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.”

The Provider

December 11, 2015

Selfishness is a universal trait of our fallen human nature. Selfishness is much more than the childlike tendency to hoard all the toys and not share. Selfishness seeps into all our interactions, and selfishness encroaches on our ability to trust God.

When the going gets tough, we tend to think that WE will take matters into our own hands, that WE will find an answer, or that WE will get the needed job done. We are all quick to think in terms of me instead of looking to God.

Church planters struggle with this as much, if not more than other people. Why? Because church planters, by their nature, are “git-r-done” type people (to quote Larry the Cable Guy). Church planters tend to be the “don’t ask for permission, just do it and ask for forgiveness later”-type people. We have expectations of ourselves and confidence in our abilities and leadership.

But often things don’t work out the way we were planning. Our 6-month plan hasn’t materialized after 6 years.

The question that must be asked in those moments of clarity is “Were those MY plans or God’s?”

Faith is trust in God and is the antidote for having to discover answers and create outcomes in ourselves.

Abraham discovered this.

In chapter 5 of the book, “The Fulfillment”, Dr. Timothy Tennent outlines the series of events that led up to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. Through his life, Abraham had come to trust that God’s plans will come to pass even if it took a long time and even when it appeared they were about to die…literally.

That’s when Jehovah Jireh appeared and provided a ram in the bush. God wanted Abraham to fully trust Him and for Abraham’s love for God to exceed that of his love for Isaac. Abraham passed the test and is known as the Father of Faith.

So how is your faith? Could God be orchestrating something unexpected to lead you into a deeper life of faith and trust? Are you being patient with His Promises? Or is your selfish tendency to trust yourself and look to your own abilities squeezing God out?

Yesterday our church received a tithe check of almost $10,000.00 from a homeless man. Read that again. It’s true. From a homeless man. On a week when I was despairing of low finances and bills piling up, I had been asking God to show me whether our ministry to the poor was pleasing to him and worth the effort. And then my cell phone rang. My friend had something for the church that he wanted to give me in person. I was blown away.

Jesus is our Jehovah Jireh. For me, He chose the most unlikely of people to prove this once again.

God is always good, so hold on. Be patient and trust in God (not yourself), and watch what He does!

So what’s your investment strategy? Do you have a diversified portfolio or have you put all your eggs in one basket?

Now before you stop reading, YES, this is in fact Pastor Dave and this is an article for the Lifeline and Church Blog.

You see, I am not talking about investing financially, but investing in relationships. In particular, the small group and mentoring relationships that is our Methodist heritage.

First of all, we should acknowledge that we are all broken people. We all come to Christ with a past. Yet more and more, people arrive in churches without seeing a healthy marriage relationship or healthy interpersonal relationships. Many have established/normalized mental and physical pathways and patterns through sexual experimentation, pornography, and abusive relationships. There is a lot of healing that needs to take place.

But the healing never occurs by obsessing over our past hurts and habits. We learn to move past them and small group settings are one of the primary ways that God will bring this healing about.

Here’s a passage I wanted to quote from Guy Chmieleski:

“Walking with (one another) through the trials and trails of the journeys that have led us to the present is an incredible gift. Creating the kind of “safe space” that allows others to know they can share openly and honestly, without fear of judgment, is a priceless offering that opens the doors for healing, closure, and redemption to take place.

At LLIV, we want to “major in the majors and minor in the minors”. Discipleship and Small Groups is a MAJOR component of what we are called to do, and this fall we want all our people to make a commitment of “time and truth”, meaning make the time and be willing to be honest with other people.  Not always easy, but definitely important for growing in our faith.

So what’s your investment strategy?

I want to encourage you to have a good, sound investment strategy for your relationships. Because they matter. A lot.

Luke and the Sharknado

August 5, 2015

In the soon-to-be Academy Award winning film, Sharknado 3 (it’s only a matter of time until the Academy recognizes greatness), Fin and his companions rocket to a space station to create the ion cannon to destroy the sharknado that is wreaking havoc across the globe (Ok. All this is completely believable, right? I mean, that’s the first thing any of us would do if a sharknado struck our city).

Anyway, the sharknado has gotten so huge that it is spinning the sharks into outer space where they attack the space station.

Now, I’m sorry, but that part is a stretch. Sharks obtain oxygen through the water passing through their gills. They wouldn’t have the sustained capacity in the waterless vacuum of outer space to manipulate the outer hull and attack the heroes. That’s just impossible.

Of course, the rest of the movie is completely plausible, but sharks in outer space? No.

Now what in the world does this have to do with Luke 13 and 14?

It’s about whether we choose to take what we see and read literally.

Two passages from Luke 14 and 13 jumped out at me like a shark hiding behind an oil-based watercolor painting (completely plausible).

Luke 14:12-14—He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Could you ever imagine what it would look like if Christians took this verse literally?!?!?

In the chapter prior to this in Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells of the “Narrow Door” and uses this introduction: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”

Do these words kinda scare you? Even more than a sharknado? They do me! I believe Jesus wants us to be extremely diligent in obedience to his commands and teachings.

But why? I think this is the big question among the current generation. Already there is a sense that Jesus doesn’t mean these things literally. I mean, there’s not really a hell or a judgment. Come on! That’s just not believable.

But it is quite believable. We learn from Scripture that God is holy and without sin and sinful flesh cannot dwell in His Presence. It is impossible.

And we sense it’s true deep down. Whatever we might see or hear from the media or the culture, etc. that might plant a seed of doubt as to the believability of a holy, righteous God, who will judge the earth, eventually we come back to reality. God is calling us to literally obey his teachings and be very, very diligent in our faith. And when pondering God’s judgment, one important thing to keep in mind is whether God can actually be in the presence of sin. He cannot! Like a shark in outer space, sin does not have the capacity to remain in the presence of a holy God. It’s simply impossible.

The warnings of Scripture are to rouse sinners like you and me to the narrow door and the obedience of Scripture. When we do, we will be safe and the world will be blessed.

A New/Old Ambition

July 1, 2015

One of the first Scriptures I memorized was a very obscure one. I don’t quote it very often because it seems to be so out of favor with the times and with the church planting culture to which I belong. It’s 1 Thessalonians 4:11a—“make it your ambition to lead a quiet life”.

Here’s the context:
9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

It appears that Paul is exhorting those who would “excel still more” to graduate to this ambition—quiet humility.

I don’t know about your preaching schedule for the upcoming year, but I would be surprised if it included a series on the ambition of quietness and humility. That sort of thing doesn’t exactly draw a crowd, does it?

Yet humility is a foundational virtue for those who would shepherd and lead God’s people. And so often it seems there is just as much prideful ambition among up-and-coming ministers and church planters as there is in any other vocational field. This should not be.

I have certainly recognized it in myself.

Lord, forgive me.

Francis de Sales wrote, “The King of Glory does not recompense his servants according to the dignity of the offices they hold, but according to the measure of the love and humility with which they exercise them.”

Gary Thomas wrote, “…humility is the anchor of our calling and vocation. Pride can turn us against our own purpose in life by filling us with ambitious yearnings that cause us to neglect our true call for today…Tomorrow’s dreams are a poor substitute for today’s obedience.

Thomas continues, “Without humility we can fall prey to deceitful desires that hinder our present effectiveness. It is noble to desire to do great things for God; but when our desire for future ministry blocks us from our present task, we should prayerfully consider whether the desire is God’s inspiration or Satan’s distraction to keep us from living a fruitful life.”

May we stay humble and fulfill our divine vocation.