LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: Bible

The  Beautiful Paradox

Over the years I’ve heard from many who don’t understand why so many in the Church appear to have a “woe is me” mindset. I can see their confusion, because if anybody should be joyful, it should be the Christ follower!  And yet there is a paradox that exists in our faith.

In fact there are many!  We’re already saved yet are working out our salvation. We are at the same time both in eternity and yet also bound by time. We are righteous but know full well we are being sanctified. This last one leads to the what I think is the most beautiful paradox of all. It’s the place where mourning and joy exist in their fullest at once. It is in that state where grace is realized in such beauty!

The Sermon on the Mount is a powerful and core teaching by Jesus that can be found in Matthew 5-7. The first section has become known as the beatitudes and has challenged and transformed me as I have wrestled with what seems like an impossible way to live.  We know Jesus came to set us free from the “law” and yet at first glance this sermon calls us to a life even more severe. And so one is compelled to look deeper to reconcile the apparent contradiction.

The first section of the beatitudes is where the tone is set.

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Matthew 5:3-6 NIV

I used to think of each of the Blesseds like individual traits to attain.  “I like the peace maker, but mourning, not so much.”  Sort of like a buffet.  But I’ve come to realize it’s more like a 6 course meal.  It’s not a buffet, not individual attributes that we pick and choose from, but a layering, a building to become the person Jesus calls us to.  And the first is necessary to move on to the next.

When you are poor in spirit having come to the end of yourself, acknowledging you have nothing to bring to God, it’s then you mourn deeply for the reality of sin and it’s destruction in your life. It’s then that the power of meekness, the control of yourself is able to set in. The choosing of God’s control rather than sin’s.  And at that point one is spiritually bankrupt, desperately hungering, desperately thirsting for God’s righteousness!  The promise?  We are filled. God imputes, or puts in us HIS righteousness!  Then and only the does the rest of the sermon makes sense. Then and only then can any of us begin to live the sermon out!

For example, take the passages on murder and adultery (Mt 5:21-30). It’s easy in our righteousness to live a life of fidelity and never murdering someone. Most succeed in that!  But by age three we’ve all called someone a name in anger and by 12 we’ve all lusted.  And so in my abilities I am a failure. And if we haven’t come to the end of ourselves and realized we have nothing, we are nothing apart from Christ, then we will never live the life God has made available to us through Jesus.

Do I have a purpose and potential?  Of course!  Do I have gifts I bring to the table?  Absolutely!  Are they of any value?  For this life and the common good?  Sure.  But for eternity, no!  My righteousness is nothing and His is everything!  And in His hands those gifts and potential will become something wholly different, better.

So the beautiful paradox, the sweet spot…is being both mournful and filled with joy at the same time.  Not dwelling in ashes, but acknowledging my capacity and propensity to sin.  Not “woe is me” but most definitely full on mourning.  “Woe is me” is a self-focused declaration. The mourning Jesus calls us to is recognition of our sinful condition.

And the joy?  It can and should be full-on crazy celebration!  As I mentioned earlier, the sermon can seem like an even more severe life than the law. And here is what most fail to see and even when we see it, we find hard to experience. Jesus knows we can’t. We can’t live free of anger and lust and judgement and unforgiveness!  That’s why He offers us His righteousness. That’s why mercy is given. That. Is. Grace!

And until I come to the end of me and bring my nothing to God, there is no room for grace to be experienced. And so the dance of the paradox begins. Living in spiritual poverty and the riches of Christ together is the challenge.

If you’re like me, and you are, you begin to take credit for spiritual maturity at times. You take for granted the all-encompassing nature grace must have in our lives. The longer I live in Christ the more I realize how much I need Him. The dos and don’ts are easy, grace is not. It requires dying and mourning and spiritual bankruptcy. But then and only then do we experience freedom and joy.

By the way, this why we desperately need each other!  But that’s another post.

It’s a journey and one in which I hope you find joyful mourning.

What On Earth Am I Here For?

For the past six weeks our church has gone through a campaign using Rick Warren’s, What On Earth Am I Here For? (formerly, The Purpose Driven Life) book and materials.  It has been a wonderful experience as all our LifeGroups went through a study together and our weekend services addressed the same topic each week.  It also coincided with each person reading the daily readings from the book.  And of course we threw in extra special events and activities along the way creating a really fun and unifying season in the church.

Each week I sent out special update emails with various  bits of information about what groups were doing, the reading schedule and more.  It also included a “blog post” of that week’s purpose, adding some of my insight into the topic.  Each week got a bit longer as I grew into doing this (I had not originally intended to include this).  Even though some of post is specifically “to” our church, I wanted to capture them in and repost them here.  Just in case you are not aware, Rick Warren’s premise is that God has designed his followers to live lives that demonstrate 5 purposes: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism.  Here are the repostings of my insights for each of those.

