Monday, December 31, 2007

Retroactive New Year's Resolutions

Many of you know me well enough to know that I tend to be very rigid and driven by goals, schedules, and the pursuit of fame and fortune. Okay, so I am not driven by schedules.
Anyway, this is the time of year when many people like to make lists of goals for the New Year and they like to reflect on the year behind. Since I actually do not operate off of lists or schedules I thought this year I would write my 2007 goals now instead of worrying about what the year ahead might bring. It is like those of you who write lists for everything and if you accomplish something not on your list, you write it on the list retroactively so that you can check it off. Consider these my retroactive New Year's Resolutions.

X Have a baby: preferably a boy with blue eyes and dark hair. Oh yeah, with minimal crying and always happy.
X Miss a plane and spend a day in Zandorf on the North Sea in Holland.
X Bring a group of students to Uganda.
X Retire from my job and travel the world.
X Drive my car through a tree.
X Learn a new language.
X Rent out my home to friends and live in the Middle East.
X Become friends with a Monk, a Rabbi, an Armenian Priest, an Accomplished Archaeologist, and someone from Poland.
X Spend Christmas Eve in Bethlehem.
X Drink Turkish coffee with a Bedouin Arab.
O Sleep through the night without interruption. (This is for next year).
X Celebrate Chanukah with Jews who follow Jesus.
X Meet friends in England and spend the day with them and my family.
X Take time to think and study and prepare for whatever is next.

There is probably more that I should have put on my list but I do not want to set my goals for last year too high.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Last night on Christmas Eve my family drove 3 miles down to road to the crossing from Israel to the West Bank. We parked our car and went through the multiple turnstiles, passport checks, passed the heavily armed Israeli Defense Soldiers, and finally passed the enormous 30-foot high concrete separation wall into the Palestinian Territory. From here we took a five minute taxi ride to "Shepherd's Field" near the town of Bethlehem where we celebrated the birth of the Messiah Jesus along with about 50 other believers in Yeshua.
After singing songs about a baby born in the town where we were standing and about Angels appearing to shepherds in a field perhaps where we were, we headed to dinner with some friends. We ate a Palestinian restaurant called "the tent" and sat at the table with a couple (a Palestinian Christian and his British wife and 4 boys) and another couple from Bermuda with their two boys and we experienced Christian fellowship over some great food. For the first time since moving to Israel we heard Christmas songs playing in the restaurant and we realized that there is beauty in the simplicity of the season. God came to us and through him the earth can have peace. Our Christmas service contained no "special music", no dramas, no eloquent messages, and no promotion for a particular church. It contained people celebrating the messiah and then friends sharing food together before returning home.
As we returned home through the separation wall and watched an impressively armed escort leading dignitaries in a huge caravan into Bethlehem for the midnight mass we looked and saw graffiti on the wall. One piece of graffiti said, "Peace to earth and goodwill to men". The wall, the guns, the armored vehicles, the Israeli flags flying in site of the Palestinian flags, and the intensity of the conflict between these two people groups cannot hide the message that peace is only found in the Messiah. 2000 years ago Palestine they felt the pressure of the Roman government and longed for a leader to come and to deliver them from the "occupying" forces. He came to a town called Bethlehem and showed the way to peace. People still long for this message today so all followers of the Messiah Yeshua should show the way to peace through our lives. Let your Christmas this year fly in the faces of the "separation walls" and the hatred that fills our lives. Let us remember that flashy Christmas services and beautiful churches will never bring the message of Jesus to the world. Peace comes through our lives so may peace reign on earth and may there be goodwill towards men through your lives.
Merry Christmas

Don't forget to check out more thoughts from my wife at The Jerusalem Letters .

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Faith of Jews, Muslims, and Parents

