Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolutions in Review

It is my tradition (reflected in this blog) to create my New Year's Resolutions for the year when the year is completed that way I can ensure success. So without further ado... I give you my resolutions for year 2008.

X Get up at 4AM to watch the Superbowl from a foreign country (the beer and Israeli style Doritos are not recommended at this time of day).
X Travel to Egypt, see the pyramids, ride in an Egyptian taxi in Cairo
X Celebrate Palm Sunday in Jerusalem with thousands of Christians from all over the world.
X Have an "Arab-Style" BBQ outside the walls of Jerusalem with friends on Easter Day.
X Travel to Greece, walk the streets of ancient Corinth, sit with my kids on "Mars Hill" while staring at the ancient Temples, stay up all night with my son who got food poisoning from the lovely Athenian Buffet, and dream of returning someday with just my wife.
X Baptize my son in the Jordan River at the exact location that Jesus was baptized.
X Eat fish from the Sea of Galilee on the exact location where Jesus ate Galilean fish.
X Arrange a real archaeological dig for my wife and son in the ancient city of Ashkelon.
X Enjoy Arab coffee with friends in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
X Receive all "A's" from the same University that Albert Einstein studied at in Israel.
X Fly from London to Seattle without getting up so that I could hold my sleeping one year old baby for the majority of the flight.
X Return to America and try to bring the principles of simple living back with me to the simplistic culture of Orange County, California.
X Sleep through the night with uninterrupted sleep (this of course is now ruined with 4 am shifts at the new job).
X Use all of my education and experience to get a job as a supervisor at a local Starbucks coffee shop.
X Begin a "missional" church with an entirely different emphasis on the structure. (It promises slow growth, no prestige, and difficult discipleship).
X Enjoy the time with my three awesome boys and beautiful wife.

So that pretty much sums it up for 2008. I can't wait to see what my resolutions for 2009 will end up being.

Monday, December 29, 2008

While the Nations Rage

(This photo is from my campus at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In many ways I wish I were still there but I do not think it is a good time to bring that up with my wife).

We left our home in Israel several months ago to re-enter life in the comfortable and safe neighborhoods of Orange County. When we left we knew our friends who remained in Israel would one day see what is currently taking place in Gaza. Our thoughts go out to our friends as well as the people trapped inside of the Gaza strip and the Israeli soldiers who will likely have to enter those streets under orders from their government.

In times like these it is easy for people to give what they feel are all of the easy answers to this conflict but anyone who has spent time in the Middle East knows, nothing is as simple as "Western" thinkers want to believe they are.
The problem in Gaza is that 3 years ago the Israelis evacuated the region and handed full control to the Palestinian Authorities. In the summer of 2007, Hamas (a Palestinian faction) forcefully took over the leadership of Gaza through a civil war with Fatah (the Palestinian government legally in control). Since that time, Hamas has repeatedly launched rockets indiscriminately into Israel in an attempt to provoke the Israeli government. It is clear that Hamas is not interested in peace with Israel and actually wants what is currently happening. They know that when Israel finally responds like they are responding this week, the world will become sympathetic to the cause of Hamas and public opinion will go against Israel (and America just for fun).
In this case, I do not blame Israel for responding to this situation. With that said, I do blame Israel for provoking the Palestinians with their continued expansion of Settlements into the West Bank and land that has been promised to the Palestinians. Their treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank only hurts their cause when they rightfully defend themselves against the rocket attacks from Gaza. (See what I mean when I say it is complicated).

What is the answer? The truth is that in the Middle East, both cultures in this conflict believe in justice as a fundamental guiding principle. This means that as long as you have hurt someone in my family, I cannot rest until I avenge that death. Since both sides believe this and have it deeply ingrained into their cultural make-up, the only thing that can change all of this is for one side to lay down arms, and forgive at all costs.

I think that someone from this culture once said, "turn the other cheek", and "bless when others curse". He also said "Blessed are the peacemakers". It is not that Jesus was just saying some nice sayings that make good memory verses, it is that he understood and lived in the Eastern culture where Justice takes precedence over mercy. He understood that the only way to peace is through unbelievably radical forgiveness and reliance on God's justice over man's. This is true in a conflict like the one in Israel and it is true in our daily interactions with others who may slander, gossip, or hurt us in other ways. An "eye for an eye" is more logical and pleasurable, but it adds to a never ending cycle. Now, as the whole world once again watches this conflict and when Western leaders will offer their idiotic solutions, let us remember just how radical it was for God to become man and walk with us in order to show us the ways of peace.

I now leave you with the words from a Rich Mullins song (The Nations Rage)
Why do the nations rage?
Why do they plot and scheme?
Their bullets can't stop the prayers we pray
In the name of the Prince of Peace
We walk in faith and remember long ago
How they killed Him and then how on the third day He arose
Things may look bad and things may look grim
But all these things must pass except the things that are of Him

Where are the nails that pierced His hands?
The nails have turned to rust
But behold the Man
He is risen
And He reigns
In the hearts of the children
Rising up in His name
Where are the thorns that drew His blood?
The thorns have turned to dust
But not so the love
He has given, it remains
In the hearts of the children
Who will love while the nations rage

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas

I wish you all a Merry Christmas. I hope that you can see this season for what it is. Take some time to relax and reflect on this moment in history that changed the world. Even if you do not believe in the story of Christmas, your world has been changed by this man Jesus Christ and that is a fact that cannot be denied. For those who do believe, the challenge is to not get caught up in buying too many gifts and rushing around so much that you don't even remember the fact that God came to earth. In the words of one song, his coming to earth means that "God was in us, God is for us, and God is with us". That is the most amazing thing of all.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cold Nights Just Got Better

Every once in a while someone comes up with a great idea... telephones, flushing toilets, scotch tape, and now...

THE SNUGGIE

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Difference Between Moms and Dads

A few days ago my wife went out for the night and left me at home to complete all of the normal family routines alone. To demonstrate the differences between how I go about the normal routine and how my wife does I thought I would share our checklists.

1. Feed kids dinner.
My Wife- Use the available ingredients in the house to make a healthy meal while spending less money and preventing waste.
Me- Drive to Little Caesars for Pizza for two of the boys and stop at Taco Bell for the 3rd.

2. Get kids ready for bed.
My wife- Methodically get each kid into the bath/ shower and into pajamas.
Me- They smell okay and the marker lines all over the baby's face look like they will come out by using some "baby wipes" so we can forget the baths. I put the youngest in pajamas, the middle son likes going without clothes, and the oldest sleeps in his clothes so all is good here as well.

3. Spend quality time with them before bed.
My Wife- Read stories to them, talk about their day, and discuss what they will do tomorrow.
Me- Turn on the TV to check the score of the Laker game and then just go ahead and watch the rest of the game with the baby while the other two are off playing in their rooms.

4. Get them to bed on time.
My Wife- Pray with them and turn off lights at 7:30 PM.
Me- Pray with the boys, put one in his crib around 7:30, one goes into my bed around 8:00PM because he says he sleeps better in there, and the oldest I leave in his room with his lights on because he wants to stay up reading (at least that is good for his brain).

5. Misellanious-
My Wife- Make sure all of the boys completed homework, pack their school bags for the next day, make lunches, and set out clothes for the morning.
Me- I forgot to check homework and therefore the older ones both had no homework completed for the next day, why would I need to pack school bags, I didn't realize we fed them lunch, how could I possibly know what they would want to wear the next day?

This morning I had the rare opportunity of being home with the family while they did the morning routine so I took care of all of the morning details. In order of importance... I made coffee, changed the baby's diaper, ate breakfast with the older boys, decided I should probably get clothes back onto the baby, and informed the boys that we would be leaving for school in 10 minutes so they needed to brush their teeth and put on clothes.
My wife then came downstairs, informed me that things run much more effiiciently in the morning without me, made lunches for the boys, checked to make sure they had all the school work they needed, made sure they actually put on their clothes and brushed their teeth, and kicked us out the door so we would be on time for school.... but without me she wouldn't have fresh brewed coffee.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Misplaced Priorities

This past week in California we saw a classic example of Christians organizing, uniting, and fighting for a cause they thought was important while at the same time ignoring a cause that is probably closer to the heart of God.
On the ballot we had a state-wide measure called Proposition 8 that amends the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. While I agree that the Biblical design for marriage is only between a man and a woman I am disheartened by the message Christians sent around this issue. Here are a few of my concerns:

1) The campaign ads surrounding this issue were more about "homophobia" than about defining marriage. This tactic may have proved effective in getting this proposition to pass but it was also effective in driving a further wedge between Christians and those in the homosexual community.

