Giving Tuesday: Presents or Presence

Professor Miller has many skills, some unbeknownst to his wife Patty.

Professor Miller has many skills, some unbeknownst to his wife Patty.

Merriam-Webster defines sanctuary as (1) a consecrated place, and (2) a place of refuge and protection. Yes, Front Porch does hold worship services on Saturday evening. In addition, as Joel likes to say, Front Porch is there to provide refuge every day of the week when the wheels come off. How important is it for students to have a refuge as they face the challenges of becoming young adults? How much better if that refuge is home to God?

"Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8).

Joel recently stressed to the volunteers how important their mere presence is to Front Porch. Simple acts like a welcoming smile or showing someone how to make expresso can be huge. When we are scared, hurt or desperate a smile, a hug or sharing a cup of coffee may make all the difference. Especially the hug.

Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday following two of the biggest shopping days of the year: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Since it falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas people are presumably buying presents.

As we sit around the Thanksgiving table and reflect on things for which we are thankful, hopefully the wonderful sanctuary we call Front Porch will enter the conversation. Unlike the volunteers, you may not be able to have a physical presence at Front Porch but you can make your presence felt. A contribution to Front Porch may be the most rewarding present you give this year.

A Professor's perception of Front Porch

God is Love

I may not remember much of what they tried to teach me in Sunday school those many years ago, but I do remember the three words on the front wall of the room.

I doubt that any words have had as great an impact on my outlook on life and my view of the world.

Three words, nine letters.

As I read the Gospels I notice that Jesus did not limit his love and blessings to Jews. He healed people from Gadara, Phoenicia and Samaria. He loved sinners, prostitutes and Centurions. He didn't check to see if they were members. He didn't check to see if their dues were current. He didn't require people to believe as he believed. Jesus loved people and gave his blessings freely.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a place where college students could see other young people modeling Jesus behavior?

That is the dream of Pastor Joel Drenckpohl the Director of Front Porch Ministries. Front Porch is an unusual if not unique campus ministry, which is literally located on the edge of Cal Poly's campus. Joel encourages students at Front Porch to welcome, accept and love everyone who walks through the door because they believe that is what Jesus would want them to do. Is there any better way to attract young people to Jesus than to act like Jesus?

And guess what? Consistent with Joel's rather idealistic dream, Front Porch has become a place where college students are welcome, accepted and loved by other young people who see Jesus as a role model.

How does Front Porch get students to walk through the door? Just as street lights attract moths, Front Porch uses coffee and food to attract students to the light within its walls. Approximately 400 students pass through Front Porch's coffee shop every day. About 250 take advantage of the Wednesday night dinner. One hundred students volunteer to assist Joel with his ministry and 70 students typically participate in the weekly worship service.

Unlike a typical congregation most of Front Porch's congregation are not in a position to support its ministry. But then again Front Porch is unlike any ministry I have ever seen.

"Listening." Joel Drenckpohl, Church-SLO, March 1, 2014

So where have we been? We began with: out of a place of brokenness we love greatly. And we love both God and the world greatly. The two are connected. But, we must not get ahead of ourselves thinking to big, because when we do, we ignore what is happening right around us. 

    I happen to believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone else is to listen to them. I don’t know if you got a chance to see the the Bachelor this past week. It was the scandalous Fantasy Sweet episode. Andi, just tears Juan Pablo apart because, the entire night he simply talked about himself and would not listen to her. 

    Well, my wife will tell you, I am not the best listener. My phone is one of the things that gets me in a lot of trouble. I start looking at it, and will often times completely zone out from what she is saying. Which causes her to say? “Joel, Joel, are you listening to me?” I quickly pretend as though I was. 

    Our first year of marriage we moved into a small apartment in Kent, Washington, and we didn't have a lot to hang on the walls. Now we have plenty of pictures. Well, my wife is an artist, and so she decided that she was going to paint a nice landscape picture for the empty space over the fireplace. We went to the store, bought a nice big canvas, and then returned home. Once we got home, she got out her paints, and sat at the table, slowly thinking through in her head what this painting might look like. Then she did something that blew me away. She invited me to paint the picture with her. As soon as she asked, actually it was probably even before she asked, my head started spinning of what this picture would look like. I quickly had an image in my head of what this thing should look like, and I knew exactly how I was going to get there. So, I jumped up, grabbed a brush and some paint, and started going for it. Kristi, tried to slow me down saying, “Let me tell you what I am thinking.” But I was in a zone. I had watched PLENTY of Bob Ross as a kid, and knew exactly what needed be done. Nice sweeping hills, beautiful blue sky, a nice little tree…I had this thing figured out. I just kept going, and unbeknownst to me, Kristi eventually got up and left the room.. I just kept painting until I eventually realized she wasn't there any more. So, I went back to our bedroom and she was in tears. And I am like what it in the world? “I thought we were painting this thing together? “Why are you crying?” Needless to say, that was one of our first real “disagreements,” where I eventually realized how stupid I was. And it all stemmed from me not being patient enough to listen. 

    Tonight we are going to explore a text that I hope will challenge us enough to be a community of people who slow down enough to listen.

Text: Matthew 17:1-8

Closer Look at the Text:

    The narrative we are looking at tonight is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Synoptic Gospels). So we know from this fact, that this account was an extremely important one in the view of Jesus’ earliest followers. It is also worth noting that in all three accounts, this story is preceded by Jesus talking about people loosing their life in order to actually find their life. Matthew 16:25.

    So Jesus takes his closest followers up onto a high mountain. And something unlike anything else in all the gospels happens to Jesus. He begins to shine and glow. We are told he was transformed before their eyes. The disciples get a glimpse of Jesus in all his glory. The deity piece of Jesus is put on display in spectacular fashion for his followers to see. 

