Christ is Risen

As I sat outside overlooking the San Francisco Bay, and the sun began to rise in the distance, all that I could think was that this was it.  This is the climax of the story…the story of scripture, the story of God, the story of the Messiah, and definitely the story of our lives.  But of course, I was thinking about Friday as well.  Because without Friday there is no Sunday.  And unfortunately for the good news of Sunday to come, the horrific death on the Cross had to come first.  So I thought back to Friday and somber feel of the service.  As we sat silently and listened to the scriptures leading up to the cross, we also paused and took time to really absorb it.  And then after Jesus let out his cry and his last breath, the service ended…and we left reflecting on the death of Christ.  

I thought about what it would have been like to be one of the disciples during this time.  To watch your good friend, and the man who you gave your life up for, to die a painful and humiliating death.  And as I left this service silently, I thought that this had to be what it was like on that hill after Jesus had let out that last breath.  Silence.  What’s left to talk about?  They may have had different expectations, maybe he would come down in dramatic fashion and really show everybody, but instead…he is now dead.  As the gospels say, they didn’t remember what Jesus said about rising from the dead until after they actually knew he was alive.  So what were they thinking when they saw him die?  Was all hope lost?  Do we just go back to our lives now?  We trusted him so much though, all for this?

Fortunately for the disciples, and for us, these questions didn’t need to be answered.  Because as dawn arrived on the third day, they found nothing but clothes in the tomb.  And then they saw two men, who told them the good news…

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”  -Luke 24:5-7

What great news this is…not only for those original followers but for us as well.  I do not come to you with any new thoughts, but just to reflect on and remember this climax of our story.  And as I sit in my liminal space not knowing where God is taking me, and can always remember this.  So hear the good news friends:

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!

Life in the Liminal

The past few weeks I have come to the realization that God is slowly ruining me, stretching me, deconstructing me.  The season of Lent has given me an opportunity to examine my life and seek out God.  With the help of two different spiritual formation groups I have come to realize that God is stretching me, or to use language of my most recent read, “deconstructing” my theology .  Just as the potter molds and shapes the clay, I feel that I too am being molded and shaped.  And just as the clay is not aware of what it’s outcome will be, I am clueless as to where God is leading me and what is to come of this.  I am in a liminal space.

The word liminal comes from a Latin word that means “threshold.”  Liminality is the in-between, when you leave an old reality and have not yet reached the new reality.  As Richard Rohr puts it “Liminality is a special psychic and spiritual place where all transformation happens.  It is when we are betwixt and between and therefore by definition not in control.”

The disciples experienced liminality throughout the gospels.  Jesus came to them and told them to follow him.  So they left their lives and did not know where it was leading, but just experienced life with Jesus.  During these 3 years Jesus continued to stretch them and their thinking, he turned a couple fish and loaves into food for thousands, he walked on water, he commanded the wind and the waves to be still.  All of which would have ruined the disciples thinking.  All that Jesus continually told them, was to not be afraid.  And just as Richard Rohr says, the disciples experienced transformation in this liminal space.  They were completely transformed from who they were into apostles.  Peter was transformed from a fisherman, to the ROCK that Christ built his church upon.

The same way that Jesus tells his disciples to not fear, I feel he is telling us during our liminal spaces.  We often fear these times because they are unknown, and often it entails much pain and sadness, but Christ calls to not fear and to let transformation happen.

So I end with my simple prayer.  God give me strength and courage during this liminal space.  I trust you and know that you are growing and transforming me.  Let me be a tool in which you bring your kingdom and not an obstacle in the way.  Not my will Lord, but your’s be done.

Suffering —> Perseverance —> Character —>Hope

I sat in our Sunday evening service, listening to a remarkable story about the birth of Everett, our music director Alex’s son.  Everett was born at 25 week, his lungs were not fully formed yet, and his twin brother did not make it through the birth.  Alex said that at birth, he could fit Everett in the palm of his hand.  Everett spent 4 months in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), 2 of which his parents could not even touch him because his body was so fragile.  Alex went to the hospital daily for those 4 months and said he remembers multiple times when Everett’s life was close to ending.  Now Everett is 13 and will be graduating 8th grade this year.  Everett might be blind and have some learning disabilities, but that does not come close to defining who Everett is.  Everett is a smart kid with a joy on his face and in his Body Language that is not seen in many 8th graders.

