Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pearce Middle School Room Makeover

As part of the Hopefest Initiative, as a group we got the opportunity to furnish and decorate a (rather targe) room in Pearce Middle School that was to be used as a Family Resource Center. Kazuki Konno and his fiancee Jeanne Lee took the lead on this and the following is Kazuki's story:


I thought about the best way of documenting all the blessings that we received throughout the project. Instead of jotting down what happened from the “third person”, I have decided to share the experience from my point of view as if I was telling a story …

Chapter 1: HopeFest

This project was a part of “HopeFest and 60 days of services”. Mike and Carol couldn’t make it to the first meeting for HopeFest, and Jeanne and I pinch-hit them.

We tried to get people to come to the festival as volunteers, but I was the only person who showed up. I was disappointed, and started worrying about the middle school project.

Chapter 2: Tennis Court

I chose this middle school project among many other projects because I had had a great experience with painting and remodeling a house before. The work was fairly simple and all the volunteers got to talk to each other and built relationships. Remodeling a “family room” looked great to me.

Mike, Carol, Jeanne and I went to look at the room to remodel, and we were stunned. The room was as big as a tennis court. This “family room” needed two office spaces, a conference space, and a living room. And, we had to plan everything, including getting furniture, paint, etc. We had many questions: “Who is going to pay for all this?”, “Are people from BridgePoint going to show up for this?”.

For some reason, I had peace in my heart, and sensed that this was the right project for us. Jeanne felt the same way, saying “God will make it happen.” Facing something almost impossible made us depend on God alone. After seeing the room, my frustration, anxiety, and disappointment from HopeFest went away by committing myself to the Lord and letting Him orchestrate everything. “It is not about me or us, but about Him now,” I said.

Photo 1: “before”

Chapter 3: Huge Conference Table

We needed a lot of furniture and money to purchase it. Mike, Carol, Jeanne and I reloaded craigslist every minute and found some deals. God explicitly revealed His Might at that time. Before buying any furniture, a friend of Mike’s donated $1,000 for this project. We went to one place to buy just a couch, and the couple there also had a lot more of the furniture we needed and gave us a huge discount.

A conference table for eight people was, I thought, a tough one to find on craigslist and too expensive to buy from a store. However, we did find one online. The problem was that it was too heavy and big to carry from the second floor. Mike was having back problems, and I was a guy with a back support belt and no muscle. So, we called John for help. John’s cell phone was in “silence all” mode, but somehow he looked at the phone right when we rang. He got there quickly and we managed to carry the table to the truck.

We received countless blessings in collecting the furniture and other resources we needed. Sherwin Williams donated five gallons of paint, Walmart and Home Depot donated gift certificates, Home Depot also let us use a truck for free.

Chapter 4: Teamwork

The actual remodeling process went pretty smoothly. Many people from BridgePoint came out as well as Susan’s friends, Jim, Joseph, and Todd, and Karl, Betty, Charlotte, some parents, kids and students from the middle school. Miles was so adorable. He was a small, cute boy, but had a BIG serving heart. He lifted more than I did…

We experienced God through teamwork. Whether we are a part of BridgePoint or “traditional church”, whether we have known each other for years or for a day, we are ONE in Christ.

My main job was to support Jeanne who was the leader of the project. I experienced God in teaching me how to be a supporter and an encourager for her. I believe, Jeanne learned a lesson in how to step up and take leadership from God through this project. (Susan and I also learned a tough lesson in how to iron curtains from Carol J )

Once the remodeling started, time went by very quickly. The Florida Mango color made the room look very warm and bright; the well-ironed curtains looked fancy; all the furniture from different places somehow matched in the room.

Photo 2: “teamwork”

Chapter 5: Worship

I had a chance to attend two worship services during the weekend of remodeling. On Saturday, I worshipped with the Saturday night group to which I belong. Everyone shared how much God had been blessing and teaching them through the middle school project, and I experienced an amplification of blessings by sharing with people we love. On Sunday, after finishing remodeling the room, Mike, Carol, Andy, Bryan, Susan, Jeanne and I worshiped together with Karl, Betty, and Charlotte. We shared the most joyful moments in the project, and praised God together. That time was probably the most joyful moment for me.

Pearce Middle School needs a lot of prayers, and Karl, Betty, and Charlotte need encouragement. God helped BridgePoint to minister to them by remodeling the room. At the same time, we received tons of blessings from God.

