Smaller Stories

Our Resistance

Death comes knocking on every door and most of us have felt its sting, the bitterness of its unrelenting pursuit of each and every one of us.

We are born into this world. We are first loved by those closest to us and gradually we learn to love, both others and ourselves. This process is lifelong and it is never perfected. Before we know it, those we love are gone and it is always too soon. Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues – sooner or later, they leave. Death beckons and none of us are capable of resisting its pull. We are locked into time and space and the finite nature of our reality colors everything we know in a darkening gray. Every breath is one less breath we will take in this life. Every step forward inches us closer to the grave that awaits.

No one really wants to die. Even in our deepest valleys of depression, something in us wants to live. We want to survive and go on and continue.

Jesus himself could not achieve pardoning from this stark truth. In a moonlit garden he pleads with God: My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Jesus resists.

On this day, Good Friday, we confront death head on. We see it for what it is. We feel every ounce of emotion that comes along with it. And we resist as Jesus did. Our resistance is not futile. Far from it.

Our resistance is the very thing that carries us forward, keeps us alive, and moves us along.

Our resistance reminds us that death is not welcome here – in our lives and in our world.

Our resistance marks us as a free people, liberated and unchained from our self-inflicted slavery.

Our resistance is led by Christ the Victor, who won life for us, once and for all.

He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled. A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat. [Athanasius of Alexandria]

So today, resist. Death does not have the last word. Its power has been annulled. Resurrection is coming.

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The Death & Gift of Sabbath

https://vimeo.com/59036436

I love the thoughts of Barbara Brown Taylor.

Productivity is the universal means of valuing one another… Sabbath is a little death… it makes you almost faint for a while to give up all the things that keep you propped up for the rest of the week.

Today is the Sabbath.  A day of rest and rejuvenation.  A weekly moment to be restored to fullness.  The Sabbath is an opportunity and a gift.  It is the gift of a reminder.  The reminder of why we are here.  We are here on this planet at this time in human history not simply to produce but to be produced into the wholeness of God’s wonderful plan.  Wonderful is the operative word.  Full of wonder.  Full of uninhibited splendor and awesome beauty.  This is not a splendor and beauty any of us could ever craft in and of ourselves.  And so we rest.  We rest in the work that God is doing in us.  As we quiet ourselves, stop the chaos and busyness of our days, we allow God to do his work in us.  It is a work that is beyond our capacities and imaginations.  It ushers us into a space where we are helpless and so we simply open ourselves up and watch as God does what only he can do.  For those of us who are entrenched in the rush of church-world, moving about with a million things to do so that church can go off without a hitch, today is a reminder that the work we produce is nothing more than space-renovation in order that soul-renovation might occur, for ourselves and for the friends who will join us.  So learn to rest today.  Be restored and rejuvenated.  Let God do the work only he can do and be fulfilled in knowing that you are not good-for-something but rather, that you are simply good.

Dreaming Wide Awake

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21

I am on a journey, surrounded by dreamers who believe that redemptive change is possible.  They give me the courage to dream the same.  We are a flawed and broken people, acutely aware of our shortcomings.  We are intimately familiar with failure and there is much we don’t do well.  But we’ve learned to dream big dreams.  We believe in a God who is truly more able than we knowThe richness of this reality weighs heavily on us.  We’re beginning to recognize that we’ve been placed here, in our city, in our generation, in these days, to participate in something great.  Our eyes are opening up to see the story of God being written upon the pages of our lives, individually and collectively as a community.  It’s a story worth telling because it’s a story that can turn the tide of cynicism and apathy.  It’s a story of dead things coming to life.  It’s a story of love and grace.  It’s the truest story we could ever tell.

I love what Paul writes to the church in Ephesus – that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.  God is bigger than our questions and larger than our imaginations.  Our capacity to dream is too small to hold what he can and longs to do.  So dream away.  Stop sleepwalking through life.  Wake up to the possibilities all around us.  Give beyond the limits of your means.  Share beyond the limits of your comfort.  Love beyond the limits of your logic.  Dream big.  Dream huge for that matter.  Dream wide awake.

This January-February, our community at Awakening Church will be exploring the idea of living with a God-sized vision for our lives in a series called Dreaming Wide Awake.  We get together on Sundays 5pm + 7pm at 1242 Del Mar Ave. San Jose, CA 95128.  All are welcome.  Join us.

