Invocation for Irvine City Council Meeting

Irvine City CouncilI had the honor and privilege of giving the invocation for one of Irvine’s City Council meetings. What is an invocation you ask? I had to look it up myself. It’s basically an opening prayer. I accepted the city’s invitation mainly because it supports one of the values of New Life: to be a church for the city. We want to be a church that doesn’t just use Irvine as a place for worship but blesses Irvine as a place to serve.

Below is the transcript of the prayer that I gave. Please note that the city has strict guidelines as to what can or cannot be said in an invocation. Mainly, no favoritism can be shown to any one religion. This rules out using names like “Jesus” or “Father in heaven.”

Dear Almighty God,

We begin this meeting with prayer because we recognize our great need and dependence upon you. We pray because you are God, and we are not. We humbly acknowledge that even the best humans are still humans at best. With humility, we confess that we lack wisdom. We confess we could use more compassion. We confess that many times we lack courage. That is why we pray. We pray that you would do for us, what we cannot do for ourselves.

We pray that you would grant us wisdom so that the decisions made would best serve the citizens of this great city. We pray for compassion so that our decisions would protect those who cannot protect themselves. We pray for courage so that our decisions would be based on what is noble and right rather than what is popular and easy.

We ask that you would help us to see ourselves as servants–servants of this city, servants of your people, and servants of you, oh God. May that be reflected in our proceedings this day. Amen.

 


New Life Irvine featured in the OC Register

In response to the Connecticut shooting tragedy, the OC Register came to our church for a Christian’s perspective.

 

Click the following link for the article and photos: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/shooting-380872-world-school.html 


Politics: A Christian Perspective

Few things are more polarizing in life than politics. Is it me or is the vitriol and outright disdain expressed on the air waves, television, and social media getting worse? I was shocked to find that a Facebook friend who simply stated, “I support ____________” was followed by over twenty comments, much of which offensively questioned my friend’s intelligence and character. In today’s politically charged climate, it’s impossible to state your political persuasion without losing someone’s respect and being labeled a bigot, ignorant, or a buffoon. This is troubling. It’s one thing to voice your political support for a particular candidate. It’s quite another to down-right hate and despise those who disagree with you. Long forgotten are the days when even if your candidate doesn’t win, you still respected the President because you respected his office.

According to Tim Keller, the polarizing effects of politics are symptoms of idolatry.  They are symptoms of hopes and identities that have been inordinately wrapped around a politician, cause, or party. This is why we immediately befriend those who are “on our side.” This is why we immediately villainize those on the “other side.” Those who disagree do much more than just disagree. They ultimately threaten our hope, our identity, and our livelihood. They ultimately attack “our god.”

Is it possible to be passionate about politics without being polarizing? Is it possible to support a candidate without hating the other party? I believe so. It can happen so long as we understand where our ultimate hope and identity lie. It can happen so long as we understand that our greatest enemy is not the opposing party. It is not outside us, but inside us: the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. No legislation, no politician, no government can ever defeat the sin that lives within me. Only Jesus can. Only Jesus did. As a result, he is my greatest hero. He is my ultimate hope.

As a Christian I will do my best to be faithful in my civic duties and do my part in making this country great. At the same time, I understand that this world is not my home and that a better country awaits me with a much better king.


Monkey See, Monkey Do

 

As a father of three, I am increasingly beginning to realize just how much influence I have over my children, especially my boys. My boys look up to me. My boys want to be me. I see this in their mannerisms, their speech, their sense of humor, and even their cheering interests. They instinctively know to root for the Dodgers and anyone playing the Giants. They instinctively shout, “USA! USA!” whenever they see soccer on TV. As the saying goes, “monkey see, monkey do.”

The Bible also talks about this phenomenon, but in this case, the relationship is not between a father and his son, but an idol and its idolater. Psalm 115:4-8 says this:

 “They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”

The Bible declares that the more we worship our idols the more we begin to look like them. The more we revere them, the more we reflect them. Or to put it in G.K. Beale’s words: “We become what we worship.”

This principle may be cute between a father and his kids, but absolutely devastating with idols and their idolaters. Why? As the Psalmist reminds us, idols are not alive. They are un-human. They cannot speak, see, hear, smell, or touch. As a result, the more we worship our idols the less human we become. Idols devolve us.

