Advent Embodied

Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your souls and everyone had a great Fall season. As Costco, Target and Safeway start early with the Christmas decorations I feel it necessary to start early as well on talking about the birth of Christ.

What if I told you attending a local church in person is the most Christmas thing you can do? Yes, church commitment is how you get into the holly jolly spirit! No, this is not some cheap way to hit you over the head with a guilt trip in order for you to get to church. Rather this is a way to invite you into a deeper way in celebrating the birth of Christ.

Showing up in person at church is Christmas. And when I say showing up, I mean committing to a church where the pastor knows you and you know the pastor and where other members know not just your name but your birthday, family dynamic and your personal Jesus testimony. Notice I said commitment and not attendance. Attendance is fickle, self-centered, shallow and impersonal. Yet it’s also really easy and convenient. But a problem with merely just attending church wherever you feel like it, you’ll lack the spiritual accountability that’s needed for your faith to grow in a healthy deep way. Commitment to church is how to celebrate Christmas all year because it’s how to be like Jesus. Did Jesus just attend earth? Of course not. He did more than just visit us for a Sunday. He committed to us with all of his life. From his birth to death, he was all in. That’s the essence of what Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8 when he says Christ came to us as a servant and obeyed God’s redemptive call to the point of death. Jesus committed to us so that we would receive the gift of salvation. Imagine you committing to a church to the point of your own death? What if every member in every church viewed and committed to a church that way? I would theorize the church in America would be in a better place than it is. Because Jesus committed to us by coming in our flesh and blood, we ought to do the same with one another.

At the heart of Christmas we see the DNA of church commitment: embodiment. What makes Christmas so special is for the first time God took on human form. Our Christian theology teaches us Jesus has always existed being God but at Christmas he manifested himself as a human embryo. This means prior to the first Christmas Jesus was spirit, without a body. Up to that point, maybe you can say he was not as fully committed. But than he showed up. Not through Zoom, not sitting in his car watching on a screen, not by reading the church bulletin from his heavenly home. He visited us in person. That’s the meaning of the incarnation. God became equal to us in our reality, our weakness, strengths, limitations, struggles, joys, suffering and death. God incarnated himself in Christ’s body to our world so that we might be saved. Thus we incarnate our bodies to the worlds of others. We get involved. We humble ourselves to be equal with everyone. No matter what status, privilege, wealth or benefits we have, we lower ourselves and commit to one another by showing up in person serve and love the church. This is why screen time discipleship is hogwash! When you watch a church service online instead of in person you are essentially undermining the Christmas story. You are telling God and others that our bodily impact and gift is not important which is totally against the incarnation. It’s a tragedy that going to church “weekly” is now considered unimportant, legalistic or burdensome for today’s Christians, when for the early Church, it was the natural expectation and easy standard for all professing believers. 

Youversion’s Bible app verse of the day videos are the equivalent to drinking a Slurpee to satisfy your thirst. It’s tasty for the moment and briefly stops dehydration but there are zero nutrients and it doesn’t satiate. Spiritual formation through “screen time” that’s absent from embodiment in community and accountability is anathema to Scripture. Your faith needs a real pastor (not online preaching) over your life to nurture your soul with tender love and care alongside holy scripture and surrounding saints. The fact that many Christians in a post Covid world think virtual church is the same as in-person worship proves how utterly deceived and enslaved we are by consumerism, individualism and technology. Drop the Slurpee and drink the living water from the God who is embodied in Christ and with the whole town of Samaria. 

Furthermore, when the apostle Peter says the Church is “the priesthood” of all believers (1 Pet 2:5), he DOES NOT mean we are all each our own priests to spiritually nurture ourselves in private and be absent in a local church. It means we’re each other’s priests! Your faith is dependent on others. A Christian not committed to a church is not only a spiritual contradiction but abysmal theology. If the church is his body, which it is, and Christ is the head, which he is, we have no business as a member of that body to foolishly assume we can be cut off from it and thrive. It may be possible to attend church and not be a healthy Christian, but it is impossible to be a healthy Christian and not attend church. To be cut off from his body is to be cut off from the Head. Essentially to say “I love Jesus but church isn’t for me” is actually saying, “I don’t love Jesus.” It’s shocking and tragic how many Christians who feel that way don’t know what they’re truly saying. Many Christians will say, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian,” and they are right. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) and not by anything we can do, like going to church. However you also don’t have to go home to be married but keep staying away from your spouse, and eventually the marriage will be affected and most likely end. Reading your Bible by yourself whenever you want, texting your friend about Galatians and listening to praise songs on Spotify is not discipleship. Faith is affirmed and cultivated in the body of Christ. As the late Eugene Peterson said, “Going to church does not make you a Christian but there is no other place to be fully Christian.”

Disclaimer: this entry does not apply to those who can’t join a local church due to vocational limitations or health concerns. God allows special graces to such members of the body who are disjointed by our post Eden world conditions. 

Pastor Aaron

(:^)

The Pseudoscience of Pneumatology

Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your souls. As we close our summer sermon series on the gifts of the spirit I want to share some footnotes on the matter.

The theological term for studying the Holy Spirit is called pneumatology (pronounced new-ma-tology). A plethora of scholars and Bible nerds have sought to understand the Spirit’s nature which we are all grateful for, but I believe pneumatology is a pseudoscience because every scientific exploration of the Spirit will fall short and to claim predictability and perfect accuracy is false. Yet for loves sake we attempt to understand and categorize the working power of the third person of the trinity with mystery. The sermon series and this blog entry is a joyful exploration into the mystery of the godhead.

