Lent Day 22… If you want to give anything worthwhile of yourself, you have to feel completely exposed

On Wednesday of this week, we had an all-staff meeting at the church. This wasn’t one of those business, strategy, or calendar-planning types of meetings. Instead, it was going over a chapter in a book we have been reading together (Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved by Trevor Hudson). As part of the discussion at the end of the chapter, each of us had to answer one of the following questions:

1. What has been one of your most significant spiritual experiences?

2. How have you experienced the presence of God in tough times?

As we went around the table sharing from our lives, there was a tenderness —a sense of reverence, maybe even a holy hush. Most cried as they shared. Others cried as they listened to a co-worker share.

This wasn’t a quick meeting. Opening up takes time. Sharing deeply personal stories cannot be rushed. In fact, there was little time left for anything else in staff meeting.

A few hours after the meeting had finished, I received the following e-mail from one of our pastors… Read More

Lent Day 20… If You See Something Special Or Unique In Someone, You Should Tell Them

When someone sees something in you, and they have the courage to speak it out, it changes everything… that is what my community does. I’ve learned from them that if you see something special or unique in someone, you should tell them. Our words hold a lot of power. —Dana Tanamachi

While in Los Angeles last week with my daughter Ashah, we spent our mornings at Starbucks because… coffee and free wifi. She needed to use my computer to do some homework, and I was writing each morning on the blog for Lent. On one of the days, I gave her the computer after I had finished writing. I must have left my blog open on the web browser, because when I looked over at Ashah a few minutes later, she had tears in her eyes and a solemn look on her face. She turned the laptop towards me and this is what I saw… Read More

Lent Day 19… The Beatitudes Are The Antithesis Of What America Has Come To Adore

It cannot be denied that too often the weight of the Christian movement has been on the side of the strong and the powerful and against the weak and oppressed—this, despite the gospel. —Howard Thurman

Brian Zahnd, in his book Beauty Will Save The World, says:

The Beatitudes are deliberately designed to shock us. If we’re not shocked by the Beatitudes, it’s only because we have tamed them with a patronizing sentimentality—and being sentimental about Jesus is the religious way of ignoring Jesus! Too often the Beatitudes are set aside into the category of “nice things that Jesus said that I don’t really understand.”

Here is Zahnd’s paraphrase of… Read More

Lent Day 18… The Challenge Is To Keep Discovering The Green Growing Edge

The hard thing when you get old is to keep your horizons open. The first part of your life everything is in front of you, all your potential and promise. But over the years, you make decisions; you carve yourself into a given shape. Then the challenge is to keep discovering the green growing edge. —Howard Thurman

Today is my birthday. I’m 45 years old.

Something about that number is appealing to me. It’s not the age of a young ‘un. And it’s not the age of a mummy either.

Even though I haven’t started receiving advertisements in the mail from the AARP (yet), I am old enough to know how easy it is to get stuck, or to just coast through life, or to quit changing, learning, and growing.

Howard Thurman is on to something… the challenge is to keep discovering the green growing edge.

Speaking of God’s people planted in God’s House, Scripture says:

They will be like trees that stay healthy and fruitful, even when they are old. —Psalm 92.14

Like trees that stay healthy and fruitful. Like people who keep discovering the green growing edge. That’s the challenge.

And while there are plenty of bad examples of aging, there are also… Read More

Lent Day 17… Greet One Another With A Holy Embrace

We all did it… all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.

— Ephesians 2.3-4

God embraced us.

Dirty, corrupt, broken as we were—He embraced us. He pulled us in, all close and personal. And this embrace has brought us life.

“Greet one another with a holy embrace.” —2 Corinthians 13.12

Some versions of this Scripture say, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”

That’s not something we Americans are particularly known for. Europeans do it. So do Middle-Easterners. And Ethiopians, Somalis, and Eritreans. But you just don’t see a whole lot of cheek-kissing as a form of greeting in the U.S. (and I for one am cool with that).