2) Churches and pastors spent much time on organizing and rallying their people to pass this proposition. This seems okay on the surface but to be qualified as a tax-exempt organization, we agree to not attempt to influence legislation. We can share opinions and scripture that relates to a subject but telling people to vote one particular way actually violates the law and puts the integrity of these churches on the line.

3) 80 million dollars was raised and spent for this cause meanwhile relatively nothing was done to support the proposition that requires teenagers to get parental permission to have an abortion. Our kids cannot pierce their ears and they cannot take asprin from the school nurse without the parents knowing but they can have a surgical procedure performed to end the life of an unborn child.

Here is where I have the biggest problem with this year's election. Christians think that if they don't pass a law defining marriage as only between a man and a woman (which will only be overturned by the government), then God will be angry with California and unleash His judgement. Meanwhile we give no attention to a law that will protect the lives of unborn children who have no voice. Those who have no voice are continually listed in the Bible as the ones for whom we should fight. The poor, the oppressed, the orphans, and the widows are just a few that God repeatedly admonishes his people to care for. The unborn are included along with these who cannot fight for themselves.

So why is it that we consistently get worked up over the wrong issues and further alienate the very people we claim to want to reach with the love of Jesus and at the same time fail to fight for a cause that is one of the easiest things to vote for on the entire ballot? I think it is because the reality is that many religious people still fear and sometimes hate those that they are uncomfortable around. I think it is just easier for religious people to feel like they are fighting for their god by fighting against a known "enemy" and it is not so easy to have a consistent theology of caring for the "least of these".

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." -GK Chesterton in the London Illustrated News, 1924.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

My Radical, Hippie, Missional Cult: Enter Cautiously


Being a part of of gathering of people trying to begin a new kind of church in Orange County is an eye opening experience. We are working to get to the basics of being a disciple of Christ while at the same time working against the well-oiled machine called the American church. Those of us who are choosing to join in this new movement are facing some interesting comments and challenges from other "christians". We have heard things like, "You are the ones with those radical ideas", "You don't understand how 'church' works", and, "Your group is a bunch of hippies just trying to love one another". Some have even heard jokes about this new "cult".
I really am not offended by any of these comments but I decided to look through some of our beliefs to see if we really are a bunch of radical, hippie, cult followers and here is a sampling of what I found:


1) We believe that God is in control of this whole thing and therefore we seek to be centered on Jesus and not centered on our church. Our job is to be faithful and diligent with what God has given us and leave the rest up to Him. When I teach, I must prepare and give it my best but it is not my job to "make sure" the message is heard. The Holy Spirit must do that and I know that the word does not return void. In other words, we want this whole thing to be about Jesus and not about our local gathering, our teachings, or our leaders.

2) We are "missional", meaning our gathering focuses on a "go and be" rather than a "come and see" motto. In other words, we are not trying to attract people to our building and calling it "evangelism". We are following the command in Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful, multiply, and to fill the earth, and Jesus' words that say, "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19), and even Acts 1:7 that says, "You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth". We believe that we should be people who are in love with Jesus and let that passion and love flow through us in everyday life with everyday people instead of spending much of our time in church buildings and church gatherings only with other Christians or asking those who do not believe to come and join us in our sacred world. God created us as relational people and therefore we must engage in building bridges with all people and in having honest and open communication with each other.

3) We have few "formal" programs to offer. Other than some children's classes during our large group gathering, our "Christian Education" happens in homes and in rhythms of real life. We believe that our culture now views "church" like going to the mall. People want service and a product that is taylor made to "meet their needs". We choose to offer a program that says, "Fall in love with Jesus and let the radical, life-changing nature of that relationship change you." Our community groups are casual gatherings where we share meals together (with children and all!) and where our informal conversations spur one another on towards love and good deeds (Heb 10:24-25). This is also where we are asked to build one another up for the sake of building up the church (Eph 4:11-12). This takes the job away from professional pastors and places it back to the followers like it was in the Early Church.

4) We are led by overseers who commit to shared leadership. There is no Senior Pastor. We believe the Biblical model of leadership is to use people called and gifted for teaching and praying for the local gathering of followers. Elders or Overseers are the two words used in the New Testament for this level of church leadership. It is not an elected board that serves terms like a City Council and it is not a group of people who should be manipulated or persuaded. We commit to shared leadership that comes through submission to one another as we bear one another's burdens with love and grace (Eph 4:2-3). We view Jesus as our "Head Overseer" so only God has a greater share of the power than anyone else. We believe that if we can't make decisions by consensus then we need to wait for the Spirit of God to clarify the direction or to soften our hearts until we let go of our own ideas. We want our leaders to be open with shortcomings and failures but we want them to be people of integrity and people who model the ways of Jesus.

5) We believe that how we live is a reflection of what we believe about the Gospel. In other words, we believe the gospel says that God is a generous God, giving us all we need (not just physically). Because we believe this, we want to be generous and we choose as a gathering to give the first 20% of all we take in to causes outside of ourselves. We believe that the gospel says that Jesus forgave us while we were still sinners so we welcome in anyone who is a "sinner" knowing that the grace of God applies to all. We want to shower each person with such love and grace that they will experience God's love in a new way and experience the kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). Most churches say "come as you are" but make people feel so uncomfortable that they actually mean, "come as we are". By intentionally engaging with our culture, hosting parties with our neighbors, and attending our communities festivities, we actually get to know people as they are and they get to know us as we are instead of the "church game faces" that we are so good at wearing.

6) To steal one from Rob Bell, we believe that "love wins". When faced with a difficult choice of how to respond in our daily lives, we choose love. We choose love because we believe the ways of Jesus that say, "Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor". And, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". We believe the words of Jesus that say that no greater love exists than to lay down your life for another (John 15:12). All of this means that the ways of Jesus are to default to offering love and grace. In the end, love wins.

This is just a small sampling of our beliefs and lifestyles. If wanting Jesus to be our focus more than our church name or leaders fame, than go ahead and call us a cult. If choosing to extend love to those who probably don't deserve it (including ourselves) and choosing to be generous to the poor, the oppressed, and the unwanted makes us hippies then I guess we are hippies. If sending people to the most dangerous places on earth to share the love of Jesus and if choosing to truly work to live the humble, simple, gracious, loving, integrity-filled ways of Jesus makes us a crazy group of radicals then I guess we might just finally be figuring this whole Jesus thing out.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My Brainless Dog

Yesterday 2 of my boys and I took our 8 month old puppy to the park to get him to run off some of his endless supply of energy. The park we chose has a huge grass field that was free of all people and only had one little dog freely running through the open space. Since the other dog was off his leash, I released mine and the two dogs happily ran laps around the field.
I entered into conversation with the other dog's owner who was sitting in the grass and enjoying herself as she watched two happy dogs stretch their urban legs.
Out of the blue my dog ran over to this kind lady who was obviously a dog lover, he walked behind her, and without warning he lifted his leg and peed on her back.

That's right. My dog peed on the back of a completely innocent person for no apparent reason.

I really never encountered this situation before so finding the appropriate words at a time like this is not an easy thing.

In a split moment, I thought through every possible explanation that would justify my dog's actions or that would at least calm the situation before I faced a lawsuit for letting my dog mark his territory on a middle-age women's back. In the end all I could do was stare speechlessly as this woman actually laughed at the situation and said how she didn't mind.

Of all the people in the world that my dog could have gone up to in order to pee on, he chose the one who loved dogs so much that she didn't even mind serving as the object of his relief. So though it seemed that he was completely brainless for mistaking a woman for a fire hydrant, he actually was brilliant for choosing the one person in the park who would not seek to have the dog destroyed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Missional Church: Leadership


Another book that is on my list of things I will never write is a book about religious leaders called, "The Devil Inside". It is a book that, if it ever would be written, would deal with the history of the Church from the very beginning and it would look at the patterns of problems that have always existed. One point in this book that will never be written is that as culture changed and the church became more and more Western as opposed to its Eastern roots, it also became more similar to the institutions of the "world". When this happens, the leadership become more "professional" and less Spirit-Led. I don't want to give it all away in this post because then you will never purchase this book and I won't be able to keep food on the table for my family.

The point is that current issues for many "spiritual" leaders is that the people they lead don't actually want them to be spiritual. The way leaders are put on pedestals and then knocked off from those pedestals creates unhealthy patterns of behavior and it often unleashes the darkest sides of these leaders.

In the Missional Church, the leadership emphasis is on a plurality of leaders who serve through a commitment of mutual submission to one another. This form of leadership removes the pressure of being a "senior pastor" and it helps to remove the temptation of leaders to attribute the success of a local church to one individual. The shared leadership structure also models "unity among Christians" that Jesus emphasizes in John 17. It tells the world that in Christ, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. It says in Christ, people with different backgrounds and personalities can share a common vision as they are led by the Holy Spirit.

