Go on a Missions Trip…

missionstripI was 17 years old when I went on my first international missions trip to Panama to do medical work in some extremely remote places along the gulf coast of the narrow country. It was this experience, in part, that compelled me not only to ministry, but specifically toward working to reach the least reached. A missions trip literally changed the course of my life. Then God called us to plant a church in the heart of Silicon Valley. Not exactly the same kind of jungle – and yet, every spectrum of ethnic and social diversity from around the planet is found within a small radius of the elementary school our church plant currently meets in. Which brings me to this past summer…

Last month, I had the privilege of taking two other folks with me from LifeCity – Robert Sanders and Liz Reyes – to join our friends at Ocean View Church of San Diego for a missions trip across the border, into Tijuana, Mexico. For years, Ocean View has been taking teams of people into Mexico to work with orphanages, provide food, give to communities and families in ways they seldom get to experience, and most importantly – share the gospel in meaningful, personal ways. They like to call it “Beans, Rice, and Jesus Christ!” And for us, it was the beginning of a vision God began in my heart as a teenager in Panama.

Enoc Rivera, a Mexican-raised pastor on staff at OVC, has been preparing with his church family to move across the border sometime in 2017 with another family from the church, in order to plant a daughter church in the middle of the impoverished colinas (“hills”) outside the city of Tijuana. I personally made it my mission to bug him the entire week we were with him in the country, trying to get a grasp on the calling and challenges they were stepping into – and how we as a church plant that received support from OVC can now return the favor by partnering with their newest mission to spread the gospel into Mexico.

Sometime this next year, we anticipate having Enoc and his wife Betty, up to Santa Clara to join us and share the vision directly with our LifeCity peeps… and yes, we’re planning on going back to Tijuana next summer with them, hopefully with six to a dozen of our folks this time.

When you see the overwhelming need, disadvantages, and living conditions these kids and families accept as everyday life – and then match that with the joy and gratitude they express for being the hands and feet of Christ to them – it’s indescribable. And all of these emotions are just the tip of the iceberg when you realize that because you took the time and energy to go on this trip, God was using you to show His love toward them. It’s a tidal wave of experiences that will move you long after the trip is over.

I’ve shamelessly ripped the mantra that Ocean View uses to express their commitment to sending people to do ministry across borders: “Go on a missions trip – it’ll change your life.”

It changed my life as a teenager 17 years ago this summer. And because of that experience for me, I’m now a pastor getting to lead others into the same kind of life-changing experiences. It is my sincerest prayer that one day, we’ll be sending dozens or hundreds of men and women into ministry here, near, and far away just like God did in my life… just like he’s doing in Enoc’s life.

Go on a missions trip… it will change your life.

Blessings,
Pastor John

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They were People

PeopleI’ve deliberately taken my time responding to the Orlando attack this past Sunday. Perhaps that was a mistake – people need leaders to be quick to speak truth and call out wrong, and speak up to our collective potential. And in the absence of me saying anything, plenty of others did and do continue to fill the airwaves and social media with their condolences, political opinions, and even accusations and rants. So I will respond to this whole thing by briefly addressing the handful of issues that have come up from this.

  1. Gays. I’m sorry that this happened, and that it was targeted toward people based on their sexual orientation. I’m even more sorry that a very small number of people claiming to be Christian are celebrating the fact that this happened at a gay nightclub. I openly condemn their evil, malicious hatred as anti-Christian, anti-Biblical, and anti-Christ, and I share no part of them.
  2. Islam. A radical Muslim hell-bent on taking American lives was to blame for this. On behalf of all of my Muslim friends and neighbors who have had meals with me and my family, and even visited our church and Bible studies… I’m sorry that someone of your faith killed innocent people. You are not guilty by association any more than I am with the previously mentioned “Christians.” Islamic terrorism is a problem, and I’m grateful that several of you have directly agreed with that. If it were “Christians” shooting up bars, streets, and shopping centers I would call it “Christian” terrorism and condemn those who did it as not Christian at all.
  3. Gun control. I am 100% committed to the 2nd Amendment. And not for hunting purposes… The 2nd Amendment was specifically intended to give the government pause before attempting to strip it’s citizens of their rights. The 2nd Amendment also includes the right to form and maintain militia… those are citizen-run military units. We’re not just talking about hunting, home security, or recreational target shooting. We’re talking about keeping the country under state/citizen control, versus federal control. But we also must take long hard looks at how easy it is for a terrorist to acquire the tools – in this case guns – to attack our nation with. I’m for gun rights. I was raised to believe that “gun control” meant being sure of your target before squeezing. But if there are ways to maintain our 2nd Amendment rights, while making it more difficult for terrorists to gain access to them, we should be willing to have those conversations. And it’s not anti-American to do so.
  4. People. Ok, so this last one is not talked about as much this week which is why I’m talking about it and titling this post after it. As humans, we like labels. Yes, they form stereotypes that are often false, but they also help us understand how things are in relation to us. So it was a “Muslim” who shot and killed “gays”. And this allows us to vomit opinions about Muslims, guns, and the LGBT. But for just a second, can we fall back to the big picture? It was a man… a person. Who walked into a night club to shoot and successfully kill 49 other people. It was people – by the hundreds – who formed lines wrapping around blood donation centers in Orlando to help other people they had never met. Those people – like each person reading this post – had lives, hopes, merits, regrets, and aspirations. They had friends. Families. Forget your opinion for just a second about what you think regarding someone’s lifestyle, politics, or firearms… That could have been your family member. For 49 families, it was.  For just a minute, stop the “yeah, but…” rhetoric and watch this video…

May God bless and watch over Orlando in this time of pain and anger. May many find hope and healing in Christ despite this tragedy. And may the local churches in the area lead the charge for doing so.

