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Larry, the homeless guy

December 12, 2013

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“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” C.S. Lewis

We said “goodbye” to one of our dear friends yesterday. Larry Davis was simply known as “Larry the Homeless Guy” and was the sweetest man you could ever know. He was a great example of friendship and love. His smile and creativity always amazed us. Yesterday a hundred of his friends showed up to pay him tribute and remember the man who brought a smile to our lives.

When we opened our 90-day cold weather shelter several years ago we encountered both the painful and the joyful elements of working with those who are chronically homeless. So many names and faces have passed through our doors these past five years, but Larry’s face will forever be stamped on our hearts. Larry, you are now safe in his arms. Is there dumpster diving in Heaven? If so, I know you will continue to find the best treasure in someone else’s trash.

“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another…If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead…We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.” 1 John 3:11, 14, 16-19

 

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Redemption and Restoration: The Two Hands of the Gospel

November 27, 2013

Every once in a while reading through the Bible I come upon a passage that I’ve read many times over, but for some reason see it for the first time. A few years back I was working my way through the Gospels of Jesus and was struck by Jesus’ words in Luke 4:16-21 (quoting Isaiah 61): “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. (This is translated “gospel” in some Bibles and is the same word the Apostle Paul used when he said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”) He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:16-19 (NIV)

As Jesus’ ministry was hitting its full steam, John the Baptist sent a few of his disciples to check up on Jesus. “Jesus told them, ‘Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News (same word) is being preached to the poor.” Matthew 11:4-5 (NIV)

This isn’t just how Jesus lived; it’s what he modeled and what he instilled in his disciples.

“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.” Luke 9:1-2, 6 (NIV) Do you see the connection between the “Good Works” and the “Good News?” It’s not one or the other–it’s both–working together to open hearts and minds to God. It is both Redemption AND Restoration working hand in hand. It’s both hands of the Gospel reaching out to draw people to God.

Throughout the centuries the Church has played a major role in transforming communities and leading the way in social justice and equality through both Redemption AND Restoration.

• St. Patrick not only Christianized Ireland, he led the charge to end slavery in Ireland.

• John Wesley not only led revivals, he campaigned for prison and labor reform, built orphanages and schools, battled the slave trade, set up loans for the poor and gave away his money to the people in need.

• William Wilberforce pushed to abolish slavery in the British Colonies–and won in 1807.

• William and Catherine Booth began the Salvation Army in 1865. This was written about their ministry, “Probably during no hundred years in the history of the world have their been saved so many thieves, gamblers, drunkards, and prostitutes as during the past quarter of a century through the Salvation Army.”

• Christians have been at the front of establishing child-labor laws, schools, universities, orphanages, hospitals, aiding in famine relief, and rescue missions–all in the name of Jesus.

The church I lead has a great reputation in our community as a place where all people are loved and served–with no strings attached. Our favor has grown in direct proportion to the amount we have poured back into our city.

There is always a tension between REDEMPTION and RESTORATION in servant evangelism. Our goal is to reach the heart first and then reach the head.

Many of those who come through our doors on the weekends have already been ministered to by our congregation during the week. We are not striving to be the best church in our city, but we are striving to be the best church for our city.

Jesus spoke about service and evangelism when he said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV) Our one desire is to live this out, not simply on the weekends, but every day of the week.

I believe that it is going to take incarnational churches to reach our generation with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. Today, whether we like it or not, we have to earn the right to be heard. At Sonrise Church we have found that one of the most effective ways to reach people with the message of Jesus Christ today is through real and relevant acts of service. True compassion can restore the credibility that has been lost to our essential message we share. To “tell” the truth, we must “show” the truth. It is the essence of the incarnation. Jesus modeled it. He served. He met needs. We can do the same–if we’re willing to give ourselves away.

Early Church Quotes on Charity:

“They love one another. They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something they give freely to the man who has nothing; if they see a stranger, they take him home, and are happy, as though he were a real brother.” Aristides, 1st Century

“And instead of the tithes which the law commanded, the Lord said to divide everything we have with the poor. And he said to love not only our neighbors but also our enemies, and to be givers and sharers not only with the good but also to be liberal givers toward those who take away our possessions.” Irenaeus, 2nd Century

“The most of our brethren were unsparing in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness. They held fast to each other and visited the sick fearlessly, and ministered to them continually, serving them in Christ. And they died with them most joyfully, taking the affliction of others, and drawing the sickness from their neighbors to themselves and willingly receiving their pains. And many who cared for the sick and gave strength to others died themselves having transferred to themselves their death…But with the heathen everything was quite otherwise. They deserted those who began to be sick, and fled from their dearest friends. And they cast them out into the streets when they were half dead, and left the dead like refuse, unburied.” Dionysius, 3rd Century

“These godless Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their table. Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.” Roman Emperor Julian, 4th Century

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God Made Me Laugh

November 15, 2013

I just returned from Bujumbura, Burundi and Kampala, Uganda where I took along one of our campus pastors and a lay pastor to train African pastors in Bible study methods and preaching. There were many amazing God moments, but this one stands out.

Have you ever laughed at God? Not in mockery, but in sheer delight? I often find myself laughing at God and saying, “Okay, that was too cool of You.” When I packed for this trip I reached for a disposable razor and realized I already had one my travel kit. “Oh well, one more won’t hurt.” Then I found my old preaching Bible in my travel bags and thought, “I should just pack this…just in case.” Then I packed my iPad mini cable and realized I already had one in there.

Okay, guess what? That’s right. Our lay pastor forget his razor, the lady at Entebbe airport (Uganda) processing our VISA asked me for a Bible and I gave her mine (with my name engrave on it-and James was her late husband’s name), and our Kampala host lost his iPad mini cable and needed one. God is so funny!

