January 29, 2011

The word that keeps coming to my mind this week.  Strangely enough, it has been poignantly absent from my conversations due to overuse and misrepresentation.  It has been replaced by team, family, group and, yes, even army.  But what everyone is talking about, acting on and scared to communicate is community.

I have heard about it, listened to sermons about it, read books on it, watched DVDs…. you get the picture.  The only thing I hadn’t done was see it in action and be a part of it myself.

Things in my world and the Bethel world have been shifting towards this, but just this last week did I begin to understand the importance of community.  No, there wasn’t a crisis in my life, thankfully.  That’s what you think, right?  Community suddenly appears and becomes relevant when there is a crisis or a death; when someone needs to be comforted.  That is such a small fraction of community.

It started with something that had been bothering me and someone else finally vocalized.  I help lead a ministry that goes to a bar on Friday nights.  I love it, I love the people we meet!  This has been one of my highlights of the last few years.  The look on someone’s face when they realize that they just met Jesus in a bar is unforgettable.  Anyway, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable with the ministry because it felt like we were going as a bunch of people, just to go.  Sometimes I met the people I’d be ministering with an hour before we hit the bar.  It didn’t sit quite right.  Finally, one of the other leaders, Daniel, said that we should have a core group of people who go every week, so we are genuinely friends and then we can bring a couple of new people.  We implemented this a few weeks ago and it makes such a huge difference.  Last night we went out with a team of ten and we had a blast because we were having fun with each other and it was contagious.  Well, there is more to the story.  Before we go out we spend some time in prayer.  Not your typical “sitting in a circle and praying one at a time” kind of prayer.  We were all laying on the floor.  Laughing.  Praying.  Declaring what we wanted to see Jesus to that night.  Saying words of knowledge.  I said, “We’re going to meet someone before we get to the bar (we were still at church)”.  Ahab was lying on the floor when the janitor came in, but Ahab didn’t realize he’d come in and they don’t know each other very well anyway.  Ahab said, “We’re going to meet a black man from Florida who was a star track athlete.”  The janitor piped in with, “That’s me!”  We were expecting it to be someone at the bar and were tickled to find that they had wandered into our pre-bar prayer time.  One of the things that came from our time on the floor.. I mean in prayer.. is that someone had the idea to bring a birthday cake to the bar and we’d celebrate everbody’s birthday!  It was brilliant!  We brought a cake and set up at a table.  People kept turning to look at us with a, “ooh.  I wander if they’re sharing” kind of look.  We put candles in each piece and started passing them around.  It so happened that the first girl we handed one to had her birthday that day!  But everyone got to celebrate their birthday!  It was one of the funnest times I’ve had at the bar.  There was such a light, fun atmosphere.  Of course people got healed and touched by God and I can share those stories another time, but what impacted me was our community. We went as friends with a silly idea to celebrate everones’ birthdays.

I’ve been quite blessed the last few weeks to get a glimpse of and participate in the house church community.  I think I mentioned that we’ve been working on a promo video for the house churches.  The idea is to get loads of students to move into designated neighborhoods in Redding and transform the neighborhoods through loving the neighbors.  This is true community. We shot interviews with some of the leaders yesterday and I was quite awed by these people.  Men and women around my age who moved into lower income neighborhoods and they’re always available to their neighbors.  They’ve built connections, seen people saved, set free, healed and being discipled.  Part of me was always hesitant about “evangelism” because it didn’t seem to be doing much good.  People prayed a prayer and then what?  They go to church a few times, can’t get connected and go back to their same way of life except this time they think Christians are snobby and hypocritical.  Awesome.  We call it “one night stands”.  That form of evangelism creates orphans instead of children.  But lives are being transformed through the house churches and community evangelism because my friends are willing to take the time to hang out with these people.  We can’t transform peoples’ lives, only God can.  But everyone needs people to be there with them through it all.  My friends from Bethel who are involved in the house churches have built extremely strong relationships with each other.  Their lives are so beautiful because they love God, truly love each other, and willingly love those around them even when it isn’t convenient.

I have always had a few close friends and been content with that, but I can feel myself being pulled into the draft of this swirl of community.  We had a dinner this week for the 2nd year students Chris is asking to intern with him next year.  I  will be very involved with them.  There were about 30 people at the dinner and I realized that me committing my life to them and to Chris next year isn’t a small commitment.  I’m really giving myself to them.  My strengths, my weaknesses, all of who I am.  It’s not going to be a superficial group of evangelists, but a family of brothers and sisters who live life vulnerably.  And I’m so excited!  Honestly, I want to be like some of these students when I grow up.  I know I have strengths to offer them and quite a bit to learn from them.