Years later Alex lost his wife.  I do not know all of the circumstances surrounding this, but I know that it was not an easy loss, and is one that he is still processing, four years later.  

All of this reminded me of the well-known passage in Romans 5:3-5

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Alex is definitely somebody who has gone through suffering.  He has dealt with the loss of a child, near loss of another, and the loss of his wife.  He said he has been through anger at God, and that God continues to love him through those times, and so has hope for a future.  And now is a single dad raising a special needs son and a preteen daughter.  And he is definitely a man of character, a man whom I have much respect for.  And definitely a man of hope.  He has hope for himself and his life, hope for his son Everett and the life he is living, and hope for his daughter Heather.  

When seeing a man like this, I ask myself, am I a man of character and hope?  Because I know that even in my blessed life I am not content and lack hope for my future.  I know that I want to be a man like this, I want God to mold me into a man of character with hope.  But at the same time I am a coward who fears the suffering that often leads to that character, and am hesitant for God to bring that suffering.

So I ask, are you willing to suffer?  Are you bold enough to ask God to mold you and likely put you through pain to get there?

Last weekend (February 24-25th) our youth group participated in 30 Hour Famine, an event sponsored by World Vision where youth across the country go 30 hours without food to raise awareness and support for global hunger.  If you are another youth leader, I would definitely recommend this event.  It is a rich experience for all involved.  To see more on the 30 Hour Famine, click here.  For our specific group, there were many positive experiences that came from this event, and few negative ones (all of which were out of our control).  

One thing that we decided to add this year that we had not done in the past was the Fam Cam.  World Vision suggested this as an option during the weekend and we decided to use our new video camera we recently purchased and try this out.  We placed one of our volunteer leaders in charge of the camera for the weekend, telling him to capture students thoughts throughout the weekend.  The Fam Cam started when all the students arrived at 6pm.  After they were checked in and turned in their funds they were encouraged to check in with the Fam Cam and answer two questions: what are you most excited for and what what are you most nervous about?  Then at the end of the experience they were encouraged again to tell the camera about how the last 30 hours were.  As you can see above, we captured many great thoughts and feelings from students.  

Saturday morning we headed into San Francisco to serve with San Francisco City Impact, an organization that serves the Tenderloin District of San Francisco in the form of education, food, clothes, and first aid care.  After an orientation, our group was split into 3 groups: one group who cooked for the meal the next day, one who bagged groceries, and one who helped at their thrift store.  I heard great things about the first two, even though both involved handling food when they were hungry, but I was personally serving in the thrift store.  This had planned to be just a general clean up and prepping the store for Monday, when they were planning to open.  But in the middle of the night their sprinkler system malfunctioned and left their basement flooded, and many of their items soaked.  So instead, we were asked to help clean up and just get the store back to the condition it was previously in.  For all of us who had the opportunity to serve here, it was a very humbling experience to see the work that had gone into this place to see this unfortunate circumstance, and aid in the process of cleaning it up.

At 1 o’clock we all gathered and split up into two new groups and delivered groceries to two (of four) buildings that City Impact sponsors and provides groceries for.  During this process City Impact put an emphasis on the relational aspect of their ministry and encouraged us to have a conversation with the residents and not just hand out groceries.  As we walked around the apartment building and San Francisco we could tell that this relational work was paying off.  The staff members of City Impact greeted many different people by name and told them that we were on our way up to their room, and asked them how their weeks were going.  It was very apparent that Christ was present in this community and in these relationships.

After we finished at City Impact we walked to San Francisco Network Ministries, where we received an orientation by Glenda Hope, the director and founder of this ministry.  Now this was at 2:30pm on Saturday, and we were about 26 hours into our famine, so this was one of the hardest times for us.  So sitting down and just hearing an orientation sounded like it was going to be very hard, but we were pleasantly surprised when Glenda began telling us story after story of people she has worked with and how this ministry got to where it is now, leaving one key take-away for our students, “If God is telling you to do something, don’t wait for anything.  God will make sure everything falls into place.”  This was a great way to spend this time as this woman told us stories that opened our eyes to some of the realities of poverty right around the corner from us.

