Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why Do I Need the Spirit?

Originally posted on

As a staff, we sometimes read books together and discuss them at our staff meetings, this week we began the book "Forgotten God" by Francis Chan which is about the neglect of the Holy Spirit in many churches today. What struck me the most was thinking about people I have spoken with (from different churches and backgrounds) and the broad spectrum of belief in terms of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Often these beliefs are based on personal experience rather than a study of the Scripture. Think about that for a minute. Why do you believe what you believe about the Spirit? Do you think your beliefs are shaped more by the Scriptures or by what you've come to experience as your normal Christian life? We form our own opinions of what we think a Christian life ought to look like and what our own experience of the Holy Spirit looks like, but do we ever check that with what the Scripture says a Spirit-filled life looks like? Don't just ask other people what they think, or even assume that we already know. Here are some passages about the Spirit, pick a few and compare them to your experience with the Spirit:
  • Acts 1:4-8, Acts 2:1-13, Acts 4:31
  • Romans 8:1-17, Romans 8:26-27
  • 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
  • Galatians 4:4-7, Galatians 5:16-25
If we disregard our own experiences and just read these passages, what would you expect to happen to us when the Spirit entered our lives? What changes in us when we receive the Spirit? The passage which stands out to me the most is Galatians 5:16-25. The famous "Fruit of the Spirit" passage I have read dozens of times before. After reading it in the context of thinking of what the Spirit produces in us, I notice something:
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
How often do we try to force fruit in our lives because we think that a "good Christian" needs to look like that? We beat ourselves up sometimes if we don't. Sad? I need to make myself more joyful, because that is what the Scripture says. Impatient? Nope, gotta work on that because the Scripture says so. Want people to think I'm a "good Christian"? I can just fake being loving, right? If that is our mindset, where is the Spirit in all that? If we work in our own strength to be more like Jesus we miss the whole point. This translation says that the Spirit produces such fruit in us. Other translations may not use the word "produce" but the important part is that the Spirit is where these things start. Check out the next part of the passage in seeing how we interact with the Spirit:
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
Those are some pretty powerful words: Belong to Christ Jesus. Living by the Spirit. Follow the Spirit's leading. This passage isn't known as "the fruit of Mark" or "the fruit of a good person" or even "the fruit of a good Christian" the passage is known as "the fruit of the Spirit" for a reason. It's about relying on the Holy Spirit to change us. More than just change, He radically transforms our lives. The question is, are you open to being transformed by the Spirit?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Motivating Factor

originally posted on

Getting and staying in shape isn’t easy. Last year I went to a normal physical at the Dr. and was told I was going to face a couple of potential health issues if I didn’t get in better shape. I was motivated and started out fast: running, biking, swimming, gym - something almost every day. By the end of the year I had completed three sprint triathlons, a half-marathon, and lost 40 pounds. I was motivated by fear of poor health, motivated by the time I spent with my wife and friends exercising, motivated by the feeling of being in better shape. But as quickly as it started, it faded, the business of life and a dozen other things got in the way and this year I gained back 20 pounds. I struggled to find the motivation to consistently get back on my bike, or run. I got down and frustrated and was content with the status quo for a while. Of course my wife reminded me that physical health sometimes goes like that, it ebbs and flows, there are times when we are more interested and times when we are not.

This analogy of course applies to our Spiritual lives as well. The Old Testament Hebrews believed that it was all connected: physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health were not separate pieces but rather connected in our personal harmony. There are times when I am reading Scripture and honestly blown away and other times when I am just going through the motions. There are times when I worship that I feel like I am a part of something bigger and there are times when I don’t connect emotionally. In those times, should I only do the things I want to do or the things that make me feel better?

So now I am (hopefully) getting back in shape; I recently joined a “fitness boot camp.” I didn’t want to go at first but my wife encouraged me to try it. I have only been a few times, but have loved working out in this format so far. What is interesting is that there is really nothing physically significant about it: there are no weight machines, no exercise machines, and no abundance of mirrors on the walls. I show up for a specific start time and go through a circuit workout with several other individuals at the same time. There is a leader who tells us what exercises to do and then leaves us to work out with each other. As we work out we give each other a little bit of encouraging small talk (when I can catch my breath enough to talk). The bottom line is, there is very little specialized equipment and most of the workout could be done at home with a video series. And yet, I have already had better workouts here than with any workout video. Why is a workout in this format so effective? It is the motivation. Having a set place away from home, knowing I will be working out, sweating next to others with the same goals. It is all very motivating, it gets me outside of myself, outside of my own concerns, and worries. If I can just take that first step towards working out and embrace it, it is not long before i find myself in a better place than I was before. And sometimes how similar is that to our spiritual lives? There are times when I don’t want to go to my Life Group but still go, and without fail those are the times I am most touched by the words or experiences of others. There are times I am distracted by something on Sunday and yet when I just give up on my own concerns and focus on God, He hits me most deeply.

