The Valentine’s Day Challenge

14 02 2011

The Valentine’s Day Challenge:

Think about someone you don’t particularly care for, that you often forget about, or that you tend to ignore.

Send them love through an e-mail or call affirming their worth and value.

Because even if you don’t remember them unintentionally or intentionally, they are worth your love since you are worth God’s love.

Pay it forward. Especially when you don’t want to.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!





The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:9-10)

17 12 2010

Proverbs 3:9-10

9Honor the Lord with your substance
and with the first fruits of all your produce;
10then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.

These verses remind me of the prime texts some preachers would use to preach a Prosperity Gospel that doesn’t really honor God. Their sermon or lesson begins off as something legitimate but then quickly turns into something that exerts “God has to fix your credit”, “God will give you a check in the mail”, “God shall eliminate your debt” and the list goes on and on. These things aren’t entirely bad and I’m sure they are the wish of every single person who has some sort of school loan or mortgage to pay (I have gone through periods where I literally prayed that God would send me a check in the mail to cover this or that. But over time I realized that this type of testimony is most likely the exception more than the rule which says something awesome about our God that God doesn’t do the same thing for everyone). Trusting God to be present and active, working out our problems is not a bad thing at all, but the misrepresentation of God and the misunderstanding of our purpose through our misunderstanding of God is a bad thing, a moral mistake.

If our hearts are so consumed with stuff like debt, aesthetics, or buying the best Christmas gifts so we can get praise and feel good about ourselves for five minutes, then we’ve succeeded at honoring ourselves but we haven’t done a good job in honoring the Lord. Sure, we can argue that our concern and love for our appearance and the material well-being of others is not about us, but it’s about making others happy. But at best this is a weak argument avoiding the deeper layers of true motive and honest intention.

Where Prosperity preaching goes wrong is the order in which they approach the text. They speak about God first. To be fair, it doesn’t always begin with money. In fact, it begins with exploring God within the text, but then what God does for us takes over and becomes the focal point of being God’s child, worship, church, tithing, etc. God doesn’t remain the focus but we place ourselves as the focal point of God’s word.

With this text even the Prosperity preacher would engage God first: “Tithing is a form of honoring God with our substance. We pay respect to, we worship the Lord fully through what we have. Giving to, supporting, and upholding the church should be your first priority if God is first in your life. And even if you’re new the faith or church hasn’t clicked all the way for you yet or if you’re still learning the word of God, tithe now and God will build up something in you in time. God will honor your sacrifice.”

And this is legitimate, but it is ultimately a set-up for our reward, what we receive as a result of honoring God. The rest of the sermon may entail exhortation that “Tithing opens up the floodgates for financial reward! You will be blessed with more than you can imagine! You will receive material and financial blessing that only God can give! God multiplies spiritually so that we reap those rewards when we honor God and give ten percent! God sees the little that you are willing to give and multiples it beyond what you can count. God will turn that seed you sow into the church into a plant that you can feed off later. Like the widow who gave her last in 1 Kings 17, God will not let your oil and flour run out!”

And this is true, but again, this is not the focus. When we praise God for what God is going to do more than we praise God for just being God, something is amiss. When we question that God has randomly provided $100 for our electricity bill rather than sending a check in the mail to pay our $15,000 credit card debt, something is wrong. We are not the focus. We need to remove ourselves from the center. We need to get off the throne and reposition ourselves at the foot of the throne. The text says that if we honor God with our substance, the stuff from us, what lies at the heart of our cherished things, and give God the best of it, then we will have plenty. If we give the best of our time, writing, art, singing, cooking, administrative skills, business savvy, warmth, smiles, hugs, prayer, love, and even stuff like clothing and money, then we will get enough to eat and drink, enough to live off of. We will get enough, we won’t always get it all, but we will get enough.

Perhaps we need to shed the “exception” mindset and preaching that we wish for and thus place within God’s word and embrace the “rule reality”. The reality is, God works amidst our working and 9 times out of 10 it won’t be with what we dreamed of.