Shared leadership also helps us remove our own "idols of ideas". Sometimes as leaders we think that because we have experience or training, we are the ones uniquely blessed to hear from God and our ideas are the right ones. When we face opposition to our ideas we often do not want to back down because our experience tells us our ideas work or because if we are going to be criticized for our church's direction, it might as well be a direction we choose. But this comes down to the fact that we hold our own ideas as an "idol". It is something that we are unwilling to part with. In holding on tightly to our own ideas we are also saying that God cannot speak through others. With shared leadership, where multiple leaders share an equal voice, we consequently lay down the idol of our own ideas and we trust that God is able to use the collective wisdom of the group.

This leadership also eliminates the idea that we are above reproach from others. This structure actually calls for others to challenge the leaders and hold them accountable for their lifestyles. Of course problems can still occur in this system but many of the challenges of modern Western Christianity are at least diminished.

You might be saying that this system is too idealistic and that it will fail. (In fact I had a person I really respect tell me that this will fail). You are right that this system is idealistic but check the teachings of Jesus and tell me He wasn't challenging and idealistic. You are also right that this system will fail if you are comparing it to the ways of "the world". For the leadership structure of the missional church to be successful, a intentional commitment to humility, love , and grace must exist as well as the realization that only through the power of the Holy Spirit will we ever find true success.

Ephesians 4:1-3 ...Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Current Reads

It has been a while since I have shared my current/ recent reading list and because I want to post but I don't feel like thinking, I thought this was a perfect time to give my update:

"Same Kind of Different as Me" by Ron Hall & Denver Moore -This is a great true story that is pretty well written and has a solid message. You only need about 4 hours to read this so it is a good quick read.

"The Shack" by William Young - The concept for this book is great and the characters are completely lovable. This is a very unique way to present a picture of God. Some of the conversations were a bit too "Christiany" at times and it is not spetacular writing but overall it is worth reading.

"Palestine: Peace not Apartheid" by Jimmy Carter- If you already know the history of the Middle East you can skip this book. Apart from giving a good overview of the history, he says absolutely nothing in this book.

"Giving" by Bill Clinton- Good stories of how people are giving time, money, and talents to help others but this is not worth reading.

"Total Church" by Tim Chester & Steve Timis- It reads like a textbook but it contains great descriptions and reasoning for the "Missional Church". Don't take this one to bed with you if you actually want to read it but don't skip it.

"In a Sunburned Country" by Bill Bryson. Bill Bryson traveling in Australia... telling it like only he can.

"Tremendous Trifles" by GK Chesterton. This is always worth picking up to read a few chapters, although some with sharper minds, such as my wife, do not always agree with this assessment.

"The Bible" by God. No review needed.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Missional Church: Programs


In addition to "The Shaping of the Church" my wife requested that I regularly address issues related to the idea of the "missional" church. She requested this partly because the word, "missional" is not yet a fully recognized word and also because the concept of living as a missional church is a process that is going to take some time. So, here you go...

One major idea of the missional church is that we want to create communities where people are the "Church", meeting one another's needs and bringing the love and grace of Jesus to all they encounter. We want these communities to replace the usual routine of going to a building several times a week and expecting the paid people and super-volunteers to meet the needs of everyone and to tell people about the love and grace of Jesus. The exciting, yet difficult thing, about all of this is the fact that this means we cannot view our local church as a place that must meet all of our perceived needs. We can no longer expect the pastors to be perfect, to never give a bad sermon, to never sing out of key, to never hurt someone's feelings, to never say anything offensive, and to never go on vacation when one might encounter a crisis.

Following the missional style of church means that our smaller communities are the places where many of our needs are met and they are the places where the true power and goodness of the gospel of Jesus is lived out and seen by the watching world. If we play this out to all areas of our lives, this also means that the missional church is not a place built on "traditional" programs because in this type of church the programs must be an organic flow that comes from the rhythms of our daily lives.

Someone asked if we have a men's ministry and I responded, "Yes. It is the men in our church sharing life together and blessing the other men that they encounter in their everyday lives through our gracious living". One arm of our "Men's Ministry" might be a few guys from the church who love to play poker hosting a regular time with other guys in the community where they can play poker, enjoying some refreshing cold adult beverages, and model Jesus' values to one another.

What about Children's ministries? We do offer some things for kids during our large group gatherings but our real children's ministries happens in your own home and with the people that you are sharing life with. Just this week I had someone say that they needed to go to a larger church that can offer an exciting children's ministry and then one day when their children have left the house, they will look for a church that is "more crazy in the ways they follow Jesus". In other words, this person said that they wanted their children to learn to be consumers of church until one day the children will leave the house and then the family will try to not be consumers of church and then they will take their faith more seriously. It is disheartening to know that this is the perspective of most in our culture as we simply want to be satisfied by our churches so that we do not have to join in the difficult work of living the ways of Jesus.

In a missional church we are fighting against a culture that wants its needs met by the programs their churches run. That is why so many people get pissed off and leave when the music changes, the speaking series is too challenging, the new pastor wants to get back to basics, or when the children don't come home entertained. What we have created is a religion that is as consumer driven as the local mall (sometimes with even more options offered) while at the same time losing all sense of the uncomfortable, dangerous, life-changing message of Jesus.

At the missional church, you will not find a place that works to have the best music, flawless services, entertaining skits, and state of the art facilities. You will find men's and women's ministries that call the men and women to live the ways of Jesus in the community with other men and women. You will find Children's ministries that ask parents to follow scripture's advice to teach their children and model the image of God in everyday life. You will find youth ministries that include the youth in the life of the church as we model lasting principles of treating one another with grace and humility as we bear one another's burdens and love at all costs. You will find evangelism that happens as we join in our own culture's celebrations instead of creating our own "christian" alternatives that drive deeper wedges of separation. You will also find other "experienced" pastors standing at a distance telling everyone who will listen why this system won't work.

I know we are fighting against a culture that is as consumer driven as any place probably on this entire earth but what better place to follow the ways of a subversive revolutionary Savior? I really do not believe that when Jesus said he will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it, he was not referring to a church that has perfect models for attracting people and putting them through a "discipleship" program. When he said the gates of hell will not prevail against it I believe he meant it would be a church that creates disciples in the cracks of our society and in the very face of hell itself. This cannot be done in buildings that are designed to imitate culture while at the same time creating an obvious separation from real life and "spiritual" life. Missional means to go out. Discipleship means to create imitators of Jesus. This is the program that causes those gates to shudder.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy New Year ( הג רוש השנה )

Today is the first day of the Jewish New Year which is called Rosh HaShanah (The Head/First of the Year). It is a part of a two day celebration that includes prayer and reflection as they usher in the new year. The point of this two day celebration of New Year is multi-faceted.

1. It is to remind everyone that God is sovereign and He is the creator of everything. The morning prayers and the liturgy throughout the day reinforce this idea of hamelech (המלך ) "the sovereign".

2. God is the judge. These two days are set aside with the idea that on this day God will judge the nations and the individuals. The point here is that we live in God's world which operates by God's rules. This is when the focus is on the hope that one day the whole world will acknowledge God's Kingdom.

3. The celebration of life. One Rabbi of the Masoroti Movement says, " 'Inscribe us in the book of life' is a constantly recurring motif of the Rosh Hashana liturgy. Life is valued above death. We celebrate being alive and express our appreciation of the gift of life and hope to be worthy of it."

I love the progression of first recognizing where life comes from, who is in control, and finally our response of thankfulness for life. Our markets will rise and fall, people will know will struggle through difficult issues, we will lose friends and loved ones, and we will not always feel like celebrating the gift of life. But the truth is, the goods and bads and the highs and lows are all a part of this thing and we don't really have the "right" or the need to go through life without every hurting or struggling. What we do want to do is stop periodically to recognize where we stand with God and begin a fresh new chapter.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Best Friend in the Whole World

Earlier this year we posted a story about our 6 year old's best friend who was diagnosed with a rare heart disease that requires a heart transplant. I cannot even begin to imagine how this must be for the family but they have been handling things well.

This past Saturday they got a call in the afternoon telling them they found a match for their 5 year old son (Kyle) so they packed up and headed for UCLA medical center for what must have been the most horrifying series of events of their lives.

By 11:30 PM that night the surgery was complete and little Kyle had a new heart that was beating on its own. Before the surgery we told our boys and we took some time to pray for Kyle and the doctors and during the prayer our middle son prayed, "Dear God, please help Kyle be okay with his new heart. He is my best friend in the whole wide world". It was a great prayer and I am happy to say that so far all is progressing for Kyle and he is on the road to recovery.

We are grateful that Kyle is doing well and we are happy for our son and his best friend in the whole world. We are also thankful that all three of our boys appear to be healthy and strong with great minds and kind hearts. We are thankful to our God for families, our friends, and His love and grace.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Was Jesus an Idiot?