In today’s culture, the temptation is to be driven by what we “want.” We say yes or no to activities based on whether or not we want to. We train our kids for the same thing by constantly asking them “what do you want to do?” If we fail at a task, we blame it on “not wanting it enough.” Do we ever stop to think about how this overflows into our spiritual lives? Are we so attuned to what we want in a physical sense that it is what motivates us spiritually? Maybe we aren’t alone. In Mark 14:32-36 Jesus struggled with what he wanted as well:
32-34 They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”
35-36 Going a little ahead, he fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: “Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?”
I love that Jesus bases His decisions and actions on His relationship with the Father. He voices what He wants, but ultimately follows God’s will. Not on His own wants.

In our mission statement at Crosswalk, we say we are “a community passionately demonstrating the love of Jesus by…” and one of the points is “choosing sacrifice…” This does not mean that we sacrifice our time or money, but rather sacrifice our own wants and desires for God’s. What is motivating you?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Win or Lose

originally posted on

When reading Scripture, do you ever put yourself in the shoes of the writer? Psalm 22 is considered to be one of the Psalms of Lament with it's authorship attributed to King David. What I love about this Psalm is the insight it gives us into the heart of a man whose primary drive was being in a relationship with the LORD. Look how raw and real David is as he starts his prayer:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.

I love that David doesn't hold back; he is frustrated, he is complaining, he doesn't understand. We all feel that way sometimes, don't we? But how often do we go to God with our frustrations? Even more telling, is how David follows up the frustrations with praise even though he is in a dire situation:
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.

And the weaving of frustration and praise continues throughout this and several other Psalms. Frustration, complaint, grief. Praise! Frustration, complaint. Praise! How often does our own prayer reflect that? The intertwining of complaint with praise? It was such an integral piece of worship for Israel, and yet for us, we see it as a negative. We often tell ourselves to praise God in spite of the frustrations and sadness instead of embracing it as part of God's gift.

Part of what stands out in David's incorporation of laments and praise is the openness in his communication with God. I think part of why I personally struggle with some of it is because it does not come across as humble before God. Last week, my own understanding of humility was reshaped by Richard Foster in the book Prayer: "...humility means to live as close to the truth as possible: the truth about ourselves, the truth about others, the truth about the world in which we live... It does not mean groveling or finding the worst possible things to say about ourselves." I used to be one of those people who thought that self-depreciation equaled humility. But that isn't humility at all. Humility is not inflating oneself, but being honest with ourselves and not thinking of ourselves as nothing either. The truth is, we are nothing compared to God, but that doesn't mean that we are worth nothing. God sent His only Son to die for our sins. Our worth must be so great to Him for such a gift. Our complaints and frustrations are part of who we are, and who we are is loved by God. Even in David voicing his frustrations to God, he shows humility while still being honest with how he feels.

In Psalm 22, David is surrounded by his enemies, and he is not concerned about winning or losing the battle. Throughout David's crying out to God, throughout his praise to God, he never pleads with God to get him out of the situation or kill his enemies. He lays out the circumstances as he perceives them, he is truthful with God and himself about how it makes him feel, and his only plea to God is for God to stay near. Throughout it all is praise.

If you are a Bay Area sports fan, there are two major events to be excited about right now. The Warriors are in the NBA finals and are leading in the best of 7 series. And meanwhile in hockey, the San Jose Sharks are in the NHL finals and on the brink of elimination. Last year Stephen Curry posted this quote and to me, it is one of the better quotes I have seen from an athlete, he gets it. "Being a Christian athlete doesn't mean praying for your team to win. God doesn't give an edge to those who pray over those who don't; hard work does that. Being a Christian athlete means competing for Christ, in a way in which you always give your all for Him, & win or lose, you thank Him for the ability & opportunity to play. It means giving all the glory to God, no matter the outcome, because you trust in His plan for your life."

So as you go about your week, good or bad, win or lose, praise Him throughout it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Show Me Your Faith

originally posted on

Do you ever get a specific piece of Scripture stuck in your brain? And once you do, you see challenges and opportunities for it everywhere? This past week James 2:18 (NLT) has been hitting me: Now some may argue, "some people have faith; others have good deeds." But I say, "How can you show me your faith if you don't have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds."  On my initial reading, it seemed so basic I did not think about it too much. But the next few times I read it through I realized it is basic, but it has great depth as well. And it became more of a challenge. First, notice that James is talking about showing faith. Showing does not mean to prove it, but rather to exhibit it. Next, note how James doesn't say "I will show you my faith by attending a church" or "I will show you my faith by avoiding sin." It is good deeds which exhibit faith. Of course attending church and avoiding sin are important, but they are just a part of the response aren't they? Works don't earn us eternal life, but they are important to who we are and who God wants us to be. In his book James: Faith that Works, Kent Hughes notes: "Faith and works are like the wings of a bird. There can be no real life, no flight, with a single wing, whether works or faith. But when the two are pumping together in concert, their owner soars through the heavens."

