Think 'fast' for Lent

Think 'fast' for Lent

Ever set out inspired by Lent only to see it become an UN-inspired chore? What if you had small ways, each day, to be reminded of Hope? And, what If you could go through Lent as family & with friends? Sounds like beginnings of a New Normal.

Let’s iron out a couple of ideas of what fasting is and is not. Christian fasting isn’t a way to suffer for God or to demonstrate how devout we are. Maybe more importantly, it’s not a way of trying harder in hopes of getting God to respond. Rather, Christian fasting is intentionally withholding something we’d normally enjoy in hopes of seeking a greater awareness of the presence of God.

Because of the resurrection, new life is promised but growth is never automatic! In creating a new normal, we’re using Lent to give up normal items and activities to save a little money. Then, we’ll find ways to practice generosity, compassion, and bring Life to others.

Lent is also about seeking God’s presence. Christian fasting is about growing in Wisdom. If you don’t have a devotional plan, download the App ReadScripture and begin daily reading & watching videos starting with Jesus & the Kingdom. 

Christian fasting is Practicing. It’s the indirect effort that gives us access to something we can’t try or make happen on our own. So use this time to, perhaps, create a new habit. And, Christian fasting is about Surrender. It is a voluntary “making ourselves weak” so that we can know the strength and power of God (2 Cor 12:9-10).

The power of community is when a whole group of people does something together. You can start at any time. All monies to be collected on Sunday, April 14, 2019. 

Easter is coming! SPOILER ALERT: He’s Alive!

A Normal Idea

A Normal Idea

We often think of fasting as an extreme form of spirituality, like it’s reserved for the ’spiritual green berets”. In reality, we all “fast” all the time! We fast sleep, workouts, quality time with friends & family, returning messages, fried foods, favorite hobbies, and doing our taxes. The difference is that our sacrifice is often for personal gain, busyness, or procrastination. Christian fasting is a voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of spiritual focus. So, what if we were more thoughtful about a daily offering as we prepare our hearts for Easter? What if we had small ways, each day, to remind us of our faith, hope, & love for God?

A faith Experiment for Lent & Loving More. Consider what simple ways you can save money for during Lent. Keep a running total of how much you save from your usual spending habits and operating budget. At the end, we’ll pool our savings and announce our grand total on Easter Sunday. Since the resurrection offers new life, we’ll leverage funds together to bring life, care, and compassion to others!

It’s been said that forty days is enough time to create a new habit. What if this experiment could also affect the way we see God’s provision in our life and also create a new normal?

For ideas on simple ways to save and participate, check out our Lent Experiment. You can (re)start at any time and can turn in money each week but all monies to be collected on Sunday, April 14, 2019. Because Hope is rising & New Life is a promise for all!

Beyond Circumstances

Beyond Circumstances

Adolph Eichmann was the mastermind behind of Hitler’s genocide against the Jews.  He was finally captured in Argentina in 1960 and brought to trial 15 years after the war. Among the witnesses called to testify against Eichmann was a small, haggard man named Yehiel Dinur. He had survived brutal torture in the death camp at Auschwitz. Dinur entered the courtroom and he stared at the man who had presided over the slaughter of millions, including many of Dinur’s own friends.

As the eyes of the victim met those of the mass murderer, the courtroom fell silent. Then, suddenly, Dinur literally collapsed to the floor, sobbing violently. Was he overcome by hatred? By memories of the stark evil that Eichmann had committed? No. As Dinur explained later in a 60 Minutes interview, what struck him was that Eichmann did not look like an evil monster at all…he looked like an ordinary person…Just like anyone else. In that moment, Dinur said, “I realized that evil is endemic to the human condition—that any one of us could commit the same atrocities.” In a remarkable conclusion, Dinur said: “Eichmann is in all of us.” In other words, we’re all equally flawed and yet that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Compassion is recognizing a person’s needs that’s merely different than our own.

Salvation. Is. The. Same. Way. 

In Ephesians, Paul is in jail – by his own people – for making salvation available to non-Jews. Nevertheless, he doesn’t seem mad in the least bit, maybe because Paul didn’t see himself as any better. He doesn’t pray for circumstances to be better nor easier, simply “asking that the God may give you the Spirit of wisdom & revelation, so that you may know him better.” (1:17)

Paul shares how the Gospel changes everything—“…That may you have the power to understand, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (3:18). We don’t have to be defined by wealth, mistakes, luck, regret, broken relationships, class, or culture.

