Tag Archives: perseverance

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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trying to find sense when it seems we’ve lost our minds (a response to the election one week out)

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a week ago we reached the end of a difficult and particularly toxic election for the united states.  we were hoping to move on. however, when the results were called we woke up to a different reality.  for some it was triumph and feeling emboldened for others disbelief and dissent.  for many anger…at “the other” side (i for one experienced more anger before the election then after).  we didn’t know our divisions could actually get worse.  

(WARNING: this is a long read so feel free to read in parts.)

WHY ARE PEOPLE (AM I) HAVING SUCH STRONG REACTIONS TO THIS ELECTION AND ITS RESULTS?   

there’s all sorts of craziness happening.  there is so much division, even amongst believers.  but, I know that no matter what, we as the people of God’s Kingdom know that only His Kingdom lasts so we must be the people in this world that hold the tension of not giving into despair (whether that’s giving up on people we disagree with or giving up hope of any kind) but not dismissing pain.  it is the pain however that is getting us most riled up.  pain dismissed is what got us here.  there must be space to deal with the pain if we are ever to move to a place of healing.  there are 4 thoughts we’re tempted to have but we must not give in to.    

1. we ought not be so upset, we shouldn’t be crybabies.

yes, we don’t despair because God is in control.  but why shouldn’t we cry?  where does this stoicism come from?  not from God.  the people of Israel were familiar with lament and maybe we can learn something from them.  Job asked God questions in his pain.  Jesus wept (even when He knew it was going to work out for good).  The early church was familiar with tears.   Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  

yes, we may not need to cry over some things that can be better said in words.  but sometimes we may need to cry because that expresses more than our words could ever say.  the hand of God responds to the cries of his people.  we need space to grieve or else our pain will harden into something worse.  

2. but Romans 13:1 says we should submit to governing authorities God has put in place so we should just accept it

yes, we ought to submit to the government for they have been put in place by God. however, there is ONE case that trumps that verse, which is when the law of the land goes against the law of God who is the ultimate law giver (i.e. in our president-elects case, the need to love the most vulnerable of our neighbors as opposed to insulting them and proposing laws against them. if he has changed, awesome!  let him apologize and set things right).  by dissent, i do not mean violent resistance but civil protest (the early church was not a stranger to civil disobedience, when it went against God’s conscience, as many were willingly arrested and even killed for their stances. Jesus himself confronted the establishment of the temple authorities by overturning the corruption of money-changer tables).  

when God appoints a leader that DOES NOT always mean God anoints a leader.  let us remember God appointed pharaoh with a hard heart to oppress the israelites,  nebuchadnezzar with an arrogant heart to kidnap daniel and his people, and will appoint the anti-christ (i’m not saying we know who the anti-christ is) with a defiant heart to persecute his saints.  but again we are not hopeless because he always has and always will work things out for the good of those who love him.   

3. none of these policies have been put into place yet, and it’s not such a big deal as there are people in the world with greater suffering.

yes, there is a scale of pain but that doesn’t mean that we must then disregard the lesser pain.  yes, the suffering of others gives us invaluable perspective and we are poorer without it but that is the very thing i am appealing to: perspective.  you may not be strongly affected by things that were said but that doesn’t mean others can’t be strongly affected, especially those who are dealing with a real history of real pain.  there is real pain for them, not so much because of legitimate results of our electing system, not because laws have come into effect already, but because the election results can be read as an approval of a president, by this united states, that thinks it’s okay to dismiss many who live in them – a realization of fears these very people have worked so hard to overcome.  in fact, if we pivot perspectives, many were surprised in this election precisely because they did not take into account the pain of working class / poor whites in the rust belt states that swung the vote.  yes, we can not make everyone happy, nor should we, but telling someone their pain does not matter is certainly not a solution.

