Launch Weekend

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On September 17th, 2017, we launched Sozo Church in San Francisco, CA. It’s taken over a month to process and think through all that happened yet I wanted to make sure I shared it with you all. I’ve accumulated some pictures and some videos of the day but I wanted to make sure that I shared more than that. I wanted to convey my perspective in the launch.

Going into launch weekend, I kept having this thought - this shouldn’t be a event that I show up to but a milestone that I experience. For my me, this was something special that needed preparation and processing - preparation before the big day and some thinking and processing after. Spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and even physically.

First off - My parents came out for launch! My dad was planning on coming out and surprisingly, a few weeks out, my mom told me she was coming too. Them being here made the world of a difference as they also brought some goodies from back home. While it's been amazing to be able to be a part of what God was doing through Sozo Church, having my parents here to just affirm and support me was incredible. There’s nothing like the amazing gift of family that just wants you to succeed no matter what. More importantly, there’s nothing like having people there just to primarily encourage you.

We launched with around 275 people. The total number matters because every one of those individual numbers matters to God. Some were friends and family from out of town that came in to support the Sozo team from the beginning. Some where people from the Bay Area that drove 30+ minutes away. And some were people from the city of San Francisco. We had everything from young families who received our print mailers to inquisitive transgenders that had heard about us through social media. We had people who’ve been following Jesus for awhile and people that had never been in a church experience like ours before.

Let's cut to the chase. I cried like a baby. It was so embarrassing. I couldn’t stop crying. I’d finally get it together only to see something or hear something else and just lose it. One of my best friends, Matt Laborde, was there and I just remember looking over at him on the front row with both of our eyes all puffy and we just started laughing because neither of us could stop the tears of joy.

I specifically remember hearing the song “Let There Be Light” and as we sang the lyrics to that song over the city, I could so sense that this was the heart of God for San Francisco. That there would be light in the city so dark.

At the end of the service, when Pastor Jason gave people the opportunity to give their life to Jesus, I bowed my head and just began to ask God that someone would make a decision on that Launch Sunday that would affect their eternity. When I heard that not just one, but SEVEN people made that decision (I lost it again).

Each of those seven decisions changed those lives forever but those decisions changed mine as well. The entire process of making the decision to leave the comforts and safety of Gateway Church in Dallas, TX to move to San Francisco, CA to start a church suddenly had a tangible moment to look to. It was worth it. All of the heartache and struggle was worth it for those seven people's eternity to be forever changed.

We celebrated later that night as a team. We gathered friends and family and our Launch team together in a beautiful venue overlooking the bay and Golden Gate Bridge just to celebrate what God had done. Honestly, I was so tired (either from the lack of sleep or the crying) that I just sat outside and had this goofy smile on my face.

During the festivities, there was a time of encouragement by some of the veteran leaders in the room. Dave Patterson from The Father’s House in Vacaville, a great pastor who’s been serving the Bay Area for many years, shared some encouragement to our team and Jason & Jennifer. Then Mama Red, Jason’s mother - Judy Laird, shared about what God was speaking to her. Both of these were amazing declarations and we were so thankful for their encouragement and affirmation.

We thought we were all done and then I look over and see my dad grab the mic. I’ve seen him do this before in many environments where he felt the burden of what God was speaking and had to share it. He shared about how the western gate city of America was the city of San Francisco. And that the western gate represented the prosperity of a country. He spoke that God was entrusting the prosperity of this city and America to the pastors gathered there and that God delights in the prosperity of his people. Then he prayed over us and you could sense the presence of God as he used my dad to encourage the men and women in the room.

It was also one of those funny moments where so many of my friends in San Francisco could see where I get my sense of humor and personality from. As the night was almost over and everyone was headed home, a friend came over and prayed specifically for me. He spoke that God was more interested in what was happening in my heart than what was happening in my hands. It was something I needed to hear and I think that always rings true.

