Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Day 8 of the 30 Challenge to Write

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions,
so they be each honest and natural in their hour.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today's Challenge

What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

Five years ago I was working fulltime for a church in Corona as the youth pastor and associate pastor. At the time I felt like the culmination of lots of hard work and prayer was being blessed. I had worked hard to build credibility. I had worked at a large church with an enormous youth group giving me the experience to grow a youth group. I went to seminary and received a Masters in Christian Education with an emphasis in youth ministry. After three years of ministry with this youth group in Corona, we were experiencing numerical and spiritual growth. Every year more and more junior high and high school students and their parents called our church home. It was a very exciting time!

Four years ago that vocation was no longer a reality.

What would I say to myself 5 years ago?

Stay true to who you are. Do not cut corners. Give yourself fully to the work you have been called to. Never stop!

Be prepared for change, just because things are going great does not mean that rugs can’t be pulled out from underneath you.

Don’t give up, even though it hurts when unexpected change happens. It is not the end of the world. Good things can still, and probably will, happen.

I am loved. Do not lose track of those people who love you.

Be prepared to set new goals and reevaluate your old goals.

Expect the unexpected. You might end up doing something unexpected.

Work hard. Keep your eyes open.

What would I say to myself 5 years from now?

I think in retrospect of everything I have learned these past 4 years I would tell myself the same things I told myself 5 years ago. We are placed in situations that we may have absolutely no control of. But that does not mean that we cease to exist because the situations are ugly and hurtful. But we have a control on how we dust ourselves off.

We decide to work hard and keep our eyes open to new opportunities around us. Something unexpected can happen and we need to be ready to embrace the unexpected. We need to check our goals, because goals are what motivate us into action. We will always be loved. And when change happens, and it will, we are not going to give up. It is not the end of world, rather as we know from our past experiences, it is time for another new beginning.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Literal Adam and Eve?

I am a monthly subscriber to Christianity Today magazine. I enjoy the magazine, it is a critical magazine at times and makes some unpopular statements. This month Christianity Today’s cover story “The Search for the Historic Adam” written by Richard N. Ostling, is one of those articles. Christianity Today also offers their own response to this article. Now I am not going to comment on the article here but I will present some questions that come to mind if we discover there was not a literal Adam and Eve of the Genesis narrative we grew up knowing and believing.

What happens to our faith, and Christianity in general, without Adam and Eve?

What happens to the theology of Paul?

If early man was part of an evolutionary process, are we really created in the image of God?

How hard do we fight to retain a literal Adam and Eve? Should we?

Day 7 of the 30 Challenge to Write

Our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today's challenge:

What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue?

These past days have reminded me that I desire to be a good communicator. Communication is done in so many different mediums. There are oral communicators that speak and individuals that communicate through the written word.

I have a desire to communicate well.

These individuals use stories and narratives to communicate history. These individuals use poetry to communicate beauty and art. These individuals use truth ,fact and fiction to communicate morality. These individuals can motivate others to action. These individuals can give warnings of things to come. These individuals use humor, irony and tragedy.

I have a desire to communicate well.

It is my desire to continue to communicate through these 30 days using many of the styles and methods I have listed above. I desire to refine the craft and improve my consistently challenging myself to write deeper thoughts, to write clear and concise thoughts without a ton of words.

I have a desire to communicate well.

I look forward to feedback. My hope is that this feedback will drive to do better. That this feedback will push me to look further inside myself to discover the hidden communicator I feel I can be.

I have a desire to communicate well.

Hungry for God, Chapter 3

Every day I take a shower. It is not an option, I must take a shower. Even when I worked for a camp, almost hundred miles and an hour car ride down a very windy mountain road to the nearest big town, I took a shower--everyday.

If I do not wash my hair for even one day, I am uneasy about my oily hair, and I feel that I smell foul.

I cannot imagine missing a day. A month would be beyond my dreams, rather it would be a nightmare!

My dealings with the poor and the homeless have been limited, safe and at a distance. I have brought junior high kids to the inner city and skid road to experience and see the tragedies of people living less than 20 miles from our comfortable and big homes where we all take nice hot showers, everyday.

I have taken church groups to other poor parts of Orange County to offer a hot meal, once a month. Only once a month. It was always a struggle to get individuals and families to sign up to serve. Prior to serving the hot, and simple meal, the group would stop at Carl’s Jr. for a burger and fries. My goal was to get the groups going to eat alongside the individuals they were serving. Make connections and make relationships, get to know the individuals you are serving. They have lives and stories.

It never happened.

I believe the reason my goal never came to fruition was because of an unwillingness to face the reality that this individual I am talking to could be me. An unwillingness to face the uncomfortable and to be with someone who has gone without a shower for days or months. An unwillingness to face the uncomfortable and to face that undesirable stench that comes off someone unclean.

I pray that my eyes would be opened and that I would sense a different smell, a more desirable smell...

Margaret shares a story in chapter 3 about Jim Cymbala praying with a homeless man, up close and personal, in spite of the filth and smell coming off this homeless man. It took a God sized prompting, “Jim, if you and your wife have any value to me, if you have any purpose in my work--it has to do with this odor. This is the smell of the world I died for.”

This is the smell of the world I died for…

This is the smell of the world I died for…

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Day 6 of the 30 Day Challenge to Write

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.

Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

A couple weeks ago a group of people followed a “prophet’s” message that judgment day was approaching. On that day the real believers would be called up, or raptured to heaven. As the weeks and days drew closer, many of these followers could be seen standing on street corners with signs and banners warning others to repent.

So this assignment was something I considered as I observed the actions of these followers. I had heard that many of these followers quit their jobs and sold all their possessions. Their belief was that anything less would demonstrate a lack of faith in the prediction of judgment day, which translated into a lack of faith in God.

What would I do if I believed that judgment day was really approaching?

As a Christian I do not believe that God would call us away from our calling, even if He made it known The End was quickly approaching. Because is it really The End?

Revelation 21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

When The End happens we discover that it really is The Beginning, again. We will live in a city, and city life requires jobs, professions and vocations. It requires moms, dads and children. It requires schools, teachers and students. And it will require grocers selling healthy foods to the people. People will continue to work. And this is not a new thing. In the first Beginning, Adam and Eve were given tasks in the Garden, it wasn’t a free ride. So maybe the oldest, and maybe noblest, profession is being a gardener. Think of that the next time you see your gardener mowing your lawn.

So what does that mean to me? God calls each of us to do and be. Many of us feel that our jobs, professions and vocations are callings given to us by God. I do! How I could stop doing what God has called me to do?

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Hungry for God, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of Margaret’s book “Hungry for God” is Kairos Moments. Time in Greek is represented by two words, chronos and kairos. Chronos is the measure of the quantity of time: seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and years are all measures of time. Summer, winter, spring and fall are all measures of time, chronos. Kairos is the measure quality of time.

We all experience both types of time, kairos and chronos. I like to consider a day at work. Most days I work 8 to 10 hours. Some days time drags, other days time flies. Some days are fulfilling, other days feel like nothing gets accomplished.

I look forward to my time with Monica. Thursday nights are date nights when we usually go out to dinner together. These are nights are devoted to sharing our time with each other enjoying each others’ company. It isn’t about how long we are together, it is about the love we share with each other.

Margaret uses the example of kairos with God interactions with Adam and Eve in the Garden. As I was reading this chapter I was reminded that we follow a God that lives outside time and space. God does not measure time in the same ways that we do. He does not set an alarm clock to wake up for work. I am sure God does not have a Day Planner. God lives outside the chronos. God desires the kairos.

But God desires the relationship. God desires time with us, not the quantity of time but the quality of our time with Him. It is not just about the time spent in prayer or reading the Bible. The big question is: am I devoting my entire heart, my entire mind, my entire soul and my entire strength to my kairos time with Him?

Day 5 of the 30 Day Challenge to Write

If we live truly, we shall see truly.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today's challenge:

Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they'd like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?


I have been fortunate to travel through the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. As a kid, my family would load up our camper and travel to mountain resorts. It was always an adventure to have the five of us, and sometimes the family dog, crammed in that little camper. This was the mode of our transportation and our accommodations all the way through our high school years. Thankfully, my brothers and I slept in a tent once we landed at our camp ground.