God gives enough. If we ask for a 3 story house, God gives us a three-bedroom one story condo. If we ask for a Mercedes-Benz, God will give us a Honda we can name Mercedes. If we ask for $200,000 to pay off loans, God will give us a job that makes enough where we can begin to pay off those loans over the course of time. If we ask for a husband or wife, God will keep us single another 10 years to be sharpened and made wise, kind, loving, and ready for that person (if that is what God even intends for us…maybe we should ask God to show us what we are supposed to be doing and get busy doing that instead).

I think pastors who make hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year are an exception; they are like kings who owned tons of land and money and had influence were. Perhaps this pastor-king parallel provides a warning of us moving away from God towards governance by people (let’s learn from Israel).

I think that true prophets and prophetesses are exceptions; they do not claim their title with joy but remorse for their life is a continuous cycle of rejection because of the message they not only give but carry within themselves. Their office isn’t one that was designed to be exploited for conferences, but their office imprints on their lives loneliness and pursuit. As they pursue God, they are pursued. They are chased, hated, stoned, and killed. They aren’t accommodated, they are exiled. Modern day exhorters claiming to be prophets should consider this; the prophetic office is not one to be utilized for fame or feeling that you’re finally existing within a “purpose”. We have to be very careful about this…  

I think that checks can come in the mail, but that they will most likely come as a salary reimbursement God withheld from you until you needed it. I think that your debt can be paid, but that it can be done the old-fashioned way, with a job. I think that you can get a nice car or house if God gives you the wisdom to save and pay for it yourself. God holds, changes, draws from and utilizes things we first step out and do. God blesses our commitment to live faithfully, not lazily. God blesses the foot we put forward by giving us more stable ground to walk on. But we must walk, sometimes run, sometimes limp, but it is us making the decision and taking the action to move forward. I believe that God never lifts us up on a cloud to fly above and way from our problems; we’re not Elijah. And we don’t want to be. Elijah received this rare event after a life-time of fulfilling his difficult prophetic calling. Hard work is involved in the blessing, heck, work is involved in the blessing.

I know what I’m describing isn’t exciting blessing, but it is the blessing of “plenty and bursting”. God gives us plenty and this plenty bursts forth so that others may see what God has done and inquires about our God. And God is introduced as a faithful Father, a loving Provider, and a Keeper of our minds and bodies so that we may honor God with our beings. God is not the debt-eraser, but the sin-eliminator. God is not the house-giver, but the mercy-granter. God is not the love-doctor, but God is love.  

Don’t get me wrong, God owns everything. I’m sure God could give us money and a comfortable lifestyle, but I’m not sure God would want to. If getting what we want means that we look to God as Provider only, that we curse God to be Jehovah Jireh alone, we’ve moved away from the purpose God created us for, to worship God. Our purpose isn’t to exist comfortably, but to be God’s, not to belong to money or comfort. If getting what we want implodes a religious pluralism within our beings where the money-god and comfort-god take root alongside God, then it’s not worth it. God can’t be limited to financial healer or “blesser” alone. God is too God to be limited. So I ask that God not give me what I want, but only what I need. I ask that God give me “just plenty” so that I may burst forth with joy and gratitude that a loving God who already did it all in dying for me and my sins loves me enough to still give me anything at all.

I guess it’s about perspective. But I’m afraid that humanity is too fickle to promise not to worship what we get. Therefore I don’t want us to get it all, but just some of it. I want us to do what we are supposed to do anyway giving God our substance and produce: our time, family, and talents and anything else that means everything to us. I want us to give back to God what God has already blessed us tremendously with.

