The Prime Directive

February 21, 2017

On a recent prayer retreat (Thanks, Tracey!), I made some important connections regarding priorities in ministry. When I came down from my mountain top I undoubtedly had a different perspective, which is the whole idea of a prayer retreat.

And I came back down with a load of zeal for ministry. My head was spinning (and still is) with ideas for jail ministry, retirement home ministry, food distribution, small groups, and a ministry to the severely disabled. I also want to inject new people into our existing ministries. These are all good things.

Moreover, these ideas came from good motives, which has not always been the case with me. Often I have focused on a ministry because I thought we might attract new members or get some kind of good press for it. The motives were NOT to love people. Sure, it probably factored in there somewhere down the line, but it was not the PRIME DIRECTIVE.

Dr. Joseph Dongell, Professor of Biblical theology at Asbury Seminary says it is one thing…there is one answer and there is one target…Only Holy Love.

John Wesley wrote, “Of a thousand mistakes is this: not considering deeply enough that love is the highest gift of God; humble, gentle patient love; that all visions, revelations, or manifestations whatever, are little things compared to love; and that all (other) gifts…are either the same with or infinitely inferior to it. You should be thoroughly aware of this—the heaven of heavens is love. There is nothing higher in religion; there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way.”

I desperately want us to get on the Good Works train burning down the tracks at one hundred mph, but God stopped me in my “tracks” to remind me how important motives are. I believe God has prepared amazing good works for us to walk in, but we have to be careful how we go about it.

Dr. Dongell writes, “A nurse, for example, can provide life-saving treatment to patients without having or desiring any particular relationship with them. One may be a Christian, and may be functioning effectively in ministry, and may even act so benevolently as to give away all of one’s possession for others, and still not have love, that is, not be a person fundamentally characterized by love. In other words, I may exhaust myself in compassion ministries, and yet at the same time be hyper-competitive, or consumed with self-image, or abrasive, or unforgiving, or impure. This is why a focus on action, a focus simply on motivating people to become active doers may be a far shallower project that we imagine, and may be largely accomplishable in the power of the flesh.”

Ephesians 3:14-19 says it best…
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

It was love for God that filled my heart on that prayer retreat, and it was love that birthed the ideas for ministry of every sort. I can’t forget that. And neither should you. The first thing, the PRIME DIRECTIVE, of the Christian life is to know and be filled with the Love of God.

Dr. Dongell gets the last word…
“For to be filled with love from God is to be energized by the same passion that has been energizing God’s whole redemptive mission. Remember, it was because God so loved the world that he willingly sacrificed his own Son. Love is that unstoppable energy powering every heroic undertaking.”img_0020img_0025img_0013img_0017

Proverbs 26:12
Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.

One of the hallmarks of wisdom is the way its possession is hidden from its bearer. Said another way: You don’t know it when you have it. If you think you are a wise person, the chances are you aren’t. It takes us back to one of our earlier core convictions about humility being the beginning of wisdom and pride being its antithesis.

So does this mean that one of the marks of a wise person is they think they aren’t wise? No. Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking less about oneself.

A person convinced of their own wisdom is not only not wise, but worse off than a fool.

So on the one hand, we are exhorted to seek after wisdom with all we’ve got, yet on the other we are never to consider that we have attained it. That’s an interesting way to live.

One of the properties of true wisdom is it is not conscious of itself. It makes sense then that the one who possesses it is not conscious of possessing it. What if, in fact, we don’t “possess” wisdom? What if wisdom possesses us? Maybe that’s the big deception– that we can somehow “possess” wisdom. All of this would seem to suggest the quest is not to be a wise person but to belong to the Person of Wisdom: Jesus.

Jesus is the Wisdom of God. To the extent that I belong to Jesus, I am possessed by Wisdom.

Abba Father, thank you for sending and showing us wisdom in the face of a person, your Son, Jesus Christ. Teach us to seek wisdom not that we may “possess” it but that we might be “possessed” by the person of your Spirit. Shape our mind by the mind of Christ. It is in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Why a Manger?