We traveled once to North Dakota to visit family; my mom lived there until her family moved to California. Many of her aunts and uncles lived there at the time we visited. We traveled up Highway 15, passing through Utah, Montana and South Dakota. We saw Zion National Park, Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. It was incredible!

In high school I was able to go with my high school band to Hawaii. It was awesome. The trip was filled with concerts, parades and acts of mischief.

When I graduated high school my buddies and I bought ourselves a Caribbean Cruise graduation present. It was another awesome experience filled with exploring the ports and experiencing culture. One of the ports we stopped in was Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We had no idea what we were going to experience in Haiti. I can tell you it was life changing.

In one of the Jamaican ports we optioned out of the tour package and just rented a taxi for the day. We saw and experienced all the same excursions that everyone on the ship did, but for only $20. We also drove through the neighborhoods, drank Red Stripe Beer and ate lunch with the locals. It was unforgettable. Since then I have been on cruises to Alaska and Mexico and we take similar, self made excursions, in the back of a cab or in a rental car.

In Haiti we were planning on doing the same thing, except there was taxi cab system in Haiti, just millions of people cramming the dock as we pulled our ship in. It was 1978. The country was in turmoil, many uprising and coupés have happened since that year.

As we walked onto the dock we were being pulled and grabbed at until we hired a young man to be our walking guide. His job was to get us to the capital, the marketplace, and to keep us safe. I think he cost us less than a dollar, total.

We experienced and saw more poverty than I knew existed in the entire world, collectively. People with deformities were lying in the streets begging for pennies. Young children were walking through the litter and urine of the streets barefooted. It was the most depressing day, but the most eye opening day I have ever known. Since that time the sights and smells have never left my mind. When the earthquake hit Haiti it all came rushing back.

I have dreams to visit Europe, especially Germany and Romania where my ancestors lived. I heard the family is still standing, hundreds of years later.

I have dreams to visit lands of Biblical importance: Israel, Egypt, Rome, the Middle East.

I have dreams to visit Rwanda and Burundi.

I have dreams to visit New York.

I have dreams to visit cities like Portland and Seattle.

But I have this deep desire to visit Haiti again and to stay in Port-au-Prince. But this time when I visit I pray that I can be used to help with the troubles and hurts that this country has experienced. That might be nothing more than offering a fresh drink of clean water, but I know that many there crave that drink.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Hungry for God, Chapter 1

Yesterday the mailman delivered a large manila envelope addressed to me. It looked exciting! I love getting mail, especially if it is something cool. And this large manila envelope did not disappoint. In that large manila envelope was a gift from Margaret Feinberg: her latest book, "Hungry for God: Hearing God's Voice in the Ordinary and the Everyday."

A couple years back I was in the bookstore looking for something to give as a gift. That day I discovered Margaret Feinberg through her book, "Organic God." It is funny that there are those times when a book's cover is what draws you to pick it up and buy it.

I took the book home and was preparing to wrap it up when I decided to give it a quick read. This is generally very difficult since I am a slow reader. But this book sucked me in. I was giving the book as a gift that evening and I was doing my best to read as much as possible. Unfortunately I didn't finish and I had to buy myself my own copy.

So today I have started reading "Hungry for God" and I am thankful that this gift from the large manila envelope is for me to read at my leisure. I just finished chapter one, "An Forgettable Invitation." I know that God desires a relationship with His people and with me as an individual. I loved when Margaret talks about God meeting Elijah on Mount Carmel in the whisper.

When you and I whisper we need to be extremely close to the listener for them to hear us. You do not whisper across a room. A whisper is close and intimate. The whisper must have fresh breathe because you are that close. Monica and I have our whisper moments.

So when God is in the whisper to Elijah, it is close and intimate. Wow! I want to hear God in the whisper. I want God to be close and intimate with me. I know that God is always near, I pray that I would be a good listener.

Day 4 of the 30 Day Challenge to Write

That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.
Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare?
Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin,
or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton?
Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare.
Do that which is assigned you,
and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today's challenge:

Identify one of your biggest challenges at the moment (ie I don't feel passionate about my work) and turn it into a question (ie How can I do work I'm passionate about?) Write it on a post-it and put it up on your bathroom mirror or the back of your front door. After 48-hours, journal what answers came up for you and be sure to evaluate them.

Bonus: tweet or blog a photo of your post-it.

My Post It says: What are my plans to achieve my aspirations?

Rick Ellis' Aspirations


I strive to build relationships with the customers and the employees I come into contact daily.

I strive to know as many customers by name as possible.

I strive to make our customers feel like a guest in our home.

I strive to fill all our customer requests.

I strive to keep the store clean.

I strive to help my employees reach their fullest potential.

I strive to reward employees who do above and beyond our expectations of them.


I strive to serve others.

I strive to love my wife more.

I strive to grow intellectually.

I strive to read as much as possible.

I strive to rest and enjoy the world around me.

I strive to build on my happiness.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Day 3 of the 30 Day Challenge to Write

It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion;
it is easy in solitude to live after our own;
but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd
keeps with perfect sweetness
the independence of solitude.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Today's challenge:

The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What's one strong belief you possess that isn't shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it?


One of my strongest beliefs as a leader is that I cannot hold tightly to things that others should be allowed to do. Empowerment is one those words leadership books and professionals are constantly encouraging leaders to practice. And it is a practice because it doesn't come easily. Many of us don't just fall into leadership, rather we earn the right to be a leader.

Many, many years ago, at the young age of 16, my first real job was as a grocery bagger. Later I became a produce clerk, frozen food clerk, grocery clerk, grocery manager, assistant store manager and finally store manager. The road was long, none of these accomplishments happened over night. But along the way I learned a lot about the industry and how to drive sales and make a profit.

I have heard more war stories from my bosses. These men and women worked hard to build their companies, and these stories are important to remember and share. They worked singlehandedly when there was no one else in their employment. They worked the produce, grocery and checked out groceries all by themselves. They opened the doors at 8AM and closed the store at 10PM. There were no lunches, they grabbed a snack and ate it as they worked.

The problem for many is the road to success (done so many years ago) is the thing they hold tightly to. These individuals think they are the only ones that know how to accomplish the task. Everyone else will do it wrong, or be incomplete, or they will take too long. I know how to accomplish every task in the store, I can do it all. But is that the task I was hired to do?

Empowerment requires letting go, allowing others to complete a task with little interaction from the boss.

Empowerment requires coaching and cheerleading. I feel that spending 5 or 10 minutes with my empowered leaders gives me their best performances. Daily I listen to their accomplishments, struggles and goals. I offer my thoughts without just giving a solution (who knows, they might have a better solution). I help the leaders identify problems and offer my assistance if necessary. But I really enjoy praising my team for excelling in reaching sales goals (which they are doing regularly!).

Empowerment is not creating individuals that look and work like me. Empowerment allows others to discover that they are unique and they are capable of doing great things.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Day 2 of the 30 Day Challenge to Write

Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. The force of character is cumulative. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

If 'the voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tracks,' then it is more genuine to be present today than to recount yesterdays. How would you describe today using only one sentence?

Today I get outside myself and live for others.

These are easy words to say, difficult to execute. My senior pastor would challenge the congregation to get outside ourselves, because the church God blesses gets outside of itself. So it becomes something that is individual and collective. There is the challenge of trying to accomplish this daunting task every day. But there is knowledge that we are not trying to accomplish this daunting task alone. Others, like us are also trying to make a difference without seeking personal gain. And isn't that the difficulty for us: not looking for the pat on the back, the praise or the big bucks?

So I am going to look at every encounter with another human as a divine appointment. I will make every effort to smile and say hello. And if the situation presents itself, strike up a conversation and listen. Who knows how God will use me in that situation, I just have to be willing to be used.

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

1 Corinthians 4:2

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

15 Minutes to Live

I decided to take a 30 day challenge to write through the inspiration of words written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is a challenge that I heard about through The Domino Project, a group founded by Seth Godin.

We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other.

Our age yields no great and perfect persons. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Writing task for Day 1:

You just discovered you have fifteen minutes to live.

Below are my thoughts, rather questions, about my last 15 minutes alive:

Would I look for ways to increase my legacy?

