Search Me and Stretch Me

search me stretch me band

Psalm 139 begins with David’s recognition of God working intimately in his life and ends with him praying similarly for God’s initiative in his deepest being: “Search me, God, and know my heart…and lead me in the way everlasting.”

I had the privilege of being the guest preacher at a partner church in LA and over 700 people responded to dare to pray this week “Search Me and Stretch Me” as they toured the Sacred Streets exhibit.

How is God stretching you into a new area of ministry, perhaps inside the walls of a church or outside in your everyday life? As He searches you have you considered the “ways of pain” that you are stuck in that are keeping you from seeing your inherent value that God has created you with? Are you stuck in a cycle of toxic thinking, unhealthy relationships and limiting yourself from believing God wants to use you to be a blessing in the city?

Search me and stretch me is a prayer for all of us and I’d like to hear what God is revealing to you as you pray this. I trust you’ll rediscover a God who not only had to come to save you from your sin and brokenness, but One who wanted to come because of deep love for you and His joy in inviting you to partake in His kingdom expansion here on earth as you bless others in His name.

Search me and stretch me…into new ministry…into moving on from habits that hinder me…into courageous trust in God who surprises us with plans and dreams that we would have never come up with on our own.

How is God stretching you? I want to know!

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The Wonder of God

sacred streets artJason Leith is bringing his amazing Sacred Streets exhibit to Los Angeles on Sunday August 4 at Bel Air Presbyterian Church from 8am to 8pm. I’m honored to bring God’s Word at 9am, 11am and 6pm as we reflect on Psalm 139 and pray that God would stretch us to step toward His will with our whole lives as we seek to bless the city of LA.

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Beauty in Skid Row

My church in downtown Los Angeles is in the beautiful and diverse community of Little Tokyo, but also happens to be just two blocks from the homeless capital of the U.S., Skid Row.

Many groups come to bring Jesus to this needy community where hundreds sleep on the streets every night and thousands more have found temporary and permanent housing with great organizations like Union Rescue Mission, where I serve on the Board of Directors with Andy Bales. But like my friend, O.G., who leads a Skid Row Clean-Up Brigade, always reminds me, “God is already with us in Skid Row!”

A young artist has set up a temporary art exhibit called Sacred Streets and I hope you will come and visit. The artist has not only made beautiful art but captured the beauty that exists amidst the dehumanizing conditions that Skid Row is known for. God is truly among the least of these whom Jesus knows by name.

Come and see the people that Jesus already knows very well in a new light on their own turf. I believe you will leave with great hope that God has not forgotten the tens-of-thousands who find themselves without a home in L.A. County every night. You’ll see the beauty that God sees in the darkness and perhaps you will choose to be part of the solution. It begins by seeing with God’s eyes and this project is a chance to see in a new way.

You can even come and worship with us in downtown L.A. and then walk down to the exhibit this Sunday afternoon. I hope you’ll join us!

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Knowing God’s Will

Our church in downtown Los Angeles has been reflecting on Romans 12 to discern some spiritual habits that might help position ourselves to be shaped into the likeness of Christ, which is the destiny of every believer (Romans 8:29). Habits like prayer, generosity, celebration, silence, slowing down and, of course, Scripture reading.

But the purpose of Scripture is not to simply memorize more. God wants us to soak in Scripture not for information, but for transformation. An amazing promise that Paul speaks of in Romans 12:2 is that as one in being transformed by renewing of the mind–certainly including Scripture as part of this renewal training–is that God’s will would become more clear to the believer.

A writer tells a story of when she was seventeen and went on a mission trip to the Amazon River sensing God’s call to be a missionary. She spent days working with kids and doing the work of the Lord amongst the poor. One night, toward the end of trip she stood alone on the edge of the boat and marveled at the beautiful water before her and asked,“God, just tell me. Please, just tell if I’m supposed to be a missionary.” What she received was not an audible voice but what she believes to this day to be a confirmation of the Spirit speaking to her:

“Look at this river. Look at its depth. See how wide it spreads. My love is like this, as wide as you can see but moving. Always moving. This is what you need to know: Stay in the river. Let it carry you. Let it cover every part of you, head to toe. Dip under it. Swim in it. Float on it. But always choose this river. Stay in my Love.There will be different boats. You’ll get on and it will move you along. You’ll stop at a village and you’ll get out. Love the people in that village. Give them what you have to offer. And when I tell you to, get back on the boat.There will be different villages and there will be different boats. You don’t have to worry about those things. What matters in the river…Stay on the river.”

