Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas

I'm pretty sure this is cheating because my last three blogs have simply wished you a happy "some sort of holiday". But nonetheless. Merry Christmas.
I hope that you are able to stop and reflect on the simplicity and the profoundness of this season. If you feel frantic and compelled to buy more gifts and spend more money, you just might be missing the point.
I am not advocating that you give up on gifts just slow down a bit, try to do something meaningful with your time with others, and if you are looking for the perfect gift for me, save your money or give it to someone in need.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Servant Candle


Today is the fourth day of Chanukah- festival of lights. This commemorates a rededication of the temple during the revolt against the Greek Empire of the Selucids. Each night for eight nights a candle is lit to remember the 8 days the lampstand remained lit without replenishing the oil. It is remembered as God miraculously providing light in the temple.

The interesting fact of this holiday is that each candle is lit by an additional candle called the "servant candle". It is this servant that works to provide light to the rest of us.

Jesus, a servant of mankind, called himself the light of the world.... a servant candle.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving


I love this day when our country that is mired in greed and discontent actually takes a day to think of all the things for which we are thankful.
I challenge each person to let this attitude of thankfulness continue in the following days when stores and consumers quickly shift back to attitudes of discontent.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dogs

One of the ways my wife communicates her feelings about having a dog is with the hyperbolic statement, "I don't like his stinky hairy butt on my carpet". Now we know this problem can be solved.
video

Thursday, November 12, 2009

When Missional Church Works

We are a part of a local church community that is focused on living with an "outward" focus rather than an inward focus that is only concerned with those who join us during our weekly gatherings. This is an exciting thing because it seems to resemble the early gatherings described in the Bible and post- Biblical writings but it is a difficult thing to measure in this culture. I have said before that I am consistently tempted to measure the effectiveness of this church by the number of people in a gathering but then I have to stop and consider greater indicators.

1. The fact is that we have a growing number of people who do-not-yet believe or who are struggling with faith who are engaging with Christians in our community groups. These friends of ours are asking real questions and are sharing pieces of their lives with us as we journey together. My prayer is that through this they will see Jesus lived out through us and take the next step towards faith. This is what we wanted when we began this church community so how can we not be excited?

2. Through a few faithful members of our gathering, we have a food box ministry that is growing each month and is already at a point where it has to be the work of God to provide enough food each month. It is a joy to know that a small gathering of people who want to help others can actually make a practical difference in the lives of so many families each month.

3. This Holiday Season we are adopting some families in need from a local neighborhood and extending this "adoption" to the entire year. In addition to this, our gathering is planning to spend less on ourselves and spend what we save to build a water well in an area of Northern Africa. In addition to these things, we are continuing our partnership with persecuted Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

4. Without any prompting, many of the people in this gathering are finding ways to spend time with neighbors and friends in order to bless them and give them a glimpse of Jesus in real life.

We believe all of these things are commanded to us from God and are all things that we are blessed to be a part of. I want to thank the people of Soma Church of Orange County for jumping in a doing all they can to life unselfishly and passionately for Jesus.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Time Travel


Life is filled with moments of great joy and great pain. Some would even argue that without one we really don't have the other. Without hate how could we know love, without dark how would we recognize light, and without pain how could we feel joy?
As for me I think I would skip the pain in life if I could but this, of course, doesn't work.

This past weekend my boys and I had the unfortunate experience of watching our idiot dog run across a busy street and then run back towards us. Just before he made it back he was struck by a car and died 2 hours later. As of 930 AM on Saturday I had three happy boys who just rode bikes with me to a donut shop and one very happy dog who ran with us the entire way. By noon, the mood was somber, our dog was gone, and the vet bill was piling up by the second. To add insult to injury the lady who hit him tracked us down two days later saying her car was damaged and she is hassling us and our insurance agent multiple times per day.