Would I run to connect with those I love the most?

If a disaster is quickly approaching would I work to save others?

Or would I love to save myself?

Would I be freaked out?

Would I pray?

Would I cry?

Would I be of sound mind to embrace and be with my wife for the entire 15 minutes?

Would I call my daughters?

Could I?

Would I be at peace?

Would I examine my past?

Would I be happy?

Would I be sad?

Would I focus on missed opportunities?

Would I relish the achievements?

Would I consider my future?




Forever with my creator

Or, total separation

Would I care about the stranger?

Would I share my faith?

Would I have time for experiences?


The beach

The mountains

A walk

Would I express my gratitude?

Thank God

Thank my wife and family

Thank my parents

Thank those closest to me

Thank my acquaintances

Thank my adversaries

Would I notice my breathing?

Each inhale

Followed by each exhale

As if it were my last breath

Would I be happy?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Samaritan Woman at the Well: allegory?

I get up early every morning before I go to work and I start my day with a delicious cup of coffee (ok a couple!). It is an awesome way to wake up. The house is quiet, no one else is awake. It is at this time that I enjoy thinking and reading and praying.

So as I was thinking fairly random thoughts, the prophets of the Bible came to mind. Their mission or calling was to proclaim the actual Word of God to a nation (specifically to the leadership of the nation) that they were being unfaithful. At times the nation is called a prostitute and a whore.

One of the most preached passages of scripture that I have heard is from John 4: The Samaritan Woman at the Well. It is a message filled with truth and helps us get a picture of the nature of Jesus.

Here are my thoughts that came to mind as I considered the Old Testament Prophets and the story of The Samaritan Woman at the Well.

Maybe the store of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman was more allegory that an actual event that happened. I know that many are mad at me already!

Why would Jesus stop in this Samaritan village. According to the many times I have heard this passage, a good Rabbi would avoid Samaria like it carried a plague. Why would Jesus want to stop off on this evil, corrupt and sinful planet?

The woman is said to have had many husbands (she is unfaithful). Some say that she was nothing less than a prostitute or a whore.

Maybe the 5 husbands represent the many alliances that Israel has had with foreign nations, their alliance is no longer with God. And she is told that the man she is living with is not her husband. Could this “husband” be the alliance that many Jewish leaders were enjoying with Rome? How faithful are we? What nations or things do we have an alliance with?

Are we unfaithful? Could we be considered nothing less than a prostitute or a whore?

Why would God want to be with us, why would a Jewish Rabbi want to be with Samaritans?

Maybe the place and the way we worship is just as wrong as the Samaritans. Real worship has yet to be revealed, to the Samaritan, the Jew or the Christian.

The message of salvation, the cup of living water, is offered to the Samaritans, the Jews and to everyone willing to take it.

And for a period of time the Son of God stayed in the Samaritan village. Jesus stayed with us for a period of time.

Now to do the research and see where my thoughts line up with scholars much smarter than me. What are your thoughts?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Post "Judgement Day" Prayer

So today maybe we should be praying for lives disrupted by a guy who misled them into believing yesterday would be Judgement Day. Many people selling everything willing to spread a false warning. We heard you, we saw you. Now we pray for you!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Margaret Feinberg's Latest Book

One of my favorite authors of Christian devotionals is Margaret Feinberg. The books go a bit further than most devotionals. They are not feel good stories, although you do feel better after reading them. They are not the cutesy stories that you would expect from "Chicken Book for the Soul." Her books lead us into a discovery of God working in our lives, here and now. She is an awesome story teller and she writes like you are talking to a friend.

I have read three of her past books: Organic God, The Sacred Echo and Scouting the Divine. They were all great reads. The way you know that I enjoyed the book is that I lend them out and give them as gifts. The elders at one church I worked each received a copy of The Sacred Echo. They enjoyed it so much that many of them bought her other books.

Her latest book, Hungry for God, is being released this week. Margaret sent me an email with an excerpt from the book. I liked it so much I felt led to share it. I have a new item added to my wish list from Amazon: Hungry for God!

What Does it Mean to Hunger for God? (An adaptation from Hungry for God by Margaret Feinberg)

I don’t know anything about real hunger. While billions suffer in starvation and poverty, I live behind the plush curtain. Yet hunger is woven into the fabric of our humanness—no matter where you live. Appetite is a primitive desire that doesn’t discriminate. Every human has felt its pangs. Without an appetite, we slip into starvation and even death. Hunger is the gnawing reminder that in order to have strength, we must have sustenance.

If physical hunger is a set of feelings focused around the stomach that lead a person to search for food, then spiritual hunger is a set of experiences or longings that compel a person to search for God. Just as my body needs food to survive, my spirit needs God to thrive. A divine appetite drives me to pursue a vibrant relationship with God—one in which I find my sustenance and strength.

Unlike physical hunger, which can be satiated by food, our spiritual appetites can only be quelled by God. But is it possible to dine on an intangible being? How do we feast upon something we cannot see, touch, or taste? Over the last several years, I’ve learned that God’s voice is the only entrée that can nourish our ethereal cravings. Hearing and experiencing, rather than eating, assuages spiritual hunger.

The moments in my life when I’ve been the most spiritually hungry and the most spiritually satiated share a common trait: God’s voice. My spiritual hunger grumbles loudest when I feel furthest from God. Though I cling to the mental assertion that God is everywhere and he promises to never leave nor forsake, I’ve encountered days, weeks, and months, where I still wonder, Where are you, God?

I long for a single word to appease my spiritual belly. When God finally breaks the silence, the sound of his voice is spiritual nourishment, his voice a banquet for my soul—every syllable a tasty morsel, every expression flavored with love.

Longing to know him.
Longing to experience him.
Longing to hear him.
Is that what it means to hunger for God?

You can learn more about Hungry for God at Amazon. Become a follower of Margaret Feinberg on Twitter and become a Fan on Facebook.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

History of Conflicts

Today I was given a link to a web page that uses Google Earth and a timeline to give a visual illustartion of all the conflicts the world has experienced since 4000BC! It is impressive and very alarming. It would be interesting to determine from the timeline how many years were truly peaceful years, if there were any.

Go to Conflict History to see this incredible, powerful and alarming tool When you follow the hyperlink you will come to the years I have been alive, not too peaceful!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Literal vs. Figurative

One reason some churches are considered liberal is their view of the Bible. Did everything (EVERYTHING) historically happen in the Bible? Who decides?

Now we know that Jesus spoke in parables. A parable is a story that speaks a truth, a spiritual and moral truth. The story of the prodigal son did not literally happen, it was story told by Jesus to get the listener to ask: “What?” The excellence of Jesus’ parables is that we can put ourselves into the story and discover a truth about ourselves.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Did God literally create the earth in 6 days? (Abraham Heschel would say that God created on the seventh day too, on that day He created rest, Sabbath) Or is there another truth we miss in this story? From this story we see a God that creates and shapes a world into existence. He creates in a specific order. He separates the chaotic from the ordered. He creates the plants and the animals and places them in just the right place. And then He creates humans and places them in the middle of this perfect, and orderly creation. And He hangs out with us. Our God is not a distant god that creates on accident, or makes mistakes. Our God is near, and desires a relationship with us.

I wrestle with the narrative of David and Goliath. Did this battle really happen? Or is there another truth that we miss from the story? We all face battles. From this story we are told that David faced the lion, the bear and the champion Goliath and won those battles. Did he do it alone? For me the story says that when you are in a battle and the odds are against you, God hears your cries.

I do not have a checklist close at hand to decide if a passage is literal or figurative. There are passages I hold as I literal and there are passages I hold as figurative. Both types speak truth. Does that make me a liberal? I praise God that he has given me the freedom, liberty to explore those amazing stories and to allow me to place myself into His continuing narrative.

Johnny Cash, he was such a BA

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Are You a Liberal?

“Are you going to that liberal church?” This was a question asked of someone attending our church plant. When I heard this I was unsure if I should be upset or not.

What constitutes a person, an organization or a church as being liberal? Why do we automatically think negatively when someone calls us liberal?

Liberal is defined as being favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs. It is also defined as being open-minded or tolerant, especially free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.