Worship; “Assigning WORTH or VALUE”

As you in your reading and in your LifeGroups look at the purpose of worship, remember that worship is not characterized as an act or ritual like bowing down.  Instead it is an attitude of the heart and will – recognizing the value of someone or something and giving it the proper attention in our lives.  So when we hear something like, “He worships money or sports more than God” it makes more sense.  Of course nobody is bowing to money or sports or hobbies, etc.  But we certainly can give them greater value and importance in our lives than they deserve.

Fellowship; Worth the Risk!

Each of us has a built-in desire to be known, accepted and loved!  But for many of us the risk or fear of rejection is huge.  Or the risk of feeling obligated to deal with someone else’s “mess” is too uncomfortable to consider.  But an insulated life is not a rich and full life that God wants for us.  And while inviting others into our “space” can be messy sometimes, ultimately the reward of rich connections and relationships makes all the difference.  Additionally, the call to live like Jesus can only be achieved in “the one anothers.”

That is why Mariners believes so strongly in the role of LifeGroups.  Of course thats not the only way to express and live in fellowship in our lives, but it sure is a great one!  If your group is a temporary one started for this series, please begin to consider what it might look like to stay formed and work together to see Christ formed in each other.  If you are not in a group yet, please seek one out.

Take the “risk”, it’s worth it!

Here’s what some are saying about their groups for this series:

“Our group is loving every minute and we’re having some very profound times together.”

“Our group is also really enjoying meeting together and sharing life. Some great insights have been coming out, as well as questions answered more comfortably in a small group setting than buttonholing the pastors. We’ve been laughing, learning, sharing, and having a great time of participation. We’ve been able to spend a lot of time on prayer requests, which is even better than I hoped.”  

“I have seen some members of our group begin to sense a value and significance in Christ.”

May you all experience the power of fellowship,

Pastor Len

Discipleship; Christ Formed In You

Maturing in Christ, having Him formed in us, is our calling.  To live like and become like Jesus!  Somewhere along the way, the idea of disciple became synonymous with bible study and prayer times and daily devotions.  And yes, disciples do those things!  We do develop habits or “disciplines” of faith in order to understand and grow in faith.  But the habits are not the mark of a disciple.  Christ-like character is!  Do we live humbly, exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit”, consider others…Love one another?

Over the past few months a number of our messages have included themes of sufferings and difficulties in life, and one might get the impression that to follow Christ is all down-and-out hardships.  We don’t share those things to be depressing or because we have a cup-half-empty worldview.  We do that to help each of us have a clear perspective that, despite the modern western view that we should have a life of ease and happiness, we live in a broken world and following God doesn’t exempt us from experiencing it’s hardships.

What makes our message different, however, is that the sufferings of life are not wasted in God’s plan.  A verse in the message this past weekend was, “Trouble produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope.”  Romans 5:3-4   The process “in God’s plan” leads to hope.  Outside of God, there is no hope.

So do we as followers of Christ have times of happiness and joy and ease?  Yes, of course.  Can we experience God and grow to be like Him in those times?  Yes, of course!  But let’s not be naive or caught off guard or run from the difficult times in life for as we face them with the view that God is working in us, then we are led to a hope, a Christ formed in us hope!

May we all “know the power of His resurrection and participation in His suffering”,

Pastor Len

Ministry; Going For It!

Ministry is an interesting concept  There are so many aspects and layers to it.

As I brought out in my message this weekend it is “anything” you do to bless others and honor God.  And yet, I also brought out that we are called to find a role in our church family to fulfill our corporate calling to reach our community.  So there is this tension between “where” and “how” I serve that seems to be casting a shadow on all of this.  That is until we remember, ministry is less of what we DO and more of who we ARE.

We are ministers!  The creation of the career pastor has kind of messed us all up a bit in our idea of ministry.  God has shaped and called all of us to be ministers.  And as we understand our new identity as Christ-followers we can begin to tune our “ears” to hearing the Spirit of God lead us to bless others at any given time.

There is another tension that casts a shadow, and that is the “need” versus “gift/skill” area.  I’m going to speak to this in context of finding a role in our church.  At the Connection Sunday this past weekend you saw serving teams with sign-up sheets expressing they need people to be on their teams.  And as you walk from table to table you may think, “well, I don’t know where I fit in!  I love to cook, or I love organize things, or I love to help people …(fill in the blank).”  And you just don’t know how your gift or skill fits in with so many of the teams.

