Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rwanda Trip

Here is a bit of background information about our upcoming Rwanda trip...

If you are interested in supporting us on this trip, please email me at and I will give you the details!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Everyone Has A Story

One of my favorite times of the week here at Living Hope Neighborhood Church is Saturday morning. Every Saturday morning we have a worship service at 8:45am, and then we serve breakfast at 9:30am. We make it clear to those who come, that both parts of Saturday morning are optional. In other words, you don't have to attend the service in order to be served breakfast (and vice versa). Interestingly, most of the men and women come to the service faithfully, and then stay for breakfast. Only a small handful choose to only come for the breakfast.

We have a small group of men and women who faithfully serve in the kitchen each week preparing the food for the morning breakfast. Most of them get to the church every Saturday at 6:30am! Some of them come in on Friday to cut potatoes. The faithfulness of these men and women is amazing. At 7am the kitchen staff and the pastors gather for prayer, committing both the service and the breakfast to the Lord. People begin coming as early as 7am to come and get a cup of coffee and to just relax, read the paper, and catch up with people.

As a pastoral staff, we intentionally arrive at 7am, so that we can visit with people before the service starts at 8:45am. Over half (not sure what the exact percentage would be) of the men and women who come on Saturday mornings are homeless. (However, even in stating that we have to be careful not to assume that someone is homeless based on appearance.) From my first Saturday morning at the church back in September to now, I have built some great relationships.

One of the ways we can easily sin in the area of partiality (James 2), is by "lumping everyone together." This happens way too often when it comes to the homeless and/or those who are struggling financially. We make sweeping statements like "they should get a job," "they are probably hooked on drugs," "they choose to be homeless," or "they are just lazy." These types of statements, and the hearts from which they flow, are way too common within the church, even amongst ministries that "target" the least of these. A common critique of rescue mission chapel services is that the preachers speak down at people, and communicate as if everyone has the same story, habits, background, etc. It too often becomes a one size fits all, "get it together people" type of message.

In the 6 months or so that I have been here, and in my outreach experiences with folks on the street in Chicago, I have learned that everyone has a unique story. The question is, do we have the time and the Gospel-fueled compassion to intentionally build relationships and listen to people's stories. I have met several men who find themselves homeless and living at the mission, yet contending for their children and doing all they can to be a father and a provider in the midst of a difficult season in their lives. I have met computer programmers and bankers who life dealt a tough hand, and who are battling to maintain hope. I have met a man who openly shared with me that he battles an addiction to crack, yet whom loves the Word of God and has told me that the Spirit brought tears to his eyes as we sang, "I believer You're my healer."

Ministry can be messy. It is messy because our lives are messy (all of our lives!). Yet if we are truly to be the Church that Christ died to purchase, then we must enter in to peoples pain, struggles, and messes. We do so not as "rescuers" but rather as those who have been rescued. As the Church, we share a common phrase, "but God." I once was this and was headed in this direction...but God!

When we preach on Saturday mornings (and on Sunday mornings), we make it our aim to preach the Gospel every sermon. We try to be intentional to not make the Gospel the "tag on" at the end of the sermon, but rather the very lifeblood of the sermon. It is the Gospel message that non-believers need to hear. It is the Gospel message that believers need to hear. It is the Gospel message that compels us to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. It is the Gospel that transforms us from being "partial judgers of men" into a people of compassion, empowered and burdened to love our neighbors and to listen to their stories.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Moved By Mercy - Part 1

There is a church in Oakland that has recently been transformed by stepping outside of their comfort zone and extending mercy to others. The following video highlights what this church did, in collaboration with World Impact. It all started with a handful of eye doctors in this local church, who felt compelled to use their unique vocational gifts for the glory of God, and the good of others.

One of the key members from this church who helped coordinate the eye clinics told me that prior to the eye clinic their church was a typical commuter church. They would drive in for service, but they weren't necessarily doing life together and growing as disciples on mission together. He told me that God used the eye clinic ministry to take their church deeper into community with one another, and mobilized them to be a more missional church in their city context.