Conservative is defined as being disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

Being liberal or conservative does not make one a democrat or a republican. Both parties, and those outside these parties, demonstrate liberal and conservative thoughts and hopes.

When I think of liberals I think of people who were instrumental in making change. These individuals saw injustices and responded. I think of individuals like Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther, the founding fathers, maybe even Jesus.

Another interesting idea about being liberal is the reference to the word free. Consider the word liberty. If it were not the views of individuals willing to make change happen, we may not be enjoying the freedom, liberty we enjoy today.

So how do I respond to being called a liberal, or leading a liberal church?

Watch for posts as I explore this idea further.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Power of Story

I love NPR Radio, call me a liberal, and I heard this amazing story today. I am also a lover of narrative and the importance of allowing each of us, past and present, the ability to tell our stories. We are part of a mosaic tapestry that becomes more and more beautiful as each of us contribute to the overall story. It is amazing that The Creator would weave our stories into His grand story.

To listen to the story go here

Jake Halpern teaches journalism at Yale University.

President Obama's birth certificate, the one that his campaign released in 2008, is one seriously boring document. It tells us almost nothing about his actual birth — other than the bare-bones details. I assumed all certificates were like this until one day, a few weeks ago, when my dad discovered his father's birth certificate — which was issued in Poland, 107 years ago.

The document is packed with juicy details — I won't go so far as to say it's a swashbuckling tale of adventure — but, in terms of story development, it's way better than Obama's. It mentions, for example, the name of the presiding midwife — a woman named Chaje Rader from the town of Hutar. It also provides the name of the guy who performed the circumcision — Mr. Benzion Klein — and it even indicates that Klein was the town's butcher. This makes sense. I mean, you wouldn't want the town's blacksmith doing the deed — would you? The document notes that Grandpa was an illegitimate child. There is even a part of the document offering the name of the godparents who witness the birth.

What I am driving at is this: If you read in between the lines, a story of sorts emerges. A guy is born in a small town where no doctor is available — just a midwife to do the delivery and a butcher to cut the foreskin. Some old codger, the gray-haired godparent, shuffles over to the house in the heat of summer and bears witness to the whole thing. Then some municipal official intercedes and announces, matter-of-factly, that the baby is illegitimate. It's interesting: The birth certificate says that Grandpa's parents were actually married, by a religious figure, a rabbi. Yet the marriage wasn't recognized by the state — and this was often the case for marriages in Eastern Europe conducted by a rabbi. This is an indication that Grandpa, his family, and his people weren't really integrated into mainstream society; and helps explain why, 21 years later, Grandpa immigrated to America.

Grandpa left Poland under a false identity with someone else's passport. This was, presumably, the only way out. We're not sure why, and he's not alive to offer an explanation. But here is the interesting part: He brought his real birth certificate with him, tucked away, hidden in some deep, inner pocket. If anyone had gotten suspicious and searched him they would have discovered his ruse and Grandpa might not have made it to America. So why did he do it? Why'd he take the risk?

He did it because his birth certificate contained the story of his life — it was a very, very condensed autobiography — it told the tale of who he was, where he came from, what life was like there, and why he left. And tonight at Passover my family will take a moment — as it always does — to remember Grandpa's exodus.

Birth certificates nowadays serve a strictly bureaucratic purpose; but if we learn anything valuable from scrutinizing the president's certificate, it ought to be that its brevity, its lack of detail, its sheer boringness, represents a lost opportunity to know more about what life was like at the very moment that this man was born. This is truly the first chapter in his story and, sadly, from a literary and historical perspective, it's a very poor read.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Triumphal Entry

Last night as a community we talked about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus on the Sunday before he was put to death. We looked at all four passages in the Gospel that point to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. One thing we discovered is that many are not very familiar with this passage. We felt that maybe why some were unfamiliar with the passage is that on Holy Week our eyes are focused on the cross, not the entry.

This is an amazing passage but it is a difficult passage to put our minds around. It is not a simple message to preach, although it is often preached simply.

Consider the Hero to Zero message. This one goes that on that Sunday the crowd showed up to watch Jesus parade into Jerusalem with his disciples. The crowds were excited to see this miracle worker. They had heard that Jesus had healed the leper, gave sight to the blind and just recently raised Lazarus from the dead. The crowd lines the street and as Jesus passes by they lay their cloaks on the street and wave palm fronds and cheer. But by the time Thursday night or Friday morning arrives the crowd turns on Jesus and demands that Pontius Pilate crucify him.

But I do not think this passage is that simple.

First let’s consider the donkey and/or colt that Jesus rode into town on. Jesus sends some of the boys (none of the Gospels name who he sends) ahead to get a donkey that has never been rode. They will find this animal tied up. In Matthew’s story there is a mommy donkey and a baby donkey (long complex story!). How did Jesus know there would a donkey tied up? How did he know the owner would be willing to give him away? Was it prearranged?

We are told that this ride into Jerusalem fulfills a prophecy made my Zechariah, 500 hundred years prior to Jesus’ birth. This was a tough time for the Jewish people. There is no Jewish king. They have become a province to Persia under King Dairus’ rule. There was this longed for hope for a new king, the messiah, the savior of the Jewish people.

Zechariah promises that times will get better for the Jews. “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This passage talks of a victorious king returning from battle to his people. Matthew quotes this passage but omits “righteous and victorious.” Why? Maybe the battle hasn’t been won, yet.

But we do see Jesus lowly, humbly entering the city on a donkey. This is a statement of peace. He is not entering Jerusalem on a chariot or on the back of a horse or in a tank. He is not coming into Jerusalem with his army carrying guns or knives or weapons of mass destruction.

Image the scene, imagine the people, imagine the smells, imagine the sounds. The crowd following Jesus is pumped up! But the city, those on the inside, is concerned. Matthew says that the city is stirred. Being stirred has a feeling of turmoil, like waiting on an expectant storm brewing on the horizon. It brings to mind a tornado in the Midwest. Or maybe like the earthquake warning heard 30 seconds before the big one hit in Japan.

So this peaceful entry of Jesus is welcomed by one crowd and feared greatly by another.

One writer (Chad Myers) describes it:

The bulk of the passage refers not to the event itself but to the organization, preparation, and planning. The movement described is complex; there is collaboration between the out-of-towners and the local resistance community. The political action is planned to coincide with a time when imperial power is blatant and feelings of resistance are high. The protest tools are low-tech and readily available, and the demonstration design is inclusive and participatory—there is no “audience.” Large numbers serve as security and protection for those who are identified and targeted as leaders.

At Passover, the liberation of slaves is celebrated with a pilgrimage festival to an occupied Jerusalem. Security is high and the situation volatile. In this fraught atmosphere the kingdom movement stages a performance that lampoons the Roman imperial procession. The “king of peace” is not a warrior but a peasant healer who comes riding not a war chariot but a donkey, and crowds fill the streets celebrating an alternative vision. Exciting, dangerous, transformative, participatory, nonviolent!


New Parable

I was reading some of the blogs I follow when I found this interesting parable. It is not a parable that Jesus told. This is a parable that will anger some in a variety of ways. This is a parable that should make us ask questions and seek answers.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the story, how did the autrhor get it all wrong, how did he get it all right, what does it mean to you, how did it make you mad, what questions are you going to get the answers to?

What is the Kingdom of God like, you ask?

A woman lived in rural central California. She was known for her kindness, generosity and love, but she was also fair and just. Her five children were normal kids, but the four youngest were known around town for their rebellious streaks. As a single mom, she did the best she could to establish both love and rules in the house, but four of her kids desired freedom over relationship. So one evening, the four youngest filled their backpacks and ran away.

The mom woke up and, finding four of her children’s beds empty, began to weep. She would not rest until her children returned home or she found them. Being a farm owner, she had plenty of hired hands to help in her search. She put the farm’s business on hold and sent her workers out to search for her lost darlings. She spent every last dime printing pamphlets, recording radio spots and inundating the TV with ads exclaiming her love for her children and her pleas for them to return home into her loving arms. All that she had, was and would be theirs.