Regarding church relations, I like what former Anglican honcho Rowan Williams said, “The model of human existence, in the Body of Christ, is one in which each person is both needy and needed, both dependent on others and endowed with gifts for others.” This sheds light on how spiritual gifts operate: they are relationally interdependent at their core. You can’t use your spiritual gift by yourself. It would be strange if you tried to do the tango alone on the dance floor; you would come off as weird and not understanding how the dance works. This means we discover our gifts by committed relationships at church. Avoid the short-cuts, like spiritual gift tests. Yes, they can help, but they often cause people to focus on the wrong thing like the gift itself. A typical problem we face is we don’t desire to strengthen other people’s faith, instead we only focus on our own needs and our own gifts. We don’t need any more help in this department as we are naturally self-centered. This was the problem in the Corinth church, they focused on their own gifts, who got what and how powerful they were rather than the needs of people, causing immaturity and division. Gift tests can reinforce people’s egotism as they work like self-fulfilling prophecies. We answer questions according to how we like to view ourselves, not as we really are. This causes Christians to miss learning new things about themselves, the things we can only learn through the rough and tumble of relationships. Gift tests are not necessarily wrong, and at times can guide us to knowing our gifts but they are a bit like the answers at the back of a math book. They might give you the right answer, but using them to avoid working out the solution misses the point of the exercise. Gifts are not discovered by an algorithm of multiple choice but by service in relationships. It’s through the natural processes of loving and serving the church body (wherever the body needs it) that a person’s gifts will gradually be discovered. The first step is to cultivate a right heart to serve the need, not to seek a power ability for your own gain. 

Peter in 1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The point of gifts is to give to others, not for our own gain or agenda. Gifts are for others because that’s the nature of the Spirit, it’s relational, and this is Peter’s underlining point. We are not to focus on finding our gifts and using them for ourselves. What if the hand only worked alone and didn’t respond to the entire body? What if your foot decided to not move when you wanted to get up? When one part gets overly emphasized, getting all the attention or goes solo, the whole malfunctions and becomes unhealthy. Its actually a sign of something wrong with your foot or eye if you have to consciously focus on it and try to make it work. When you focus solely on your spiritual gift and trying to make it work, it’s either not your gift or you are overusing it at the expense of others.

A final thought to add is spiritual gifts are not the same as natural talents. While natural talents are God-given, they have nothing to do with a person being a Christian, or being a member of the body of Christ. There is no such thing as the spiritual gift of fixing automobiles, gourmet cooking, telling jokes, painting pictures, or playing basketball. However, while spiritual gifts and natural talents are different, they can be used together. For example, a person who has the spiritual gift of mercy, could minister to the body of Christ by repairing a single parent’s automobile, cooking for someone in need, using humor to encourage a believer going through a difficult time, painting and selling pictures, giving proceeds to missions, or using their platform of sports to tell others about the love of Christ. This must be said clearly, spiritual gifts are spiritual. That means before you were a Christian you didn’t have them. Natural talent does not mean they also are your spiritual gifts; that would contradict Paul’s words in First Corinthians. I say this because a lot of Christians make this mistake. They think, “Oh because you are great communicator and charismatic, you must have the gift of teaching.” Nope. “Oh well you’re naturally good at organizing and planning so you must have the gift of administration at church.” Nope. Many Christians wrongly judge gifts based on people’s natural abilities. Spiritual gifts are not self revelatory or self created, the Spirit has to reveal them to you for you to open the gift. Just because your natural talent crosses over to some church gifts does mean you are to use them. A determining factor is “need.” For example, does your church need an extra Bible group teacher? If no, then your teaching talent is not required and must be pulled back. If you push it and label it as a spiritual gift, without the Spirit’s confirmation and church affirmation, then it will be fleshly motivated and a big crash will occur sometime down the road because the Spirit was never in it (i.e. preacher falls into sin because he had no character or calling supporting his “talent”).

Enjoy your spiritual gifts exploration with these ideas. Dive into the mystery of pneumatolgy. But most of all, don’t forget to love.

Grace and peace (;^)

Aaron Gomez

When The Numbers Lie

Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your summer souls this season.

Have you ever heard of the saying, “Numbers don’t lie?” It’s usually heard in a debate of some kind. The original phrase is, “Numbers don’t lie. Liars use numbers.” This is a popular way to say statistics and data are king in determining fact, success or transparency. The number equation related to the issue shows the incontestable truth about the situation. The second part of the saying means people intentionally use numbers to misinform other people, implying that people have a tendency to abuse and misuse numbers. Numbers don’t lie, people using numbers do. But is that true in the spiritual world?

I find it interesting that this secular proverb is not a proverb in the Bible. The idea is not really grounded in scripture. Rather what we find in the Bible is that numbers lie all the time. You shouldn’t trust numbers when it comes to things relating to the deep inner parts of our lives. This is what I mean, we naturally assume big numbers and large amounts of anything is good. For example, lots of money is a good thing and having a few dollars to your name is a bad thing. Having a large army is a good thing for victory and having only ten soldiers to fight is a guarantee for losing the war. Having lots of experience, education and accolades is a promising recipe for career success, yet having only a high school diploma and being green in your field of interest is a sure way to fail. Those examples of the numbers telling the truth are actually seen as lies from the way God works with his people. Over and over again the Bible gives countless examples where no matter the number that’s needed, it is irrelevant. More so, it’s when there is a small number, or tiny amount, or low quantity that God does his best work.