Maybe we would preach a Prosperity Gospel that emphasizes tithing 100% of our best qualities, our best abilities, our time, our love, our concentration and attention. We would preach a Gospel that sees our best as unable to be enhanced with money, but with and through God. We would preach giving God us first and foremost and what it would feel and be like to experience this; what joy, happiness, love, and kind-heartedness we would not simply feel but be. We would be like God. What if Prosperity was a process of becoming God-like? One thing is for sure, there would be enough for everyone.

Prayer: Lord, I pray that our transformation to be like and look like Jesus doesn’t come to us through the mail or a debt cancellation or a tummy tuck, but that it comes quickly and slowly all in the same moment into our hearts, a peaceful and painful process that yields a different kind of wealth unhindered. Lord, may we rejoice in enough. It’s in the name of the Savior who is enough and more than enough, Jesus the Christ, Amen.





The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:5-6)

15 12 2010

So I’m trying something new.

Since about a month ago, I took to writing a reflection on a short piece of scripture everyday and a prayer at the end to culminate the heart of my reflection. It has been a liberating exercise. When I “officially” stopped about two weeks ago, something felt empty, so I returned to it.

Before, I had only been posting the prayers since the reflections were “positively painful” and necessary for me. I discovered a new realm of confession, a realm of cyber-confession if you will. It did my heart good and is still is.

Two days ago I broke my routine of reflecting on Proverbs; I interjected Luke 1 for a special Advent reflection and it was great. I posted that reflection on this blog and I think it’s time to post some, if not most, if not all of these Proverbs reflections too for whoever wants to share in reflection with me. Please enjoy reflecting with me on the wisdom of proverbs.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Proverbs 3:5-6

5Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
6In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

I love this charge; I love the challenge to trust the Lord with all our heart. It leaves no room to be haphazard with God. Our trust can’t be hit-and-miss. This command-like statement begs us to give all of our faith to God, not to ration our faith out to luck, our abilities, the networks we have, our race, our gender, or church affiliations, our pastors, our fraternities and sororities, etc. Sure, God can use those things and show us favor or grace whether we think of them as good or bad things, but God wants all our trust. It is when we give God everything we hope for that God will divvy out where God’s favor and grace will surprise and bless us.  

I trust in a lot of things and tack on “please Lord” at the end of spending my trust in people or chance or luck. But I think I want to reverse that; but reversal requires a reversal of thinking which is more difficult than I want it to be. This means I can’t trust the experience, grades, contacts and references on my resume. This means I can’t trust the powerful people I know who can make things happen. This means I can’t trust my favorite people and friends. I can’t trust my family. I can trust that God uses my resume, contacts, friends and family, but it means I trust in God only. For my own insight and reasoning doesn’t see that my resume doesn’t have what the company is looking for, doesn’t realize that that prestigious school I hope will admit me doesn’t know the people I know, my friends can’t relate to everything I go through and my family will not support me 100% of the time. It’s a fact; our insight only sees things one-dimensionally. God looks at the whole picture, just as God looks at the whole heart. And God desires our whole heart. The Creator of the Universe wants us to believe that the best is in store for us when we put all of our trust in God.

But God not only wants our trust, our belief not in our rationale, but God also wants our lives to be a testimony towards and of God. God wants not only our inward contemplation and wrestling, but God wants our outward action too. God wants our entire lives. God wants the inward and the outward. God wants our fears, doubts, low self-esteem, depression, hate, hurt, intention to harm, love, joy—everything the heart is and believes in at one point or another—and God wants us to trust not in those emotions and feelings whether they are justified or not, but God wants us to trust in God’s self. This can mean forgiveness where it is not deserved, leaving something or someone who did nothing wrong to you simply because it’s time to move on, joining someone or something because God said so, asking for that extension on a paper even when the stern professor forewarned it wouldn’t be granted, asking for vacation or a raise even when you have already received it—it involves a lot of non-sensical actions because our belief in the goodness and omniscience of God powers us to do so. Trusting in God means trusting in what the world calls foolish and making the world look foolish when we are blessed bountifully or receive unmerited favor (everyone else may say that we are “very lucky”). God doesn’t only want us to believe in and obey God’s command to do something, say something, be something that seems impossible and see God’s goodness in its manifestation, but God wants our decisive actions.