As we understand who we are in light of who God is, we emerge with a new identity. We are hidden in Christ, not buried by circumstances. Faith is knowing God’s present, able to redeem all things. As we seek to make amends or give up control, it begins with experiencing how deep & wide, how long & high of God’s love. That’s change from the inside out.

A Storied Life.

A Storied Life.

The power of story captures even the most distracted of us! We cheer for underdogs and relate to ‘against all odds’. We love the timing of dialogue in the heat-of-a-moment. We savor (& binge) on story that paint pictures, weaves emotion, and invests us to outcomes. A screenwriter friend described what makes a gripping story is the development of a character. “To be interesting…”, he says as he leans forward over his coffee, “a person needs to go through something... something interesting or intense. The difference between an ‘extra' and a principal actor is what we see when a character goes through challenge. It can be attractive or repulsive. Either way, it's what makes the story." 

God’s story in us, that is a living faith, develops the same way. We grow as we’re forced or required to endure. And the secret ingredient to transformation is the Holy Spirit present within us. Given our access to education, industry, healthcare, and line of credit…it doesn’t seem to require faith to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. To be sure, God graciously provides but it’s easy to see my success, determination, and common sense exclusively tied to my strength. Yet, faith unfolds when we CANNOT see a way we can humanly make it happen. Faith works when we respond to the prompts to help, give, stop, receive, or turn. Faith is about learning how to love another in a world full of self-promotion and preservation. And, in the midst struggle and prosperity, within the mundane and the busyness – faith lives when believe that God sees, loves, redeems and restores. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws”. (Ez.36:26-27)

Here’s to our story becoming God’s Story and a Living Faith!

How Grace "Works".

How Grace "Works".

There’s a popular idea of karma that if a person can log in enough good, kind, or selfless acts it can tip some cosmic scale in one’s favor. BUT, if you’re a jerk and something bad happens then its poetic justice. It’s the idea that some force in the universe acts as the great equalizer.

Grace on the other hand doesn’t start or end with good outweighing the bad. Yet the danger of contrasting grace with our deeds is that it suggests that one is a positive and the other is a negative. What’s universally true is that grace AND works are irreplaceably needed!

Paul wrote to the young, multi-cultural church in Ephesus saying, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Eph.3:8-10, NLT)

Ephesus was renown for people making art of the Olympian goddess, Artemis. She was considered the daughter of Zeus and the temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The city was full of artisans and tradesmen whose income was creating art of the goddess. Here, Paul uses a play on words in describing grace…

Rather, than people making art out of god. Paul’s describes a God who makes art of people!!

Grace is about a God who comes to us NOT us striving toward Him. We’re saved BY grace FOR good works!  And being part of church should produce something in us. Most notably, Love & Good Works. God seeks to shape you into a masterpiece – to create beauty out of your circumstances as we draw near, love outwardly, trust that God sees the whole canvas.

Pray Anew.

Pray Anew.

Most people have some kind of internal dialogue with God. But prayers often go up like ‘Hail Mary’ passes – a last ditch effort for help. Other times, prayer’s a tool crisis management, which is totally fine and yet, there’s so much more to experience…

I love how Paul prays for the Ephesians. He doesn’t pray that things would go well, be safe, find better jobs…despite their difficulties. He bypasses any prayer for circumstances saying, “I keep asking that God may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better” (1:17).

I like to pray for answers, to get past, to solve, for ease. Paul prays that we might see and sense God’s presence in the midst of it. This is a radically different way to pray! It’s also the only way we can be transformed.

Paul doesn’t pray for circumstances, for them or him, even though he’s in jail. He prays for a quality of relationship to see God and experience Him in the midst of our success or challenges. Circumstances don’t tell the meaning of your life. Paul’s writing that the present state of your life is not final word! He prays that you would have the faith in the power of God to reverse your life into something new. The power of God – and our prayers – is not to underwrite our prosperity or dreams. It’s power to take the most tragic or regrettable, even prosperous or ideal experiences and—with Christ—experience His presence in this present age!

Happier New Year!

Happier New Year!

