Life for Leaders: Daily devotional resource

last supper stained glass

I’m a new guest contributor to this fantastic resource called Life for Leaders. You can sign up for this daily devotional and be encouraged by a team of incredible leaders including Dr. Mark Roberts and Uli Chi.

As we head into this lenten season I hope you will find my first attempt to write for a broader audience meaningful and helpful for your daily leadership challenges. Tim

http://depree.org/god-can-use-our-brokenness/

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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

Something to Smile About

Avery drew her first picture of her “Papa” all by herself with just a little encouragement from yours truly (that’s a belly button on my body in case you were wondering if she was drawing a mole of some kind). She’s pretty proud of herself as you can see and her Papa is impressed even though my arms are coming out of my chin!

I thought I’d bring a little Lenten joy amidst the ashes of our lives, reminding myself at least, that God’s beautiful and creative Spirit resides in two-year-olds trying to draw for the first time. I know I need a little help seeing God’s presence living in a big city with a lot of brokenness that surrounds me.

I’m not sure how this becomes a post about Palm Sunday or Holy Week or Lent (perhaps posting a cute picture is the main reason for this post) but it is about celebrating the good things of God this Lenten season right in the middle of our difficult situations.

I encouraged our people at Union Church in downtown L.A. during Lent to remember that amidst the ashes of our lives that we look forward to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a real historical event that matters because it means that even though we are surrounded by ashes–relationships dissipating,  living in broken cities, struggling with finances, faith dismantling–we have hope because Jesus has the last word over death, destruction and dismay.

I’m simply enjoying a little beauty that God has brought my way today and celebrating the fact that our King Jesus gave everything so we could embrace His beauty and goodness.

I hope you have a wonderful Holy Week and Easter!

 

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.

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.