A man pushed to the limits

It appears that viral stories don’t only belong to the sports world (remember Jeremy Lin?) or world criminals (Kony 2012 can be seen Sunday night March 18).

Now the business world has its own Twitter frenzy over the very public resignation of a key executive at Goldman Sachs, a man named Greg Smith. It’s already been parodied by The Daily Mash, likening the resignation of this multi-millionaire in the 1% Club to Darth Vader resigning from the Empire. But let’s listen for a moment and assume that Mr. Smith has something to speak into any organization, whether a business, a church, a not-for-profit or even a family. How do you know when the culture of the organization has gone awry? What would it take for you to confront your bosses, take a stand and even quit your position for moral reasons? What are the toxic areas in your workplace or organization? Are there any unhealthy patterns in your family or circle of friends that if they were public, you and others would be greatly embarrassed?

To make it more personal, ask yourself: What would it take to push me to take such a public stand against a wrong that I perceive? What are the consequences of me taking this stand? What are the consequences of me being silent? Do I have a right to speak even knowing that my own life is full of contradictions and imperfections?

Jesus calls His followers in Matthew 5:14 the “light of the world”. Where is God calling you to shine a light in your workplace, organization, church and family? That’s why knowing and living the 7-11 Principle is so important because without this clear call to live a life to bless the city, it’s easy to lose focus and think your job, art or circle of friends are all of your own doing and meant to bless your own life when we have a responsibility to help cities, organizations and relationships flourish the way God intended.

I hope you’ll take time to read Greg Smith’s letter and even the Darth Vader spoof and ask yourself some of these questions. Take a stab at writing your own secret letter that only you will see about some wrongs you know need to be righted and pray that you’ll have the courage to do something about it.

The Princess of San Pedro Street

I just made that name up right now and my friend might kill me for it. You see, we’re just building a friendship recently because we both have a concern for our neighborhood. The Princess is a local resident who moved into a downtown loft that is adjacent to Skid Row and I am a pastor whose church in Little Tokyo is also adjacent to Skid Row. We’ve only met once but our budding friendship is not because we necessarily share the same faith (which I’m unsure of) or have all the same values (also unsure of). But we do share one thing in common: we want to see our neighborhood flourish.

The main thing I know about The Princess is that she REALLY cares about people and the neighborhood and is willing to take action to make the streets a healthier and more beautiful place for everybody. I used to call her the Tree Lady because she is a guerrilla gardener. That means she goes around and finds ugly areas around the neighborhood and plants gardens and trees there instead, with or without permission from the owners or the city. She got the city to put in dozens of more trash cans so that the local residents–loft dwellers and homeless alike–have more receptacles so trash doesn’t end up on the streets (yes, people who are homeless use trash cans as well!). She makes friends with those in her building and on the streets as well as various organizations with differing views. She enlists everybody’s help to beautify the neighborhood. The Tree Lady just didn’t seem to fit her essence. But “The Princess” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

LApastor and The Princess are joining forces to help the neighborhood flourish anyway we can.

Visit her page and let her know LApastor gave her a shout-out.

Why would you sue somebody for helping the homeless?

That’s exactly what LA CAN is doing, an organization that opposes the work of Union Rescue Mision. URM’s CEO, Andy Bales, blogs about it here. Even though URM is one of the most efficient organizations when it comes to stretching each dollar to maximize the number of homeless men, women and children it serves, there are still service costs that are underwritten largely by generous private donors like you (not government money). But URM launched a bold and controversial Gateway program last April that has shown some great results in less than one year. I’m not saying every non-profit should follow URM’s lead in charging its guest to help underwrite services (some of which goes into the individuals own savings account, by the way) but I applaud ingenuity and experimentation that seeks to give dignity to those whom they serve. What URM is doing is adding to the conversation about how to end homelessness,  empower people to change their lives and launch people into independent lives free of addictions and destructive patterns. What they are doing is helping the neighborhood by working to get people who are homeless off the streets and into permanent housing. They do this tirelessly week in and week out.