God wants our ways. God wants when we act this way or that way. God wants our silliness, our friendliness, our toughness, the way we avoid trouble or difficult or uncomfortable circumstances, our street-smartness, our innocence, our ignorance, our knowledge, the way we get when we’re mad, our passive aggressiveness, our straight-forwardness, our silence, our stillness, our go-get-it attitude, our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality, the way we get when we’re scared, the way we act when we’re happy, hurt, speechless, the way we grin, the way we laugh, the way we admire and love—God wants all of our ways to point back to God, even our imperfect, human ways of approaching and dealing with life because they have the potential to, even in their imperfection, meet God’s grace and give God glory.

Even our crooked attitudes, mentality, thinking, tones, facial expressions, heart-conversations can be stretched in the right directions towards perfect alignment to the throne of God. They can be broken and re-patched with the bonding agent of the Holy Spirit. The bonding agent of slavery to Christ (this would be a great discussion to have one day) will straighten out the way we live with people. The permanent bond God chose when choosing Israel so that all may be chosen for salvation will smooth out our painfully arched perspectives to life and love. Jesus’ binding to a cross binding our sin to oblivion will patch up our wounds and help us heal correctly, into a lifestyle that avoids unnecessary turns and twists and painful dead-ends, but leads us towards a destiny straight to the throne of God. Our lives are a branch of worship towards the Lord. We fall from our feet to God’s feet in precious ritual and worship. Our destination is the foot of the cross, at the feet of our brethren, at the foot of God’s throne. And it is at God’s feet that we can joyfully realize that we are in God’s kingdom.

Prayer: Lord, keep us low. Keep us at ground-level. We need to be at Your feet to realize that at the feet of others is where the Kingdom is in-breaking. Lord, may we meet You on the ground and not in the sky. Help us look for You where we don’t always want to look but know where You will be. It’s in Jesus’ name, our God who humbly washed the feet of His disciples’ name I pray, Amen.





Intersections and Bright Orange Vests Part II

26 08 2010

Along highway 15-501, you’ll find great stories and meaningful lessons, all by watching people – the begging people. Their actions, clothes, bodies, hair, stations and signs tell a story. Granted, a lot of people don’t believe that story and suggest that they are misleading, living a comfortable lifestyle amongst their friends creating a business of begging, but I beg to differ.

I don’t disagree that they may have another concealed life, but I do disagree that their lifestyle is comfortable. I can’t imagine begging as a comfortable practice or business venture. I can’t imagine what is so relaxing about degrading oneself day after day to get a dollar, or even a few coins. Being on the underside of the economy is uncomfortable. It is humiliating. It is distant. It does not even require contact. Begging is a lonely business, a disconcerting effort to survive and live wrapped up in looks of disdain and harsh glares from passersby’s.

And the beggar’s overall invisibility and one-dimensionalism  is strangely a survival mechanism. Smile your toothless grin, say “God bless” and continue doing the dance of “I need your money, please help me.” That is surely humiliating.   

I was at the light in the third lane over frantically searching for a dollar from my change compartment hoping that I would have enough time to signal him over to get whatever I had on me, but the light changed suddenly and slowly traffic was resuming.

Knowing it was too dangerous to pull the stunt of holding up traffic and ask him to dance across two lanes of fast-moving traffic; I replaced the dollar hoping for another opportunity later. What I looked up, he was gone. A second later he stood up as he now stood erect from the crouched position he had when he was previously picking something up. Dangerously close to breaking the median-lane barrier, he stood staring at whatever it was in his hand. It was a dollar bill. He stood looking at the bill for what seemed like eternity. He was in disbelief.  

Suddenly his stare changed from the bill to the car the bill had come from, a silver car speeding hurriedly to its’ next destination. He stood staring.