4. sometimes God subjects people to pain that they deserve…they have brought it upon themselves.

this may be, but this is the judgement for God to make not ours.  even such pain is not pointless. this side of heaven and hell there is still hope of redemption.  we are ALL made in image of God and we ALL fall short.  once we begin to demonize the other side as ignorant, insane, and/or irreversibly immoral we’ve put them in the category of beyond redemption.  we do not know that.  secondly, there are real beliefs and values at play on both sides, to ignore that is for us to be stuck in an endless cycle of greater division.  we may not agree with the beliefs and values of the “other” but they are motivated by what they think is right as we are motivated by what we think is right.  we may not all be right but let us work this out and not give up on each other.    

to my fellow christians in particular, let us keep in mind that neither political party is the party of God.  God is not left or right, liberal or conservative.  both sides, all sides, must answer to Him.  both sides have faults.  both sides also have some truth and issues that align with what God cares for – here are just a few (please keep in mind that i’m not saying either side doesn’t care for these issues or that the application of these values in terms of policy is the best way, but i’m talking more about emphasis of platform as it relates to biblical principles):  

“conservative”

“liberal”      

i long for the Bride of Christ, not to be beholden to either political party but to hold ourselves and our institutions accountable to a more holistic Kingdom vision.  for the time being though, inevitably, with the way our secular party system is currently formed and our tendency toward tribalism, someone is bound to lose.  there are costs to be paid.  this leads to the next big question.    

 

GOD, WHY WOULD YOU ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN?  

whatever “this” is for you, we are faced with this question in the face of real evil and suffering that we witness not just on a personal level but on a systemic level.  as i’ve wrestled with these questions with God in the past week this is what i’ve sensed.  

1. suffering reveals his saints

  • in trial, it shows what/who we really trust in.  
  • in this past week, God’s been causing me to appeal to and put my real hope in his eternal character and kingdom more than before.

2. suffering refines his saints

3. suffering tests his saints

His Bride shines brightest in suffering not in comfortability.  

 

So then, this leads to the final big question

HOW THEN DO WE MOVE FORWARD?   

1. let us take our pain to God first.  

2. let us seek God for what’s important.  

  • let us ask God what do we need to let go?  
  • let us ask God what we must not compromise?  
  • let us allow liberal/conservative adorations and divisions to die.  there are three things that are eternal: God, people, and His Word.  all our answers to what is important must be measured by scripture.  we need a deeper theology of orthodoxy and orthopraxy of what it means to love God with all that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.       

3. let us walk the walk not only talk the talk.  

  • let us commit ourselves to unceasing prayer because the power of a right life in Christ comes from prayer, not people pleasing.  daniel, even under threat of the lion’s den in a broken government, never forgot who he was and continued to do his thing, as was his usual practice for decades, of seeking after God and His Kingdom.  prayer to the Father was the God-given private nexus behind Jesus’ public authority and power that he modeled for us.
  • let us not be afraid to enter into the suffering of others unlike ourselves, without which there is no resurrection.  Jesus tells us that if we are to follow him, we must take up our cross (instruments of death) and follow him.  we are saved by faith alone but a faith without works is dead.
  • let us first be faithful to what God has put before us before we engage the broader discussion.  this one is such a challenge for me because, if i am honest with myself, sometimes the work right before me of loving my own family, my own ministry, my own community is harder then to engage in larger scale dialogues and policies.  not that we ought to neglect the latter but that we must not lose sense of our God given responsibility before us.   as we do that better we are better equipped to have something of more substance to offer to the broader conversation.   

we don’t always understand why there is suffering when God is a good God.  but just because we don’t see a reason for the suffering doesn’t mean there is no good reason.  we don’t know the full story, no one does except God.  but in humility let us trust in His goodness because His goodness will always win.  let’s not give in to despair or hate.  let’s keep on doing good because He is good, He gives us power to do good, and good WILL win.    so no matter what we’re facing let’s persevere in Jesus because HIS Kingdom is already being unleashed and it is indestructible.

why we’re afraid to pray for healing

too often we find our prayers infrequent and frail.  when we hear that someone is ill or not well our automatic response is more “that’s too bad” rather than “let’s pray.”  if we actually do pray for healing for another person we keep it general and not too specific.  and we are sure to add on to our prayer “if it is Your (God’s) will” to get God off the hook…or ourselves.

why is that?

it may be that we’re not sure what his will is, especially when it comes to healing.  yes, there are certainly inscrutable things about the Lord’s will in specific cases.  however, there are things about God’s will that are relatively clear.  healing, surprisingly, is one of them.  again, there are instances where he may not provide healing for some reason but in general it is reasonable to think healing is his will.