This coming July, this church is partnering with our church to do a similar eye clinic for men, women, and families in Richmond. We have begun planning and praying for this needed ministry. We are excited to see what God is going to do!

On a side note, I love what Paul Chan says about "meaningful sacrifice." He states that as followers of Christ we have a longing within us to make sacrifices - because of our connectedness to Christ (paraphrase). He adds, "we know that when we do sacrifice, it's the closest we have to living through Christ. It's the greatest testimony we have to an unbelieving world." That's good stuff!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Go...Goodbye...Growth (Pains)

As many of you know this fall brought a whirlwind of changes into my life. At the end of August I got engaged and I moved from Chicago to Richmond, CA. On September 1st, I began a new job as one of the pastors at Living Hope Neighborhood Church. At the end of September I helped my then fiance' move her stuff from Branson, MO to Richmond. On Saturday November 5th I got married to Josie! Then on Sunday November 6th we flew back to Richmond together to begin our new life and ministry together. It is safe to say that the end of 2011 flew by, and left my head spinning:)

In recent weeks I feel as if the weight of all of the changes has caught up with me. This morning I watched a video of a new song by J'son called "Goodbye" that strongly resonated with me and how I have been feeling. In J'son's case he relocated from St. Louis, MO to Iowa. I don't know all of the details of his transition there, but I know from the song he believes that God purposefully moved him there, away from all that he has known and loved. I think my situation is different from his, yet what he shares about "being in a fruitful place" and "growing pains" is exactly what I'm feeling.

In the song he says something like this, "leaving the city I love, leaving the people I love, but I gotta follow the God I love (paraphrase)." Then he adds, "saying goodbye to everything you know, cause you feel the Spirit telling you go." Chicago is the place that I "grew up" in ministry. During my ten years there I learned so much about God, myself, race & culture, living in community, the Church, etc. I came to love the city, it's pace, its joys, and its struggles. I also came to love the families whom I was serving in youth ministry. I love the young men and women whom I have watched grow up, and am so proud of them and of what God is doing in their lives. I built strong friendships with my co-laborers (both at Sunshine, at Christ Bible Church, and at other ministries), and feel like I have a huge extended family there. And yet with all of that being said (being in a place I love and at a ministry I love), I began to feel like the Lord was moving me. I say those words with caution (as I know they can be overused and abused - ie "the Lord told me..."), but I genuinely feel His hand has been on this move and transition process.

God now has me in a different region of the country, in a smaller city, in a very diverse community, and on staff at a small church (with big dreams). I feel like God is stretching me in every area of my life.

At Home: I love being married. The fact that I am married to Josie is evidence of God's grace. I am so thankful. Yet, with all of that being said I am learning what it means to be a husband. Marriage is holding a mirror up to my selfishness. This is a great thing for my growth, but a painful thing at the same time. I am learning what it means to be the spiritual leader of my home. Every day, I'm trying to better learn my wife - how the Lord has wired her, what makes her tick, and what ticks her off:) God is growing me through my marriage.

At Church: I still can't believe I'm a pastor, and all the responsibility that it entails. I am in over my head. I am blessed with a great team to learn from and to learn with. I am also blessed with a loving church community. However, at the same time I feel like my "ministry identity" has been stripped away and at times I feel like I'm not sure who I am, or how I quite fit in here. At Sunshine, I was the "youth outreach director." I'm not much into titles, but what I am learning about myself is that I did have a "ministry identity" that I had grown into and become comfortable in. Now God has stripped that away, and is stretching me to find my identity in Him and through community here, as we flesh out the Great Commission together.