This month has a whole lotta ‘Happy’ well-wishing going on - ‘Happy New year…”, “Happy Birthday…(to my son)”, and “Happy Anniversary…(#24J)”. I love these cheerful blessings but I’m reminded of a friend describing a hard life lesson by sayin', "The road to happiness isn't always happy”. Hmm…

We often have expectations of something easier or better. Happiness gets tied to getting our way. Deep down, I think most understand success rarely comes easy. We have moments that satisfy yet so much of life requires perseverance as well as the right perspective. The right perspective sees the road to happiness involves both detours and bumps. It doesn't mean the path is a wrong one. Happiness simply doesn't happen without effort, help of others, and certainly a view that’s bigger than the moment.

The most volatile (& vulnerable) people are consumers. They/we live on a razor’s edge of expectations being met. It’s not wrong to consume BUT, if we’re not careful, we reduced to just Takers. If & when we approach friendship, marriage, family, our church, or our God as a consumer…We. Never. Grow. We simply cannot grow without an exchange, a give and take, which always requires us to learn how to love one another better. To grow is to love.

The un-doing of our consumer ways requires we learn to give. But constant giving can also leave a person feeling 'bankrupt'. A vision for giving starts with a desire to learn how to love. This is Christ’s love for us – as a servant. Sometimes giving comes with ease. Other times, it’s a work.  But, what if God’s road to happiness this year…at home…in relationship…and part of a faith family means we approach it more as a servant in hopes of growing in love? So, what’s one way you can grow as a servant this year?

 Cuz, on the far side happy is God’s love. Cheers to happiest of New Years & even all the effort!

Hearing God.

Hearing God.

The word “Listening” in Latin is ‘obedire'. 'Audire' means “listening with great attention”.

That’s where the word “obedience” comes from.  Jesus is called the obedient one, that means listener. 

The Latin word for not listening, being deaf, is “surdus”. If you are absolutely not listening, that is where the word “absurd” comes from. 

So it might be interesting to note that somebody who is not listening is leading an absurd life.

This insight comes from Henri Nouwen’s Advent Book, which offers really helpful guidance as we move through this sacred but Oh-So-Hectic Season. If this month feels more emotional, it’s because we all carry with us particular longings. Some are shaped by God, some not. But all of us long for EXACTLY what Christmas represents – God’s peace, hope, love, and Joy. And while Christ has come, the world – & all of us in it — are left longing for more. The Good News is that Hope has come. The more Good News is that we get to participate with God as agents of justice & mercy, compassion, generosity, & hope.

This month, we’re celebrating the anticipation of Christ’s coming with a series entitled, December Longings. Chances are the people closest to you are also longing for something more, different, and better. BE. LIGHT. Offer Hope, help, healing. Invite them into faith and community

Speaking of Heaven on Earth, in the last two months, Mission Hills has been able to leverage almost $3000 from the Good Neighbor Fund!! All people in significant need. Your attendance ($1 set aside for every person in worship attendance) and your attention to the needs in our city MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE! 

  • A single mom who’s husband is incarcerated, driving for Lift, needed car repair

  • Dental care for immigrant friend

  • Rental assistance for hospitalized & out of work burmese family 

  • Grandparents left to raise 9 grandkids that two drug-dependent daughters abandoned, 

  • ESL books for 10 students taught by our own people

Hope has come. You’re part of it. We all still carry longings but, when we bind together to practice and share a living faith, Christ Reigns!

Longing for...Something

Longing for...Something

There’s a question that comes up a lot in my dealing with people from all walks of life. It’s the same question asked in so many different ways. Some struggle to find the words to ask directly, perhaps unsure of what they’re longing for. Others are more direct. Some people need reassurance while others are simply curious. 

The question is this, “Why do you believe?”

It’s a worthy question. And here’s my answer: I don’t simply believe because I am afraid of going to hell and being separated from the Light & Love of God when I die. I don’t believe because of the evidence of the factual and extra biblical support of the resurrection.  And, I don’t merely believe because the evidence of the Gospel is logically superior (to me) to all other religions. Those are all really significant and legitimate reasons to believe that have led countless people to personal allegiance with Christ.

Ultimately, I believe is because…in a world full of greed & corruption, excess & scarcity…in a world full of cancer, abuse, wildfires, racism, flooding & famine…in a world full of broken relationships & loss of loved ones, Christ comes to me as says, “you never have to be alone”.