  1. when Jesus inaugurates his kingdom he proclaims the gospel AND demonstrates the gospel through healing. (matthew 4:23, 9:25)
  2. when Jesus sends his disciples on their short term mission trips he sends them out, commanding them to proclaim the kingdom AND to heal (the 12 in luke 9:6, the 72 in luke 10:9)
  3. we never see an account of Jesus in which he turns people away from healing or says it is not the Father’s will
  4. Jesus instructs us to pray for “His kingdom to come and His will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.” if heaven is where God’s kingdom and will is fully established and in heaven there is no sickness or pain, then we ought to ask for healing to be unleashed here on earth.
  5. lastly, our actions betray us. when we do not see healing then we conclude it must be God’s will that we not be healed…but then we continue to pursue medical treatment.  aren’t we disobeying God then if we truly believe that?

 

it is not a matter of IF healing is God’s will, it is just a matter of WHEN.  this leads us to the second reason why I think our prayers may be so weak willed.  as americans, we’re terrified of disappointment.  we’ve twisted our theologies of prayer to protect ourselves and limit God.  we’ve found believers in other countries, especially those not cushioned with wealth, to be of tougher faith who don’t give up on God and prayer at the first sign of disappointment.  often they do not have the luxury of health care so they go after God in ways that we can learn from.

in fact, Jesus teaches us, through the story of a widow who keeps going to an unjust judge to get justice (Luke 18:1-8), that perseverance in prayer IS faith (v.8).  when full healing didn’t come to a blind man after Jesus laid hands on him, Jesus just did it again (Mark 8:22-25).  He was fine to acknowledge that healing is a process.  if Jesus had to pray twice for the same healing we could surely pray twice (or more).

just so you know that the kingdom of God isn’t just a matter of talk, i’ve experienced more breakthrough as i’ve kept asking of God in my life.  one night a couple months ago at our discipleship school, right after a teaching on healing prayer, we prayed for anyone who was feeling any physical ailment.  each person we prayed for was not healed instantaneously.  however, when we pressed in to pray a second time, without fail, people felt a significant decrease in their physical symptoms.  i took the teaching challenge to enter into any opportunity to pray for people’s physical healing for the following week.  again, when i didn’t stop with one prayer, i witnessed healing.   one sister with chronic pain in her knees went from barely being able to walk to me to joyfully walking down the stairs.

even if the answer does not come right away he may be shaping us for the better in the asking.

let us persevere with God beyond what we’re comfortable with.

 

*special thanks to chris rattay for many of his insights concerning physical healing

to my dear 24-year-old david (from 36-year-old david),

i know you’re in the midst of the hardest year of your life thus far.  it’s your first year of teaching…in the hood of south los angeles.  you probably don’t have much time to spare, so let’s just get right down to it.  

none of your friends or family, well meaning as they are, understand what you’re experiencing right now.  i do. because i’m you 12 years later.  your world is being turned upside down.  you’ve come from a quiet asian american middle class life.  and let’s be honest, nothing has really prepared you for this.  you are experiencing the brokenness of what poverty does to young hearts and minds on a daily basis; poverty that you didn’t even acknowledge existed right in your backyard.  you can’t escape it because it’s your job to face it and try to teach in the midst of it every day.  you are being smacked in the face with the reality that public education in the u.s. is neither equal nor fair…and most of society has turned it’s back on this corner of l.a. because it’s easier to ignore than to deal with.  you’ve never seen this sort of institutionalized dysfunction.  you’ve never experienced so much hate thrown at you.  you’ve never had to work to the point of exhaustion…not just physically but emotionally.

press in.

don’t escape.  i know it’s hard.  i know it’s hell.  but don’t give up.  these very years will be what builds in you a character of perseverance.  these very youth will be the ones that break your heart in the best kind of way to get you to really consider what matters to the heart of God.  but most of all these very experiences will be what opens your eyes to the fact that you desperately need God every day.    

press in.

yes, some of these students will ignore you, some of them will curse at you, some of them will even push you. consider that it’s not so much that they hate you personally but that they will project upon you all the pain and confusion they have experienced at the hands of adults that were supposed to care for them.  if you are going to follow your role model, Jesus, remember He loved those that didn’t love Him back well…and remember that is you, that is us.  

press in.