Earlier today I was sitting at my desk attempting to work on some Hebrew translations and my two older sons came in to give me a reason to procrastinate. In an attempt to keep the conversation light, my oldest son asked, "Dad, what do you believe in that you cannot see?" As I prepared to answer he jumped in and said, "I believe in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, air (because you can't see it), and Santa Claus. I smiled and told him that those are good things to believe in and he agreed but did say that grown-ups don't believe in Santa but he wants to this year.
Then tonight my wife showed me a letter that he wrote to Santa and it basically explains that he once believed and then didn't, then did, and then he stopped believing, but now he wants to believe because he has two requests for gifts. The point of this post isn't that my son wants to believe in Santa this year, it is really just to share one line from the letter that I loved. In his explanation that he wanted to believe in Santa again he said, "(now that I believe in you [Santa]), I believe in something that Jewish people, Muslims, and parents do not believe in".
I love the small lessons that we gain from the mouths of children. Here is my son living in a country dominated by Jews and Muslims, (and parents) and he acknowledges that he has to make a choice to believe. It reminds me of the passage in the book, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" when the children are talking with the professor about the story the youngest sister, Lucy, told them about a magical world hidden in the wardrobe. When the older children tell him that the possibility of another world is too crazy to believe, he responds by questioning the quality of their education.
It seems that the ability to believe in the unseen is a trait we too often overlook. Even now I am doing research into Biblical texts and their literary environment and most of the scholarship begins with the assumption that religious texts are too incredible to believe. I agree with the professor that there must be something wrong with the educational system that does not allow belief. I side with Chesterton who once said that the incredibility of the story of Christ is the thing that convinces him it must be real. As the church father Tertullian said, "I believe because it is absurd".
For my son, belief in the unseen is perfectly acceptable even if Jews, Muslims, and parents do not agree. I personally side with my sons.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another Deep Thought

We went to Jordan for the weekend and I saw this camel drinking coke. Another example of the amazing education I am receiving this year...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Food Fit For a King

In my travels around the world I have had the opportunity to experience some memorable times set around food. I've had some good memories such as having cheese and wine in a small cafe in the shadows of the Eifel Tower and some unique experiences such as eating hot dogs with mustard for breakfast along with Bosnian coffee in an orphanage in central Bosnia. This week I had a new experience that ranks near the top. As the country of Israel takes this week to celebrate Chanukah, the nightly lighting of the Chanukah candles takes place everywhere. This week after a late night of classes I stopped by the student "watering hole" on campus with a Jewish friend.
During the course of our discussions about our classes, our faith, and American politics, we were interrupted as someone brought a large Chanukia (Chanukah Menorah) and placed it on the bar. He then made an announcement that he was lighting the candle and began singing the traditional song. It essentially is a song/ prayer giving thanks to the God and King of the Universe for sustaining the Jewish people. In a moments time, the entire place was singing and celebrating this moment. As the song ends with "Amen", the entire place errupted in applause. I felt for a moment that I was sitting in an English pub watching World Cup Soccer and singing pub songs. Perhaps this is what it was like as the writers of the "great hymns of the faith" sat in pubs and inserted Christian theology into the songs in the bars.
The song ended then someone came around and handed out traditional "jelly-filled" donuts. As I sat with my Jewish friend from Boston eating donuts to go with our Israeli brewed beverage, we both commented that this was a first for us. We finished our donuts and conversation as the candles burned brightly on the bar (and as the thump of the typical Israeli techno music echoed through the room). We thought that we may be missing the atmosphere of the American Holiday season, but this was a nice consolation prize.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hag Samaech (Happy Holidays)

It is one of the Holiday Seasons here in Israel (although not the most important) and we are completely enjoying the entire experience. We celebrated the first night of Chanukah with some friends in the neighborhood complete with traditional donuts, traditional prayers, and games. My wife will give the full story at The Jerusalem Letters so check it out there.

One thing that really stood out to us was the enriching experience that the Festival of Lights or "Chanukah" has for followers of the Messiah Jesus. First of all, it was enriching just to be in Jerusalem where this event originally took place just as Jesus was in John 10 where it says he was in Jerusalem for the feast of dedication. In addition to that, this holiday has great Messianic symbolism and is worthy of a study so go and study because that is not the point of this post.

One thing that came out of our time last night was the hope for the Messiah and the belief that the Messiah will come during a "Year of Jubilee". This is a year that happens every 50 years and is intended to forgive all debt and return land to rightful owners. Basically it is a year of redemption and forgiveness. It is a year that puts all people back on equal ground before God. So it is plain to see why tradition says that the Messiah will come on a year of Jubilee.