This is the priceless gift of the gospel. Jesus is saying, no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. No matter your doubts, fears, mis-steps OR your strength, wit, & smarts...It doesn’t matter how alone you are, what decision you’re facing, or what you’re going to have face in the coming days…He promises, “I am with you.” That’s why I believe. The option to live alone is always on the table. But, I choose infinite companionship with Christ.

I think we all long to find meaning, if not the sacred, at Christmas. To that end, I want to guide us this month through Advent by addressing some of our universal longings. Longings for Peace…for Joy…for Hope…for Love. All of these came in the form of a Christ child 2000 years ago but the promise of Christmas is that God’s with us and he will return.

Visit our Resource Page for explanation and Advent resources to guide your home and hearts through your Christmas longings.

Outgrowing 'Okay'.

Outgrowing 'Okay'.

In his book, How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins frames an event with profound meaning. In August of 2002, he and his wife went for an impressive run in the mountains near Aspen, Colorado. They began at altitude of 8000 feet and would ascend to 13,000 feet! Running a trail through trees at 11,000 feet, he owns the fact that he’s not the runner his wife is and starts to walk. She powers on. As he emerges from trees, he can see her red sweatshirt far out in front, above the tree line, ascending up the switchbacks. In that moment, she was a picture of complete strength. However, only two months later she’d be diagnosed with cancer and require a double mastectomy. Just when she looked like a picture of health, she was already carrying the cancer.

It seems that the criteria we use to determine our own health will impact the way we see our need for help & seek the cure that God alone can provide.

When asked, we’re so quick to say, “I’m good” or “fine” but this often reveals the criteria we use to evaluate our own health. I’m okay because there’s money in the bank…I’ve got my health…I’ve got fun plans this weekend…started dating. Or, I’m fine because I got two masters degrees…an enlightened world view…recently lost 10lbs…my kids are safe…I donate, volunteer, etc.

It doesn’t require a big leap of faith to believe God has different criteria in regards to our health. The Apostle Paul said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us SO THAT in him we might become the righteousness of God”. In other words, that we might display to a desperate, anxious world a living Christ—Hope, generosity, joy, compassion coursing through your veins and pouring out your lips. We reflect it in how one stewards their blessing and time so that the reality of God is made known.

Practicing the presence of God is effort yet always produces health. For ages, the people of God practiced ‘fixed time’ prayers – morning & evening – in order to maintain perspective, renew their hearts, leverage their blessings and opportunities each day.

More than sound waves entering your ear, The Shema calls the people of God to listen and obey…Because real listening takes effort and action! In your quiet moments with God each day, try taking action with these questions and practice the presence of God all day, each day:

…How attentive are you to follow what you do know God desires?

…How sensitive are you to listen and respond to the prompts of God’s Spirit?

…How do you remember God’s faithfulness, provision, grace, guidance, and care?

…What are you learning from humbling circumstances? Do you have moments that you feel out of control, inadequate, dependent, lonely, or uncertain? These moments help us NOT forget the Lord.

 

 

I'm all ears.

I'm all ears.

If you’re a parent, how well do your kids listen (…the first time)? If you’re married, how well does your spouse hear? At work, do you feel heard by your boss? Hearing is such a basic human instinct yet actual listening seems like an art form. Faith and relationship thrive when we’re able to hear and respond but it’s just not always that easy.

I vividly remember sitting in a booth with Sam Earp. At 68, he’d been a pastor, professor, and missionary but due to his wife’s dementia, Sam was now providing her full time care. But he still loved to make time for tired pastors with big worries. We were talking about prayer, specifically hearing from God. I was frustrated with not hearing from God when Sam relayed this story.

He had just finished bathing his wife, putting her diaper on, and getting her dressed when he got a whiff of a foul smell. Realizing she had just messed her pants, he takes her clothes back off to clean her up. As she’s standing there, she goes again right on the bathroom floor. In that moment, with a tear rolling down his cheek and the emotion still fresh, he describes how he turns to God with a loud voice, “I’ve had it! I can’t take it!! Can you hear me?!?!”

I start to offer my condolences, “Sam, I’m so sorry…” But, he interrupts, “David, God continues asking the same question of us, “Can you hear me?!”  He reminds me how God speaks in suffering as much as prosperity. Struggle isn’t God’s punishment but an invitation to trust, express our need, and see God is near. He had my attention. I was all ears. Simply put, we grow by listening.

The Shema is the centerpiece of Hebrew daily morning and evening prayer. Shema enables us to practice the presence of God. More than sound waves entering your ear, Shema calls the people of God to listen and obey. Because real listening takes effort and action.