In The Neighborhood: In Chicago I lived in a neighborhood that was predominately African-American. The part of the neighborhood in which I lived and worked was predominately low-income families. I loved it there, and learned much from my neighbors there. I now live in a neighborhood that is very diverse, both ethnically and economically. It has a completely different feel. Although racial and class segregation is not as felt here, people live very separate lives even though they live next door to each other. I am recognizing that I liked "being known" by people in Chicago. No one knows me here, and I am challenged to learn afresh how to best build relationships and bridges amongst my neighbors. For example, the family who lives next door to us are Muslims. There is a mosque at the end of our street. I am praying that I can build relationships and share Jesus with them, but to be honest it is a daunting challenge that I know the Lord has placed on my heart. God is using the newness of my surroundings to grow me.

So here I am (and here we are). I'm learning. I'm being stretched. It is uncomfortable. I miss people. I miss the more familiar. Yet I am trusting that God has been sovereignly leading this process, and He is shaping and molding me through it. God has blessed me (& Josie) with new community to do life with and new mentors and teachers. As J'son said, "I'm in a fruitful place." My prayer continues to be, Lord teach me what You would have me to learn.

"Cause I know your aim, to glorify Your holy Name, as we go through these growing pains" Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fruit of the Spirit: GOODNESS

This past Saturday morning I continued our Fruit of the Spirit series, preaching on the fruit of "Goodness." Below are my main sermon notes...

Galatians 5:22-23

Question: What is goodness?

You ever heard the expression, “I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” Usually I respond with “give me the bad news.” My logic behind this is that I want the bad news first, so that the good news is highlighted. Hearing the bad news first magnifies the “Goodness” of the good news! So as we talk about goodness this morning…I have bad news and good news…and I’m going to start with the bad news…

Titus 3:3-7
a)Our condition before OR without Christ

Titus 3:3 = For we ourselves were once (OR apart from Christ we are...)
Foolish = unwise (without wisdom), unintelligible
Disobedient = unable to persuade, noncompliant
Led astray = to be deceived, to be led aside from the right way
Slaves to various passions and pleasures = owned by; to give one’s self up to; in total bondage, unable to free yourself
Passing our days in malice and envy = wasting our lives, passing our time in
Malice = ill will, wickedness, and a desire to injure
Envy = a grudging regard for the advantages that others seem to enjoy; a sorrow that others have that we don’t
Hated by others = hated, detestable
and hating one another = to pursue with hatred, to detest
=you are hated by others and you hate back (you hate yourself)

b)Our salvation through Christ

Titus 3:4 = But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared
Goodness is “love in action” – Warren Wiersbe

I. God’s goodness for us
The Cross screams the goodness of God. The Cross is truly God’s love in action. We need to remind ourselves daily of the Cross. We need to have a “day to day interaction with Calvary.”

Why? Because the Cross reminds us that God is for us. The Cross screams that God is good and God is for us.

Otherwise we might doubt the fact that God is good…all the time, and all the time…God is good!
Let’s think about this. I am newly married. I love my wife. Let’s just say that she started noticing some health issues and goes to the doctor to get things checked out. Let’s imagine that the doctor tells us that it might be cancer and that further testing is needed. We go in for the tests and then have to wait several days for the results. Let’s say that when we go in for the results the doctor says that she is cancer free. When we find out that she is cancer free, we might exclaim, “God is good!”
However, what if we find out that she has cancer? Would we still exclaim that “God is good?”
God is good all the time. And all the time God is good right?

That means that God’s goodness does not depend on life circumstances, but rather God’s goodness is based upon who He is…God’s character.
God’s goodness is based on who He is. His greatest demonstration of His goodness is at the Cross = God’s love in action.

II. God’s goodness through us

(1)We speak of His goodness

Psalm 145:7; Isaiah 63:7

“As endless as God’s blessings are,
So should my praises be
For all His daily goodnesses
That flow unceasingly!” —Adams

(2)We show His goodness

the fruit of the Spirit are the “beautiful graces of the Spirit”

We have come to know and experience God’s goodness in Saving us, and His gracious Holy Spirit in us that gives us the ability to extend His goodness to others!