I can't be exact on all of these dates but it looks like 1) During the time of Christ the year of Jubilee was 28/29 AD. 2) Jesus spent 3 or 4 Passovers during his public ministry. 3) Jesus was crucified in 32/33 AD. Which means that it is likely that the Messiah Jesus began his public ministry during a year of Jubilee. In other words, he came to forgive debt and offer redemption on the year the nation of Israel was commanded to do the same. I will do a little more research to check these dates but it is pretty amazing if this is the case. And if it is not the case, it is still pretty amazing that Jesus offers redemption and forgiveness of debts.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ho Ho Ho

What's wrong with the world besides me? This Christmas season there are some department stores that are restricting Santa Claus' use of the term "Ho Ho Ho". They actually claim that this famous laugh by children's most beloved character may offend some women. Apparently the term "ho", even if used during a laugh, is a degrading term for certain women. No real alternative has been offered but I presume that they prefer a more politically correct term such as "professional woman of the night". Some might think it strange for Santa to bring up a questionable profession while laughing or for carolers to insert a comment about prostitutes in the course of spreading Holiday cheer, but if this makes these stores feel like they have protected women from hearing degrading names all throughout the ever lengthening Christmas season then I am all for it.
Okay, in case you do not sense the sarcasm in my (writing) voice allow me to tell you that this whole thing is pure claptrap (that is a thesaurus word for nonsense). This is one of those issues where some people make issues out of non-issues especially in light of the fact that Santa has been saying "Ho" long before rap music popularized a new use of the term. It is like when stores say they will not say, "Merry Christmas" because it is too religious and in the process they offend even more people than they would offend if they used the phrase in the first place. This over-reaction is also like when Christians boycott stores for saying "Merry X-mas" thinking they are proving a point (when in actuality the "x" in Christmas is the Greek letter that begins the word "Christ" so it is actually a Christian abbreviation).
The point is that people over-react too much. Just this week I was talking with a world-renowned archaeologist who writes for the journal "Biblical Archaeology Review" and he was criticizing the large number of pastors who cancel their subscriptions when the review publishes information that goes against their assumptions about the Bible. He told me that he just couldn't understand how pastors could have such weak faith. Here was a Jewish man saying that these Christian pastors should have a strong enough faith in Jesus to not be affected by information published in a journal. As I walked away from that conversation I thought about his point and how much I agreed with it and how much I see this overreaction everywhere.
I walked out into the cold Jerusalem air and thought that this would be a great year of celebrating the birth of Jesus here in His homeland. With Christmas less than one month away, the cold air and the lights (for Chanukah) put me in the "Holiday Spirit". I thought that all I needed was some Christmas music so as I walked to the bus stop I turned on my i-pod and I listened to 2 Pac sing "Ho Ho Ho". And now I am in the Christmas mood.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


We went to the Dead Sea this weekend instead of studying. I put mud on my body. Now I feel like a baby's butt. (Not emotionally, it is my skin that feels like a baby's butt).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fascinating Discoveries

Some have asked why I moved my family across the world to study the Bible when I could do that in quality institutions in places like Dallas, Texas. It is a legitimate question and one that I could answer 100 different ways. My first response is "have you been to Dallas?" Another response is that I needed a break so I thought moving to the Middle East would be a perfect place to rest my body and mind. Another answer is that after working in churches for 13 years, Israel sounded safe and relaxing. Perhaps another answer is that I always encourage college students to take a semester to live in a different culture and I never had the opportunity to do that for myself so I dragged my family into this adventure. Still another answer is that I knew that I would have to leave my last church so I took this opportunity to check off some things on my "to do" list for life.

The most accurate answer is that what better place to study the Bible than in the land where the history actually took place. For example, as a family we looked at the passage in John 5 when Jesus heals the cripple man near the pools of Bethesda after walking to the pools and viewing them in person. Also, each week I have a Biblical Archaeology class (which is like taking gym class in college to raise the GPA) and we discuss the rise of the city of Jerusalem in Jewish theology and consequently in Christian circles and I can walk down the hill and look at the actual remains for the things we are talking about. You can compare studying the Bible here to someone moving to Italy to study Art, or to someone moving to Antartica to study ice, or even to someone moving to the Moon to study gymnastics (think about that one). You get the point.

Many of you want to know the things I have learned so far and I am not prepared to write a paper for all of you answering that question, but I can give a few startling new facts I have learned so far. 1) The number 30 bus doesn't always come, 2) It gets cold in Israel at night, 3) Cheddar cheese costs $10 per pound, 4) More people speak English here than in parts of Southern California, 5) it turns out that Jesus was a Jew.

Now you can rest easy knowing that I am getting my money's worth here.