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Advent: Rejoice

The first time any girl showed even a remote interest in me was in sixth grade.  Her name was Sunny.  I don’t remember a whole lot about her other than that she liked me.  I’m not sure I liked her, but I was madly in love with the idea that she liked me.  I asked her to be my girlfriend after school one day at a Carl’s Jr. over a bacon cheeseburger and criss-cut fries.  Classy, I know.  A week later, Sunny dumped me and started dating a guy named Terry.  I didn’t mind.  Terry was a foot taller than me and blocked all my shots during basketball in P.E.  I would’ve dumped me to date him too.  But it sure was nice to liked, even for a week.

The theme of the third Sunday of Advent is rejoice.  There is no joy quite like the joy that comes from knowing we are more than simply liked – we are wanted, desired and loved.  Advent reminds us that God’s love for us is so grand, so expansive, so deep, so all-consuming that he could not leave us as we were and went to the greatest lengths to make things right again between us and Him.  Advent reminds us that like a great composer writing her masterpiece or a brilliant poet writing his defining work, God wrote us the greatest work of love ever written in the body and blood of Jesus his Son.  Advent reminds us that fear and anxiety have given way to a deep, unspeakable joy.  It is the joy of knowing that all of creation is waiting in expectation for the great love story to be finished, for Christ to come again and write the final chapter and lead us on into the eternity God always intended for us from the beginning.  All because God loves us.  His heart is for us and we are his great desire.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!”  Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!  [1 Chronicles 16:31-32]

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Advent: Prepare

Today, as we stand in the dark shadows of the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut, the bitter taste of evil reminds us that sin still runs rampant in our world.  We are given pause and faced with the reality that no amount of light we’ve tried so hard to produce on our own can drown out the darkness of injustice and brokenness in the here and now.  We are a people who cannot rescue ourselves.

Our hearts break and mourn today with families who must soon bury children taken far too soon from them.  We grieve with the families and friends of the teachers who were killed so needlessly.  Our words do little good and our greatest efforts to comfort fall so far short.  But we must give what we can.  We must send our love and pray our prayers, from up close and afar, because this is what we have to give and to not give it would be to coalesce into the destructive powers of apathy.

This past Sunday was the second of Advent.  Its theme is prepare.  Today we are reminded that we are indeed called to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah who can, once and for all, deliver us from these dark shadows.  We prepare the way for the Light of the world who will, with strong finality, crush the darkness with light brighter than the sun.  A light so bright that darkness will not just cringe but crack and crumble at its sight.  These ideas are of little use to those whose hearts are aching with pain greater than death today at the loss of loved ones.  But these ideas are embers that we who have a bit more strength today can reignite with love, so that those who’ve been weakened by pain might catch a glimpse of its hope.  Preparation requires participation.  We do not sit by idly watching for Jesus to descend on the clouds to take us away from this mess.  Instead, we actively work toward the renewal and healing of all things, being mindful of those who are hurting and broken and lost.  This is what it means to prepare.

So yes, our words fall short.  But the Word that has spoken light into our darkness and breathed life into death never fails.  Preparation requires focus and a realignment of our hearts on that which matters most.  May we realign our hearts today and participate in the work of preparing our world for the coming of the one true Word that has spoken an end to the grave, once and for all time.  May we center ourselves on peace and love so that they might disrupt evil and violence in such a way that they find their sudden demise.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

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Advent: Hope

There are those who suggest that the word hope shares etymological roots with the word hop, on the notion that to hope in something is to leap in expectation.  This might seem a bit of a stretch but a number of etymologists seem to think this a credible possibility.  Whether true or not, the idea poses an interesting point.  In our day and age, the idea of hope has been hijacked by passivity, neutered from a jubilant expectation of impossible proportions into a safe longing for mediocrity.

I hope I did OK.  I hope they don’t mind.  I hope we get that discount.

But the Biblical writers understood hope as a much more expansive reality.  They understood that if we are to hope in something, it ought to be ridiculous, huge, beyond our wildest dreams, bigger than our imaginations.  They said things like…

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. [Psalm 130:7]

But now, LORD, what do I look for?  My hope is in you.  Save me from all my transgressions. [Psalm 39:7]

In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.  May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. [Psalm 33:21-22]

He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us… [2 Corinthians 1:10]

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. [1 Timothy 4:9-11]

Their hope is for unfailing love, full redemption, complete salvation, continued deliverance and their hope is in God himself.

