New Start Again

With the start of a new academic year at Berkeley, I will try to post on my blog again!  Here’s a quick poll to see what level of interest is out there among our church members for these posts…

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To kill Lazarus as well

John 12

9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. … 17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

Poor Lazarus.  Just as he is rejoicing at the new lease on life he received from Jesus, there’s a plot to kill him because he went and got himself raised from the grave.  Lazarus’ transformation makes him a marked man.

As long as Jesus never bothers anyone, as long as every christian remains a decent citizen and a good supporter of the world system, as long as christianity never transforms anyone, the world smiles.  But if you actually behave like Jesus has transformed you, like you’ve been reborn, and you start shattering alabaster jars, then a firestorm gets unleashed on you.  You become a target.  But you also become a fork in the road, because while some plot to destroy the evidence of Jesus power to transform, others will wind up “putting their faith in Jesus” (vs. 11) because they’ve seen you raised from the dead.

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The Thirty and Over (the Hill) Brother’s Getaway

Somebody older than me wrote: “at my age life starts to take away more than it gives you.”  I think graciously learning to let things go—youth, your fantastical notions about yourself, your kids—these are all a part of growing old well.  For men, we also start to lose our friendships, if we don’t actively maintain them.  As our growing responsibilities take us to different ministries, and even to different cities on church plants, the spontaneous times of hanging out seem to grow ever distant.  Not being good at relationships in general, it’s not uncommon for men in their 30s and on to just allow once close friendships to wane. At the same time, our lives get harder. The burdens of

James, the praise leader at Gracepoint Berkeley, "encouraging" one of the brothers

ministry, child-rearing and career all demand more and more from us.  This is when we need to lean into our friendships the most, and need strength from one another more than ever.

So it was good for us older guys throughout our churches to gather for a few days last weekend.  The snow football, as fun as it was, was ill-advised given the concussions, but on the whole it was very refreshing for all of us.  The sharing from the 40+ brothers re: lessons learned from their 30s was invaluable.  I knew we’d have a good time, but the flood of emails I got afterwards for arranging this proved to me that we really needed this time. I am glad that as a church we can fight the typical rythms of life, and togther pledge to stay close as fellow comrades in spiritual arms.

Here’s a sharing from one of the brothers.

I want to thank you for the 30+ getaway and for thinking about our needs!  I was very encouraged and boosted after the getaway and seeing you and everyone back at

Henry Chen, Gracepoint Austin, makes an incredible catch.

Willard.  It has been hard for me lately away from Berkeley and I have been feeling a level of spiritual battle that I have never felt before in Berkeley.  I started off this year with many commitments to God, a lot of zeal to get closer to God in my relationship with him, and to really try to pursue holiness this year.  But right when i started, Satan’s been attacking me in my mind with regrets and things from the past, accusations, and I keep getting sick at the most inopportune times and growing weary from it.  So this get away was such a strong encouragement for me.

One of the recurring things ive been discouraged about is that how come now i’ll be 30 soon and I feel like such a failure more and more in things like loving people.  I wonder if this is going to be the rest of my life.  I was so encouraged when you shared about this exact subject.  I really resonated with how you said in the 30s you feel wounded and its

Daniel Kim, Gracepoint San Diego, looses it.

because of the pride and ego that makes us want to be something more by now, and how that really distracts us from surrendering and living in a way that really matters—a life of love and meeting others needs.  I think im going through that transition now from warrior to wounded stage, and now I know whats going on!  Rather than giving into Satan’s ploy of discouragement, now I can I focus on just obeying God and loving people, and not waste so much time on my ego.  If you guys didn’t share this, I don’t know how much longer it would have taken me to figure out this gem of wisdom!  I was thinking about last weeks DT and what about Xtian life requires us to need to have leaders to model and go ahead of us.  I thought frankly, Xtian life is hard…my sinful nature doesn’t want to give up and satan is working to stop us.  A lot of the commands are to persevere.  So it takes faith to keep doing what God says and the fruits come in time, and may take a long long time.  Its easy to get discouraged if no results happen.  …  from the 40+ guys of how they persevered,I have so many living examples to be encouraged by and examples of the truth of God’s ways played out in advance for me by those who obeyed.  My trust in God, therefore, is boosted greatly!  I thought how true it is when God commands us to remember our leaders and consider the outcome of their way of life. I am so thankful God has arranged the body of Christ in this way and for your acts of surrender and love, as it continues to strengthen me.  I started to just try to obey this week and it’s been great. I called some old students I use to minister to try to encourage them. I talked to AL who is in LA now.  I learned he is trying to start up DT groups in his church in LA but not really knowing how, and I was able to help him plan out their first meeting.  It’s encouraging to see them grow and take initiative in their faith.