Chapter 6: Concluding Remarks

Every time we commit ourselves to the Lord and serve others, we are blessed and God receives glory. This seems to me like a rule of thumb in a service project. Jeanne and I hope that Bridgepoint will continue to serve the Austin community and be united through such service as one body. Jeanne and I would also like to thank those who participated in this project.

Epilogue: Funny Stories

· Mike and Andy trying to get the grout mixture out of the tube without a gun! (Photo 2)

· Ryan and Kazuki carrying a heavy office partition together, and seeing Mike lifting the same thing by himself – later on finding out that the one Mike lifted was much lighter.

· Trying to put up the masking tape with a straight line (multiple attempts) whilst being filmed by News 8 Austin.

· Seeing Kazuki’s big strong belt which helped him immensely as he drove the other truck we borrowed.

Photo 3: “after”

Monday, September 29, 2008

From the lips of children and infants

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!
From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease. " [Psalm 8:1-2]

At this month's Family Gathering, we looked at the importance of singing and how David helped establish music and singing at the heart of the worship of God (where previously it had primarily been sacrifice). We reflected upon the three components of Praise, Thanksgiving and Petition (or Lament) through song and prayer. I found myself today thinking about the opening lines to Macbeth's Twelfth Night ... 'If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it'.

I believe the Lord truly delights in us when like David, we come before him to sing and make music with all our soul (see Ps 27:6, 57:7, 87:7, 98:5, 108:1, 144:9, 147:7) It is what Paul instructs us to do to be filled with the Spirit, "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord" [Eph 5:19)

As I went on my early morning prayer-walk today, I was listening to Psalm 8 and the opening verses (above) seemed somehow to come alive, perhaps in light of what the Lord is doing in my heart. Somehow, when even children sing praise to God, there is a power (strength) released that can overcome our enemies, which are sometimes (not always) just in our heads. We gain a new perspective, hope is renewed and God is put center-stage.

Jesus quoted this Psalm in Matthew's gospel in response to those who were unhappy at the children singing 'Hosanna' in the temple, affirming Jesus as the Messiah. He quotes from the Greek translation which comes out a little differently but carries the same meaning. "have you never read, 'OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF'?" [Matt 21:16] Jesus affirms the importance of praise, and the connection between praise and strength or power.

We see a miraculous demonstration of this in 2 Chron 20 where Jehoshaphat sees how God's power is released to overcome the enemy simply through prioritizing praise. He puts the worship band at the head of the army (you ready for this Andy?) as they head out to fight. But it is God, the object of their praise, who fights for them in response to their praise, thanksgiving and petition in song.

"Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's ... You need not fight in this battle .. stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem .. for the LORD is with you .. Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD .. the Levites, from the sons of the Kohathites and of the sons of the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel, with a very loud voice .. Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the LORD your God and you will be established .. he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, "Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.".. When they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed. " [2 Chron 20:15-22]

I believe that the Lord wants us to take this message to heart - to make our homes a place of making music to the Lord. It is so important for our children to grow up seeing and hearing their parents praise and worship. But it is not just for the children. We have so many music resources available to us to help in this. never forget also, the power of using the Psalms as a songbook (the Church has done this for most of it's history). Let us give time to praise in our Home Churches. I would like us to continue to set aside time occasionally as a network to gather simply to praise and worship God, to enjoy him and to seek his face. A "few" of us did this through the summer - look out for such opportunities and be encouraged to make the sacrifice of time.

'Show your power O Lord our God'


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Judgment Seat

"For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God" [2 Cor 5:1-11]

Serving the needs of others (is this a good description of love?) has been something much on my mind as of late. My work with the Center for Relational Leadership (CRL) focuses primarily upon our meeting one another's relational or emotional needs. But in our Simple Church, we have also been contemplating the work of Mission Possible in East Austin and how we might get involved. Recently I asked Kazuki and Jeanne to attend a meeting regarding the upcoming HopeFest initiative - another opportunity to serve some of the more disadvantaged people of our community in this city. These are all important works that I believe bring pleasure to our Father. I know that some in BridgePoint are involved in other caring initiatives. Then at times, it feels like it as all we can manage just to get through the day and cope with the demands and pressures of 'ordinary life'.

