Ministry Update: We’re Moving to Washington

Erin and I are excited to announce that we will be moving to the state of Washington!

In the next couple weeks, I will be assuming the role of the Associate Campus & Worship Pastor at Timberlake Church‘s Issaquah Campus. The church is known in the area for being welcoming to people from all walks of life. Timberlake currently has three campuses, Redmond (main), Duvall and Issaquah, that are all within about a thirty minute drive.

My wife and I will be living in Issaquah Highlands, a community in the city of Issaquah, which is about nineteen miles from downtown Seattle. The city’s county, King County, is known to be home to some of our nation’s biggest companies including Microsoft, Amazon, Costco, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Expedia and Nintendo among others. According to Barna Group, the greater Seattle-Tacoma area is one of the least religious areas in the country. It also the thirteenth most post-Christian cities in America as well.

Although this will place us roughly 1,228 miles away from our families, Erin and I are still thrilled about this opportunity and adventure. We are hopeful, eager, nervous and optimistic about what God has in store for us as we begin this new chapter in Washington.

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I Am Not What I Do

I’m unemployed.

Aside from working a few side jobs here-and-there, I’ve been out of work for nearly four months now. As the weeks continue to pass, the doubts continue to arise:

What am I doing with my life? Am I really called to be a pastor or a leader? Is this really what God wants me to pursue? Or am I wasting my time? Should I just give up?

More and more, I’ve begun to question myself, my calling and my worth as a man of God. As I’ve been realizing and thinking through these insecurities that have recently become apparent, the issue has become clear. This is not a job issue; this is an identity issue.

I Am Not What I Do

For as long as I’ve been a follower of Jesus, I’ve also been a leader in the local church. To me, following Jesus and leading people are synonymous. It’s all I’ve ever known.

In some ways, there can be a tremendous benefit to this mindset. In other ways, it can be dangerous and misleading. Personally, it’s come to be the latter.

Our identity is who we are. Over the years, I’ve come to associate my calling as a pastor with my identity as a Christian. But the two were never meant to be married. Pastor and Author Paul David Tripp wrote about a season in ministry where he felt similarly:

My faith had become a professional calling. It had become my job. My role as a pastor was the way I understood myself. It shaped the way I related to God. It formed my relationships with the people in my life. My calling had become my identity.

Since my faith in Jesus and my work for Jesus had always been married, I mistakenly had been viewing my relationship with God based on both my faith in Jesus and work for Jesus.

My identity as being a Christian was not simply based on what Jesus had already accomplished on our behalf. Instead, I was living as though my identity was also based on my own works. Timothy Keller comments on this issue, “When work is your identity, success goes to your head and failure goes to your heart.” I’ve believed in salvation by faith alone through grace alone and yet have lived as though His grace was not enough.

I’ve been in the middle of an identity crisis.

I Am What He Has Done

When we become saved, God changes who we are. He no longer looks at us based on our own works and failures. Instead, He chooses to look at us and see the perfect Jesus in our place. Paul puts it this way in a letter he wrote to the church in Galatia:

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

We are not what we do. Instead, we are what God has already done through Jesus. As followers of Jesus, our relationship with God and identity of who we are is defined solely based on what Jesus accomplished through His humbling incarnation, His sinless life, His sin-atoning death, and His sin-conquering resurrection and ascension.

You are not defined by what you do but by what Jesus has done.

Who Are You?

What about you? Who or what have you been allowing to influence and define your identity aside from Jesus? Everyone has an identity and everyone allows outside voices to contribute their opinion. Paul David Tripp summarizes this reality:

Either you will be getting your identity vertically, from who you are in Christ, or you will be shopping for it horizontally in the situations, experiences, and relationships of your daily life.

If you’re like me and you’ve been allowing things other than Jesus to define your who you are, here are some great resources to check out:

Movie Spotlight | Exodus: Gods and Kings

Like most movies, there are good and bad elements of Exodus: Gods and KingsHere’s what I enjoyed as well as what disappointed me about the film:

