Adoption and Church

Watch the video first:

Obviously, the video is about adoption, but I want to suggest this is a picture of the church as well. The metaphor for the church being a family and us joined together in a diversity of cultures, backgrounds, gifts and handicaps. After all, we are all adopted into the family of God. The challenge then, and this isn’t so easily depicted in a promotional video about adoption, is how to become that family. How do we relate to each other as siblings in this new family? How do we forgive and love one another, we who are so different and unlike one another? It’s no easy task, but at least we have a picture now.

Why We Must Be Equals

We’ve been doing it since we were born.

We see people and the way they dress, the color of their skin, how they carry themselves, and listen to their voices and what they say and we make snap judgments. Not moral judgments all the time, we’re just looking for cues and clues about how to react, what to say next, whether or not we can be friends.

And sometimes all those elements – dress, race, mannerisms, voice, and vocabulary – are the very things keeping us from seeing through to the heart of the issue, which is that at a fundamental level, we are the same. The things we think give us privilege and something to boast about are usually skin deep. That is why the notion of injustice that comes from such superficial attributes strikes us as well, unjust.

We are all equal before the eyes of God. We are equally sinners. And our sins are of equal weight. Granted, some of us have sins that have bigger consequences and such, but ultimately, we are all shades of grey. Which means  we should have a little more compassion for one another, a little more willingness to reach out to one another, and a lot more grace for one another. And ultimately not just for one another, but for others – people whom we are not connected with, who are estranged from us, whom we offend and have sinned against or are perhaps victims of their sin.

We are all connected and interchangeable in our unworthiness, just separated by the things that are merely skin deep. And that is why the church, any church, should have a tendency to get under our skin.

Sharing and Extending the Table

This past Thanksgiving Sunday, we joined together with the Hispanic congregation we share the building, Iglesia Pentecostes Uncion Divina.

Since we moved to the location in 2010, this was our fifth time doing a joint English/Spanish worship service with our Latino brothers and sisters.

Now we’re committed to joining to worship together on Easter and Thanksgiving, twice a year. What I’ve learned in the few times we’ve worshiped together:

  1. The worship of God is beautiful, and sounds better in Spanish quite frankly, but worship that extends beyond the bounds of my own language really does become an expression of the heart and it is beautiful and humbling to worship with others. 
  2. The law can separate us, but Jesus brings us together – white collar, blue collar, documented, undocumented, well educated, uneducated, short, tall, pentecostal, all skin colors. Jesus is Lord.
  3. Worshiping with others and doing it respectfully takes practice and patience. All the things that make us strangers, and the various barriers socially, take time to build the trust and understanding whereby you can truly laugh and cry together. We’re not there yet, but we are on the way.
  4. The worship and interactions only started to feel more natural this last time, which has taken over the past 2 years, so don’t give up before then.
  5. This is just practice…sharing and extending the table of thanks and the celebration of resurrection is something that we “get” to do. Enjoy it, it’s an essential work of the church.
  6. Food is essential. Eat together afterwards! :)

Too Faithful to Fail

 I don’t think many of us can help it.

“The church is the people, not the building.” We say that, sure. We may even believe it. But in many ways, in practical ways, it is certainly an organization. It’s definitely a non-profit corporation with insurance policies to protect the board of directors and coverage for liability. It has utility bills and a phone line. And an alarm system. And furniture. Books. Paper cups and plates. Etcetera, etcetera.

And we think of success in terms of dollars and attendance and assets Continue reading

A Father’s Day Post

Sunday was Father’s day, and it was an emotional day. I almost cried while leading worship during “How He Loves”. And the second time I could not even hold back.  As we prayed over our fathers, God prompted me to confess about how I talk to my dad.  Words are powerful, and sometimes the words I use are words that tear him down.  At one time when I was a kid, I truly believed my dad could do anything.  He was my own personal superman.  But now that I’m grown, the magic has died away, and I am the one telling him he’s not capable.  Sometimes I treat him like he’s ignorant (especially when it comes to technology), and I plant seeds of discouragement.  I had to confess and ask for forgiveness from my dad and also ask for accountability from the church.

Fortunately, my dad is one who is always forgiving and has never held any of these things against me.  It was embarrassing to admit, but it had to be done. When your dad in heaven is asking these things of you, there is always a reason.  I was reminded when Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished (Matt 5:18).  He doesn’t want us 90% or 99.9% free, he wants us 100% pure and free leaving not one iota, dot, or blemish.  And these are the gifts that he gives me today.

Happy Father’s Day!

from your beautifully flawed daughter,

Esther

 

Connected to Women’s Liberation is Our Own…

In prepping for Sunday’s message on masculinity for Father’s Day, I ran across this wonderful TED Talk by Tony Porter:

I loved the line where he connects women’s liberation with the liberation of men as well. It reveals a sense as sense that we are all broken, whether we oppressed or oppressors. As much as I’m eager to have women grow in boldness and supporting their voice in and out of the church, I also would like to see men break out from their silence, disengagement, and deference. We need to realize that the calling of men is greater than just being a provider or the boss, it’s being sent and serving.

