Alright, folks, it is almost time to get serious again.  Winter break is drawing to an end (sigh), and I hope y’all had a swell time back at home with family and friends.  For those of you participating in the Letters From a Skeptic Challenge, how’s the progress?  Please take the poll below!

Couple things to highlight so you can hit the ground running when you get back here to Berkeley:

  • Snow Trip – the date has been moved to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Mon., 01/18), and it is FREE for all college students … oh my!
  • Winter RetreatFROSH, it is not too late to sign up!!!
  • All-Frosh Dinner (sponsored by Koinonia)

Check out the Koinonia website for more info, and I will see you soon!

ATTENTION, freshmen!  New discount for retreat fee — for frosh only!  See below for details!

The Winter Retreat for Gracepoint-Berkeley Church is around the corner.  The dates are Friday, January 22 to Sunday, January 24.  The theme for this year’s retreat is How to Have a Personal Relationship with God.

Do you remember … at the beginning of LIFE group, when we read the excerpt by Fredrick Buechner?  During our discussion, we unanimously agreed that as seekers, we want more than objective knowledge of God’s existence — we want a personal experience. There is no better time than at the 2010 Winter Retreat, because not only are we going to be talking about how to relate with God, but we are also having an opportunity to do so!

The new year starts with many resolutions and commitments (i.e., exercise more, eat healthy, lose weight, study throughout the semester with the intensity of finals preparation, etc.).  But before you know it, the days and weeks are filled with the hustle-and-bustle of life.  That is why as a church, we want to start the new year on the right foot — by getting away from the familiar and making time to focus on things above.

Description

The Winter Retreat is the spiritual highlight of the year, the “Super Bowl” of retreats, if you will.  This year it is open to our entire church, and everyone who attends comes with much anticipation and desire to personally hear from God and connect with Him as we start off the year together on the same page.

Personally, the winter retreats during my college and post-graduate years were times of major markers and decisions in my own spiritual journey, and this has been the case for many people.  It is one of those retreats that become a part of our collective experience as a church and point of reference for the rest of the year and beyond.

The actual schedule (though I don’t know the details of this year) consists of messages throughout the day, interspersed with yummy retreat cafeteria food, small group discussions, workshops or Q&A sessions on different topics, testimonies and sharings from people you know, break times for icebreakers and sports, etc., all in the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains.  It’s also just a fun and memory-making time, especially being together with all your peers and sharing a cabin together.

Payment [IMPORTANT UPDATE]

  1. There is an extension to sign up, so it is not too late!
  2. There is a discounted retreat fee for freshmen only!  Instead of the full price of $150 (for college students), it is a bargain at $75. We understand that times are tough, but we also really want to encourage all the freshmen to come experience our annual winter retreat.  We did not want financial constraints to be a hindrance or deterrent.  Take advantage of the opportunity!

Please also remember to sign up online:

http://www.gracepointannouncements.org/winter-retreat

I hope you have been keeping up with your DT!  I just wanted to share from John 4:

John 4:1-18

“The shortest route from Jerusalem to Galilee lay on the high road straight through Samaritan territory. Many Jews would not travel by that road, for they regarded any contact with Samaritans as defiling. Immediately after the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., the Assyrians had deported the Israelites from their land and had resettled it with captives from other countries. These had brought with them their own gods, whose worship they had combined with remnants of the worship of Jehovah and Baal in a mongrel type of religion […] By the time of Jesus a strong rivalry and hatred prevailed.”[1]

“Women customarily went to the well when it was cool, either in the morning or in the evening.  This offered them interaction as well as water.  This woman’s coming along in the heat of the day suggests that she was an outcast.”[2]

  • Why did the woman avoid people (v.18)?  How do the shameful things in my life (past and present) affect how I relate to people?  What can I learn about the nature of sin through this?

The woman avoided people because of her immoral life of successive marriages and now a wedlock relationship.  The shameful things in my life – both past and present – affect how I related to people in that there is resistance to sharing about my sins, there is a desire to prove myself, there is a wish to be thought of my highly than the present reality of my iniquity and brokenness, there is an intention to maintain a façade that belies my utter wickedness and wretchedness.  The nature of sin is isolating – in one sense, it severs relationships (with God, man and self), but in another sense, it results in such profound shame and guilt that sinners withdraw from community and prefer to remain anonymous, disconnected, and thus never have to confront themselves or God.

  • What must have driven this Samaritan woman to keep repeating a failed life strategy?  What are the ways in which the description of this woman is an accurate description of the human predicament?

