Month: March 2012

Serve, Love, Give

Earlier this morning I read an article about a collaborative ministry between churches in London helping to love and restore the massive homeless population of the city by providing shelter, food, and rehabilitation services.

I have a friend who, a few years back, challenged by the words of Christ, literally sold everything he had and moved to Ethiopia to try and make a tangible difference in the lives of the destitute and downtrodden.  This eventually led him to launch his own non-profit.

I have another friend in San Francisco who runs the largest food pantry in the city out of an Episcopalian church where she ministers.  Without prejudice or pre-requisites, they simply feed the hungry of the city week after week after week.

I once saw a video of a young woman not much older than me named Jessica Jackley talking about how she found inspiration in Christ’s command to love one’s neighbor, as well as the economic brilliance of Muhammad Yunus, and launched a non-profit called kiva.org, which is now the largest person2person micro-lending organization in the world.

Whenever I am exposed to stories like these, I tend to experience a mix of inspiration and depression.  I am inspired because there are people in the world making a real difference, risking something for the betterment of others.  I am depressed because I don’t think I’m one of them.

Or am I?

I’ve never run a collaborative ministry between churches, making a significant difference with an entire demographic of a city.  Nor have I ever sold my belongings and moved to Africa or run a food pantry, feeding thousands of poor people week after week.  And certainly I have never started anything as dynamic as kiva.org.

I live in the Silicon Valley, one of the most affluent parts of the world.  I have never experienced the desperation of physical need.  Not once can I remember being concerned about where my next meal would come from or whether I had clean drinking water.  I’ve always had a roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in.  The reality of my blessed existence often works against me.  I feel like I live too well and am failing to really do my part.

But the beauty of the Biblical concept that the first shall be last and the last shall be first is that we find ourselves all over the wide spectrum of these categories.  We are all first and we are all last at various points and places in our stories.  This is the disruptive nature of God’s kingdom.  No one fits systematically and statically into just one point on the spectrum.  We are all needy and we are all wealthy.  I once heard a pastor from Rwanda, living in poverty himself, working diligently to make a difference in his war-torn homeland, say to a gathering of thousands of affluent young Americans, “I am praying that God may rescue you from your poverty – the poverty of having so much that you miss the riches of God himself.”  We are filthy rich and we are simultaneously covered in the filthy rags of our own great poverty.  We are all in need and we all have so much to give.

When we begin with this understanding, what we find is that giving to one another and making a difference in our world is not about the privileged few rescuing the impoverished masses.  Rather, making a difference in the lives of others is the very act by which we all, both the benefactor and the blessed, are reshaped into the people of God, called to live selflessly and sacrificially, invited to participate in the restorative work of his kingdom.

So whether you run a global micro-lending organization or cook a simple meal for your needy neighbor, know that the difference you are making is seismic and significant.  It is of utmost value because it is kingdom work and nothing of God’s kingdom is without great worth.  And may we always remember the words of Jesus found in Matthew 25:40: Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.  What we do for one another, we do for Christ himself.  We do not do what we do for one another and for Christ because he needs us but because we need him.  It is in serving, loving, and giving to another that we find ourselves rescued from our own poverty and brought into the riches of his kingdom.  So serve, love, and give.  We all need it.

A Thank You to Church on the Hill

Joy is the simplest form of gratitude - Karl Barth

I stumbled upon this quote earlier this morning.  How fitting because this morning, my heart is full of joy and it is indeed a form of deep gratitude.  After spending the past eight years on staff at Church on the Hill in San Jose, I am saying goodbye and stepping into a new role with a church plant called Awakening Church.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve run the gamut of emotions…sadness, gladness, anxiety, excitement…I’ve felt it all, in equal parts, as I’ve dealt with leaving the comforts of a place that feels so very much like home.