    Then we are told that two people from the Old Testament appear with Jesus and begin having a conversation with him. Who? Moses and Elijah, who represent what? The law and the prophets. So what are they talking about. Well, although Matthew doesn't tell us, Luke does. Here is what Moses and Elijah were speaking about with Jesus: his “departure that he would achieve in Jerusalem.” Which refers to what? His death, where he would enter into the pain and hurt of this world in the most profound way possible. This is what the law and the prophets had pointed to all along: a messiah who would suffer and die for the sake of the world. So Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about it. Jesus would lose his life so that all might have life. This moment up on the mountain was simply preparation for what was to come. 

    As you can imagine, the disciples were overwhelmed by what they saw and we are told they got a little carried away. Mark tells us they literally did not know what they were talking about.  So in the midst of the conversation that Jesus is having with Moses and Elijah, Peter interrupts. Have you ever been interrupted? I don't like to be interrupted. So Peter blurts out, “This is just great! I love this! It is so good that we are all hear together. I have a brilliant idea. Lets build three little structures for each of you up here on this mountain.” Interesting right? Why do you think Peter wanted to build these three little structures?

    Most of the historical interpretations of this text believe that the reason that Peter wanted to build these structures, was to keep Jesus up on this hill. To keep him from going to the cross. Remember what was said in chapter 16? Jesus tells Peter that he is going to suffer and eventually die and what does Peter say? “Hell no! This won’t happen to you!” Then Jesus interestingly talks about this concept of those who truly want to find Jesus must carry their cross, all those who want life must lose their lives. And now Jesus begins talking about losing his life again and Peter interrupts. 

    Peter wanted to keep them all there forever. Peter has an idea of what’s best, but is it the idea that Jesus has? No. Peter misses that. Maybe if he wouldn't have interrupted, it would have sunk in this time, maybe he would have heard what was being said again about Jesus and them having to go back down the mountain. But Peter wants to stay in this moment forever. How similar I think we often are to Peter. We want the dramatic and spiritual experience without having to go back down and enter into the pain and suffering.

    Well then something quite humorous happens. Peter interrupts Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and now he receives the ultimate interruption. From God. Notice what the text says, “While he was still speaking…” And God speaks and declares that this person that they are following is the actual breathing, walking, embodiment of God. As the writer of the gospel of John puts it, God with “flesh on” living among us. And God says, “Listen to him!” I wonder how Peter felt when he heard this, especially after having interrupted the conversation. Well, after hearing this the disciples fall on their faces and were filled with awe, or deeply frightened. Why do you think they were frightened?

    I think it might have had to do with the “Listen to him” piece. What is he going to say us? He has been talking about death and losing our life in order to find it. What is it going to mean for us to go back down that mountain? What might happen? I think fear is what keeps us from stoping and listening. Because when we have to stop and listen, we are no longer in control. We can’t simply try to enact the vision that we have in our head which feels a whole lot safer. Peter didn't want to sit and listen to the conversation of where this whole thing was headed (to Jerusalem), because it frightened him. So he chose not to listen and instead go ahead with what he thought was best. 

    But then Jesus does something in the midst of their fear. He comes close to them, touches them, and what is the first thing they are to listen to him saying? “Don’t be afraid.” And when they lifted their heads up from the ground, all they saw was Jesus. Much like the encounter Jesus has just had with his Father before heading back down the mountain to enter the chaos that will lead to the cross, Jesus intentionally has an intimate encounter with the disciples before inviting them to head back down the mountain and be a part of something beautiful: bringing about life in places where it did not exist before.     

    So what is the first thing that happens to them when they head down the hill? Just like all three recordings of this account are preceded by the same narrative, they are are also followed by the same narrative. They head back down the mountain and encounter a boy who is demon possessed. How fitting that their dramatic and spiritual experience is proceeded by the idea of life coming out of places we don't usually associate with life, then followed by the opportunity to enter into the deep pain of the world around them in order to bring about life. I think a lot of times I want one without the other. I come here and worship, but I don't use it as an opportunity to listen. So I then leave this place with my own idea of what it means to be involved in Jesus’ mission and I either do nothing, or end up manufacturing my own mission which totally misses what God is doing. 

What About Us?

    With this painting, I was invited to be a part of something beautiful by my loving wife, but I got lost in painting a picture the way I wanted it to be done. Instead of listening, instead of it being a beautiful expression that flowed out of our love for one another, it simply became a poorly manufactured product that was not of much use.

    One of the defining characteristics of this new community is mission. That we are not simply a group of people who come together to worship God once a week, but that we are actively involved in this community, meeting the needs of those who are broken and hurting. My natural tendency though, is to get ahead of myself. To force something. So we have been coming to this thing for the past 5 weeks, and my question is: where is the mission? Yes it’s happening in certain pockets, but my vision is it happening across the board. But what I think this text challenges us to do is to learn to be people who listen. To stop talking. Stop doing. To take some time to listen. Mission is not something that can be manufactured, otherwise we are simply learning to be good pharisees. Mission arises out of our love and excitement for Jesus and the love that he has for us. Out of our encounter with him. It is not something we can force. 

    Do you know what is one of the best signs of a really good listener? Someone who asks good questions. What I should have done with this painting fiasco 10 years ago, was ask good questions? “Kristi, what do you envision this painting looking like?” “How can I help you get there?” “Where can I fit into the vision that you have?” And then sit and wait for her to answer. 

    I think we need to learn to be a community of people who asks good questions. “Jesus what are you doing in my life?” “What are you doing out there in the neighborhoods and streets around me?” And then we sit, and listen, and wait. What is Jesus saying? To you? To me? To us collectively? 

    I believe when we genuinely experience the good news of Jesus, (The good news being that he meets us where we are at. That through his life, death, and resurrection, he has began a process of making us, and all things, new. That he has made possible, taught and showed us, and offered us, the fullest and most abundant life imaginable.) When we experience that, we will be compelled to mission. We wont be able to help our selves. It will not be something we manufacture, but rather mission will become a natural expression. Then the question will not be where should we serve, but what are we going to say no to? In other words, what is the one thing we are going to say yes to right now?

    A major piece of following Jesus, discipleship, is learning to listen, and listen well! May we be people who slow down enough to set our own agenda’s aside and listen.