On Friday, the last day of our team’s work with the L.A. Dream Center, we went to MacArthur Park to hand out food and pray with people. While we were there, we met this one lady who drives 90 minutes to help—and she has done this for over 10 years. She is a real character.

Mike, one of the guys from our church, was talking with her… and I overheard him say something about how he was going to give her… Read More

Lent Day 16… Meeting Kahal From Iran In MacArthur Park Was Perhaps What Churchy People Call A Divine Appointment

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! —Hebrews. 13.2

Yesterday our team went with the L.A. Dream Center to MacArthur Park to hand out bags of food. I’ve been to this park before…

In fact, I wrote a little something about my experience there back in 2011—in a post entitled “Get Over Yourself. And Cooties.” Haha. Funny title. Here’s what it said:

I’ve had a number of experiences that helped push me to get over myself…

Like serving hot meals to people living on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

Like holding AIDS babies in a government hospital in Swaziland.

Like praying for a couple of prostitutes in drug-infested MacArthur Park—immediately after saying “amen,” one of the prostitutes put her arms around me and gave me a big hug.

In circumstances like these, I had to decide what’s more important—my comfort or real compassion.

To be honest, my brain offers me some less-than-compassionate thoughts like… Read More

Lent Day 15… I Never Thought I’d Be On The Other Side

One of the things we’ve been doing each day with the L.A. Dream Center is what they call “Food Truck Ministry.” You might be thinking of food trucks – like those delicious distributors of various types of food in busy downtown street corners during lunch time… but this is a little different.

The food is fresh produce, rice, beans, bottled juice, and maybe even a snack item or two. We load the food into the trucks, then head out to a poor district in town to distribute the food.

People depend on this food. Most of the folks who come and stand in line to receive the food are moms and grandmothers. They are the ones doing whatever they can to put food on the table, good food in the bellies of their children.

The other day we were in South Central L.A. distributing food. I was standing next to Roberta – one of the members of our team – when she leaned over and whispered to me… Read More

Lent Day 14… Fear Is Not A Christian Habit Of Mind

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Fear is not a Christian habit of mind. —Marilynne Robinson

Yesterday afternoon, we went to Imperial Courts in Watts with a team from the L.A. Dream Center. I was pretty excited to go there again—mostly because I absolutely loved the Netflix Original “Imperial Dreams,” about a young man who just got out of prison and is trying to rebuild his life while living in Imperial Courts. The film is gripping, heartbreaking, tragic, and beautiful.

I’ve been in Watts a number of times with the Dream Center. My favorite thing about these visits is just hanging out with the kids. Children are quick to embrace anyone. It’s easy to show up and simply be available—to listen and play and laugh. The truth is, the kids do all the work for you. You just have to show up.

When we arrived in the projects, we were pretty much immediately surrounded by kids. They gave hugs, asked for piggyback rides, and managed to capture 100% of our attention.

The Dream Center had a number of projects for us to do while we were there – setting up for the 3:00pm Kid’s Jam event, going around “Blitzing” – letting people know about the event, hanging out with kids during Kid’s Jam, etc.

But then they asked us to go around and… Read More

Lent Day 13… The Road To Heaven Does Not Run From The World

The road to Heaven does not run from the world, but through it.

—Robert Farrar Capon

Yesterday we spent our afternoon on Skid Row. We’re here in Los Angeles for a week with a team from NWLife to serve at the Dream Center.

This is my 12th or 13th trip to the Dream Center. I started coming with teams of students in the late ’90′s because I wanted to expose my people to ministry that goes beyond having church services on Sundays and Wednesdays. I wanted to be influenced by a ministry that didn’t tuck itself away from the world, but rather went right through the world—as the hands of Jesus bringing love, compassion, service, food, and whatever is needed.

“Find a need and meet it, find a hurt and heal it” is the famous mantra of Tommy Barnett – the grandfather of this kind of ministry in America.

So yesterday we were in Skid Row handing out bags filled with hotdogs and chips. After the food was all given away, we… Read More