I have been thoroughly blessed by this entire process.  My wife and I talk often these days about the amazing love and support we’ve been shown in leaving.  And this makes leaving all the more difficult.  We feel so inadequate to go do what we know God is calling us to do but we are compelled by both the calling of Christ and the affirmation of our community that is sending us out.  In recent weeks, countless people have encouraged us with the thought that this is the right, kingdom thing to do.  Such encouragement has filled our hearts with hope and courage.  The grace poured out on us by God and the love showered upon us by those whom we are leaving have both acted to give strength to our legs, to push us forward into this new venture, with our hearts ready to embrace whatever God has next for us.  We are humbled and ecstatic and nervous and eager.  We are grateful, for what has been and what is going to be.

So thank you to everyone who has been a part of our journey over the years.  Church on the Hill, you are a community of faith centered on the work of God’s kingdom and no other kingdom.  This has been beautifully evident throughout this process.  I have been been shaped and formed by you in ways that words cannot express.  The part you have played in my story is one I will never forget and one that will shape all that I do in the coming years.  Home is a place we may leave but will always carry in our hearts.  You are home to me.  And so, I take you with me in my heart on this new adventure.  Thank you for eight life changing years.

Faith, Healing & Saying Goodbye

I’ve spent the past four years leading and serving a college & twenty-somethings community at my church called Fuel.  Last night we said goodbye.  After four years of what has been an incredibly rewarding and challenging journey, we closed our doors.  It’s never easy putting to rest something that feels so close to you. Four years ago, I sat with a couple of friends and dreamed about what a community of young people journeying toward Christ together could look like.  These past four years have not necessarily looked like what we dreamed.  In some ways they have exceeded expectations.  And in other ways, they have disappointed.  But all of it has been a joy and through it all, God has been present and incredibly faithful.

The first message I ever gave at Fuel, at our very first gathering in April of 2008, I talked about the story of the bleeding woman who fought her way through the crowd, toward Jesus, because she believed with everything inside of her that simply touching the edge of his cloak would heal her sickness.  She makes it to Jesus, touches his cloak, and she’s healed.  But the story doesn’t end there.  Jesus refuses to allow the moment to be limited to a physical healing.  Instead, he stops, turns around, and asks who touched him.  After some time the woman confesses.  Jesus says these words to her:

Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace. - Luke 8:48

Jesus doesn’t attribute the healing to his own power.  Nor does he condemn the woman for breaking some serious Jewish laws by touching him.  Publicly, in the presence of a massive crowd hanging on his every word, Jesus affirms, uplifts, empowers, and commissions this woman.  Your faith has healed you.  Go in peace.  Jesus felt power leave him.  It was his power, the power of God himself, which enacted the healing.  But just as much, it was the faith of this woman, expressed in the audacious act of touching a Jewish rabbi with unclean hands, that brought about this healing.

As I think back on these past four years I am humbled and inspired by the faithfulness of God.  I get emotional quickly when I think about the journey God has taken me on and the journey he is sending me on in this next season.  I know it’s Christian cliche to say that I am undeserving but honestly, I am more acutely aware of this reality these days.  And yet, even in the midst of my shortcomings, my flaws, and my failures, I believe.  I believe that if I simply reach out my hand and touch the edge of the divine, there is healing and restoration and redemption there.  I believe that it is in the very act of reaching out that God is pleased.  I believe that God isn’t tabulating my accomplishments but is instead watching for how far I stretch out my hand to touch him.  I believe God is far more pleased with me when I am desperate and needy than when I have my crap together.  I believe these things because the past four years at Fuel have affirmed them.  I believe these things because today, I am desperate and needy and I feel the presence of God surrounding me like a cloud, blurring my vision and yet giving me so much clarity.

And so may we all reach out desperately to God, audaciously, with these unclean hands of ours.  He is not afraid to touch us back.  He is not repelled by us nor does he require some sort of ritual cleansing of us before we can draw near.  He calls us as we are.  Healing is not merely making things better.  Healing is much more whole than that.  Healing is the entire process.  We are healed in our desperate reach for him.  We are healed in the moment we believe God can do what we cannot.  We are healed in being commissioned to go in peace.

Let me leave you with these words from my friend Sara Miles:

Jesus is real, and so, praise God, we are.  You’re fed, you’re healed, you’re forgiven, you’re pronounced clean.  You are loved, and you’re raised from the dead.  Go and do likewise.