What I Enjoyed
  • Moses at times lacked faith. Too often, I think we portray Old Testament characters as heroes instead of humans. Just as in Noah, I enjoyed seeing Moses wrestle with and doubt God’s calling as well as what God was doing at that point in history.
  • The Hebrews endured much to say the least. I’ve read it many times. I’ve been taught about it on countless occasions. Seeing it is a different story. The film transformed the story from black-and-white to 1080p HD.
  • The plagues among other things looked stunning. Most of the plagues looked incredible. Though I was disappointed with how quickly they were brushed through, I was impressed by how real the plagues appeared.
  • They filled in some blanks. We obviously don’t know everything that happened in the life of Moses. His thoughts. His conversations. All of these and more were not all recorded for us to read and for a reason: they’re not essential to what God wanted us to know about Himself and redemptive history. The movie takes liberties in these blank areas by the filling them in with potential storylines of Moses and his life.
  • The movies led my wife and I back to our Bibles. Even though we got home close to 01:00am on Friday morning after seeing the movie, there was so much the film touched and questions it raised that we were led to search our Bibles for clarifications and answers. We stayed up awhile longer discussing the movie, the Bible and more. I love when a movie can do this.
What Disappointed Me
  • God was played by an eleven-year-old British boy. To give them credit, I personally don’t see any way to portray God in a serious movie that won’t come off as corny of cheesy. To this day, I’ve only enjoyed two portrayals of God in film: Noah‘s God Who spoke through signs rather than audibly and Bruce Almighty‘s God Who was played by Morgan Freeman.
  • The supernatural was minimized to natural if anything. Most of the plagues were limited to natural explanations. Also, a few somewhat minor supernatural elements that were in scripture were completely ignored. Some of them, again, I think if included would be difficult to portray in a non-corny manner.
  • Moses’ brother Aaron had too minor of a role. In reading the book of Exodus, we see that Aaron plays a somewhat major role. In the film, he should basically be considered an extra in the background.
  • The racial bias of Hollywood was on display. Even though the events of the movie took place in the middle east, most if not all of the main roles were played by people who were not of color and possessed British accents. There were many people of color in the film but were simply extras. Director Ridley Scott’s confession of the reality that he would not receive enough funding for a film starring ethnic people sheds light on the racial bias that is still in Hollywood.
  • The story is somewhat boring. While it was interesting to see what the book of Exodus could’ve looked like, the storyline is difficult to make into an entertaining movie.
  • The story doesn’t end. Like most Bible-based films, the storyline often leaves a cliffhanger because it’s one chapter in the story of redemption. While some may be okay with this, it bugs me. I want to see it all. It would be like only watching The Two Towers or The Prisoner of Azkaban but leaving out the rest of the movies.

Stop Buying Slaves

We all buy slaves.

The clothes we wear. The food we eat. The products we use. Each of these and much more often fuel modern-day slavery.

Instead of buying humans from other continents and bringing them to our nation as our ancestors did centuries before, we have opted to bringing our chains to their homelands. Major companies like Walmart, Nike, Folgers, Forever 21 and Old Navy have exported our so-called past ways to third world countries. These corporations and many others force workers, often kidnapped children, into harsh working conditions for dismal pay.

We as consumers, in turn, buy their products for unbelievably inexpensive prices. We refer to them as “deals” and call people who capitalize on those deals, “bargain shoppers.” We celebrate with our friends, stating, “These deals are too good to be true!”

The reality is they are too good to be true. The products we so frugally buy may cost us nearly nothing because they’re costing the people who make them nearly everything, namely their human dignity.

We all buy slaves and we need to stop.

Why Should You Care?

I often hear that it’s too difficult or inconvenient to shop ethically. However, Jesus never said following Him would be easy or convenient. Instead, He said the road was costly and difficult. In the Old Testament, God proclaimed that He wanted “to see a mighty flood of justice” (Amos 5:24). Proverbs 31 encourages us to a similar lifestyle:

Speak out on behalf of the voiceless,
    and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
Speak out in order to judge with righteousness
    and to defend the needy and the poor.

As Christians, the bottom line is that there is no excuse. We are to stand for justice and to care for the least, the last and the lost because our God does.

Which One Are You?

As my wife and I have been studying, thinking through and trying to make adjustments in our own purchasing, we’ve come across three types of people:

  1. The uninformed. Many people simply don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. They assume that the ridiculously inexpensive products they found at Walmart in no way feed off of slavery.
  2. The unwilling (uncaring). Some people flat-out don’t care. They’re willing to crush anyone else if it saves them a dollar.
  3. The unable. Others realistically are in no way able shop in an entirely ethical manner.
What Can You Do?