God’s goodness has changed our eternal destiny, given us a radical new identity in Christ, and His Holy Spirit now lives in us, therefore we are now able to have the desire to extend God’s goodness to others.

Goodness = God’s love in action
Through Christ we have the opportunity to put on display the “beautiful graces of the Spirit”

Good works or deeds = fruit – acts of Christian love that inevitably accompany a genuine faith

Titus 2:14 = who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works

Are we zealous to show acts of Christian love?

Question: Do our neighbors know that we love them? Have we shown them goodness, God’s love in action? The people that we long to see transformed must know that we care deeply for them.

God is good—make sure the people in your world know what He has done in your life.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What Church People Ought To Be About

This past week was Moody's annual Founder's Week. I have been able to listen to two powerful messages from the week (you can find all of them on youtube). One of them was given by Pastor Erwin Lutzer. He referenced a poem that one of my mentors, Dr. John Fuder, shared with Moody Church. It is a poem by George MacLeod, and we need to hear his words today as the American church. Here is what it says,

“I simply argue that the Cross must be raised again

at the center of the marketplace

as well as the steeple of the church.

I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified

in a cathedral between two candles,

but on a Cross between two thieves,

on a town garbage heap,

at the crossroads of politics,

so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title

in Hebrew, in Greek, and Latin

and at the kind of place

where cynics talk smut, thieves curse, and soldiers gamble,

Because that is where He died and that is what He died about

and that is where Christ men ought to be

and what church people ought to be about.”

Erwin Lutzer added, "What an awesome reminder that we are not just called to love one another, but it seems to me that throughout church history whenever a church got serious with God, it got serious with its community; it got serious with evangelism through works of service and it began to make a difference."


Monday, February 06, 2012

The Gospel At Work - James 2:14-26

This past Sunday I preached the rest of James chapter two, verses fourteen through twenty-six. You can listen to the message here. Here are the key sermon notes.

QUESTION (James 2:14)
In other words, “Is faith without works real, saving faith? What if someone’s faith is all talk? Is that genuine, saving faith?”

EXAMPLE (James 2:15-16)
It is…Lip service but no love, Words with not witness, Talk with no transformation

1 John 3:16-18 = By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

“We live sacrificially, not because we feel guilty, but because we have been loved greatly...those who have received mercy extend mercy. Grace in our hearts overflows in goodness from our hands…” -David Platt

ANSWER (James 2:17)
Dead in the Greek means = DEAD
Works or deeds = fruit – acts of Christian love that inevitably accompany a genuine faith

Here is an example of “Dead” faith…
“I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar and prayed for my release. I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless and you preached to me the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely, and you left me alone to pray for me. You seem so holy, so close to God, but I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.” - taken from “Signs of Life” by David Jeremiah

Real faith produces real fruit!

NO DICHOTOMY (James 2:18)
Saving faith is shown through works. There is no separation between the two.

“Faith is the source of our salvation, but good works are the way we express the reality of our salvation.” David Jeremiah

Jesus said in Matthew 7:16-17 = You will recognize them by their fruit.

It’s not just words…when someone truly embraces the Gospel, there is movement! It’s not just lip service. It’s not just checking the box on a doctrinal statement. It’s not “oh sure, yeah I believe that.” Real faith leads to real Gospel driven compassion and love lived out in community!

QUESTION (James 2:20)


(1) What is justification?
being declared righteous by God through faith, on the basis of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice
to be made right with God, to be in right standing with God through faith, ON THE BASIS of Jesus sacrifice for your sins

(2) Paul
The primary way in which Paul uses the word “justify” with this definition in mind. Consider these passages written by Paul.

Romans 3:21-24; Romans 4:1-3; Galatians 3:6-8
Paul was quoting from Genesis 15:6 which says, "And He believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness."

