Fear not the Extreme Among You

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Jesus invited a tax collector (someone who worked for the Roman Empire) and a zealot (someone who wanted to overthrow the Romans Government) to join his small group of disciples. Matthew and Simon were extremes, and they both found community in Jesus.

This past week I listened to the audiobook for People to Be Loved by Preston Sprinkle, and I began reading When the Center Does Not Hold by David Brubaker. I’m about 30% through Brubaker’s book so I’m not writing a reveiw of any kind in this post. These books are not talking about the same topic, but something that I found consist in their messaging. Jesus is not afraid of extremes. He calls people into relationship with him and he has the power to transform the extreme labels that we wear, so that those labels don’t define us.

Jesus doesn’t call us to water down our passions. But he can redirect our passions for his purposes. The Apostle Paul was an extreme person. He was breathing out murderous threats on his way to arrest followers of Jesus. Jesus halted Paul’s trip to Damascus, and radically transformed this Christian-hater into a church planting disciple maker. Paul who was one of the most passionate followers of the law, a Pharisee of Pharisees, became the voice that carried the gospel to the gentile nations. All the zeal that Paul had towards matters of the law, Jesus transformed and directed to be zealous for the message of God’s grace.

I pray that our churches, in-person an online, would be filled with extreme people. We need Matthews and Simons, and Pauls, who recognize that they are desperately in need of Jesus. We need not fear the extremes, if we keep directing people to Jesus as our shared center.

Yesterday Kathy and I were going to Costco, and we were talking about relationships with people and church leadership. Sometimes people leave for a bit, and come back because they know you are still there. It reminded me of an illustration I read years ago from Exiles by Michael Frost. Frost was comparing ranching techniques between different cultures. Some cultures build miles of fences to keep their herds and flocks in place. In other cultures, the rancher digs wells so the herds and flocks know where to come back for fresh, live sustaining water.

Jesus said that he is the living water. As a pastor, I am not afraid of extreme people, because they still need water. Jesus was not afraid of the extreme people, because he knew that they still needed water that he alone could offer.

I pray that we set aside our extremes and our labels for ourselves and others, and drink deeply that living water that Jesus gives us.

I pray that our passions for causes will be motivated not by our “right-ness” but by Christ’s righteousness.

Lord Jesus help us find our center in you alone.

Work in Progress

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I have been enjoying What if Jesus was Serious by Skye Jethani. This book is a devotional level reading of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jethani has a great ability to communicate profound truths through his doodles and brief reflections. I have had several experiences of being challenged in my own thinking and actions while reading this book.

I was drawn to this book because I really do believe that if Christians tried to live out the principles in the Sermon on the Mount, we would radically change the world. Jesus’ teachings in this passage are so counter-cultural and so seemingly impossible that it’s just easier to say, “Well, clearly Jesus is being hyperbolic!”

Every time I find myself reading these passages of Matthew, I have begun by confessing that I am far from perfect. I am a work in progress. I know that my natural desires run contrary to Jesus’ teaching and I need the Spirit of God to change my heart. If I can admit that I am a work in progress, then I need to also be willing to extend this kind of grace to others. I also ask the Lord to help me see where I have been transformed by his grace in my life.

Lately, the areas I need to submit to the Lord revolve around worry (Matt 6:25-34) and judging others (7:1-5). In regard to worry, I don’t find myself crippled with dread about the world, but I do tend to stress about things that I can’t control. I can’t control who wins elections. I can’t control the economy and how that effects our region. I can’t control other people’s opinions about me. But that doesn’t keep me from worrying about it. But I’m a work in progress.

Christians have a reputation in this world of being judgmental towards people who are not following Jesus. This is not good, but that’s not my particular struggle. I want people to follow Jesus and I desire that people would be set free from life controlling habits, addictions, and sinful behavior. I really do want that for people. When I’m really honest with myself though, my judgmental heart is not focused on non-Christians, my judgmentalism is towards people who claim the name of Jesus. And that is gross. I am asking the Lord Jesus to help me get the plank out of my eye. I am a work in progress.

I ask for grace from Jesus and grace from you. The Sermon on the Mount is the goal that I’m trying to live out. I want to build my life on these words from Jesus, because his teachings are the solid foundation that I need (Matt 7:24-27).