But LA CAN doesn’t think what URM is doing is good and they certainly have a right to their own opinion and to advocate for what they think is in the best interests of the homeless population. I hope somehow all the different constituencies can sit with community leaders, activists, residents, artists and business owners and discuss how to create safe, healthy and generative communities that benefit everybody. Personally, I think organizations like URM are doing good and should be applauded for their experimentation and commitment to serve thousands of people who are homeless everyday. I personally have witnessed the dignity they try to instill in those they serve. I’m assuming LA CAN is doing good as well but hope they will see things differently and decide to focus their energies on eradicating homeless in Los Angeles instead of throwing stones at others who have the same goal.

As someone who’s church is adjacent to Skid Row and has homeless friends join us each week at the Bridge at Union Church, I know the importance of having safe, clean and healthy environments for people to find restoration and hope. Not every organization agrees as to how to do this but suing URM–an organization our church is partnering with–isn’t going to help anybody.  And it doesn’t promote helpful conversation between groups who are each trying to serve the homeless in their own ways.


Entrepreneur. Social Justice Advocate. World Changer. Survivor.

That describes my friend, Steve Hardgrave, who’ll be speaking at a luncheon in downtown L.A. hosted by the church I work for, Union Church.

Six times a year we bring together those who live, love or work in downtown L.A. to discuss how we can integrate our faith and work. With 500,000 people working downtown everyday, this is a strategic opportunity to begin a movement of Christians who are purposely seeking to bless the city in which they live. Steve wants to help us take action on ways we can do that in our everyday lives.

Steve has spent significant time both in Mexico and India using his skills and resources to develop new financial networks that give access to the poorest in the world. He is a committed Christian who has worked with at-risk youth in Santa Monica, helped develop a thriving college ministry in L.A., is an active leader in the social enterprise movement, and is a pragmatic dreamer who is actively changing the world. I get to be his friend. You’ll quickly become his friend once you meet him.

The great thing about Steve is that he believes that you can change your world right where you’re at. He sees the beauty and brokenness of Los Angeles and gets excited just imagining what a handful of Christians can do if they got together and work with everybody regardless of faith in order to purposefully bless the city.

Each week that I share at our new 11am worship service I say that we are a church seeking to “Love God and Bless the City.” One reason I think that God has called my family to serve in L.A.–and particularly in downtown–is that there are 500,000 people who converge on downtown everyday who have the potential to impact our city in a positive way. These luncheons are geared to helped Christians consider that God has brought them to L.A. for a purpose to bless the city, not necessarily to bless themselves.

So I hope you’ll come if you are the Southern California area that day. You’ll be glad you joined us.

Click here to sign up for this FREE event.

Christmas Worship in Downtown L.A.

This Sunday morning I will be at Union Church leading our Bridge Service on Christmas Day, the culmination of our Advent season. It will be a special day not only because it’s Christmas morning and my parents, sister and in-laws will be in attendance, but also our friends from the Anne Douglas Center at the L.A. Mission will be worshiping with us. What an honor it is to lead a church that is multi-ethnic, multi-generational and multi-socioeconomic right in the heart of L.A. It truly reflects the diversity of downtown L.A. and the kingdom of God where one day all the nations will gather at the Second Advent of Christ.

If you’re in town, consider joining our diverse family to celebrate the birth of the True King of the world and worship Jesus, God wrapped-in-our-skin, who came 2000 years ago on Christmas.

Downtown Professionals Luncheon #2

A couple months ago I hosted the first Downtown Professionals Luncheon at Union Church for those who live, love or work in downtown L.A. I didn’t know I would have several drive long distances joining the 70 in attendance who had backgrounds in business, law, education, art, social work, entrepreneurship and not-for-profit organizations that service downtown and the greater L.A. area. No matter if people drove a long distance or walked from their offices, all had an enriching time learning about the 7-11 Principle and how God has specifically called them to seek the blessing of the city.