All together, it was an amazing day and I wish you could’ve been here for this. It’s been the prayers, generosity, and friendship of so many amazing people that have allowed me to be where I am doing what I’m doing. There have been hard times and there have been impossible times but on that Launch Sunday, it was beginning of the fruitful times. Thank you to every person that was there and so many that where there as a result of their prayers, giving, and love.

Together, let’s build a church that shapes a city in a city that shapes the world

I'm Batman

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I've been a big fan of Batman for as long as I can remember. I've read the comics, watched the cartoons, seen the movies, and played the games. Batman is and always has been my favorite superhero. I think the reason why he's my favorite superhero is because he's less super and more man.

Ask anyone, who wouldn't want to be Batman. The money, the butler, the peak physical and mental prowess? Sounds amazing! I think we would all love to have those things but as it is with ever story we can become enamored with, we miss the ugly parts.

Bruce Wayne's parents were brutally murdered in front of him. That makes Batman the result of severe childhood trauma. Bruce Wayne lived in isolation for many many years before letting others in. Years of social isolation is incredibly dangerous. He's obsessed with bringing criminals to justice but he does so outside the law. There are so many incredibly painful things that make up who the Batman is.

Did you know that there are entire psychological classes dedicated to studying the fictitious character and people's idolization of him? Why are people obsessed with him? Why is he regarded as America's most favorite superhero? Is it just good storytelling or marketing?

I think there's something within the Batman story that speaks to all of us. I think the underlying idea is that with the help of a billionaire trust fund, we can use our pain to make a difference for others. The desire to make a difference and to find strength from our hurts is and alway will be a part of who we are as humans. I believe God made us that way.

Every time I see Batman's story played out, over and over again, the character is reminded of why he got into the fight all those years ago - bringing criminals to justice so that another young boy doesn't lose his parents to a deranged criminal. In so many ways, it's the fact that Bruce Wayne hasn't gotten over the death of his parents that drives him on.

That's how a lot of people find a way to make a difference. They look back on their hurt and are so moved by the idea of others suffering that they do whatever they can to prevent that kind of pain from happening to others. There are countless stories that are similar (maybe minus the money).

I'm inspired by Batman. Not by his money or crime fighting skills (it's still just a story). I'm inspired by the man who's not so super that's using his personal scars to help others. I want to be like that. I want the deepest pains I've experienced to help others and make a difference in their lives. I want to protect people and I want justice in a world that seems like it's falling apart.

Now taking applications for Alfred & Selina Kyle.

Messy Money

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There's this amazing place in San Francisco that I love to take people to. It's called La Taqueria. It's on of the original burrito spots in the Mission District. It's the best burrito I've ever had. I hope I get to take you there one day. It's a cash only, wait in line, crammed into a small space kind of place. When you finally get the burrito, it's this juicy work of wonder. And it's messy. Very messy. But so worth it (just ask the guy in the picture above).

I'm currently living in what many people would consider a nightmare. I'm experiencing the biggest reason why so many people don't move to San Francisco. I'm in the thick of the cause for so few to have been obedient to move to the least churched city in America and serve and love this city.

I'm jobless, broke, behind on bills, and have no idea how I'm going to make it another day financially in San Francisco.

Before I say another word, I have to say this, I'm not asking you for money. I'm not asking you to give. I won't do that. Not because I'm too proud but because I don't believe that is generosity. This isn't a pressure post. This is a posture post.

When I moved to San Francisco, I knew this could be a possibility. I moved anyway. I moved here knowing that it would be hard and in some ways, impossible. I knew I needed more money in savings than I had. I knew I needed a better degree than I had. I knew that I needed a better work history than I had. All in all, I knew that financially, I didn't have what it takes to do life in San Francisco. But still...

I made up in my heart that I would refuse to let the financial climate of San Francisco determine my faith.

I've made good financial decisions since I moved here and I've made poor financial decisions. I had a great job that looked like it would turn into me making 80k+ a year only to have someone come back and say they misspoke and they wouldn't need more after a month. I've had people generously give towards what God is doing through my life here in SF. I've been able to give to others in need and help make a difference in their life. All in all, it's been an amazing time here in San Francisco.

