, “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased,” he is speaking that over me, over you, over us, his sons and daughters.

I want to spend the next few weeks praying through the magnitude of this truth. For if I can live out of a place where I know the Creator of all the Universe, the Redeemer of all that is Broken, and Savior of this world, identifies me as his son, publicly declares his love for me, and affirms my pursuit of and work for him, then I will find myself neither loving or hating people’s praise. It will be just what it is suppose to be, pointed reminders of who I am in Christ and the favor that God has placed me in. I will neither idolize praise nor demonize praise when I know that I hold the highest praise from my Heavenly Father through the identity transfer of Christ made possible by his death and Resurrection.

May we hear, rest, and abide in this:

“You are my daughter, whom I love; with her I am well pleased.”

“You are my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

– God our Father

Intergenerational Baccalaureate


This past Sunday I was privileged to be a part of and witness one of the clearest pictures of the significance from intergenerational discipleship and investment I have ever seen.

Normally this is a Sunday where ministry directors say their last words of encouragement, challenge, and inspiration to their graduation class. I knew I wanted to speak to our grads about their identity in Christ and in our family of faith. I feel such an urgency to speak of this because of its truthful significance in my own life as well as the clearness of the research Fuller Youth Institute has released in their Sticky Faith material. We have seen and heard stories backed that tells us that within the first two weeks of our seniors’ post-high school ventures they will accept labels, friendships, and social circles that will largely shape the next four years of their life.

As I was preparing for Sunday, in a moment of Spirit-filled creativity, I had this idea. I would read Ephesians one, a passage saturated in truthful description of who we are in Christ, to our seniors. At the same time I would have our church body participate in holding cardboard signs of each word of identity description Paul uses.

It was a beautiful moment to have FOURTY-ONE people from our congregation ranging in ages from my daughter who is 2 to their past Sunday School teachers who are in their 60’s and 70’s. After I was done reading this passage we had our senior’s stand, we prayed for them, then everyone holding a sign walked out and gave it to a graduate with this picture attached to it.

Image

It is a word cloud of Ephesians One on top of our seniors sharing their wisdom to our underclassmen on their last night of high school youth group.

All I had to do that morning was read scripture & remind them who they are in Christ and in Community. The strength of this morning was found in the imagery of the intergenerational connectedness that these kids have with the church and that the church has with our kids.

I’m thankful for Fuller Youth Institute, Kara Powell and Sticky Faith, for allowing us to be blessed by their research and creativity which really has helped our church emphasize and celebrate our intergenerational investments. Also, and ultimately, thankful for our church. Nearly half the people who were holding signs volunteered on their way into the sanctuary.  It was a beautiful picture of who we are as a church, the body of Christ, and a family who walks together in raising and discipling all generations of believers!