God is at work in Long Beach (written for Kingdom Causes December 2011 Blog Post)

God is at work in Long Beach. That’s my theory. It’s more than an intellectual thing, actually – it’s a belief. Tied in with my belief in God and trust in Jesus to be one of his children is the sense that God is at work in this world where he has put us. The times we live in here in Long Beach are alive with His purpose and meaning. I believe, in fact that the times are pregnant.

When God called me and my wife Susie to Long Beach to serve, we didn’t want to come. God took it all (graciously) in good humor and told us to come anyway, a small-time Mosaic moment. (No bushes were burned in the making of this life…) Within weeks of arriving, God confirmed to us that he was moving in this place. He had plans for Long Beach, and we were here to be with him in those plans. At that time, the sense of the moment seemed that it was a time of preparation – a now but not yet. It was not, to continue using biblical terms, the fullness of time. It was more like the times were pregnant.

We were new to Long Beach and to ministry. There wasn’t much money – not just in the church, but in the neighborhood! I worked outside the church to make a living, driving daily to an office up the South Bay curve in the LAX area. We were blessed with many Khmer friends as the church grew. Babies were born, including a son for us: Samuel (heard of God) to add to the two we brought with us, Laura and Benjamin. With many other babies and their parents an historic downtown church came to life. Resurrection. Family. This year the church is 123 years old and younger than ever, perhaps.

A man who met Jesus at this church before moving away in 1961 dropped by yesterday. With tears in his eyes he told me that he became child of God here and that this church had taught him how to follow Jesus (back when I was being physically born). He said it had been a good life with Jesus these past 50 years since he left. He sought me out to tell me these things. Then he walked away. An unexpected messenger of encouragement. “This is a great thing you have going here!” He didn’t know what he would find after all these years. An unknown brother. What is God doing? It’s bigger than we know, rooted in the past, alive and growing in the present. The vain part of me wants to believe his “you” means “me”. But I know it is a great thing that God has going here in Long Beach, and it is bigger than any one local church. It is about the church of the city- all God’s people here. I am not essential to what God is doing. I am privileged to be a small part. Grace at work here.

Is God’s time of preparation in Long Beach moving into fullness? I think it is. A time of action for God’s people in Long Beach is being born. I think a foreshadowing of that action began in the past year. God’s people did something. It crossed church boundaries. It connected to what city government and non-profits were doing to help move homeless folk into housing. More than just housing, it moved a number of those homeless folk into regular connections with caring communities of God’s people. Being downtown, I have a lot of homeless neighbors and friends. I don’t want to overstate a small beginning, but what happened with this project was remarkable. Government and community leaders cooperated with churches to do an effective work with dozens of the most at-risk homeless people in the downtown area. Church teams provided furniture and friendship to people moving from the street into housing. More than this, the tone of how we work together in the city changed. God’s name and the body of Christ was respected in ways that I have not before seen in my time in Long Beach. We – God’s people – worked together in a way that was good for the city, good for homeless folks, and good for us. I have to say, it seemed literally miraculous to me. Hope. A new birth? How do we feed THIS baby? Is it, in God’s time, the beginning of a season of action? If it is, this effort is not the fullness of that action. It is a beginning – perhaps the first child of a new time in God’s plan for his people and Long Beach.

Where am I going with this? Allow me to suggest that you ask yourself a question. What would your community’s reaction be if your church disappeared? People, buildings, programs… everything. Gone. Who would notice? What would their reaction be? Would it be perceived as a loss or as a gain? Would anyone notice at all? What would be the reaction of our city – Long Beach – if God’s people were removed? I’m not talking end times theology. I’m talking practical display of God’s character, purpose and glory through the life of the body of Christ in our city. How will they see His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Jesus, walking around in Long Beach? We need to be that glory. It’s how we grow up and give birth to new life. We are called. Who will answer?

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