This Samaritan woman was driven to keep repeating such a failed life strategy because with each subsequent marriage, she lost hope in ever experiencing true love.  Lowering her standards each time, she regarded marriage as a means to an end – for security, acceptance, belonging – having already abandoned love.  She might have felt defiled, worthless, and in desperation, she settled for any man that welcomed her into his home.

This description of this woman’s life is an accurate description of the human predicament, for each and every person is in search of love and security and belonging, but they end up looking in the wrong places; and in their pursuit of love, they cross boundaries they thought they never would, and disillusioned with themselves and life and true love, they resort to temporary solutions to a transcendent longing.  Because they do not consider God, they are limited to what they have ever known.  And like drinking seawater, their thirst is never quenched but only intensifies.

  • What must have Jesus been feeling as he said v.10?  Do I know the gift of God, and who it is that came to offer me the living water, and how does this impact me today?

As Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…,” he must have been feeling a sense of regret that she has been missing out all these years and been through so much heartache and brokenness as a consequence; a sense of urgency to open her eyes to this precious gift of salvation and the One who was offering it to her; and a sense of anticipation and hope that it was not too late for her.

I know this gift of God and the One who has come to offer me this living water, and it impacts me today in that I no longer have to draw from “wells” whose water will make me thirsty again – wells like romance, significance through academic or professional accomplishments, approval from others, wealth or material comfort.  Instead, I have been blessed with the greatest gift in the world, and it is something that I cannot possibly hoard but must share with all those around me.

  • How would the woman have felt upon hearing Jesus telling her to bring her husband?  What lessons can I learn about what is required in order to relate with God?  What must I face in order to relate with God?

The woman must have been gripped with horror, with instant revulsion as she was brought to the point of facing her broken life.  As painful as that moment was, it was the perfect (and necessary) starting point for relating with God.  There has to be that confrontation of personal sin, which leads to the point of confession and acknowledgement of truth.  In order for me to relate with God, I need to face my sinful past and the sins that rage in me.  I cannot simply sweep them under the rug and pretend that they are not there and that everything is okay between me and God.  The proper posture before God is contrition and humility.


[1] Source: Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for chapter 4.

[2] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1470.

Starting the day off with DT

Woke up yesterday morning at Mike, had breakfast and did our Devotions around some Costco muffins and coffee!  Shared, had a quick lunch with his family and took off for UCSD, but before we go there just like to share a little from the wedding passage:

John 2:1-5

  • Consider the irony of wine running out on the wedding day—the most well-prepared and supposedly happiest day of one’s life.  What truth about life and about the limits of human abilities does this scene depict?
  • What did Mary do about this problem?  What can I learn from Mary?

It’s again a reminder that human efforts are limited – no matter how much preparation, no matter how much resources we have, we’ll always fall short of being able to provide for ourselves in every situation.  I just think about how much I can rely on my own knowledge to get me through class in school or a project at work, it’s never enough – that as hard as I study or as diligent as I work, I always fall short or where’d I’d like to be.  Even in keeping promises and relationships, I’ve experienced just falling short in a lot of ways: just by the sheer number of hours and my limited emotional capacity I can only handle so much – there’s are old friends who are hurt because they felt left in the dust because of my lack of schedule, or my because of my own laziness and selfishness I am only a sub-par son when I go home.  Though I know I should try as hard as I can to be the best as I can in all these areas, being a diligent worker, a loving son, a helpful brother, an able minister – the facts are clear – I am a sinner and will fall short time and time again.  To recognize that even when I try to do good I fall short, and accept that, there’s where there will be room for grace.  And as I think about the upcoming Christmas message, I’m just inspired once again that I serve a God that doesn’t expect perfection from me, but expects imperfection and works even within the confines of our human limitations.  In the case of the wedding, he used what was there.