I have often quoted the book, "The Idiot" by Fydor Dostoyevsky as he uses the main character, Prince Myshkin, as a Christ figure. The problem with this character is that he sees the best in people and even when he knows they will take advantage of him, he offers his love, forgiveness, and grace. He was called the "Idiot" because he refused to play by the rules of the world and he continued to stick to his own convictions of kindness and love.

The parallels to the life of Christ are obvious but I do not think many of us really understand how counter culture this kind of living is even to this day. It doesn't make sense for people to allow others to abuse our trust and take advantage of our kindness towards them. We probably should not assume the best of others and offer grace when they need justice. It is probably more wise to approach people being skeptical and wary of their motives but is this the example Jesus left?

I personally have my share of imperfections (just ask my wife). I am a "dumbist", I am impatient, and I enjoy being negative as much as the next guy. But the one thing that ends up hurting me more than I would hope is that I genuinely think highly of people and expect the best from them. In my mind I assume that others are also gracious and kind and I get hurt when I realize that is not always the case.

Just this week I received an email from someone that really bothered me. Since returning to the area to begin a new church I have come with the foolish idea that our church is just one of many in the area and there is no need to feel a sense of competition against others. Because of this I have begun the process of contacting various pastors in the area to network and just to get to know them. To this point the response was positive and encouraging as other pastors welcomed me back to the area.

But this week I received a response from one who not only didn't want to meet but said some presumptuous and flat out hurtful things to me. He went on to say that I should never talk to him again. Since I never met this person I was shocked by the response and spent an hour fuming and telling myself that my worth is not found in this person (which it is not).

I realized that what bothered me the most is that I assumed the best of this person and I was enough of an idiot to believe that my offering a friendship is not a threat but rather it is a common courtesy to extend to another person. I completely cannot fathom why this pastor who does not know me would ever say the things he said to me and why anyone (especially someone who is supposed to model Jesus' life) would ever talk to another person the way he did. Needless to say, my first response was not to offer grace or forgiveness to this person and my god complex reared its head as I wanted to help this person see the cruelty of his response.

Then I realized that the way of Jesus is to not be altered by the ways of mankind and no amount of misdirected emotion against me is worth causing me to see this person as less of a bearer of the image of God. The ways of Jesus are to forgive even when He knows we will take advantage of the forgiveness. I am certainly not comparing myself with Jesus and I am not saying that I am completely okay with the response I received. I am simply saying that I want to be an idiot like Jesus who takes these things and lets them go. I want to follow my Savior and remain committed to my own ideals rather than be affected and influenced by the ideals of others. It is not easy, it doesn't feel natural, but I know that I would rather be an idiot than follow the patterns of the world. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:25, "God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength". Pray that I have the strength to be an idiot like Jesus.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Beautiful You


I have a growing list of books that I will never write that cover a whole array of subjects. I have one on leadership, one about hidden treasures in the Bible, one that is a historical fiction, one memoirs that is completely exaggerated, a travel journal, and a self help book (hey if Rick Warren and Joel Olstein can do it, why can't I?).
My self help book that I will never write is called, "The Beautiful You" (You should always begin with a good title and catchy cover design) and it is actually mostly parody about how we will try anything to measure up in the eyes of others. In the end, my conclusion is that God created us in His image and according to Genesis 9:6, because we are in the image of God we have value.
In our new adventure of beginning a new kind of church in Orange County we feel that this concept is essential. We want to have a place where we truly seek to be like Jesus and let the gospel affect all areas of how we live, but we must begin by recognizing the reality that we all come imperfect and broken. We all fall short in our own ideas of how we should be but that is where the true beauty of Church can shine.
We want to be a place where our brokenness and imperfections are not something to hide from because we think the others in the group will think less of us, but rather they are things to display because they actually give hope to the group that God is the God who makes all things new and that nothing is out of His reach of redemption. I think that often in Christian leadership and churches we only put our "best" faces forward (best only in the eyes of the world) and we forget that the real beauty is in the fact that God our Father leads, directs, redeems, and blesses even in our times of weakness.
In Church leadership we talk about finding "strategic" people who are strong leaders and who compel others to follow a vision. It is not bad to have these people around, but I wonder if this strategy by churches and youth groups only causes the "non-strategic people" to feel that they don't measure up and therefore even fewer are empowered to join in the vision.

In our new gathering I am so excited to see a strange mix of people and many of whom are already coming with their imperfections on display. I am excited because I truly believe that this group who are joining in the call to live on "mission" to their community for the purpose of displaying the love and grace of Christ and not for the purpose of creating a bigger church are the people who will help others find hope and who will allow others to see the beauty in being created in the image of God.

So to our college students who love Jesus but struggle avoiding the "college life", to our moms of elementary aged kids who sometimes think they will not make it through the day, to our families who struggle to make ends meet, to our twenty-somethings who still don't know what they want to do with their lives, to our empty nesters who enjoy sleeping in on Sundays, to our children who have more energy than I have ever seen, to our singles who sometimes feel lonely, to our leaders who feel inadequate, to our theologians who still scratch their heads in confusion, to our couples who do not always act lovingly, and to all of us who desperately need the love and grace of Jesus... here's to the "Beautiful You", I am glad to have you with us.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Pastor in a Green Apron

Four or five days a week, my alarm sounds at 4:00 AM, I roll out of bed, and slip into my khaki pants and black button up shirt. I brush my teeth, step over our dog (who has no interest in waking up at 4:00 AM), hop on my bike, and ride to the Starbucks around the corner of the the house. Over the next 8 hours I spend my time making coffee drinks, heating up breakfast pastries, and blending frapuccinos for the High Schoolers on their way to the school located next door. In this time I interact with hundreds of people from my community everyday. I hear about their families, their jobs, and sometimes even their struggles. Sometimes I just listen, other times I offer encouragement or even advice. It may be the coffee that keeps everyone coming back day after day or maybe it is something more.
In Genesis 1 the Bible says that mankind is created in the image of God. Although the Hebrew for this phrase is a bit difficult to fully understand, it is relatively clear that this is referring to the Spiritual side of God more than the physical. This means that just as God is relational, we too are relational. This is why just one chapter later God says, "it is not good for man to be alone". As humans we have a need to be heard, to be understood, and to be connected to one another. Christians often find this need for connection fulfilled in their many church events through the week and most of the time these create healthy and fulfilling friendships.
Let us now return to Starbucks... every day hundreds of people go through those doors and most of them have no other community where they are accepted and encouraged. It is only when they walk through the doors of their local coffee shop when they are greeted by name and offered their usual drink. It is in those moments that those people experience their "church". It is these places where the local barista serves as their pastor.
One of the convictions of our new Church is that we want to be people who intentionally serve our communities and not just the Christians who come to our sacred meeting times, small groups, youth events, etc. We want to be the ones offering encouragement and hope to the people in our community who do not find that encouragement in one of the many Christian gatherings in our town. So the truth is when people ask me how many people do I serve as a pastor at Soma Church, my answer is, "hundreds", they just aren't people who come to any of our gatherings.
This is actually very encouraging to me. It helps each morning at 4:00 AM when I ride through the dark on empty streets still filled with the cold ocean air that settles during our Orange County evenings. When I put on my "priestly robe" that looks a lot like a green apron I know that my day as a pastor has begun and that I am a bit closer to living the ways of Jesus in my community.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Shaping of the Church: Steeple Envy


A difficult thing in leading churches or ministries is dealing with the internal desire for large numbers of people in the gatherings. Some pastors say that we should be concerned with numbers because Jesus tells us to go and make disciples and therefore if we are doing our job, more people will come. Other pastors flat out reject the measure of numbers by saying they want quality, not quantity. No matter what the personal conviction, it is difficult to allow God to have his way and not allow numbers to affect you.

The thing that we must fight against is comparing one gathering's size to another. Don Golden uses the phrase, "How big is your steeple" when he or anyone on his staff feels the need to brag about the numbers of attendees or the need to ask how many are attending somewhere else. I think this is very telling in that it shows that these questions are about pride and about power. Somehow we think that churches with "bigger steeples" are better or more effective when it just might be that God made them to have big steeples. It might also be as one pastor of a large church says, "the skill of the pastors directly affects the size of the church". I agree with this on a purely human level but do we really just think that only churches with large numbers of people have skilled pastors or that a large size really means it is a clearer picture of the Church that Jesus dreams about?

