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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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What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)? Part 3: It Comes With Power

youth group

(our youth group at a winter camp in 1994)

Part 3 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)?.”    

#3. (of 7) It is Accompanied by Supernatural Power

The first time I, that I am aware of, encountered supernatural power was near the end of my middle school years.  One night I had a bunch of my good guy friends, that were also part of our church’s youth group, sleepover my house.  It was a good time full of jokes, farts, and late night confessions of secret crushes.  The next morning we all slowly woke up, except for one of my friends.  We thought it would be funny to pull a prank on him to wake him up by throwing him into our bathroom tub and blasting him with a shower-head of water.  

He didn’t wake up.  

Our laughter soon turned to concern.  He was breathing and he showed no signs of sickness.  We tried to open his eyes, but his pupils would pull away from view.  Then this strange low growling and groaning started from this friend of ours.  Our concern turned to fear.  Soon we started yelling at him, slapping him in the face, and threatening for him to wake up and that it wasn’t funny, whatever joke he was trying to pull on us.  Our friend started pushing us off of him.  Now our friend was not a big guy by any means, but we couldn’t restrain him.  Even my older brother got involved, and he was a big guy.  My brother sat right on top of my friends chest demanding that he wake up.  My friend, even with his hands restrained by us the best we could, was starting to buck my brother off his chest.  And the strange mutterings continued from our friends mouth.  

Chaos was upon us.  

We were desperate and in way over our heads dealing with something none of us could explain but were sure was something ominous.  One of us called our youth pastor to come to my house in this time.  Our youth pastor arrived and with a couple words of rebuke to whatever was messing with our friend, the darkness was gone and our friend woke up.  

There was no joking or “A-Ha! I got you!” statements afterward.  Only the feeling that some kind of madness had passed, beyond our understanding.  Our youth pastor spoke to us about spiritual warfare in the Kingdom of God and how to deal with it.  Soon after our youth pastor started a bible study with us, and you better believe the word of God came alive to us like never before.  

 

Fast forward about 20 years later.  God was calling me to transition out of youth ministry into becoming an associate pastor of adults at our local community church.  Right around that time it was Thanksgiving season, two days before Thanksgiving to be exact.  I was with two of our church elders, Gus and his wife Isabel, finishing preparing some thanksgiving meals we were going to give away to folks in need in our community.  Gus was also there to prepare for the sermon he was going to give the coming Sunday.  As we were finishing up, Gus was complaining about a sudden cloudiness in his head and a weird sickness.  He felt he needed to lay down.  I asked him a little more about how he was feeling, learning by this time that God is the source of supernatural power even to physically heal.  Gus shared that this fog in his head was preventing him from preparing his sermon and that he had experienced this strange feeling before when he was around demonic elements on his mission trips abroad.  

Sensing spiritual attack, I called over Isabel to pray with me for Gus.  I prayed to God first for this sick feeling to be gone and to rebuke anything that was trying to mess with Gus.  Then Isabel prayed for Gus.  We checked in with Gus.  

The sick feeling was gone.

Gus shared with me that when I rebuked it in my prayer he felt something pulling his head and then when Isabel prayed he felt it break off fully.  We gave thanks to God for the miracle we had just witnessed.  Gus was then able to prepare his sermon.     

This last story is significant because Gus experienced healing from a physical ailment as well as deliverance from spiritual oppression.  God has power over ALL.  It reminds me that the physical and the spiritual are not completely separate.  We do not fight a battle against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces at play in our midst (Ephesians 6:10-12).

God’s Kingdom is not merely about talk but it come comes with power (Mark 9:1, 1 Corinthians 4:20).  

If we are people of the Kingdom of God, under submission to the King, we have authority over ALL darkness (Luke 9:1-2, Luke 10:19-20) because our King, Jesus, has authority and power over ALL things (Matthew 28:18).  

Let us walk in His power, not ours, as we step forward today.   That makes ALL the difference.  

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

believe

believe
all i see is a desert /
thirsty no water no response /
where youth are the walking dead /
sweat and tears no gain /
put out my heart to have it rejected /
again and again /
i long to see new life /
youth hungry for eternity /
not falling to what the haters say /
stepping up in courage /
going after what God came after us for /
feel His rain in my soul /
Jesus, if you can, please bring us life!