The Missional Quiz

In any organization, there is a tension between the focus on the mission and the survival of the institution. And it’s a good tension sometimes, one that asks the question of whether or not the vehicle we are in is the best way to get to where we want to go, right?

It used to be the church (as an organization) was (and in some places, still is) about getting the most people on the bus, before it went anywhere. To their credit, I think that ultimately they intend to go there, but once you get the notion of “the more, the merrier”, you can’t help but think that all we need are buses, and while you’re loading and unloading the bus, stopping for gas, feeding people, and all that sort of thing, it’s hard to see any movement at all. I think that’s the attractional model of church in a nutshell. Any church, large or small, that relies on attracting people to the church will all claim to be mobilizing for mission, but the fact of the matter is, that’s not where their focus is. Their focus is on the bus, making the bus bigger, more comfortable, getting the right bus driver, that sort of thing.

The missional priority is on the destination and on movement. Honestly, people who are pretty sick of waiting on the bus to get somewhere just decided to walk or get in a smaller, beat up car and just get moving. Sure, the critique is that it’s not very attractive, they may not have the right resources, they lack typical organizational skills, but they kinda don’t care. They want movement and the fact of the matter is, walking on foot is faster than sitting at a bus station.

But regardless, the conversation is misplaced if it’s a question of efficacy. Both “types” of church, missional or attractional will do just fine as long as they are still listening to the Spirit. And honestly, I think of the missional movement as a good corrective movement from the attractional, church-as-mother-ship mentality.

As far as what kind of church Open Table is, well I think this is a good quiz to see if we are. Answer these ten questions and check out the link for the answers/reasons:

  1. When you speak of church, what prepositions do you use?
  2. When you think of missions, do you think of a mission trip to a distant city and a service project in your own community or do you think about daily life among your family, neighbors, and coworkers?
  3. What is your common declaration about lost people around you? “Can you believe the way those people act?” OR “When can you come over for dinner?”
  4. Is my tendency to disengage from culture and retreat into safer, more Christian environments? Or is it to engage culture even amidst discomfort and danger?
  5. When you hear “make disciples,” do you think of a classroom or your relationships?
  6. Do you spend a lot of time wondering whether you should quit your job to surrender to ministry? Or do you simply live to minister to anyone and everyone where you are currently?
  7. When you think of a friend who needs help, do you think, “I need to get him to see the pastor” OR “I wonder what I can do to help”?
  8. When you think of heaven, do you think “kingdom come” or “kingdom is here”?
  9. Do you think godliness is measured with a mirror or within community?
  10. Do you have a lost friend who would actually introduce you as his or her friend?

 

June Challenge: Starting Your Day with Worship

Last Saturday, we stopped by a Corner Bakery opening near our neighborhood, and they were giving out complimentary breakfast and lunch as a practice for their staff.  That pretty much set my day on the right track.  After all, who wouldn’t be happy after a free lunch?!  Immediately, I was thankful and spending the day counting my blessings.

Other days, however, have been very different.  I wake up and I’m already telling myself that it’s going to be a sad, unproductive day.  Then I proceed to mope around all day.  Not too surprising.  This made me think more about the manner in which I start my day and how it dictates how the rest of my day goes.

I’m sure you know the saying “breakfast is the important meal of the day.” It starts you off with an energy boost.  Maybe it’s the same way with ‘daily bread’.  I’m convinced that if I start my day off with worship and practice pointing myself in the right direction first thing every morning, it will change my attitude and direction of my day.

Breakfast in bed! Thanks @jcupphoo! :)

I will update you on how it goes.  I’m not a very disciplined person, so this will be a challenge for me.  But maybe you guys can do this with me!

-Esther & Jacob

The One Thing…

Being new to the role of a lead pastor, I have been seeking a lot of advice, reading lots of books, and soliciting a lot of advice.

But recently, I’ve arrived at a fairly simple conclusion about it all. I need to remember the one thing. Do you know the one thing?

Here’s the clip from the movie, “City Slickers” (fair warning, there is one expletive word):

The one thing for me as I read the Bible is Jesus’ obsession of doing the work of the one who sent him – Jesus is always about that one thing. It’s more important to him than healing people, keeping Sabbath, staying away from sinful people…it’s the one thing. As a new pastor, there are lots of ways I can spend my time – but how do I spend time in a way that advances the mission, that increases the work of the Sender? Do we as a church do the work of helping you gain a sense of sent-ness? For reassuring you in that sense of mission.