yes, i know you’re lonely and REALLY wish you had a girlfriend.  but think about it, is that really going to solve your problems?  if anything you’re either gonna escape HARD into this girl or you’re gonna treat her like crap because you’ve got nothing left to give or both.  no woman, no matter how awesome, is going to be in the classroom with you and give you what you need to stand in love and power in the midst of this.  only an infinite God can do that.  yes, a girlfriend’s nice (and yes she will come to you and you’ll marry her and she’ll be pretty rad) but now is not the time…there’s some inner growth in your relationship with Jesus that needs to happen before that or else you’re gonna wreck two people in the process.  and Lord knows we don’t need any more brokenness.

press in.

the work you’re doing now will prepare you for the work i’m doing now (aka the work you will be doing in the future).  this work you’re in now is going to lay the groundwork for and open doors that you’ve never even considered of God’s vision for justice; it will help you see the Word of God in a whole new light…even if i tried to explain it to you now i don’t think you’d understand or appreciate it without what you’re going to experience in the next couple of years.  with that said, i think there are a couple of things you could understand at this time.  

1) david, if you’re serious about disciple-making and leadership development you can’t do it remotely.  at least not effectively. Jesus spent TIME with his disciples and you can’t expect to walk with those you are leading if you don’t even live in the same neighborhood with them.  and that’s how leaders are developed…not just through teaching…it’s through living.  

2) lastly, you need a mentor if you’re going to mentor.  not just a mentor that reflects your experience.  have some humility to recognize you don’t know it all and you can’t do it by yourself.  you need a mentor who has experience loving and walking amongst the least of these, because that’s where you will find Jesus (Matthew 25:40).  sadly, there aren’t that many asian american men that are doing this work, so it’s not like you have a lot of choice…you’re gonna have to be mentored cross-race.  it’ll be awkward at first but don’t let your pride get in the way of your growth to learn from someone different than you.          

press in.  because Jesus did for you.  

Like a seed planted in the ground…

I wasn’t certain if or when the answer would come.  Now, I’m starting to see some light break through.   The past couple summer months of reaching out to youth in the neighborhood has been tough.  There’s a battle going on for the souls of the young people of our community and it felt like we were losing ground.

But God is faithful.  One of the youth that had been drawing back from not only me but even opening up to anyone about his life, has slowly been letting people in.  After some group prayer of the youth ministers near the beginning of the summer, he spoke with his father.  Midsummer we started small talking again.  This past month he’s been sharing a little with another youth leader and about a week ago he started contributing again to small group at church.  It’s slow going but I have been encouraged.  Gosh, some people pray for years without seeing fruit and I was getting discouraged from just a couple months…I’m such weak sauce.

This comes around the time I have been getting much helpful perspective from others.  First and foremost has been God’s word to me from Galatians 6:9 in which he reminded me – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  This horticultural analogy has been a breath of fresh air.  Like planting a seed, I am brought back to the truth that I cannot control the time for when a seed will break ground and bear fruit.  No matter how much I desire it to show itself…it will not come forth with me just desiring it.  So it is when you pour out your life and heart into another.   All I can do is to keep on doing what I know is good.

Our caring shepherd over the youth ministry also reminded me that there are seasons of life for our young people…seasons that seem to change so drastically.  For teenagers in general any given circumstance can feel like the end of the world (hehe I remember it felt like that for me in those times).  These relatively volatile responses seem exacerbated with inner city youth, since much of the people and environments they are living around are already unstable as it is.   There are seasons in which a young person seems to turn away from life and there are seasons when they come back to life…I’ve seen it this summer.  My role is to let them know that the door is always open when they’re ready…and that I will keep praying for them regardless.

Seasons change, His faithfulness does not.

**no joke about 30min after writing this post  I was driving out to youth group, praying for a couple guys I hadn’t seen in a while, and as I was stopped at a red light I saw two of them walking across the street directly in front of me.  I drove back to where they were and caught up with them.  They ended up coming out to youth group tonight and they were encouraged.  I am so encouraged.  Thank you God, for reminding me it’s worth it to persevere in prayer…even when I didn’t see anything happening.

do you trust me?

it has been difficult to persevere in loving and praying for these young ones i am investing in…to follow my own challenge from this past month.  and i haven’t even been doing it for that long.  i feel like when i see one step forward there are two steps back.  honestly, its been discouraging to hold onto His Word to keep on going to Him with my heart.  I don’t want to be let down.

yet, He keeps on persevering with me.  He keeps on speaking to me.  He keeps on encouraging me to pray.    to trust Him.