Then one day, it happened. One of her runaways returned home. Seeing and hearing her message, his heart melted and he came back. She embraced him, welcoming him home. She turned to her eldest son (the one that never ran away) and asked if he would help find and bring back the others. He set out with a mission and a message. When he found two of the three, he told them of their mom’s love for them and how badly she missed them and her relentless desire for all of them to come home. He also reminded them of the Great Rule, but they refused to come back with him. He never did find the forth lost one.

Years passed and no sign of her kids. Regardless, a great rule had been violated. So she climbed into her pickup truck with a few hired hands and set out to bring her children home. On May 17, she found them.

All three were huddled up near a dumpster, clutching a worn blanket. They saw her truck approach and, too tired to run, they just sat with terror I their eyes. See, while away, they had been told countless lies by countless people that their mom was not a kind woman, that she did not love them and that she was mad-as-hell at them. Added to this were their incredible loneliness, shame and feelings of worthlessness. Living on the street—isolated from love—can do this to anyone, and it certainly did them. Seeing her children and hearing about their condition, the mother reassured them of her love. But despite her undying, never-ending motherly love for her children, she knew that the Great Rule had been violated and she must act accordingly.

They pulled up into the driveway and the truck came to a dusty halt. The hired hands helped the kids climb out of the back of the truck. As the mom walked to the house she looked back one last time at her kids. Motioning to the hired hands, she firmly declared, “Take them away. They violated the Great Rule and did not return to me on their own.”

“But mom….!?”

“Not another word,” she interrupted. “Whether you knew it or not, The Great Rule says that my children shall not run away and that if they do, they are to return on their own within three years. If they do not, I will find them and the Great Punishment must be inflicted. I even sent my oldest son for you, but you did not believe him.”

“Mom, we are sorry. We were scared, hurting and full of shame. We did things we are not proud of and that you would not approve of. Deep inside, when the nights were the quietest, we knew you loved us but we were afraid that you would have nothing to do with us after all we had done.”

With tears in her eyes she slowly replied, “I understand, I see you are truly sorry and I love you. But there is nothing I can do; I am powerless against the Great Rule. Three years have passed, you did not return and the Rule is the Rule.” With that, she turned and walked towards the house where her returning-son stood on the porch, watching.

The hired hands, still clutching the children by the arms, took them away to the barn…even the fourth child who never heard the eldest son’s message. As directed by the Great Punishment, they entered the barn, tied the children to the posts and began beating them. Next came the kerosene. Then, in the midst of their screams and under the watchful eye of their loving mom, they and the barn were set ablaze.

The loving, kind, full-of-mercy, just and righteous mom, turning from the window overlooking the burning barn, looked at her oldest son and the child who returned to her, wiped the tear from her eye and smiled. She motioned once more to her hired hands and—with the other children still burning and screaming outside—the feast of feasts, the party of parties, began. The mom, her eldest son, her returning-on-his-own child, and even her hired hands lived, feasted, and partied…happily…ever…after.

The End.

Now go, and share this GOOD NEWS of the Kingdom. Praise be to God.

Credit for this parable goes to Jeromy Johnson, you can read the orignal post here

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fifth Week of Lent: Hunger for Self Giving

Yesterday was the 5th Sunday of Lent, Easter is 2 weeks away! The three of us worked through John 12:20-33. Below is the section that I shared.

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

This passage follows Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and we will be talking about the triumphal entry passage next week on Palm Sunday. It was the time of the Passover Feast and there are thousands upon thousands of people arriving for the celebration. Jerusalem is busting at the seams. Jews from all over would make pilgrimage to the city for this God ordained holiday.

In the throngs of all these people we are introduced to some Greeks, possibly Hellenistic Jews, and they want to meet this man that came riding into town earlier on a colt. This was the guy that the crowds were excited to see. Who was he? Was he really the Messiah?

Maybe they heard that at a wedding in Cana, Jesus changed water into wine. Not just any wine but really good wine! Maybe they heard about the healing of a man born blind. Maybe they heard about the crippled guy that Jesus healed. Maybe they heard about the feeding of 5,000 people from 5 loaves of bread and 2 freeze dried fish. We are told in John 20 that Jesus did so many miracles that they were not all recorded. No telling how many miracles these Greeks heard about.

But these unnamed Greeks, possibly God-fearing gentiles were asking to see Jesus.

Before this narrative in the bible is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave. Lazarus was dead and buried for four days. Four days ensured that the dead was really dead. You can imagine the excited and awe from the crowd.

John 12:17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!

Maybe it wasn’t just a couple Greeks, maybe it was hundreds, or thousands or tens of thousands demanding “We would like to see Jesus.”

Greeks were allowed only in the outer court area at the temple. It was here, in the outer courtyard area that the money changers and the dove salesmen had set up their tables. It was here that Jesus came armed with a whip and an attitude and turned their tables over.

So maybe they heard about the temple cleansing or maybe they were eyewitnesses to the event.

The Greeks and all women were not allowed to enter the inner courtyard area. There was an isolation of the Jews from the gentiles. Outsiders isolated from the insiders.

Is the point of this small passage to show to the reader that those on the outside were acting as insiders? Is the point of this passage to show to the reader that the outsider was soon to be the target audience of the disciples?

We would like to see Jesus.

Jesus came to the Temple to cleanse it. To drive away the money changers. To drive away the sellers of doves. To reveal the injustices being done, all in the name of God.

To the religious leaders this was a man that stood against the established religion. Jesus wasn’t the Messiah a lot of the Jews were expected—there’s no exclusive nationalism in his message. His citizenship is not of this world. And these Greeks want to see him—they hear that he hangs out with pagans and sinners; they hear that his kingdom might just have room for them, those outside Abraham’s offspring.

Who do you see when you look at Jesus? A miracle worker? A savior? God? Man?

I believe there are millions of people that would love to see Jesus. Does the church set up barriers or obstacles keeping the outsider out? These outsiders don’t want the ritual. These outsiders don’t want religion. These outsiders want to see Jesus. They want the relationship.

I hope that tables would be overturned in our own places of worship. That the den of thieves would be cleansed and this place of worship would become the place where God would be pleased to hang out with us.

Why did the Greeks approach Philip? Was it because of his Greek name? More importantly why did Philip hesitate?

Another passage to read according to the liturgical calendar is Psalm 51:1-12, I encourage you to read it as well and pray that God would cleanse us and create in us a pure heart.

As we proceed in our passage we feel that Jesus is not just responding to Philip and Andrew but we feel that maybe Jesus is talking to the disciples and to the Greeks that asked to see Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up[g] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Fervent Charity

This morning I was asked to give my thoughts on the King James version of 1 Peter 4:8 "And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."

I always look beyond the world of Christian brothers and sisters and consider this and other passages as a challenge to serve others outside the church walls. It should be a given that the church will come alongside others in need in the church community (club?). It is unfortunate that sometimes the church drops the ball and misses opportunities to serve those in their own community/tribe. Think about it, if we can’t take care of our own, how are we going to be a light to others?

Quick word study. The word for fervent in Greek is ekten, and it also means out-stretched or earnest. I love all three definitions! This is an adverb that demands action. This action requires a stretching, probably to the breaking point. How much are we required to give and serve? To the breaking point! Is this the breaking point Jesus was challenging the Rich Young Ruler?

The word for charity, in this passage is agape. Interesting! We know that agape is love in the Greek, an unconditional love. Agape love looks for nothing in return. No return on investment. No recognition for a job well done. No awards, or plaques, or cash bonus.

We are clearly instructed to love others. 1 Peter is talking to the community of followers of Christ. But I feel we need to also combine that with the teachings of Jesus: to love and serve our neighbor, regardless of the lifestyle, social status, race, religion, sexual preferences, etc. to the breaking point. And we need to love and serve those that are in need: the widow, the orphan, the foreigner (illegal alien?), the sick and infirmed, and the prisoner.

Finally it is this agape, unconditional love, charity that is going to cover a multitude of sins. That’s interesting too! So my love for another will cover their sins?

Before you are quick to say that Jesus is the one and only that covers our sins, consider the stretcher bearers carrying the invalid to Peter’s house (Mark 2). They couldn’t get in so they tore a hole through the ceiling and lowered the man down to Jesus, right in the middle of Peter’s living room. I think Jesus laughed hysterically at the scene, as dry wall and popcorn ceiling fell on him and everyone in the room. I also imagine Peter being pretty ticked off by the scene as he considered the cost to repair his ceiling.