We get caught up in which boat and which village, but God wants us in the river of His will. We want to know whom to marry, which house to buy, where to go to school, what job to accept? God’s will has more to do than the questions most of us like to ask. In fact, God’s will becomes more clear when we begin asking the right questions.

When my wife Kati and I worked with college students at our previous churches, there were always some predictable things students wanted God to reveal to them. Questions about who to date, when they’d get married, what career path to take and which graduate school to go to (UCLA of course!). I liked to challenge them to consider that they’re asking the wrong questions. What if your conversations with God sounded more like this: How can I be filled with more contentment? What kind of habits will help me be more generous with my time and money? What areas in my life do You, Lord, want me to deal with so that I can serve You better? These are the kind of prayers that align more readily with the good, acceptable and perfect will of God that Paul promises will be revealed when we spend time in God’s Word. It’s not so much like getting the answer to which door has the prize behind it leading to money, success and happiness, but how we can go deeper with God and be changed into the people God wants us to be.

God’s will has more to do with staying in the river than the specific village you are in. Imagine being with God for a million years and then realize how every village or city in which God has called you is a certain call but for a season. For that season work with everything to serve the Lord and bless the city. But His will is that you stay in the river of His love. Spend time with Him. Make unhurried time for others. Practice generosity. Position yourself to be shaped into His likeness. Sit with God’s Word, even when it doesn’t seem to be improving your life! Ask God the kind of questions that focus more on Him transforming you then Him informing you. You want to know God’s will? Read John 14:1. “Trust in God. Trust also in Me.” (NIV). His will is always that you will trust Him more, as you offer your body as a living sacrifice.

Psalm 1 is worth meditating on as we seek to spend time soaked in Scripture to be transformed and not just informed. My paraphrase: “Blessed are those who delight in the Law of the Lord for they are like trees planted by the streams of water who are fruitful and don’t wear out.” And Jesus’ words in John 15 emphasizes this as well: “I am the Vine and you are the branches…Remain in Me…You can’t do anything without Me.”

If you don’t want to wear out then stay connected to Jesus. Start asking better questions that position yourself to take in all that God has for you. Spend time in God’s Word to be transformed and step into your destiny as ones who are continually being shaped into Christ’s likeness, giving a hurting world a glimpse of the goodness of God until He returns again.

Let’s stay in the river.

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What Solar Panels Have to do With Following Jesus

I tend to lean on the frugal side growing up in a modest Asian-American family. Perhaps I inherited it from my grandpa Lim who used to twist off the stems of pears before the grocery clerk weighed it because, “Every little bit counts.” That’s a true story. It should come to no surprise, then, that amidst this cold weather in downtown and throughout Los Angeles (34 degrees in January!) that I tend not to turn on the heater in our house because it just ends up escaping through our poorly insulated walls, doors and windows and costs us a fortune. I’d don’t like being cold but like even less wasting money. In an ideal world I’d have solar panels installed but they’re still quite a bit out of our price range as it stands. Plus, I want to save up for this new kind of solar panel that will revolutionize the industry.

Rotating solar panels adjust the angle of the panels on your roof depending on the position of the sun during the day. It makes sense to position the panels to maximize the intake of sunlight that is already there. I can’t wait for these to come to the residential market. My wife can’t wait, too, and until then we’ll keep layering to stay warm!

The spiritual life has some connections here. Reading through Romans 12 with our church in downtown L.A. has brought us into a season of heeding the Apostle Paul’s challenge to be “transformed”. It’s a passive verb which means that God is the instigator and we are the recipient of this transformation. So what’s our role in the transformation process? It’s like the solar panels. God’s love, light and grace are constantly present but often we aren’t positioned to intake all that He offers. If we want to grow more like Jesus we need to rearrange our lives around habits that will help us to live and act as Jesus did. In this sense the spiritual disciplines or habits aren’t an end in themselves but rather help us position ourselves to intake the Christ-shaping love and light that is constantly available to us. Being shaped like Christ is actually our destiny (Romans 8:29) and God is the One ultimately in charge of shaping us (Philippians 1:6) but we are called to position ourselves as to maximize the process. The spiritual disciplines and habits like prayer, reading the bible, practicing generosity, silence, solitude, serving, celebrating, etc.