You may now return to your political opinions and rants.

Blessings,
Pastor John

PS… If you have friends in the Orlando area looking for a good church family to lean on, here are a few to point them toward:

Hope Church
Cornerstone Church
World Changing Church
Crosspointe Church

Why we sing in church

singChurch worship gatherings are one of very few environments in America anymore, where corporate singing is encouraged. Outside of “Take Me out to the Ball Game” in the middle of the 7th inning, almost no one sings together in our culture much anymore. Then there’s church…

We get together weekly with a guy and a guitar who has a whole band with him, and nice backgrounds on a huge screen, showing the lyrics of every song being sung – all with the expectation that we’re to join in the singing.

So I thought I would address why we do something so bizarre in other public gatherings…

It’s not a concert. 
At a concert, you have the performers and you have the audience. And the audience is there for the performers, and the performers are there for the audience. In corporate worship, there is a third element. Most Christians get this, but get it mixed up. That third element is the catalyst, the one who is prompting the worship of the performers.
Most feel that God is that catalyst, the people up front are the performers, and those of us listening are the audience. But the truth is, God is the audience – the One who receives the worship. The leader up front is not the performer, he/she is the catalyst – the one calling and prompting others to worship. Meaning that the people – you and I, sitting in the seats – are the performers, motivated by those leading to offer our hearts of worship to God through song, prayer, and gratitude to God for who He is and all He does.

It’s emotional and intellectual
Jesus said in John 4 that those whom God is seeking to worship Him must worship Him, “in spirit and in truth.” Worship to God is intended to be spirit, and truth – with the heart and with the mind. At LifeCity, we try to lead others in worship through music that is solidly truthful and consistent with the teaching of Scripture, but also soul-stirring, bringing out emotions conducive when offering our hearts and lives before the presence of God. Truth without spirit in our worship is stoic and soul-sucking. Spirit without truth is a superficial frenzy. Both unbalanced perspectives on worship are cheap counterfeits of what God intended for us. So we seek to worship Him in spirit and truth.

There’s three types of worship songs
Ephesians 5:19, “…speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Speaking, and making melody in your hearts to the Lord…”

Psalms. Psalms, like that of the book of the Bible with the same name, are simply God’s Word set to music. The book of Psalms was primarily used as a song book for worship in the temple of God. But in general, a psalm is any of GOd’s inspired word – the Bible – put to music. Much of our music includes quotes taken straight from God’s Word.

Hymns. Most people are confused about this one, because it gets equated with a specific genre of songs that were written between 50 and 500 years ago. But a hymn is actually jut any song that is intended to directly address God. Not just a song written about God, but a song written, played, and sung to God as the intended audience. Because of this, most songs that we sing are hymns – just, not the ones they might be singing at your grandma’s church. And just so we’re clear, we do have grandma’s at LifeCity, and they love our music.

Spiritual songs.
The verse in Ephesians encouraged us to sing “to yourselves” meaning to one another. A spiritual song is a song in which the lyrics are still completely consistent with the teachings of Scripture, but the intended audience is other believers, not God directly. Last Sunday, we sang “O, Clap Your Hands” as our opening song. While that song is directly from the book of Psalms, it’s also a spiritual song. We were not singing to God asking Him to clap His hands… we were singing to one another encouraging all people to get excited about coming into God’s presence for worship.

Other spiritual songs are intended to lift up each other to trust in God during difficult times, or to speak life, do good, serve others, forgive, etc.

We aim for excellence
I am so grateful for the ministry Christian Luper, our worship leader, brings to LifeCity. We’re blessed to have talented, passionate people who lead people, in spirit and truth, to sing and praise God through music, and are also encouraging people trying to live it in their own lives. Why do we have drums, electric guitars, and bass guitars, and an organ synthesizer playing in our worship gathering? Because we have a team that can blend the melodies and harmonies of various instruments together for an excellent sound that is an effort to give God our best. In 1 Chronicles 15, the choir director of the temple was chosen to his position, “because he was skillful”. He was uniquely gifted to lead music. All of us are called to worship, some are called to lead. Like the preaching of the Word, we try to only put people in our worship team who have been gifted by God to lead in that capacity, because they are skillful. I’m grateful that the people who lead us to worship through music each week have talent that is only outmatched by their hearts.

So when you come to LifeCity for a Sunday, you’ll see why we love our music. It’s one of the best parts of our Sunday as we lift our voices together and acknowledge God for who He is and all He’s done for us.  If you are uncomfortable with that, no sweat! You don’t need to feel compelled to join us in sining. Feel free to check it out and see why we love our church so much. And if you do feel like it, join us in a song that seems to speak to your soul. It feels good! And if you think you sing bad, don’t worry. There’s enough of us singing, you won’t feel like you’re standing out off key! 😉

Blessings,
Pastor John