Jesus looks at the invalid and then to the four guys staring through the giant hole in the ceiling. And what did Jesus say? When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Seems to me that a multitude of sins are being covered by the fervent love and charity of others!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Meet Me in Eternity

A few years back I was introduced to a young man. This young man was tough. He carried an edge about himself that made him seem unapproachable and closed off. But through the introduction he had no choice but to talk to me. And what I discovered was that this young man had a soul that I wanted to know better.

Unfortunately this was my one only interaction with him. Shortly after our initial meeting, he passed away. It was a violent passing. Part of his tough exterior was often met with confrontation. Some of it I am sure he instigated. And I am sure there were other times he was challenged by someone wanting to prove their toughness. His life was filled with many evils and bad decisions. But I never got to challenge the soul of the young man I met.

I did attend his memorial service. His former junior high youth pastor did his memorial service, even though the young man had not attended church, or a youth gathering since junior high. Even in junior high his attendance was rare, skating and girls were a higher calling.

I spoke with the youth pastor about the young man and their connection. The youth pastor said it had been over 10 years since they crossed paths. He remembers the young man as a tough junior higher that fought often and picked on the church kids. He was difficult to handle and had to be disciplined frequently.

He continued to share that one Wednesday evening the young man, then a junior higher, was touched in a meaningful way. On that evening this tough, rowdy young man prayed the prayer: allowing Jesus to live in his heart and to guide and lead him. The youth pastor, being a good Baptist, felt it necessary to baptize all the junior higher students that made the decision to follow Jesus. They were baptized that same night.

During the memorial service the youth pastor shared with the family and friends in attendance the decision that young man made so many years ago. The youth pastor shared that there is a hope for life after this. And to ensure that life continues after death requires a voluntarily surrender of self to Jesus; a life allowing Jesus to guide and lead; a life affirming and believing that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

I am grateful that I don’t have to do the judging. It is not up to me to determine the eternal state of someone’s soul. Our God is a grace filled God. He calls us His children whom He loves. He desires a relationship with all of us. I am praying that when the young man and I meet the on the other side I can finally get to know the young man I met and his incredible soul.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Can Men be Stay at Home Dads?

Watch the video below. I would love to hear your comments. How do you agree with the Biblical statements being made? How do you disagree? What is the role of culture?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sabbath Retreat

This past weekend our church plant, In Process, escaped to a cabin for the weekend to enjoy a mountain retreat in Big Bear. The owner of the cabin has been generous to many other pastors and families over the years to use their cabin as a place to rest. One of the best comments I heard this weekend was how restful the retreat was.

We had plenty of plans for the weekend including a time of sharing, especially since we cancelled our regular Sunday service. We were hoping that we would continue our time through the scriptures in preparation (Lent) for Easter. The theme for this Sunday, Week 3 of Lent, is Thirst and one of the passages of scriptures we were going to share was Isaiah 55:1-9.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As I read these words I feel as a group we were spiritually fed this past weekend. Even though none of us cracked open the Bible nor did we share our thoughts on Lent or this passage. We were there in the mountains as a community. And for a true community to thrive and survive requires sharing. We shared meals together. We shared laughter. We shared chores. We shared play time in the snow. We shared encouragements, and as many communities do, we shared a good ribbing with one another.

I do not understand how this act of sharing helps us spiritually, but I will tell you that we grew closer. We grew closer to one another, and we grew closer to God. We ate well, but the food we ate wasn’t what sustained us. It was the community.

There are times when I am frustrated about the politics of starting a church. And there are times when I am floored by the ways that God is working in the group. Most importantly though I am floored by the ways that the group is responding to God. I always think that if the church plant succeeds or not (don’t know how you measure that type of success), I have been fed by the living God as I continue to do the work He has called me to do.

Maybe that is real success: being fed by God.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spinning Plates

Plate spinning is an act you might see at a circus or a comedy club. It is an attention getter as the performer and maybe an assistant work hard to keep plates spinning on a pole extended from the ground. The tension builds as more and more plates are added. As the plates lose their speed, the performer must return over and over again to increase the speed of the spinning plates. If not, the plates fall to the ground and break. The world record for the number of plates spinning on these poles is 108.

I have heard many individuals in management and in ministry compare their work load as plate spinning. These leaders are frustrated that they must constantly return to projects they are responsible for and check to see the status of the work. If there are issues they must take time away from other projects they are involved in. These leaders return over and over again to each project in order to keep those plates spinning. It seems to them that there is no one else who can handle this difficult, dangerous and important task. Ultimately something crashes.

No one wants to follow a leader who pushes others aside as they focus only on the work of spinning plates. No one wants to follow a leader that eliminates plates because they grow tired of spinning plates. To be an effective leader requires trust. Trust that the right person is in place to keep their plate spinning. Each pole and plate must be manned by the right person. This person understands the importance of keeping that plate spinning and they demonstrate the joys and rewards to others.

These others become future plate spinners and the number of spinning plates on pole increases. If the trust is real, plate spinning becomes an art. New methods and techniques are discovered, used and shared with the other plate spinners. A network of plate spinners is created.

Every so often a plate crashes to the ground. It might be that the equipment (pole) may need to be repaired. It might be because a lack of focus on the spinner or the leader. It might be because of a lack of training. Maybe the entrusted spinner is trying to spin multiple plates instead of empowering other plate spinners. But the great thing about plate spinning is that the broken plate can be replaced. The good leader is not actively spinning plates. This allows the good leader the ability to work one on one, or through the plate spinning network, with the plate spinner. Together they create a plan that keeps their plate spinning.

I remember the first time I saw the plate spinning act on TV, I think it was on the Ed Sullivan show. I was amazed that the performer could handle so many spinning plates. And I remember the anxiety I felt as I watched the performer work hard to maintain the spinning plates. I was at the edge of my seat. But that was a great performance; I cannot imagine living a life filled with that kind of anxiety everyday as I approached work or ministry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Second Sunday of Lent: Hunger for Justice and Healing

This past Sunday Brian spoke about hunger from another perspective. This hunger is one defined by a compelling need or desire. Some of us hunger for wealth, fame, approval or affection. Last week I spoke on hunger being a condition; this hunger is a verb. From Brian’s definition hunger becomes a noun.

Hunger as a noun causes us to do verbs, and verbs are action words. What are the actions we do to achieve our hungers? Our hungers expose us for who we really are. Are our fears and anxieties the responses to our hungers or do they drive our hungers?

What does our church hunger for? What does that expose about our character?

In the Bible we read of an encounter Jesus had with a Samaritan woman at a well. I like to refer to this encounter as the “Samaritan Incident.” You will find the Samaritan Incident in John 4. Much has been written about the account. The character and the lifestyle of the woman are questionable. She doesn’t appear to be the kind of girl you taken home to meet Mother Mary.

Jesus exposes the Samaritan woman’s sins, and cleanses her from them. She has been changed, transformed. She runs into the village to share the news, sounds like good news to me!

The Disciples reunite with Jesus after shopping around for food at the local convenience store. The Disciples encourage Jesus to eat but He refuses. Jesus tells them of food they know nothing about. He refused to eat because he was actively doing, dealing with another hunger. Jesus knew that His nourishment would come from the one who sent Him.

And it did not stop at the well. Jesus and The Disciples spent three days in this unnamed Samaritan village. Three days of religious and personal reconciliation. Three days of lives being transformed. Three days of justice, healings, teachings, friendship and community.

Maybe we should be less concerned about what we hunger. Maybe we should seek to discover what God hungers for and make these the things we hunger for.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Intersecting Communities

Tuesday nights are planning nights for the church plant I am involved with. We share ideas and dreams. We pray together. We share a meal together (tonight was teriyaki chicken, rice pilaf and green beans). We laugh together. We watch Jeopardy. And we challenge each other to radically be the church God is calling us to be.

Quick thought: church is not a building or a location but a group of people sharing life and beliefs aligned with Jesus’ mission here on earth.