(3) James
He uses the word “justify” to emphasize the way in which works demonstrate that someone has truly been justified. In other words, James sees the good works that a person does as evident of true justification by faith as having taken place. So James doesn’t look at Genesis 15:6, but rather looks many years down the road at Genesis 22:9-12 where Abraham was ready to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice in obedience to God.

(4) James & Paul TOGETHER
Together James and Paul give the full dimension of faith.
Paul wrote about INNER saving faith from God’s perspective (the vertical).
James wrote about OUTWARD saving faith from man’s perspective (the horizontal).

(5) Rahab
Why would Rahab risk her life to hide the Israelite spies??
Consider Joshua 2:9-11
She was saved because of her faith in the true and living God AND she saved others because of her faith! In other words, her actions to save others were proof of her saving faith!

In Conclusion…

1) We are not saved by works
Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7

2)We are saved to works
Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8

His grace compels us to good works
His mercy compels us to show mercy
His love compels us to love others

3)His Grace → Good Works → His Glory
“The world around us can’t see our inner faith, but it can see the good works that flow from our faith.” - David Jeremiah

Matthew 5:16 = In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

“Good works are the result, not the cause, of God’s being 100 percent for us. If He were not for us because of faith alone, owing to Christ alone, we would be hopelessly unable to do good works, because our works would not magnify His grace but our resolve.” - John Piper

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

February Praise & Prayer

Praises (We praise God…)
1)For His faithfulness – new lessons being learned, new relationships, provisions, and grace!

2)That we have the opportunity to travel with a team to Rwanda in mid April! More info on this upcoming trip coming soon!

3)Community – Both Josie and I had great community (people doing life with us) in Chicago and Branson. Although, we greatly miss our friends there, God has blessed us with great family here!

4)I have begun volunteering each week at Richmond High School and the Boys and Girls Club doing tutoring and mentoring!

5)Our church has begun to implement the ministries of Safe Families and Youshare! Both of these ministries will give us opportunities to better love and serve our church body and community.

6)For a great start to our sermon series in the book of James (Sunday mornings) and the Fruit of the Spirit (Saturday mornings)!

Prayer Requests (Please pray with us…)
1)That our faith in Christ and our love for Him would continue to grow! Please pray that we would truly trust Him in all areas of our lives.

2) a - Josie will be taking a physical therapy test in about a week. She needs to pass this test in order to maintain her state license. Please pray for her as she continues to prepare for it, and that she would do well.
b – She is also looking for a part time job to help make ends meet for us. She has an interview with the YMCA tomorrow (Thursday)! Please pray both for work opportunities and for wisdom.

3) a – We own a condo in Branson, Missouri (where Josie lived before we got married). Please pray with us that we would find a renter soon!
b – We also own a condo in Chicago. Currently, my good brother CW is living there as he attends Moody and works at Sunshine. However, this will be ending in June. Therefore, we need to make some decisions about this condo – short sale, renter, sell, etc. Please pray for wisdom for us.

4) Josie and I are going to begin directing the “game time” at our monthly “Kid’s Fun Night” here at the church. In addition to that, we will be meeting with an AWANA missionary this week about launching a club here in the fall. We are also praying about starting a youth day camp or VBS style program this summer to gain momentum towards the fall. Please pray for wisdom and vision as we move forward with this.

5)We (Josie and I) are beginning to work on support raising, planning, and preparing for our Rwanda trip (April 15th – April 29th) in collaboration with Hallomai International (the same ministry I went to Nigeria with). Please pray for direction for us, and that we would trust God to provide for this trip. We will have a newsletter coming soon! (Also, praise God as one of our plane tickets for this trip has been provided for!)

6)I will be preaching this coming Sunday (2/5) and the following two Saturdays (2/11 & 2/18). Please pray that the LORD would direct those messages, and that He would be lifted high as I preach. (If you would like to listen to our sermons click here.)

We are so grateful for your prayers, encouragement, and support! Please let us know how we can be praying for you! You can email us at or