Also we heard the first praxis retreat message here where you talked about joy and feeling embattled.  It was refreshing to hear that being embattled is normal and that xtian life is hard and many times there is not joy.  I resonate that the joy comes in the midst of the pain, especially when you experience the islands of encouragement in the midst of the battle like how the weekend in CA was for me.

Pressing on

The Thirty and Over (the hill) Brothers at Gracepoint

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Character Formation

We had the thrill of hosting the Doing the Right Thing promotional tour on the Berkeley campus this past Sunday (http://www.colsoncenter.org/ethics).  Chuck Colson, our featured speaker for the night, noted that we had more than 700 people out for the event, despite the fact that the Superbowl was going on.  PTL!

During the course of the evening, the panelists often returned to the theme that an ethical society is grounded on virtuous character, and that the family is the central place of character formation. What then is the place of families in God’s vision for his redeemed?  Yesterday and today’s DT texts got me thinking about this question.  As central as the family is to God’s design for human life, it seems that there’s a larger context in which these families are to exist.  In the OT, this was the tribe: kinsmen living out their shared values on a specific plot of land, in close proximity with one another.  The OT tribe becomes the NT church, and families are to exist in the context of the larger community of faith, localized in close, face-to-face, daily life together. In fact, within the church, the once airtight boundary around the physical family starts to become more porous, as Jesus draws a new line around the idea of family to include the entire church community.  Only such a community can concretely embody the richness of biblical values in a distinctly Christian culture.

The nuclear family in America is typically a dysfunctional and contentious place.  The passing down of values from one generation to the next is often disrupted by the intrusion of distantly produced cultural influences, and most parents end up frustrated or resigned.  Character formation, the pressing challenge of the day, cannot simply be assigned to the family without a general critique of how the typical American family is situated.  The character of the family itself must be formed in the context of a clan-like Christian community of the sort the bible repeatedly describes and assumes.

I don’t want this entry to turn into a full-blown biblical-sociological essay, so I want to encourage you to consider the DT text this week with these issues in mind.  Consider the disconnected nature of both the typical family and church situation in America—families driving in for church once a week, to gather for several hours, and then to scatter again, no one knowing what anyone else is doing for the rest of the week.  Compare this picture with the one presented in the bible, with the question of culture and character formation in mind.

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You are priesthood

God is into groups.  He delivers the Israelites out of Egypt and appoints them “a kingdom of priests.”  1 Peter 2.9 calls believers a priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.

Cain is the original loner. Having eliminated his brother, sassed God, he becomes a “restless wanderer” (Gen 4.12), and the first one to build a gated compound … to guard against foes, real and imagined.  His view of himself—a lone individual, like a comet flying through dark space, with his very own personal destiny—is the self-concept that dominates the world.  By default, we all seem to hold a basic, unselfconscious view that we are all alone in the world, that our paths may intersect with others, or even run parallel for a while, but that each of us is on a separate, solo orbit, that my destiny is ultimately only my own. That level of disconnected, atomized sense of self would be very native to the line of Cain and Lamech. This sense of aloneness drives the individual toward anxiety, achievement and power seeking as attested to in the catalogue of attainments attributed to Cain’s descendents in Gen 4. We are all Cain’s descendants.

But everywhere in the Bible, believers are called to find their identity in the larger workings of God through his people. The tribes of Israel, the clans, the land they were to never sell, the kingdom of priests they were to become: all of this requires a very different sense of self than the solo self native to our culture.  The church in Acts 2, declaring the wonders of God in multiple tongues, reversing Babel; the holy temple in which we are to be a living stone; the priesthood of which we are to be one of the priests; the holy nation of which we are citizens; the people of God of which we are to be 1 person: these are how we are to think of ourselves. This is actually a revolutionary shift of something deeply held inside of us.