A perfect example for when the numbers lie is in the life of the Israelite judge, Gideon. Long story short, God tells him he will find victory over the Midianites with only a small army. Originally, Gideon had 32,000 soldiers and God told Gideon he had too many soldiers so he decreased the numbers. Then God said, “Go tell the men that if they are afraid that they may leave.” 20,000 men left Gideon with 10,000 men but was still too much. WAIT, WHAT? Too much for God? When is a big number not good for God? Isn’t God a big God who needs and wants bigness? Well, not always. Most of the time God pursues the small number and uses tiny amounts to bring forth His will and goodness. This is in the story of Gideon. God shrinks Gideon’s army to 300! Yes. 300 to fight in a war where they were outnumbered by a long shot! This is when the numbers lie. You would assume Gideon would lose because of the small number but not so. Gideon won a decisive victory over a Midianite army despite a vast numerical disadvantage. This is one of a plethora of anecdotes in scripture where many is a few and a few is many: a quick rundown is Abraham’s only 1 promised son Isaac, David’s 5 smooth stones to kill Goliath, the widow’s only a handful of flour and a little oil in a jug to help Elijah, Jesus’ tiny mustard seed and his 12 disciples as the first members of the church. It is crazy to think Jesus had 12 members in his church and by the end of his life only John and some women remained. God primarily and naturally uses small numbers. For Gideon 300 was the few he needed, not the many 32,000.

Why does God reveal that numbers do lie? Because it is His way to show himself to us as our only need. Gideon had to rely on God, not on the many soldiers he had. It’s so tempting to trust in our army, our bank account, our job position, our parenting skills, our status, our intellect, our family, our good looks, or our wit and not in God. But faith is not trusting God plus in other things, but only in God alone. Small numbers teach us this, IF we allow it. And it’s a big if. Western Christianity has a problem believing in the secular proverb of numbers don’t lie and tries to apply it (with exegetical inaccuracy) in scripture. We naturally assume God will bless us with many, because the numbers don’t lie and God isn’t a liar! Christians often say, “Obviously God is using me by opening another business to get more revenue,” “Expanding my social media followers is how I reach people for Jesus.” Church leaders think to themselves, “Obviously it’s a sign of spiritual health gaining lots of money through tithing, lots of people in churches, lots of professions of faith, lots of billboards with Bible verses,” and so on. But the story of Gideon says otherwise. Small numbers are the best amount to have. God initiates the bigness and scales numbers, not anything we can conjure up or produce.

This is where a Bible nerd tells me, “Stop right there! What about Acts 2 where 3,000 people got saved through Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost? Seems to me author Luke is highlighting that a large number was valuable and a sign of a good sermon.” Well, that number is merely a description from correctly hearing God’s word; it is not a prescription of measurement on how good a sermon is. Luke was not standardizing high numbers to qualify preaching. Let me say it this way, the number stated by Luke is not him telling us that this was a good sermon because a lot of people got saved. If no one got saved, and no one responded with repentance, it is still a good sermon! If he got 0 converts, because rejection was the response, then it’s still a good sermon! If only 12 got saved, it would have no negative effect on the sermon. The sermon is still a declaration of Gods’ truth and that’s why it’s good. This tells us that big numbers aren’t determiners for good and success in church life. Small churches can be a sign of success as well. The assumption is a church with low membership is a sign it’s a bad church or there is some poor teaching or pastoring going on there. But that’s so silly to think when there is no such grading scale in scripture. The Gideon story proves this. If anything, the Bible affirms and defends small numbers in faith life.

Church leaders today unfortunately and unbiblically read this verse to point out that if you are truly preaching God’s word and are faithful then you will have a huge harvest and many people will be at your church. But that can’t be true. Jesus preached in John 6 and all his hearers (except for the 12 apostles) rejected him at the end of his sermon because he started to talk about eating his body and drinking his blood. The prophet Jeremiah had less than a handful of Israelites who followed his ministry. The apostle Paul had only a third of his listeners in secular Athens who believed the gospel after his sermon on Mars Hill. The last best sermon I heard was when I attended a congregation with only 20 people. The pastor’s sermon was the most biblical, powerful, and convicting I’ve heard in a long time. Often the most gifted preachers minister in churches with 20-100 Sunday attendees…Never make the mistake of assuming that the best preachers and healthiest Christians are found in the big churches. Often, just the opposite is true. I am reminded by the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus makes a big deal over 1 sheep and not the whole. That 1 sheep was worthy to be celebrated when found. The shepherd didn’t hold off the party because of the low number who came back. I say all this because many Christians and church leaders would say God cares about numbers since it’s in the Bible right here in Acts; they use this verse to prove that numbers don’t lie. But it’s not true because Luke was not a 21st century venture capitalist trying to increase his investments at the end of the fiscal quarter. He didn’t see the church as a business model with the number of members as chart for spiritual success. He was simply an eye witness describing the wonderful work the Spirit of God was doing.

It’s not the numbers that determine good faith. Christians are caught up in thinking that large numbers equal success for God but Gideon and other past saints show us that’s immature faith. If anything, healthy faith is low numbers, not high. Mature faith is not valuing the big crowds of the Decapolis but in following Jesus into the boat with just a few of his disciples. For us this practically means no matter the number of kids, jobs, dollars, help, days, strengths, weaknesses, problems, opportunities, bills, or blessings, it has no value on who you are and your capability achieving what’s before you. Whatever you think right now is small, tiny in amount and few in number, trust not in it but in the God who can multiply small pieces of fish and bread to feed a multitude of 5,000. The final equation is 0—there is no equal sign in faith because the numerical outcome doesn’t matter; it’s God’s job to calculate. When it comes to spiritual development and nourishment, numbers are irrelevant. Whether you have many or few, our eyes should be on Christ, not the numbers. No number amount will ever be enough but Christ is enough and his grace is sufficient for all things. And that’s no lie.

Grace and peace (;^)

Pastor Aaron

Lent Go, And Let God

Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your souls in this time of transition from winter to spring season.