All transformation comes about as a response to revelation. It’s our response that leads to transformation. So…What is God saying? What are you hearing? How might you respond? And, whom do you share what you’re hearing and supposed to do?

Get a clue.

Get a clue.

I have a vivid memory of the morning I woke to an excited newish dog in our home. We were both staring at each other in the kitchen like, “you don’t get it, do you?” So, I let her out the back door thinking she has to go potty. She obediently steps outside only to turn around with a look like, “I just woke up, you’re already putting me out.” So I invite her back in and fill her food bowl.  No interest.  At this point (and this isn’t new), she’s sitting by the back door as I’m making breakfast. She’s often undecided about where she wants to be. But I refuse to play her game of indecision. I’m ignoring her because she had her chance. But she didn’t leave the back door, which is in plain view of the kitchen counter. After a few pants and whines, I heard the unmistakable sound-from-the-depths of Throw Up!?  Adding insult to injury, I look up to see a large pile she also deposited. The only thing worse than a dog pooping in your house is a dog having a problem at both ends! Ugh!! Oh, the learning curve of relationships!! Obviously, there was some messaging that I was both unaware and resistant to picking up.

Sometimes…success isn’t getting just what you want. And, failure isn’t getting what you didn’t want. With our dog, I wanted to establish boundaries, discipline, and healthy expectations about who’s in charge. I got what I wanted AND I got a mess to clean up—Hardly a success. I didn’t want sensitivity training or a lesson on being me being an Alpha male. Yet, I had a teachable moment, which was hardly a failure.

God is continually trying to get our attention. Sometimes, it’s to turn away from resentment, fear, addiction, &/or the last word. Other times, it’s a prompt to turn toward generosity, forgiveness, &/or compassion. Covenant includes commitment and promise to form a partnership. But we have the hardest time partnering with God, which is why we’re stuck in a divided world of greed and injustice! However, an active covenant with God and a faith community may keep us from assuming our way is best &/or needed. Ultimately, a partnership with Jesus invites us to keep returning like the Prodigal child realizing there’s a better way.

Wholehearted.

Wholehearted.

In the midst of a busy, stressful time, author David Whyte describes sitting down at the end of long day with a trusted friend. “Brother, speak to me of exhaustion”. The sage companion replied, “You know the anecdote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. The anecdote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness!”

All of us experience seasons of life that pull our hearts, thoughts, schedule, and finances in many directions. Knowing our tendency to get distracted, grow weary and lose faith, God thought wholeheartedness was so vital that he made a way to center our hearts, our minds, and our families. God’s plan for  wholeheartedness?  Sabbath.  Wait, What? Sabbath, really?!?! Isn’t Sabbath for people who aren’t busy, without kids or like to enjoy their weekends? Isn’t Sabbath a luxury or for people without deadlines?  Not. According. To. God.

When they reached Mt. Sinai, God covenants with Israel to be a nation of “priests” who would put the Divine on Display for the world to experience (Ex.19-24). Sabbath isn’t simply a day for church &/or inactivity. According to God, The way one’s faith, family or a nation – to be set apart as holy is if we maintain a standing appointment with God and community. Sabbath is God’s “game changer” for life. A standing appointment with God forces us to trust. Because everyone worries! Is there gonna be enough…? Will it get done? What am I missing? However, God invites us to trust through dedicated time. Personal and corporate “standing appointments” signals God’s plan to renew our hearts.

WHAT IF…we approach church like showing up to a potluck? We come with an offering, a contribution, acts of service, even rested. What if…we came with an eye for a struggling soul, willingness to examine our hearts, and ideas about surrender? Church would be renewing. Community would grow.

And, WHAT IF…we could begin each day with coffee with God, a scripture, &/or a prayer? “God, this is your day. My life is an offering to you. Open my eyes, my ears, my heart so I might turn toward you.”

We will find one direction. Wholeheartedness.

Count your blessings.

Count your blessings.

I still laugh at an old family story of a distant uncle living in Norway who already had 6 kids, including one-year old twins. With great excitement, he announced to his mom that they were pregnant again. His mom – in what might be the least grandmother moment in the history of grandma’s – looked at her son in disbelief saying, “Oh Son! Get ahold of yourself!!”

“But mom…I like children…”

To which she said, “Pffft! You have enough already."

