Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy New Year ( הג רוש השנה )

Today is the first day of the Jewish New Year which is called Rosh HaShanah (The Head/First of the Year). It is a part of a two day celebration that includes prayer and reflection as they usher in the new year. The point of this two day celebration of New Year is multi-faceted.

1. It is to remind everyone that God is sovereign and He is the creator of everything. The morning prayers and the liturgy throughout the day reinforce this idea of hamelech (המלך ) "the sovereign".

2. God is the judge. These two days are set aside with the idea that on this day God will judge the nations and the individuals. The point here is that we live in God's world which operates by God's rules. This is when the focus is on the hope that one day the whole world will acknowledge God's Kingdom.

3. The celebration of life. One Rabbi of the Masoroti Movement says, " 'Inscribe us in the book of life' is a constantly recurring motif of the Rosh Hashana liturgy. Life is valued above death. We celebrate being alive and express our appreciation of the gift of life and hope to be worthy of it."

I love the progression of first recognizing where life comes from, who is in control, and finally our response of thankfulness for life. Our markets will rise and fall, people will know will struggle through difficult issues, we will lose friends and loved ones, and we will not always feel like celebrating the gift of life. But the truth is, the goods and bads and the highs and lows are all a part of this thing and we don't really have the "right" or the need to go through life without every hurting or struggling. What we do want to do is stop periodically to recognize where we stand with God and begin a fresh new chapter.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Best Friend in the Whole World

Earlier this year we posted a story about our 6 year old's best friend who was diagnosed with a rare heart disease that requires a heart transplant. I cannot even begin to imagine how this must be for the family but they have been handling things well.

This past Saturday they got a call in the afternoon telling them they found a match for their 5 year old son (Kyle) so they packed up and headed for UCLA medical center for what must have been the most horrifying series of events of their lives.

By 11:30 PM that night the surgery was complete and little Kyle had a new heart that was beating on its own. Before the surgery we told our boys and we took some time to pray for Kyle and the doctors and during the prayer our middle son prayed, "Dear God, please help Kyle be okay with his new heart. He is my best friend in the whole wide world". It was a great prayer and I am happy to say that so far all is progressing for Kyle and he is on the road to recovery.

We are grateful that Kyle is doing well and we are happy for our son and his best friend in the whole world. We are also thankful that all three of our boys appear to be healthy and strong with great minds and kind hearts. We are thankful to our God for families, our friends, and His love and grace.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Was Jesus an Idiot?

I have often quoted the book, "The Idiot" by Fydor Dostoyevsky as he uses the main character, Prince Myshkin, as a Christ figure. The problem with this character is that he sees the best in people and even when he knows they will take advantage of him, he offers his love, forgiveness, and grace. He was called the "Idiot" because he refused to play by the rules of the world and he continued to stick to his own convictions of kindness and love.

The parallels to the life of Christ are obvious but I do not think many of us really understand how counter culture this kind of living is even to this day. It doesn't make sense for people to allow others to abuse our trust and take advantage of our kindness towards them. We probably should not assume the best of others and offer grace when they need justice. It is probably more wise to approach people being skeptical and wary of their motives but is this the example Jesus left?

I personally have my share of imperfections (just ask my wife). I am a "dumbist", I am impatient, and I enjoy being negative as much as the next guy. But the one thing that ends up hurting me more than I would hope is that I genuinely think highly of people and expect the best from them. In my mind I assume that others are also gracious and kind and I get hurt when I realize that is not always the case.

Just this week I received an email from someone that really bothered me. Since returning to the area to begin a new church I have come with the foolish idea that our church is just one of many in the area and there is no need to feel a sense of competition against others. Because of this I have begun the process of contacting various pastors in the area to network and just to get to know them. To this point the response was positive and encouraging as other pastors welcomed me back to the area.

But this week I received a response from one who not only didn't want to meet but said some presumptuous and flat out hurtful things to me. He went on to say that I should never talk to him again. Since I never met this person I was shocked by the response and spent an hour fuming and telling myself that my worth is not found in this person (which it is not).

I realized that what bothered me the most is that I assumed the best of this person and I was enough of an idiot to believe that my offering a friendship is not a threat but rather it is a common courtesy to extend to another person. I completely cannot fathom why this pastor who does not know me would ever say the things he said to me and why anyone (especially someone who is supposed to model Jesus' life) would ever talk to another person the way he did. Needless to say, my first response was not to offer grace or forgiveness to this person and my god complex reared its head as I wanted to help this person see the cruelty of his response.

Then I realized that the way of Jesus is to not be altered by the ways of mankind and no amount of misdirected emotion against me is worth causing me to see this person as less of a bearer of the image of God. The ways of Jesus are to forgive even when He knows we will take advantage of the forgiveness. I am certainly not comparing myself with Jesus and I am not saying that I am completely okay with the response I received. I am simply saying that I want to be an idiot like Jesus who takes these things and lets them go. I want to follow my Savior and remain committed to my own ideals rather than be affected and influenced by the ideals of others. It is not easy, it doesn't feel natural, but I know that I would rather be an idiot than follow the patterns of the world. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:25, "God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength". Pray that I have the strength to be an idiot like Jesus.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Beautiful You