When we look at the state of 21st century slave labor and the part that each of us plays, it can be overwhelming, even defeating. We can be left thinking, “What could I possibly do to make any significant impact?” The truth is that the end of slavery begins with us. Here are a couple suggestions for shopping in an ethical manner:

  1. Take one step at a time. Begin eliminating the use of slavery by targeting one category of products. Make it a family goal  to purchase ethically in this category next year [food, produce, clothes, furniture, cleaning supplies, hygiene, etc].
  2. Read labels. Is the food or coffee your purchasing certified fair trade, non-GMO and/or organic? Are the shoes or clothes you’re buying ethically made? If there isn’t enough information, put the product back on the shelf and do a two-minute Google or Good Guide search to see how the product was made.
  3. Spend more. Spending less is not always the most ethical or wise option. As noted earlier, although many bargains may benefit us as the consumer, they are often costly to those who made the products.
  4. Shop local, online or secondhand shops. For food, most cities have local farmers markets or stores that source local farmers. For clothes, accessories, bathing supplies and more, there are great companies like:
    • Krochet Kids makes adult and children clothes, accessories, bags and more. Each product is handmade and signed by a lady in Uganda or Peru who crafted it. Each purchase empowers women from these impoverished nations by providing them with decent-paying jobs.
    • Proof Eyewear makes handmade prescription glasses and sunglasses, wallets, lighters and more in the U. S. A portion of the profits are currently funding an eye clinic in India.
    • Also, check out Claro CandlesEthicaThe Giving KeysLand of Thousand Hills Coffee Co, People TreeRaven + Lily, Sevenly, Style with Heart, the marketplace at Toms and Zady. Most of these companies have awesome initiatives like giving back to impoverished communities and empowering women and homeless workers.
  5. Ask honest questions. How can this product be so inexpensive? By purchasing this product, am I causing harm to a person, community or our environment?
It Begins with Us

The end of slavery begins with us. The choices we make on a daily basis by purchasing one product instead of another affect not only those enslaved today but the generations to come.

May we as God’s people bring a mighty flood of justice by speaking up for those who are unable to speak for themselves and ensuring justice for those who are being crushed.

Resources

Five Misconceptions About Christmas

1. Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem the night she would give birth to Jesus. 

Our nativity plays often portray the story as so but in actuality we don’t know this for sure to be true. It is quite possible that the couple arrived in Bethlehem weeks, even months, before she was due (Luke 2:1-7).

2. There was no room in the inn.

We actually don’t know if there even was an inn in Bethlehem.

According to Ben Witherington III, we have no archaeological evidence of this claim nor do we have reason to think there would be an inn in such a small town. Witherington believes that the word kataluma which we’ve commonly translated as inn actually is referring to a guest room. Because of the census decreed by the Roman emperor Augustus, it is likely that Joseph and Mary returned to his home town and stayed awhile with family as did many of his relatives.

3. Jesus was born in a stable.

Again, the gospels never mention this. We simply have believed this because Luke records that Mary laid baby Jesus in a manger (2:7). The reality is that this could’ve taken place in a cave or a barn among other venues.

4. Jesus was born on December 25th.

The likeliness of Jesus being December at all is highly improbable. It is more likely that He was born in Spring, Summer or Fall because the shepherds were in the field at night (2:8). Shepherds did not typically do this in Winter due to the cold conditions.

5. Three wisemen or kings came to visit Jesus at his birth.

  1. We actually don’t know how many wisemen there were. This has simply been assumed because Matthew lists three separate gifts that were presented to Jesus (Matt 2:1-12).
  2. These wisemen were likely astrologers due to their insight into the stars (2:2 & 10).
  3. It is likely that these wisemen did not arrive to see Jesus until He was much older, namely because when they arrived in Jerusalem inquiring about Jesus, it is evident that He has already been born (2:2). Also, because Herod decided to have all the boys two years and younger killed in order to have Jesus killed (2:16), we can assume that he, too, didn’t think Jesus was a baby anymore.

I Don’t Understand Eric Garner

Allow me a few words to clarify, please.

I’m a twenty-three year old male. I grew up with a dad, a mom and a sister in a predominantly caucasian suburban middle class community. Although I am roughly three-quarter Mexican and only one-quarter Hungarian, most would say that I look white.

In school, I was taught about Dr. Martin Luther Kings Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. While growing up, I was led to believe that racism and racial inequality was a story of the past that we should learn from rather than a current reality that we need to be a part of changing.

My church experience thus far (about six years) resembles a similar picture. In the give-or-take three hundred talks or messages I’ve sat through since regularly attending church, I’ve unfortunately heard race brought up maybe two or three times. Some may suggest this is due to the post-racist community we are a part of. Others may state this is simply due to blatant ignorance of a very real issue in our nation.

In high school I witnessed numerous white friends on multiple occasions commit crimes much worse than those that have led to black people being killed. Instead of their lives being robbed from them, these white friends at the most received a slap on the wrist. Personally, I’ve been let off of at least three driving tickets for no reason whatsoever.

If you think I’m the only one whose experienced this, check out the #CrimingWhileWhite hashtag which has been trending on Twitter since last night alongside #ICantBreathe and #EricGarner. There have been nearly 400,000 tweets of white people confessing crimes that they’ve committed that are far worse than that of Eric Garner. There’s also one key aspect to each of these 400,000 tweets: the people are alive to tweet their experiences.