The other example of community came from an unexpected place.  I had a job interview in a department at Bethel and the gentleman I was interviewing with explained how the department is transitioning.  He said that he had structured the department so that the jobs are generic.  Someone moves on and he can throw someone else into their position.  He said that God had been teaching him about how things are structured in the kingdom.  He said he was moving from the generic positions, to picking people and creating a job around them.  Sure, it will be harder when they leave, and by the world’s standards it doesn’t make sense.  But he wants a team based on relationship.  A team where people don’t clock in and clock out and work for him because of their skill set.  Basically, he wants people and relationship over workers and striving for results.  He gave me a brief overview of the job and left the decision in my hands.  I was so excited that I wanted to say yes right away, but figured i should calm down and pray about it.  I can’t imagine saying no.  Perhaps some people would say no because they want to clock in and out and go home.  Not me.  I like the idea of being in community with my coworkers.  Sure, it won’t be as easy.  There is always risk with relationship.  But I quite prefer to have the hard times along with the even better times than just be a minion somewhere.

This whole thing is a bit scary.  Like, “Oh my gosh.  I have to let people get to know me.” But I’m at a point where I know I have something to offer them.  And even when I don’t, it’s OK.  I have one friend who ALWAYS knows when I’m having a bad day.  And it’s great because I don’t have to pretend with her.  I never make excuses or act like I’m better.  She still loves me when I have a bad day.  Last night at the bar one of my friends asked me a question and I replied and he said, “Meng, I love you!  You’re so easy to love!”  Nope, don’t go there!   It wasn’t romantic or anything.  It was community.  We’ve gotten to know each other as friends the last year and a half ministering together, traveling together, going to the bar together.  And you know what?  I love him too.  True community fosters healthy love for others.  We can all use a little more love, don’t you think?


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January 22, 2011

Two thoughts on the title.

1) I tricked you.  You probably thought I was going to alliterate all the titles with “s”.  HaHA!

2) Spell check is telling me that Unoffendable is not a real word.

Some good news this week, of course.  We have a monthly dinner for outreach leaders.  This week was a small gathering of maybe 15 people, but three people got healed while we were there.  One guy had messed up his wrist that day while cutting down a tree.  It was swollen.  Then the swelling and pain left after we prayed.  Another lady had thrown out her back and was in bed.  After a few prayers she was dancing.  One young chap had a tooth ache.  God showed up and he ate dinner without any pain. Yay! We weren’t even trying.  It was a casual dinner.  “And these signs will accompany those who believe…” [Mark 16].

God has been teaching me some tough things lately.  First the stubborn thing, now this unoffendable one.

Un-offendable:  someone who is not easily offended

People have told me that I don’t take offense easily (or I don’t hold a grudge or I’m quick to forgive.  You get the picture).  I had quite the revelatory moment recently where I was in a situation, took offense at something, and then Holy Spirit made very obvious the consequences that would happen if I were to stay in that mindset.

It was dumb, really.  There was a bit of miscommunication, a few crossed wires, and some mixed signals on top of that.  The situation left me frustrated and confused by a particular individual. I was in my room fuming a bit afterwards.  I had promised to do something for them and, in my frustration, decided to back down on my word. That was me throwing in the towel on this new relationship.  Then I heard a little whisper, “How can you judge a situation when you don’t even have the whole picture?”  Pause.  Huh.  “Good question, Holy Spirit.”  I quickly realized several things.  I hadn’t even considered the other person’s side, that there could have been perfectly reasonable explanations for what happened.  But what really shocked me was that I had sided with offense.  It wasn’t even unforgiveness, because the other person didn’t sin against me.  But I was offended due to my perception of the situation and assumptions about the other person.  And I saw the chain reaction of that stance:  I was ready to dishonor my promise and cut off a relationship.  Ouch.

In simple terms, my offense turned off my love towards that person.  I vividly saw the evil course offense takes.  Somehow we think we have a right to be offended. “Well, they did this and I…” It is all too easy to become offended, but offense is a deathtrap for relationship and love.  And those are exactly the things we are called to in the Kingdom.   As a follower of Jesus, my call is to love God and love people.  If I am holding on to offense, my hands are too full to hold someone else’s hand or pray for them.  It frightens me to think of how many relationships have been damaged or ended because of a small offense that grew into big ol’ grudge and then into a seemingly irreversible rift.  I want to be aware of how my relationships are doing.  I want to be aware of moments when a thought pops in my head that if I choose to agree with it, could stop my love towards that person. Jesus could have been the most offended person ever, but he loved everyone.  Love has to be more important than our “right” to be offended.

I am so glad I heard Holy Spirit when He spoke to me that night.  I changed my attitude right away and asked for forgiveness for judging the other person and for withholding my love from them.  I realized that I can’t afford to have offense in my life.  It is entirely too costly.

