Viewing entries in

Compassion Compulsion

Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz, CA is one of the great local surf spots. It sit in the shadow of a light house just below winding cliffs. Santa Cruz also has a notoriously territorial surf culture - high in attitude and low in hospitality.  Over last Christmas break, it wasn’t very crowded, it felt safe, the swell was 4-6 feet, and sounded fun. So, I took my teenage son and niece to surf this spot even though it’s not really a beginner surf break. 

Famous last words.  

My niece is from Colorado who’d only surfed a couple times before but my son would also paddle out as I watched atop the cliff. Like life, the surf has a way of pushing you in a direction you don’t want to go, much less control. At first it was fine but she ended up getting pushed aggressively toward and into the rocks. In a panic, she found small cut-out along cliff as waves pounded. This was not the adventure-instagram-moment she/we had in mind. She was in trouble and I was in no position to help her.

But then a surfer–turned–angel saw what was happening. He paddled over and began to lead her out of harm’s way. Leaving her board behind at his command, he guided her a couple hundred yards - using his longboard - against the surge to safety amid the cliffs and crashing surf. Her board was in pieces. She was tired, shaking, and scared. But the care of this local surfer was amazing. It seemed to do more for him than the thought of any missed waves. He chose another’s care and made his (and our) day. He sacrificed what was valuable for something that was precious. In this way, I believe his action was, in fact, sacred.

This stranger came alive – like he had a purpose – beyond his own surfing enjoyment at the thought of caring for another. Compassion is a remarkable gesture in that it can bless or renew life to both the giver and recipient. Over the last few weeks, we’ve had a chance to experiment with acts of compassion – from saving daily expenditures to handing out gift cards to seeing needs, opportunities and our own resources differently. Perhaps this might inspire a New-And-Sustained Normal.

The New Normal-Experimenting with New Life & Compassion

In order to experience New Life we need to create a New Normal. What if we experiment with small sacrificial acts and gestures of compassion believing that God can use us AND wants to give us New Life? This “faith experiment” is to help us see needs, opportunities, and our own resources differently.

Creative ways to save money from our daily expenditures:

Consider what simple ways you can save money for a week. Keep a running total of how much you save from your normal operating budget. At the end of the week, we will pool our savings so that together we can practice small acts of compassion and kindness.

  • Pass on Starbucks for office or home brewed coffee
  • Plan a dinner menu for the week and forgo the Drive-thru or eating out.
  • Pack a lunch in lieu of eating out.
  • Rent a movie instead of going to the theatre.
  • Wash your own car wash.
  • Have a friend or spouse trim your hair.
  • Change your own car oil.
  • Avoid impulse purchases at the checkout stand or gas station.
  • Stick with just water if you eat out.
  • Skip a lunch meal.
  • Avoid the snack bar or concessions.
  • Put off a round of golf, happy hour after work, or special outing.
  • Use coupons to shop, keep track of what you save.
  • Buy sale items, note the savings.

Interrupting our Normal

It’s been proven that if you write something down, we’re more committed to following through. In an effort to express our faith in small-yet-compassionate ways, take a minute to consider what changes in your daily spending that you could adjust over the next week (i.e. bring a lunch vs eating out, buying coffee vs brewing your own, etc.).

What’s an area of spending that you’re willing to make a change (i.e. Starbucks, bag lunches, etc.):  __________                                                                   

Estimate how much savings that could mean over the course of 1 or 2 weeks:  _____________

***Another option is to find other small ways to save in daily expenditures and involve your kids. The key will be to keep a running tally of your savings so that we can leverage it together for others. Make notes in your phone or check register during this time. We will collect all monies on Sunday, April 24th.

A New Normal: A human(e) Response to the Resurrection.

Now that Easter’s been properly celebrated, what does the promise of new life mean for our daily lives? Easter reminded us that we can begin again. Being spiritually "born again" isn’t supposed to happen once, but regularly and often. It’s a continual process of renewal.  II Corinthians 4:16 in The Message says, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace."

Our world is so full of needs, injustice, and abuse that it appears as if our only hope is to survive. Certainly, not thrive. Honestly, it’s hard to let ourselves be too affected by the plight of others YET – at the same time – we’re mindful of God’s unfolding grace in our own lives. Because of the resurrection, new life is promised but it's not automatic either. 

We often look around at our lives and this world wondering, “where’s God…?” or “how could he let that happen?”  We feel like God should be more active.  But, I'm suspicious that a large part of what we feel about injustice, greed, scarcity, abuse, wealth, accomplishment is supposed to help us see what God sees?  I think our emotions are supposed to help us experience something, something that God already sees and wants to remedy.  Perhaps what we see and feel is God’s invitation is to be a part of a solution.

So, what if — as a part of God’s plan for us — is to use the need and brokenness in this world to keep us spiritually alive? 

New life means re-sensitizing our hearts. With a little effort and encouragement, I want to suggest a “faith experiment” to help us see needs, opportunities, and our own resources differently. It's a chance to recondition our hearts.

For most of us, in order to experience New Life we need to create a New Normal? What if we experiment with small sacrificial acts and gestures of compassion believing that God can use us AND wants to give us New Life? 