So how do we best respond when needs are made known or we just feel challenged to grow in our faithfulness to God and his call upon us? Or what is it that will help us become someone whose heart (and will) is impacted by an increased sensitivity to the struggles of people around us? This week I am reading Paul's second letter to the Corinthians and feel that the passage above offers us some help with these questions.

Firstly, Paul's perspective is unashamedly eternal, somthing that we can all too easily lose sight of in our materialistic/humanistic culture. This is not all there is and though we have tasted something of what is to come, there is more;
  • where do we find ourselves 'investing' our time, talents and treasure?
  • what are the truest desires of our hearts? what do we long for more of?
  • do we have a steadfast hope that is rooted in our (ongoing) 'experience' of the Spirit?
Secondly, Paul speaks of a new-found confidence that springs from his life of faith/trust in the goodness and provision of God within this eternal context
  • he prefers to be with Jesus in the fullest sense
  • he desires to please the Lord above all others
  • he anticipates the coming judgment (for believers) based upon what we have done (vs just intellectual assent to certain truth statements)
  • his service flows from a reverential fear or terror of the Lord almighty (something only truly possible for those who believe in Him)
  • he knows that God knows him, and this is good!
May we too know this love of Christ that so compels the apostle Paul, that we too may no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died for us and was raised by the Father. This too is our destiny and our confidence.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What are our practices?

(Written by John White)

Jesus taught that “everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (LK. 6:40). And, this is our desire – to be like Jesus. In His life, we see certain repeating patterns or rhythms or practices. Those who are members of the LK10 Community are practitioners of those patterns. By being in community, we can share what we are learning on this common journey. Dallas Willard helps understand the importance of spiritual practices: “My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing – by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father.” The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, p. ix.

LK10 is oriented around seven practices. The first three apply to every follower of Jesus. We center our own lives on them and we train our disciples in them. The last four practices relate specifically to planting churches. As apostolic church planters, we center our ministries on them and train other church planters in them. (Note: We don’t intend to imply that these are the only practices or spiritual disciplines for either followers of Jesus or church planters. These are just the ones we feel led to focus on in this community. We encourage everyone to engage other practices as directed by Jesus.)


Practice #1 - Listening to Jesus

This means that, as individuals, we are seeking, on a daily basis, to center our lives on Him. All of the other practices, indeed, all of life flows from this. Jesus Himself modeled this way of living in His relationship with His Father. This is seen in Jn. 5:19 which is the statement that perhaps best explains Jesus’ entire life and ministry: “I do nothing on my own initiative. I only do what I see the Father doing.” The Holy Spirit enables us to enjoy this same kind of intimate conversational relationship with Jesus. . “He will guide you into all truth… He will speak only what He hears… the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” Jn. 16:12-15.

Questions: Lord, what are you saying to me today? What am I to do about it?

Key quote:Our mission is to equip you to do everything as an outcome of your daily conversations with God and to train others to do the same.” -Mark Virkler

Practice #2 - Listening to Jesus with one (or two) others

Our second foundational practice was very important in the ministry of Jesus but is often overlooked today. It involves two people of the same gender sharing what they are hearing from Jesus as close to daily as possible. We call these two people “listening partners”. This practice captures the Lord’s value for living life in pairs (See, for instance, Mt. 10:2-4 where all twelve disciples are listed in pairs. Also, LK 10:1 where the 72 are sent out two by two.) This practice also recognizes the importance of daily encouragement (Heb. 3:13).

This is not to minimize the importance of a married couple also being listening partners. There is great value for this practice in both contexts – in marriage and in a same gender friendship.

Questions: What is Jesus saying to you? How are you responding? How can I help?

Key quote:Two are better than one.” -Solomon

Practice #3 - Listening to Jesus as a spiritual family

Growing out of our first two practices is the third practice of a simple church learning to center itself on Jesus. Church naturally and spontaneously grows out of individuals and pairs of believers hearing God’s voice. In a sense, this is the only skill that a church needs to learn. Everything else (study, singing, prayer, mission, etc.) flows out of hearing the Lord’s direction together as a church. Jesus, of course, modeled this practice as he spent three years living life with a spiritual family of twelve men. “Jesus called to him those he wanted, and they came to him… He appointed twelve… that they might be with Him…” LK. 3:13-19.

Questions: What has the Lord been showing you that will help us? As we are listening to each other, what is the Lord saying to us as a family? What will we do about this and how will we help each other?