"Small and Simple." Joel Drenckpohl, Church-SLO, February 22, 2014

So, as many of you know, I was in Israel for the past 10 days or so. What an amazing experience that literally changed my life and perspective on things forever. It was so great to get to see so many of the places that I have heard about and studied for so much of my life. Here are a few examples of some of those religious sites…

    But the primary reason we went to Israel was to learn about the political and religious problems between Israelis and Palestinians that has been going on for a very long time. A ideological problem that I believe stems from two different people groups believing that they have a religious claims to the land. Two different sides that through religion and politics have often dehumanized the other side. The gravity of this complex issue was not only overwhelming to me, but very discouraging. This problem has been going on for ages, and peace does not seem to be a possible outcome between these two sides. I was left lost in the severity of a problem, hoping that Senator Kerry’s efforts could actually make a difference, that I could maybe somehow make a difference. 

    I think so often in our lives we hear about problems within this world. We hear about the poverty in third world countries, the injustice and wars on the other side of the world, the atrocity of natural disasters that take place without any warning, and what do we want to do? We want to go help, right? An earthquake happens, we want to go help. A hurricane happens, we want to go help. We live in a time when we can just hop on a plane and go “save the world.” Providing help in this fashion I don’t think is wrong, but my concern is, is that we then begin to ignore the problems that directly surround us. The places of need in our own backyard. We think that if we can go get involved with these bigger issues, then we will “really” be doing kingdom work. This morning we are going to explore the mission that Jesus invited his disciples to be a part of and how it often didn't fit the image of what people were hoping it would. 

Text: Matthew 10:1-5

A Closer Look at the Text:

    In this text the disciples are given authority and then they are listed by name. What is interesting is that the majority of the 12 are not well known within the history of the church. Sure we know a little about Peter, James, John, Matthew, and Judas, but we know very little about most of the disciples. And the information we do know about them from the gospels is information that does not always paint the best picture of them. They are ordinary people who would have been found on the lower rungs of the social ladder. Not people who are well known or who had considerable influence and power within society. Not the group of people I would have chosen. So why this group? It would seem as though God does not need, or God is not looking for, amazing people do the work of the Kingdom. God needs people who are willing to actually do something. Do what? To follow. To put the teachings of Jesus into practice. But when we look at the landscape of many congregations today within the western world, who are the people that often fill the pews?

    Up until this point what have Jesus’ followers been doing? They have been following Jesus around. Jesus has been leading them through towns and villages, Jesus has been calling all the shots, handling the precarious situations, taking the criticism, but now there is a shift and Jesus calls them “Apostles.” A title that means, “people who are sent out.” How often has the Church missed this sending out piece?

    So Jesus comes to this earth bringing God’s saving love for the entire world (John 3:16). This love was for the whole world, not simply for the Israelites (8:11), so you have to be thinking that Jesus is going to cover a wide spectrum of people. And now he is about to send out his team of helpers who has been training, and where is going to send them? Samaria? Greece? Rome? So where does Jesus end up sending them? He says, “Don’t go among the Gentiles or into a Samaritan city. Go instead to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.” 

    Where they currently were was the region of Galilee. It was a region completely surrounds by Gentile territory on all sides except to the South which was border by by Samaria. So what is Jesus telling them? Essentially Jesus is confining them to the small region around the Sea of Galilee. Confining them to their own people and the towns they grew up in. If I were one of the disciples, do you know what I would have been thinking? “Jesus, you aren't thinking big enough. There are a whole lot more people out there, this world is a whole lot bigger than this.” 

    Well, as we know, there would be a time later for expanding that mission. The Great Commission in Matthew 28, but for now, Jesus tells them, they were to stay around Galilee. Around their homes. Their families, friends, and neighbors; the area they were mostly familiar with. Eventually they would go beyond this area, but Jesus instructs them to start simple; to start small. They weren't to get ahead of themselves.

        So we have a rag-tag group of people who Jesus is sending out on this mission. And he is confining them to their immediate surroundings. Interesting game-plan Jesus. 

    Well maybe it will get better when we look at who they were supposed to go to within the Galilee region. So which type of people were they to go to in this region? The “lost sheep of Israel.” Not the leading sheep of Israel, but the lost. The ones who don't have it all figured out. There are many evangelistic and missionary groups that single out targeting the leaders of a particular community. Why do they do this? It seems as though Jesus is sending out his followers to do the exact opposite: go to the poor-spirited, the heart broken, the powerless. 

    So not only is Jesus using a bunch of misfits, and confining them to a pretty small area, but he is also telling them to go to the people that no one else in society wants. And what are they do when they go? They are to say and do what had already been said and done by Jesus. Which is what? Announce that the Kingdom of God has arrived, and then display that the kingdom has arrived through healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing those with skin diseases, and throwing out demons. This method was completely contrary to anything that Jesus’ contemporaries would have been used to, where people would swagger around letting people know that they were the chosen servants of this new king. Instead, the method was to be healers, restorers of life, those who would bring life and hope to others instead of attention and status to themselves. They weren't bringing some new religious experience, or a teaching that could help with tricky moral decisions, or even an assurance of God’s salvation after death (although that would come later). The message was that God’s kingdom had arrived and it was coming fast. God’s new life was breaking into the present and people needed to get ready for it. 

    The message of the Kingdom needed to get out, but how did Jesus unleash it? In small and simple ways that went against conventional wisdom and the ways of the time. That is not how you begin a movement. And yet as Jesus’ followers began to do this, what happens? Life and peace, began springing up in the most unlikely of places and spreading like a wildfire. The disciples just couldn't get ahead of themselves. Jesus was asking them to start small, keep it simple.

What About Us:

    I get ahead of myself everyday. I am dreamer. I like thinking big. A lot of times it gets me in trouble because there is so much that I overlook when I do this. Like with my golf game. By focusing on the big picture I miss the small details. 