Over the next month, we’re going to explore the Rhythm of Compassion. And we’ll do it together so we’re not alone in our effort. The idea is simple: One week where each of us sees what we can do without — We trade Starbucks for office brew. We plan a menu and forgo the Drive-thru. We pack a lunch in lieu of eating out. We pass on going to the movies and rent at home. There’s lots of normal activities we choose to bypass for a week. And, with the money saved, we pool it together. The money saved then becomes a way for us to practice compassion – meeting simple needs as they arise in your neighborhood, at the gas pump, the grocery store, at your kids school, downtown, in the park, or on the news. We’re not trying to solve any one issue. We’re simply trying to be part of God’s response AND allow our hearts to be re-sensitized as part of our everyday lives. That feels like the makings of a New Normal.

Hospitality: Making Room in our Home and our Heart.

Have you ever been overwhelmed, humbled by the mercy of another’s hospitality? Hospitality has a taste. It has a touch. It has a scent, a form, and can help us experience God’s presence in the most tangible way.

Sometimes, hospitality is our ability to make room for another – a friend, a stranger, a neighbor, and the least of these.

Other times, hospitality is also our ability to receive kindness, favor, and generosity from another (often an unexpected source). So what’s behind that? Probably, God.

The tangible expression of God is the willingness of his creation to express care.

However, we’re so quick to say, “no thanks”, “I’m fine”, and “I’m okay” that we miss out on those whom God is drawing near. If we can begin to see God as the Source of our lives (Jas.1:17, John 15) then receiving favors, kindness, and care reveals the presence of God and it reminds me that ultimately He provides.

If you struggle with doubt or believing God’s present or that He cares, try learning to be less self-sufficient. If we begin to see God as the Source of our lives, then acts of kindness, receiving favor, and gracious hospitality actually reveals God’s presence. If I never receive hospitality, I can easily be lulled into the belief that I don’t need Him.

Practicing a Rhythm of Hospitality.  In Luke 10:1-20, a new phase of Jesus’ ministry began when he sent out the apostles to do the type of preaching, teaching and healing that they had observed him doing. This was the third tour of Galilee by Jesus and his disciples. On the first tour Jesus traveled with the four fishermen; on the second all twelve were with him. On the third, Jesus traveled alone after sending out the seventy-two, two by two.

He’s previewing the Great Commission, which would come after his resurrection. He wants to teach his disciples about evangelism and the way he does is by teaching them about hospitality. 

He’s painting a new picture of what it meant to follow. No longer would they simply gather in the Temple or stay within the comfort of their small group. Now they were to go out. He gave them his power and authority and marching orders to find ‘People of peace”.

When Jesus sends them out, they’re told to take nothing with them for the journey. Instead, they were to rely on the hospitality and favor of strangers. When it comes to using our faith for good, often times the best thing we can do is let someone new, someone unexpected to care for us in unexpected ways.

Two things happen: God provides for us. God draws people together. 

Think about it, when we feel most alive, we’re able to contribute. We feel most connected when we’re able to help, give, or serve. So a person who refuses to let anyone help is actually turning away the ability to be closer. This is why Jesus said, “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a need than the rich man to go to heaven.” (Lk.18:25). He’s not saying that God doesn’t want you wealthy, he’s reminding us that abundance has a way of making us self sufficient and seeing what are needs actually are.

The spiritual Rhythm of Hospitality means learning to discern who God has been preparing in advance of my life. Our job isn’t to have all the right answers, the perfect approach, or to even be convincing. Our job is simply to let the Spirit lead to whom the Spirit has prepared. This means that we have to be willing to seek, wait, and receive God’s provision as much as we have the ability to offer it. 

According to scripture, all of us appear to have “People of Peace” in our lives. These are the ones who have already shown us inexplicable favor, kindness, patience, or grace. Yet, it’s also safe to assume, each of us are also someone else’s person of peace. And it’s how we give AND receive that reveal God most. 

This is not that.

Former NFL Quarterback, Doug Williams had a historic career in the NFL. In 1998, he was named Super Bowl XXII MVP as he led the Washington Redskins to victory passing for a record 340 yards and four touchdowns. Williams was also the first black starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl. In 1998 Williams become the head football coach at Grambling St. succeeding the legendary Eddie Robinson who had coached there for 55 years! When Williams was introduced as the new head football, “You don’t try to fill those shoes. You just dip ‘em in bronze, kiss ‘em, and sit ‘em on your mantle.”   In simple terms he was saying about his new tenure, "This is not that!” 

We often need a new lens to see a new opportunity. When we’re trying to adjust to something new, something different…maybe the least helpful thing we can do is try to compare it. When it comes to our faith, we all have a reference point that helped shape who we are, what we believe, and what we like and dislike. We all come with an expectation, a hope, a desire but only God can meet that in the most personal and maybe surprisingly different way!

As we create Mission Hills Church together, whatever your church experience was (good, bad or indifferent), can I just say, “This is not that”? This will feel different simply because it’s new, which might be what Austin (and each of us) needs. While we want to create a dynamic worship environment with some familiarity, we also want to see our lives — that is, our gifts, resources, time, and influence — align us with the God’s heart in Austin as it is in Heaven. 