“if you can? anything is possible for the one who believes!”

one saturday morning in january /
God rains down /
FIRE! /
Your intimate music opens up ears /
Your word cuts to the quick /
opening up the father wound /
revealing how we’ve put our baggage on You /
our Heavenly Father can’t be put in a box /
His love breaks through every boundary /
He calls His angels over to rejoice over us /
there’s a river coming that you can’t stop /
a new generation full of the Spirit of the Son of God /
inviting all who’re open to a turnt party for eternity /
where the wine only gets better and better /
believe

3 things that keep us in the peace of Jesus  

i was reminded this past week that Jesus was born into chaos and was at peace in the midst of chaos…He indeed is the Prince of Peace.   we could all benefit from some of that.

months ago i was blessed by a meditation on philippians 4:4-6 in a particularly stressful time of life and in light of this season and in view of the tensions of these days i revisit these truths.

“4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

1. uncovering joy

–  it’s easy to get out of touch with Jesus in the busyness and the pain of life.  that’s why the ancients had spiritual exercises to keep them in step with Jesus.  One helpful exercise is called the prayer of examen.  If has two parts.

– The first part is called the examen of consciousness (uncovering joy):

  • ask God “God, how have you shown your love for me today?” (this is the essence of joy in Jesus)
  • pay attention to what God reveals
  • rejoice in Jesus for what he shows you

***as i’ve been asking God to reveal his “joy moments” to me, God’s been reminding me he loves me through my sons.  as amos hugs me and nathan smiles at me i am receiving God’s assurance that he cares for me, even when things aren’t going as i’d like.  this gets me back in touch with the joy i have in Jesus.

“5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6A Do not be anxious about anything…”

2. uncovering anxiety.

–  the word for anxious here can be related to “merizo” meaning to be drawn in different directions.

– anxiety IS not Gods will for you.  He said don’t be anxious about anything!!

–  here the second part of the prayer of examen can be helpful: examen of conscience (uncovering anxiety).

  • knowing we are in the Joy of Jesus, we can ask God “God, please reveal to me the root of my anxiety or any offensive way within me”.
  • pay attention to what he reveals
  • surrender that anxiety/twisted thinking to God.

***a while back i started feeling pain in my jaw.  i have been grinding my teeth.  through counsel and prayer I was able to uncover the anxiety. the situation with youth group was just the surface.  what was at root of my stress was my fear of failing as a leader.  i was not trusting in God but myself.  as that was uncovered i was able to deal with the root of my anxiety.

“6b but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

3. thanks to Jesus

– sometimes we’re trying to pray but we’re so caught up with the issue being thankful is the last thing in our mind.  this keeps us from peace and it drives us back to anxiety.  that’s the problem we only see the issue and not Jesus.

– i’ve learned a third prayer that i’ve found to be really helpful for me to focus in on a Jesus.  this is why this prayer is particularly helpful if one is struggling with habitual sin or oppressive thinking.

– this final exercise is called quietening prayer: its a habit one can develop that helps give thanks and center in on an aspect of Jesus, to build within us a reminder of his presence.

  • pick an aspect of Jesus.
  • do a breath prayer: “(breathe in) thank you Jesus, (breathe out) you X”  (ex “thank you Jesus, you are my peace”).
  • be open to anything he reveals.

***often in work and in life i find myself going on “auto-pilot” and before i know it i find my self in bad spaces and so wound up with pressure. an aspect i love about Jesus is that although there were so many demands upon him he was never busy. so when I’m getting worked up about something i take a deep breath and pray “thank you Jesus, you walk with me.” i am brought back to balance with the assurance of not only his presence, but that he offers to walk with me until i’m home…with Him.

my work and God’s work

it has been quite a busy month.  there’s a lot that still needs to be accomplished.  but it’s good to know God is always at work…if we just stop to notice.

being away on paternity leave a month ago opened my eyes up to my own insecurity and identity wrapped up in the work that i produce.  although having plenty of time with my family and newborn son was full of windows of joy, there was a gnawing sense of not feeling “productive” being unable to do all the work i’m usually a part of. why is it that if there isn’t visible exciting results of my labor, there’s a part of me that doesn’t allow myself to enjoy God and what he has given me?  isn’t it God’s will that i am joyful and thankful in ALL circumstances just as much as that i do good?