We also decided to end the famine with communion.  So rather than breaking our fast with just going crazy on food (which we did a couple minutes later with our taco bar), we broke our fast by sharing the body and blood that Christ gave for us.  Although some students didn’t care and just wanted the tacos outside, for me personally and some students as well, this was a great way to end our famine.  We were able to celebrate the life and death of Christ and remember why we do this event in the first place.

All in all this was a very successful event.  We were able to raise about $7000 on behalf of World Vision thanks to some very intentional fundraising methods (found here in my previous post), a gracious offer of $2500 if we matched that number by a church member, and of course Ray offering to dye his hair any color students wanted probably gave extra incentive as well (he wound up with a pink mohawk for Famine Sunday).  We had one of the highest turnouts in years, and students walked away with their eyes opened to new realities, and their lives changed for the better.

Personally this famine was challenging and rewarding (as it is expected to be).  This was only the second time I have done the famine and due to more students I was more stressed but also more grateful at the end.  The last few hours are the most challenging physically, and luckily we thought this through and had some free time for the end (meaning nothing to stress about).  And as I sat with that emptiness in my stomach and the pain of a headache, I ask myself “what would life be like if this were everyday?”  And that is a challenging question.  Because when I sit there, I know that just a couple hours away are delicious tacos waiting for me, and I have light at the end of the tunnel.  But I cannot imagine what life would be like not knowing when the next meal will come.  How can a person have hope with so much lacking?

Match Makers

This last week our youth staff had our quarterly Youth Leadership Dinner.  This is a time when we gather for a meal, and then discuss, in depth, our youth ministry.  We look at a scripture and our mission statement and ask the simple questions of what are we doing that points to the scripture or mission statement, and what more could we be doing that points to the scripture or mission statement.  Many great things came from this conversation (most are specific to our context), and one of the richest ideas was a very simple one that came from our Elder for Youth.  

A recent post on the Sticky Faith Blog that came from Jim Candy of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church talked about why we don’t see change happen in our churches, specifically talking about intergenerational ministry.  He was saying that we make pitches all the time for intergenerational ministry, and the congregation is all on board, and then nothing happens.  The biggest reason, he says, is that we are not specific enough, we do not give them action steps.  And I agree completely.  We at Burlpres have made this mistake multiple times in the last year.  

But we have not only seen negatives, there have actually been many positives.  Our elder board has been one of our starting point with intergenerational ministry.  We have had conversations with our elders about intergenerational ministry and steps that they can take.  And some of our elders are beginning to get it.  We see them making contact on Sunday mornings with students, just to say hi.  We have had elders host youth events and use that as time to get to know students.  But we also started asking ourselves, what more can we do to assist in this big picture change?  It is great that we are seeing a change in our elder board (and this is a great place to start), but what can we do to boost this change and make others notice it too?  And like I said, our elder for youth had a great idea.  She asked what if our youth staff, those who already “get it”, changed their mentality on a Sunday morning, or Wednesday (our all church dinner)?

On Sunday mornings our youth staff, myself included, are spending much time with students.  Probably the biggest part of our mission is relational ministry, so we take a lot of time before and after service to just hang out with kids in our Fellowship Hall.  But what we often overlook is that ten feet from us is another group of adults, who we know well, who are hanging out as well.  A group who has nothing against kids, but just don’t know any, so don’t make that contact.  A group who could easily be introduced to students and have rich conversation with them.  So we asked ourselves: what if, instead of just seeing ourselves as youth leaders, we started to see ourselves as match makers as well?  

So this has become one of our primary goals in the next few months.  Rather than just telling adults to go and meet students, we will help them (sometimes maybe make them…) meet them.  We will let the adult into the student’s story, and vice-versa, in an attempt to work towards the 5 adults to 1 student ratio that we long for.