Key quote:Thus from the viewpoint of God’s eternal purpose, the church exists to be… the organic expression and physical extension of the Trinitarian Community.” -Frank Viola

(The next four practices grow out of the first three practices and mainly apply to church planters.)

Practice #4 - Praying Luke 10:2b

In LK. 10:2, Jesus made a startling statement. In front of Him were 84 (12 + 72) church planters (“sent ones”, apostles). That sounds like a lot to us, but His evaluation was that it was only a “few”. Apparently, He saw the need for many more. And, in addition to identifying that need, He gave the solution. He commanded them to engage in the practice of “beseeching the Lord of the Harvest for more workers”. In this context, workers are both people of peace and more church planters.

We engage this practice with our listening partner (as well as others) for the region we are called to as close to daily as possible. This relentless widow lady in LK. 18 is our model for this kind of tenacious praying.

Key quote:The 10:2b Prayer is the leadership solution.” -Kenny Moore

Practice #5 - Joining Jesus in birthing churches in houses of peace

The “person of peace” was central to Jesus’ strategy for planting churches. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house’. If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him…” LK. 10:5-6. In fact we believe that when you find a person of peace, God has already done the “heavy lifting” and a church is ready to be birthed. This practice of birthing churches was and is Jesus’ primary strategy for the expansion of the Kingdom. Jesus is the one who births churches and he calls apostolic church planters to join Him in that process.

The marriage, and then the family, is the first and most foundational expression of church. It is the nucleus or core around which larger expressions of church form. In the New Testament, the ekklesia (church) was birthed in the context of the oikos (household).

Key quote:A well-functioning household can only exist upon the foundation of a healthy, intact family. Hence a house church could only be established if a well-functioning family existed.” -Roger Gehring

Practice #6 - A church planter nurturing those new churches and especially their leaders

This is the heart of a father/mother longing to see these spiritual families (simple churches) thriving and growing healthy. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…it is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work” Jn. 14:1-10. “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children…we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children…” 1 Thes. 2:7-12.

Often this practice of nurturing is done by a team. “(Jesus) gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Eph. 4:11-13.

Key quote:A major aspect of house church ministry is preparing and training future spiritual fathers and mothers and then releasing them to reproduce themselves.” -Larry Kreider

Practice #7 - Actively participating in communities of practice with other church planters

Jesus encouraged His “sent ones” to return and talk about what they had experienced in ministry (LK. 9:10). No doubt this practice was continued by apostolic teams throughout Acts. Church planters today can greatly benefit from encouraging and learning from one another. Just as in the community of a house church, this kind of apostolic community requires active participation and intentionality.

We see the practice of forming communities of practice for church planters occurring on every level – regional, national and worldwide.

Key quote:The literature on communities of practice is filled with stunning examples of how workers learn complex skills in rapid time when seated next to those who have the skill. And, of how workers reach out electronically across the globe with a question to colleagues, and receive back immediate, expert advice that resolves a crisis or dilemma.” - Margaret Wheatley.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Living Stones"

As we read about the details of the construction of the temple by Solomon in 1 Kings 5 & 6, we're told that he had 80,000 stonecutters working in the hills in rotation where they quarried large blocks of high quality stone which was then 'dressed' for the temple. All the stonework was done at the quarry so that there was no sound of hammer or chisel at the actual temple site. It was deemed to be too holy for that.

Josephus, a Jewish historian from the first century, wrote the following about this work;
"Now the whole structure of the temple was made with great skill of polished stones, and those laid together so very harmoniously and smoothly, that there appeared to the spectators no sign of any hammer, or other instrument of architecture; but as if, without any use of them, the entire materials had naturally united themselves together, that the agreement of one part with another seemed rather to have been natural, than to have arisen from the force of tools upon them." [ The antiquities of the Jews, Book VIII, Chapter III]

The temple was to be the place where God would put his Name, his Presence, the place of encounter, but it was only ever a type or shadow of the real thing that was to come. The real thing was to be Jesus, and his body. We see this from Jesus' words in John 2:19-21, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days ... the temple he had spoken of was his body." Peter uses this imagery of the temple as he paints a picture of the nature and calling of those who are in Christ, the Church, His body when he says, "As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. " [1 Peter 2:4-5]

The new temple is a spiritual edifice made up of real living people who are spiritually alive due to their connection to Jesus Christ, the living, chosen and precious cornerstone. But equally important as our connection to Jesus, is the fact that we are being built together. This can be a painful process as we come in all 'shapes and sizes' and don't always naturally fit together. That is why God has to take his hammer and chisel out at times to hone and shape us until it looks like we were designed to rest against one another. This can be a painful process at times, one we would rather run away from or just keep searching until we find another 'stone' that seems a good enough fit. We don't like change, especially when we are the ones who need to change, to humble ourselves, to surrender, to prefer one another, to sacrifice and go without, to confess our selfish ways, to repent because we realize that we had it wrong, to be faithful when seem to have gone past our limit. Yet these are all characteristics that our Father looks upon with great joy and delight and for which he graciously gives us power through his abiding presence.