    How often to do we do this? We get ahead of ourselves. We want to change the world. We hear about problems on the other side of the world and we want to help. My fear though, is that in American culture, although we might begin to care about the larger global issues, we are ignoring the great physical and spiritual needs in our own areas of influence. Why do we do that? Well for one, I think the bigger global issues are more sexy. They have more appeal to us. They are the cool, or hip, issues to care about within Christian sub-culture. Why do you think that is?         The other reason is I think that bigger global issues appeal to us more, is because I actually think its safer to think about the bigger issues, because they require less commitment from us, and have a smaller direct impact on our lives. When we dig into our own communities, the commitment becomes a whole lot more personal and messy because it starts affecting our day to day routine, not simply a week here or there of our life, or a certain amount of money withdrawn from our bank account. It affects every aspect of our life. 

    What I found in Israel were people who were truly making a difference in the country, but not on the grand political and religious scale that I had envisioned. They were doing what they could in their areas of immediate influence (Save a Child’s heart. Multi Ethnic School. Rabbi and Pastor). People were bringing life and peace to the most unlikely of places. I was overwhelmed by the immensity of the problem. One of the most valuable things I learned in Israel was to not get caught up in trying to find a fix-all for a massive problem, but get involved at the local level. What I saw was pockets of life emerging in places where the media had told me there was only the deprivation of life. Yes, I could probably do a little to help make a difference in Israel, but I believe I am called to make a radical difference here. We so easily jump to thinking big picture when I think Jesus is trying to get us to think smaller. No that God is not big, I just happen to believe this is the way that God works. 

    Our text text this morning is a perfect example. Look who he chose, how he confined them, who he sent them to, and the result that it had. The model Jesus provided us with is that we first need to take care of our immediate surroundings. But this is something that we will have to fight against because simple and small are not usually the way we do things in our culture. Small is usually not hip in our culture. We like to make things complex, and we like things bigger and better.

Gandhi- “What we are doing may seem insignificant, but it is most important that we do it.”

Mother Teresa- “We can do no great things, just small things with great love. Is is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it.”

    Don’t walk away thinking we shouldn't care about the large global issues, but I think Jesus has called this community of people together to make a difference right now in our immediate surroundings in small and simple ways. It’s not that we might not be called to confront a global issue, but when you look across the scope of global history, movements have always begun with small groups of people.

Shane Claiborne- The Simple Way “Average Day.” Pg. 121.

Margret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    This is a community of people who are going to try to keep things simple and small. We aren’t worried about offering the best programs in town, or about numbers, but we are worried about having a community of people who dare to be radical in their following of Jesus. Where it stops becoming about the next big thing we can be a part of, but about making a difference on your street, in your dorm, in this city. Since moving here I have sometimes struggled because living here sometimes feels so easy. SO what I start to do is think about bigger areas of social injustice around the world, and dream of how I can be a part of bringing justice to them. But what does that do? It causes me to ignore the injustice that DOES exist in THIS community. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that it does not exist simply because we live in a beautiful part of the country, or the “happiest city” or most “romantic city” in this country. The injustice is there. All around us. We must be willing to open our eyes to it, and daring enough to confront it. 

    We are a community of people called to the mission of God right here where we find ourselves. So where do we start? We identify the need. Not something global, but the need right around us. Keep our eyes open, ears alert, heart ready to be moved, and intentionally go out into the community this week. Let’s not sit around and wait for God to tell us something. Move. Now. God is calling this bunch of misfits to to the people right around us in small and simple ways.

Camping at El Capitan State Beach, Santa Barbra

" Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Over the weekend of March 21st, Front Porch celebrated the dawning of Spring, by going camping in beautiful Santa Barbra. Our campsite was positioned with a view overlooking the coastline. Because it was early spring, the sandbar had not yet returned but there were some great lawn picnic areas that we were able to play Spikeball on and the rocks served for some excellent tide pooling. During the day, some of the group went on an amazing hike that gave panoramic views of Santa Barbra, Carpenteria, and Goleta. The hike paralleled a creek, shaded by California Native trees regaining their green color.

During our time in reflection, we looked at God's unending and deep love for us. How often we get caught up in the culture of 'doing' enough,  instead of just living in God's grace. It was great being able to sit, be still by a fire, and breathe. Drinking the wild air will do ya good, as will taking time to soak up God's grace.

 

"Worship." Joel Drenckpohl, Church-SLO, February 8, 2014

    Last week I mentioned that this community is about three core things: We love Jesus, we love each other, and we love the world around us. And so for our first couple of months together, our time of teaching is going focus on those three ideas. What does it look like to love and follow Jesus? What does it look like to be a family of people who truly love one another? And what does it look like to be people who genuinely care for, and meet the great needs of, the world around us? We are going to explore how these three values that we hold up are intwined together and actually inseparable from one another. 

    If you were with us last week we began with a story of Jesus at the house of a religious leader with an uninvited guest. This guest was a truly broken women, who out of her place of brokenness, loved greatly because she was overcome with the acceptance and love that Jesus showed her. We are able to love with great love out of a place of brokenness because when we realize we are all broken, what gets out of the way? Pride gets out of the way. We get out of the way.

    So we love each other in the midst of our brokenness, but we do this because we believe there is a God who actually loves us and meets us in our brokenness and mess. And then what is our response to this love of God? We worship. We love Jesus. We come together like this and we thank God for loving us the way that God does; a love that meet us, accepts us, embraces us right we are at. We are passionate about God through singing songs, prayer, teaching of the Bible. So we are a committed to each other no matter what life throws at us, and we give thanks and gratitude to God for meeting us where we are at and forgiving us, but how does that translate into our love of the world? That is what we are going to explore tonight.

    I used to work at a church in La Canada, California, and every October a group of older adults would take a trip to Tutwiler, Mississippi, where they would work with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a family in great need. It was a trip they had been doing for 20-30 years and they had built quite the relationship with the community in and around Tutwiler as you can imagine.  It was a trip that was about so much more than simply building a house. Well, even though the older group was a little reluctant to let a bunch of teenagers come on the trip, we managed to get the youth to become a part of this trip, and so we went along with the older people and worked side by side them building homes. The first year I went on the trip I just kind of sat back and learned the ropes of how this things worked and how the youth would fit int the trip. I became fascinated with one of the older women in the group. Her name was Ruth and she was in charge of the chop saw that cut literally every piece of wood that would be used to build the home. As year two I rolled around I realized that Ruth was a bit of a legend, both in Tutwiler and La Canada. She had a nickname, “Chop Saw Ruth.” And I thought to myself, I want to be a legend. I want a nickname. I didn't know how it was going to happen, but year three was going to be my year. 