I really don't need much right now, but if any of you know someone who has a time machine I would like to borrow it. I will hold Miki's leash (that was attached to his collar as he dashed across the street) and then I will give the machine back. That's all.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Year of Living Biblically


I just read A.J. Jacobs' book, "My Year of Living Biblically" and I am pleasantly surprised. I am not surprised that I enjoyed the book. How can you not enjoy reading about a guy who attempted to live one year by taking every command in the Bible literally? From not "trimming the edge of his beard" to not wearing clothes with mixed fibers, Jacobs rises to the challenge. I love the humorous ways he tells his story but I mostly love that he actually did this.

What makes it so encouraging to me is that AJ Jacobs has a normal job, a wife, and one boy with two more on the way, and he still does something so crazy. Granted, it was for a good story and something to write about but most of us do more talking and dreaming than actually "doing". Even more encouraging is that his wife goes along with this. Even when she heard that he would not sit on any chair that she sat on during her "cycle" because it was unclean, she did not get upset, she simply systematically sat on every chair in the apartment leaving Jacobs with no other options. Throughout his antics she reminded me of my wife on how she could be supportive (or tolerant?) of me while offering "eye rolls" as her only commentary.

I guess I identify with AJ Jacobs as someone who wants to experience this life to its full. Maybe reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, like Jacobs did in his previous book "The Know it All", does not seem like living life to its full, but at least it is words put into action.

This thinking is what led me to move my family to Israel, to return and begin a new church, to jump from airplanes, ski off of cliffs, ask my wife out (before she was my wife), eat things like grasshoppers and African Crocodile, and even to apply and now work at a local Starbucks. I see life as a gift from God that is worth living and I am more interested in following where I believe God is leading me than in over-thinking each move only to remain stuck in one place.

Don't worry, I am not on the verge of selling the house on moving to Des Moines, but I do feel the urge to live a radical life where I am today. I am excited to see what will come in the next year at Soma Church of Orange County, I am eager to watch my boys continue to grow and learn how to love life, and I am happy to know that wherever this life leads my wife and me, we will experience it together. (Of course she will mock me and probably even write a book one day called, "My life of Living with a Nutcase" but even that would be a great experience). So my thoughts for all of you (or more appropriately, both of you reading this) is to take some chances, check off some bucket list items, and experience the wonders of this world.

For those of you who follow Christ, quit thinking that His leading must sound rational. Like a New Yorker trying to live Biblically for a year, our faith often is not totally rational and it doesn't have to be. The joy of following and "doing" what you know you should do is worth the effort.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This is a Bustle

This is my second week of trying the "choose a random book, open to a random sentence, and then write about it" post. This week I opened some book about American Politics and the first sentence I read said, "This is a bustle".

I can honestly say that I have never heard this word used in this way. I have heard "hustle and bustle", and the city is "bustling", but never, "This is a bustle". So I looked up "bustle" and discovered that when used as a noun it is "an excited activity or movement".

I think my life the past two and half years have been a bustle. We had our third boy, quit a good job, moved my family to Israel because I wanted to see the Western Wall, I saw the Western Wall, we moved back, began a new church, and now work 2-3 jobs. This truly has been and is "excited activity and movement".

I guess with this definition, I could say that our 2 year old is a "bustle". He is the most easy-going of our three boys, but he never stops moving. He wakes up and begins the process of exploring the world from his little 2 foot high perspective. He plays with his brothers' toys, he terrorizes the dog by chasing him with a spray bottle or by sticking things in his (the dog's) nose, and he constantly searches for candy. We literally had to purge our entire house of candy because he would search through every drawer and cupboard until he found some. He even found old Halloween candy that we hid from the older boys years ago. Because our 2 year old is a bustle, he does things the others never did but he constantly entertains us.

I don't want to "spiritualize" this too much, but I see God's work in my family's lives as a "bustle". It is exciting this year to see people move into new faith in Jesus, to see families fed through a "food box" project led by people in our church community, and to see friends work on giving up harmful addictions and turn towards Jesus. It has been amazing, and challenging, to see God provide all that we need this year even though the economy is struggling and my jobs pay less than before. It is great to see the "excited activity" of God as He gives us vision and strength for each day and the internal peace that is content to see what the future holds.