The quarry where the work is done represents the earth, and in part, the fellowship of believers, those whom God has wisely put us amongst for his greater glory. It is in part a time of preparation before our 'transportation' to the temple site, namely heaven. It was said of the stones used by Solomon that they were so smooth, so natural as if never touched by human hands (or chisel) that they fitted together flush. There was no need for cement to hold them together or to fill in any gaps.

I sense that one of our greatest needs is for deep and profound connection with at least a few other people in our lives. This is what brings us healing, joy, a sense of fulfillment in life and also an empowering to be all that God desires of us. We can find ourselves yearning for this yet also fearful of it at the same time. Fearful of rejection or what we may need to give up. My prayer is that we would continue to realize and be thankful for the tremendous grace that God has towards us, his unfailing love and compassion. That we would seek to appropriate this grace in our lives as we continually 'come to him' and ask of him. That we would persevere in our relationships whilst we ask for his grace to help us go the extra mile.

"Psalm 127:1
A song of ascents. Of Solomon.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
its builders labor in vain."

Monday, June 9, 2008

You can all prophesy in turn

I have been reflecting this weekend upon an unusual incident in the life of King Saul that we find in 1 Samuel 10. After Samuel anoints Saul with oil in anticipation of his becoming leader of Israel, he sends him off to Gibeah and warns him as he goes he will meet a group of prophets coming from their place of worship, carrying musical instruments and prophesying. When he encounters them, Samuel says the Spirit of the LORD will come upon him and he too will prophesy and be changed into a different person. He then goes on to make an interesting statement ... "Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hands find to do, for God is with you." [v7]. Sure enough, when he gets to Gibeah he meets the group of prophets and things transpire just as Samuel had said they would. Such was the impact that those who formerly knew Saul were amazed and said to one another, "What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?"

Some thoughts ....
  1. There seems to be an important connection between singing/worship (including the use of different instruments) and the manifestation of the Spirit. We see this also in the New Testament as Paul urges the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit ... speaking to one another with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
  2. The Spirit comes with power ... sufficient to change us into a different person (in New Testament parlance, a 'new creation', indwelt by the presence of God.
  3. The experience of God's Spirit/prophecy/God's presence brings a measure of guidance into our lives (I sense this is especially important for us as a community)
Under the new covenant, our expectation (and hopefully desire) for such a manifestation of the Spirit as we gather together, should be even greater. I sense that some of this is behind Paul's injunction to us in 1 Cor 14 to eagerly desire the gift of prophecy. He also says that should an unbeliever come into a gathering where God is being revealed through prophecy, it will bring conviction upon his heart and he will be convinced that God is among them [v25] (oh, that we would see more of this). Now that the Spirit has been poured out upon all those who are in Christ, so Paul says that we can all therefore prophesy - so that all are taught and encouraged.

Carol and I feel compelled to set time aside during the summer months to get before the Lord, to enter into his presence and worship - making music in our hearts, to pray and to seek a greater manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit - especially that we might (all) prophesy. To this end, we want to open our home to any who would like to come on Thursday evenings from 7pm (when we are in town). So please come when you can, bring an instrument ... or at least your voice, come with expectation and hunger, come with the sick (for healing), come with a friend if you wish. I believe that this is a God-thing, so not just necessarily just a 'BridgePoint' thing. We want to promote the unity of the Body, and hence our connection with all believers.

I truly believe that the Lord wants to 'light a fire' so to speak in our lives and our missional communities/simple churches that will never go out. Just like the lamp that was to burn continually in the temple. A light that will touch the lives of many with whom we live and work. We need his presence, his guidance, his power as much as those first disciples needed it and were told by Jesus to wait together for it. So we want to gather and wait until the Lord pours out his glory and lights a revival fire for his glory in our city.