It’s Not One Amazing Moment After Another

Look, when I read my bible it certainly feels like God was “once upon a time” constantly performing one amazing miracle after another. The bible can read like God made water come out of rocks each Monday, rained manna every Tuesday, made His enemies with names Saul turn into His warriors named Paul each Wednesday, then on Thursdays feed 5000 with just 5 loaves and 2 fish, on Friday heal the lepers, on Saturday move a pillar of fire by night, and then of course on Sunday raise from the dead. When I read the bible this way it gets easy for me to look at my real life that is more often quite mundane, with a  God the feels far more hidden, and wonder “Where is this God of power and wonder I read about in the bible?”

What has helped me over the years is to understand more completely what I’m really reading in the bible. I’m actually reading an account of the work of God over large spans of time. The book of Judges records the seeming silence of God in a dark period “where everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” The period between the Old and New Testaments was a timeawe_space of prophetic silence and God’s kingdom work went underground, and His people wondered, “Is God done with us?” Heck, even when Jesus appeared more people considered Him too low, and too earthy to really be Messiah. What I learn from this is that God is at work at all times; in the big, the spectacular, the buried, the subversive, the painful, and the mundane. Just like my life, salvation history is actually a longitudinal picture of the unrelenting work of God in this world He is working to renew. With that in mind embrace the work of God in your life today. Whether God’s work seems mundane, hard, silent, obvious or powerful – know that God is at work on this very day to accomplish the renewal of everything.

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The Art Of Battling Giants

Allow me to share more insights from Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent, and latest book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. He presents the entire premise of his book, and I think his premise is worth considering as we think about ourselves and the life God has given us to live in this world.

This is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. By “giants,” I mean powerful opponents of all kinds – from armies and might warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression. Each chapter tells the story of a different person – famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant – who has faced an outsize challenge and been forced to respond. Shoa2f94dec4be196af1b3aeeca3839c802uld I play by the “rules” or follow my own instincts? Shall I persevere or give up? Should I strike back or forgive? Through these stories, I want to explore two ideas. The first is that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable . . . We spend a lot of time thinking about the ways that prestige and resources and belonging to elite institutions make us better off. We don’t spend enough time thinking about the ways in which those kinds of material advantages limit our options.

What do you think?

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Bigger Isn’t As Better As We Think

In his book Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell carefully works his way through British anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s research on the limits of human relational connections, which has come to be known as “Dunbar’s number.”

Dunbar has actually developed an equation, which works for most primates, in which he plugs in what he calls the neocortex ratio of a particular species – the size of the neocortex relative to the size of the brain – and the equation spits out the expected maximum group size of the animal. If you plug in the neocortex ratio of Homo sapiens, you get a group estimate of 147.8 or roughly 150. “The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us. Putting it another way, it’s the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining un600_387828052invited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar” . . . Then there is the example of the religious group known as the Hutterites, who for hundreds of years have lived in self-sufficient agricultural colonies in Europe and, since the early twentieth century, in North America. The Hutterites (who came out of the same tradition as the Amish and the Mennonites) have a strict policy that every time a colony approaches 150, they split it in two and start a new one. “Keeping things under 150 just seems to be the best and most efficient way to manage a group of people,” Bill Gross, one of the leaders of a Hutterite colony outside Spokane told me. “When things get larger than that, people become strangers to one another.” The Hutterites, obviously, didn’t get this idea from contemporary evolutionary psychology. They’ve been following the 150 rule for centuries. But their rationale fits perfectly with Dunbar’s thesis. At 150, the Hutterites believe, something happens – something indefinable but very real – that somehow changes the nature of community overnight. “In smaller groups people are a lot closer, They’re knit together, which is very important if you want to be effective and successful at community life,” Gross said. “If you get too large, you don’t have enough work in common. You don’t have enough things in common, and then you start to become strangers and that close-knit fellowship starts to get lost”  . . . If we want groups to serve as incubators for contagious messages, then . . . we have to keep groups below the 150 Tipping Point. Above that point, there begin to be structural impediments to the ability of the group to agree and act with one voice . . . The Rule of 150 says that congregants of a rapidly expanding church, or the members of a social club, or anyone in a group activity banking on the epidemic spread of shared ideals needs to be practically cognizant of the perils of bigness.

I read Gladwell’s work over ten years ago as I began the hard work of planting a new church with the desire to, as Gladwell says, “serve as incubators for contagious messages” and bank “on the epidemic spread of shared ideals.” I even underlined the entire passage I’ve posted in this blog, but everything in North American church culture suggested to me, “Yeah this is interesting information but let’s get real here – bigger is really better.” It’s taken me ten years to circle back and realize, out of my own hard experiences, that this Rule of 150 is actually very real and very meaningful. It is what informs our own church’s commitment to not add a second service – ever – and when we get to the bounds of 150 to keep planting churches and missions throughout our city. I personally think that if more churches functioned like the Hutterites referenced by Gladwell, and simply had a way of life that believed, “At 150 we always move to launch a new community” the wider church in North America would be far better at serving “as incubators for contagious messages” – which for us is nothing less than the spread of the Gospel and the transformation of our cities as a result of spreading that Gospel. If this resonates with you, share this post with your church and your pastor.