This past Sunday was the first of Advent.  We are now in the season of joyful expectation and anticipation, as we journey toward Christmas morning.  We remember that Christ has come, is coming again, and is strangely with us even now, in our hearts and minds, filling our air and our lungs.  The first Sunday of Advent is marked by the theme of hope.  It’s a massive hope of truly impossible proportions.  It’s the hope that what went wrong can be made right.  It’s the hope that what is broken can be healed.  Ultimately, it’s the hope that God can break into human reality and change our trajectory once and for all.  It’s the hope that a Messiah can indeed crush the serpent’s head and replace the period. after death with a dot dot dot…

So this Advent season, hope big.  God breaks in and changes everything.  It’s OK to hope that it won’t rain or that you’ll get a decent tax return.  But don’t stop there.  Hope big.  Hope that God can change your heart and your life. Hope that Love can conquer anything.  Hope that God can change the world.  He already has.  And He still is.

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Happy birthday Mom

Today is my mom’s birthday.  I won’t tell you how old she is.  I don’t think she’d appreciate that.  It’s not really the number of years that matters anyway.  I celebrate today because it reminds me that this all started somewhere, in a place and at a time when no one knew a thing about what she’d do or who she’d be.  I celebrate today because it reminds me that once, my mother was helpless and vulnerable and carried the unknown weight of expectations just like any other newborn.  I celebrate today because, while I do not know what was expected of her from parents, siblings and society at her birth, our history tells me that she has and continues to live a life worth remembering.  I celebrate today because my mother has loved well – God, me, my wife, our family, coworkers, friends, the church, etc.  I celebrate today because I’m grateful God brought her into the world some years ago.

In recent months, I’ve experienced a renewed sense of urgency in my relationships with those I care most deeply about.  The reality that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed has come into view with vivid clarity.  This is a strange paradox.  I believe the New Testament Gospels very literally, so resurrection and hope for eternity are very real anchors for me.  But I’ve come to find that while these anchors keep me still and steady, they do not alleviate this peculiar urgency about the here and now.  Maybe this isn’t something to be alleviated but embraced?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I am becoming more acutely aware of my need to enjoy shared moments as they’re given because shared moments are gifts, each one is unique and another one is never promised.  I think this is why pictures are helpful.  They’re snapshots of these unique moments and they remind us of something so much bigger and fuller than the picture itself.

So today, my mom’s birthday, is a snapshot that reminds me of something much bigger and fuller. It’s a snapshot that reminds me of a life well lived, full of love and hope, marked by faithfulness and sacrifice, driven by conviction and expressed in grace.  Happy birthday Mom.  You’re my hero.

Launching Awakening Church

Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. - Ephesians 5:14 [ESV]

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been working on a church plant with some friends.  God has taught me a bunch during this season.  My wife and I have been challenged, inspired and stretched in ways unlike anything we’ve experienced before.  But today is the day when months of dreaming become a reality.  Today, we officially open our doors for the first time as Awakening Church.

A.W. Tozer prefaces his classic The Knowledge of the Holy with this beautiful thought about religion: True religion confronts earth with heaven and brings eternity to bear upon time.  We are planting Awakening Church because we believe that the divide between heaven and earth can and ought to be bridged.  We believe Jesus meant it when he taught us to pray that God’s will would be done here on earth just as it is done in heaven.  We believe that there is more to life than simply existing.  Breathing isn’t living.  Waking up in the morning isn’t the same as being fully alive.

So with these things in mind, we’re launching Awakening Church to awaken this generation to new life in Christ.  Today we begin our efforts to love relentlessly, give generously and share the transformative story of God to our city in ways that might captivate those who have been sleep walking through life, unaware of the availability of eternity at their finger tips.  We are humbled by God’s calling and ecstatic about joining in these efforts with so many other amazing churches in our city who are already marching into broken places and awakening them to new life.  We are eager to see what God will do in the coming months and years with our little church plant.  So today, Awakening Church opens its doors to the Silicon Valley, hoping and praying that the redemptive and restorative power of God would rush out of our space like a river, flooding our city, in the form of our people.

If you live in or near the Silicon Valley and are interested in joining us, we meet on Sundays at 10:30am + 7pm at Del Mar High School [1242 Del Mar Ave. San Jose, CA 95128].  Check out awakeningchurch.com for more info.   