Ignatian Prayer Exercises: Week 1

About a month ago a member of our church told our senior pastor that she would love to lead our staff in 10 weeks of the St. Ignatius Prayer Exercises.  She has been greatly affected by doing them and began leading them, so she offered this to our staff.  This sounded great to our staff as it will be great for us both personally in our own spiritual formation, as well as our staff doing it together as a group.

The process is simple, our group is spent by starting in silence for a few minutes, then discussing last week’s exercise and sharing our reflections on it, and lastly her describing the next week’s exercise.  

This last week we were given 2 exercises, and I decided to do just one repeatedly so that I could focus a little more on it.  The exercise that I focused on was to read Psalm 139 slowly and repeatedly (Lectio Divina) and to see yourself as known and loved by God.

Although at first glance this seemed to be a very simple task, it turned out to be a powerful time.  We are told from the beginning of our Christian faith that are created in God’s image, and that He loves us, so what more could I get out of this.  But I didn’t realize how little I actually focused on this.  

Psalm 139 really expresses how well God knows us.  We often overlook the fact that we are not just another human, we are not another number.  But God has searched us and knows us. (vs 1)  I do not buy into the deistic view of God as a distant God who created the world and lets it run it’s course.  God creates each and everyone of us.  He knits us together in our mother’s womb. (vs. 13)  God knows us to our core.  It goes as far as to say that before we even say something, He knows it.  

Now yes, this does get into a bigger topic of God’s intervention and our free will.  Something that we try to understand, but can’t even come close.  This is where verse 6 really describes my feelings.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

David even says that God knows him so well, and he can’t even understand it.  I try to think of well God knows me, and I can’t even fathom it.  He knows me better than my parents, better than my friends, better than my wife.  He doesn’t just know how I act in situations, He knows my inmost being!

Then verse 14 comes and it is hard to read, because it is often hard for me to believe.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

I am wonderfully made?  That is hard to understand sometimes.  Sometimes I am not happy with myself.  I am not happy with who I am.  But God’s works are wonderful, and He created me.  I am the image of God, and I have value at my core.

Doing this exercise couldn’t have come at a more ironic time, because this last Sunday I was teaching on the image of God.  We were discussing the idea that we often wear masks instead of showing our real selfs.  But God created us, we are his masterpiece, his poetry (poema), and He saw that we are very good (Genesis 1:31).

This knowledge is so powerful.  How would we live if we truly believed that God created us and gave us value, if we knew that he knows us to our core and loves us.

Lord, you are good and your mercy endures forever.  I cannot express how clueless I am to this fact.  Thank you for loving the broken man that I am.

Intergenerational Fundraising

Every year hundreds of thousands of students participate in World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine and go 30 hours without food to help raise awareness and support to combat global hunger.  For this, students seek to raise awareness by telling others in their community about not only this event, but the global hunger crisis.  They also seek to find sponsors to raise funds that go straight to hungry families, keeping in mind that every $30 they raise feeds a person for a month.

Here at FPCB we have been participating in this event for many years and it has been one of the staples of our youth ministry.  Last year I was 6 months into ministry and this was my first fundraising event.  So naturally I did it the way that I knew how: I had students find sponsors and I also ran a table on Sunday mornings and took donations for the group.

This year my associate Ray Medina and I came up with a much better method for fundraising, and use it as an opportunity to build intergenerational relationships.  The first, most obvious improvement we made was that we now have youth running the table.  Yes, we do sit with them and not make it just a job on Sunday mornings, but we have them do all of the talking and take all of the sign ups.

The other thing we did is instead of just taking group donations, we have a list of all of the students signed up for the event.  When an adult comes to the table and says they want to support the 30 Hour Famine, we ask them if they know any of the students signed up and if they would like to sponsor one of them.  If they do, we write their name and phone number next to the students name and tell them that the student will be contacting them about the sponsorship.  If they do not know any specific kid that they would like to sponsor, we write their name, phone number, and amount that they would like to sponsor.  We then give this info to a student who we choose who can contact them.  We do not take any of checks or cash at this time, instead we have the students contact them and get the money.