And I think that speaks mountains, that they don’t have to even have to have grapes for Jesus to make wine: he’s going to use whatever I have, as long as I can even obey like the servants did!  Many times I feel like, you know I can’t lead a small group because I don’t know what to say, I don’t know enough about the Bible – but I always forget that God is the one that’s in control.  If I was always fully prepared (for one I don’t think I’ll ever be fully prepared) where does that leave for God to work?  A lot of times my life is lived out with everything planned out and everything prepared where I always need to feel like I’m in control, but a lot of times God isn’t looking for the most competent person, the most prepared person, but rather someone who is willing to just listen to Him and pour the water.  He’s looking for a person who is more interested in asking Him for help rather than relying on himself for the answers. Like Mary. I think the most amazing part about Mary is that up to this point, no miracles were performed, no signs were made directly from Jesus, and she trusted.  She remembered that day when the angel came and told her she was going to give birth to a Savior, and from then she trusted and had faith.  I think about how I even have a hard time trusting in God even after time after time He shows himself to be faithful.  How he’s led me through financially hard times growing up early in my life, how he saved me from a life of vandalism and just trying to find love in all the wrong places, and how he saved me from pursuing the things of this world through complications in romantic relationship, through disillusionment of career, and so much more.  How much has He been working through our church?  This past 5 years: one northloop building (one sierra lodge), two church plants: one domestic, one abroad.  Three college fellowships.  Four new ministries: ECM, the restart of Impact, VSM, Interhigh.  Yes, I need to be a lot more Mary-like in faith, because man I have NO reason to doubt at all that God will be faithful and God is working – and even if a turn of evens happens and things are tough: I still have to be faithful, remember the Gospel, hold on to like Mary did, how she recognized and did not doubt that her son was the Son because of that faithful night.

John 2:10

  • How does the statement “everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine” aptly describe how the world works?  In contrast, how does the statement “you have saved the best till now” aptly describe how God works?

The best now and the cheaper ones later: people live like this all the time, not necessarily the “best” now, but they try to enjoy the pleasures of life without any of the substance.  Enjoy the best years of your life now, have fun, party, spend on yourself.  As life drags on, the wine gets cheaper, they used up the best years of their life on what? They don’t invest in the hard work or relationships, they don’t use it to preach the Gospel.  It all empties and goes to waste, and I have to confess many times I’ve been like this, I’m just glad that God led me to this church earlier than later, that I would have a lot more life to invest to this than in what I would’ve invested in: basically a stable and comfortable life, pursue a relationship that isn’t God-centered, but me-centered, and probably waste my times in the media world: movies and games.  How would I know, that’s how I wasted the better parts of my teenage years away in.

In a way, we waste the better wine – life itself before we know what we should use it for, but one thing from this incident shows is that God, even after we’ve exhausted are good wine (despair not!) He’ll still provide, and for that I’m extremely grateful – and I want to more and more treasure the best wine by using it to the best of my ability and not hoard for myself a life that’s lived selfishly.  I want to live for God and for other people to exhaust my resources for God’s kingdom rather than for my own limited life.

UCSD Library, center of campus

With all that in mind, we set off for UCSD to do our little prayer walk – reminded how it’s not about our resources, but God’s which is how we’re approaching these upcoming three church plants.

Where we will flyer for UCSD New Student Welcome Night!

We were able to walk through campus (the campus is huge!), and to think that in about six months we’ll be here on this campus getting ready to put on our New Student Welcome Night to the students here.  We saw the Sproul Plaza equivalent of UCSD and could already picture all the students bustling through that place, getting a flyer from one of guys on the team, and hopefully one day experiencing the Gospel.

It's the Cat!

After seeing their huge library (basically they don’t have a Campanile so their library is basically their campus landmark), the Cat in the Hat Dr. Seuss memorial, and a Class of 2008 plaque (that’s us!) we got together at the food court and prayed for the campus and sang “Let your Glory Fall.” I hope that if any of you guys are in the area (Mr . Knox!) you’ll be able to join us for our prayer walk on the UCSD campus.  It’s one good way we can take ownership over the church plant, even if we’re not the ones going, with almost 30,000 students on that campus – that’s definitely a mission field (one much closer than Cambodia that John and I are going to in a week and a half!).

That would've been us if we went here!

Merry Christmas everybody!

-Brian

Congratulations on finishing your first semester at Cal! (One down, seven more to go … hopefully …)

Congratulations, also, for accepting the “Letters from a Skeptic” Challenge!  To remind you of the terms, if you finish reading the book and create a basic summary outline of the content (essentially 29 popular questions regarding God, the claims of Jesus Christ, the reliability of the Bible, and the ins-and-outs of Christian life, as well as the respective responses), then we will treat you out to dinner when you come back!

We set up this website to provide a forum for you to share comments, questions and insights you have through your reading.  Additionally, if you would like to share what you are getting out of devotion time (DT), feel free to reply.  And of course, we want to hear how your winter break is going!

Another great resource is Gracepoint Forum, a website by Daniel Kim (one of the directors of acts2fellowship) that deals exclusively with Christian apologetics (“the defense of truth claims and worldviews”).  There are many tough questions that are raised and addressed.  Check it out!

So happy reading, and have a fun/safe/wonderful/awesome winter break.  Merry Christmas!