Here's the thing, James isn't saying anything we don't already know is he? I don't think there are many people living in America, Christian or not, who doesn't think this is a major part of what Christianity is. Or should be. Our faith in Christ reflected in what we do and who we are. And yet are good deeds what Christians are known for in the US? How can we show our faith to the world if it is not? To show someone our faith does not mean to prove it with words. It means to exhibit it through actions. To demonstrate it. Now the media doesn't help a whole lot, you can't turn on the morning news without seeing negativity and Christians seem to generate our fair share if it. But on the other hand, if Christians were better about doing good deeds, perhaps people would think about some Christians they know and dispute the negativity. 

Want an example? Remember a few years back when people decided to boycott Chick-Fil-A because they did not support gay marriage? The big Christian response was to organize nights to eat chicken sandwiches as a show of support. Imagine for a minute if the Christian response was to take all that media attention and organize nights to feed the homeless. Buy THEM a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. To show America that whatever we feel about homosexuality is just a small part of who we are. To show America that what defines us is our love for God, our faith in Him, and what that response looks like. (And what it looks like is much more than spending money to feed ourselves.) To be known for what we stand for, not what we stand against.

So now you are probably asking yourself "well what good deed is Crosswalk doing?" It's simple, we are trying to help create opportunities for the church (all of us together) to do good deeds in ways you may not normally have access to: This Saturday is another Refuge where we will be serving food and holding a worship service for the hungry at Washington Park. E-mail Pastor Gabe if you want to volunteer. Pastor Angel is training people to visit prisons and equip inmates for reentry to society. E-mail Pastor Angel for more information. Our annual Trick or Treat is coming at the end of the month. This is a service to the community to give kids a fun, safe place to trick or treat and have fun. It is something for the entire church to get involved with. This Sunday we will have sign ups in the parlor and bins to collect wrapped candy for the kids. There is a team of Crosswalkers who visit people who can't leave their homes - email John Strole if you would like to be trained for that. Even within the church we have opportunities such as food prep on Wednesday nights and serving coffee on Sundays. E-mail me if you can help there. And with the holidays coming up, there are lots of great opportunities: We will be partnering with Sunnyvale Community Services to provide food and gifts for people in need (more information on that will be coming soon.) Know someone alone for Thanksgiving? Invite them to your house. Have some spare blankets? Go to St. James park in San Jose and give them to someone sleeping outside. There are Crosswalkers who volunteer time with several non-profits in the area. Just this morning I saw someone pray with a crying child. I love it, the opportunities are everywhere!

I have no doubt this Scripture was stuck in my head for a reason. The passage before it, James 2:17 says, So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. I don't feel challenged about whether I do enough good deeds, but rather if my faith produces good deeds. Neither faith nor its resulting good deeds can be forced. Good deeds should not simply be about attending this event or that event, they should be an outward reflection of our heart for God. Something that is constant in our lives. They aren't for show. They aren't to gain entry to heaven. They aren't out of obligation or duty. They start with faith. Faith in Jesus produces good deeds. What is your faith producing?

Trying to Follow,

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Heart of Worship

originally posted on

What does it mean to choose sacrifice? It is one of the guiding points of our vision statement and probably my favorite of the bunch. But it's also the toughest for me. Choosing sacrifice is not about putting other people before yourself. It is about choosing to follow what God has in store for your life instead of all the things society teaches us to want; to sacrifice our worldly and selfish wills and pursue God's will for us. It is cultivating a mindset that doesn't say "it's all about me and what I want." I don't think many people have that mindset intentionally, but I think it is an underlying thought process which guides many of our decisions.

Take worship for example. Often times I look around when worship starts and think "where is everyone? They are missing the best part!" I think worship is an integral part of what you experience on a Sunday. Why? Because it is about God and not about us. One thing I appreciate about Pastor Dave is that his heart is not to perform for us on Sunday, it is to lead us in our worship of the LORD. Worship is not about us hearing great music, it is about lifting up our voices together in community to celebrate and praise our God and Father. I think of worship as an opportunity to let go of all our concerns, troubles, and distractions in our lives and just focus on God and His greatness.