A child reaches maturity when he sees himself as a part of a family; then, a part of a clan; then, a nation; then, eventually, “my brother’s keeper,” toward all of humanity.  We, too, reach maturity when we overthrow our narcissistic, individualistic, selfish, anxiety-driven, ambition-driven, lonely sense of destiny, and take on the identity God gives to the company of the redeemed, the tribe of priests, sent out into the world to declare “the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 4.9 ESV).

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They will fight against you

Jeremiah 1.18-19  Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

God chose that his servants would speak words that are in opposition to the popular paths of the world.  This means that a Christian must be willing to feel embattled all the time. Having “the kings of Judah, it’s officials, its priests and the people of the land” all “fight against you,” is an amazing set of circumstances. To have to “stand against the whole land,”  and to have everyone be against you … this requires toughness of an iron pillar and a bronze wall, battered and dented but not crushed (2 Cor 4.8).

“In the world you shall have tribulation. But be of good cheer! I have overcome the world,” Jesus said to the disciples (John 16.33), and I guess, says to me, too. You will have tribulation.  They will fight against you.  But I will be with you till the end.  I will be with you.  The only promise God makes throughout.  To Moses, to Joshua, to Jeremiah, to the disciples … and to me, and all who will obey his call to take his word and “say to them whatever I command you” (Jer 1.7). Moses was told to confront the Pharaoh.  Joshua, to confront Jericho and the Anakites of Hebron and everyone in between. Jeremiah, to be a bronze wall that everyone in the land will attack. The disciples, to make disciples of all the nations. The only promise: “I will be with you.”  And what a promise it is!

O Lord, this sense of feeling embattled all the time, the need to “stand against the whole land,” requires of me strength I don’t have. Fortify me today, as you have all your servants for the task ahead of them. The message of God’s forgiveness is good news to the humble, but a message of offense to the proud.  The rulers of the culture, opinion-makers of our age fight against the Gospel message of divine amnesty to all rebels. They find it irritating and offensive. Help all your children continue to lovingly to share this message of the Gospel. Regardless of the response of our listeners, you call us to “go to everyone I send you to,” without fear.  We have your Word; you send us to share it. As we go, we know you will be with us!

 

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Continue in …

2 Timothy 3.14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of …

There’s something maddening about the human mind.  It’s like the 2d law of thermodynamics.  Mental entropy. Carefully reasoned, rational truths understood and accepted degrade over time all on their own. No new evidence is produced against the belief, yet if you don’t maintain it actively, the strength of your belief starts to wane.  This happens in relationships, too.  It’s part of our fallenness, I guess.  Which is why Timothy needs to be reminded to “continue in” what he has already “become convinced of.”

C.S. Lewis has some very helpful insights on this in Mere Christianity, which I quote below.  This passage is very helpful in understanding the dynamics of living out our faith.

I must talk in this chapter about what the Christians call Faith. Roughly speaking, the word Faith seems to be used by Christians in two senses or on two levels, and I will take them in turn. In the first sense it means simply Belief—accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity. That is fairly simple. But what does puzzle people—at least it used to puzzle me—is the fact that Christians regard faith in this sense as a virtue. I used to ask how on earth it can be a virtue—what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad. If he were mistaken about the goodness or badness of the evidence that would not mean he was a bad man, but only that he was not very clever. And if he thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid.

Well, I think I still take that view. But what I did not see then— and a good many people do not see still—was this. I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anaesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. I start thinking I am going to choke, and I am afraid they will start cutting me up before I am properly under. In other words, I lose my faith in anaesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.

When you think of it you will see lots of instances of this. A man knows, on perfectly good evidence, that a pretty girl of his acquaintance is a liar and cannot keep a secret and ought not to be trusted; but when he finds himself with her his mind loses its faith in that bit of knowledge and he starts thinking, “Perhaps she’ll be different this time,” and once more makes a fool of himself and tells her something he ought not to have told her. His senses and emotions have destroyed his faith in what he really knows to be true. Or take a boy learning to swim. His reason knows perfectly well that an unsupported human body will not necessarily sink in water: he has seen dozens of people float and swim. But the whole question is whether he will be able to go on believing this when the instructor takes away his hand and leaves him unsupported in the water—or whether he will suddenly cease to believe it and get in a fright and go down.

Now just the same thing happens about Christianity. I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair: some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.

This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

The first step is to recognise the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?

I love C.S. Lewis!

2 Timothy 3.14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of …

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