    So year three roles around and the chips just began to fall into place. Sadly, Ruth was having some health issues and was not able to make the trip after being on this trip for some 20 years in a row. They needed someone to run the chop saw and I volunteered. I had never run one before in my life. But before you knew I had it figure it out. People were shouting measurements out to me and I was cutting the wood like crazy. I even had a team of about 4 students who would get measurements, mark the wood, and then hand it off to me. Then it happened. They gave me a name, “Bone Saw.” I had arrived. 

    Well being a chop saw legend can get tiring pretty quickly and so late in the day, towards the end of the week, I decided to take a break and go sit up on the roof of the house we had built. As I was making my way up to the roof I remember being a little frustrated that a lot of the students were no where to be found. High school students. This isn't going to go over very well with the older members of the team. But, I sat down on the roof and was pretty proud of myself at achieving legend status on this trip, and then I noticed something that moved me deeply, and to be honest, made me feel quite foolish. All the students who had “gone missing” were about a block down the street playing with a large group of kids from the community. They didn’t do this at my urging, but on their own. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had forgotten that this trip was about so much more than simply building a house, it was about building and maintaing relationships with the people of that community. The two were inseparable. The high school students got it. I clearly missed it.

    Tonight we are going to explore how our thanksgiving and gratitude toward God is connected to our daily life. I think more often than we might realize, we forget what worship is about and how connected it is to our interactions with people. We isolate worship as a stand alone event that is in no way connected to how we live our life. Or maybe this is our first experience with being a part of a community like this; a worshiping community. If so, that is great. But I am speaking out of my experience, knowing that way to often I make worship something that it is not. 

    Text Background: A little context for the time when this text we are about to we read was written in Jerusalem: The economy was extremely unstable. There was a severe famine in the region, there wasn't enough food to go around. People were having to mortgage their fields, vineyards, and homes in order to get enough food for their families to stay alive, and people were being charged a ridiculous amount of interest on the mortgages. They were being taxed a crippling amount of their income as well. All of this was forcing many of them to force their own children in slavery.

    The government at the time was both lax and oppressive which had led to significant violence and disorder. The city had become a place of great violence, and it was the leadership of the city that was primarily responsible. They were continuing to seek their own personal welfare and advancement at the expense of the poor and marginalized.  So you can begin to get an idea of the setting that these words spoken by the prophet Isaiah were first said. 

    So first question. What is a prophet? What is their role? To shares God’s nightmares and dreams. Speaking things people often don’t want to hear. A mouthpiece for God.

Text:  Isaiah 58

    A Closer Look: Isaiah 58 is all about worship, particularly fasting. Jerusalem has a temple of sorts at the time of this prophecy where people would gather together to worship publicly through fasting and praying for justice in a time where there was blatant injustice. 

    Verse 1: God is going to let the people know that there is a problem with what they are currently doing. Prophecy. Announcing something that is going against the life that was desired by God for these people. So What is the problem?    

    Verse 2-5: Fasting was a part of the Israelite’s worship, but by the time this scene unfolds, fasting had become a mere cultural spectacle. Times of fasting at this point were institutionalized into four occasions which became a sort of popular holiday which had little to do with worship. Think Easter and Christmas in our culture. What happens?

    So the city has erupted into unimaginable injustice and what do the leaders of the city do? They continue to fast and pray that change might come, but do nothing themselves about the injustice that they see all around them. In fact they continue to contribute to the systems of injustice through the very way they choose to live their lives.

    As the prophet tells us in verse 5, God is tired seeing life sucked right out of people. But somehow, this is what their worship had become. Not life giving, but life draining. 

    So the prophet has called out what is unacceptable in the eyes of God.

On the surface they appear to be very religious. They say all the right things. Believe all the right things. They even go through many of the right motions when it comes to their public gatherings for worship. But something is grossly wrong. 

Read: Isaiah 29:13 

    Does this sound familiar to anyone about what we read in the NT with regards to Jesus?

What does Jesus say to the religious leaders of Jerusalem? You worship me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me (Matthew 15:8-9). 

    So through the prophet, the religious leaders of Jerusalem are told that God is not pleased with what is happening, and we begin to pick up on the idea that their worship was somehow connected to their way of living. But what is worship supposed to look like?

    Verse 6-8: The prophet begins to share God’s vision of what worship should look like. Look at verse 6. What do you think that has to do with, knowing what you know about the historical context? These things are related directly to the injustice that is occurring in the city they inhabit. 

    What about verse 7? Feeding the hungry, putting a roof over the homeless, clothing the naked. Not withdrawing yourself into isolation but remaining connected to the community around you and its needs. Does this sound familiar to anyone with regards to something Jesus says. 

    In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story about a king who is separating those he rules into two groups, "just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Jesus goes on to say that the sheep were those that somehow fed the king when he was hungry, gave him something to drink when he was thirsty, welcomed him into their home when he was homeless, gave him clothes when he was naked, took care of him when he was sick, and went to visit him when he was in prison. The sheep are incredibly confused by what the king is saying to them. They ask the king when these things happened, because of course the wealthy king would never be found in these circumstances. The king responds, "I assure you that when you have done if for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me." Do you see the claim that is being made here by Jesus? Somehow our interaction, our love and worship with God is linked to our love of other people and how we care for them.

    Isn't it interesting that Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God with our entire being and and the second is just like it: to love our neighbor as ourself. Again, this idea that our love of God, our worship of God, is inseparable from how we treat and care for other people.