–       through my quiet time in malachi 3:13-16 He has reminded me how my complaining spirit grieves Him and belies a mistrust in the goodness of His character.

–       through my quiet time with sergio in luke 9:37-42 i saw again how the disciples couldn’t drive out a demon with their lack of faith

–       through the book, transforming society, that I was reading for my internship i was reminded i need faith to extinguish the arrows of the enemies discouragement

–       through a friend of mine who finally got to experience the salvation of his sister i recalled his YEARS of heart-break and prayer.

– through quiet time with galatians 3:5 i was encouraged that God’s power on our behalf has nothing to do with how good we are but with if we believe Him

–       through caesar’s sharing with the youth from matthew 7:7-11 i was reminded to ask, seek, and knock on God’s door because He wants to give us good

–       through pastor chris’ word to the leadership team from mark 8:31-38 i was reminded that if i seek my own immediate comfort over His path of suffering, like peter, i will find myself on the wrong team.

over and over again i’m being reminded that faith is a big deal to God.  why?  i’m still not entirely sure.  one thing He is showing me, though, is that my choice to persevere or not reveals what I really think of Him.   to the extent that I begin to think he is cruel and doesn’t care, my prayers are tiresome things.  to the extent that i think (like His Word shows me) that He is much smarter (like He showed me by bringing ji into my life), bigger (like He showed me by taking me around the world), and better (like He showed me by giving me the gift of His Son and my son) than I realize, my prayers take wings.

I don’t know why i am not seeing the positive answer to my prayers right now.  maybe i will see the answer in this life, maybe i won’t.  but the question still remains:   who is this God that I serve and will I trust Him today?

When nothing seems to change…

Going deeper with people, even ourselves, means facing our brokenness. I am experiencing this, even now, as I go deeper into working with youth in our community. There are wonderful discoveries in caring for people, but there are also wearying disappointments…when you see the same issues continue to rear their ugly head…when change seems impossible.

If I’ve learned one thing over the years of working with people, it’s that you can’t change people’s hearts. This is something only God can do. So what then?

JUST ASK: For the past year or so God has been repeating the theme of talking to Him. A couple years ago someone prayed for me and reminded me that God just wanted me to ask Him for the help that I needed. I prayed here and there but it was still so hard for me to remember such a simple thing. I’d find myself in over my head in the classroom and realize I didn’t once ask him for help that day. This year, through studying the book of Luke, the theme of prayer is unavoidable as people awaited the Messiah and Jesus himself is seen habitually talking with God in the midst of all sorts of craziness. Then about a month ago at a church retreat, I was praying with the junior high boys, and one of them felt God was saying to me “talk to me.” As an earthly father listening to my baby son attempt to talk, I am learning that our Heavenly Father delights in listening and responding to us. Walking with Jesus means, at the very least, talking to Him throughout the day…even about the stuff that breaks my heart.

But what if things don’t change? What then? Often it’s easier not to care again because it hurts too much to be let down.

PERSEVERE: At least twice in this past season a little parable of Jesus has come up in my life, once in the Luke study I’m a part of and again a couple weeks ago at church. In this parable Jesus tells the story of a persistent widow who get her request by wearing down an unrighteous judge as an illustration that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Sometimes the answer is already on the way the moment we ask but there is spiritual warfare to get through as an angel had once explained to the prophet Daniel. Just as my son continues to cry of hunger even when the milk will be on the way AFTER his diaper changing, sometimes we need to trust in the right timing of our Heavenly Father. And sometimes it’s not enough to ask just once. It’s not that God is unrighteous (he’s the opposite actually) and it’s not that He has to be worn down, but I think it’s that we need to see for ourselves what we actually depend on, especially when the going gets tough.

But what if things still don’t seem to change? What then?

TRANSFORMATION: Maybe it’s not the situation or the other person’s heart that needs to change so much as it is our hearts that need changing. When we persevere in prayer it sets a pattern of our life toward God whether we get the answer we expected or not. Prayer refines our hearts into God’s.

Let us pray then.

Please pray that I persevere in prayer, not only for myself, but for the youth of this next generation.