The idea of “location” was a topic of conversation tonight, and one that we will discuss further with our entire group at the next vision meeting. Currently we are blessed to have a facility to use: a church building. It comes totally equipped with chairs, sounds, new technology, heat and AC, everything you would need to do church.

But is having all these things crippling our ability to be the church?

A sister church plant of ours use to meet in a coffeehouse. What was awesome was that the coffeehouse wasn’t closed during their church services; the public was welcome to come in and get a cup of coffee and a pastry. Anyone was allowed to come in and sit and converse.

One great story I heard was that while the church was meeting, and the pastor was up front sharing, two women came in, got coffee, and sat in the middle of the church group. While sitting in the middle of the group they proceeded to have a lively conversation. They did not recognize this group as a church.

This is the church I want to be a part of. A church willing to gather together in unlikely places: a coffeehouse, a bar, a park, anywhere people gather. People may be unlikely to drop in to a church service at a church building, but imagine a church that is willing to intersect communities.

Monday, March 21, 2011

One Rule

This past weekend I was at Saddleback Church to hear about health and proper eating habits. The church is on a year mission to promote this healthy lifestyle. As a church planter, I am always interested in what local churches, big and small, are doing to be significant to their community. As a store manager of a health food grocery store, I am always interested in what groups are doing to promote healthy living.

But it is an odd combination, Western Christianity and holistic living. Maybe i will post more on this topic in the future.

A comment was made that hit me as an affirmation. People feel welcome when they can help themselves to anything in your refrigerator.

Monica and I have opened up our home weekly for many years now to many groups of people. Years ago we had two groups of junior high students that would meet weekly at our home. Monday nights was guys’ Bible study and Tuesday nights was girls’ Bible study.

I ran the guys’ night. It was a night filled with popcorn (each guy would get one bag), soda, a movie and study. It is still one of my greatest memories. 20 guys, 20 bags or popcorn (my microwave would glow after popping that many bags!), 60 cans of soda, Monte Python and the Bible!

One rule: help yourself to anything in the fridge.

After I went to another church, guys’ and girls’ Bible study was handed off to the new pastors to run at their own homes or at church. But many of the students that were a part of that great memory were now in high school or college and still wanted to hang out. So we created a Tuesday night gathering. Tuesdays for many years was Pizza Night. It was a simple night of pizza (5 large!), soda and conversation.

One rule: help yourself to anything in the fridge.

Many of the conversations around the dinner table seemed to center on their faith, community, God and their unhappiness with the church. As the students graduated from high school, many quit going to church. For some the gathering at our home became church. So we started a church.

The original groups of guys and girls that attended Monday and Tuesday Bible Studies are in college or nearing graduation. Many are connected to the church plant and show up when they can. Life is busy! But one thing they know when they come and hang out at our home is there is one rule: help yourself to anything in the fridge.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

We Believe

This morning I was watching TV (Sunday Morning on CBS) when a commercial came on. Now that in itself isn’t unusual. But this commercial has caused me to think; that alone makes it an amazing commercial. This commercial was nothing short of a religious experience!

What do you think?

Friday, March 18, 2011


Fear is what bosses use to get their workers to perform better. Do the job or risk getting fired. Do the job faster or we will find someone who can. Fear is what teachers use to get students to perform better. Study hard and get good grades or you risk failing. It becomes that the student knows the answer but might not understand the answer, they fail anyway. We use fear on our pets. We beat them if they get out, if they pee on the floor, if they bite. It is the fear of getting beaten that gets them to behave. They don’t understand, they work hard to avoid the punishment. Fear can cause the worker to rage against his family, cause a student to drop out or cause the pet to bite.

Fear, to me, is one of the most devastating emotions to have. I feel that many time fear is not used constructively. Instead, the emotion of fear is what carries them, what drives them, what motivates them, what cripples them. Today many are going to be watching and waiting to hear the news: are we being poisoned with radiation floating over the Pacific Ocean from Japan?

Many have been rushing to stores fearful of this poisoning, looking for a supplement to reduce the risk of getting cancer. I have seen the fear in their eyes when told, “I am sorry we don’t have that, and we are unsure when the next shipment will arrive.” I have seen the fear.

Once a group of people I am very close to decided to be prepared for a natural or manmade disaster. They considered how much water and food would be necessary for them, their families and others. They searched their shared communal property, looking for the right place to set up a storage unit to house all their survival staples. It turned out this unit would have to be quite large, there was no free space on the property to house such a large storage unit.

So the question to the group: what would happen if 10 people showed up looking for assistance? But maybe the harder question was: what would happen if hundreds of people happened onto their doorstep looking for food or water? Would they be willing to share? Day one, probably. Day 10, less likely.

My concern is fear can turn into self survival. Fear can turn into anger. Anger becomes so great it turns into rage and hatred. Hatred is ugly, what are we willing to do to survive?

Maybe at this time it would be a good time to check our hearts. Maybe this is a time to determine if it is fear that is driving us or is it something else.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Heaven and Hell

Yesterday I watched as Rob Bell was interviewed by Lisa Miller. The interview was Rob’s opportunity to share with over 6,000 web viewers and an audience in New York his thoughts and ideas of Heaven and hell. Unfortunately Rob did not answer the questions directly, but the questions were great. I do believe that God is love and that Jesus came to give us that message of love. Jesus' message of love demonstrates Heaven on earth, then and now. It is this message that I feel that we as humans, and primarily as Christians or followers of Jesus, must demonstrate to others.

The interview can be watched here, go to @10 minutes into the video to watch the interview.

Hell in particular is a tough and unsettling concept/reality to wrap my mind around. there is a mystery to it. It is hard for me to consider a place of eternal torment.

I love CS Lewis' imagery of Heaven and Hell in The Great Divorce. We chose heaven or we chose hell. I like to think that we will decide where we go. In the day when there is a separation of sheep and goats, the sheep will naturally go to heaven and the goats will chose hell and a total separation from God and others, total self induced isolation.

Bottom line, I must read Rob's book “Love Wins”. What becomes of this conversation/debate, I pray, is a deeper desire to understand God and His message of love, grace and mercy that He offers through His Son.

There is so much disagreement between so many great thinkers, John Piper, Bell, NT Wright, Robert Gonzalez and others, I am not sure if we can really answer these ideas this side of Heaven, wherever that is.

Monday, March 14, 2011

First Sunday of Lent

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Lent. To prepare for my message I was reading and studying from Luke 4 (although the “right” passage on the church calendar should have been Matthew 4). What I discovered was that in the past I didn’t give this passage it full meaning. I believe that to fully preach this passage you must include Luke 3 (Matthew 3, if you are preaching Matthew 4).

I encourage you to read Luke 4, I won’t be posting the passage here. In Luke 4 we read of Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the wilderness (when you hear wilderness, think lions and tigers and bears not a camping trip). When I read through this passage I look for words and phrases that stand out. Some of the words that stood were Holy Spirit, led, Jordan, wilderness, 40 (days), Tempted (by the devil), Hungry, If you are the Son of God, Jesus quotes scripture, and high place.

But before I can really understand Luke 4 I need to read Luke 3. In Luke 3 we learn of the one that precedes Jesus, the man we know as John the Baptist. John is speaking to all who will listen of one coming to take away the sins of the world. He pleads with his audience to repent and be baptized. Sounds like a time of consecration (Exodus 19).

In the process of baptizing the listeners, Jesus shows up and asks John to be baptized. Have you ever wondered, “Why did Jesus need to be baptized?”

One writer described Jesus desire to be baptized,

“Jesus's baptism inaugurated his public ministry by identifying with what Luke describes as "all the people." He allied himself with the faults and failures, pains and problems, of all the broken and hurting people who had flocked to the Jordan river. By wading into the waters with them he took his place beside us and among us. Not long into his public mission the religious leaders called Jesus a "friend of gluttons and sinners." With his baptism Jesus openly declares that he stands shoulder to shoulder with us in our fears and anxieties. He intentionally takes sides with all peoples in their neediness.

While Jesus is praying, and after His baptism, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove and descends upon Jesus, did the dove actually land upon Jesus? And the voice of God says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” If I were a good Bible scholar these words should make me jump. These were words spoken before and should help the listener know that what is happening is of God and we need to take notice. Read Isaiah 42 and Psalm 2.