I could feel his hurt all the way from my car, and he hurt badly. He wasn’t even human enough, worthy enough, visible enough to have a dollar bill placed in his hand.

The ground was more respectable.

What would or should have my Gospel, our Gospel have done?





The I’m Sorry Tattoo

14 08 2010

A friend of mine wrote a blog a few months ago about her experience with the Marin Foundation, a Christian organization focused on reconciliation with the LGBT community. In her blog she describes an earth-shattering event: She a few others from the foundation went to the Gay Pride parade this past June and wore t-shirts that candidly said, “I’m sorry.”

These t-shirts prompted people from the crowd, TV reporters and even people who literally dismounted from their floats to ask “What are you sorry for?” They would respond that they were sorry for the way the church has treated the LGBT community.

And this response was the first brick of a bridge – a bridge building reconciled life between the homosexual community and heterosexual Christian community.

And all it took was an apology; a deep sincere apology that spoke of the hope and close proximity of the Gospel wrapped in humble repentance.

The apology was the first step, the necessary step towards new interaction, a neo-love movement.

But apologies take that word, “humility”, and sometimes humility is hard to come by.

I love this story and this bold t-shirt movement; my eyes have been opened to what this organization is doing with profound curiosity, but I’m dissatisfied with one thing: I think that the t-shirt shouldn’t have only been worn to the Gay Pride Parade.

I would argue that the shirts need to be worn everywhere, including in the church, especially in the church.   

Some pastors and associate pastors need to wear them. Some youth group leaders need to wear them. Some worship leaders need to wear them. Some church mothers, deaconesses, kitchen ladies, church secretaries, church hat ladies, “here’s-a-napkin-so-you-can-cover-your-knees-to-be-in-decency-and-in-order” ministers – YES black church friends and family I said it – need to wear them.

These shirts confess. They confess fault and after the confession of fault, they leave ample space for the Spirit to move and true reconciliation, true forgiveness to happen. But forgiveness requires admitting that we did something wrong. And admitting we did something wrong first requires examining ourselves and what we’re doing incorrectly.

We don’t want people to flee God’s Gospel because our underwear’s in a bunch. We don’t want to be the modern-day Pharisee – exploiting people and God’s words for our benefit and comfort. But a lot of us are. And we need to repent, get off our high horse and just walk with people.

No, all traditions are not made equal. Just because something was created in the crucible of discrimination doesn’t mean that it should create the crucible moment for others who are left out of your happy little circle.

I know this because I have been a part of plenty of circles, have seen people on the outside beg to get in with their eyes alone, and looked away. Because my clique is comfortable. It was easy to follow my rules. It would be too hard to let people who I was taught to hate be a part of my life.

I’m sorry.

I don’t have an “I’m sorry” t-shirt and I don’t think I’ll get one (I have nothing against it! I think that it’s a great idea and conversation starter as well as a theologically bold and brave move!). I hope I wear my sorry’s in the actions I take. I hope the sorry doesn’t have to be on my shirt to be sorry and actively repent by actively showing love. I don’t want to need a t-shirt to attract attention to my repentance. I pray, I sincerely pray that I act different, speak differently and just plain treat people better.

We’re all complex beings and can’t jump off of our horse immediately, but hopefully we can look around and notice the company that we’re keeping. If the company we keep is not true to the Gospel, let’s do some addition and subtraction. Add who we normally wouldn’t be with and subtract those who don’t push us towards being the best person we can be.

Let’s wear our sorry’s in our actions so close to our hearts that they’re etched into our skin like a permanent tattoo, a constant reminder that our repentance gives way to life. It won’t be a sad reminder or a judgmental one, but a sign of grace woven into the tapestry of our being, in our brown skin, in our healing souls, in our sensitive tongues, in our active minds, in our loving touch.





Sometimes good things come out of mistakes.

14 08 2010

Sometimes good things come out of mistakes. Just look at humanity; God came into flesh to correct what our flesh botched up.