People have asked me if I am still called to San Francisco since I'm struggling financially. That's a great question. I don't believe that my obedience to God is dependent on money. People have said that since there aren't any open doors here that I should just pursue other open doors elsewhere. I believe that if it's an open door outside of the vision, it's not an open door - it's a trap.

I've had other people tell me that I'm storing up riches in heaven. Which I believe and is very true. But I asked and my landlady doesn't accept heavenly riches in the place of earthly currency. I've heard people say, "it's going to be worth it." I agree. It will be. But as a pregnant mother has the information to know that the birthing process is painful it doesn't compare to the feelings of pain she experiences.

You can know something will be painful but that doesn't diminish the feelings of pain.

Last month, I asked a small group of friends and family to be praying for me about my finances. I was hopeful that things were going to be different this month. Turns out, they were even harder. I did discover something amazing though.

My dad decided he wanted to send me some money to be able to pay rent. He did it in a very intriguing way. I have Chase bank and if another Chase bank user sends money, it's nearly instantaneous. So my dad asked his son-in-law to send me the money and my dad reimbursed him. It was pretty disheartening because not only did I have to have my dad bail me out but my brother-in-law knew how weak and helpless I was. Definitely humbling.

Until God spoke to me about it. My heavenly Father used my earthly Dad to provide for me. And the way he did it wasn't pretty. It was messy. My Father provided by using my Dad through his son-in-law. Kind of reminds you of another story of the Father using the Son to provide. Not only that, my Dad told me not to see it as "having to call your dad" but that he believes in me and in what God has called me to do and that he & my mom were honored to be able to sow seed into this ministry.

I'm learning that so often we want God's provision to be clean and pretty but in actuality it's messy and bloody.

There was nothing clean and pretty about the cross and that was the greatest story of God's provision in our lives. Sometimes it can be easy but more often than not it's painful. Why? Because pain makes us ask better questions. I've asked God more questions during the last couple months than in maybe the previous 8 combined. The interesting things about questions is this...

To ask God questions, you have to get close to him and it starts a conversation with him.

I think God uses these situations in our lives to show us new things. To stretch our faith. To draw us closer. And ultimately, to be a better Father to us. I've got some friends who's parents were very wealthy and the kids never had a single need. Whatever they wanted, they got. They never felt the weight of waiting to see if their parents would say yes or not. They just went and got it or had their driver go get it for them. Coincidently, the kids and parents never had very good conversations. They weren't very close.

 
God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
— Matthew 5:3
 

 

I've never needed God to come through financially more than I do now. It's just a reality. As I said, this is posture post and not a pressure post. I've got a posture prayer, a posture of trusting God, and a posture of needing God. I'll never ask people to give but I will always ask people to ask God what they should give.

Chiefly, I can't wait to come back and add to this story. To write in how God showed up. Maybe it will be as early as today. Maybe it will be awhile. Maybe it will be a few years. Maybe I'll need to give my login to a friend or family member and when I die, they can come add to it. They could say something like, "Andy is in heaven experiencing the incredible richness of being with Jesus."

If you're reading this, I hope you're encouraged by this. I hope you are reading every word in faith that God is going to show up. I hope that as you read this, you think back to the times when you thought there was no hope and God showed up. I hope you're reminded of every promise that God gives. That no matter what happens with my life and me being in San Francisco, whether I'm rich or poor, sleeping on the streets or in a comfy bed, a failure or a finisher - you'll know that God has got me and more importantly, God has got you. It might get messy but messy is God's speciality.

Battling the SF Giants

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“I have no idea how I’m going to do _____.” If there is any thought that I’ve consistently had to fight with over the past 9 months since I’ve moved from Dallas, TX to San Francisco, CA, it’s this thought. I’ve wrestled, fought, slapped, yelled obscenities at, and cried over this thought. I moved to San Francisco to help start and build Sozo Church and having been here for awhile, this thought keeps coming back over and over again.