I know that it is easy for me to say all of this at this point because we are a part of a new church and therefore have a small number of people attending. At our new church we want to be effective in reaching people and giving people a place to connect, but we don't want the steeple size to define us. So how do you think churches can effectively deal with this issue of steeple envy?.... and no viagra jokes!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Cool Touch from the Throne

I begin this post with an apology for the deceptive nature of the title. Due to my current life circumstances one could assume that a "cool touch from the throne" is a comforting metaphor for the blessings that God brings when we need them most. Although I believe that God works in those ways and always appreciate His kind interactions and love poured out on me, the nature of this post is a bit more mundane and I am sorry to say, crude. With that said, I know that all of us from countries with modern plumbing can relate so I feel compelled to let you in on my journey.

Last night I had one of those great nights when whatever food I ate the proceeding day decided to sit and stir within me for a while. In fact, it was one of those nights where the food seemed to have no interest in succumbing to the whole digestion process and it preferred to sit in the pool just at the end of my throat. After plenty of trips outside of the country and many bouts with various parasites I have grown to accept these occasions and have even learned a few methods to cope. Even with the ability to cope, when my body seems set on a process of "upheaval" it never comes soon enough. What else (at least for males) can make the option of lying on a bathroom floor at all hours of the night more comforting than lying in a bed away from the bathroom? What else can cause one to tell God to "take me now and end my misery"? In these moments awaiting the whole upheaval process I find myself trying all kinds of techniques to speed the process and clear the holding tank of whatever is causing discomfort. But sometimes, the dry mouth and out of sync breathing must come in its own timing so my best efforts to speed the process are all in vain.

So I wait, I turn, I try to sleep, I feel my body grow warm, then cold, then sweat, and I just want to get this deed done. I reach over to the "porcelain throne" and press my head against its cheek seeking comfort in the coolness of its touch. Has it been cleaned recently? I hope so but at the moment that doesn't even matter. It is as Bill Cosby said, "At that moment the toilet bowl is the only one who understands". He will patiently wait for you and grant comfort in its perpetually cool sides.

Some nights when this happens, it all happens quickly and then everything is better, other times it takes several rounds before your body is finally satisfied. Then other times, like last night for me, your body is so conflicted over what to do that it simply stirs and causes discomfort until you drift off to sleep without ever purging of the offending foods. In these cases, I wake up the next morning hoping that I feel hunger so that I know that all systems are back on track. Today I was hungry so I cautiously ate some yogurt (I always eat something sweet if I think it will not stay down... it makes the whole experience much better) and I am happy to say that I seem back on track.

I stopped by the bathroom and whispered a little thanks to my faithful friend who understood my needs and offered comfort when I needed it. I hope I don't need his help again anytime soon but if I do, I know I can always count on his cool touch.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Applying For Jobs

Part of this church plant experience includes a need for me to find income outside of our young church. Because of this need, I have decided to seek employment at a large coffee chain that I seldom ever visit but that I know offers benefits for the family and therefore it is a place I would like to work.
What this means is that I have to humble myself, ask for an application and turn it in to a person 10 years younger than me in hopes that my 1 1/2 Master’s Degrees and 12 years of working with people, organizing events, managing crises, and public speaking is all enough to convince him/her that I have what it takes to make a cup of coffee.
Today as I sat in one of this organization’s thousands of stores (and not one scheduled to close) waiting to speak with a manager (who happens to be a former student of mine) I had to laugh at the whole experience. As I sat there I noticed a kid who was probably around 16 years old filling out his application and I felt a sense of competition. Would my post-graduate and pre-doctoral work stand out against his excellence during his junior year of high school? Will my years of hiring, training, and managing employees be a positive if it is set alongside his 7 months of serving as a school mascot? Does that fact that this is probably his first job make him a promising candidate with lots of potential? Could that work against an old guy who quit a well paying job to move to the Middle East and then who returned to America to begin a new church? Am I overcommitted, overqualified, or over-the-hilled?
Am I even answering these questions in a manner that they are hoping for?... “Why do you like coffee?” Should I say it is because it creates a positive emotion in me that allows me to be more focused in reading and more progressive in my studies? Should I say that it is a wonderful subject around which meaningful conversations are allowed to flow? Or like the 16 year old, should I say, “Because it tastes good with lots of sugar and milk”. I am lost over what I should do. Next question, “Where have you visited one of our stores in the past and what was your experience”. 16 year old says, “I went to one with my mom once and now I am in this one”. Should I say, “I have actually been in your stores all across the world and find that even though it is not the best coffee and you do not offer free wi-fi, I always know what I will get and the service is consistent and courteous everywhere.”
I guess I will just fill this in the best I can and in the end I know that it is probably my 4 years of working as a food server that will ultimately qualify me for this job (and the fact that I want to work the 4 AM shift). I will keep you posted as to my progress in this endeavor and know that if 16 year old gets this job and I don’t, I will be in desperate need of some counseling for my low self-esteem.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hello Old Friends

Hello old friends
There's really nothing new to say
But the old, old story bears repeating
And the plain old truth grows dearer every day
When you find something worth believing
Well, that's a joy that nothin' could take away

And so we meet again
After all these many years
Did we sow the seeds we're reaping
Now that the harvest calls us here
It seems that love blooms out of season
And much joy can blossom from many tears

So old friends you must forget what you had to forgive
And let love be stronger than the feelings
That rage and run beneath the bridge
Knowin' morning follows evening
Makes each new day come as a gift

-Rich Mullins

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Next Week

This is my last week in Washington before I return to California for a new chapter in my life that is sure to hold as many unexpected twists and turns as the past few years. It is amazing how quickly time has gone by since returning to America. As I mentioned before, I have been picking up odd jobs everywhere I can find them and I was unable to find time for much else. It has been a good month of hard work, of family time, of a few rounds of golf, of some study time, and a little relaxation.

On Saturday of this week, I will be back in California (along with our new dog) and I will begin a frantic 4 day house preparation for the rest of the family that will fly in on Wednesday. Hopefully at that point I will be able to enter into a normal schedule that will allow me to post some thoughts and share our new journey with all who read.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ode to Physical Labor

My family is back in America and currently staying with family for the month before we return to California and re-enter life there. Because we are not in any type of routine here it has been difficult to find time to post, check emails, or finish my last paper for Hebrew University.

The other thing that is making things difficult is the fact that I did not want to spend this month sitting around without any income so I decided to try to get work doing anything I could think of. So far I have been hired for yard work, a bathroom remodel, and cutting down and hauling away a tree. I enjoy the work and it is definitely nice to do work that can be completed and that has an end to it. After working with people that past 11 years, I have definitely seen a lot of progress in people's lives ( mine included) but it is nothing that can be measured or that ever is completed. So for the next week I will pressure wash a house, build a garden planter, install a bathroom floor, and pull weeds and then I will know the job is completed. Maybe I will even have time somewhere in there to post something more meaningful.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

You Should See the View

In my wife's last post from Jerusalem she recounted her final reflections in Jerusalem intermixed with a worship song by David Crowder called, "Only You". She mentioned a line from the song that I never noticed before that completely grabbed a hold of me. The line is at the end of the song and it says, "I will worship you Lord, Only You Lord... Its only you and me here now... You should see the view, when its only me and you".
The line, "You should see the view, when its only me and you" is such a great reminder to take time to get away from all of the "to do" lists, the wants, the stresses, and even your favorite past-times to sit and "see the view" of God in all of His majesty. This doesn't mean to go hide in the mountains for a few days or to travel to the beach at sunset to see the view, it simply means to take a moment to sit back and notice how a God that is so big and powerful can actually love you in all of your "humanness". He sees our selfishness, our doubts, our rage, our envy, and our arrogance and he takes it all with patience and extends love and grace. When we step outside of ourselves for a moment and gaze upon anyone who takes all of our worst and does not give us what we deserve it is truly an amazing site.
Now that my family is back in America we are faced with more unknowns that we ever had in Israel. We are heading into an adventure we never thought we would head into and one that only God knows how it will all turn out. In the midst of this time we feel small, faithless, insecure, unqualified, and unworthy. Maybe this is how Peter felt after he denied knowing Christ before his crucifixion, or how Paul felt when he realized the gravity of his hateful acts directed against followers of Jesus before his conversion, or even how Abraham must have felt when God told him to gaze upon the stars and know that God will be faithful to all that he promised. I imagine the view at that point must have been amazing when each of these people recognized that their God's love never ends, His mercy never tires, and His promises never fail.
Last week my heart dropped when Israel, along with this chapter in our lives, faded in the distance out of the window of our plane. On the horizon was a world of unknowns that will test our faith, our loyalty, and our certainty of all of God's promises. But also on the horizon is the most amazing view and that is of the Risen Messiah who restores when I doubt, who repairs when I fail, and who leads into the future when I am stuck in the past.
In the moments when I take the time to open my eyes and gaze upon this God, I am amazed at what I see.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Finishing

My wife said that I cheated on my last post by just posting a link. That may be true but this is our last week in Israel and I am trying to finish papers, see some last minute sites, and pack up the house for the journey back to America. Okay, no more excuses, maybe in a day or two I will have something meaningful to say.... assuming I ever have something meaningful to say.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Confessions of a Church Pirate

As many of our friends know, my wife and I have decided to enter the crazy world of church leadership in the form of a new church that will hopefully begin sometime in the fall of this year. (Read the previous post for the official announcement). In doing this, the one thing that is the most difficult for us, and especially for my wife, is the scrutiny and the criticisms that could possibly come our way.