    Verse 9-12 And what happens when our worship begins to look like this? Life begins to emerge in the most unexpected of places. Even in dry and withered places, there will be a spring of water. Life. And what will they then be called? “Mender of Broken Walls” and “Restorer of Livable Streets.” This is like urban development. God had a vision for the people of Israel. What was that vision? That they would be a people who cared for those less fortunate than them in their own neighborhood. That they would seek justice in their own neighborhood. That there neighborhood would be one that promoted life at every level, in every nook and cranny. Their worship was inseparable from their ability to not only see the oppression and injustice around them,  but stop the ones who were inflicting it, and then come to the aid of those who had been the victims of it. 

    So when Jesus comes along in the New Testament, what is his biggest issue with the religious leaders of the city? That their worship doesn't match up with how they live their lives, particularly with concern for the oppressed and marginalized. Worship (thanks and gratitude to God) is inseparable from our care for and involvement in the neighborhoods we live in. Especially when it comes to those who are being ignored and trampled upon within our neighborhoods.

    What About Us? Our hope for this community of people is that this would not simply become a worship service that is in no way related to the rest of our life, or the world around us. But the sad reality, is that is what many churches become. And that is why church is so often thought of as simply a place, or a building, where we go to to worship. And we then make the worship all about us; our needs and our wants. The service then becomes a sort of spectacle that has little to do with truly worshipping God, but begins to look more like a vending machine that we come to each week to get what looks and feels good to us. When our service, or gathering of worship, becomes an end in itself, it becomes sterile and counterproductive to the mission of Jesus. It becomes very inward and blinded to all that God is doing around us and inviting us to be a part of. 

    Us gathering together to worship each Saturday evening is very important. But hear this: if our community is not naming the injustice we see all around us, figuring out how to stop it, and caring for those afflicted by it, I would argue that our worship is done in vain. 

    So I hope we can begin to see how this is connected to last week. If we are broken before one another, we realize our need for wholeness and forgiveness, and our pride begins to lessen. And it is in that place that we are then able to love greatly. This idea of “loving greatly” is worship. We come here and give thanks and gratitude to God for life, but it must then translate into a great love for the world around us that God loves so dearly. We come here on Saturday and open the Word, but then we must go and be the embodiment of the Word for others. We go and put flesh on the word.

"Brokenness." Joel Drenckpohl, Church-SLO, February 1, 2014

    I break or ruin a lot of things. It’s not necessarily that I want to break or ruin them, it’s just that I tend to push things to their breaking point. I will twist something just a little too much. Or bend something a little too far. And before I know it,  its broken. Drives my wife crazy. It often happens with things that don't belong to me. So then the question becomes, “Is it bad enough that they won’t notice?” Or, “Can I make it seem like wasn’t really my fault?” If I just pretend like it’s not broken, then maybe I can get by without having to own up to it. 

    When I was in middle school my youth pastor Shawn and I were headed to go play basketball at the local gym that he belonged to in his classic Dodge Caravan, but before we went there we had to swing by his apartment to grab his shoes. So we pulled up right in front of the pathway leading to his apartment, he putt the van in park, and ran in to grab his shoes and left me in the van which was still running. So as he is walking to his door, I get the idea in my head, that I am going to turn his van around for him because I know that he is going to have to do so when he came back. I simply wanted to surprise him by doing something nice. How often what starts like good intentions, end in disaster. So I hop in the driver’s side, put the car in drive and pull forward to where I had always seen him turn the car around before. I then put the car in reverse to back into the parking space that will then allow me to go back down to pick Shawn up. A simple three point turn. Well point number two of the turn did not go according to plan. As I was backing up I failed to ever look over my left shoulder or check the left mirror. Something they teach you in Driver’s Ed I guess. My reversing was abruptly stopped by a loud crunching noise to my left. I look out the window, and all I could see was a giant wooden post. I had managed to wrap the door around the post. Well I knew this wasn't good. I immediately completed my three point turn and pulled the car back down to where Shawn would be returning any second. I hopped back in the passenger seat, bucked my seat belt, and waited. Shawn walks out second later, sees the car has been turned around, smiles, I smile back, and pretend like everything is just fine. As he rounds the front of his van to the driver’s side, his mouth drops open. I look up at him with my hands in the air and say, “What?”

    I delusionally pretended like everything was fine, when clearly everything was not fine. I was ashamed at what I had done. I didn't want to hurt my ego (not knowing how to drive), pride. And so I tried to hang on to the myth that everything was just fine, even if it was for a mere 10 seconds. 

    I don’t know about you, but I am a broken mess of a person, and for too long I have tried to hang on to the myth that everything in my life is just fine. I get so good at pretending and fooling all those around me that I have it all together. Am I really fooling anyone though? Often times in Christian culture I think we gather together with other people who are really good at pretending as well. It becomes one big delusional mess of people who are never really themselves with other people, but always presenting to be a version of themselves they think is more attractive to other people.

    This isn’t living. Its pretending. Jesus tells us that he came so that we might live, and live abundantly, and tonight I want to suggest that part of that process is to live out of a place of brokenness. 

Scripture: Luke 7:36-47

The Text:

    So a religious leader, one who was probably not entirely opposed to Jesus, named Simon, invites Jesus over to his house for a meal. Once they come inside they all take their places around the table. It would have been a table that was very low to the ground and the guests would have been laying down on their sides with their heads near the table and their feet away from it. 

    Meanwhile, as they are gathered around the table, Luke tells us that a woman who was from the city, a sinner, finds out that Jesus is at this house and enters it. The use of these words creates an idiom that would be something similar to “a well know sinner” or “public sinner.” We aren’t sure exactly what she was well known for, but we can be fairly certain that the surrounding community looked down upon her as a scandalous disgrace of a human being. She was broken. And people didn't want anything to do with her. 

    So the woman enters Simon’s home. She was not an invited guest. But homes in Jesus’ day were not as private as they are today. Doors would remain open allowing family, friends, beggars, even the casual passers-by, to wander in. Can you imagine if this was the case today? Living where Kristi and I do, with all the people who pass by our door every day, I could not imagine leaving our door open.