December 21, 2016

Have you ever been denied? Been given the proverbial hand? Rejected? Get that stuff outta here!?

Minor rejections happen all the time. They happened to me on the basketball and volleyball courts more times than I can count. I was blocked hard!

They happened to me a few times when I tried to get into parties in my college days. I was not on the guest list. In my Hollywood summer of 1991, I couldn’t get into certain clubs because I was a nobody. No celebrity status here.

Of course, in the larger scheme of things those are no big deal.

But imagine (or remember) being rejected because of your race or your class status. You don’t have the right color of skin, therefore, you are not welcome. Or you are too poor. You live on the streets or in your car, and we want nothing to do with you. Those rejections cut much deeper.

It was that type of rejection that Jesus experienced. His parents were nobodies to those in Bethlehem and they were rejected at the Inn. Their lack of finances kept a certain level of accommodations out of reach.

Luke 2:7 And she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn son (Jesus) and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

She laid him in a manger.

A manger was a feed trough, usually hewn out of stone. It was built for animals. It was something typically kept on the lowest floor of a home, where the animals were given shelter and fed.

The fact that Jesus was laid in a manger opened up access for a whole new group of people. People who would have otherwise never been granted access. People who were used to rejection and closed doors. The poorest of the poor. The ones with the smallest of means.

The shepherd class. The ones familiar with mangers. And Jesus meets them on their turf.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

Three times the fact of the manger is repeated. Luke, the Gospel writer, doesn’t want us to miss this. It is a manger and it is to be “a sign”.

It is a sign of the Lord’s humility.

If Jesus, the King of all Kings, was born in a palace where other princes are born, do you think shepherds would have been able to see to Him? Of course not! They would have been barred at the gate by soldiers with weapons.

Perhaps the most amazing, mind-blowing attribute of Christ is reflected in the account of the manger. It is that Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God and Creator of the Universe, is humble. He lowers himself to accommodate us. While there was no room at the Inn for him, He makes sure there is room at his manger-crib for us. All of us.

This humility and love for the least of us isn’t the least of reasons why we worship Him. It might be the first.

The Impact of a Gift

December 5, 2016

For several years our church has received freshly brewed coffee for our pre-service fellowship from Joe and his staff at our local coffee house. The amount of coffee we receive each week retails for $75-$80 and we have not been charged a dime. It’s a wonderfully generous gift that is much appreciated.

Joe does this because he loves our church. He appreciates the ministry to the low-income in Isla Vista. And while Joe and his family attend another church, he feels apart of our church work, and he is!

This last week one of our members had the good idea to thank Joe with a card and a donation we collected during service. Yesterday, we asked Susan, a soon-to-be member of our church and Isla Vista resident to present the gift to Mike. When she did, Joe became quite emotional. It turns out the gift was very timely. Joe’s faith was strengthened in a profound way by the gesture.

For Susan, who is on a fixed income, it was a special event as well. Hers was the front-row seat to the work of God. Just last week, during a difficult stretch (business-wise), Joe’s water heater went out and the financial hit was at a very bad time.

Enter God.

With enough money to cover the new expense, tears were a’flowing. Don’t you just love it when God is at work behind the scenes and we get a peek behind the curtain?

One of the challenges of Christian ministry is bringing disparate groups together in love. A much easier path to take is that of connecting people in “affinity groups”. This is where you gather with people who are like you, in age, gender, socio-economic level, hobbies, etc. because relationships are easier to form this way. This is undeniably true. In fact, when it comes to creating quality churches, the more difficult way may not be better.

But the more difficult way is our way at Light and Life Isla Vista.

The good news is that we are not alone in this endeavor. The Bible speaks an encouraging and wise word to us.

Let’s start with Jesus (always a good idea)…

Matthew 12:46 While he (Jesus) was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

The assumed “affinity group” for Jesus was his own family. Our own families should be priorities for all of us, but Jesus did not see his own family being a higher priority than the spiritual pilgrims (“disciples”) around him for his time and attention. The disciples were the ones he considered his true family.