Speaking of seasons, a season that we are currently in that a lot of Christians are not mindful of is Lent. Lent is a season, according to the church calendar, that follows after Epiphany season and is the door to the Easter season. All types of Christians celebrate this time of extra devotion and discipline; it’s not just a Catholic ritual. It was inspired by our brokenness from the death sentence of our ancestor’s failure in the Garden of Eden and by the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness fighting off Satan’s temptations. The church spends this time reflecting on our human demise and how God has entered our story as an image bearer to overcome the failure in the Garden.

While Advent is a celebration and a time of great anticipation, Lent is more frequently seen as a time of solemn observance and preparation for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter. From its start on Ash Wednesday until its climatic ending on Easter Sunday, Lent has been a traditional time for fasting, giving something up or abstinence. Just as we carefully prepare for events in our personal lives such as a wedding or birthday, Lent acts as commencement inviting us to make our minds and hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ life, death and body resurrection.

Lent is a time of preparation and an opportunity to go deeper with God. This means that it’s a time for personal reflection that prepares people’s hearts and minds for Good Friday and Easter. The three main things people focus on during Lent are prayer, fasting (abstaining from something to reduce distractions and focus more on God) and giving or charity. Prayer during Lent focuses on our need for God’s forgiveness. It’s also about repenting (turning away from our sins) and receiving God’s mercy and love. Fasting can be expressed in many sorts of ways like choosing to give up just one item for Lent or more commonly a ‘luxury’ such as chocolate, meat or alcohol. But it’s not only about food. It is common for believers to give up other things in order to refocus their faith during this time, such as watching TV, going to the gym, online shopping, social media and even grooming like shaving (please keep showering!). Giving money or doing something good for others is another way to respond to God’s grace, generosity and love. For example, some people spend time volunteering or donate money they would normally use to buy something, like their morning coffee. Many Christians also use Lent to study their Bibles and pray more intensively, making use of the many devotional books which trains us to prioritize what matters in life because we replace things that don’t really matter with more time connecting with God. Let me be clear! Lent is not a season to manufacture guilt. Rather, it is a time to recognize our brokenness, frailty, and trust in God’s love. It is not a time to focus our individual struggles but is about Jesus entering our human condition and doing battle with the principalities and powers of darkness. It’s a time to freely come before God and admit we are Adam and Eve who do the same thing and still take and eat the fruit. It’s a soft balance between humility in our failure as humans yet simultaneously confidence in God’s victory over sin and death in Jesus. The season of Lent disciples us on how to walk this spiritual tight rope.

I’ll leave you all with a quote from one of my favorite theologians, Stanley Hauerwas, “I have always thought that Lent is a dangerous time for Christians. This time in the church year, I fear, tempts us to play at being Christian. We are to discipline our lives during Lent in order to discover and repent of those sins that prevent us from the wholehearted worship of God. That is a perfectly appropriate ambition, but we are not very good at it. We are not very good at it because, in general, we are not very impressive sinners. Just as most of us are mediocre Christians, so we are mediocre sinners. As a result, Lent becomes a time we get to play at being sinners while continuing to entertain the presumption that we are not all that bad… I am not suggesting that Lenten disciplines do not have a place. Giving up something we will miss may help us discover forms of self-centeredness that make us less than Christ has made possible. But hopefully, we will find ways to avoid playing at being sinful. Lent is not a time to play at anything but rather a time to confess that we would have shouted ‘Crucify him!’”

Grace and peace (:^)

Pastor Aaron

It’s Written In The Scars

Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your souls so far in 2023! I am thrilled about what God is going to do for us and through us this year. I am still full from that delicious Brazilian BBQ we had with the our brothers and sisters from Catedral De Familia. Let’s pray for more of that deliciousness between us.

I know it’s early since it’s not Easter season but it’s not misplaced to talk about the resurrection of Jesus. I mean, it is the foundation of our faith and as Paul said, without it, our faith would be meaningless and we should be of all people most pitied. The Easter story is a gift that always keeps on giving no matter what season of life we find ourselves in. One of my favorite scenes from this meta narrative of our human existence is how Thomas is initially skeptical at first about believing Jesus truly was back from the grave. But honestly though, who can blame him? No one has ever done so like that before up to that point. This was physically impossible. Yet we see that Jesus is not upset or saddened with this doubt of his as He gives Thomas what he needs. Thomas declared that he wouldn’t believe unless he touched and examined the wounds and scars of Jesus. He needed empirical proof. And that’s what Jesus does; he gives him evidence to feel and touch which results in Thomas having faith! Jesus says in chapter 20:27, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” Notice what gives Thomas the evidence to believe and trust in Jesus as God is the scars and wounds.

I love how, even after his resurrection, Jesus chose to appear with wounds on his body. Ain’t that a strange picture? God, who is perfect, but yet has scars. He could have shown up with baby smooth skin but he doesn’t; instead he models something different for us. This is what the resurrected Jesus reveals to us about our humanity. The pain and trauma we have experienced are part of the Easter story God wants to share through you to others. God’s story is written in the scars. Perhaps new life, healing and positive change doesn’t come from ignoring our wounds and scars or by neglecting our humanity—but rather in participating with God as we embrace the pain of our stories. Jesus never covered his scars. The fact that Jesus openly revealed them to others should encourage the same for anyone who has experienced any type of wounding. However it is done, (therapy, counseling, a long chat on the phone with a friend, AA, online meetings, coffee with a pastor, etc.) wound sharing is resurrection power and how we become more like Jesus.

As a meme I once read said, “We repeat what we don’t repair. If you don’t heal from what hurt you, you’ll bleed on people who didn’t cut you.” Jesus is offering us an invitation to be healed from the hurt we have and to stop the bloodshed; Jesus’ blood spilled on the cross was enough. He models for us what our hurt can turn into, something that is beautiful and powerful like a new day on Easter morning in a garden when Mary Magdalene saw the Risen Lord.

