Tag Archives: incarnational ministry

What Does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)? Part 5: It Starts Small

2015 spring retreat

our church spring retreat in 2015

Part 5 of 7 in an ongoing series to attempt to answer the question, from my own experience and witness, “What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)?.”    

5 (of 7). It Starts Small

Like a mustard seed, the kingdom of God starts small but becomes great.  

I’ve had the privilege to join in on the Kingdom that is unfolding through the story of our church.  

It all started in late 2004, or more likely before that in a lot of other unseen ways, when Chris and his wife Maggie decided to move into an apartment in the working class neighborhood of Lincoln Heights.  God had given them a dream to see a thriving church in LA’s urban Eastside for and made-up of the working class community.  

Those early years were really rough as it was difficult to build trust with neighbors who were suspicious of these outsiders. Many small bible studies started and folded.  Chris was physically assaulted and struggled with depression.  Other outsiders from the community joined them as a team for periods at a time, praying with them for the community and spending time with people of the community.  

In the summer of 2006 a game of catch football started in the back alley of Chris’ apartment complex and it soon gave them and their team connection to a group of youth.  A youth group began with the leadership of another team member that came in, Ryan.  The vision for a community non-profit, In the City, was also born around this time, which is currently directed by an original team member, Jenny, who has been here the longest along with Chris and Maggie.  In the beginning of 2007 Chris was released by his supporting church to be full-time in the neighborhood for a church plant in the neighborhood.  The church started by meeting in the apartment carport with about 20 people.  

In the fall of 2007, Chris went to a Lincoln High School football game and encountered a woman from the community who was serving the hungry players dinner from her own paycheck.  This woman turned out to be Lucy, a key person of peace of the neighborhood.  She soon received Jesus and immediately started reaching out to the people in her life.  The church grew to nearly 40 people.  In the fall of 2009 two JV football players from Lincoln High, across the street from the apartment complex, joined the youth group and then invited two more friends.  Together these high schoolers grew in Jesus and in leadership, bringing vital energy to the youth group.  By the beginning of 2010 this church had to begin renting space from a local elementary school.  

In the fall of 2010 Chris met Isabel and Gus.  Isabel had been crying out for someone to explain the bible to her.  Gus wanted nothing to do with the church.  But nevertheless they eventually went and were transformed and grew into sobriety from substance abuse.  They reached out to their network of friends about the Kingdom of God.  By 2011 the church had grown to nearly 70 people and moved to meeting at a local middle school.  

In 2013, Chris’ family returned from a year long sabbatical in which they experienced a breakthrough in healing ministry in Mexico.  Healings started to break forth in greater ways in the church.  By the end of 2013 the church moved into a new building that is on the main thoroughfare of the community on Broadway.  

In 2014 an East LA church plant was commissioned out from our church and the elder team of our church had its first locally raised leadership.  Now in 2017, our church has more local leaders now than “relocator” leaders.  And these local leaders are now discipling others.  The average Sunday attendance is 80 people and at least 120 are weekly connected to the life of the church. We are more connected to community organizing in the neighborhood than ever before, weighing in on affordable housing and community peace coalitions.  There are so many more unnamed people and untold stories that have made up this larger story.  

Sometimes the works of the Kingdom of God seem small, fruitless, hard, long, and not worth all the pain.  But without those small and seemingly insignificant encounters, decisions, and sacrifices we would not be where we are now.  We know God is far from finished with the dreams He has for this community and its impact well beyond its borders.  

In the midst of the labor, let us bear in mind that the Kingdom of God may start small but it always becomes greater.  

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day 19: nothing

Philippians 2:5-11

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of aservant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself bybecoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  ThereforeGod hashighly exalted him and bestowed on himthe name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ isLord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:5-11

Jesus “made himself nothing.”  that phrase jumped out at me.

how could someone make themselves nothing?  obviously, jesus wasn’t nothing.  He was an actual historical person.  He was something, in fact the very “form” of God himself – not form in the sense of outward appearance (which would be the greek word “morphosis”) but form in the sense of the very nature or essence (“morphe”, which is the greek word used here).   the word for “a thing to be grasped”, “harpagmos”, can have the meaning of “a prize” to hold, which makes sense given the context of what He was.  So at the very least He was God before becoming a man.