I’m Tired.

Photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash

I know I’m not the first to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway.

I’m tired of all of the division and anger in our country.

I’m tired of people who are happy to fight with strangers on the internet, and forget that there are human beings on the other side.

I’m tired of people saying, if you don’t agree with me on this politician, or this issue, we can’t be friends.

I’m tired of people announcing on Facebook that they are pruning their friends list.

I’m tired of people sharing things that are not true because it lines up with their prior assumptions.

I wish I could say that these exhausting things would be alleviated after the election. But they won’t. Because the problems are not ultimately about our politicians. I have been asking the Lord for clarity on the root of our current tensions. It’s not politicians. Politicians are temporary.

What I am coming to terms with is that we have forgotten how to love people. We have forgotten how to serve without demanding anything in return. We have forgotten, that even people we disagree with are made in God’s image. We have forgotten that we might be wrong sometimes and the other person could be right.

I think that is part of why I’m tired. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not my job to fix people. It’s not my job to win every argument. Sometimes we just need to walk away from the debate.

This is what I am committing to:

  • I will love you even if we disagree
  • I will assume the best about you even if we disagree
  • I will continue to pray for you to experience blessing and joy
  • I will continue to read Scripture and let the Word of God shape my life
  • I will lift up Jesus
  • I will teach the Bible to the best of my ability
  • I will not let your opinion of me outweigh what God says about me, and I will not let my opinion about you shape what God says about you

If you’re tired, I invite you to join me on this journey. I’m tired of being tired.

Dissecting the Frog – Anjelah Johnson: Not Fancy

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Anjelah Johnson is funny. If you were friends with her in real life, you would probably love listening to her share her stories. Before watching Not Fancy I had never seen or heard her stand-up. I chose this special for two reasons. 1) I didn’t want to only watch white men tell jokes. It’s good to branch out. 2. Netflix recommended it. That’s it.

I did not know that she blew up on the internet because of a video she produced where she talked about what it’s like to go to a nail salon. I did not know that video exists largely because it is not #relevanttomyinterests.

I also did not know that Anjelah is a Christian or that she is married to a Christian rapper. As a pastor who studies comedy, it would seem that I should know these things. But I’m going to tell you a little secret. A lot of Christian-Comedy just isn’t that funny. I don’t seek it out. Generally, when Christian-Comedy falls in my path, I can tell right away what’s going on. It was not until Anjelah said she’s a Christian that I even noticed that her material was missing swear words. I say all of this as a compliment. I appreciate that she is not afraid to say she is a Christian, and that she is not perfect.

Christians should be able to work in Comedy without having to only perform in churches. This show was in a fairly large theater in Southern California. Anjelah made note of this early on, and she also highlighted that she is Latina. There were several sections of material that highlighted the uniqueness of Latino culture, food, and family dynamics. One of my favorites is how she established the Latino hierarchy and placed Mexicans on top simply because their food has crossed over into normal food.

Anjelah also talked about going to Cholo Church. She set up a great contrast between the typical white church, and she had a great white-church-lady voice. So perfect. As a white person, I appreciated the accuracy. The way she talked about Cholo Church was funny and powerful. “These people, Jesus brought them through some stuff.” And “I could literally see Jesus on this man because he had a huge Jesus tattoo on his neck. That’s dedication.”

I don’t want to laugh at other people’s cultures. There is something that feels weird about that. But when someone of that culture is inviting us into their world by sharing their experience they are giving us permission. If we can’t laugh with each other then I really do believe we have completely lost our sense of humor.

I do feel strange when we laugh at other people’s cultures and they are not the ones inviting us to do that. As I said Anjelah blew up on the internet because of a nail salon video she released (I still haven’t watched it). This video may be very accurate. But Anjelah refers to this at the end of this special and part of her process is dropping into a very thick Vietnamese accent. She does a good job at the accent. But this bit is designed to bring laughter at the expense of “the other.” And maybe you might say I’m trying too hard to be “woke.” I really don’t care about wokeness. I just don’t think it’s funny. This section was a disappointment, it wasn’t the best material from the set, and it was what Anjelah chose to end on.