    We are told she had brought with her an alabaster vase or a flask of perfumed oil. It would appear that this woman already knew something of Jesus, and that he/and or his teachings, had already had a profound impact on her life, because she was coming to anoint Jesus with oil. This would have been a symbol of gratitude. Perhaps she has already heard Jesus’ message of forgiveness through John the Baptist. 

    Here is a woman who was no stranger to being the object of ridicule within her city, standing in the home of those who so freely ridiculed her, because she has heard of this Jesus and his message of grace and forgiveness. She had heard that he is the kind of person who hangs out with people like her. She knows she is broken, but she believes that there is a God who has come to meet her in the midst of her brokenness and begin a process of restoration. She doesn't want to interrupt the meal, but as she is standing at the feet of Jesus she becomes overcome with emotion and begins to weep.  Before she can even get the vase of oil open, Jesus’ feet are wet with tears. What a mess. This is probably not how she envisioned this whole scenario unfolding, but she can’t contain her emotion. Her thought is to now wipe off Jesus’ feet. But remember this is not her home, and she has nothing to wipe them with. And so she tries to make things better, but in the eyes of those looking on, she made the situation a whole lot worse. She lets down her hair to use as a cloth. In that culture, no decent, respectable woman would do such a thing in public. But she continues because she cant help but show her love to Jesus. She wipes his feet with her hair and begins kissing them, eventually pouring oil over them. What an absolute mess. 

    Well Simon sees all this happening and he can’t believe his eyes, let alone that this is happening in his home. What this woman was doing was wrong on so many accounts. This woman commits multiple social and cultural slip ups, but Jesus seems more concerned with the social slip up of the religious leader. 

    Jesus senses that Simon is irritated with what is happening in his home and so Jesus addresses it. He begins by telling a parable about a lender who has two people who owe him money; one a huge debt, and the other a much smaller debt. Both are forgiven their debts. Jesus then asks Simon who he thought would love the lender more. Simon answers, “I suppose the one with the largest debt cancelled.” He is essentially asking Simon, “Do you see how this woman’s behavior displays the love of someone who has been forgiven? Who has been met in their brokenness? 

    Jesus continues his conversation by drawing comparisons between the woman and Simon. Telling Simon how this woman, who was truly broken, was the one who had actually been a host to him, loving in a profound way out of her place of brokenness. Notice how it wasn't the religious leader who displayed great love, but an uninvited guest, playing the part of a humble host, full of gratitude. What is so interesting about this story we are exploring today is how similar the church has been to this religious leader in this story. He didn’t show great love, but was more known for being judgmental, hypocritical, and everything he was against. A few years ago a poll was done on a national level about the perception of Christians among non-Christians. Can you guess the trop three things that came up when they were asked what they thought of Christians? Anti-gay, judgmental, and hypocritical. What did Jesus say his followers would be known for? Love.

    He then ends his conversation with Simon in verse 47. He tells Simon that because this woman understands her place of brokenness, and her need for restoration, she was able to love in such a way where the status quo and social convention were ignored. She understands, accepts, embraces her place of brokenness because she believes there is a God who meets her right where she is, who has already forgiven her, and begun the process of putting her back together. 

    I believe that Simon and this woman were both broken individuals, but it was only one of them who was able to love greatly in this moment; the one who who didn’t pretend like she wasn't broken, but owned up to, and chose to live out of it.

What About Us?

What are we doing here? Why are we gathered together this evening? 

    You know why I think we are here? We are broken people longing for something. We are longing for healing. We are longing to be heard. To be ourselves. To shed the masks that we so often have to put on. To be understood. Longing to be connected. Longing for something real in a world so jam packed with the artificial. Longing for people to sit with us in the midst of our mess. Longing for excitement in the midst of a life that feels like a mundane routine.

We long for life. But we think we can get it on our own. 

    If we just change this or that.  If we can fix this about ourselves or someone else. If we can just meet the right person. If we can just do a better job at a particular task. If we can just overcome that addiction. If we just start being more spiritual; praying more, reading the Bible more, doing more charitable acts. If we just find the right church, and maybe this new one will do it for me. If we can make people think we have it all together. 

    Do you see the illusion that we get tricked into thinking? That we have the power within us to experience a better, more fuller life. It’s called pride. We pretend like we know all the right answers and have our life in order because we are afraid of what people will think if they really knew what was going on in our life. If they knew about our messed up family life, about our broken marriages, our addictions, our failures as friends, as spouses, as parents, our insecurities…The reality is, we are shattered mess of broken glass that we are desperately trying to hold together so we will appear whole. It doesn't work. It is a waste of time. We buy into the myth of pride, that we aren’t broken, and what it really does is break relationships with the people closest to us, our families, the community, and world around us. It causes us to be people that actually love those around us less, because we are so concerned with maintaining a certain persona. Simon had forgotten to be the host. This is what Jesus was trying to point out to Simon. Was Simon any less broken than this woman? No, he simply had learned to live life in such a way where he covered it up.

    I grew up in a house that always looked like a magazine. For my mom, everything had to look perfect and be in the right spot. Meanwhile one of her sons was dying from cancer, eventually would die, and she has struggled with depression ever since. I learned from my mom that even though everything might be broken in our life, we at least appear to have it all together. This message was then reinforced by the religious cultures that I have been around for most of my life. This is why it was so powerful for me to hear my mom praise my wife last week for her hospitality. My wife is a very hospitable person, but the image of hospitality that I have always had looked more like my mom’s: perfection. With tear filled eyes she told Kristi, “You have taught me so much about what it truly means to be a host, to let people in and see you and your family as you truly are. It’s real. I have realized that I have just been putting on a show. Thank you.”

    The woman in this story was broken. But she didn't hide her place of brokenness, she embraced it and chose to live out of it. She experienced forgiveness and grace in her life, which then caused her to go and show great love in such a way that ignored the social and cultural norms and broke the status quo. Out of her brokenness she became the loving host.