Apparently, there are different ideas which blessings to count and which ones to not. A dear friend recently offered this quote,

“Spiritual people sometimes get the idea that we should be independent, totally whole, and completely fulfilled. That is a myth that burdens many good people. In reality, our lack of fulfillment is a precious gift. It is a source of our passion, creativity, and our search for God. All the best of life comes out of human yearning, not satisfaction.”

When God promised Abraham a generationally huge family, he and Sarah waited 25 years to see it fulfilled! How can waiting be a blessing!? How is life a precious gift without a family!? How does faith in a loving God become fulfilling!?

“All the best of life comes out of human yearning, not satisfaction”

We live in a world with so much potential. Yet, the greatest potential rests – not with human strength, wisdom, or effort– but with God’s covenant love. Covenant is about restoring the world as God intended. God’s love extends even to the undeserving because it also includes me.

God creates goodness then partners with us to help bring out more of that potential for goodness through things like compassion & generosity, renewal & hospitality…and most certainly community!

God’s blueprint for salvation was to set apart a family…who’d grow into a nation…who’d become a people that would bring God’s blessing to the entire world. Simply put, God wants to use your family. The one you came from. The one you’re creating. And especially the one that ISN’T necessarily related (ie our church family).

The Covenant with Abraham’s family was that they would be blessed in order to be a blessing to all people. As Mission Hills counts our blessings, we need to count on each other. Faith needs a community. And community needs your prayers, your help, your gifts, and your voice…so that we might count on God’s blessing to flow through us.

'Laying by'

'Laying by'

All of us, all the time are planting seeds. We seed our minds with ideas and our hearts with hope. We seed our kids with love, character, and common sense. We seed relationships with truth and grace. We seed our 401K so to sustain and enjoy retirement. Yet, for all the seeding we do, none it make us less impatient!!  Immediate results are always preferred!

An old farmer once told me they had a sayin’, “Laying by”. It was the time on a farm between busy seasons. It meant rest and waiting but NOT inactivity. It was a time when you made long-term improvements on the property like digging a new well or re-roofing the barn. If there were no big projects then you did maintenance on equipment in preparation for the coming season. 

Faith is often ignited when something overwhelming happens – a death, a health scare, job loss, or the birth of a child. But once we get familiar or acclimated, we lose a sense of urgency. It is so easy to put off faith and community and living with any sense of mission.  St. Peter wrote to Christians, under persecution and false teachers, about God’s timing…“But you must not forget this one thing: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 2 Pet.3:8-9 

Your life is a harvest but any growth requires fertile soil. Renewal means tilling the soil of your heart and mind as each of us yield to God’s Spirit – either a nudge to turn from or turn toward something or someone. Simply put, a renewed heart is a sensitive heart. And, we can actually grow more familiar with God’s voice but only to the extend we respond! This IS the process of spiritual transformation. We might not even be aware of what the Spirit is doing. But we start with doing what we know to do THEN God begins to direct our lives in increasing ways.

“Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (Jas.5:7-8)

Pick & Choose.

Pick & Choose.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. Like others, he held a sincere faith BUT he didn’t actually believe God to be present in the daily life. Jefferson was so heavily influenced by the Age of Enlightenment that he couldn’t believe Jesus was divine or the Son of God. As a rationale and moral man Jefferson valued the teachings. So, late in his life, with a razor in hand, He re-worked the Gospels. Jefferson literally edited numerous sections removing all miracles and most mentions of the supernatural. The Jefferson Bible, or what he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, begins with an account of Jesus’ birth without references to angels, genealogy, or prophecy. Miracles, references to the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, and Jesus’ resurrection are also absent from his collection. 

Maybe if I helped found a nation and authored its laws, I might see myself able to tailor scripture to fit my worldview too. Being selective of God’s inspired Word might sound like a bold (if not, convenient) move, Yet I wonder...how much WE ‘pick-&-choose’ God’s revelation???  At first reading this, it seemed ridiculous to dismiss so much of Jesus’ life and ministry. But then it occurred to me…I do this All. The. Time…Ouch!

Christians follow Christ because they have presumably made Jesus their Lord. That means I have to work at following even when I doubt…when I’m afraid…when I’m bothered. It’s tempting to think there’s lots of things that the average Christian can’t do – like heal the sick, proclaim the Good News, respond to injustice, lead a person to Christ, or disciple them. Except, what if God intends this “Living Faith” to be the normal Christian life?