This is a strange thing that I have noticed in comedy in general. If people have a viral hit through youtube, in their next special they refer back to it. Nate Bargatze did this as well in The Tennessee Kid. I don’t know why they would want to do this in their comedy special. It assumes that everyone has been following the arc of their career. I know I was surprised by this at the end of Not Fancy. I had no idea what she was talking about. I don’t know if this trend is going to hold up well.

Overall, I would recommend this special. It is funny. You can watch it with your young teens and your grandma. Which is what everyone is going for right?

Dissecting a Frog – Jim Gaffigan: Quality Time

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Did Jim Gaffigan really release another special so soon? Yes. Is it good? Also yes.

I don’t know how Jim Gaffigan can create so many jokes so quickly. Working with his wife Jeannie, he definitely knows his voice and his point of view. With this hour and fifteen minutes of all-new comedy, Gaffigan doesn’t veer far from the formula that he knows works, but it still feels fresh.

What does Gaffigan talk about?

He starts by talking about how fat he’s getting. It seems like this is also how he opened his Mr. Universe special. That was mainly because his pants were too tight. This time, he approaches his weight from a different article of clothing, the untucked shirt. While talking about this, he also is able to make fun of the company, Untuckit, which claims to have invented a way for men to wear untucked shirts.

He talks about his kids, and how parents lie to their kids all the time. For example, “You wouldn’t like this ice cream. It’s too spicy.” I often told my kids that food I didn’t want to share tasted like medicine.

He also talks about traveling without his kids and how delightful it is.

He talks about Dateline, the news magazine TV show that went all-in on murder stories.

He talks about the weather – How hot it is in Las Vegas.

He talks about traveling and not wanting to do stuff.

I don’t want to list all of the major sections of Quality Time. Even though a lot of these topics may seem like they are cliche’ comedy jokes, Gaffigan is able to tell these jokes in a fresh and fun way. This special is very much worth it.

Personally, my favorite part of this special was seeing the evolution of Gaffigan’s storytelling. For so long so much of his bits were talking about a particular thing, Hot Pockets, Seafood, Hotel Pools, and then just making as many humorous observations and possible. In this special, Gaffigan had a great story about getting his appendix removed, followed by seeing a bear while the family was in Alaska. He gave joke after joke as he moved the story along. His jokes about how he got to the hospital, his post-surgery experience, the cost of it all.

Gaffigan’s pile on style joke (like hot pockets) for this special was about horses and gambling on horse races. He was able to stretch this section of jokes out, and do his patented cut-away to the audience-thoughts-voice. Gaffigan is so great at pointing to the things that we all thought were strange and making a ton of jokes about them.

Of course, Gaffigan is one of the least offensive comedians working today. I would definitely recommend this special. You could easily watch this with your teenagers. They would probably enjoy this. The other fun thing about comedians like Jim Gaffigan is that watching or listening to his comedy as a family can create a lot of shared laughs.

This is available on Amazon Prime Video, you can also find Noble Ape on Amazon Prime. If you don’t have prime, Gaffigan has several specials available on Netflix.

Todd Barry – Spicy Honey

The last two specials I watched had some weighty themes and emotional moments. This week I needed a little lighter fare. Scrolling through Netflix, I stumbled upon a Spicy Honey from 2017. Todd Barry is a joke machine. He doesn’t tell a lot of long stories. His jokes come from his everyday life and his unusual way of looking at the world.

The best comedians have two things, a unique worldview, and a unique voice. The voice does not mean they sound funny. The voice is about their ability to speak to something. Voice takes years to develop. Many great comedians work for years before they finally break through to superstar status. I believe that breakthrough happens when they hone their voice. For as long as I have been aware of Todd Barry, he has been a consistently funny and unique voice.

In this special, he talks about the absurdity of texting emergencies, the odd pressure of goal setting, paying someone to help organize your house. Barry is great at taking very mundane things and highlighting their absurdity.

Barry also does a great job of interacting with his audiences. He has done tours that showcased his crowd work. I this special, he has several moments where he stops telling his jokes and asks the audience members in the front row questions. These questions service the joke that he wants to tell in a moment, but it’s risky to stop your show and invite your audience to be a contributor to the program. But this is part of Barry’s brilliance. By interacting with the audience directly, he is bringing the room of strangers together. It creates an openness to his comedy, that welcomes people into a little community for the evening. He only interacted with a handful of people, but every time he stopped to talk to the audience, it re-engaged me differently.