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Silly Post on Being Single

January 21, 2011

Advantage: Doing whatever I want, when I want to do it.  Not having to call someone if I’m staying out late.

Disadvantage: Debating what to set as the wall paper on my phone… no “couple photo”.

Advantage: Not shaving my legs all winter.  With an exception of a few rare warm spells.

Disadvantage: Going places by myself.  Even if it’s to meet friends, there’s that momentary fear of, “What if they’re not there yet and I end up sitting there by myself?  What if they don’t show at all?”

Advantage: Twitterpation at meeting a cute new guy.

Disadvantage: Buying dinner.

Advantage: Being Single.

Disadvantage: Being Single.

(look for a real post tomorrow)

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Set Up

January 15, 2011

I have heard so many people at Bethel talk about ministry being “easy”.  I finally understand and have been experiencing what they are talking about.  Ministry just happens when you are being yourself and living in tune with Holy Spirit.

All of this started when I gave a couple guys a ride home from a party last week.  I give people rides frequently because I enjoy having a few quiet minutes in the car to chat and get to know people.   Also, you really can’t go far out of your way in Redding, so it’s not much of an inconvenience and people appreciate it too.  So when these guys asked for a ride,  of course I didn’t mind.  They live in one of the more “colorful” neighborhoods in Redding (and by “colorful” I mean one of the Redding Hoods).  A bunch of students live in the neighborhood and have a house church going, and there is also a student outreach team that goes every week to build relationships with the people who live there.  As we pulled into the neighborhood, one of the guys commented how the atmosphere in the neighborhood had felt really good for a while, but that there’d been a shift recently and it felt a bit funky.  Not even feeling anointed or the prompting of Holy Spirit I opened my mouth and started saying, “Yeah, I feel like someone moved in recently, even in the last month, who for some reason has authority in this neighborhood and brought some spiritual junk with him.”  The guy I was talking to agreed and at that point I saw a picture in my head of a smaller guy with a red goatee and a little girl.  I didn’t say anything because I see pictures in my imagination all the time, and usually I’m not sure if it’s my head or God talking to me.  That was Saturday.

Fast forward to Thursday at 7am.  My alarm clock went off and I grabbed my phone.  I usually abstain from checking my email until I’ve gotten up, eaten breakfast and spent time with God.  But to allow myself a few more minutes of lying in bed, I clicked through my email on my phone.  One was from my co-intern Karina who was reminding me that we have to have a promotional video to recruit students for the house churches done in ten days and we needed to shoot footage that afternoon.  I groaned and rolled out of bed realizing that my day just got crazy.  I met with Karina and our friend Julie, who normally does our filming. Julie had to work that afternoon and Karina had to train some new students for their outreach.  That left me to do the filming.  I assumed I was going to go to Karina’s neighborhood to shoot, but she asked me to go to Clay Street because they have the most students. The same neighborhood I had been to on Saturday.

So I met up with the Clay Street group and got some footage of them.  Then I pretty much put the camera away and jumped into ministering with them.  We went door to door to people they knew to check on them and pray for them.  I loved it.  At some point we changed up groups and I ended up with Ben, the guy I had given a ride to, and another girl.  We were walking back to meet the whole group when Ben saw some hard looking guys down a side street and wanted to go say, “Hi”.  We walked up to introduce ourselves.  The man farthest from me turned around and he had a red goatee.  I recognized him from the vision I saw on Saturday night.  I introduced myself and started chatting.  He said he had moved into the neighborhood less than a month ago.  He also mentioned that he had lived in the neighborhood five years ago.  While we were talking a little girl came out and was yelling at him to get his attention.  Even though she kept insisting, he seemed to really want to keep talking to us.  As I talked to him I kept asking God for a prophetic word for him, but all I heard God say to me was, “What is true about him?”  As I said goodbye I told him that Jesus loves him and has great plans for his life and for his family.  I hadn’t told anyone about the vision of this guy I was talking to, but as we walked off Ben said, “That’s him!  That’s the guy!” I said, “I know!  I had a vision of him on Saturday while we were talking!”

I kind of laughed at God afterwards.  Like I couldn’t have set any of that up, it was so Him.  I wouldn’t have been in that neighborhood either time, but I just volunteered to give a couple guys a ride home and shoot some video.  I showed up and God spoke to and through me.  It’s really a testimony in progress.  I’m curious to see what happens to this guy we met.  There’s obviously a reason that God showed me a vision of him and then set me up to actually meet him.  Ben invited me to attend the house church that night, but I already had plans with a friend.  Maybe next week.