One of the comments on the previous post was simply an anonymous link to a 7 minute video of a pastor criticizing people who plant churches in the area of their former church. In this video, he classifies these church planters as "Church Pirates". Although we have not determined where this new church will meet nor have we even done the things criticized in the video, I assume this link was designed to be a criticism of me and therefore I guess, to some, I am a Pirate.

My first response was to defend myself and fight back but I was reminded by my wife that this gets us nowhere and even takes us away from the important fights so instead allow me to share some other perspectives.

I used to criticize people who moved to Orange County to plant churches. I believed that we had enough churches and these people just wanted to live where the weather was nicer. I even worked at a church that saw a significant amount of people leave with one of the pastors to begin a new church in the area and my initial response was to be critical of this new gathering. About 3 years ago I had to recognize this judgmental attitude in myself and I needed to repent and become a supporter of these endeavors. Like the Rabbi Gamaliel says in Acts 5:38-39, "if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." Instead of questioning what very well could be genuine calls from God, I had to become a friend and an ally with those working for the same cause.

The second thing that happened after I realized how selfish I can be sometimes was I realized that there was no way Orange County could ever have too many churches. I did the math in my hometown one day and realized that if every person in our town wanted to go to church on the same day, each church would average over 1000 people. The fact that over 25 million people live in Southern California means that more people live in this region than in any other state in the country and it is more people than the 19 least populated states combined. In other words, the fact that this is the most populated and perhaps the most diverse part of the country means that we need many different churches to work together to bring the Good News of Jesus to our community.

I don't like that I had to "eat my words" and become the very person I used to criticize but it is a reminder that the measure we use to judge will be used against us. I may have learned my lesson this time but I know that to some I will always be a Church Pirate. (For added interest, read what I wrote about pirates two years ago Click Here ).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. ~ Mark Twain

My childhood should have taught me lessons for my own fatherhood, but it didn't because parenting can only be learned by people who have no children.
Bill Cosby

No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I'm not talking about the kids. Their behavior is always normal.
Bill Cosby

Parents are not interested in justice, they are interested in peace and quiet. - Bill Cosby

Nothing I've ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children. - Bill Cosby

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Shaping of the Church (The New Edition )

When we decided to move to Israel many people wondered what was wrong with us. Why leave a perfectly stable life and plunge into the great unknown. The truth is that when I first proposed the idea to my wife I thought she would say that I was crazy and not to even think about it but she actually said that this sounded good. (Not because she actually thought the lack of stability and that unknown is good, just that she thought it would be a worth while experience.) As we have been working out details for our return to America, it was our desire to find a place to live and work where we could be excited about the vision and where we would feel that we were being faithful with our own giftedness.
To make the story short, in the end we decided to do something that would only extend our season of "unknown" and instability. No, we are not going to sell our house and invest everything in "silent velcro". We have decided to do something we never thought we would do and something that will require even more faith than moving the family to the Middle East. We have decided to join with a group of people in beginning a new church in Southern California.
I have spent many years of my life cynical of "church plants" because so many of them appeared to be people simply wanting to duplicate what was already being done. In some cases that criticism was correct, in others I am sure that I was very wrong. Now, I get to be one of those who will stand under scrutiny and criticism for planting a church.
What has fueled this whole process is my own personal struggle with consumer Christianity and my own belief that the Bride of Christ (the Church) should be a place where everyone can find love and grace. It is motivated by my conviction that Christians need to live in mission to everyone all the time and not to see mission as "bringing your friends to church". These, along with countless other similar convictions ultimately led us to this decision.
I would be lying to you if I said that we had no reservations or fears as it relates to this decision but I would be lying to myself if I did not recognize the fact that I am a dreamer who believes that things can be better. When I say things can be better I am referring to people like me who have lost touch with Church as we know it. I believe there are many great churches doing good things but they tend to connect with certain types of people and a growing numbers of others are longing for something different. So because my family is filled with adrenaline junkies (especially my wife), this next year will be filled with many of the same unknowns and adventures as this year... we will just have Cipotle Burritos and Target Stores to ease the occasional pains.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Good Fight

A few days ago I was siting on an Arab bus on my way to the Palestinian capital of Ramallah when something occurred to me. As I sat there as the only "white" person and presumably the only Christian on the way to a city that is listed as a "Don't be a fool and go there" city on the State Department web-site, I realized that I felt more comfortable in that setting than most bus rides on the other side of the security fence.
It is not because the Jewish Israelis are out to get me or ever have even given me a threatening look, but I think on that bus there is a sense of camaraderie between those of us who are the "underdogs" in Israel. I began thinking about this and realized that I have always wanted to fight against the "bullies" in the world. I guess I struggle with those who have power and who have an incessant need to wield that power. When encountering those who dominate or hurt others because they can, something rises up inside me that makes me want to fight, or at the very least it makes me want to stand alongside those who bear the brunt of that misdirected power.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the entire New Testament, we see how clearly God also stands with those without power. Do you realize that there are more verses in the Bible about taking care of the orphans and widows (a metaphor for the weak) and those without a voice than about any other subject? Take the examples from Jesus' life, he fought with those in power when it had to do with neglecting the needs of hurting people. (Healing on the Sabbath, eating with "drunkards and sinners", and challenging people to work on justice more than religious appearance were the points of conflict with religious leaders of His day). Unfortunately today, our political leaders, many of our church leaders, our employers, and even "average Joes" consistently find ways to dominate others out of a need for control and power.
Before I sound "holier than thou" I confess that my desire to stand for the weak really is just a gut reaction and unfortunately does not always come from a desire to be like Jesus. But I do think that this is at the heart of God and this attitude is the foundation for pure religion (James 1:26) and one that followers of the Messiah Jesus should embrace whole-heartily.
Rob Bell once said that "people go looking for fights because they are not already in one". What he meant by that is people who want to fight about trivial things or who cause problems with others by misusing their power, do so because they are not already fighting for something more valuable. As for me, I like a good fight so I hope and pray that I can keep the names and faces of those who need someone standing by them in my mind and if I ever become a bully to someone, please remind me of bus 18 to Ramallah.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I've Been Banned

I was just informed that this web-site has recently been restricted by the University of Wisconsin filters because it says it contains language of "hate". I'm sure it is an automated filter and just caught some word it does not like because I can't find the "hate" language but I think it is pretty cool to be banned. Other than 5th grade music class and Shelly D.'s house in 7th grade, I don't think I have ever been banned from somewhere.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Clarity of Scripture

I don't have much to say today so I thought I would invite you to join me in a research project I am working on. If anyone can offer any intelligent remarks based on the following passage of scripture, I might even cite you in an upcoming paper.

The passage is Joshua 5:13-15. For those who do not feel like looking it up on their own I have included it here:
ויהי בהיות יהושע ביריחו
וישא עיניו וירא והנה־איש עמד לנגדו
וחרבו שלופה בידו 
וילך יהושע אליו ויאמר לו׃
             הלנו אתה אם־לצרינו
ויאמר׃ לא כי אני שר־צבא־יהוה
עתה באתי
ויפל יהושע אל־פניו ארצה 
וישתחו ויאמר לו׃
מה אדני מדבר אל־עברו
ויאמר שר־צבא יהוה אל־יהושע׃
של נעלך מעל רגלך
כי המקום אשר אתה עמד עליו קדש הוא
ויעש יהושע כן׃

Pretty clear huh?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why Soccer is not American

Last night I stayed up to watch the European League "Football" Championship game which is essentially the Superbowl of European soccer. I was happy to watch it and enjoyed the game but was reminded why "football" will never be popular in America.
1. Football is already the most popular sport. Just the fact that we call football, "soccer" and we call American Football, "football" shows that Americans are unwilling to accept the alternative. For the sake of this post I will now call soccer, soccer so that we are not confused.

2. Soccer players are whimps. Granted they are in better shape than the rest of the people on earth and their talents are absolutely amazing. But, if they get bumped, they fall to the ground, cover their face, and wince in hopes of getting a foul called. Americans want to see real violence and hits that are hard enough to actually knock a person out. You can compare the "hard" fouls of the NBA vs the "soft" fouls of International Basketball. Last night there were a few fouls that drew blood and one fight so that is a positive for soccer.