Crowd work like this can be risky. But Barry never lost control. When crowd responses were strange, Barry would point that out. One of the audience members, when asked what he wanted to do for work, said he wanted to be a comedian. Barry took a moment to coach him and say, comedians never sit upfront. They always sit in the back. As a pastor, I love his interactions with the audience. I wish the church were a little more interactive. But I also strongly resonate with comedians sit in the back. Pastors at their churches always need to sit upfront. But when we go to pastor conferences, back rows fill up first.

Fans of Todd Barry would know that he does a fair amount of crowd work. I’m sure they came expecting to participate in the show in some way, but they could never know exactly what would happen. Crowd work like this makes comedy special. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. This combination of comic and audience members will never happen again. Every show can be radically different. Years ago, Pearl Jam released a bunch of bootleg audio recordings from their tours. They had unique evenings, and they wanted to share that with fans. I would love to have a series of bootlegs from Todd Barry’s tours. Yeah, a lot of the jokes would be the same, but a good joke, like a good song, can be played on repeat. But the crowd responses would keep the shows fresh.

My professor, Len Sweet, recommended a book during a lecture called Interactive Excellence by Edwin Schlossberg. It is a short book that addresses how art and performance that will resonate in the future will invite the audience to become co-creators with the artist. Stand-up comedy depends on the audience. If they don’t laugh, the show bombs. But crowd work, the way Barry does it, goes beyond generating laughter. Barry is inviting the audience to make the jokes with him. In doing so, he is turning fans into a family. These people will always remember this show, and they will rave about Todd Barry for the rest of their lives.

If you like a dry comic, Todd Barry is a great choice. He is a veteran of comedy; he’s done the work for years, and he keeps getting better. There is some swearing in this special, but there is nothing graphic.

Gary Gulman – The Great Depresh

Gary Gulman is a funny guy. He is tall, handsome, and charming. He seems like he’s got it all together. In his latest special, The Great Depresh, Gulman reveals his life long struggle with depression and anxiety.

I was first exposed to Gary Gulman through the comedy competition Last Comic Standing. His joke about the speed limit signs that tell you how fast you are actually going made me an instant fan.He blew up again in recent years with his stories about Trader’s Joe shoppers and How the states got their two-letter abbreviations. Gulman is a master and landing on the funniest possible word.

In 2019 he started giving daily comedy advice on his twitter feed. He loves comedy and wants comedians to succeed.

The Great Depresh starts with footage from what appears to be a open mic session in 2017. In that clip Gary is talking about struggling with a mental illness. And then it cuts to a travel and chase scene montage for the opening credits.

Gary talks more about his struggle with depression and how it was present throughout his life. He grew up as a sensitive kid during a time when it was expected that boys would be tough and men would be strong. Gary was a big athletic kid who struggled with expectations around athletics and school bullies.

This special is about an hour of jokes with cut-aways to interview/day-in-the like scenes with Gary’s mom, friend, wife, and therapist. Throughout all of this he is revealing more and more about how depression can be hidden from people (his mom has no idea) and how it can affect the people around you. One of the most powerful moments is when he is talking about Sadé, his wife, and how she was the real hero of his story. She walked with him through some very tough years.

As a child of the 80’s I found myself relating to Gary’s talking about loneliness, pressure to be a certain kind of man and not really fitting in. I have never had the depth of struggle with depression that Gulman talks about, but I understood more about depression after watching this special.

This special is very brave. Being vulnerable with strangers can be liberating, built it is also very risky. People could turn on you so fast if you admit weakness. Mental illness in particular is something that people are often afraid to talk about because there is so much stigma. Perhaps the most important thing that this special does is get all the stigma out in the open. Gulman talks about medication and the struggle of finding balance there. He talks about hospitalization and being admitted to an inpatient treatment center for three weeks. Gary talks about lack of desire for every day life. When he talks about eating ice cream with a fork because you just can’t be bothered to wash a spoon, that was all too real. Gulman talks about suicidal thoughts and the idea of writing a suicide note. He put so much of himself out there.