This obviously gets rid of any stress on our part of gathering and counting the money, but that is not the point at all.  This simple idea uses the routine act of fundraising and turns it into a chance to build intergenerational relationships in our church.  Now all of the students will be contacting at least one adult from our congregation and due to the fact that they must get the money from them, they also get to meet each other.  Now adults in our church who before were just writing a check out to the youth ministry, are now learning the name, face, and a little of the story of a kid in the youth ministry.

Family BINGO Night

We often think of BINGO as a game that old people play at the senior center, but last week our church found that BINGO mixed with a silent auction and dinner can be a great source for intergenerational fun.

One of the better programs that our church offers for the community is our after school program (ASP), and it has become one of the more popular after school programs in the area.  And this last week was the second annual ASP Spaghetti Dinner, where we enjoy dinner and games all to support the program and help them offer scholarships.  

This event turns out to be a great way to do two big things.  First is that it bridges a gap between church programs.  What generally happens (at our church at least) is that the after school program meets on weekdays in the afternoon, while most the other church events are either on the weekends or on weeknights.  Because of this a gap begins to build and it almost becomes two completely separate institutions.  This is a great event because it brings in children and parents from the after school program as well as many members of the church (especially because it is done on a day that we normally have our all church dinner).  It also tends to bring in teachers and administrators from local schools due to ties with the after school program, so it works out to be a great event of bringing together many different people.

The other thing this event does is bring together generations.  The first part is dinner, and obviously that brings people together to share in a meal and also conversation.  Then the silent auction starts.  And rather than this just being an adult activity, there are items for all ages ranging from signed sports memorabilia, tickets, vacation homes, wine (sorry baptists), toy robots, being in charge of snack at after school, youth director for a day, you get the point.  So the auction tables end up being a fun place for all the generations to talk and battle over auction items.  

The last activity of the night is BINGO, and this turns out to be the most fun.  After all the BINGO cards are purchased for a couple bucks each, the game begins.  We had a load of fun at our table, as kids, youth, and adults all gathered around and got a little over competitive with each other.  And then winners of BINGO win different prizes (mostly gift cards).  In between BINGO rounds raffle winners are also announced with the big prizes for the evening being tickets to the Zoo or the SF Giants.

All in all this event has turned out to be a great success two years in a row.  It brings together many different people from the community, as well as different generations for a night of fun games, dinner, and rich conversations.  All while supporting a local ministry and in the end supporting families who need it.  

Finals Care Packages

As many of us who work with high schoolers know, the end of the semester came last month, which also meant…finals season.  So while many of us adults are enjoying the beautiful Christmas decorations and preparing ourselves in the time of advent, teens are busy studying, studying, studying.  For our youth group, this also means that it is time for high school care packages.

We did this for the first time last May, and after seeing what came of it, we decided that this would be something we would do every semester.  Finals can be a crazy time for many high schoolers and as a youth staff, we decided that we do not need to add to that by having our high school program in the midst of finals.  Instead we used it as an opportunity to do contact work and be incarnational, as well as give pastoral care.  So instead of asking students to give up a couple hours of study time to come to our program, we would come to them.  So we spent a bunch of time looking up every student’s address and created a google map with all of them on it.  After we mapped out all of our students homes, we split up the map between leaders (going in groups of 2-3 leaders to the homes).  After a prayer for the night, we went our separate ways to students’ homes.  Of course, we texted and called kids to let them know we were coming so we knew that they were home, and they knew we were coming.

We went house to house stopping and saying hi, dropping off our little care packs (which were just paper bags with a starbucks, water, granola bar, pencil, and a note with an encouraging scripture and upcoming events) and sitting with kids.  Some great memories came for all of us from these stops.  We got to sit and just relax with kids and parents, we got to help some kids study, we got to meet some parents that we hadn’t met before, and of course, we got to pray with them for the chaos of finals and the joy of the holiday season.

As we continue to think about Sticky Faith, this was a great opportunity to show students that faith, church life, school life, and family life can all meld together.

97-Year-Olds are Not Exempt | StickyFaith.org

What a great story of what we like to call an “undercover youth pastor.”