While many search for meaning, significance is found in saying ‘Yes’ to Christian community & the marginalized. It’s ‘Yes’ to new life & self-sacrifice. ‘Yes’ to giving & receiving mercy. We always get to pick-&-choose how we respond to God’s presence but learning to say, ‘Yes’ is our salvation. 

A Pregnant Pause.

A Pregnant Pause.

From the time her water broke to the time Annika arrived was 20 minutes. That sounds like a relatively easy labor. The problem was we lived a solid 15 minutes from the hospital. It was your classic 3:00am dash – running red lights, driving faster as the groans grew louder. Once inside, the staff was so intent on NOT delivering until the doctor arrived. At this point, Annika’s little head was crowning out of the birth canal. I hear nurses literally say to Laurel, ‘just relax…try not to push’. Fine! But gravity is an impossible negotiator!! As the doctor finally enters the room, she glares at the nursing staff and exclaims with a nervous smile, “Let that baby come out!!”

The doctor’s presence meant “salvation” had come. Delivery meant Deliverance – for Laurel, for Annika, and for this group of labor nurses. New Life had come!

On the day Jesus decided to visit the house of a Jewish tax collector named Zacchaeus, everyone cringed. He was a man who knew God’s moral law, justice and faithfulness yet lived with complete self-interest. He worked with the ruling elite in exploiting his own people (Luke 19). Yet, Jesus (who’s name means, ‘God saves’) publicly exclaims for all to hear, “Today salvation has come to this house!” Jesus didn’t say this because this man had right doctrine or recited a prayer but because of a confession and eagerness to make amends. Jesus’ presence in his home brought peace. His handling of him offered hope. A meal together meant an opportunity to turn.

This weekend, we’re gathering as Tribes to practice community and hospitality. It’s a chance to visit, pray, even plan to make faith and community accessible. Like Jesus, this is another chance to but the ‘divine of display’. You’re not just volunteering to host or bring a brunch items. You’re gathering in faith believing that God can revive even the most stressed hearts, stale marriages, and doubting minds! My prayer is that, like Zacchaeus, each of us would grow in a willingness to turn…turn toward being known, finding a contribution, compassion or obedience. And we’d increasingly turn away from doubt, fear, and temptation. Let it be said of Mission Hills, whether we gather for worship, for a meal, in service of needs, at a party, or among friends – ‘Today, salvation has come!’

Enjoy what you create.

Enjoy what you create.

We had a saying we used with our kids growing up. We wanted them to treat each other as friends and with respect, not combative siblings. We never wanted to dismiss sibling rivalry as "just how it is". So we reminded them, "You get to enjoy what you create". In their case, it was the difference between enjoying a friend at home versus having a foe, feeling safe or being guarded. It was same toward us as parents. If they wanted to enjoy our trust and confidence, they had a say. It was one of the boundaries we used to make it easier for a sleepover or play date work, to enjoy eating out, or be part of a crowd even if other kids acted differently. As a result, we ALL got to enjoy a lot more fun than discipline, a lot more conversation than screen time, a lot more outings and adventure than time outs.

When it comes to faith, community, and mission – WE (as in each one of us) get to enjoy what we create. Faith should be transformational, but it’s not automatic. Community NEEDS a ‘standing appointment’ for quality relationships. Faith requires we DO something with our belief (otherwise God is just a theory). And the mission we long for is what makes life most meaningful. For our church family, our mission is creating a living faith, together, that will ultimately impact others starting with those closest.

Our home feels remarkably different this week as we moved our son into college. Ours will never be his address again. He will visit and stay but he’s not coming home each night. I’m in awe of the expansive quality God has created our hearts. My heart is SO FULL of joy and gratitude and at THE SAME TIME full of sadness and loss. It’s hard but so, so good. He was sad to leave as much as we were sad to see him go. YET, that’s a good thing!! AND, we are enjoying what we created – a son who’s ready and able to be on his own. A son who Lives what he Believes about Jesus. A son who longs for community and invests in others to make it happen.

Mission Hills seeks to exist as an extended family of faith more than simply a church service to attend. This fall, we have four Tribes – (1) South Austin, (2) Westlake/NW Hills, (3) Four Points/Lakeway, & (4) North Austin.

And here’s the thing: YOU Get To Enjoy What You Create!