I have no idea how I’m going to pay rent in the most expensive city in America.

I have no idea how I’m going to help start a church in the least churched city in America.

I have no idea how I’m going to find a wife in the least Christian city in America.

I have no idea how I’m going to win my fantasy football league after David Johnson’s injury.

I have no idea how… I could list out so many more things.

Here’s the reality, these things are bigger than me. They are giants. I’m not saying that because San Francisco’s baseball team is the SF Giants (that would be cheesy and I don’t make cheesy jokes while writing - wait, yes I do). I’m saying it because these are things that I have no idea how to beat because they are unbeatable.

During this season of fighting giants, I’ve learned a few things I never saw before from the story of David fighting Goliath. Some surprisingly practical things too.

Here's some thoughts from this passage:

1. Step Down

Everyone always wants to say that to be a leader, you’ve got to step up. I really don’t think that’s the case. Normally, it’s not the leader that steps up to get attention or speaks the first or the loudest that makes a significant impact - it’s the leader that is willing to step down into the mess and do what no one is willing to do that makes the difference. The reality is, the giants we face are the ones the that everyone else has the same opportunity to face but they don’t step down into the battle. Leaders aren’t any more confident or brave. They just choose to step down and say, “I’d rather die trying. I’d rather step down into a valley and probably die than stay on this ridge and do nothing.” Really, leaders are willing to possibly fail at killing a giant that would eventually kill them if they stay put. This isn’t some big mystery, this is simply serving. Serving is simply seeing a need and meeting it. Seeing something that needs to be done and doing it. David wasn’t a hero because he killed Goliath - he was a servant. Filling a need and doing something when everyone else abdicated the responsibility.

Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve seen a lot of people come visit, hear about what God is doing in SF, and I’ve seen God genuinely stir their hearts for this city and the people in it. They’ve declared, “I want to move here and be a part of what God is doing in this city.” I have prayed with them, I’ve encouraged them, and I’ve explored the city alongside them only to see them go back home and act like nothing ever happened. I don’t blame them or fault them. It takes a lot to kill to giant - it takes someone willing to come and serve the people here. That’s hard for anyone to do. To step down into the chaotic climate of San Francisco in order to make an eternal difference here. It takes a leader that’s willing to step down.

2. Over-prepare

I love that David took five stones. I think this part of the story gets over spiritualized so much in Christian culture. David brought more stones than he needed because he was over prepared. He only needed one stone to kill Goliath BUT he brought FIVE! I love that! He took 5 times as many resources as he needed. That means he spent 5 times as much time gathering stones than was necessary.

I’ve learned a lot from being around my friends, Josh & Gabi Ferrara. One of the best things I’ve learned is the power of over preparing. Gabi is one of the best graphic designers in the business and Josh is a killer web developer while he also oversees everything at Sozo Church. The more I spend time with them, the more I see this principle in play. They work nonstop on making everything better. I’m convinced that I have yet to see them end a project early, not because they are procrastinators but because they are constantly working on making them better. It doesn’t matter what it is. They are constantly refining, sharpening, adjusting, rewriting, getting second opinions, and chopping up whatever project. They simply put in the work to over prepare. And the results speak for themselves. They aren’t these magical wizards at their jobs - they just put in the extra. And people can tell that. David was like that. He did more than he needed, more than was asked. He was over prepared because he put in the work.

3. Shut Up or Put Up

I know that language is strong and we should say things much nicer but it's hard for me to be nice about this one. This isn’t in relation to other people - this is in relation to me. Looking at this story I see something incredibly profound: David’s brothers were being negative, Saul was being negative, Goliath was being negative, and judging by the language of the other soldiers, they were being negative too. The only person in this entire story that isn’t negative is David! Out of all of the thousands of people in the entire army, the only person that had a positive thing to say was David.