We end Luke 3 with the genealogy of Jesus. It is an odd genealogy that starts at Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather and establishes Jesus as being in the line of David and continues to track his linage through all of history to Adam. Matthew 1 also shows a genealogy of Jesus, that genealogy starts at David and ends at Mary.

Why are the two genealogies different?
Why do we need Joseph’s genealogy since Jesus is not Joseph's genetic son?

Establishing some background allows us to approach Luke 4 with information necessary to understand Luke 4 a bit clearer.

Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River and then heads into the wilderness for 40 days of testing. Does this sound familiar?
  • Noah and his family endured the deluge on board the ark for 40 days and nights (Gen 7:4, 12; 8:6; 9:8-17);
  • Moses fasted for 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai while he received the inscribed words of God (Exod 24:18; 34:27-28; Deut 9:9);
  • Elijah fasted in the desert for 40 days and nights before receiving a new commission from God (1 Kgs 19:8);
  • The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years prior to their arrival in the Promised Land (e.g., Exod 16:35; Deut 2:7)

It is this wilderness setting that we read that Jesus is hungry after fasting for 40 days, it is unclear from the Gospel writers if the temptations happened after the 40 day fast or during the fast. But we know that Jesus is hungry, famished.

The devil starts each of his temptations to Jesus with, “If you are the Son of God...” Because we have read Luke 3 we have been told By God Himself that Jesus is His Son. So maybe the temptation from the devil can be better translated, “Since you are the Son of God…”

The first temptation should again make us remember. It was in the Exodus account that the Israelites were traveling through the wilderness when they too became hungry. The devil tells Jesus to turn the stone to bread but Jesus refuses and quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, but we shouldn’t read just that verse, the passage speaks of God’s word supplying all the needs of the Israelites. God would also supply Jesus’ need in His wilderness journey. Jesus passes the first test of self survival.

Notice as we approach the second temptation the devil is doing the leading. The second temptation, in Luke 4 is done from a high place, presumably a mountaintop (Matthew 4). It is here that Jesus is shown all the kingdoms and cities of the world and told it can be all yours. For an awesome video of this watch the Jesus Miniseries that NBC created, the devil is in a business suit showing a modern snapshot of our world. This picture reminds me of the mountaintop experiences of Moses and Elijah. Jesus is being tempted with worldwide domination. All Jesus has to do is worship the devil. But Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13.

The final temptation is from a high point at the temple in Jerusalem. For me this is the critical test. Jesus has been tempted with self preservation and with world power but now he is being tempted with the ability to be god. Remember Adam and Eve’s temptation? They ate the forbidden fruit so that their eyes would be opened and be like a god. Again Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6, this time verse 16. But I think all of Deuteronomy 6 needs to be read. In this chapter we have the Shema in verse 4 “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.” There is one God, don't test Him!

Imagine the invisible hand of God rescuing Jesus as he leaps from the highest point of the temple. How do you think amazed crowd below would respond to Jesus? His humanity would be vastly overshadowed by his divinity.

Later we will read these words while Jesus hung from the cross as one of the thieves next to Him challenged, or tested Jesus, “If (since) you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

After Jesus has passed the tests imposed upon him we see the devil leave. But did you notice that nowhere in Luke chapter 3 and 4 do we read that the Holy Spirit ever left Jesus. As a matter of fact when we start reading the next verses of Luke 4 the Spirit is still with Him, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit...”

It is my hope that we always recognize that the spirit of God never leaves or abandons us, even when we are tempted or tested.

The first Sunday of Lent marks the start of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus could have sought comfort, security and power but refused. Instead Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of giving. He gave it all away. We are invited to come alongside Jesus in a shared partnership to serve the poor, the sick and the hungry. Not for our selves, but for the glory of God.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

God and Mother Nature

The earthquake in Japan has really troubled my soul, especially since the world was able to watch the destruction of entire cities and farms on live TV. Thankfully, from this tragedy, we haven’t seen the personal tragedy of losing one’s life through Mother Nature’s violent groaning. I am wondering if our live TV is similar to what God sees the world when He looks down on us.

I have not searched the internet looking for the blog writers’ point of view regarding God’s hand being involved in this tragic act of natural violence. I remember reading in the past that anytime there is some horrific tragedy we should look to God being the cause of the destruction, as if He was punishing us through these tragedies. Is this the God I follow?

I think of an ant farm that a kid might have and think if maybe one of the ants bit the boy, would he react brutally towards the ants? In the boy’s godlike presence all he would need to do is place the ant farm in the sun to watch the ants die off due to the extreme heat. All he would need to do is place a large cup of water into the ant farm and drown his victims. All he would need to do is shake the heck out of the ant farm and bury the ants. Drought, flooding and earthquakes are all natural, and sometimes tragic facts of life, I don’t think this is the way my God punishes.

Through any act of tragedy, like the earthquake in Japan, it all comes down to, “What is our response?” Let’s avoid pointing fingers and blaming one group or another. Let’s be like Jesus and be first responders in prayer, love and action for the victims.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ash Wednesday 2011

Last night I had the opportunity to attend an Ash Wednesday at a Catholic Church in my community. I grew up Catholic but do not recall ever going to an Ash Wednesday service as a kid so this was truly a new experience for me.

The Mass began with a liturgy reading of Joel 2. Next, there was a time for a congregation singing, very unlike the worship songs we sing, and unlike hymns. The songs were awesome and had an essence of individually but mostly spoke of community and the Jesus’ response to the community. The Gospel reading was from Matthew 6.

The priest shared the significance the Gospel passage, especially in light of Lent. It was a simple message but powerful. Bottom line was that there are three things we need to do better during Lent:

Alms Giving
Self Denial

So my challenge is how to these things better during Lent. And if I am trying to deny self during this process I must do these things secretly. I shouldn’t complain that I am suffering as I give up this or that. I shouldn’t pray in ways that draw attention to me. As I give I should work towards giving more sacrificially, and not brag about the hardship it causes. Lent is about giving God the honor and not honoring or looking for honor ourselves.

I pray that we all draw closer to Jesus during Lent…

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Today is Day One

I look forward to observing Lent every year. Many would think it very weird to get excited about self denial. I spend the weeks prior to Lent prayerfully considering anything I crave. Those cravings drive me to the point that if I do not fulfill those cravings I feel hollow and incomplete. Some of these unfulfilled cravings cause me bodily discomfort.

The first year I considered follow Lent I gave up all soda. It wasn’t that hard but I did come to realize that I drank a lot of soda. At every restaurant I was had to make a conscious decision to not order soda. Breaking this habit had long term affects, today I rarely drink soda.

One year I decided to give up coffee for the Lenten Season. Mistake! I had the biggest caffeine headache ever, and I think they lasted the entire season. Easter Sunday I was bathing in coffee!

Another year I decided to give up TV for Lent. Sounded noble! I love TV. I cannot read a book, write a paper, prepare a sermon, or have a conversation with my wife without the TV being on. I felt this would be an easy thing to accomplish and best yet: I wouldn’t get a headache. But I have a DVR. Everything I missed during Lent I recorded. Easter Sunday I was watching 40 days worth of TV!

This year I looked at my spending habits and discovered that I spend a lot of money at Starbucks. I would be embarrassed to confess the amount. I also spend too much money eating out. We make fewer and fewer meals at home. So for Lent this year I have decided to limit my overspending.

Yesterday I went to Starbucks and was greeted by all the employees there by name. I guess if you spend that much money at one location you are bound to get known. After I got my mocha and sausage sandwich I informed the crew that I would not be back until after Easter. Thankfully they sighed and didn’t applaud my decision.

As far as going out, we will be limiting our dining out experience. Thursdays will remain Date Night and we will enjoy a quiet dinner out together. But for those other nights we will refrain from taking the easy way out and getting Fast Food. Instead we will spend the extra time required to prepare something a bit more nutritious. It is cheaper.

So as I forgo these bad habits I look for the reminders that the reason I am avoiding my bad habits is to help me draw closer to Jesus. When I crave Starbucks I am reminded that the only thing I should crave is a fuller relationship with the Savior who denied everything for us. And when I desire to take the easy way out for dinner, I must remember that Jesus avoided the easy fix and suffered and endured much for us.