We hinder the process of transformation by making the disciplines an end in themselves. You would never think that the purpose of putting up solar panels is to put up solar panels, right? Likewise when we add prayer, bible reading or fasting to our spiritual training regimen, the goal is not to simply add more stuff for us to do but to be shaped into Christ-likeness.

What could you do to position yourself to make yourself more available for God’s constant love, light and grace? What is your heart and mind currently positioned toward that might be hindering your transformation into Christ-likeness? In other words, what are you seeking to fill you your life (a job, spouse, reputation, achievement, justice for a past wrong)?

As we approach Lent, let’s consider how God might want to position ourselves to intake all that He wants to gift us with so we can step into our destiny as Christ-shaped people, full of joy, who impact the cities in which we live. If you’d like to listen to our sermon series at the Bridge  you can click here.

 

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Connecting Faith and Work: Oct. 31 luncheon

Connecting your faith and your work is not an easy thing to do. I think about my context in downtown L.A. which has a daytime population of upwards of 500,000 people who have the potential to positively impact our city. I like to mention each week at church that our goal is to “Love God and Bless the City.” I want help Christians consider that God has brought them to L.A. for a purpose to bless the city, not necessarily to bless themselves, and this luncheon will be an opportunity to consider this call and recommit to living it out.

Our main speaker will be Livingstone Mukasa, a successful businessman and the founder and leader of Living Business Training in Kampala, Uganda. In this role Livingstone has provided practical business training to more than 5000 poor micro-entrepreneurs in Africa, many of whom now have successful small businesses.

You’ll also get to meet leaders from the Union Rescue Mission, Los Angeles Mission, Central City Community Outreach, Industrial District Green (beautifying Skid Row), Purpose Built Communities and Apartment Life. You’ll be challenged to use your professional talents and resources to make an impact globally and locally.

So I hope you’ll come to our luncheon on Oct. 31. You’ll be glad you joined us. ($5 suggested donation for lunch)

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Updated with new details: Miracle Moments Amidst the Trial

[UPDATED WITH NEW DETAILS!]

Last June, Martin came to the Bridge at Union Church to help at our worship service, just as he’s been doing the past several months with us in downtown L.A. I met Martin after he entered a Christian rehab and ministry training program last year called Teen Challenge. He was miraculously discovered by his estranged sister while homeless and begging for change on the streets. But that story is for another post!

Martin came to the Bridge that Sunday in June and happened to mention to one of volunteers, Nick, that he had to go back to Fresno to face a judge because he unknowingly still had two outstanding arrest warrants that he was never notified of. Martin already had two strikes and these two arrest warrants were part of his former life of drugs and gangs. Even though he had gotten his life straightened out through Teen Challenge these warrants meant that Martin–now clean and a life of crime behind him–was facing a possible 10-25 years in prison.

Nick mentioned that we had a young lawyer, Josh, at our church and perhaps he could help Martin out with some advice. Martin shared with Josh his predicament and Josh explained that he was a corporate lawyer with no criminal defense background, but he did have a friend who was a criminal defense lawyer and would be willing to write a joint letter that Martin could bring and show the judge. Josh didn’t think his letter would do much but he promised to pray for Martin.

As Martin travelled up to Fresno to face the judge, Josh and his wife Lindsey spent the week in prayer that the judge would be gracious to Martin, this man who had sincerely changed the trajectory of his life and now wanted to give his life in service to the community to help others leave a life of homelessness, drug abuse and crime. Martin faced the judge and the judge asked Martin what his life was like now. Martin explained he was in Teen Challenge and that whether in prison or free, that he would serve the Lord. Martin knew that he could easily spend at least 10 years in prison for these outstanding warrants. Martin handed the judge the letter from the young attorney Josh and his friend the criminal defense lawyer. The judge asked, “How do you know these lawyers?” Martin explained that he went to this church in downtown LA called the Bridge and that one of the members was a lawyer who had a friend who was a criminal defense lawyer. The judge then said, “I know this lawyer. I went to law school with him!” Then the judge also shared another amazing fact: his own brother went through Teen Challenge as well, so he knew that integrity of the program!

Miraculously, the judge deemed that Martin would not serve any prison time and was released into the ongoing care of Teen Challenge! Instead of Martin spending 10 to 25 years in prison, he is free to serve the Lord and tell others of the miracle of God’s redeeming work in Christ.

