Do you live in a least-churched city?

This is one of the reasons why I’m in L.A. trying to develop a multi-generational, multi-ethnic and multi-socio-economic church in the heart of downtown.

Some statistics from DJ Chuang

Downtown L.A. in particular has grown so much (27,000 new residents since 2000 and conservatively estimating another 10,000 in the next 10 years), that you’d need 20 more churches of 300 persons each just to keep up with population growth! Yet there aren’t nearly enough churches in downtown L.A. to reach the growing and existing population. We need more gospel-centered churches to join us.

By 2050 nearly 67% of the world will live in a city, so cities–not suburbs–are where people are moving to. This is not only a global trend but is happening in North America as well. Young people in particular are moving to downtown urban centers in major cities in the U.S.

We need churches wherever people are, including suburbs, but because people live so densely in cities the need for new and/or revitalized churches in cities is of the utmost importance.

Is the city you live in one of the least-churched? Does your church commit resources to helping plant and/or renew churches? Ask your pastor what his/her vision is for reaching younger generations who are choosing to live in least-churched cities and downtown city-centers. Find out what percentage of people go to church in the city you live in and what churches are actively reaching out to the unchurched and de-churched.

 

 

 

What nickname would you have if you were remembered for your worst moment?

I was sharing last Sunday from John 20 where the disciple Thomas gets his famous nickname “Doubting Thomas.” How would you like it if you were remembered in infamy for your worst moment? Drunken Doug. Arrogant Andy. Cheater Chuck. Strike-out Sam. Walk-of-Shame Sandy. You get the picture. Some of you still mourn that you can’t shake a certain reputation no matter how hard you’ve tried to undo it.

I’m glad that I’m not remembered for my worst and weakest moment. I would be known as Suicidal Tim. It was period in my teens when I felt like I couldn’t match up to the crushing expectations I had for myself. For two years I actually spent each morning sad that I had woken up because I wish I had died in my sleep. I was that depressed. I should have reached out for help but I was able to hide my depression well enough that I had none of the normal signs. It was a horrible two years of my life trapped in this depression that I had no idea how to talk about or find a way out. Thank God that He literally intervened and brought me out of this self-absorbed obsession with trying to make myself feel valued by adding external things to my life. I realized that only God can satisfy my deepest need for purpose in this life and my hope for a better world. I’m so glad that I’m not remembered as Suicidal Tim. What would your nickname be if you were remembered for your worst moment?

But poor Thomas. He will be known forever as Doubting Thomas. This is totally unfair since Thomas boldly travelled  to India to share the gospel and was martyred for his commitment to proclaiming Jesus as Lord of all. In fact many seem to overlook that Thomas’ doubt was quickly erased once he saw Jesus in that room where he immediately proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Thomas was one of the first people to rightly identify Jesus as “God” and not merely a prophet or teacher or even a messiah of some kind. Thomas has wrongly been remembered as Doubting Thomas so I hope I can do my part to undo his reputation. We all get a new start once we encounter Jesus, don’t you think?

What nickname would you have if you were remembered for your worst moment? In Christ we are offered a new identity as God’s adopted children, friends of God, ambassadors for Christ and many other wonderful realities that I feel like I’m only beginning to live into. Spend time with Jesus this week and get to know the real you instead of allowing others to define you by your worst moments–or even your best moments, too! We should never allow ourselves to find our identity in the things we do but in who we are in Christ. Never allow the worst moments or best moments define you and be free from finding your value in external things which change and fade. Find your nickname in Christ because He thinks the world of you and died so that you could reclaim your eternal significance that He created you for.

But I also admire Thomas for the very questions he seemed to be asking. I’m glad that Thomas is a thinking person. I’m glad that Thomas demanded some evidence before he would be willing to believe. I think people should have a healthy skepticism when coming to matters of faith. In fact, even those who doubt Jesus’ claims as God in the flesh actually are espousing a kind of faith. We all have faith in some way and what differs is what we put our faith in.

 

 

When God comes near

A series of events have left me speechless (at least in the blogosphere) these past several days. The events span the sublime (Osama bin Laden is actually dead?) to the surreal (the Lakers were swept?) to the satirical (we added 250,000 jobs in April but unemployment still rose?). I simply haven’t known what to say amidst the seemingly significant chatter that bombards me every day. Have you ever felt paralyzed by information overload?How about paralyzed by overwhelming circumstances of daily life in Los Angeles?

In Luke 24:13-33 the risen Jesus encounters two paralyzed disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke records that their faces were downcast and they stood still (v17). I believe they were depressed. Afraid. Paralyzed. Easter for them was far from a festive afternoon brunch. Their leader is dead and they are lost. But Jesus comes near these discouraged disciples. If the life of Jesus is supposed to teach us something about God then at the very minimum we learn that God comes near to the fearful and discouraged (just like Psalm 34:8 teaches us). Jesus is not repelled by doubtful and paralyzed disciples but strains to get close to us humans, much like His mission in the incarnation–as one writer put it, “God in our skin.” Jesus doesn’t wait for their theology to get corrected before approaching them on the road. God comes near the hurting even if we don’t believe it.

Jesus teaches us in Luke 24 that God likes to span chasms that separate us from Him physically and metaphysically. The whole reason Jesus came to earth was to get close to His lost humanity and one day Scripture says the chasm will be bridged and redeemed humanity will be with Him forever in a new City on a renewed heaven and renewed earth (Revelation 21).

But we don’t have to wait until Jesus returns to enjoy His presence. He promises to come near right now on the road where you are travelling. If your journey is full of fear, doubt, paralysis or depression, Jesus does not avoid you but rather purposely comes near. That’s one thing Luke 24 teaches us about Jesus.

If you were to describe the road you are on, what words would you use? Do you believe that Jesus is near to you amidst your pain? Would you be willing to model the loving nearness of Jesus this week to someone you encounter on the journey of life? You don’t have to have your life all together in order for God to use you in a powerful way in someone else’s life. Dare to draw near to others–yes, even strangers–and see what the Holy Spirit will do as you simply show up in peoples’ lives. I bet He’ll minister to you as well as you make yourself available to be used this week. Let me know how it goes.