Maybe we too can have this power from our scars and wounds to lead people to newness of life. Maybe the past trauma you experienced as a child or teenager is not baggage to lump around but is the proof of God’s love and power in your life. Maybe not being embarrassed about your scars and wounds is the data people need to verify God’s resurrection. Easter is experienced more by showing your pain rather than a Bible verse or link to a sermon. Let’s invite others to read the resurrection that’s written in our scars.

Grace and peace (:^)

Pastor Aaron

Advent’s Heaven

Hello Baysiders! Hope you are all in the holiday spirit and holding onto Jesus in all that you do. Happy Advent season church. May we all dig deep in our waiting, despair, and hope for our coming Lord.

What I like about Advent is the grittiness of it. It is not fluffy, fun, sentimental or cheery as Christmas. Now of course there is a time for all that good stuff and I can’t wait for Christmas to party for Jesus’ birthday. But it’s that “I can’t wait” that is the problem. Why can’t I wait? Advent reveals our rushy spirit and impatience with God. Advent is a teacher that instructs us to slow down and contemplate and live through the cries, sins, hardships and troubles of our world, personally or globally. Advent instructs us to have our hope for the second coming of Christ where all will be made right and when our future is made perfect.

This season of Advent is a time to reflect on our future state, judgement, hell, repentance, and end time prophecies. As a teacher and preacher of the Bible, I admit there is not a whole a lot about heaven in scripture. Most of what we believe in heaven is from pop culture, wishful thinking, folklore, and misunderstanding. Let’s explore for a little bit on the subject of heaven and how it relates to Advent.

First we need to define the term. What do you mean by heaven? If you mean a place where God lives, you would be correct. But if you mean a place where we will go after we die because we are faithful Christians, then you are wrong. We will not be in heaven forever. Heaven from the Biblical view is not where we will live forever. Heaven is where God is and lives forever, not us. Where we will be forever is earth. I know, this is not what you expected on your afterlife bingo card. No one has ever told you this in church and that’s a shame. We as Christians have been hoodwinked or just poorly taught on our future home and it ain’t heaven. The future place of the disciples of Christ is, surprisingly, earth. And here you thought you were going to get your own private cloud to sleep on and harp to play Led Zeppelin’s stairway to heaven.  

The fact of the matter is scripturally speaking, we get commercials and trailers but never a full movie about heaven. BUT! From the little bit we do have in the Bible of heaven, it is amazing. A sneak preview example is found in Isaiah 11:6-9. In context, Israel is doomed to judgment by falling into exile for their disobedience to God. But in a range of images and prophecies, Isaiah prophesizes about the future state of the world, like the coming of God to rule and reign and in the last days, all will know and follow God, Israel as a nation will be reestablished, the temple restored, Zion the holy city of Jerusalem magnified by all people, and weapons and war eradicated. Then in chapter eleven he goes further with the heaven prediction: no more violence between animal and humans.

Isaiah is describing earth. Not some ethereal, non-material glowy reality. Heaven is earth fully covered in God’s presence. This is the description in the original plan with the Garden of Eden, it was a little heaven on earth and Adam and Eve was to spread that presence and enlarge the territory of the garden to the whole world. But we know what happened. By the second page the Bible they failed and forfeited that opportunity to bring heaven on earth.

Because Advent is about the second coming and also the first coming, there is a dynamic to heaven’s territory. This is why Christmas comes right after. God’s return is two fold. The past and the future. The past is Christmas. We are reminded every year God does not lie and celebrating the birth of Jesus is assurance God is worthy to be trusted. The past was worth the wait, trust, and hardship because it was glorious, fulfilling and joyful. Advent’s logic is surely the second coming of God will be the same and much more. We are confident with our hope because the second coming has already come in the first coming. Its already hear but not quite yet. We have some of the promises now and available but other features of future heaven is still to come. We live in a strange time of history. Theologians call this era the already but not yet. We can have a little taste of this heaven today. When we forgive, we live as though it is heaven. When we love and help the needy, we make heaven arrive on earth. When we stop fighting and end war, we make heaven visible. When we welcome everyone and not judge based on appearance, we make heaven touchable. All these things can happen are possible and why it’s already. But some things are not yet happening, like evil, suffering, sin is still here, and death is always a threat to our bodies.

But this is why Isaiah’s words in chapter eleven is so powerful and beautiful. We can hope and long with joy for a better tomorrow for earth and everyone in it. Did you catch verse 6-9?  Isaiah predicts, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.” All animals and humans will best friends and dogs will no longer be the ones to have that title. This might mean that Vegetarianism will be the diet for all of us! But who cares when we can swim with great whites, walk among lions, and run with leopards. This means I can finally have a bear as a pet! Our ecosystem and planet will thrive and we will be part of that thriving with them. No more violence against each other. We will be like Adam and Eve how it was supposed to be, perfect harmony with fellow humans, living creatures and God.

Is this heaven description and hope the best Christmas gift to long and hope for? It’s what Isaiah wanted for Christmas. Is this on your Santa wish list?

Wisdom Over Fear

Hello Baysiders! Praying that your Thanksgiving is a blessed one with family and friends and that, no matter your situation, your heart would be full of gratitude for all what God has given you.

This morning it was reported that Russia fired missiles into Poland, killing two people. This is a big deal because Poland has nothing to do with Russia’s unreasonable provoked invasion and war with Ukraine, which means, because Poland is under NATO protection, this one assault might be the flick of the match to escalate this war to World War III. As I am literally writing this blog, NATO is in the middle of investigating to confirm that Russia was the one behind this violent act. This is one of many reasons to fear for our lives and to think the end of the world is near. The list goes on: Global Warming, A.I. takeover, another pandemic, North Korea’s nuclear threats, Republicans regaining house majority or “alleged” election fraud, the Taiwan China hostility, a lukewarm church in America, ect. But there are also the personal life threats, cancer, career goes out of business, stock market crashes, old age, divorce, parental difficulty, child bullying, debilitating health condition, loss of a loved one, retirement. These are all reasons to cause anxiety about our future as a species. Our existence is so fragile right now. But, when was it not? Since day one of man’s first breath, we have always been on the brink of extinction. Our survival insurance is no greater than the dinosaurs. It is only by God’s grace we are still around.