How many times does God work in the details that are seemingly insignificant? How much to I follow God in the whispers and nudges and trust that he can do something with them?

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Cultural Norms

November 15, 2013

“No, Lord.” Can those two words honestly go together? If he is Lord doesn’t the answer require a “yes”? Peter spoke these words in Acts 10 when the Lord gave him a vision that led to the gospel being taken to the gentiles. This pivotal moment in the expansion of the church began with a “No, Lord.” Why these words?

At the time of Christ, there were strict Jewish traditions that ensured the separation between Jew and Gentile. These five Jewish cultural identifiers were: 1) celebrating the Sabbath, 2) eating only what was kosher, 3) circumcision of young males, 4) laws regarding cleanliness, and 5) rules spelling our the proper interaction with foreigners. Two of these laws were shattered when Peter received his vision in Acts 10, and his only reply was, “No, Lord.” The importance of adhering to these cultural norms cannot be overstated. These laws defined the Jewish people and ensured their longevity in the midst of a pagan rule. Eating only kosher food and keeping separated from Gentiles was essential for Peter because these helped define his very existence.

They challenge for the church came when the gospel shattered these traditions. When Jews and Gentiles sat down with each other in church the tension was difficult for us to understand. For the Jews the questions became: What do we let go of and what do we keep? In Jesus, how much of our identity is changed?

I think it is fair to say that even today these questions still challenge the church. How much do we identify with the world? Should we spend time with the lost? How much should we engage and consume culture? What is allowed and what is not be allowed? Should we separate from the world? If so, how do we reach them? Maybe it is time for an honest assessment of how much of our practices are simply traditions to keep us pure and how many are based upon direct commands of God.

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Volunteer Sunflowers

November 15, 2013

This past summer I plowed up a section of our farm to prepare it for a larger garden and a new kiwi trellis. The work was amazingly fun as I had borrowed a tractor from a friend and spent several evenings tilling ground to prepare it for the new project. Unfortunately I was unable to finish the project before we headed down to California to let the grandparents watch our boys while my wife and I traveled to Israel. When we returned a month later a giant sunflower had sprouted up in what had previously been hard earth. All around it were ugly weeds.

I have no idea where the sunflower seed came from, but as I was marveling at the beauty of this plant, I began to think of all of the projects I have started in my own power that amounted to nothing. The most amazing part of ministry to me is seeing God break in and work in an area where we had no idea he was working.

How many times do I presume upon the will of God and march foolishly into an area where God is not working. All of my prayers for God to bless “my” project then fall upon wiser heavenly ears. I have found that God is far more interested in blessing the projects where he is already working than my puny ideas. When God begins something, it is a beauty reminder that God doesn’t need our blessing nor our effort to accomplish what he wills.

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Rooster Not Needed

November 15, 2013

Four years ago our family moved out to the country and bought two acres with a farm house and we put up a barn. Because our three boys are young, it was my desire to get them out of the city and to be able to experience a life that only a boy growing up in the country could have. Together we have put up a barn, grown our gardens, installed a 175 foot zip line, put up a trampoline, built a treehouse, and built a chicken coop.

Ah, chickens, what can you say? They are expensive, dirty, and annoying–but there is nothing like farm fresh eggs. We have weekly chores that the boys do to earn their keep and each week one of my sons is on chicken duty. When we were given the hens there was a rooster included. We were told that it was necessary to have a rooster to keep the hens from fighting and pecking each other. But this rooster had an attitude (don’t they all) and was menacing to my youngest son. This rooster had to prove that he was boss and would rush at my son and occasionally peck at his mud boots.

We tried to give him away on Craigslist, but sadly we had no takers. Then one night he failed to return to the coop with the hens and we have never seen him sense. Guess what? He wasn’t really needed. Our hens are actually much better without him and they are free to roam and enjoy our property without having him push his weight around.

Last year I had to let go of one of my pastors. He was hired to shepherd our pastoral staff and provide soul care to those who were working hard trying to keep up with a growing church. But in the two years he was here our staff began to see him as I saw my rooster. He was constantly pecking at our pastors, our staff, and our volunteers. He was quick to remind everyone of how experienced he was and how he was the answer to their needs. Behind closed doors he peck, rushed, and attacked our pastoral staff. It was only when I became aware of what was going on that I was able to see him for what he was: a rooster that we did not need.

I don’t know why some people think that by tearing others down they are building themselves up. I will never understand how people can thrive on the destruction of others. In the year since he has been gone our staff has thrived like never before. It was time to let the rooster go, and when we did, we realized that he wasn’t needed.

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A Visit to PIXAR

November 15, 2013

ImageWe recently finished a message series called, “Storylines” at our church where we are exploring the flow of God’s story. Through the movement of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration our own storyline begins and ends. One of my summer D.Min class reminded me of this flow and ever since then my mind has been swirling around these four themes.

Last month after returning from Israel my family and I were able to visit PIXAR Studios in Emeryville, CA. Though a family connection we were invited in to see the inner workings of the studio that has brought some of the greatest stories of the past twenty years. As we walked the halls and saw the memories of their great animated films it hit me that every great PIXAR story had the same four elements: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. From Woody’s beginning as the much beloved toy of Andy, to his fall from grace when Buzz enters the picture, from their search for the way home, to their final return to Andy’s room, each of PIXAR’s stories all follow the same storyline.

For lunch we sat down at the PIXAR cafe and I mentioned this to the animator who had invited us in for a visit. He laughed as I explained these four elements of God’s story and he told me that every PIXAR film follows the same pattern. From Toy Story, their very first film, to the most recent Monsters University, each film explores the same four elements: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. I am once again reminded that all truth is God’s truth. Am I faithful to God’s story? Am I passionate about God’s story?

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