OK, so what you are saying is that I should bail on my family? No. Not at all. What I am saying is that we should see one another through the filter of following Jesus. Natural affinity connections we have to others often keep us from ‘crossing the aisle’. We are content to be with our people, but Heaven is not divided into sections!

Revelation 7:9-10 says, “9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

The book of Philemon is Paul’s letter to his friend, Philemon, regarding a runaway slave named Onesimus who has become a Christian. Paul exhorts his friend Philemon to see his friend with a new perspective—that of a brother in Christ. Talk about a stretch! The society’s response would be swift punishment—maybe death. But it is assumed that Philemon responded through the filter of following Jesus or the letter wouldn’t have come into such circulation. If he didn’t like the advice of Paul, Philemon would have probably crumpled up the parchment and thrown it into the fire! But we can confidently say that Philemon’s heart was touched and he received Onesimus as the brother he was.

How can you get out of your natural affinity group this week and build a relationship with a fellow spiritual pilgrim? The world will know us by the love we have one for another…

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

2 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’3 and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4)

All those earthly signs weren’t enough. They wanted a sign from heaven. Apparently they wanted something to happen in the stars, and that’s pretty ironic given the way this whole Gospel story began with the astrologers coming half way across the world following such a sign; a star sent from heaven.

Jesus responds to them that the problem is not a lack of signs but their inability to interpret them. All of the signs of the times now pointed to the beginning of the end of time—which is another way of saying that the Kingdom of Heaven was now breaking in on Earth through the person of Jesus Christ. The signs—blind eyes seeing, deaf ears hearing, lame legs walking, dead people rising, poor hearing good news—all pointed to the now near Kingdom. So Jesus gave them this:

A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”

Remember that one? On the third day after being swallowed up by the great fish, Jonah was spit out onto the shores of Ninevah. The final sign would be Jesus resurrection from the dead. This would be the sure sign that the beginning of the end of time had begun. That’s where this story is headed. We are just about to make the turn.

We still live in the midst of unbelieving generations who say they will not believe until they have been given a sign. They are not leaning into faith but away from it. We must try to help those leaning into faith to navigate past their obstacles. It’s a different story for those leaning away. More often than not they are trying to shake the faithful off their foundation. The temptation is to try and prove something to them; to enter the argument on their terms. In many cases, what they most need from us is not a defensive argument that more often than not reveals our own insecurity. What they need is to witness a kind of quiet faith that cannot be moved by their doubt. They need to see a faith that can love them in the midst of their doubt, even if they never believe.

The sign of Jonah still stands. In the end, it will be the only sign that matters.

Lord Jesus, so many people live in the struggle of an in-between faith. They believe and yet they need help with their unbelief. Sometimes we are those people. Help us to recognize and help them. Give us discernment to spot those people who not only do not want to believe but they want to prove us wrong. Give us grace to love them anyway and leave the outcome to you. We pray in the only name that can convince, your name Jesus. Amen.

One of the names of God is Jehovah Rapha. He reveals himself as “The Lord who heals you”.

The Lord is still known in that way. Miracles of healing and protection have not ceased!

On Sunday, August 7th, at approximately 9:30 PM, a car carrying three of Dan Lee’s sons tumbled off Highway 101, rolling over and shearing a power pole. Apparently, the oldest of Dan’s sons, Christian Lee, had fallen asleep at the wheel. No other cars were involved in the accident.

The story from the Marin Independent Journal reads,

“A 16-year-old driver and his two younger brothers, ages 13 and 5, were injured Sunday night when their vehicle drifted off Highway 101 in Novato, shearing a utility pole, forcing the temporary closure of Highway 101 and setting off a power outage…

“The crash occurred at about 9:30 p.m., when the vehicle went off the highway and down an embankment at about 60 mph, according to the California Highway Patrol…

“The driver, who suffered major injuries, was airlifted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital; the two younger brothers, who were able to exit the vehicle on their own, were taken by ground ambulance to a local hospital.”