To be alive is to be on the brim of destruction; that’s what it means to be human. A newborn baby comes out of the womb screaming and is precarious to newly found life. Our existence has been fragile since God said “Let there be light” in the chaos of darkness. I believe there are three ways to live facing this reality. The first way is escapism by parting. This is a hedonistic lifestyle, live with no regrets which also feeds into the nihilistic aspects of our culture; eat, drink, be merry for tomorrow we die. All we have is this life is take what you can. The other way is to find shelter in the panic. By panicking and being frantic, some feel safe because by feeding into the panic, some gain a sense of control and nourishment. Stress for many is fuel to function and stay somewhat balanced in life because it’s all they know or been taught to cope. But this outlet is an illusion at best as it doesn’t offer the peace and comfort it solicits. People who live this way are always on edge about something, not trusting God. The last outlook to have in our fragile existence is to live with prudence. Prudence is wisdom to know how to respond to incoming danger or challenges. Wisdom is what is needed in our souls. Prudence grants us the strong faith to live between the reality of Christmas and history of Easter. There will always be the Herod’s of our world seeking to kill the messiah, ending our hopes. There will always be a cross in our lives, threatening our faith. But we know how each story ends: Jesus is victorious. There is always going to be a reason to fear and stress. But there are always reason not to. One lesson I have learned in life is that most of my greatest fears NEVER come true. We need prudence to wisely know what items on our responsibility list to concern over and which ones to lay down and let God take care of them.

This is why whether global or personal, whenever the “new world will end threat,” comes (which is every month in the news cycle), we don’t have to panic in despair or party like nothing else matters. It’s always peculiar to me and slightly humorous to see a lot of my frantically Christian peers all of a sudden become expert economists, scientists and end time theologians when a threat to our humanity arises. Everyone has an opinion on how the world should be managed, everybody is opinionated about the dangers to our livelihood, and all have opinions that are self-coping and self-serving. So that being the case, whose opinion matters that we should follow and stand on? We should heed the voice of someone who has the spirit of God in him, has wisdom and a life that is worthy to follow. One person I can think of is King Solomon when he was young and first became king. He had maturity beyond his age and was an old soul. He had very little life experience yet God’s wisdom in his soul made him a wise sage. He offers us wisdom saying in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” He does not say the panic of the Lord or party of the Lord. By the way, fear here in this context does not mean to be afraid or timidity but rather comes from the old english root word for reverence and high esteem. When we greatly respect and cherish God as he should be, then we gain confidence to walk on this planet with wisdom to face any obstacle in our way.

I don’t know what we should do or have any answers for our end of the world woes but I do know some things we are NOT to do. Walking in wisdom is needed in this time and not more political articles, talking points or statistics. The book of Proverbs illuminates for us some wise steps—We are not to share everything that’s on our minds or always share our thoughts (Prov 10:19, 29:11). We are not to be gullible and believe everything that feels right (Prov 14:15, 21:2). We are not to be aggressive and contentious (Prov 29:22). We are not to spread conspiracies or propaganda aka lies (Prov 12:17, 19-20). We are not to emotionally haphazardly throw info around without doing our homework (Prov 18:2, 13). We are not to find hope in facts or news alone (Prov 4:5-7). We are not to act like we know what the future will look like (Prov 27:1). We are not to be proud but humble (Prov 29:11). We are not to be afraid (Prov 29:25). We are not to worry but trust God with everything (Prov 3:5-6). 

Nothings wrong having an opinion about world threats or even about the new Taylor Swift album. But not all opinions are created equal or beneficial. May we all be prudent and follow God’s opinion because its the only one that ultimately matters.

UPDATE 11/16/22: After preliminary analysis, the Poland missile incident was caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks and was no indication this was the result of a deliberate attack by Russia.

Make Pastors Great Again

Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your souls. The Fall season is always a good time to consider the wonderful blessings God did during the summer and motivate us to trust him more as we move into the Holiday season.

In honor of Pastor Appreciation Month, I want to talk about pastors. The job of a pastor is a really tough one and it is not for everyone. God has to call someone to take up the role. I can tell you from my career experiences, pastoring is the hardest. Some days I’m like, “why did you call me to do this?” Yet it is the most rewarding, fun, and exciting job. I LOVE BEING A PASTOR. I am so honored and humbled God chose me for such a task. Being that it carries a lot of responsibility, dealing with people’s souls and deep vulnerable aspects of a person, a pastor needs to be good at his or her job. But what qualifies as good? Did you know the pastor is the number one person judged at church. Everyone has an opinion on the job. Don’t pity me, it just comes with the territory. But that begs the question, what makes a good pastor? There are numerous opinions on what a good pastor is and should do. Many people think a pastor should be the face and brand of the church. Lots of believers think a good pastor is someone who runs the church like a CEO, making executive decisions and only does sermons. Others think a pastor should be a member’s best friend and always available for every need. Some dangerously and incorrectly think a pastor should be a politician and work the church as a democracy. Few actually define a pastor based on the Bible standards.