Some Christians think that the only way to stay true to their faith is to remove themselves from the city and culture that God has placed them in. Other Christians assume that if they want to engage the city then they will have to give into the larger cultural values that might be antithetical to the gospel. But Jeremiah 29 says that God wants us to engage the city but stay true to Him. As Tim Keller says, “Your work matters to God.  God matters to your work.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, we will have a second luncheon to continue a discussion of how God wants to integrate your faith and work. Please RSVP and join dozens of other Christians who are seeking to Love God and Bless the City right where God has placed them.




A Word for Kiersten and Blake

I had the privilege of officiating the wedding for Blake Robertson and Kiersten Johnson last week. Using the Colossians 2 passage they chose, I shaped a message about the new song they would be writing with God’s help as they become husband and wife. Below is what I shared with them as their family and friends listened:

The Scripture read today talks about singing. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Singing has always been central to followers of God throughout the centuries. Not only are we instructed to sing songs about God and to God, I believe we are to remember that God himself is a singer. Zephaniah 3:17 says that God sings over you. That means God is a singer. He likes to hear music and He likes to make music.  I believe that God had you in mind when He made the world. Before you were born, you were already on His mind.

Listen to these lyrics from the song “I Will Show You Love” by our friend Kendall Payne that will be performed in just a few minutes:

I am on your side
Though the wind and waves
Beat against your faith
You were on my mind
When the world was made
Trust in me my child

This song you have chosen is about God’s unbreakable love for you and how He had you on His mind at the creation of this world.

I believe that at creation God sang the world into being. Genesis 1 should be read as a song. In fact, all of creation is His song. Ephesians 2 says that each of you are a song of God, literally a work of art shaped by God. So when you come together as husband and wife you aren’t just marrying your best friend, you are marrying a work of art! Now sometimes you won’t see your spouse as a work of art and instead you’ll think you married a piece of work! When the dirty clothes don’t land in the clothes hamper and the toothpaste isn’t squeezed properly and one of you would rather go out with your friends instead of hanging out at home…it’s hard to remember that each of you is a work of art and not a piece of work!

But the privilege you get as husband and wife is to help your spouse discover how beautiful they are in God’s eyes and help them to see the better self that God has intended them to be. We’ll never be perfect this side of heaven, but God wants to keep shaping each of you more and more into His likeness: more compassionate towards the poor, more giving with your resources, more ready to forgive, more courageous to speak up against injustice. Though we’ll never attain perfection this side of heaven, as each of you help the other to remember they are a work of art each day, you’ll help them become the person that God had always intended them to be.

Marriage is a great shaper of our lives and you each get the privilege of seeing the beauty of who God has intended your spouse to be and then work hard to help your spouse become that person: that person who is more loving, kind, giving, creative, free and selfless. Marriage is the great furnace of God’s refining process.

Your job as husband and wife is to see your spouse as God’s work of art, God’s beautiful song. Your job is to help your spouse remember that they are God’s song. Because when you forget how loved you are in Christ, you’ll start trying to feel loved by other things. When you forget that you are a beautiful song of God then you’ll start looking for beauty and strength from money and achievement and impressing people. When you forget you’re loved by God you’ll try to win arguments instead of making a compromise. You’ll demand your rights instead of seeking the best for the marriage. When you forget you are God’s work of art you’ll start trying to make your job or your bank account or your body or your resume make you feel important and beautiful again.

But when you remember that you are God’s work of art then you are already beautiful! You are already eternally significant! You are already precious in God’s sight. So don’t let your spouse forget that they are a work of art in God’s eyes, that they are a beautiful song of God that will one day be complete when Christ returns. Your job is to remember amidst all the imperfections that your spouse is a song of God that God has created and that one day will be completed when Jesus returns.

Blake and Kiersten each one of you is unique with different family histories and different stories that make you who you are. As you come together as one you are combining two different songs. It’ll take time to create your own song but know that God is the great songwriter and He knows how to make it all fit together. Bear with each other as you figure out what key to sing in, as you decide which lyrics to keep and which ones to add and which ones to change. Healthy marriages don’t try to force one spouse to fit into the other’s song structure. Healthy marriages seek to make their own unique song from the lyrics and melodies of their own individual song. And God will help you write this new song as You continue to listen to Him, finding your identity not in what you do or what you have or what people say about you but who you are in Christ. You are making a brand new song so enjoy the process and give grace to one another as you stumble along. Enjoy marriage and all the growth that God is going to bring to you through becoming husband and wife.