A friend who is in Teen Challenge with Martin shared this word of encouragement with me recently: “Pastor Tim, if you and your wife didn’t obey God and leave Newport Beach to come to downtown LA, then Martin would probably be sitting in a prison right now!” I couldn’t help but think about Ephesians 2:10 which talks about how God prepares good works in advance for us to do. Think of all the details that had to come together for this miracle to happen. First, the miracle that Kati and I would leave our wonderful ministry in Newport Beach to serve in LA. Second, that Josh and his wife would make the Bridge their home church. Thirdly, that I would build a relationship with Teen Challenge a year ago such that they would send two volunteers every week to the Bridge. Fourthly, that Martin would be sent to serve at the Bridge out of the dozens of other men who could have been assigned to us. Fifthly, that Josh was there that Sunday before Martin faced the judge. Sixthly, that Josh knew this criminal defense lawyer who cowrote the letter for Martin. Seventhly, that the judge had gone to law school with the criminal defense lawyer. Eighthly, that the judge’s own brother had been in Teen Challenge!

Josh would be the first to tell you that his letter didn’t do a thing. Martin would be the first to tell you that it wasn’t any words that he shared with the judge that brought this gracious decision. I would be the first to tell you that I had no idea coming to the Bridge would bring this kind of modern-day-miracle. God did this and His goodness is revealed through all of these little details.

God’s graciousness was revealed in this moment and Martin continues to study ministry at Teen Challenge and serve us at the Bridge. Josh continues to work his corporate lawyer job but has also now connected Teen Challenge to Christian Legal Aid, to assist others like Martin with legal issues related to their troubled pasts.

In the midst of desperate but hopeful prayer, God removed a judgement that society could have legally leveled against another third-striker like Martin. God had been at work far before I ever even considered coming to LA. I was an unknowing vessel in God’s intricate plan. God can do the same through you. 

I’m so grateful that at the Bridge we are building a community of diverse people who offer unique gifts and talents as we share our unique brokenness and needs. The Spirit is working amongst an imperfect people who are making themselves available to be used by God.

Scripture says that God has been planning good works for you to discover and walk into as you make yourself available (Ephesians 2:10). I don’t understand why God’s goodness is revealed clearly in some trials and not in others, but let’s walk in the confidence that our God is good and is ready to help those who call out to Him, whatever their circumstances.

Are you willing to be available for God to use your time, talent and treasure to accomplish God’s work? Be available today for God just might use you in a small way to carry out a miracle for someone else who is facing devastating circumstances or everyday trials.

 

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Great video about helping people who are homeless: Imagining what’s possible

Down the street from Union Church is a great organization called the Weingart Center. They made this beautiful video so that we can imagine what is possible by contributing our time and efforts towards ending homelessness. You’ll be glad you watched this video. Be one of the first to see it and share it.

As our church seeks ways to Love God and Bless the City, we look for great local organizations like Union Rescue Mission and the Los Angeles Mission to partner with. The Weingart Center is another we hope to work with more in the future.

Whom can you partner with in your city? God has placed you there to seek its blessing, prosperity and shalom–which means weaving back together all the broken places you see. Keep your eyes open for where God might be calling to to participate in the good He is already doing in your midst and help people imagine a new future like the video challenges us to do.

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A Great Birthday Gift: The Story of the Bridge

Today I turn 42 and I’m sitting in LAX on my birthday waiting for a flight to Pittsburgh. The Bridge in downtown Los Angeles is being recognized at our annual national convention for its innovative partnerships as it seeks to be a blessing to the city in numerous ways.

I appreciate all the birthday love on Facebook especially since I’ll spend it travelling, SO my birthday request is that you’d watch and share the video so others will know our story and perhaps support us with prayer, a personal visit or sharing resources to reach the city.

It is truly a blessing to know that God is working in our little church in the second largest metro area in the nation as we seek to Love God and Bless the City. What a birthday gift!

Thanks for supporting me and my family on this adventure.

Tim

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Skid Row Mapping

I asked Curtis White, who interned for us at our downtown church this past year, to make a short list of resources in the Skid Row area that we could support and get involved in. So he created a Google map highlighting Skid Row. The map is a work in progress but shows the many opportunities we have to help adults and children who find themselves homeless just outside our doors at the Bridge at Union Church in downtown Los Angeles.

Though we primarily partner with great organizations like like Union Rescue Mission (led by Andy Bales) and the Los Angeles Mission (led by Herb Smith), there are myriad of resources downtown including a friend of mine who is starting a not-for-profit beautifying the streets of Skid Row through tree planting and community advocacy.

Check out our map here.

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