These dehumanizing effects can be seen in the power-obsessed husband who acts like an animal when threatened or the bone-skinny anorexic who looks less and less human. How many people spend countless numbers of hours each week staring at a computer screen, counting cards at a table, or vegging in front of the TV? Does this make us feel more alive? When we turn off the monitor, walk out of a casino, or get off the couch, do we feel existential satisfaction? Does it make us feel full? God did not design us to live for entertainment, leisure, or sports. He did not design us to worship the creation. He created us to live for him. As a result, many people exist but many do not quite live. Idols never give life. They take life. They leave you half-empty.

Thankfully, this is why Jesus came. He came to rescue us from our life-sucking idols. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). With Jesus, the principle of becoming what we worship actually works for us. When we bow down and live for the Creator rather than the creation, when we feast upon the Bread of Life, when we drink the Living Water, we become more human. We evolve.

We experience unspeakable joy, enduring peace, and soul-satisfying grace. This is the Jesus effect. We begin to talk like him, act like him, and love like him. Life is never more fully lived than when walking in the footsteps of the one who is the Resurrection and the Life. That deep ache in your soul will not be satisfied with a shiny fast car or a beautiful pair of shoes. That deep ache can only be satisfied by Jesus. Only in Christ will we understand the words of Psalm 16:11, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Join us at New Life and find out how you can experience this fullness of joy.


Are You a Man or a Mouse?

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As a pastor I admit that one of my biggest idols is the approval of man. After all, much of what I do receives immediate feedback from the people I am called to serve. It is easy for me to get caught up with the number of seats that are filled every Sunday, the number of heads that nod in agreement or nod off in slumber, or the compliments/complaints I receive. Even this blog entry can be evaluated by “likes”! If I am not careful, such responses can determine my significance, security, and self-worth as I give in to the counterfeit gospel that seductively whispers in my ear: “You are what others think of you.”

The apostle Peter was no stranger to this idol. To his deep shame and regret, we all know how he denied Jesus three times. His fear of man issues did not end there, however. In Galatians 2:11-16 Paul openly rebukes Peter for his refusal to eat with Gentile Christians. In a scene straight out of a high school cafeteria (jocks eat over there, nerds over here, etc.), Peter refused to break bread with Gentile Christians. What we have here is meal-time segregation.

How do we understand Peter’s behavior? Verse 12 gives us a clue. “He began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.” Peter was not so much a racist as he was a coward. He was afraid. He was afraid of what others would think of him. At that moment, his fear of man out-sized his fear of God.

Yet, Peter’s issue went deeper than this. Paul gives us greater insight into Peter’s sin in verse 14, “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel…” Peter’s cowardice was the fruit of a deeper root. Peter’s issue was not so much a man-fearing problem as much as it was a gospel problem. He was not acting in line with the gospel. He had strayed from the gospel he loved and was called to preach. As a result, his behavior betrayed his beliefs.

If Peter forgot the gospel, so can we. His sin proves that no one is immune from gospel straying. No one is immune from gospel inconsistency. After all, do any of us know the gospel better than Peter did? He knew the gospel inside-out. His letters are full of gospelicious proclamations: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Yet for all that Peter knew, he momentarily forgot the gospel and strayed from it.

At the same time, this passage does not only strike fear in our hearts. It also inspires. If Peter is an example of what could happen when we forget, Paul is an example of what could happen when we remember the gospel. Still considered the rookie apostle, Paul walks undauntedly up to Peter, the alpha apostle, and publicly rebukes him to his face. I have a hard time asking people to move seats during worship. What Paul did was simply awesome! What is more, Paul knew fully well that depending on Peter’s response, his rebuke could have created a PR nightmare. How many who were loyal to Peter could have turned on Paul in a flash?

But for Paul, his identity was not grounded in what others thought of him. His heart was instead rooted in fresh, fertile gospel soil. I would not be surprised if he meditated on the words, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” as he made his way to Peter. What others thought of him did not matter; only Christ and him crucified. Paul did not have to prove himself to anyone. Christ already did that for him. Paul did not have to meet anyone’s expectations. Christ already did that for him. Paul did not have to justify his existence. Christ already did that for him. Therein explains the source of Paul’s courage. Believing the gospel all the way down explains the difference between Peter’s gospel-less cowardice and Paul’s gospel-fueled courage.