More serious thoughts will follow in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shabbat Shalom

One thing you will notice if you visit Israel is the frank nature of the locals and the apparent lack of friendliness and small talk. For example, if you walk passed a person on the street, make eye contact, and say “Shalom”, do not expect the pleasantry to be returned. When purchasing food at a store and you say “Todah (Thank You)” when you receive your item, do not expect to hear “You’re welcome”. One Israeli friend of mine even joked about the formal nature that Americans’ have when introducing friends to each other. According to the Israelis here, you do not need to be polite or formal, just begin talking. Unless you are from the Northeast, this comes across as rude behavior to most Americans. After spending some time here, it is easy to adapt to this culture and learn that it is not personal, it is just Israel.
With this said, there are two days every week when this culture lifts and the opposite of the norm takes place. Every Friday and Saturday, people great each other with “Shabbat Shalom” which literally means “Peaceful Sabbath” or you can translate this to say, “Have a nice and peaceful Sabbath”. In stores, on the street, and even on buses people transform into friendly faces and warm greeters. To add to this transformation, around 4:00 PM on Friday everything shuts down. The buses stop running, the stores close, people quit doing housework, and the focus for the next 26 hours is on God and family.
For us, we wake up Saturday morning, pack lunches for the day (which is technically prohibited for Jewish people), and walk to worship at our church. After church, we walk to the park usually with other families, and spend the afternoon making our way home. It is difficult to explain how relaxing this is. To spend the entire day walking, relaxing with family and friends, and whole-heartedly holding to the “do not do chores” rule is a nice way to live. It must be a glimpse of how it was in America before someone decided that we must always work and always be productive. Now it seems that if people are not at work, they are involved in organized sporting events, work around the house, frantically driving around town to run errands, or countless other activities that prevent true rest. I even have friends in America who work at churches and never have a day off. They justify it by saying that they rest when they really need it but is that really the point?
The point of resting on the Sabbath is to avoid all human efforts to produce and get further ahead in life. It is about taking time to reflect on God and the blessings that he gives us. I love the Sabbath and I fear my eventual return to America, where we do not even take off once sacred days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, will produce frustration. I know it is a part of the culture that I want to fight against and do all I can to preserve this age-old tradition of focusing on God and Family. If possible, I recommend re-arranging your lives the best you can to do the same and refocus on what matters.

Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Evolution of the Senior Pastor

A few weeks ago I talked about the joys of my new life as a retired person. In this new life I spend around 50 hours per week either in class, studying, or reading in preparation for those classes. Because something is not right with me, I have added a significant amount of additional reading and study on a few topics that interest me outside of my coursework.
One of my major projects this year is to evaluate the Church in America and to take an academic approach at recognizing some major issues in hopes of coming to useful conclusions. So far it has been interesting to trace the earliest Pagan and Christian literature we have outside of the Bible to notice some trends emerging. In its infancy, the Church demonstrates an uncompromising commitment to Christ and works to live at peace with the Roman Empire and in recognition of their Jewish roots.
By the 4th century, we see various Bishops such as Ambrose of Milan wielding their influence and political power. These Bishops actually experienced open relationships with the emperors (Constantine in particular) and were even able to begin outlawing all religions other than Christianity. The church leaders gained an increasingly greater level of power while the “average” Christians seemed to gain less influence in their own churches. To demonstrate this change in thinking Ambrose says, “Palaces belong to the Emperor, and churches belong to the Bishop”.
It is interesting to note that as time moved on, the numbers of “Christians” dramatically increased and therefore the political influence of Christians also increased. Along with this, church leaders began to say things like “We are the head of the church”. Could it be that this mentality is the distant ancestor of the system we possess today with “Senior Pastors”? I am not sugessting that churches should eliminate the title of "senior pastor" because the culture in countries like the USA virtually make it impossible for people to understand the structure of a church without this position. But I do wonder if some of the problems in many churches today come from people believing that they are “the head of the church” while somehow forgetting that Christ is the head.
How many times do you hear senior pastors and congregants speak in terms of “My church or your church”? Does this type of thinking make church leaders too powerful and therefore too susceptible to needing to have it “their way”? Sadly, as the early Christian church shifted from a persecuted body of people all pursuing Christ and desiring to know and please Him to an organized political force led by powerful men, we see less and less evidence that these people had any relationship with God. History proves that some of these men actually did not have a relationship with God but enjoyed the power given by leading churches.
So as I leave Israel next year and most likely re-enter the Church world as a “Senior Pastor”, or even better, simply as a “Pastor/Overseer”, what can be done to avoid the mistakes we see so often today? Can churches today find persons for leadership like the ones described by Origen in the late 2nd century when he said, “We call upon all of those who are competent to take office, who are sound in doctrine and life, to rule over the churches. We do not accept those who love power”. How can Christian leaders ensure that they do not “love power” and how can churches ensure that their leaders do not “love power”?