I have a growing list of books that I will never write that cover a whole array of subjects. I have one on leadership, one about hidden treasures in the Bible, one that is a historical fiction, one memoirs that is completely exaggerated, a travel journal, and a self help book (hey if Rick Warren and Joel Olstein can do it, why can't I?).
My self help book that I will never write is called, "The Beautiful You" (You should always begin with a good title and catchy cover design) and it is actually mostly parody about how we will try anything to measure up in the eyes of others. In the end, my conclusion is that God created us in His image and according to Genesis 9:6, because we are in the image of God we have value.
In our new adventure of beginning a new kind of church in Orange County we feel that this concept is essential. We want to have a place where we truly seek to be like Jesus and let the gospel affect all areas of how we live, but we must begin by recognizing the reality that we all come imperfect and broken. We all fall short in our own ideas of how we should be but that is where the true beauty of Church can shine.
We want to be a place where our brokenness and imperfections are not something to hide from because we think the others in the group will think less of us, but rather they are things to display because they actually give hope to the group that God is the God who makes all things new and that nothing is out of His reach of redemption. I think that often in Christian leadership and churches we only put our "best" faces forward (best only in the eyes of the world) and we forget that the real beauty is in the fact that God our Father leads, directs, redeems, and blesses even in our times of weakness.
In Church leadership we talk about finding "strategic" people who are strong leaders and who compel others to follow a vision. It is not bad to have these people around, but I wonder if this strategy by churches and youth groups only causes the "non-strategic people" to feel that they don't measure up and therefore even fewer are empowered to join in the vision.

In our new gathering I am so excited to see a strange mix of people and many of whom are already coming with their imperfections on display. I am excited because I truly believe that this group who are joining in the call to live on "mission" to their community for the purpose of displaying the love and grace of Christ and not for the purpose of creating a bigger church are the people who will help others find hope and who will allow others to see the beauty in being created in the image of God.

So to our college students who love Jesus but struggle avoiding the "college life", to our moms of elementary aged kids who sometimes think they will not make it through the day, to our families who struggle to make ends meet, to our twenty-somethings who still don't know what they want to do with their lives, to our empty nesters who enjoy sleeping in on Sundays, to our children who have more energy than I have ever seen, to our singles who sometimes feel lonely, to our leaders who feel inadequate, to our theologians who still scratch their heads in confusion, to our couples who do not always act lovingly, and to all of us who desperately need the love and grace of Jesus... here's to the "Beautiful You", I am glad to have you with us.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Pastor in a Green Apron

Four or five days a week, my alarm sounds at 4:00 AM, I roll out of bed, and slip into my khaki pants and black button up shirt. I brush my teeth, step over our dog (who has no interest in waking up at 4:00 AM), hop on my bike, and ride to the Starbucks around the corner of the the house. Over the next 8 hours I spend my time making coffee drinks, heating up breakfast pastries, and blending frapuccinos for the High Schoolers on their way to the school located next door. In this time I interact with hundreds of people from my community everyday. I hear about their families, their jobs, and sometimes even their struggles. Sometimes I just listen, other times I offer encouragement or even advice. It may be the coffee that keeps everyone coming back day after day or maybe it is something more.
In Genesis 1 the Bible says that mankind is created in the image of God. Although the Hebrew for this phrase is a bit difficult to fully understand, it is relatively clear that this is referring to the Spiritual side of God more than the physical. This means that just as God is relational, we too are relational. This is why just one chapter later God says, "it is not good for man to be alone". As humans we have a need to be heard, to be understood, and to be connected to one another. Christians often find this need for connection fulfilled in their many church events through the week and most of the time these create healthy and fulfilling friendships.
Let us now return to Starbucks... every day hundreds of people go through those doors and most of them have no other community where they are accepted and encouraged. It is only when they walk through the doors of their local coffee shop when they are greeted by name and offered their usual drink. It is in those moments that those people experience their "church". It is these places where the local barista serves as their pastor.
One of the convictions of our new Church is that we want to be people who intentionally serve our communities and not just the Christians who come to our sacred meeting times, small groups, youth events, etc. We want to be the ones offering encouragement and hope to the people in our community who do not find that encouragement in one of the many Christian gatherings in our town. So the truth is when people ask me how many people do I serve as a pastor at Soma Church, my answer is, "hundreds", they just aren't people who come to any of our gatherings.
This is actually very encouraging to me. It helps each morning at 4:00 AM when I ride through the dark on empty streets still filled with the cold ocean air that settles during our Orange County evenings. When I put on my "priestly robe" that looks a lot like a green apron I know that my day as a pastor has begun and that I am a bit closer to living the ways of Jesus in my community.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Shaping of the Church: Steeple Envy

A difficult thing in leading churches or ministries is dealing with the internal desire for large numbers of people in the gatherings. Some pastors say that we should be concerned with numbers because Jesus tells us to go and make disciples and therefore if we are doing our job, more people will come. Other pastors flat out reject the measure of numbers by saying they want quality, not quantity. No matter what the personal conviction, it is difficult to allow God to have his way and not allow numbers to affect you.

The thing that we must fight against is comparing one gathering's size to another. Don Golden uses the phrase, "How big is your steeple" when he or anyone on his staff feels the need to brag about the numbers of attendees or the need to ask how many are attending somewhere else. I think this is very telling in that it shows that these questions are about pride and about power. Somehow we think that churches with "bigger steeples" are better or more effective when it just might be that God made them to have big steeples. It might also be as one pastor of a large church says, "the skill of the pastors directly affects the size of the church". I agree with this on a purely human level but do we really just think that only churches with large numbers of people have skilled pastors or that a large size really means it is a clearer picture of the Church that Jesus dreams about?

I know that it is easy for me to say all of this at this point because we are a part of a new church and therefore have a small number of people attending. At our new church we want to be effective in reaching people and giving people a place to connect, but we don't want the steeple size to define us. So how do you think churches can effectively deal with this issue of steeple envy?.... and no viagra jokes!