What makes a pastor good is if the character and leadership is mirroring that of Jesus’ shepherding. When we go to scripture, we see Jesus being a pastor in the good standard way we should uphold for any local minister we are under. Unfortunately, many Christians judge a pastor based on cooperate and social-media type standards like: number of people brought in, building renovation, donation increase, marketing influence, entertainment driven, shallow consumerism and making members (customers) feel comfortable. All these are terrible ways to measure a pastor with. Why? Because Jesus doesn’t care about those things in the gospels and what we find is him pastoring in ways that are counter-cultural with how we modern pastors do ministry. Jesus actually didn’t care about the numbers as he only had twelve committed members and by the end of his time on earth, one betrayed him, another one denied him and the rest scattered. Jesus was not interested in large crowds and big followings as he intentionally did things that turned people away. He didn’t see people as customers to appease and he didn’t serve shallow food for people’s souls. Never did Jesus count the donation box to determine if his pastoring was fruitful. He didn’t use his fame to bring in more influence as he regularly worked in the shadows, telling the people he served, to tell no one how he helped them. Jesus was not in it for his own glory. Yet today’s pastors we see an overdose of me-centered pastoring. The good news is Jesus is our true shepherd. In John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” When our earthly pastors fail us, Jesus does not. Ultimately we follow Jesus, our true and better pastor. We can and should still honor the pastors God has given us. We should appreciate them and tell them thank you. Not just in the month of October but all the time because they are on the front lines in the spiritual dark war taking most of the hits. They too need encouragement. It’s not because they need their ego stroked but they are human like us all who get banged up, bruised, misunderstood, make mistakes, get it wrong, and get hurt. The church is to uphold the pastor as he or she upholds the church.

So let’s see a pastor through the eyes of how Jesus pastors. Let’s judge pastors based on Jesus’ shepherding skills. When we do so we will have a correct Biblical lens to asses a pastor to uphold and honor them and also keep them accountable when error occurs. We need pastors to actually pastor like Jesus does. This is, what I believe, is the biggest problem with the church in America. Pastor’s don’t pastor. They do everything else but sheep rearing in the church. Why are there fake, bad, lukewarm, Biblically illiterate Christians? One main reason is because there are shallow, bad, lazy, non-convicted pastors.

The church can survive pastors who aren’t celebrities, podcasters, entrepreneurs, cultural influencers, or change agents. But the church can’t survive if pastors don’t pastor. This is gonna sound crazy, hear me out for a minute, but what if the real qualifications for pastors are proven character, priestly care, courage to denounce social injustices, meekness, discernment to resist partisanship, and devotion to God’s word and prayer. What if pastoring is not about having a social media presence or managerial ability to build and maintain sprawling campuses or church planting like a Silicon Valley start up? What if there are many at church who are first will be last and those last in the prayer email who will be first? What if getting invited to preach at big crowds is not what God is looking for but the invitation is to humbly wash feet? What if being famous for Jesus is actually idolatry and working in the shadows is actual glory? What if brainstorming with your church staff over what entertainment and fun activists to do on Easter is not the co-laboring Paul was referring to? What if having a large network and creating a brand for yourself are attempts to store up treasure here on earth? What if preaching isn’t about a pastor’s comedy hour or a platform to express his personality but for exhorting God’s people? What if Instagram and Twitter followers are mere crumbs to the feast that is stored up for those who denied themselves of attention? What if being successful is really about being faithful to the one lost sheep? What if your name wasn’t famous as a pastor but through your ministry others found Jesus’ name? What if mini church, not mega church, is a more biblically accurate description of God’s kingdom? What if attendees are not the same as disciples? What if a dynamic praise team with talented and fashionable singers are unimportant and God desires a broken and contrite heart for acceptable worship? What if never writing a book, speaking at a conference, making it on the radio or having that certified blue check mark in your profile are things Christ will not judge you on? What if being a pastor is satisfactory and other labels, prefixes, adjectives, or isms to your calling is you being soul thirsty for other beverages besides the living water? What if it’s actually the invisible pastor and seemingly insignificant local small church who are doing the really important eternal work? What if the church must again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant communities that live an intense struggle against evil and bring good into the world?

Let’s make pastors pastor again!

Pastor Aaron (:^)

Grace and peace

Waste God

Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your souls today. May you walk and talk like Jesus so that others may see God on earth.

Horeb aka the Mountain of God, aka Sinai aka where God appears to Moses in the burning bush aka where the Ten Commandments are given—is a word that literally means “waste.” It’s just like God to appear in a wasteland, a forgotten and neglected place, and make it purposeful and sacred.

This Bible truth gets embodied with the donation we as a church received of the new red chairs for the fellowship halls at Bayside. These chairs were considered waste, stored away in a huge facility, not being utilized, taking up space and forgotten. Then God moved. He moved to connect us to these chairs which we needed as our old chairs were falling apart and ruining the carpet. With the help of a church member and his business connection, the chairs were donated to our church. We now have nice looking, sturdy, and very expensive chairs that are like a gift to us. BOOM. Just like that. No longer are the chairs considered waste. God transformed this secular basic furniture into his sacred holy pieces for the sanctuary with his people. This is God’s power of Horeb.

The transformation of waste with God is a theme in scripture. Think about the morsel of two fish and five pieces of bread that Jesus had when teaching to five thousand people. This was waste. Nothing much to give to the large crowd. I love how a boy had the remnant of food, as if he was the only one to scrap up what was around. Yet Jesus knows the God of Horeb. He takes this morsel waste and multiplies it and feeds everyone in attendance. Waste no more; this waste of crumbs became a feast. When as though it appeared insufficient and hungry stomachs would be heard growling during Jesus’ sermon, God transforms what seemed mundane and minimal into something miraculous and fulfilling. This is God’s power of Horeb. Luke writes, “Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them,” Luke 9:16-17. Perhaps we need to be better at looking at our waste? Not mourn over it or be made about it but offer our garbage and the things we think are meaningless to God and wait to watch Him bring forth our own burning bush.