A few years ago I heard Pastor Mike Pilavachi of Soul Survivor church speak about worship and his experiences. If you have not heard of Soul Survivor, it is a large church in England where worship leaders/composers such as Matt Redman and Tim Hughes got their start. Pastor Mike spoke of a time where he felt the congregation and the worship band had lost their way. He did something drastic, he eliminated the band and sound system. It was just the worship leader, Matt Redman singing a capella. It was a challenge from the pastor for the congregation to engage with God during the time of worship and to do so with their hearts instead of their eyes. He challenged them to be "participants" in worship instead of "consumers." He asked the congregation “When you come through the doors on a Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?” At first the congregation and the leader struggled and there were moments of awkward silence, but eventually they got it and the band was slowly reintroduced.

This experience was not just for the congregation. The worship leader Matt Redman was affected - you can read about his perspective of it all from an article on the Christianity website. From this experience he wrote the song "The Heart of Worship" which illustrates how the "me" thought process can invade our lives, and the importance of worship to be all about Jesus. The importance of choosing to sacrifice oneself.
When the music fades, All is stripped away
And I simply come, Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth, That will bless Your heart
I'll bring You more than a song, For a song in itself
Is not what You have required, You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear, You're looking into my heart
I'm coming back to the heart of worship
and it's all about You, it's all about You, Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it, when it's all about You
it's all about You, Jesus.
What a beautiful illustration of his experience and his heart for God which we can all learn from. Worship has been on my heart a lot lately, especially as we look through the Psalms in our current teaching series. I look forward to the opportunity to worship the LORD along with all of you.
Trying to Follow,

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Pray for Me

originally posted on

Prayer can be funny because it messes with your pride. I admit it, I have a hard time asking for help. Asking God to change me is tough enough, asking others to pray for God to change me is something I don't do. I may ask others to pray for my circumstances, but to pray for me to change is tough because that involves admitting to other people I need to change. It is a vulnerability which is tough to face. But last month a group of us Crosswalkers went to a missions conference in San Diego and everything changed for me because of Matthew 9:36-38: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

In this passage, Jesus is traveling around sharing the Good News and there are crowds gathering to hear Him. As it starts in verse 36, it is important to note that Jesus had compassion for the crowds - that is where it starts, He cared about them and wanted to help them. They needed guidance, they needed leadership. He knew His short visit to these lost sheep would not be everything they needed. He wanted to provide them with guidance because He cared for them. He wanted to "send out" workers who could be with the crowds. Important to note that the word used here for "send out" is the Greek ekballo and "send out" is not nearly strong enough. Ekballo is to violently throw, to cast out. This isn't sending out an e-mail. Some translations use "release" - but this is not release as you would a fish. Ekballo is like an athlete releasing a javelin; like a pitcher hurling a pitch. Think of that imagery for a minute and what Jesus was conveying by using ekballo. I don't know about you but I see a missionary being sent like a weapon towards the enemy.

Now, Jesus could have easily stayed with the crowds and been the shepherd they needed. Or He could have told the disciples to do so. But what is interesting is that He told them to ask God for workers to ekballo to the fields. Why does He tell His disciples to pray? Why doesn't He pray Himself? A prayer from the Son of God is certainly more effective than any prayer the disciples could have said. And isn't the Lord of the harvest aware of the need already? If not, isn't it "on God's time"? I don't know the answer to that. But I do know that Jesus knew prayer was needed and would help - and it is not just a request, it is a command.

Author and missionary Andrew Murray says this about the Matthew 9:38 prayer: "
Without this prayer, fields ready for reaping will be left to perish. And yet it is so. The Lord has surrendered His work to His Church. He has made Himself dependent on them as His Body, through whom His work must be done. The power which the Lord gives His people to exercise in heaven and earth is real; the number of laborers and the measure of the harvest does actually depend on their prayer." In other words, the number of workers in the field is directly related to our prayers. We must pray in order for the harvest to be plentiful. So the question becomes "are you praying for workers?"

Now this is great but what does it have to do with my pride and prayer? Well, as many of you know, my wife Alise and I are drawn to being missionaries internationally. We have essentially structured our lives towards this future goal. But we also feel like God is holding us back for now, which is fine because we love being here and workers are needed everywhere. In this time of waiting and preparation though, we have not asked many people to pray for us. It's a tough thing to ask for. It's not easy to admit that we need prayer. We all love to pray for other people because often their problems seem more significant than our own. Maybe we even think that we can do it on our own. But that isn't the case - the workers need your prayers. And as followers of Christ we are all workers in His field. So here I am asking that while you pray to God to ekballo workers, please include us in your prayers. The workers of the fields need your prayers.

Trying to Follow,