3. There is not enough scoring in soccer. It may not be right, but Americans would rather see a 10-9 soccer game than a 1-0 match. Of course the fact that last night's game was decided after 6 penalty kicks was exciting.. it just took 120 minutes of game time to get there. Some may argue that Baseball is also boring but I will offer the international alternative of "Cricket" as the counter-argument to that. They have matches that last 3-4 days and the fans eagerly await the outcome which would never be acceptable in the USA.

4. Mullets are still acceptable in soccer. Nothing to say here.

5. The fans are willing to sing, fight, and stand for the entire game. This is actually a criticism of Americans. We don't have enough fun watching our sports games (except for college sports in which the crowds are greatly aided through the work of "mixer-man". Soccer fans sing for the entire game, they fight fans of the opposite team, and they stand in the rain and snow without a break (of course they too are influenced by "mixer-man"). Some exceptions exist such as Red Sox -Yankees games, Game 7 of NBA finals, and during the commercials of the NFL Superbowl.

I am glad that MLS is surviving in the USA and that many children play the sport but please do not think we will ever embrace this sport like the rest of the world. When the World Cup comes around in 2010 I plan on staying awake along with Scott C to watch the games but it will never capture my heart.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Shaping of the Church

"Over a two-thousand-year period, but especially in the last two hundred years, we have jerked and tugged the Christian faith out of its original soil, its life-giving source, which is an honest relationship with God through Jesus the Christ. After uprooting the faith, we have entombed it in a declaration of adherence to a set of beliefs. The shift has left us with casual doctrinal assent that exists independent of a changed life. We have made the Cross into a crossword puzzle, spending our time diagramming byzantine theories of atonement. How did the beauty of Jesus’ atoning work get isolated from the wonder of restoring an authentic relationship between God and humanity?"

Western Christianity is largely belief based and church focused. It is concerned with landing on the right theology and doctrine and making sure everyone else toes the line. The Jesus trimtab, in contrast, is relationship based and world focused. It is concerned not so much with what you believe as with whom you are following. It is less invested in maintaining and growing an institution and more invested in Jesus’ passion for saving the world. - Leonard Sweet

So what do you think about this quote? Is this a dangerous position or a good position that pushes Christianity forward?

btw- I do not know what trimtab is but it is in the quote so I left it there.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Independence or Catastrophe?

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the day Israel officially became a nation. For the Israeli's they celebrate their independence but for the Palestinians living here they call this day "Catastrophe Day" when they remember the 750,000 Palestinians that were displaced 60 years ago.
Obviously this situation is quite complex and not easily solved but I can tell you that living here and being friends with people on both sides of the situation only makes matters worse. I know many Christians interpret certain scriptures that talk of Israel possessing land to be pre-requisites to the Messiah's return. This week I even heard one say that we (Christians) will stand behind Israel and help them possess their land so that we can help usher in the Messiah.
Putting all interpretation aside, I want to question anyone who feels that he or she can help usher in the Messiah. Do I support Israel's right to exist as a nation and believe that they have a role in God's plan? Yes. Do I support Palestinians and their right to fair treatment? Yes. All I want to question at this point is the mindset that says God needs us to politically maneuver in order to help His plans come to fruition. He is God and He will have his way so our job is to live our lives modeling the life and values of Jesus with everyone.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

40 Days

This is a somewhat random post that will only make sense to a few but it is certainly open for all to know.
Almost 40 days ago some people to pray with us regarding future decisions. The time is up on May 19th so hopefully in the next couple of weeks we can clarify some thoughts as to what will happen with our family next year. What is almost certain is that we will not be living in Jerusalem or Arkansas.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mother's Day

Here are a few quotes in honor of Mother's Day.

My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.

- Mark Twain

An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.
-GK Chesterton

One of life's greatest mysteries is how the boy who wasn't good enough to marry your daughter can be the father of the smartest grandchild in the world.
-Jewish proverb

Friday, May 09, 2008

מבהן אמצע

A long time ago I said I would ocassionally post some of my school work but lets be honest, who really wants to read college papers? But since my modern Hebrew has crossed a plateau from saying "I like cake" to basic conversations, I thought I would post my mid term essay from class. If you read Hebrew you will quickly find that this is well done for an 11 year old which is somewhere around the level of my written Hebrew.

אני הושב חשוב שללמוד באוניברסיטה ולטייל בעולם. חשוּב ללמוד באוּניברסיטה כי אי אפשר לעבוד בעבודה טובה בלי תואר. אבל אני הושב שאפשר ללמוד כשמטיילים. כשאני מטייל אני לומד גאוגרפיה ואני רואה את המקומות החשובים בהיסטוריה. כשאני מטייל אני גם לומד תרבויות אחרות. בעבר, טיילתי בהרבה מקומות ופגשתי אנשים מעניינים שאף פעם לא למדתי עליהם באוּניברסיטה. הבעיה שבלי כסף, אי אפשר לטייל ובלי עבודה אין כסף. אני הושב שאנשים צריכים ללמוד באוניברסיטה, לעבוד, ואז לטייל כשיש להם כסף. אז אפשר ללמוד הרבה דברים

Monday, May 05, 2008

What We Love

Tonight my family hosted 4 college aged students for a little Cinco De Mayo (Jerusalem Style) dinner. 2 students live here in Israel and understand the ups and downs of Jerusalem and the other 2 recently graduated from college and have been living and working in Uganda. They appreciated familiar food and a comfortable home. As always my boys were happy to entertain the guests, my wife was happy to host and make them feel comfortable, and I simply enjoyed the conversation and the opportunity to give these 4 people a break from the norms of their lives.
It is nights like these when we are reminded of our joy in serving people and helping them to rest and rejuvenate. I may be scrubbing toilets to earn money to support the family next year but I know that I will also have to be involved in teaching and encouraging other people in their personal journeys of faith. We can't wait to see what that will look like.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shaping of the Church: Comfort & Convenience

In his book, "Forgotten Ways", Alan Hirsch writes about life in suburbs as being all about having life comfortable, convenient, and safe. He goes on to say that the suburban churches cater to this mentality and must offer the same for the people or they will go somewhere else.
I forget where it is in the Bible that calls for a comfortable, convenient, and safe faith. The Bible I read talks about followers being imprisoned, beaten, and killed for their faith. We read about people called to go into dangerous lands, to live with integrity even if it effects the income, to fast, pray, give, love, forgive, and to serve the least, the worst, and the most difficult. We hear stories of passion that can't be quenched, of faith that can't be shaken, and of a God that will be praised.

As I think about these things I wonder how the suburban church can create this environment. The truth is that life in the suburbs is good in the sense that we can be safe and comfortable and it is convenient to do almost anything (and frankly I like this life). The problem is that this can easily create complacency but since we can't move out of the "burbs", what can the church practically do to get followers of Jesus to reclaim the dangerous (or forgotten) ways of Jesus and the first Christians?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Home SWEET Home

Taking a week off to visit Greece was a nice break from life here in Jerusalem but returning home brought a certain level of comfort. It was nice to be in Greece where every meal consisted of various combinations of meat and dairy which we do not have in Israel. It was nice to wake up each morning and not have to check the news to see if "anything happened" the night before. It was nice to see churches everywhere and to not worry about how I would be treated if people knew where I was from or what I believed. My wife would say that it was nice to be able to wear shirts that "showed her shoulders" and shorts. Of course it was also nice to be in Greece for all of the other tourist type reasons but that is for another time.

With all of the great things about Greece, something strange happened when we went to the airport to check into our El Al flight back to Israel. We were greeted in Hebrew and were whisked through the extra screening process that this airline does on all of their flights. As we sat on the flight we spoke Hebrew and ate Kosher food. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv the passport control did not ask one question, they simply gave us a stamp and let us in (they undoubtably have our names cleared in their computers by now).

We then saw an Orthodox man handing out Matzah bread for Pesach (Passover) and when my wife went to receive his gift he turned away and shunned her. The next morning I woke up and checked the news to see "if anything happened" and found out that their was a fist fight between Armenian Priests and Greek Orthodox Priests at the tomb of Jesus (they consistently dispute who has the rights over certain parts of the church where the tomb is located). Next I read about a Yeshiva student who walked naked through a supermarket in protest of a recent ruling that allows stores to sell leavened products during the week of Pesach. Later in the day I was in the park with my boys and began talking with an 11 year old here who told me that "Christians are crazy... they kill Jews and mix their blood with Matzah". I then told him that I was a Christian and was hoping to mix his blood when he left the park. Maybe I didn't say that but I did inform him that I was a Christian and he changed his whole tune and was actually a nice kid (with the exception of his racism).

The rest of the week there are two protests planned by Orthodox Jewish groups against the "leaven laws", there are several restaurants that are choosing to sell leavened bread that are bracing for violence and arson attacks. Meanwhile all Palestinians who live in the West Bank are restricted from crossing the border for the entire week and some are talking about responding next week.