Let’s pray:

God thank you for bringing Kiersten and Blake together this day. Each is a beautiful song of Yours and when they come together help them to write a brand new song as husband and wife, one flesh from two people united by Your Spirit. Amen.


One Question to Consider for the Next 30 Days

Meeting with a group of leaders recently who love, live or work in downtown Los Angeles, I asked them to consider this one question: Why are you in LA?

Lots of people to move to LA for the weather, to make money, to get famous, for a job and for many other good reasons to help improve and further their life. But Christians must consider if God brought them here not to further their lives but to further God’s kingdom. Perhaps God has brought you here, not to make your name great, but to make His name great. This led to three sub-questions about how Union Church can partner with leaders in LA:

1. How can Union Church help you bless the city?

2. How can you help Union Church to bless city?

3. What can we do together to bless the city?

But the essential question to ask yourself is: Why are you in LA? I challenged the group to take the next 30 days and ask themselves this simple question. Bring this question before God. Ask other people about it. Journal about it. Facebook it. Reflect on this very very simple question about why you live where you live and to consider if you live there for a greater purpose than pursuing your own dreams. Perhaps God has placed you here for a purpose beyond your limited vision yet using every aspect of your skills, education, network and resources.

At Union Church we are trying to ask questions that aren’t focused on blessing the church but how we can bless the city and the neighborhoods that we find ourselves in.

If we truly believe that God has called us to the cities in which we live then we begin to have the perspective the God hasn’t brought me to this place to bless myself and to make my name great but to bless the city and make His name great. We begin to get a new set of eyes for our neighborhood. Our eyes hear things differently. Our feet take us to different places. We might even get to know the names of our neighbors!

So many come to cities to get something from it but Jeremiah 29:7 tells us to be part of the prospering and blessing of the city, bringing the holistic shalom of God into every ordinary aspect of life.

This is the 7-11 Principle that I’ve shared about before. “You don’t get 11 until you do 7.” You don’t get the blessing of God until you are a blessing to your city.

God blesses those who bless the city in which they live.

So what brought you to the city in which you live? Perhaps God has brought you there, not just so you could advance your life, but so that you could advance God’s kingdom and make His name great.

Will you join with us the next 30 days in asking why God has placed you in this very city you’ve found yourself in? Perhaps God has an idea He wants to share with you about why He’s placed you in this city at this time with your unique talents, resources and connections.

Asking this one question could change your life and it will probably change your city for the better.


Sermon video from speaking at Bel Air

I had the privilege of returning to my “home” church in Los Angeles, Bel Air Presbyterian Church, where my wife, Kati, and I helped minister to hundreds of college students and young adults during our time there. Pastor Mark Brewer and I did a team-teaching format at all three services talking about God’s heart for the city.

Tim speaking with Mark Brewer at Bel Air Aug. 14, 2011

Join us in blessing L.A.

Every week it seems as if God brings someone else into our lives to join us in this adventure to bless the neighborhoods of downtown L.A. and see God’s blessing emanate throughout Los Angeles. Just this past week our family had the privilege to getting to know several women from the Anne Douglas Center at the Los Angeles Mission who are going to join our faith community as we continue to grow as a diverse community reflecting God’s family. God has also brought several leaders into our lives that want to join us in what God is already up to in the city: educators, community leaders, counselors, interior designers, lawyers and entrepreneurs who want to use their time and resources to bless the great city of L.A. Perhaps God is calling you to join us in this work. We’d love to build a friendship with you and talk about how we can do this together.

We’re having a luncheon at Union Church where I pastor on Wednesday August 31 at 12pm. If you live, work and/or have a heart to bless downtown L.A. then please consider joining us. You can RSVP here.