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Love In A Glass Box

cutcaster-photo-100823225-money-in-a-donation-boxI saw of stack of cash, and it brought tears to my eyes. Let me explain. Yesterday I taught on Romans 12:1-a “I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices” I talked about the fact that, in essence the Bible is telling us, “God’s offered nothing less than all of Himself to us. He asks us to offer nothing less than all of ourselves to Him.” However, I’m not writing this post in order to go on and one about a theological point. I’m writing this post to tell you about the beautiful thing that happened next.

I proposed a little experiment for our church body. As a way of exploring the reality of the challenge to share our lives with God, along with the joy of actually doing so, I asked everyone to get out their wallets. I went on to say that our little experiment wasn’t about the money but about getting very practical in leaning into the process of sharing all of ourselves back with the God who has shared all of Himself with us. So I simply said, “I’m going to ask all of you to empty your wallets into that clear box in the back. None of the money will go to this church but to another church and more acts of love in our city. If my request makes you mad – keep your money and talk with God about why such a request makes you mad. If you need to keep some of it to keep a promise later today, then keep what you need and give the rest. Let’s make this an experiment in where our hearts are at with God.”

I walked out of that service and that box was loaded with cash! It was beautiful – not because of the cash – but because of what it said about the people in the church where I serve. I had people coming up to me laughing (yes laughing!), saying, “Andy I never have cash in my wallet, except for today. But it was fun to give it away.” Others said, “I wanted to get by on a technicality because I carry my cash in a clip and you said empty your wallet, but it was fun to give it all away anyway.” Still another said with a big smile, “That’s the last time I will stop at an ATM before I go to worship!” To me that stack of cash is a beautiful offering of love back to God from a group of people who are very human, but very much love the God who has loved them so much.

Then I woke up to this beautiful text from one who had laughed with me yesterday morning: As the church we do not sit idle . . . it appears that we are continually challenged to surrender what isn’t ours to begin with . . . our time, talents, fears, insecurities, money, security, and the list could go on and on . . . this church community is not one of spectators, we are being pushed, prodded, and asked to RUN in the race . . . the Kingdom race . . . This has been the most spectacular group of people, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to worship God with them. And from this one person’s observation, we all are the most ordinary of people – nothing special – but soon extremely special!

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Small Isn’t Just Good, Small Is Great

I had this epiphany this past summer on my vacation. We were hanging out in South Lake Tahoe trying to steer away from the crowds and I thought to myself, “I hate crowds.” As soon as I thought it I had one of those Holy Spirit injected thoughts run through my brain, “So why have you wasted all these years trying to be the pastor of a huge church?” Funny question.

I’ve been through an interesting journey as a pastor over the last 25 years. I’ve gone from seeking to pastor a very large church for all kinds of reasons – some reasons altruistic, other reasons all about me and my significance – small_vs_bigonly to be deeply disappointed that I just couldn’t pull off the big church. I’ve also arrived at a season of a kind of accepting acquiescence that I happened to be pastoring a smaller sized church – the sense that a small church is good although not necessarily awesome. But you know what? I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that a small church isn’t just good, a small church can be great and I’m really excited about leading my small church here in Santa  Cruz.

Consider Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant insights in his latest book “David & Goliath”

Giants aren’t what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate; it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable . . . We spend a lot of time thinking about the ways that prestige and resources and belonging to elite institutions make us better off. We don’t spend enough time thinking about the ways in which those kinds of material advantages limit our options.

Share this with any of your pastor friends who happen to pastor great small churches.

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No Smartphones In Heaven

89849257ea6fb7784cf4bde030d5518aThis last weekend I discovered something about heaven. I don’t mean that I actually saw heaven, but I do mean that I had an experience that felt like a slice of heaven. Last weekend our church had a giant camp-out together at Big Basin State Park. Beautiful place! The people I spent my time with were even more beautiful! All of us were in this rare bubble where you couldn’t get any Wi-Fi or 4g connection. We were totally off the grid, and because we were off the grid we just hung out from Friday night to Sunday morning. Because we had no smartphones to distract us and because we didn’t have the hectic pace of normal life to pull us away from being fully present to a moment, we were just able to spend time learning about one another. The people who’ve been at Faith Community Church for years always grow deeper in their knowledge of one another – they learn some new funny or meaningful story from friends they’ve known for some time. The new people find their way into funny and meaningful conversations that help them find friendships and connection in their new community. The little kids run around with sticks, and rocks that become swords and guns and walking sticks in their imagination as they run around and just have a blast together. We’ve been doing this camp-out for four years and every time we camp, it feels like I’m experiencing a little slice of what heaven is going to be like.

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That’s Not A Cat!

Yesterday morning I went out to my front yard to roll my garbage and recycle bins back to the house. It was right around daybreak as the sun was rising. As I was rolling the bins I saw what looked like a black cat with some white i1283174-best-animals-wallpaper-striped-skunk-1283174n its tail walking across the street from my neighbor’s house. I thought, “I don’t think I’ve seen that cat in this neighborhood before.” The small creature walked into my front yard and went the side of the front of my house. After putting the bins back I went over to take a look. I immediately saw that I wasn’t dealing with a cat – it was a skunk. It’s hysterical how fast there was this rush of adrenaline in me as that little “cat” started to come towards me. I got out of there as fast as a cat to avoid being sprayed at daybreak.

My little encounter made me wonder – How often have I explored other “cats” in my life, not recognizing them for what they really were or for the dangers they contained, only to end up finding myself being sprayed? Yeah, I have to admit I’ve chased a few “cats” that turned out to be skunks. Anyway, I hope you can recognize the skunks in your path before you get sprayed today!

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