There’s an old saying that says, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and I believe God is in the recycling business because he loves using what is garbage to recycle it into a valuable asset for his glory. There’s something so powerful about this ability of God that can nourish our faith. The mountain of waste tells us about the transformation God can do in and through us, no matter the waste we find ourselves in. If God can do this for mountains, surely he can do this for us. Are we not of more value than mountains?

Flowers for Kobe’s Birthday

Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your souls. Is it me or does time go by faster and faster as you get older? Schools back in session, vacation days are used, new TV shows are on break and beach days are over. It felt like summer just started a weekend ago and now it’s over.

August 23rd is one of my hero’s birthdays, Kobe Bryant. Now I know many of you don’t have any affiliation or interest with him but I do believe his birthday can remind us that life is a precious gift to be opened and cherished. In fact, Kobe changed his number from 8 to 24 for this exact truth. He shared in an interview that his name change was symbolic of the time he has and was inspired by the the Latin aphorism, Carpe diem, which means “seize the day.”

Today would’ve been his 44th birthday. Kobe tragically passed away, along with eight other people, in a freak helicopter accident in January of 2020. It was the crash that shook not only the sports world but also the rest of the world. Kobe was known beyond America and crossed over to the arts, the education and business world. He was an author, olympic gold medalist, Oscar winner, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and story teller. Basketball was merely the tip of iceberg. Kobe was as Michael Jackson sang, “a comet, blazing ‘cross the evening sky, gone too soon. Like a rainbow, fading in the twinkling of an eye, gone too soon.”

His unfortunate passing makes me want to appreciate life even more. Regardless of being a fan of Kobe or not having any connection to him, his sudden death acts as a parable for us. Kobe’s quick short life, due to the awful accident, is not an anomaly. By the clock of eternity, we all have sudden deaths. From God’s perspective we all are here today gone tomorrow, whether we live to be eighty-nine years old or only reaching age nine. Now of course living up in our nineties is a long life, which is a great thing, and we all naturally aspire to live that long but even that length of age is still a super tiny speck to God’s eternal timetable. We mortals are mere subtle currents in the endless crashing waves of the sea. For some of us, we think we have a surplus of time to dispose because of our young age. For others we know exactly how little time we have but the problem is we have so much to do we don’t know how to prioritize the cares of this life. Crunched on time, we end up neglecting life’s blessings indirectly from trying to do everything and that leads to a massive existential headache. But what Kobe teaches us is life, no matter what age, is ephemeral, curt, and sudden. The Bible says so, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone,” James 4:14. Did you catch that? We are like the morning fog that dissipates when the sun comes up. Well that’s depressing. Another verse says we are grass that easily gets cut and like a flower that quickly blooms and dies (Psalm 103:15). The good news is we are like a beautiful flower; the bad news is we fade away as soon as we show off our pretty petals. Don’t you love how the Bible keeps it real and avoids sugar coating the harsh realities of our existence?

So from Kobe, scripture, and frankly just by noticing our birthdays speed past us every year, let’s gain wisdom to open the gift of life that God has given us and cherish it to the fullest. How do we do that?

We love recklessly! We love without a receipt. We love when it hurts. We love when tired. We love to whatever maximizes the most joy. We love no matter what time it is because a Christian goes by eternity’s timezone. We open the gift of love by not discriminating our love to others and instead give our love to the people that don’t deserve it. We go the extra mile so that love can be felt. We turn the other cheek so that love can be our weapon to take down wrongdoing. We freely give to those in need, strangers or to the siblings who take our clothes without asking, so that love is made unconditional and not a quid pro quo. We love by giving God our hearts to take on our worry load. Faith is another word for love because we show God we trust him. This is the wisdom Jesus tells us about living this difficult life of responsibility and sustainability. Jesus literally tells us in Matthew 6:27, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Worrying actually subtracts the gift of life and makes you lose time because you attend to the things that don’t matter and end up losing on moments to open God’s blessings. Why waste time on things that keep you away from the gift of life? Life is too short to get caught up in things that are out of your hands, life is too precious to be preoccupied by things that steal your joy, life is too much as a gift to not have the attitude like its Christmas morning every day as you murder the wrapping paper opening presents under the tree. Reckless love makes us focus on what is actually vital in life without distraction and makes us not care about who will judge us for doing so.

Parabolically, we live life to the fullest when we realize life is like Kobe’s; it’s what makes life so valuable and not meaningless. God considers everyone’s life is essential no matter the length. It’s so essential that God leaves his eternal realm and enters in our time dimension, coming as a human and experiencing the gift of life, and becoming a gift on the cross so we can have eternal life. Jesus came to save us from time’s destructive power, which is everlasting separation from God. This means love is spelled T.I.M.E. God is not afraid of our brief physical existence because he knows time goes on into eternity, becoming one just as Jesus and God are one; the temporal and eternal are married forever. This means the past is forever the present and the future is always now, according to God’s clock. Time is never gone when it’s coupled up with eternal love. This means nostalgia doesn’t have to be crippling because all of time is one place in the kingdom of God and Jesus has already told us it’s arrived and how to live on earth as it is in heaven. Nostalgia is time travel according to the physics of eternity. This is the outlook we can have and where we are fully heading towards. Understanding the marriage of time and eternity grants us courage and zeal to seize the day, squeezing out of ourselves the juice to make sweet lemonade for God’s glory. The life of Jesus tells us time is eternity’s love language and it’s not lost no more than a current is lost in the ocean. Jesus is time from eternity and he takes us back with him so that love remains forever.

So bloom. Even though it might be a short spectacle. Grow. Burst. Attract bees to pollinate. Ignore the gloomy days. Don’t hold back your petals. Because for Jesus, you are the lovely flower he planted that blooms in his beautiful garden and he thinks you are worth every second.

Grace and peace,

Pastor (:^)