Monday, November 05, 2007

To Live and Die in L.A. (or the West Bank)

This week our speaker at church was a man who starts Christian churches and schools around Ramallah and other parts of the West Bank. This is how he was introduced, “Our speaker today has a very credible and serious threat on his life so we are grateful that he is still with us… so please welcome …” He then got up and spoke without ever mentioning the threat on his life or the ministry that he does in the West Bank. He simply shared about the love of God and His acceptance of us. At one point he did mention the power of forgiveness and the need to pray for the forgiveness of those who persecute us but that was more in reference to the fire set at our church than in reference to the people who want him dead.
When he was done speaking the congregation was told, “Keep Isa in your prayers because the same people who killed Rami two weeks ago are the ones threatening his life.”
This is really the closest thing I have ever seen to the life of the early church. This is the closest I may ever get to understanding what it must have been like for Paul and the disciples of Jesus. The man I saw this week is simply counting the days until the enemy takes him down but he will not quit what God has challenged him to do.
At times it seems easy to say that we would die for Christ but mainly because we never really have to face that decision. I believe that if I was cornered and asked to “deny Christ or die” that I would gladly choose death. But if a threat was on my life that said, “quit your ministry or die”, I am not sure that I could continue. I would easily find a good reason to go somewhere else but here we see an example of a person who lives with a threat on his life everyday.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to go to work and wonder if he will arrive. What must it be like to walk from your house and hope that the people after you are not waiting on the street? Imagine the fear that must be overwhelming at times. The daily choice to live for Christ and follow His call in the face of these threats is difficult for me to fathom. Perhaps this daily reality that death lurks around every corner caused the apostle Paul to write, “For me to live is (for) Christ, and to die is gain”. I admit that my concept of this commitment to Christ and the consequence of following Him is lacking. Honestly, I am not even sure that I ever want to have this concept to become more real to me.

Truly it is easier to die for Christ, than to live for Him.

Friday, November 02, 2007

God's Chosen People

I hate to break up the good conversation that is happening in the previous blog, but I think we must take a moment to pay tribute to God's favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. I found this Kippa proudly displaying the Red Sox colors. So all good Jewish people can pay tribute to the Red Sox and demonstrate their humility before God at the same time!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fire and Forgiveness

Today we went to church (our church meets on Saturday mornings... Sabbath day here in Israel) and found that someone broke into the building and set the church on fire this past week. We found that this was the second time in this church's history that someone tried to destroy it. Apparently it is difficult to be a church that proclaims and praises the Messiah Jesus in Jerusalem. This time, because the building is made entirely of concrete, the fire was only able to destroy the interior (chairs and the "stuff"). So... plastic chairs and new "stuff" was brought in and church went on as usual. We also discovered that after the fire many comments were made against the church such as, "You deserve this you soul- stealers" and other negative comments directed against this congregation of Jesus-followers.

After singing praises, the senior pastor (who never preaches because he does not feel like it is his gift) went up on the stage and said, "Today is a very special day. Today is a special day because today we are not going to hold a grudge. Today we are not going to point fingers or cast blame on those who might be responsible for our fire. Today we will love the people who did this thing to us. We will not hold a grudge because holding grudges and becoming bitter is a burden too great for us to bear. We don't even have to bear these burdens because Jesus said He would bear them for us." Then he sat down and the worship service continued.

It is a beautiful thing to see true Christ-like living. It is beautiful to know that Jesus calls us to "turn the other cheek" and to bless when we are cursed. This type of living does more for the cause of Christ than fancy programs and "outreach" events could ever do. Living out the grace and forgiveness of Jesus is the truly effective form of spreading the message of God's love to the world.