Getting BreakfastHey I hope you guys are enjoying your Winter break.  Right now I’m in San Diego with some of my former LIFE group guys that I hung out with during undergrad years.  And let me tell you, LIFE group isn’t about just the four years of college where you get together once a week share, have fun, and bond: that’s just the beginning.
Perry and BrianYesterday morning I (along with Ken, Steve, and Mike who are in our Praxis and Joyland ministries) was able to meet up with Brian C, Perry, and Chris for breakfast in LA before we drove down to San Diego for the Cal game! (Let’s not talk about that game…) And we had a fun time just catching up, even after a year and a half after graduation.  We were just thankful that we’ve made such close bonds in college that ran deep enough that we could share about what’s been going on in each of our lives. Perry and Brian are both in med-school – a tough road ahead but one we know they’ll be able to handle it.  Perry’s finishing his first semester at MidWestern in Arizona, and man does he had some stories about how for a week he ate Wheat Thins (and lost over 5 lbs!) because basically Med-School’s like finals – all year around and people there didn’t have time to eat.  Actually this was his first real meal in 2 weeks.  But’s he’s found a nice cozy fellowship and community in Arizona.  Brian’s down in San Diego, and he’s basically a genius – nearly 4.0 at Cal, he rocked all his classes and Medschool’s no problem for him.  Since then he’s been an active part of the Gradschool ministry down there (along with Suzanne, our other peer) and he’s even given a testimonial message on Sunday!

Lastly Chris has been a part of our church plant in Austin, grad’s school’s been tough – as he was cooped up in his office for 3 days.  But he’s really helping out our church at Gracepoint Austin – people are always on their toes on Sundays and he rotates through all the instruments, and he was the one of the ones who composed the song for the Thanksgiving Orchestra for our retreat! (Though only Phil got to enjoy that… Winter Retreat guys!).

It’s been great catching up with those guys, after breakfast we the rest of us took off for SD, and actually met up with another former lifegroup, the ’09 bros of former Acts2Fellowship to play some football before the game.
We hope that you guys will be able to forge life long friendships like this, where even after college, even after people are at all corners of the world, you’ll be able to really be forged in something more… something more than just the once a week gatherings.

We’re getting ready to head out to UCSD campus today to pray for the church plant we’re going to be having there. (Oh if you didn’t know we’re going to be planting churches in UCR, UCSD, and Minnesota! Exciting!).  Hope you guys are reading through Letters and John- getting ready for our Savior’s birth- Signing off, Brian

The Devotion Time text for Gracepoint Berkeley

As we begin DT through the Gospel of John, let’s share our devotion time reflections on our blog.  Simply go to  “Leave a Comment” and either respond to the post or provide your own insights.

John 1:1-5, 14

The term “the Word” (Gk. Logos) conveys the notion of divine self-expression or speech and has a rich OT background. God’s Word is effective: God speaks, and things come into being (Gen. 1:3, 9; Ps. 33:6; 107:20; Isa. 55:10–11), and by speech he relates personally to his people (e.g., Gen. 15:1).[1] 

  • Reflect on the words describing the true nature of Jesus (“the Word”) in this passage, and the fact that he came and “made his dwelling among us.”

The true nature of Jesus is entirely and lovingly relational.  The Word is by nature a communicative tool, an articulation of one’s being, a means to convey and connect.  The “dwelling among us” expresses the essence of love, the desire to be with and to share time and space with.  The story of Christmas and the incarnation of God in the form of a weak vulnerable baby are captured in the title Immanuel (Matthew 1:23), which means “God with us.”  God is not a distant spectator or an aloof deity, but he is wholly and fundamentally involved in the affairs of his creation and zealously committed to the salvation of his people.  It also shows me that God wants to speak, to be known, to relate with me.

A peasant's birth into a manger ... a criminal's death upon a cross

John 1:29 

  • Reflect on the title John gives to Jesus—“the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  What does this show about God’s love and human need?  How does this compare with my typical conception and witness about Jesus?

Jesus’ mission on earth was clear, established long before his humble birth: to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), to take “away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Jesus, the embodiment of God’s love, did not come only to share good moral stories, to teach us how to live, to perform miracles and improve people’s earthly existences.  His main objective was to confront and resolve the perennial, deep-seated dilemma of sin and the sinful nature within each person.  His heart was to grant eternal life for those who are perishing in their sin and selfishness.  That is the love of God.  It is not a warm, cuddly, “chicken soup for the Christian soul” fuzzy feeling.  Rather, it is a sacrificial, descending, humbling, selflessly serving, and suffering love that culminates on the cross.


[1] ESV Study Bible, Notes for Galatians (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008) 2019.

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