Put yourself in David’s shoes and you might be experiencing something similar. Your brothers, family, etc is saying negative things, your leadership is saying negative things, your enemy is saying negative things. If you can just shut up and not say something negative, that would instantly put you in a better position than everyone else around you! AND if you can actually speak life! Wow! You’ll find yourself with an opportunity that everyone else didn’t get. Just because you didn’t grumble and were positive. There is a time and a place for team debriefs and problem solving but it is not on the battlefield, it’s in the war room. If you’re fighting a giant, SPEAK LIFE!

4. Get Started

Have you ever found someone that is always talking about how much work they have to get done? Or how they just have a lot of "hard work" to do? Yet they work at a desk clicking away at a computer. Or they have to make some phone calls. Or they have to plan out something. That's not hard work. Hard work is the stuff that happens in field with sweat and muscle. Most people have never even done a full day of "hard work" in their life. And that's ok! 

What I find myself and others doing is trying to make ourselves feel better about the work we are doing by making it seem hard or making it seem like it's a lot. It feels good when someone else can't do your job and you're the only one who can do it! It also feels good when you have a ton of things to do and you get them all done. Yet quantity and quality don't determine it being hard. It's just work. Work is work. It's not that you have a ton to do, it's that you haven't started yet. It's not that the task is incredibly "hard," it's that it's just undone. Don't stay in the tent trying to make the armor fit. Go out and get into it. When we delay the work that needs to be done out of fear or out of pride, we delay the miracle. Just get to it!

5. Finish

I can’t stand a leader that gets things done! I actually don’t believe that you’re a leader if you get a bunch of things done. I think you’re a great doer but not a leader. That may seem strong but let's look at the story.

It says that David hits Goliath in the head with a rock and Goliath fell. In that moment, David got the job done. David won the battle. This made David a winner but it didn’t make him a leader. What happens next is critical:

 
Then David ran over and pulled Goliath’s sword from its sheath. David used it to kill him and cut off his head.
— 1 Samuel 17:51
 

As epic as that sounds, there’s something huge here you can’t miss. David didn’t just get the job done. He finished the job. The finality in this verse is riveting. David made it to where the problem of Goliath couldn’t be a problem ever again. That’s what a leader does! There is nothing that will cause more issues than an angry giant waking up with a giant headache.

For example, recently we had a training manual that had to be made. It needed to be written, edited, proofed, printed, and delivered. The person responsible for it worked many many hours trying to make sure this manual got done. Once they got it done, they sent it to someone else to get printed. Along the way, that someone else got busy and didn’t get it printed. The training had to be postponed. The training manual got done but it wasn’t finished.

I don’t know about you but I want to be a finisher. Ask yourself this question: Am I willing to see this through all the way to the end? If the answer is not yes, don’t take on the fight. Someone else will have to fight that giant and they will have to finish it for you. I love that when Jesus was hanging on the cross defeating sin and securing our forgiveness once and for all, he didn’t say “It is done.” He didn’t say, “Now that I’ve worked on this for awhile, you finish it.” He simply and with total finality declared, “It is finished.”

That’s the same spirit that is in us. A finishing spirit. You wouldn’t be where you are without the spirit of God working in your life. Don’t sit on it. Don’t just get things done. Be a finisher. I’ve messed this up so many times and I’ve had to have my leadership step in a kill a giant that I had only knocked unconscious. Don't leave your giant for someone else to finish.

I hope that you become a giant killer. I hope that you sense the amazing spirit that is inside of you that wants to glorify the Father through your courage, leadership, and obedience. I pray you step down into the battle, take the time to over-prepare, choose to speak life no matter what, get started, and that you finish strong. I’m cheering you on from San Francisco.

The Uber Gospel - When One Ride Changes an Eternity

The Uber Gospel - When One Ride Changes an Eternity

Her decision to accept Jesus changed her world but it also changed mine. In the midst of a very difficult season of starting a church in San Francisco, I got to be up front and center to someone encountering the transformational grace of Jesus. One Uber car ride changed her life and changed my perspective on this city (along with the struggles of being here).