Then again today I decided to go for a walk at the Sundial Bridge (pictured above).  I rarely go there anymore because there’s a nice ranch near my house with walking trails.  But I happened to have met a lady downtown and was on my way home.  On my way back to my car I ran into some Bethel friends.  They said, “Hey, come join us.  We just met these ladies and we’re praying for them.”  So the end of my walk turned into a crazy, fun time with a bunch of Bethel students ministering to and loving people at Sundial.  I just stopped to go for a walk.

I am quite liking this “ministry is easy” thing.  I’m not even trying to get in these situations, they just happen.  God keeps setting me up and I like it.

I could tell some more stories, but I think I’ve rambled on long enough.  Let’s just say that the same sorts of things happened last night at bar ministry.  It’s like Woody Allen says, “80% of success is just showing up.”



Stubborn Child

January 11, 2011

The other day I was talking to God when He chuckled and told me I’ve been a stubborn child.  It was one of those, “You could have had things a lot easier for yourself if only… ” types of laughs.  The days surrounding the New Year were particularly tumultuous in my inner-world for this very reason.  Stubborn.  For the last two and a half years I have been stubborn about wanting to live in Redding, CA.  In fact, my attitude was pretty bad.

This is a good place for a rewind.  Two and a half years ago I lived in Kansas City.  I had fun friends, was going to school, helping with a church plant, leading Bible studies, had a decent job and was paying the bills.  And then God.  That September I packed up my Jeep and moved halfway across the country to Redding, California, to go to ministry school.  I was planning on going for one year and moving back to Kansas City.

And then first year wrapped up and I thought, “Second year sounds like it is going to be really good.  Maybe I’ll stay if I get accepted.”  Which I did.  I wasn’t at all anticipating doing the third year internship until last February.  I helped with an evangelism conference.  It ended on a Friday and over the weekend I thought, “Maybe I would stay to intern if Chris (the outreach pastor) asked me to stay.  But that won’t happen”.  I ate those words two days later.  So I stayed.  Then, before Christmas, Chris asked me to stay for the 2011-2012 school year to help oversee the small army of interns he is recruiting for next year.  “Awwwww, dang it!  I have plans,” I thought, “I’m moving to Miami!”  Though, I’ll admit that before Chris asked me I had this horrible premonition that I was going to be staying in Redding longer than I thought.  For the record, Redding is a small-ish town, and I’m a city girl.  I want to be in a CITY where there are colorful people and concerts and museums and cool restaurants and coffee shops.  God and I wrestled about it.  I told him all my grand ideas on why I should move away and do what I want.  Then three things happened that changed my perspective:

1. The four of us current interns and Chris had a dreaming session about next year.  I looked at that list and I looked at my dreams and realized that I would be doing a whole lot of things I love and want to be doing for the rest of my life.  I would be pastoring people, helping organize the expanding outreach department, doing some admin work, working on various media projects, and traveling with teams to churches to preach and train people.

2.  I was driving to meet a friend at night.  As I drove on the “freeway” (see, I am a Californian now) at night, approaching downtown Redding, I realized that it was quite pretty with the lights and the river and what not.

3. Heidi Baker spoke at church a week ago.  She talked about how you only get fruit from things that are planted.  She asked us to consider what we need to sow to see fruit.  I think she was talking about sowing into different ministries, but God told me, “You need to plant yourself in Redding.”  I realized that there are things I haven’t received at Bethel because I hadn’t “put roots down”.  Plants get nourishment through their roots after all.  So I am officially planted in Redding until God says, “Go.”  It could be a few months or a few years.  But I’m here.  And I’m changing my attitude.  For two and a half years Redding has been home in the sense that I have an address here.  But now I’m getting used to it really being home.  In fact, when I get some money, I might even get a California driver’s license.  Also, God has been gracious and joined me with friends over the last few years who are also called to stay in Redding, for a while at least.  It helps to know that all of my comrades aren’t going to abandon me after this school year.

4.  I went to a party this past weekend and realized that many of the people there are about to be invited to intern with Chris next year (thus the people I’ll be working with).  I looked around and realized that they are amazing and I really love each one of them.  I know I have a lot to offer them, but, honestly, there’s quite a bit I want to learn from them too.

At that same party I had a conversation with a guy and he was talking about people whose biggest aim is to come to the school of ministry and eventually get asked to be on staff, like Bethel is the ultimate goal in ministry.  In summary, he said that where we end up in this life doesn’t really matter.  Every accomplishment we have we are going to throw at the feet of Jesus anyway and spend all eternity with the most beautiful man ever.  When he said that I kind of chuckled, because I’m the one who wants to leave, and God keeps telling me to stay.  But I did realize that it doesn’t matter if I’m in Redding or Miami because it’s all about Jesus.  Sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

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