We had a discussion about this as a staff this week and so I want to pass this on to you – we understand the potential disconnect for many of us!  And we are committed to figure out ways to make opportunities to serve be more relatable to your gift mix rather than our team/department name.  Our next Connection Sunday will be based more on gifts and skills required instead of ministry teams!  And to start off the opportunity to serve… if you are a person who likes to organize things and help communicate systems, I would love to have you help me create an even more relatable Connection Sunday Ministry Fair!

Until then, here is what you can do to find a place to serve now.  If you know what your gifts and interests are, I and many others on our leadership would LOVE to talk to you about custom areas for you to jump in.  There is a place for EVERY gift here and there are more opportunities than you can imagine to be part of the great calling YOUR church has to make difference in Half Moon Bay.  If you really hunger to take those next steps to serve, then please reach out and we will help you find a role that can be very fulfilling for you and a powerful blessing for those you serve.

It starts with a couple of “reframing” actions.  First, begin to embrace your calling as a full-time minister rather than an occasional volunteer.  Second, become self-aware of what you bring to the table.  You ARE gifted in some way by God and likely more than you give yourself, or frankly God, credit for!  Third, recognize that those gifts can be used for more than your career or hobby and instead or in addition can lead people to experience God!

We looked at Romans 12 for our discussion on “Fellowship” a few weeks back, but I love this verse:

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Romans 12:10-13 (NLT)

So much can be drawn from that passage and the verses surrounding it.  But what struck me that week and again today is the “serve the Lord enthusiastically” phrase.  I want for us all to love serving and give our all to this high calling, and to just go for it!  As you move forward in your adventure, the adventure to see others blessed by God working through you, I pray you experience the incredible joy that God has in store for you!

Pastor Len

Evangelism; The Highest Form of Worship!

This is our final update email and therefore my last blog post on our purposes.  I have been privileged to be part of this event with our church and I hope you have been moved to take steps closer to Christ in trust and faith.

Evangelism is really an interesting call or purpose for our lives.  Certainly, if any of these are controversial, it’s this one.  Just the word…evangelism…has developed an awkwardness these days.  For many it conjures up images of TV preachers or street corner harassment or door-to-door campaigns.  Our fears of rejection or turning people off or being labeled judgmental or just not knowing what to say gets the best of us.

And yet it’s the sharing of the “good news” that is the last thing Jesus told us to do when he left this earth.

I don’t know about you, but I get pretty excited about my latest tech gadget or running shoe, and want to tell people.  And practically every survey I have ever taken about a product or customer support asks how likely I am to tell somebody.  So if it’s expected that I share about the insignificant, then how much more should I about the eternal?  I don’t ask that to guilt any of us!  I understand our fears.

But let me present this in just a bit of a different way for a moment.  As we have learned of the 5 purposes, they have been presented as individual attributes or callings that we should aspire to develop in our lives.  Sort of a measuring stick to see how healthy we are in our faith development.  I want us to do just that, and yet instead of seeing them as separate, we should also see them as integrated and intertwined and all of them as “worship”.

An old statement from church history says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  John Piper takes it a step further and changes the last half to “by enjoying Him forever”.  So if worship is our goal, then how does evangelism fit in as the highest form of worship as my title suggests?

Our God is worthy enough for all of mankind, and more personally, our friends and family, to give their lives.  Our God is worthy enough for us to “shout from the mountain tops” of what He has done in our lives.  By sharing the good news, we in fact worship!  And if one more person gives their life to Him, one more person is a worshipper.

I don’t know if that helps any of us overcome our internal obstacles to sharing more.  But perhaps by seeing it’s importance, we might make the opportunity to work through our obstacles more intentionally.

We have the good news!  Let’s pass it on.

Pastor Len

Together We Thrive!

“Together We Thrive” is the new ad line for the Kaiser Permanente.  It seems they are on to something very spiritual and direct from the pages of the Bible.  On another, soon to be related, note, I did speedwork with the Coastside Running Club this morn.  I am enjoying it as I can learn from others who are very experienced.  Not just about improving pace, but form, the concepts of tempo runs, and more.  And yet on another, soon to be related, note, I have joked that I have my very own wellness team, “Team Len” comprised of Mark, my chiropractor; and Trevor, my personal trainer.  They have been invaluable to me for getting and feeling healthy.  Shortly after the Kaiser commercial ran this morning, Diane joked that I had new members of Team Len – the running coaches of the club.  My reply, “Together We Thrive!”

I have seen and learned many spiritual principles on this journey towards fitness.  And one of the most important? I can’t do this on my own!  From the Ultimate Leadership team, to Dr Arnold who I spent a year with, to the fellow running friends from Church, to the previous mentioned “Team Len” members; I need(ed) each and everyone of them.  From the real deep work to put pieces together to the passing encouragements, it all plays a part in this idea of “thriving.”