When you’re IN community you see what people are capable of and work together to draw it out—Support for a Living Faith? ‘Current’ with friends? Experience with God? YES!  Each Tribe has capable leaders but, like any family, it takes each person seeing potential in others and finding their contribution. Sept.1&2 is Church-as-Tribe weekend. It’s a chance to pursue a faith that transforms our hearts, homes, neighborhoods, and city.

Test Drive.

Test Drive.

They say our sense of smell is our strongest memory.  One of the most distinct smells is that new car smell. (In fact, if dopamine & comfort had a smell, I’m sure it would smell like a new car :).  For me however, new car smell will always be associated with a difficult family memory and the obstacles with being IN community.

Finishing up a half-day kindergarten, I was picked up by family friends from church. They had a son my age who was one of my favorites. They were in the market for a new car so we stopped at a Cadillac dealership. As serious buyers they asked to test drive and, being a luxury car, it had that quintessential new car smell – a perfect mix of new carpet and fresh leather. While the ride was expectedly smooth, something was amiss. Picture this: two would-be buyers in the front seat, admiring all the bells & whistles, imagining themselves on road trips or drawing the gaze of others with this fine car. In the backseat are two young boys. Being 5, I didn’t know how to exactly to share that something wasn’t agreeing with me…and then it happened –

I. Threw. Up!!  Uhh…Test drive over.

Imagine pulling back into the lot saying how much you like the car…but just not this one. Truthfully, I didn’t even know the position I put them in. This story has haunted me over the years. I guess there’s nothing like your friend’s kids’ vomit to test the bounds of being in community.

The scent of community can be BOTH a fragrant offering AND a foul odor. But so can family. Sometimes we sniff differences in parenting, kids’ behavior, or general flakiness of friends. Other times, it smells like misunderstanding, the way we carry our stress, and emotional ‘triggers’ from the past. Yet, the fragrance of community is knowing and being known. It’s serving despite discomfort but doing it together. It’s the aroma of varied perspectives of from ages and life stages. It ‘smells’ like wisdom. It’s what happens when each person work to find a contribution rather than consume the goods. “Test driving” community is fraught with risk because it always involves relationship. It needs a standing appointment to stay current. It asks for sacrifice even when unnoticed. Yet, whether married or single, kids at home or gone, at the front end of a career, peak production, or winding down. We. Are. Always. Better. Together.

A Chunk of Change.

A Chunk of Change.

Luz Brown was a Mexican immigrant who came to the US at 19 after an arranged marriage to her father’s widowed friend (?!?!). They were able to homestead right on the US-Mexico border in 1930. Luz found a job at small sweet shop – Wisteria Candy Cottage – located an hour east of San Diego. Known for 17 different kinds of divinity, 13 flavors of truffles, homemade and hand-dipped chocolate crèmes, clusters and turtles. The candy cottage became her life’s work, literally. By the ‘50’s she became the owner, working 7 days-a-week and often sleeping in the back room. While remote, the shop was on the highway where generations of people visited traveling between San Diego and Arizona.

Fast-forward a lifetime. In her 80’s with declining health, her daughter explained it’s time to move out. But, Luz insisted she had to go collect a “few things”. She began rummaging through all her secret hiding places - the Bible, coffee can, back of drawers, potted plants, even in the mattress. When all was collected, she had $80,000 lying on her bed! “Okay, we can go now”, she said as a matter of fact.

Luz Brown was my wife, Laurel’s grandmother (The shop is still going & in the family). Grandma Brown lived through the depression and banking industry collapse. Married to a husband 30 years older, she was a widow longer than she was a wife. Together, they had 5 kids. She never took a vacation or a day off. Adventure was nonsense. Desire was a luxury not to afford. She learned to survive because she learned to provide. Her work ethic was her salvation.

I think it’s easy to live our whole lives with a ‘scarcity mindset’. That is, we believe the idea that we’re one step away from poverty. In some cases, it might be true. But, resourced or not, we often default to, ‘In ME I Trust’. I think hard work is incredibly noble. Yet the ‘shadow side’ of this strength is a self-sufficiency that keeps us from ever seeing or trusting God’s faithfulness, abundance, care, and provision.

Faith is learning to trust in God. That begins with surrender, which can also feel like failure. And yet – in the kingdom of God – it’s the only way we can experience Life to it’s fullest.