    This is our desire for this community. That this would be a group of people who stops pretending that we have it all together, but admits our brokenness, because we believe in a God who meets us in the midst of it and has already forgiven us and started the process of making us a whole. 

    We aren’t scared of brokenness.  Of mess. And we wont pretend like it doesn't exists. We want to be people who are out in this world loving the people that no one else will love with a great love that ignores what is culturally or socially acceptable, but we know that we can’t fully do that until we first admit our own brokenness and get out of the way of what God wants to do in and through us.

Big Sur Backpacking

This weekend Front Porch took a group of students backpacking in Big Sur!  We had a wonderful time hiking, exploring nature, climbing waterfalls, seeing wildlife, and spending time together in fellowship.  Baheej, Brian, Daniel, John, Juice, Kris, Liz, Sarah, and Tyler got to share in all the adventures.

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We hiked along the Salmon Creek Trail about 2 miles to Spruce Camp.  The trail heads up the mountain, threading in and out of side canyons, with the majority of the elevation gain in the first mile.   Along the hillside, every so often, the trail provides beautiful westward views of Highway 1 and the ocean.  

The first group made it before sunset on Friday, and was able to set up camp and collect firewood before the light was completely gone. We made delicious breakfast burritos for dinner, and shared stories of previous camping trips around the fire wile we waited for the second group of hikers coming in to meet us that evening.  Once everyone was in camp safely, we went to sleep under a beautiful moonlight night. 

Saturday morning was a bit chilly!  Typical Big Sur weather brought a cool evening, with overcast skies in the morning hours.  Everyone woke up at a leisurely pace, since we had no activities planned at a certain time.  A fire was built and breakfast was served (this helped take the edge off the cold).  We decided to hike further up the trail and explore a waterfall that we were told was worth the hike.  It was! 

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Upper Salmon Creek waterfall was secluded and gorgeous.  The trail lead another ¾ mile up the canyon from Spruce camp, and we took a precarious 100-foot path/washout down into the creek bed to see the waterfall.  After climbing around and exploring above the waterfall, we decided to hike back to camp for lunch.  Instead of taking the trail though, we rock hopped along the river back to our campsite.  How fun it was crawling around trees, rocks, pools, and small cascades as we made our way back to camp.  After an hour and a half of walking in the creek, we arrived at camp for lunch.  We rekindled the fire, and awaited the arrival of the last two members of our group to arrive for the weekend. 

After everyone arrived at camp, we had some free time to enjoy nature.  Some napped in the hammocks, some had quiet bible reflection time, and some explored around camp.  In the late afternoon, half the group went for a hike up to Dutra Flats for scenic views of the ocean and to watch the sunset.  The other half stayed in camp gathering firewood, taking pictures, relaxing, and prepping dinner.  After the hikers returned from watching the sunset, we had dinner and fellowship time around the campfire.  Baheej got creative with his camera and took some really fun group shots, as we wrote about how much we love Front Porch with our headlamps.  After the photo shoot, the temperature dropped so we huddled around the fire to play games and tell more stories. 

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Sunday morning we awoke to another beautiful, crisp Big Sur day.  Breakfast was served with tea, and we packed our gear to wrap up the weekend.  Kris, Liz, and Sarah hiked out just after breakfast to get back at a decent hour to allow for study time (what hard workers) while the guys stayed for another few hours to hike and explore.  Before the guys went hiking we read some scripture (it was Sunday after all) and loaded up all our gear to be ready to head back to the car after our hike.  We went to the waterfall again, so the people who were not there Saturday morning could experience the glory and beauty for themselves. 

The hike back to the car was again gorgeous, and rather pleasant.  The sun was shining, and a majority of the hike was downhill, so we made good time.  On the way home we stopped in Morro Bay for burritos and horchata at Tacos de Mexico.  That meal filled our tanks and provided lots of energy for the rest of the afternoon, which was probably spent napping (if everyone was as tired as I was).  Spirits were high as we concluded our backpacking trip, and plans are already in the works for our next adventure. 

-Juice

Open House - Being a Piece of the Puzzle

Greetings!

We had a wonderful turnout at our Open House on Saturday. It was a great opportunity to share with both the members of the community, as well as the number of church congregations that support our ministry, about what Front Porch is and where it is headed. Those in attendance had the opportunity to hear from both current students of Cal Poly, as well as alumni, about the difference Front Porch has made in their life. It provided me the wonderful opportunity to meet many of the people who have faithfully supported Front Porch throughout the years, and to share with them a little bit of the direction I see Front Porch heading as we move forward. 

Throughout the Front Porch Ministries building we had posters pinned on the walls with various items on our "wish list" to help make the coffee shop, library, and study areas more functional. Those in attendance were able to donate money towards specific items on our wish or to wherever it was needed most. They were also able to donate their time and efforts by coming in and filling a shift at the Coffee House, or providing a meal for our weekly Wednesday night gatherings. Those who committed to supporting our ministry in some way were able to add a piece to the puzzle that you can see a picture of below. We greatly appreciate all that was donated to help make Front Porch the amazing place that it is for College students. 

We do know there were many people who wanted to join us on Saturday but were not able to. Our hope is that you will be a piece of the puzzle as well! We have many more items on our wishlist, opportunities to support out ministry through serving in the Coffee House, and plenty of Wednesday nights here at Porch where we are in need of a meal. If you are interested in hearing more about how you can be involved in Front Porch please email me: front.porch.director@gmail.com

Please continue to pray for Front Porch and the direction that God is taking it. It is an exciting time to be involved at Front Porch and I am humbled to be a part of it. I hope you will want to be a part of it too!

Blessings,

Joel

Welcome Joel!

Joel Drenckpohl started as the new Front Porch Director this month. Read more about him on the "Leaders" page, but for just rest in the assurance that he's awesome and he's here. His family will be moving up at the end of the month. If you get a chance, stop by Front Porch and introduce yourself or send him a note.

The Drenckpohls: Joel and Kristi with Audrey, Landon, and Jordan.

The Drenckpohls: Joel and Kristi with Audrey, Landon, and Jordan.