What the Great Depresh does really well is reveal the struggles of depression without glorifying it. Gary is not trying to portray himself as a suffering artist. His message is that if you are struggling with depression, you don’t have to suffer, and you are not alone. There is a call to action in this special, get the help you need because you are worth it.

I wish this special was more widely available. It is an HBO special an the only reason I was able to watch it was because of a free 7 day trial through amazon prime. This was the only thing i wanted to watch, so I’m cancelling my trial. There is almost no swearing and i think you could watch this with your teenager and it would probably lead to some really important conversations.

Gary, thank you for putting this special out in the world. I pray that you continue to walk in a healthy path. You are loved and you are worth it!

Mike Birbiglia – The New One

Available now on Netflix!

I have been a fan of Mike Birbiglia for years. When I first listened to Two Drink Mike I knew that he was a unique voice. I have been amazed by his evolution as a comedian. With What I Should Have Said is Nothing Birbiglia started to become more confessional. He wove observational humor in and out of the true stories from his life. He seemed unafraid to share his own health issues, foolishness, and failures. I loved it because he felt like a normal person.

He continued to evolve into a master storyteller. In Sleepwalk With Me, and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Birbiglia made a shift from straight stand-up to a mix between stand-up and a one-man show. These specials were so well directed and produced and tired to central themes. He didn’t use his comedy to tear people down. He consistently put himself on display and allowed his audience to enter into his neuroses and relational hang-ups.

Birbiglia released a masterpiece on the power of humor and comedy, Thank God for Jokes while was writing my dissertation. My thesis was essential that comedy can build community through the shared experience and examples of vulnerability. If you don’t want to read a boring academic paper, then please watch Thank God for Jokes.

When I first heard about Birbiglia’s latest special The New One I was eager to watch it. Every time I think Birbiglia has reached the height of his powers, his next special displays that he is still finding new ways to stretch his storytelling and finding new comedic heights.

In The New One Birbiglia shares the journey that he and his wife went on as they went from not wanting children, to trying to conceive, to birth, and even his struggles with finding his place in his family. As a father, I found myself laughing with Birbiglia as I resonated with some of his fears, wrestling with his own selfishness, dealing with health fears, and pet owners with a new baby.

Wife and kids jokes may be the most pedestrian kinds of jokes. It is easy for comedians to say, my wife is crazy and my kids drive me insane. Over and over Birbiglia reveals that his wife is amazing and his daughter is wonderful. He is the one with the problems. He recognizes that his selfishness is the problem. In one of the most vulnerable parts of his special, Mike says that he understands why dads leave. Family is hard and selfishness really doesn’t have any room in a family.

The title of this special, The New One, could have several implications.

  • This is a new special,
  • Talking about a new child,
  • Talking about a new couch (it’s important for the special),

Ultimately though, the new one he is referring to is the transformation from a family of individuals to one family unit, unified by love.

I am trying to not tell you any of the jokes in this special, I don’t want to ruin it, but if you are a parent there are so many experiences he shares in this special that is resonate with your life.

This special is not a ”family-friendly” show. There are some swearing and jokes about sex and trying to conceive. I would recommend watching this special for yourself before letting your kids watch it.

One last note, this special shows an aspect of Mike Birbiglia’s transformation into a father. The song that opens and closes the special is a great choice, “I Wanna Get Better” by the Bleachers.

There is a line in the chorus that resonated with me:

“I didn’t know I was broken

Until I wanted to change.”

This is a pretty profound statement, and as a pastor, I recognize that the gospel invites us to transformation. Sometimes we don’t recognize our need for transformation until we have already accepted that we need a change in our lives.

The New One is a story of transformation. I hope that as you watch this special your spirit resonates with the desire for transformation and that you would be open to the changes that are necessary for your life to be made new.

Advent 2019 — Follow the Star

This year at Creekside we are focusing on the Magi and the stars. The cosmos are amazing. Just take a moment and look at these stunning pictures from the Hubble Telescope. The Bible tells us that God created the Sun, Moon, and stars and that he placed them where he wanted them. As God was building the universe he knew just where to place the star that would appear at just the right time for the Magi to notice.

God the Father knew as he was creating the universe that eventually the Son, would enter into creation to restore the relationship between humanity and God. God knew exactly when the Son would take on flesh. God had all of this planned out before he created (Revelation 13:8).