And so here’s the progression that I see:

  • There is a calling or a healing that awakens a person to the power of Christ – the themes are health, healing, wholeness, new awareness, new sense of purpose, wonder, destiny, and discovery
  • Then there is a longer season of discipleship, which involves teaching,equipping, wilderness, disorientation, attempts, failure, sweat, doubt, as well as growth in the new way of life, accepting self and others, and the desire to see the kingdom come in new ways. That is the beauty of the paradox of this stage – it’s good, but it doesn’t come as easily as being called or healed.
  • Then comes a commissioning – where discipleship becomes more focused and particular. This is where identity and mission come together to affirm a particular callings and gifting of a person or couple. This is where the person needs to take a step beyond the place of disciple formation, and the church needs to empower and release them to exercise that calling.
  • Rinse, lather, repeat – ultimately, discipleship doesn’t really end. And hitting your stride in your calling should bring about others to come into a sense of their own calling or brought to a place of healing, which means that we get to walk alongside someone in the first step all over again.

But each step is oriented around the one thing, the prime directive of mission. When in doubt about a particular controversial issue – always take the angle of mission. How can the mission proceed from this place, person, or situation? Your ethnicity, your political preferences, socioeconomic class, location, favorite football team, gender, height, weight, blood type, whatever…all of it can be employed to the glory of God. Always put the mission first, before church, before quiet time, before your own preferences and even your theology, put mission first.

I’m not an environmentalist, but if someone who cares about environment is in my midst, then I’m happy to celebrate Earth Day. I will break from my routine to give room to someone else’s concern in order to acknowledge that God created the earth and called it good.

I am not a vegetarian, but I will concern myself with the ethics of mass producing cattle in a fast food society in order that God might be glorified above my taste for steak.

I am not Black, but I will concern myself with the issues of race in America and the case of Trayvon Martin, if that will help me be a better brother in Christ Jesus to walk alongside and create unity where there is none.

The one thing is mission – in our lives individually and in our church corporately, this is the prime directive. We may not be able to articulate yet how that takes shape, but that is it and I dare not lose sight of it.

 

The Important Thing is Your Health

So this is the book that started it for me.

Truth be told, I thought there were some other people who could really use learning about emotional healthy stuff and in order to ensure  they might read it, I offered to buy the book for a few of us and do a group study. It was God’s practical joke on me.

As I read the first few chapters while trying to put my recently son to bed on the night before the book group, with spots of dinner and formula spit up on my shirt in a room full of unfolded laundry, knowing that the dishes are piling up, and some assignments from work weighing on my conscience, I was beginning to get the sinking feeling I was more unhealthy than I realized.

Here were some of the dead giveaways that I was emotionally unhealthy (click here for a PDF inventory you can take for yourself):

  • I had trouble accepting criticism, for some reason, I always took things more personally than I needed to.
  • I had trouble saying giving people a clear answer – yes or no. But I was always overextending myself. And then frustrating others because I wanted to do the right thing, but didn’t have enough margin.
  • I talked and criticized a lot, but I didn’t do nearly as much as I said I would. Towards the end of last year, it was all I could do to do the bare minimum – living far beneath the abundant life Jesus came to give us.
  • Worst of all, I was always reacting and reactionary. I was as steady as the most volatile person in the room. If you were angry, I got angry; if you were sad, I became sad.

My busy-ness hid a lot of it. Most people were never in the same room with me long enough to see how unhealthy I was. For some, they could see that I had poor sleep habits. But others just acknowledged how busy I was. After all, I had two kids – one a newborn, a working wife, traveled for work, and preached most Sundays, chaired the leadership board at church, and leading workshops at national conferences. I was paying my dues, cutting my teeth, grinding it out, being a man, whatever. I was on the cusp of an implosion. I was proclaiming a gospel of peace on Sundays while virtually every arena of my life was in tension, in conflict, or unable to sustain any sense of joy, humility, or love. My marriage was brewing with unforgiveness; my friendships were unraveling; my preaching was flat and my work was just mediocre for what I expected even of myself.

And yet, I had never classified myself as emotionally unhealthy. And I certainly had never correlated the various ways of unhealthiness – physical, emotional, and spiritual unhealthy as pervasive in my life until Peter Scazzero’s book shined that light into my heart. I finally saw it and I was filled with the fear of the Lord. And I took some time to begin to recalibrate where I needed to be and began to discern and own my dysfunction and brokenness.

So beginning in January, I really began to preach from this place seeking an emotionally healthy faith – while admittedly still trying to find my way through the mess of my own making. And it’s been such a blessing although not without a sense of heartache or pain in the short term.

I’m realizing some very important lessons here for myself and for others that an unhealthy Christian life is not good for anyone. It certainly doesn’t help us testify to the new life that Christ brings to us. And if we are immature, irresponsible, and emotional ticking time bombs, don’t we compromise our witness altogether? I think the gospel of Jesus Christ demands the we take seriously what it means to be healthy, to care for our busy-ness and to love others and ourselves well. Oh wait, isn’t that the Great Commandment? Oh yeah, maybe.

Here are a few resources from Pete Scazzero’s site to help you on the way. And a great sermon of his too:

The Holy Spirit And New Beginnings – Pete Scazzero from New Life Fellowship on Vimeo.