Defining Moments

This last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at Cypress Church. Just like at the Branch, my passage was Matthew 17.1-13, which focuses on God’s glory at the Transfiguration. If you missed it, check online at Cypress Church (for my message) or the Branch for Pastor Mike’s.

At the Cypress campus, we unpacked how the Transfiguration was a defining moment for the disciples. They had opportunity to look behind the curtain and see who Jesus really was to steel them for the challenges that were headed their direction – Jesus being crucified, the call for them to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him. We, too, have these defining moments where we see Jesus for who He truly is. It won’t likely be a vision of the transfigured and glorified Jesus. It’s going to be that camp event or that missions trip or that prayer with you grandparent or friend. Dramatic or not, there’s a moment for most of us when we met Jesus in a personal way. And if you haven’t, or can’t quite put your finger on it, we need to talk because God wants to begin a very personal relationship with you. (I mean this, by the way. If you want to start a friendship with Jesus, contact me.)

This Sunday we’re going to look at a compelling biblical character who was confronted with a defining moment. I won’t give too much away, but it’s going to be challenging because this young man reveals the human condition. As CS Lewis said, “We are half-hearted creatures.” But to have a defining moment with Jesus means we make a choice. We can keep on our current path, following our current plans, with arms filled with our current stuff, or we can take a posture of receptivity. We let Him lead us on His path for us and guide our plans and, if we’re willing to drop those things we’re so hungrily grasping for, our hands will be open to receive the blessing God has for us.

I hope you’ll join us on Sunday for our family service at 10:00 at the Los Alamitos Community Center!

Two Roads, One Destination

Awhile back I received The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I can honestly say it wasn’t of much interest, initially, but it has been a delightful read. The rise of Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft as politicians and friends was a story I was largely unfamiliar with and Goodwin tells a great story (be sure to check out Team of Rivals). Roosevelt was a political force of nature. Taft was plodding relational leader. And yet, they were united by a vision and an agenda for reforming America. They were a triumphant team that accomplished much.

Despite the triumphs, their story has plenty of tragedy. Through a variety of factors – none seemingly worthy of rupturing a friendship or fruitful political alliance over – they became bitter political enemies late in their political careers. I want to touch on just one of the issues today.

Roosevelt was a crusader. He was always looking for a fight – and he pushed through some important legislation, even though it ruffled some feathers in his own party. He also wasn’t afraid to take what some (including Taft) considered constitutional liberties as our nation’s chief executive. Taft was far more collegial and more of a team builder. He had the same enemies within the party, but Taft tried to fluff those feathers rather than ruffle them. He also, judicious by nature, restricted his executive actions more than Roosevelt.

All of these differences aside, they had the same vision – and yielded similar results. And yet, one of the reasons their relationship fell apart was how Taft implemented the vision. He had one of the most successful legislative years ever when it comes to reforming and fulfilling the vision that he and Roosevelt shared. But because Taft didn’t do it Roosevelt’s way (like a steamroller!) and with some of Roosevelt’s most beloved lieutenants, a cold war soon became hot, figuratively speaking, between the once bosom friends.

As I’m reading this book, I’m amazed and frustrated. It’s crazy that two men who were so in sync ended up splitting – in an ugly way. And yet, how often do we “shoot our own” when it comes to our mission as a church. We, too, can lack a generosity with our brothers and sisters in Christ who do things differently – even if we share the same ends.

This is important for us as The Branch Church. We’re called to help others find a thriving relationship with Jesus. If you’re part of the Branch (or Cypress or Khmer Family Ministry), this is our vision. It’s what unifies us under Christ as this particular body of Christ.

But we need to recognize – and value – that we’re a diverse group who is going to do this in a variety of ways. Some may invite people to church or Life Group to hear the good news of Jesus. Others are bold evangelists who love mixing it up in debate with their friends and families. Still others cultivate long term friendships where they love and serve people, showing them Jesus’ love. And I’m sure there are other options as well.

Wherever you are on this spectrum, embrace how God has made you and equipped you and placed you to love others and show them what a thriving relationship with Jesus looks like – and don’t forget to give some space to others who are doing it differently. May we not make the Roosevelt/Taft mistake of thinking we can’t get to the same destination by different routes.

If we’re helping people thrive, we’re all on the same team. Let’s celebrate and pray for those who are helping others experience this new life in Jesus – even if they do it a little differently than we do!

The Dregs

I loved hearing from our Global Outreach Panel last Sunday, including hearing the stories of those who are considered the least in their societies and yet are still committed to reaching people for Jesus. While this is outside the experience of most of us in a historically Christian nation, it’s actually nothing new. Consider this quote, for instance:

“Christianity … the dregs of society.” – Michael Green

No, that’s not a headline from the new atheist du jour.

It’s actually the cultural climate in which our faith first took root. I’ve just started Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green. Amazon considers it a “modern classic.” I’ve just started so the jury’s still out for me, but it definitely has my attention.  Let me give you the full quote: “Christianity was a superstitio that belonged to the dregs of society.” The dregs. I guess we’re not mincing words.

I’ll spare you the details, but earliest Greco-Roman and Hebrew society didn’t care much for this new sect following Jesus the Messiah. They weren’t impressed for a variety of reasons, including the fact that only the biggest fools would worship a crucified criminal as Messiah. And yet, the philosophies of the time, the conventional wisdom of 2000 years ago, have largely faded into obscurity (or re-named themselves) while the church continues to flourish – even if it started with the dregs.

While we don’t like to think of our earliest spiritual ancestors as the dregs, there’s plenty of hope in this – and a challenge, too. We find hope in the fact that God took the dregs and changed the world with them. They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17.6).

I’m sure Dr. Green will get into the nuts and bolts of how they did it, but the part I want to focus on today is that they were willing to be different. The church father Tertullian had to write to convince people that Christians were of the same flesh and blood as the non-Christian. The church had such a clear and distinct worship and lifestyle that they stood in stark contrast to the broader culture. And even if that culture didn’t think much of this contrast – and sometimes they came to despise it – it gave birth to a global movement.

I just deleted a couple paragraphs grappling with the nuances of being “in the world, but not of it” (John 17.14-18) from my first draft of this post. That’s important, but not what I want to leave us with. I want to leave us with the question I’m grappling with. It’s something we all need to grapple with as we seek to reach a new community through the Branch Church. It’s simply this: “Am I so busy trying to be culturally respectable and ‘fit in’ that I’m unwilling to risk being considered as one of “the dregs” because I commit myself to those things God would have me do to bless others in Him?”

Sometimes it means I don’t take stands on things others think are essential; it may mean taking stands on things others think unimportant. It may mean associating with the weak or marginalized of society. It may mean I spend money a different way, seeking to give and bless rather than accumulating and/or spending. The tensions are endless, but the question is the same. Are we willing to take up our mission in this world – and to start that mission by living differently? Are we willing to live a life that is thriving God’s way so that we can point others to this kind of life?

I know what I want the answer to be. God give me the grace and strength to live it out.