This week in our house we are back to using our meat dishes for meat and dairy dishes for dairy, we are sneaking leavened bread with each meal, we bought some groceries in East Jerusalem on Shabbat, we had dinner with our Palestinian friends in a non-kosher restaurant last night, we are struggling with our kids through home-school, and we are glad to be settling right back into life here. Ahhhh Jerusalem, our home sweet home.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spring Break 2008- No Regrets

Since I am once again a college student this year Spring Break actually has significance for me once again. So for the next two weeks (I know 2 weeks is long but remember that we have no Christmas Break) I have no classes! My family will once again take a little adventure to explore the lands of the Bible. This time we will be in parts of Greece so I will be away for a few days. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Fifth Gospel

Some say that living in Jerusalem is the "Fifth Gospel" of Jesus. In other words, the Gospels as we have them in the New Testament scriptures tell us about the life of Christ in His context and give us incredibly challenging examples of how to respond in everyday life but the "Fifth Gospel" forces us to see the deeper truths of these gospels and how they work today.

For example, I read about "the Good Samaritan" and often wonder why this story seems to exaggerate a culture that is so prejudice against each other that they cannot offer the slightest glimmer of grace. Then I see in the "Fifth Gospel" that this level of hatred and cultural arrogance is possible and even normal for many today. I have heard Jews refer to Arabs as "thieves, scum, and peasants". I have heard Arabs refer to Jews as "Neo-Nazis, Occupiers, and terrorists". I have heard others referring to Christians as "Soul Stealers and infidels". I have heard Armeanean Christians call Greek Christians insane, I have heard Modern Orthodox Jews refer to Ultra Orthodox Jews as "Draft Dodgers" and "leeches". I could go on because the fact is everyone here is labeled as something and who you are comes with assumptions. But then I see true Christ followers put aside all of these labels and work to love all. I see Christians threatened as they offer aid to people in Gaza. I see Jesus followers risk their "visa" status by going to Iraq to get medical help for Iraqi children. I see Christian organizations offering help to Jewish orphans that the country of Israel doesn't even help. In other words, the most needy are helped by the one group that is the "lowest" in this culture- the Jesus followers.

Fifth Gospel Chapter 2: I read about "turning the other cheek" in an Eastern culture that believes in the "Golden Rule" of "eye for eye, tooth for tooth". Rabbis and Sheiks teach their communities that it is acceptable and even necessary to respond to violence with violence. It is actually amusing to watch Western leaders try to negotiate peace when they have no concept of the value of family/tribes and the deeply ingrained value of justice in this culture. The very culture of this place requires an ongoing cycle of violence that can only end if one side is willing to accept the disgrace of not avenging a wrong that has been done. The Fifth Gospel shows a follower of Jesus who forgives the group who disguised a bomb in the form of a present that forever changed the life of his 15 year old son. My natural response is to find the people who did this and let my Middle-Eastern Side show, but Jesus says turn the other cheek because he knows that the cycle can only end through lovers of peace and forgiveness.

The Fifth Gospel also helps us wrestle with the questions about the "Promised Land" or "Chosen People". The Fifth Gospel shows us what it means to "consider the cost" or how narrow the road really is. The Fifth Gospel teaches us that following Christ still might cost us everything and that the Word becoming Flesh really is a big deal. In the Fifth Gospel we see that Jesus' example really is the only hope for the world and that followers of Jesus really do have the capacity to make life better for everyone. The Fifth Gospel also gives me compassion for the disciples and causes me to not think they were so dumb after all because it is not always easy to see how this faith works. Like those disciples, I now have things that I once thought I understood about scripture cause me to scratch me head in confusion.

In the Fifth gospel I understand what it means when God says, "You honor me with your lips but your hearts are far from me", I begin to see the value in obedience over sacrifice, and I see just how big some mountains are to move. I recognize just how many "houses are built on sand" and how I often relate more to the rich man who struggled to give up everything than to the widow who gave all she owned. I see why God rejoices over one sheep that is found and why he wept when he saw Jerusalem from the top of Mount of Olives. In the Fifth Gospel I know why it was a big deal for the disciples to stay awake with their Lord and why it is upon people that the Church is built and that the world is changed.

The bottom line is that not everyone will ever have the opportunity of "living the Fifth Gospel" and I am grateful for the opportunity that I have had. I now just hope that I am able to inspire a group of people to put the reality of all of the Gospels into practical form in the context of the USA. I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Reality Check

On this blog and our other blog we told you about the Jewish tradition of celebrating the events of the book of Esther during the holiday of Purim. One of the customs of this event is to give gift baskets to friends and to families in need. This year one family that is associated with our church here in Jerusalem received a Purim basket from someone. The problem is when their 15 year old son opened this basket it exploded and destroyed their house and critically injured the son.
The miracle is that the son is still alive but the tragedy is that people here are justifying this act of terror as an "act of self defense". The father of the son (who has been threatened because he leads a Bible Study with Messianic Jews) is calling for the grace and mercy of Jesus while many (but certainly not all) in the Jewish community say the attack was justified. One Rabbi said that the whole building would have been blown up if Jews weren't living there. On the local news, they said, "Wherever there are missionaries, there will be anti-missionaries" and they acted as if this is okay.
This weekend we took an offering to help this family repair their home and tonight Sara and I received an email calling on all across the globe to pray for Ami Ortiz (the boy seriously injured). Also this week we heard of another person from our church who is friends with "our dear Martyr Romi" who was kidnapped in Gaza for declaring his faith in Christ.
Let this serve as a reminder to all of us who are comfortable in our Western cities and our Christian nations. Living for Christ comes at a cost that we must be willing to pay. Let us join together to pray and let us not become so complacent that our faith is routine and safe.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Shaping of the Church

Now that Easter has passed and churches work this week on "follow up" directed to all of the visitors from this year's celebrations, I thought this would work as a good time to introduce a "Shaping of the Church" topic. It has been a while since I have done this so hopefully you are ready to offer some opinions and as always, hopefully some of you will have different opinions which will lead to a fight. (Okay maybe not a fight, but some real thinking).

My question is this: How should the Church utilize days like Easter and Christmas when people come who do not usually come to church? Does making these days into large productions intended to entertain or creatively proclaim the message of the day actually take away from true celebration and worship? Should churches even change their usually style of worship for these days?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hag Samaech (Happy Holiday)

Yesterday we celebrated Easter here in Jerusalem and had a great time thinking about the message that Jesus brought to this very city so many years ago. Once again it was a joy to celebrate a meaningful holiday here while the rest of the city struggles to live up to its name "The City of Peace". You can read more about our experiences with Easter at The Jerusalem Letters .

One of the strangest things for me this year was celebrating Easter while the Jewish community celebrated Purim (Commemorating the events of the Book of Esther). Interesting traditions have formed around this holiday such as dressing in costumes, eating pastries called "Haman's Ears", and the requirement for all males to get so drunk that their judgment is severely impaired.

After our time in the park with family and friends as we celebrated Easter, one friend and I took a late night walk through the Old City of Jerusalem to "people watch". It was one of those warm summer evenings where it felt good to just be outside. As we walked through the city we noticed a large presence of Israeli Military working to maintain order and we noticed hundreds of Ultra Orthodox Jews celebrating the liberation that came in the Book of Esther. Unfortunately the drunkenness that overwhelmed the city took away from the true joy they could have in remembering the events.

We walked by a Yeshiva school where young men spend their entire days studying the Torah and we saw one future Rabbi sitting outside in a Mexican sombrero while his friend vomited in the bushes next to them. We passed hundreds of people so drunk that they slurred their speech and had trouble walking. They were so drunk that they actually thought I spoke Hebrew clearly. As we wandered through the streets, we made our way to the Western Wall which is a place of prayer and important Jewish events such as Bar Mitzvahs. The wall was packed with people which is not so unusual because the Ultra Orthodox Jews seem to spend a lot of time outside late at night. (It is not uncommon to see whole families with small children walking the streets at 1:00 AM). When we arrived at the wall we were amused at a group of young men signing a dancing together. Most of them were clearly fulfilling their requirement to be drunk.

You can see what we saw here:
video

This morning as I made my way to class I noticed how everyone seemed very tired and how they didn't look so good. People were sleeping on the buses and the campus was virtually empty due to the hangovers. I love the expressiveness of the Jewish culture and have no problem with loud celebrations (I think Christians should celebrate more joyfully like they did here on Palm and Easter Sundays) but I just can't figure out how excessive drinking and impaired judgment helps remember God's goodness and deliverance. All I could do is shake my head and wish everyone a Happy Holiday (even though I was referring to a different Holiday of Liberation).