And our churches aren’t exempt from this “rule”.

I believe that the racially reconciled church is the phoenix that arises from the ashes of Church-Gone-Wrong and Church-Done-Wrong. Only after one makes the mistake of being in a homogenous church does the racially reconciled church make any sense, not the multicultural church under white leadership, but the racially reconciled church. A church that is still learning what it means to live into its title and defining what it means to be a church let alone reconciled, let alone racially reconciled is the definition of a successful and reconciled church.

It seems that we have to mess up and being around so many “us-es” (you know, they look like us, talk like us, like what us likes – okay, I’ll stop) that we get tired of us and realize that a bunch of us-es gets boring, and isn’t right all the time and has no accountability because there is no deviation of hearts or variation of discernment, but us.

When we get tired of us, we get desperate for we. And where we is, God can be because we isn’t a branch of “us” but a different race altogether: it seeks difference, and disagreement and experiences that look nothing like us-es and joins together, shares power, shares influence, shares say-so, shares sermons, shares perspectives together all the while avoiding “them” language lest they be counted in the “them” number.

Sometimes we have to really get it wrong to open up ourselves enough to get it right. And we give more to we than we selfishly gathered for “us”. That’s how Jesus works. We should give freely because God gives to us freely. We will know if we’re overly attached to some false deity if we can’t let it go because free anything isn’t easy for us.

But struggles create stronger bonds and strengthened resolve to face the next trial as we not us.





Why I Hate Preaching

6 08 2010

I hate preaching because it involves writing sermons which involves seeking the One higher than myself which I honestly don’t do extremely well.

There, I said it.

Sermon writing is hard because it puts me in such a vulnerable place that it’s beyond uncomfortable –  not solely concerning content, but presentation – it’s just plain hard, unnecessarily hard if you ask me because it implies none of me and all of God. And I’m not used to not putting myself in things. Or waiting. And writing a sermon requires waiting.   

I absolutely hate having to wait on God, more often than not, until the morning of, at some crazy hour like 3 or 4 am. Sitting at a desk. Until it’s finished. The thoughts and then the construction of these thoughts into a cohesive sermon.  

I hate that.

But maybe that’s my problem. All those “I’s”.

I’ve kind of made sermon writing and subsequent preaching about me. There goes that “I” again!

I’m so concerned with saving face, with producing such an amazing sermon sermon that I forget the spiritual practice and discipline it takes to hear from God. Since I don’t want to give a me-induced sermon, I need to get off of my schedule and get on God’s.

And learn that hearing from God is something I need to work on. And that I may need to change something in my day to day, like including time with God in a good portion of it, in order to hear from Him at some other point other than the morning of.

This leads me to the sad conclusion that perhaps my sermon writing could be indicative of something deeper, and more vulnerable than I want to admit.

Maybe my hatred of sermon writing rooted in fear of a late-message, is rooted in my inconsistent communication with God, study of Jesus’ life and legacy and room for the Holy Spirit to speak to me.

Maybe I don’t want to admit that God doesn’t wait until the last moment to speak, but that I wait until the last minute to put my preconceived notions, guard, over-active, wanna-be-super-creative mind down at the altar and slaughter it completely so that there is no trace of me in it. There is no me alive in my reception of the sermon. But me is sacrificed to God. This is what is required in sermon-preparation: slaughtering, slaughtering that God asks for.

Once I do what God has asked, no matter how hard it is for me, maybe I’ll be able to re-utter what He has said.

But that requires a ton of humility. I may have able half a ton right now, which isn’t enough. So “the-night-before-I-preach” moments of panic will have to do until I get into the rhythm of sacrifice and silence.

Sacrifice and silence.

For I don’t want this sermon to be about me; sacrifice and silence is what it will take to mediate to the people, something from God.

Until I preach out of the book of Tomi. Which will never happen.

As long as I call what I love to hate to do, preaching.








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