* A side note to this event is that the Synagogue next to the church offered free use of their facilities until the church was able to open again. The stage also was decorated with flowers today courtesy of the same synagogue. A reminder of the love of God came to the Church of Jesus the Messiah from those who do not believe. *

Monday, October 22, 2007


As you know, this year I decided to retire and am now in the process of learning a new way of life. No, I am not quite to retirement age (I have about 30 years to go) but I thought I should retire when my kids were young and when I still had all the energy I need to do all the things I want.
My first week of retirement I drove my family up the West Coast, hiked around the woods, and played on beaches. I spent a week with family in Washington State and went golfing (it wouldn’t be retirement without golf). Then we decided to spend some of our retirement money to travel to Europe and show our kids some sites. From Europe we continued our journey to Israel and spent the first day lying in the sun on a sandy beach along the Mediterranean Sea. Retirement to this point was great. Hotels, restaurants, site seeing, golf, and wearing Hawaiian shirts. (I guess the Hawaiian shirt thing could also mean that I am a Senior Pastor of a church in Southern California).
After our time in Tel Aviv we headed to our vacation home in Jerusalem. It is in a beautiful neighborhood with chic shops and cafes two minutes away. Retirement couldn't be going any better.
Then, I went to Hebrew University where I am studying for the year. I spent my first day in a total immersion class learning Hebrew. Once class was over and the swelling in my brain subsided I took the bus home and wondered if there might be better ways to spend retirement. When I arrived home and found my family in the park directly across the street from our vacation home, I realized that I could make this work for one year. Then I think I will rejoin the workforce.... maybe.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What to Read

One of my readers (Kevin) suggested that I post the top ten books to read in one's lifetime. That thought comes with tons of pressure but because I have not completed editing several posts that I am preparing for this site, I thought I would give it a try. Know that I think the following books give good insight into humanity and God so they are worthy of reading from time to time. I do want to change this list however from "Top Ten Books for a Lifetime" to "Books to Read". The other title is much too lofty for a person like me.

1. The Bible by God
2. "Orthodoxy" by GK Chesterton
3. "Brothers Karamozov" or "The Idiot" by Dostoyevsky
4. "Night" by Eli Weisel
5. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" by CS Lewis
6. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain
7. "Tremendous Trifles" by Chesterton
8. "The Ragamuffin Gospel" by Brennan Manning
9. "the Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard
10. "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Remarque?
* Bonus * To Kill a Mockingbird

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Three Pointing Back

I realized a very liberating piece of truth today. That truth is that I am usually right and people around me are usually wrong. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to discover this fact of life. Now whenever someone questions me or disagrees with me I can laugh inside with full knowledge that this person is obviously mistaken. I am actually embarrassed that it took me so long to find the freedom in this new knowledge but now that I possess this information I vow to live it out each day.
Allow me to illustrate this liberation through an everyday example. When I am in a hurry and weaving through traffic, it never fails that the drivers around me are the ones too slow or too unskilled to understand that I have places to be and that I need to quickly maneuver around their wasted pile of metal. With my new information about my own superiority over all people, it helps me to ease up a little and to offer grace for these people do not live up where I exist. I now actually pity others for not possessing the same superior qualities that I have been given.
One other area that this indisputable truth shows its ugly head is when I deal with other people in leadership roles. Apparently I am the only one who knows the right way to lead and the right things to say. I don’t know why it is so hard for others to realize that I am quite easy to work with because I am not wrong. All they have to do is stay out of my way and everyone will be successful and happy. If others would just recognize my unquestionable wisdom, then they would humbly accept my input when I point out the flaws in their lives.
It is my ease of finding flaws in others and my ability to demonstrate my superior skills in a world that never measures up that led me to the discovery of this irrefutable truth about my knowledge. There really is no other explanation for my eminent wisdom, and ability to judge. No other explanation unless you agree with my friend who says, “We find fault in other people usually because those are the same faults we struggle with”.
I’m not sure I want to agree with that statement because it sounds a bit like Jesus’ principle of, “Do not judge or you will be judged by the same measure”. It is as if Jesus said what my friend says. I am judged by the same measure because it is often the same sin in my own life. If this is true and if I am not all knowing, that would mean that when others around me are “bad drivers”, then maybe I should recognize the bad driver is looking in my mirror. When I easily see the flaws in another person, I need to ask myself why that flaw looks so familiar and easy to recognize.
Perhaps this is the truly liberating truth. The truth that says God alone is judge and all of my thoughts fail in comparison. All of the judgments thrown at me from other people also fall short in comparison to the thoughts that my God has towards me. To be truly liberated I must remember that all the “idiots” around me and all the shortcomings of others can only accurately be assessed through the eyes of a perfect God. And when I find myself taking on the role of judge and point my finger, I need only to look down and see that I have three pointing back.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

My letter

For those who know us or who have been involved in our church, the following is my resignation letter written for the congregation. For some reason this letter did not make it to the entire church body so I include here for your viewing pleasure. If you know of anyone who would benefit from reading this please forward it to them.