 The Reality

My wife and I have watched the video of Eric Garner being choked to his eventual death countless times. Each time angers and saddens us more and more.

I know roughly what happened in the Eric Garner case, but I am not nearly close to understanding it.

I don’t understand what it’s like to have people constantly assume the worst of me. I don’t understand what it’s like to live in a society that I have hardly any opportunity to better mine and my family’s life. I don’t understand what it’s like to be constantly confronted by authorities like Eric Garner and so many others do. I don’t understand what it’s like to live in fear of those who are called to protect us. I don’t understand what it’s like to have one person, let alone many people in my life that have either been locked up or killed. I cannot even fathom my grandparents and ancestors before them being treated brutally less than human. I cannot comprehend how Eric Garner’s family (and many others with similar stories) wakes up every day, gets out of bed, goes to school or work and so on. With Thanksgiving just passing and Christmas approaching, I mourn for them during this season.

As a white middle-class evangelical, I don’t understand racism or racial inequality at all, and it sickens me.

Yes, I am thankful and grateful that I have not had to endure racism and racial inequality. However, I am disturbed how much I have allowed myself to ignore the reality of present-day racism. As a Christian man, I have failed my fellow brothers and sisters.

What disgusts me even more is that I’m not the only one. Over the past week, the greater majority of my white evangelical friends, Facebook “friends” and Twitter users have revealed their true colors. Not only have I witnessed numerous Christians state their opinion of finding no fault in the police or the judicial system in place, I’ve also viewed the blatant apathy, ignorance and even hatred towards those who are in mourning. I’ve also witnessed the unfortunate lack of awareness or even vocalization for the oppressed.

Were we not commanded to “weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15)?

What Needs to Happen

If you’re like me, lacking in the understanding racial inequality, here are four things we can do to grow in our understanding, care and support of our brothers and sisters of different races:

  1. Kneel. Get on your knees and beg God a) to open the eyes of your heart to see the injustice and wrongs of the world that we may currently not see and b) to “let justice roll down like waters” (Amos 5:24).
  2. Sit. Take time to a) listen to the stories of those in the black community and show that you want to understand not only their history but also their current events; also, b) study our role as Christians in advocating against racism, racial inequality and other social injustices in society (I’ve recommended some resources below).
  3. Stand. Get on your feet and stand up for the oppressed. Write a congressman. Use your voice in social media. Participate in a peaceful protest. Heed the charge of Proverbs 31:8 & 9:

    Speak out on behalf of the voiceless,
        and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
    Speak out in order to judge with righteousness
        and to defend the needy and the poor.

  4. Walk. Don’t simply get caught up in the emotional high of the moment but instead commit to walk through this journey, however long it takes, with our brothers and sisters of all races.

I may not understand everything that my black brothers and sisters have had to endure but I am fighting to know, see, care, mourn, stand and most importantly love more.

Resources

I am especially grateful for white Christian leaders such as Jared C. WilsonRachel Held EvansAlbert Mohler and Russel Moore who have vocalized their disapproval and even disgust of recent events. Voices of all races definitely matter but it is especially important that white leaders and other non-black leaders vocalize their support for the black community.

Twelve Things You May Not Know About the Bible

  1. The Bible simply means the book.
  2. The Bible is divided into two main sections, the Old and the New Testament. The word testament means covenant. Therefore, the Bible is split into two parts, one detailing the old covenant between God and His people and the other the new.
  3. The Bible, though published as one book, is filled with sixty-six separate pieces of writings including narratives, poetry, songs, letters and more.
  4. The writings of the Bible were written over an estimated 1600 year span by roughly forty men, ranging from 1500 BCE until 100 CE.
  5. The first English translation of the Bible was finished in 1382 CE by John Wycliffe.
  6. The first printed Bible was completed in 1454 CE by Johannes Gutenberg.
  7. Chapters weren’t introduced to the Bible until 1238 CE by Cardinal Hugo de S. Caro. Verses, then, were not added until 1551 CE by Robertus Stephanus.
  8. The Bible has been translated in its entirety into roughly 500 languages. Also, more than 2,000 languages have at least one book of the Bible translated into their language.
  9. The Bible is the best selling book of all-time, selling an estimated 5 billion copies.
  10. The Bible is known to be the most shoplifted book in the world.
  11. The King James Version of the Bible had many flaws, altering numerous key words (Acts 12:4) as well as adding phrases (1 John 5:7) that were not included in original manuscripts.
  12. Approximately 257 idioms of the KJV translation have become a common part of the English language.