Life is often a bustle for all of us. I just hope that in those moments of "excited activity and movement" that we take time to enjoy it and breathe it all in.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

These might be Interesting


I am trying something new today. Instead of writing about something I have observed, I randomly opened a book and wrote down the first sentence that fell before my eyes. I am fortunate today because the sentence is “These might be interesting”.
Think of how many things might be interesting. In order to truly appreciate the sentence we must dissect this sentence. First of all the subject “these” is plural. Then we have a modifying word “might”. This word is subtle but it might make all the difference in the world. It implies an unknown, a hope, a possibility. Finally we have the word “interesting”. A lot of things are interesting. Interesting only denotes interest, not a favorable or unfavorable opinion of that thing. So without further ado, what does this sentence mean for us today?

“These might be interesting.”
Who might we hear uttering this sentence?

A family at a movie store picking out the Godfather series.
A teenager with a six pack of beer.
A husband and wife holding handcuffs.
A teacher holding a pile of completed final exams.
A border patrol officer following a line of 1979 conversion vans with curtains covering the windows.
A child with a book of matches.
God, when He created Platypuses.
The Nobel Prize committee when they decided this year’s winners.


Today’s profound thought is free of charge.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Narcissists and MyFace

My wife told me about a story she read on the news about the dangers of "Facebook" and "mySpace" as it relates to creating a generation of people who are narcissistic. The theory is that these "social network" sites are used by millions of people who's online cultures allow them to continually post thoughts about "What they are doing" and of all of their current photos.

These web-sites are great for re-connecting with lost friends and for getting actual updates from people's lives. The issue is that these sites have become places where users almost compete for the highest number of friends and comments on status updates (of course bloggers never care about how many comments are left... if you agree make sure you at least post "likes this" so the tally goes up a bit for me) .

Are we encouraging a culture that wants to talk about themselves and that constantly takes photos of themselves so they have new user photos? Is it true that these social networking tools have caused people to lose a level of checks and balances that prevents too much arrogance or self-centered behaviors? Imagine 15 years ago if I called everyone I knew to say, "I'm watching a movie right now... and by the way, my relationship status is waiting for confirmation" and then I hoped to hear my friends respond favorably. Then imagine if every Monday morning I arrived at work or at school and handed out new photos of me and said, "this is my new profile picture... this photo represents how I want you to think of me". I'm sure my friends (and people who were friends of friends of friends) would have been fine if I tracked them down and asked them to "be my friend". I'm sure I would also think it a mistake when they choose to ignore my requests.

Okay, maybe the article might have had some good points.

But the point for me is that these tools are here and they are very much a part of our world. Although I still need my wife (and the occasional 6th grader) to help me with my Facebook account, I do use these tools and love that I have re-connected with friends from all over the world. I even love being able to share photos of my kids, my wife's and my travels, and my latest personal "head-shots".

So in an attempt to create a networking site for those of us who are not narcissistic, but just want everyone, everywhere to know who we are and what we are doing every 30 minutes, I am creating a new site that combines all the best of Facebook and of MySpace but disallows self-centered people. This site is called "MyFace". When I say "my face", that is literally what it means. Everyone's profile pictures are simply different photos of me that each person may choose for their very own. If anyone wants to share vacation photos, they can scroll through my own personal travels and substitute them for their own. You can still update your status but if you post things like, "I'm sitting at work and can't wait to get home" you lose one friend from your list.

Now that I have pissed off half of the world (okay 2 of the three people who read this), please know that I will not create a site called "MyFace"... because someone else already did. I also will continue to use Facebook and promise to log in at least once a week. I will also continue to keep up with my friends through this tool and I promise not to judge anyone who is addicted to updating his/her status, who posts all of his latest photos of himself, and who keeps asking to be my friend even though we really don't know each other.