as i returned back to work there was still that sense that i needed to catch up for the lost work at best and at worst haunted by what i imagined was people’s disapproval that i wasn’t doing enough.  many of the people i am reaching out to were struggling or unresponsive.  the focus of the work was just on maintaing.  one night at youth group i gave a teaching on our Heavenly Father’s commitment to love us and was challenged to, along with the youth, listen to what God wanted to speak to us.  as i looked out into the group of people present, i saw in my mind’s eye kernels of wheat sprouting and i sensed God say to me “don’t focus only on what you see…I am at work.”          

later that week, through a facebook post of all places, God led me to this stunning passage in scripture:

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

– Jeremiah 17:5-8

here i was wearing myself out with what i could do and the results of MY work when i was not trusting what HE could do with what is ultimately HIS work.   if i looked back in the past months he had been leading me through chapters 40s-50s in the book of Isaiah…the constant theme is how HE is God and we, or anything else we set up to focus on, is not.  i just hadn’t been making the connections to work.

don’t get me wrong, we shouldn’t just throw our hands up in the air and neglect our responsibilities with the work God’s entrusted to us.  it’s just that at the end of the day who or what are we really trusting in to get things done?  for me, in my heart of hearts, that trust was not in God.  if you’re unable to sleep at night stressing about all that you need to do maybe it’s not God that you’re trusting but yourself.  so i kept doing what He put in my care but i threw my weight into prayer to God for the results.  i got a little bold in asking God to do what He promised he was about in His word.  it’s been pretty sweet to see Him at work now that i’m looking at it with fresh eyes.  one of the people i’ve been i’ve been investing in who had been ignoring my calls/texts initiated with me and has been coming to church after a long absence.  through an urban leaders conference we went to last weekend, i got to witness God softening and ministering to the hearts of a number of young leaders that had been distant but God’s been opening them up to His goodness again. God has been exciting me with visions of things to come…that still haven’t happened yet.

we still got a ways to go.  i still have a ways to go.  but let’s not be like shrubbery in the desert.  let’s be fruitful trees planted in His Living Water.

trees water better

God can do our work better than us

“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” 

This month we had a big fundraiser dinner we were planning for the non-profit I work with.  I was just focused on what I needed to do, which was to work on a video slide show.  As time progressed I knew that there were very few people who signed up to attend the event, an event which would be critical to outreach to donors to continue this important work of investing into the people of our community in need.   If we don’t get pledges for support our non-profit cannot continue to exist.  Yet, in my selfishness I didn’t take time to really think of the impact to our community of having this event flop.  I made a video.  One of the advisors gave me detailed feedback to make it better.  I bristled in response with what I had put my time into.  My pride was hurt.

“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’

Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”

The night before the event, I was frustrated, we were under pressure to finish many things still, still less than half of our expected numbers of guests, and, to make matters worse, we were having conflict amongst ourselves.  Around midnight, I texted a number of friends to pray for us and the banquet that would be happening in less than 24 hours.

“When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.”

My advisor initiated a conversation with me and we resolved our issue around 1:30am.  I showed up at the banquet hall an hour prior to the event at 5pm to meet with the rest of the team.  Once there I began to realize I had forgotten about a speaker for the video, a screen for a projector, and a power strip.  All things I needed if we were going to show a video.  Even the one thing I was entrusted with I failed to completely follow through with.  Phone calls were made by my advisor.  Different people from our community came through with each item.   People came trickling in, many as last minute additions, and before we knew it all 50 seats was taken.  In fact, more people kept on coming.  We had to squeeze in two more tables!   Different people in our community shared about how they had been affected meaningfully by the existence of our non-profit.  Even someone who does not live in our community stood up to speak and challenged everyone present to consider supporting this non-profit to become an institution that could spread its positive impact beyond just our community.   Needless to say the event was a success.  People were encouraged.  Our community worked together…all in spite of my shortcomings.   God stepped in…and it made all the difference.

“Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”

net-fishing-sea-of-galilee-thomas-r-fletcher