When I look at the stars, I don’t see a cosmic accident of chance. I see a beautiful creation that fills us with awe and wonder. I see that God’s creation has so much beauty that one planet can’t contain it. I am reminded of God’s love and intentionality in creation.

Knowing that God has an eternal plan, gives me hope that God is not done yet. He is still working out a beautiful plan. I pray that this year Advent is full of hope for you as well.

_____________________

Just for fun:

Hubble Telescope 2018 Advent Calendar

Hubble Telescope 2019 Advent Calendar

 

Engagement

I was at the dentist this morning. (Don’t be jealous.)

I learned that the Hygienist (Anna) is a pastor’s wife. She asked me an important question. “What is the most difficult about leading a church?” This is a big question and difficult to answer at the dentist’s office, mainly because they ask questions and then immediately start working on your teeth. It’s hard to answer profound questions when your teeth are being cleaned. I have a brief moment to respond with one word.

Engagement.

I believe this is the greatest challenge that the church in the US is facing. There are so many things that are pulling at our attention. It used to be that the church’s “competition” was all the sinful behavior of the world. Now, the biggest competition is not blatantly sinful behavior. Our biggest competition all of the “good” things that we commit to.

Our culture has presented a buffet of options. The problem with buffets is never quantity, it’s quality. We fill our plates with all this stuff to consume, and it’s usually all fine. We don’t know how many times we are going to get through the buffet line, so we load that plate so full that stuff falls off the side.

This buffet mentality keeps our schedule so full because we don’t want to miss out on anything. We fill our work week with work, over-time, sports, school. We get up at 5am and go to bed at 11pm. We have very full days but we wake up every day tired.

By the time the weekend rolls around, we try to make up for lost time with recreation, family obligations, home projects, etc. When Sunday rolls around, our week has been so filled that we don’t have the physical, emotional, spiritual energy to gather with our church community this week. We say, we’ll be there next week.

But next week we get back in line in the buffet. Pretty soon, we find ourselves back at Sunday morning, worn out, exhausted, and we say, We’ll gather next week. This becomes a habit, and pretty soon we disengage and drift away.

As we have been reading through the book of Hebrews at Creekside, I have been reminded again and again, that the people of God, need each other. This Sunday, as part of the message, we are going to study Hebrews 10:24-25. This passage is a warning, to stay engaged with the community. We need us!

The hardest thing for the church today is engagement. When we have such a huge buffet of options in front of us, what are the most important things for us to pursue.

If we believe that Jesus is THE hope of the world, then our priorities in our lives should orient around Jesus. What are the ways that we can engage with Jesus?

Consider this video:

When our lives get filled with the small stuff (sand), the buffet options, there isn’t going to be room for the things that truly matter.

My prayer for the Church, not just Creekside, is that pastors and parishioners would foster engagement in the mission of Jesus in new and powerful ways. That we would not fill our schedules with all the options out there first, but to put the big rocks in first.

Here are some big rocks that we need to practice deliberately if we are going to engage with the Mission of Jesus:

  1. Sabbath – This is a great practice that helps us learn to say no to unnecessary things. Sabbath builds rest into our schedule. Put it on your calendar. Scheduling sabbath assumes that you are working, and makes sure that you are not always working. We cannot survive without rest.
  2. Prayer – Disciplines of prayer build rest periods throughout our days.
  3. Scripture – If we are only exposed to Bible teaching on Sundays, by the Bible “experts”, we are malnourished. Read the Bible throughout the week. Let God’s word shape your day and your priorities.
  4. Strengthening relationships – Have time for family and friends. Encourage each other around the dinner table, through groups.
  5. Serve others – Everyday is an opportunity to bless others. Look for ways to serve throughout the week
  6. Gather together – If you are part of church community then gathering is key. Hopefully when you gather, you are encouraged, equipped, challenged, and empowered to go out into your everyday world. And when you go out to that world, you have energy to engage in the mission of Jesus.

Engagement is key, but it doesn’t happen on accident. The mission of Jesus is accomplished as followers of Jesus engage with the teachings of Jesus, share the hope of Jesus, and open the doors for people to join the community of Jesus.