As to those major injuries, let me simply tell you that God is a healer. Jehovah Rapha is one of his names. He is the “God who heals us”. And His (not the doctor’s, not the reporter’s, not the police officer’s) is the last word!

When the Lord threw Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea (from Exodus 14), Moses and Miriam respond in chapter 15 with wonderful songs of praise. And they lead others to do the same. Truly, it is a high and glorious time in the history of God’s people. But it is short-lived. Immediately following this account, the Israelites go to a place called Marah…

Exodus 15:22 Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 He cried out to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.
There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

God used the opportunity to teach his people a lesson on obedience, and reveal another important aspect of His presence in their lives. Not only would He be the all-powerful God who would create a highway through the sea and destroy an army with the wave of Moses’ staff, He would also be the God who would protect them from harm and heal them from injury.

(This is a picture of the passenger side of the vehicle Christian, Caeden, and Callan were pulled from…)

IMG_9343When the doctor’s examined Christian (who supposedly had major injuries), they found no broken bones, no internal injuries, nothing but a mild concussion! Do you see the picture of the driver’s side of that car?!?!? It took 1 hour for the emergency crew to cut him out of the car. No broken bones! He will be released from the hospital today under his own power.

Do I think it is a coincidence that Dan is a man of prayer? Absolutely not. Do I think it is coincidence that Christian has given his heart to Jesus Christ and become involved in FCA, Young Life and his church’s youth group? Absolutely not.

Do I believe that other Godly, believing children and their families have not been rescued like this? Certainly true. And I have no answer for that. It is a mystery.

But what we all can say is thank you, thank you, thank you for being a protector and healer, great Jehovah Rapha!

The Warmth of the Son

June 30, 2016

At Granny Joe’s house sits a book titled “The Warmth of Other Suns”, by Isabel Wilkerson. It is an account of the Great Migration. Have you heard of the Great Migration? I hadn’t either until I read the book, but it is an appropriate name for the flood of African-Americans to the North and West between the years of 1915 and 1970. During that period of time, 6 million African-Americans left the territories where their ancestors had worked as slaves and moved to places where the land did not have the brutal memory nor everyday discriminations such as Jim Crow laws.

They went because they envisioned a different future.

In “The Warmth of Other Suns”, the author chronicles the events typical to Easter and July 4th holidays in black communities of the South. These were the times when family members who had transitioned north and westward would return to their ancestral homes to regale elders and youngsters alike with stories of wealth, rights, and freedoms that were not available in places like Chickasaw, Mississippi or Monroe, Louisiana or Eustis, Florida. Those holidays and interactions with their courageous relatives planted the seeds in the children for a different future.

Are you enjoying a different future as a disciple of Jesus? Do you have stories to share of the new life you have found with Him that would excite and urge a listener? Can we not only envision, but relate stories to others of the different lifestyle we now enjoy under the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Is it compelling? Is it attractive? Would others yearn to follow in our footsteps? Because they should.

This week and on Sunday, in particular, I would like to share some stories about the lives we enjoy with Jesus. People are watching. People are listening. And people want to know if it’s worth mustering the courage to follow Him out of their current situation to a new one of unknown experiences and adventure—under the warmth of the Son.

Lauren Bush Lauren is a philanthropist and entrepreneur who began a non-profit called “Feed” in 2007. Her travels to Cambodia and Chad revealed to her the depths and realities of poverty around the world, and she has done something huge to alleviate its effects. Feed has now donated over 94 million meals to the poor as of this writing.  The April 25 issue of TIME lists her tips for those who want to volunteer their energy to help others:

  1. Get Specific. Volunteer in a way that aligns with your aptitudes and passions. “When you can marry your specific skill set and expertise, not only will you be more engaged and excited, but your time will be better spent,” says Bush Lauren.
  2. Become a Regular. Whether reading to children or working with seniors, the impact will be compounded with every visit.
  3. Think about your Time Creatively. Many people think they don’t have the margin in their lives to volunteer. But you can reframe it. Give in easy-to-do increments—an hour or two at a time rather than a whole day. Volunteer with your children so it doesn’t come at the expense of family time. Interacting with the people you’re helping will cultivate your kids’ sense of empathy—and yours too.