And of course that is what God designed for us.  He wants so much more than survival for us.  He wants us to live, to love, to serve, to thrive! And the key to all of that is together – the one-anothers!  By nature I am not the most social person.  I love people, but I am a bit shy or awkward in new situations and I am not the best follow-through friend.  I have been described by some as aloof, and I think there is some truth to that at times or situations.  And so this lesson of interdependence is so valuable to me.  I have grown to cherish the role and interaction with others.  I look forward to growing friendships through all of this in the future.  It’s not just an ad campaign, it’s truth – Together We Thrive!

To thriving!

Dance the Dance

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 NIV)

In recent years I have developed a strong bias towards being a practitioner of the faith of Jesus Christ rather than a studier of the Word. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in reading and studying the bible, but I have observed so many over the years who have spent hours on bible study and little time on application. Lives were broken and inconsistent with the bible they studied so much. Or I noticed so many who equated maturity with knowledge. And even worse I also observed so many who became pharisaical and determined their holiness by their knowledge.

But I also may have anchored to this view to cover for a bit of my own laziness and lack of deeper study. Being real here.

In any case, I still believe that knowledge without application or life transformation is selling God short. Jesus IS the word and therefore our interaction with the bible should be more about relationship than education.

The above passage struck me today as it compels us to add knowledge and insight to our experience. Why? It appears that our love, ability to discern what is best, and our righteousness are all linked directly to it. This is not surprising or new to me, but it does cause me to be careful not to swing to one extreme or another. It’s a delicate dance to balance study and application. To make sure we don’t see education, which is the American way, as our primary means of changing. But to also make sure that we don’t also just go out there and try to navigate the choices of life with too little information and insight of God’s mind and heart. We can’t just live on sermons of others, no matter how good they are. Remember the phrase, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing”? We need to get into the word on our own regularly so that we will not just know what God says to us on how to live, but so that we will know God.

I have heard too many times from people leaving their churches that they weren’t being fed. But I say, pick up the fork and eat yourself. God has a feast in His word for each of us. We’ve been invited to the dance. To rejoice in Him.

And because His word is alive, and again, is Jesus, we are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” when our love abounds in knowledge and deep insights.

So dance today. Immerse yourself in His word, be transformed by being with Jesus. Seek the deep insights. And like me, try not to swing to either extreme.

The Faith of a Child

DSC03557As a KidMin I have a great opportunity to often see child-like faith in action, particularly when I run a Day Camp/VBS.  Having the kids everyday for a week they have huge faith steps and share great comments and stories.  This week was no exception!  We used Group’s Kingdom Rock curriculum this year and the five Bible points were so foundational and wonderful and the kids have really enjoyed it.  But because they were such basic points, they speak to me and our team of volunteers too!

  • God’s Love Helps Us Stand Strong, Psalm 18:1
  • Family and Friends Help Us Stand Strong, 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • Prayer Helps Us Stand Strong, Philippians 4:6
  • Trusting God Helps Us Stand Strong, Isaiah 26:4
  • God’s Word Helps Us Stand Strong, Psalm 119:105

As the week went on we are able to see and hear examples from the children about what they are discovering.  One day I “carried my burdens” in a dramatic way to start our large group time.  I had a huge bag full of pots and pans and selected individuals came in to add to my cares by asking me to help them.  The point of the drama was for me to give my cares to God in prayer and not worry and I played up just how hard it was to carry all these burdens.  But before I could even get anywhere near the stage to complete the point of the drama, about 20 kids jumped up to come and help me lift the bag above their heads.  They were living out the point from the day before – Friends and Family should encourage each other!  So beautiful!

I received an email from one parent thanking our team for a great job.  Her appreciation was based on a comment by her 6 year old son on Day 4 of camp as he was getting ready for bed and listening to the music, “Sometimes life is unfair, but I just am feeling good listening to music and loving God.”

The pure trust and acceptance of kids is exactly what Jesus meant when he said unless we have faith like a child we cannot see the kingdom.   Of course they aren’t perfect, but they sure seem to get this idea of letting go to trust.

Children are all about trust.  They have virtually no ability to care for themselves and so they yield to others all the time – parents, caregivers, teachers, etc.  And so when you invite them to love Jesus who so clearly loves them, they are quick to do so.  But of course as we age and become more self-sufficient and aware of our surroundings, we  wrestle back control, not only from parents, teachers, and other adults, but we often do it with God too.  The challenge for us as we “mature” is to not make the mistake that maturity means self-sufficiency or independence.  We always need someone!  God designed us to live in community with others, and significantly with Him.  And it takes the faith of a child to know when to let go and trust Him.

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