To our Dear friends at Mission Hills,

It is with a heavy heart and a sense of anxiety that I write this letter. After prayer and grueling deliberation, my family and I feel strongly that God is leading us to step out in faith and leave my position here at Mission Hills effective the end of September. I can honestly tell you that this is the most difficult decision that I have made in my professional career and one of the most difficult decisions I have made in my life. In this letter, I will attempt to communicate my heart and to give you a sense of what the future holds.
There is an ancient blessing that is recorded by the Jewish Sages that says, “May you be covered in the dust of the sages [teachers, Rabbis] and may you thirst mightily for their words”. One understanding of this blessing is that when you walk so closely with your Rabbi, the dust from his feet will fall on you and cover you. Dust. It has been my desire during my time at Mission Hills that I walk so closely with Christ that His dust covers me. Dust that shows up as evidence as a person who wants to follow Christ fully and who wants to be an example of God’s character to this earth.
During my seven years here I have been blessed to see a group of students and leaders that work to understand how to follow Jesus and how to join in God’s work of redeeming this earth. The youth at this church are the source of great joy for our family. The highlight of each week is spending time with this entertaining, creative, mostly intelligent, always energetic, and sincere-hearted group of students. They cause me to laugh, to cry, to rejoice, to weep, and to remember that there are bigger things to live for in this world. I look at our group of JH through College-aged students and I honestly believe that this group is among the best gatherings of students around. Even in the midst of some shortcomings in their own faith I can see the dust of Jesus covering them.
As a family, we had two of our boys dedicated at this church and have seen each of them develop a faith in Jesus and a love for God through the excellent leadership in Children’s ministries. We have walked with others in this church family through countless hours of small groups, birthday parties, summer BBQ’s, anniversary celebrations, dinner parties, and the list goes on and on. My wife and I have had the opportunity of using our giftedness in teaching in ministries other than youth. We have taught in woman’s Bible studies, Men’s events, Couple’s events, Sunday Morning fellowships, and main service settings. All in all, I count my years here a success and I have no regrets relating to the ministry in which I was able to participate and in the relationships we were able to build. I look at my time here at Mission Hills and I can say in the words of Psalms 13:6, “God has dealt bountiful with me”.
Now we feel led to walk away from the place we love and the people who have become family and head into the unknown. We feel like Abraham who was asked to leave everything and head into a land he did not know while trusting that God has better things ahead. In our case the land we feel called to happens to be the same as it was for Abraham 4000 years ago. Our plan at this point is to take the upcoming academic year to study the Bible and its world at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. This will give us an opportunity to do the type of research I love in the land where this very history was made. It is difficult to consider giving up our entire income to take my wife and three young boys halfway around the world but the dust of Jesus makes this possible.
As we leave I know many will ask what will happen to the youth at Mission Hills. I want to reassure you that Mission Hills still cares about each student in the program and the same God that brought me here seven years ago will bring another in my place. I leave you with the assurance that the team of leaders here at Mission Hills is filled with amazing people who love the youth and who also seek to be covered in the dust of Jesus. They are the ones who make the youth ministry at MHC a success and they will continue to be the reason for that success in the future. One thing I believe is that this is not about me, it is about my Rabbi named Jesus and I want all eyes focused on His words and life. With that said, I am not so naïve as to believe that human relationships bear no importance and believe me when I say that my family already grieves over the prospect of saying goodbye to all of you. Many tears have been and will be shed as we part ways even with a hope of crossing paths again in the future. Through these tears we still have hope because we believe that the God of the Universe cares and that all things are in His control.
So as I close allow me to communicate my deepest “thanks” for all of the years of encouragement, of help in times of need, in pushing and challenging me to be a better teacher, pastor, and friend. Thank you for loving my kids and for volunteering as teachers and mentors in their lives. Thank you for accepting us as family and for inviting us to holiday dinners, for providing babysitting, for helping me remodel rooms in my house, for fixing things when I was out of town, for preparing food when we were in the hospital or on bed-rest, for lending us your tools, your cars, and your hearts. Thank you for serving alongside me in the weekly challenge of leading youth to better lives here in Orange County, in feeding the poor in inner city LA, in Mexico, and in loving the oppressed in Bosnia, Africa, and South America. Thank you for allowing me to grow and develop professionally and personally in more ways that I could have ever imagined. To the hundreds of former and current staff, elders, and lay people who call Mission Hills home, we say “goodbye” with heavy hearts but heads held high for the work we were able to do here.
As we leave Mission Hills, we leave a piece of us with you and should God ever allow us to cross paths again I will count it an honor.