A Proper Response to Bad Ideas

The proper response to a bad idea is a better idea. - Kevin Kelly

Our world is full of bad ideas.  I’ve contributed my fair share.  So have you.  No one has a monopoly on bad ideas.  They’re universal, unbiased and arbitrary.  Albert Einstein once said, Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.  So let’s get over ourselves and admit that we simply aren’t as smart as we think we are.

However, this doesn’t mean that we’re hopelessly relegated to a world of bad ideas.  You and I both know that our world is also full of good and even great ideas.  We also know that these great ideas come from people, human beings just like us.  We commend those who come up with great ideas with any sort of consistency and describe them as genius or brilliant.  But the truth is, great ideas usually come from moments of inspiration.  And, most often, moments of inspiration are the result of the long and arduous process of working to make a better idea out of a bad one.

We see the moments when they receive their Nobel’s and Pulitzer’s and we watch as they captivate us on ted.com but what we don’t often see are the long, lonely hours spent researching, experimenting, reworking, crafting, fine-tuning, failing, etc.  We celebrate and desire the glamorous moments of triumph for ourselves but so few of us are willing to put in the hours and the labor.  So instead, we take the easier route.  We find the bad, the wrong and the imperfect in the hard work of another and we appoint ourselves commentators.  We critique and criticize because it makes us feel like we’re part of the conversation and gives us the false sense that we’re actually contributing to moving the dialogue forward.  While constructive criticism can be helpful, it’s not enough.  Like Kevin Kelly says, the proper response to a bad idea is a better idea.  

So let’s stop criticizing just to be heard.  Let’s stop huddling up in our lazy circles, mocking those who took the risk of putting an idea out there, shallowly affirming each other with our negative judgments.  Let’s stop talking about how much better something should be.  Instead, let’s start dreaming about how much better it could be and then go about the difficult work of making it a reality.  Let’s not just make ideas better – let’s make each other better.  Let’s collectively, humbly and passionately pursue a better world together.

The Church, The Bride

I have had a lifelong relationship with the Church.   It hasn’t always been good.  We’ve shared countless ups and downs but after all that we’ve been through, I am grateful to be able to say that I still love her deeply.  I have learned over the years that love for the Church, like love for anything, is forged over time on long walks up and down the steep hills between life’s peaks and valleys.  And so the Church and I, with the many miles we’ve traveled together, are connected intimately.  I have learned over the years to see and appreciate her beauty, which lies not in her exterior nor her interior, but in her expressions.  Like a ballerina, when she is still, she is small.  But when the Church moves and expresses herself to the fullest, she commands the space, creates motion out of nothing, shakes us with her grace and undoes us with the beauty of her dance.  The Church must express herself, she must move, because she is alive.  She is a living, breathing, feeling entity because she is nothing more and nothing less than the people who gather in the name of her Bridegroom.

When the Church is a place, she is static, a dull hue of beige, a small box shoved full of stale traditions and rituals robbed of meaning.

When the Church is people, she is dynamic, a messy mish mash of colors, a wide open space full of new ideas and relationships built with shared stories.

Many people come to Church to learn theology; specifically about God and how to go on living after the grave.  But it is important to remember that good theology is always shaped first and foremost by relationship.  It is shaped by our relationship with God the Father, Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It is also shaped by our relationships with one another.  The ways we love, hate, encourage, slander, lift up, and step on each other…all of these beautiful and horrifying realities of the human condition played out uniquely in our relationships shape our theologies in ways that sermons and books never will.  And it is in these very relationships that we find ourselves immersed in the beautiful mess of the Church.  It is here that we learn to love honestly, because honest love requires that we see the filth as well as the fortune.

My Church is attempting to live out these realities in a way that’s completely new for us.  This summer, we’re inviting everyone to meet in homes for six weeks with about 30 other people from our community.  For lack of a better term, we’re calling these groups House Churches.  But this is also intentional. Most of our people think that what we do on Sunday nights is Church. They’re wrong.  What we do on Sunday nights is talk, sing, listen, learn, teach, pray, give, celebrate, laugh, linger, stare, etc.  But the Church…that’s nothing anyone could ever do.  As much as love is a verb, we must realize that Church is a noun.  It is a proper noun, in fact, because the Church is the beautiful Bride of Christ.  She is you and she is me.  She is all of us, together, in our brokenness and our embarrassing worst.  And she is beautiful indeed.

*If you live in or near the San Jose area and are interested in journeying with us as we launch House Church communities this summer, you can email me at jay@awakeningchurch.com for info or sign up online at www.awakeningchurch.com