We have often said at LLIV that we are as much a Mission as we are a traditional church. I want to encourage all of us to spend time in Isla Vista once a week outside of church. Our upcoming movie nights at Pescadero Lofts will be one such way. Students are blessed with the fellowship and regular communication as well. It’s a little taste of home in many ways.

So let’s be wise and generous with our time. The Kingdom of God beckons!

Amanda Smith-Soulwinner

February 22, 2016

Amanda Smith was a freed slave who was used tremendously by the Lord to win souls. God frequently used her in singing and preaching and to bring “times of refreshing” to many churches. The salvation and sanctification of thousands of people in the United States, England, Africa, and India was a direct result of her personal ministry.

The slave owner who owned her father was unusually kind to him. After he had finished his assigned work, the slave owner permitted him to take on extra work to earn money to buy freedom for himself and his family. He worked almost day and night, sometimes getting only two hours of sleep at night, and was able to purchase his own freedom. But the owner of his wife and children (including Amanda) was not at first willing to let them go.

One day, the daughter of the slave owner—Miss Celie—went to a Methodist camp meeting and was saved. Miss Celie became quite zealous and would slip away to pray with Amanda’s mother and grandmother (who themselves had been praying for Miss Celie’s salvation for years). They prayed continually that Amanda’s whole family would be set free (sounds like Miss Celie would have been a good Free Methodist).

In time, Miss Celie contracted typhoid fever and rapidly worsened in spite of the best care available. For three days she begged her family to permit Amanda’s father to buy the freedom of his wife and children. Just before she died she made one more request, and they tearfully promised that Amanda’s father would be permitted to purchase his family’s freedom.

Amanda was married to her first husband when she was sixteen. The next year she almost died of severe illness. She was convicted by the Holy Spirit of her sins and once went forward in a Baptist church for prayer but was not saved. She fasted, read her Bible, and in her spiritual blindness prayed to the moon and stars. On March 17, 1856, she desperately determined to be saved. She went down in the cellar, where she often went to be alone for prayer. Three times she got to the end of herself. Finally, she prayed, “O Lord, if You will help me, I will believe You.”

As she told the Lord she would, He did. Instantly, peace and joy flooded Amanda’s soul. The burden of sin was gone. God’s blessing came through her body like a wave again and again. She seemed surrounded by a new light and looked in a mirror to see if she was still the same person. She walked up and down the kitchen floor praising the Lord. For a week she was so happy she did not know what to do with herself. Never again did she doubt her conversion.

Soon Amanda’s husband enlisted in the Civil War and died without returning. Amanda then married a local preacher, James Smith, for she longed to do the Lord’s work. Her husband, however, deceived her and dropped all thought of the ministry. He took on employment but did not support her. She supported herself and her children by doing laundry and cleaning houses. Five of her babies died in infancy.

Amanda heard that it was possible for born-again Christians to be sanctified and made holy by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. One day a friend came to see her and found her weeping over her condition as she washed clothes in her washtub. Her husband was so hard to please, so unkind. The friend told her, “Well, get sanctified, and then you will have enduring grace.”

“My, is that what sanctification means? Enduring grace? That is just what I need! I have always been planning to get out of trials, instead of asking for enduring grace.” She began to pray, “Oh, Lord, sanctify my soul and give me enduring grace!”

God did sanctify her and fill her with the Holy Spirit. When her second husband died in 1869, Amanda committed herself to full-time ministry. With hardly any resources, Amanda was able to travel around the world preaching the Gospel and singing to thousands. Bishop J.M. Thoburn, a missionary of the Methodist church in India, thanked God for Amanda’s clear vision and faith “which I have seldom found equaled.” In 17 years of missionary work in Calcutta, he had known many famous speakers to visit the city, “but I have never known anyone who could draw and hold so large an audience as Mrs. Smith.” He added, “I have learned more that has been of actual value to me as a preacher of Christian truth from Amanda Smith than from any other person I ever met.”