May you be covered with the dust of your Rabbi.

Ryan, Sara, Isaac, Ian, & Benjamin

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Future is Now

So here is a quick update on my life. I have been working as a pastor at a church for the past 7 years and like most churches we have seen our share of struggles. My family was determined to see passed the struggles and focus on the task at hand. Early this year we determined that we have done all we can do and that it is time to move on.
So like any normal person would do, I quit my job and decided to move to Israel. My last day of work is the 30 of September and a week later I will pack up my three boys and very supportive and brave wife and head to Israel to study for a year.
Deciding to leave a place after so many years reveals a lot about people. In most people, we see the importance of relationships that have been built, in others we see shallowness and indifference that come as a surprise. Either way, leaving is good to do from time to time and I highly reccommend it to anyone.

It has been a while since I have posted so I am sure that my two readers stopped checking this so if you happen to see this, let the other reader know that I am back.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Silence is Broken

It has been four months since I last posted any thoughts here. It is amazing how many things can change in four months. As a family we are on the verge of beginning a new adventure that is sure to bring new stories, new friendships, new perspectives, and new opportunities in life. It is too early to get into details so read between the lines for now and in three weeks I return from a trip to Africa and will have much more to say.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Quote of the Week

"What is old is new". -Various authors including Jung Ho Park from the band Chemical Chemical

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Quote of the Week

"The kind of thinking that will solve the world's problems will be of a different order to the kind of thinking that created those problems in the first place." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


The season of lent is upon us once again and, unlike last year, I have chosen to give up a few things that are a bit more difficult for me. Last year I successfully abstained from things like jogging, green beans, and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer but this year I will take it to a new level.
I have decided to give up drinking soda for this period of 40 days. It is not like I drink soda everyday but something about giving it up makes me want it more often. So, to this point giving up something out of dedication to God is serving as a reminder of how often I want things my own way.
Each time I think about having a soda I stop and remember that I am but dust and am in total need of God's work in my life. I recommend that you choose to give something up during this time of lent and each time you crave that thing take a moment to express your commitment to God and to remember your place with Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 12, 2007

When is Dishonesty Okay?

This Sunday morning I was working with our High School group at church and a new student who is a junior in High School joined us. I greeted him and asked all the usual questions that we ask of new students. Through this conversation he told me he was looking for a youth group to attend, his family did not go to church, and he was not involved in any church. I mentioned a few students in our group that he might know and he denied knowing them.

10 minutes later, another student who is the same age came in for the first time and gave me the exact same story. I introduced the two students to each other and then to some students in our group and proceeded with the morning. After group I found out that both of these new students know each other, both attend another church in the area, and both were sent on assignment from their church to “check out other ministries”.

I have no problem with learning from each other so that we can all do the best job possible but something is not right with this scenario. First of all, both of these students had well- rehearsed lies about who they are and where they are from. Apparently their church wants them to use dishonesty at times. Secondly, both of these students attend a huge church in the area who have a High School group larger than our entire church. They have a new youth facility that costs more than 5x our entire church building. What do they possibly think they can learn from us? Anything that works for us cannot be applied to their situation because sheer numbers make it impossible to replicate.

This whole assignment is set up to fail because: 1) it teaches their students that dishonesty is okay at times, 2) if the students like the smaller churches better they will become frustrated with their current church because they are too big to replicate small church ministry, and 3) if the students don’t like the smaller churches they could gain an “elite’s” perspective on their own church experience and unless the students are more mature than most adults, they will get the wrong impression about what makes a church good.

The point is this for those leading other people in ministries. 1) Jesus never used dishonesty. 2) Learn from others but focus on what God wants YOU to do in YOUR situation, not what other people do in their situations. 3) Church is not a competition. The best possible scenario is for all churches to be faithful to what they think God wants them to do and to do it whole-heartedly. Success is not measured in numbers, but it is measured in faithfulness to God’s call to each individual.