so did he cease to be God when he made himself nothing…or when He became the essence of a servant, born in human likeness?  there has been much debate over this passage.   the word for “nothing” used here is the greek word “kenoo” meaning “to empty.”  it seems a word that means that whatever the case it involved choice and action.  the context teaches us a lot of what it may mean for Him to have made Himself nothing. 1) if we read what came before this section, Paul had described how we ought to live – how we ought to imitate Christ…giving us a clue to what this “emptying” would look like.  v.3 says “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but inhumility count others more significant than yourselves.”  it is not that we/Christ are/is nothing, but that we “count”, or consider, others as more important.  as i’ve learned from luke 9:23 it looks like disregarding our own personal interests for the sake of another.  laying ourselves and our egos down.  2) if we read the section after v. 7 we see that Jesus’ act of humility and pure obedience paradoxically made Him great.  for some reason i’ve read this passage in the past as: he humbled himself…SO God exalted Him.  but that is not what it says…it says “therefore”…which gives a reason…not necessarily sequence.  this makes sense in the sayings of Jesus that those who are least ARE the greatest…not will be.  Everyone…myself…and satan himself…wanted to reach for greatness…which is what makes us not God.  Jesus laid down his greatness…which points to the fact He is God.

although He rules everything He made himself nothing…for us.  this makes Him everything to me.

if God himself, who is everything important and good, laid down Himself….how much more should we, who derive our very existence from Him, lay down our own lives?  Especially when Jesus and Paul remind us to follow His example.  How can i make myself nothing, consider others as more significant, this day?

thank you Lord that you made yourself nothing for us

what i can learn from those who have less

to see poverty is one thing; it is a whole other thing to live in it.  its been more than a week since i returned from a 3 week trip, living in a squatter community in the philippines.  it was dubbed a “slum retreat”, kicking off the two-year urban poor internship i am now a part of, as a way to find out more about ourselves, the urban poor outside of the u.s., and ultimately about God.  it was intense but also a paradoxically rich experience (in the non-monetary sense of course).

FIRST IMPRESSIONS (mostly taken from journal entry 8-25-11):

view of botocan

Botocan is a little barrio rectangle about 32 acres housing about 8000 people

poverty living conditions pretty surprising in its “slumness” like a flavela (of Brazil)

with makeshift looking houses very closely packed together

dogs, cats, (and) chickens in the streets

trash thrown about with no visible trashcans

pathways within community to get to our various homes like cutting through

alleyways and backyards but are public walkways

lots of children running around

air pollution from myriads of motorbike taxis, trash burning

lots of mini home-store-front shops

clothes hanging from windows over walls

tiny living areas visible from street, many packed w/ people

occasional animal feces on the ground

(roaches and rats scurrying about, even in the homes)

mostly concrete and sheet metal

8pm can hear people singing karaoke like its in the next room

random people trying to say hello, children touching, reaching out hands to you…

(*to think that there are many more in countries around the world that live in even more intense circumstances…with much less…it blows my mind.)

 

WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF:

–    if modern distractions are taken away (internet, facebook, movies, mp3s, etc.), I am more likely to spend time with God

–    i realize i’ve come to feel entitled to respect (especially since for the past several years i’ve been in the position of a leader more than primarily a learner)…this is arrogance.

–    i learn, understand, and care more about people by hearing their stories

–    i like to talk a lot and I really do not need to do it so often, esp. when it takes away from allowing others to talk

–    i do not take the time to actually get down to the root of the problem, especially if I know it makes others uncomfortable…so I am satisfied with surface compromise

–    i am afraid of letting the people i lead make mistakes (which are such valuable opportunities to learn and grow).  in leadership development / disciple-making i need to relinquish my control and create spaces for opportunities for others to lead, whether everything is all put together or not.

 

WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE POOR (where i stayed):

–    they value people over productivity

–    they are much more generous then those who have a lot to give

–    they realize they are in need of God, without the distractions and delusions of having lots of stuff

–    they do not have the luxury to hide their brokenness or joys so both are shared with great impact

(an example of the latter: less than two years ago Reymon’s life was transformed by God and is now a leader with vision -> Jio, a gang member, saw this and surrendered himself to God, leading his first bible study a couple weeks ago -> Allen saw Jio’s transformation and is now hungering for God, sensing God calling him to step up)

reymon (red) -> jio (green) -> allen (blue)

in essence they taught me the potential of what a community in Christ can share

“Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” – James 2:5

 

WHAT  I LEARNED FROM/ABOUT GOD :

– he hears our prayers and would open the doors if we just asked

– he loves the poor (scripture, circumstances, and prayer walk reminders)

– he has woven together such unique stories in our lives on our journey with him

 

INCARNATION IS… a commitment to bring the life of God to an area of need by living amongst it