If you’re used to a small group with curriculum and easy answers…
If you’re used to a lotta talk and large crowds…
If you’re used to merely being divided up by a stage of life and calling it community…
This is not that.

Tribes are designed to be more like an extended family group who offer encouragement and support in friendship and living out our faith. 

This is…surrogate aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
This is…finishing the night in the kitchen cleaning up together.
This is…investing in other’s kids because they’re a part of the life of the tribe.
This is…connecting with different stages of life and discovering what's common among us.
This is…experimenting, practicing, embracing and implementing the Rhythms as a way to follow Christ in community.

Many are skeptical of religion yet are spiritually curious. We need a place to ask questions and express doubt. We also need a community that offers a way to express care and justice in order for faith to gain traction.   This can be that.

Many are far from family physically, perhaps emotionally. Yet we all need a community who stays current in our lives, reminds us of who we are, knows our potential, and calls us to make a contribution. 
This is the dream that is Mission Hills Church. 

The Power of Good. Works. An intro to our Rhythms

In 1966, after drawing “only” 50,000 fans for show at Shea Stadium, the Beatles were fed up w touring. In an interview years later with Paul, George and Ringo seated around a table, McCartney said, “We were getting worse and worse as a band while all those people were screaming. It was lovely that they liked us but we couldn’t hear to play.” They could no longer hear the music. When that happened, they lost their meaning. They had to go back to the studio to find their sound again. 

If our faith is the melody and God’s presence is the harmony, how can we hear God’s redemption song despite the insufferable distractions? I like to say that we need to find our spiritual rhythm, if you will—a way to tangibly express our faith and represent the belief we profess. And we need each other so we don’t lose it. 

We all have a desire to grow. Some of us have a plan for it. We have ideas about how to grow a career, our business, net worth, improve our health or relationships…but do we know how to grow our faith? I want to introduce a way of thinking about faith as a way of living.

Jesus said, ‘My mother & brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’  (Lk.8:19-21). Ancient Israel shared a common understanding of the concept of good deeds. In causal Jewish English, “doing a mitzvot” means doing a good deed, something nice, something helpful to someone, a favor; but these meanings derive from the original sense, “a commandment” from God. It is somewhat shocking to learn that the Torah contains a whopping 613 mitzvot for the Jewish people to obey! 

Central to Jewish people was to live the way of Torah. These ‘commands’ from the first five books of the Bible were God’s design to help us live in harmony with God, with one another, and with the environment. Torah contains all kinds of laws that about the minutia of daily living (Lev.19; 25; Dt.24). Torah speaks to issues about food, possession, neighbors, sexuality, family, business, and clothing – in order to live the way of God. It’s about how to work, treat employees, treat customers, take of others because prosperity was thought of as communal not individual, that if one prospered others should too. And if the community prospered, no one would go hungry. Jesus embraces this inspired Jewish idea when he says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your (mitzvot) good deeds and praise your father in Heaven” (Mt. 5:16)  

Many discussions in Jesus’ day centered around which were the most important commands. The better the rabbi, the fewer amount of words and letters he’d use to summarize the commands in the shortest way possible. Daily discussions were held in temple courts around these interpretations and which ones were most important. Debates among rabbis and religious leaders were won with someone’s ability to best summarize God’s intent behind the Laws. In a drop-the-mic, stun-the-crowd kind of moment, Jesus summarizes 613 commands saying, Love God and love others as much as self (Matt.22:24).

Different rabbis would have different interpretations of Torah. For instance, some might emphasize how much a person could lift or how far one could walk on Sabbath and still keep the day as holy. Others might emphasize personal hygiene or acceptable eating habits. And still others might scrutinize care for the most vulnerable in society. Many interpretations were so strict, legalistic, and became a source of pride. What’s interesting is that a rabbi’s interpretation was known as his ‘yoke’. Jesus, a master rabbi himself, comes along and declares, “my yoke is easy (or, useful) and my burden (or, load) is light” (Matt.11:30). Jesus wants to show what it looks like to put these commands on display. He wants to restore harmony with God and creates a tangible, guided way for people to follow. 

At Mission Hills Church, we’ve compiled a rather simple “yoke” for people to follow. We refer to them as our Rhythms. We believe that faith is supposed to be both shared and practiced beyond simply attending a worship service. We’re not trying to be spiritually comprehensive with these values. Rather, we trying to outline a tangible way for people to follow Christ, express faith, and experience the Spirit’s impact. Our belief is that if we practice these Rhythms, it can form Christ in us. And if we practice these Rhythms, it will benefit people where we live and work. 

  • Hospitality – because faith and community need to remain accessible.
  • Generosity – it’s in giving that we’re reminded of God’s gracious provision in our own lives. 
  • Gratitude simply requires discipline and thanksgiving is a valuable expression of worship.
  • Compassion – it’s in serving that our hearts are re-sensitized and needs are met.
  • Community – faith is supposed to be shared and practiced with others. 
  • Renewal - because margins are a good thing and we need to live more sustainably 
  • Apprenticing – because experience is both a need to gain and a gift to steward for all of us.