So I now leave you because one minute ago my status changed to "I'm in the library and working on some research"..... oh, I will also leave you with a brand new profile picture to prove how hard I am working here in the library.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's Wrong with the world.....

... In no particular order.

1. It is 101 degrees on the first day of Fall.
2. My "No-Kink" garden hose kinks more than anything I have ever seen.
3. I begin most work days at 4:15 AM.
4. Monday night football is only on ESPN.
5. I don't get ESPN.
6. Our lawmakers want to fine people for not having health care.... a free country?
7. Nascar still has high TV ratings.
8. I could fly from LA to New York right now for $179 and don't have the time or money to do so.
9. Kanye West
10. This is the extent of the time I have for updating this blog.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Warm Water

I took my older boys to the beach again today. The water is 76 degrees. It was a perfect day of body boarding (boogie boarding) and picnic dinner during sunset. A great final day of summer before we send the boys back to school and we get some freedom back!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Racism and Faith

My wife recently talked with a friend who visited Israel and was shocked to hear this friend recall the details of her trip. First she talked about how lovely the country was and how much she enjoyed the food and the people (this is not the shocking part yet). Then something in this friend's countenance changed as she began talking about the "Arabs" and how dirty, mean, and dangerous they are.
The friend actually had a look of anger in her face as she recalled how much better the trip would be if it weren't for the "Arabs".
Then her countenance returned to normal as she concluded her thoughts and mentioned how great it is for the Jewish people and Christians to stick together.

Unfortunately this mindset among many evangelical Christians is common. Many have somehow twisted their theology enough to think that God approves of this level of racism in their faith. They somehow believe that since many Arabs are Muslim that they are all enemies of Christianity.

I wonder if these same people realize that in Israel alone, 80% of the Christians are Arab and less than one percent of the Christians are Israeli Jews? I also wonder if they believe the Bible in 1 John 3:15 that says, "anyone who hates his brother (fellow Christians... including Arabs) he is a murderer... vs 16 we should lay down our lives for our brothers... vs 18 we should not love with words and tongue but with actions and in truth".

As my wife and I talked we realized that we must be naive to think that followers of Jesus should be beyond this basic form of racism. We assumed that we were not alone in noticing that whatever the race, God wants to shower people with His love. If we are really followers of Jesus we must first of all realize how our theology affects fellow brothers and sisters in the faith (and seriously question any theology that causes hatred of these people). We must also realize that the world does change and will continue to change as people are touched with the love of God, not the hatred of man.

For all of our friends who are Arab-Christians, please accept our apologies... we are with you.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Idolatry

"If you idolize your denomination you must demonize the others. If you idolize cessationism you have to demonize charismatic theology. If you idolize reformed theology you have to demonize Arminian theology... Turning a good thing into a God thing is a bad thing." - Mark Discoll

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Baby Steps

This year has been a challenge for me on many levels;
We returned to the relatively tame world of life in Orange County after living in the relatively wild world of the Middle East.
I have worked 3 different jobs in hopes of paying the bills instead of relying on one steady paycheck.
I have spent the majority of my time interacting with people who are not-yet-Christians instead of spending the majority of my time working with people who basically believe the same as me.

All of this is perhaps just a season in life that sometimes feels like it will kill me and sometimes feels like this is the only thing that makes me feel alive. Some of the experiences from this year have reminded me of what it really means to be a follower of Jesus and it has made me think that all of us who serve as pastors should probably experience some of these things from time to time.

Some of the biggest lessons/ challenges have been:
1. Humility- Someone once said, "you can't lead if you can't serve". This year has been a great challenge in humility as I put on my green robe and serve my neighbors, friends, and uptight customers. I still feel tempted at times to explain to everyone why I am working in a job normally held for college students as I see the look in the eyes of others who feel superior to this lowly barista.
Jesus rolled up his sleeves and washed feet, I guess I can handle making lattes.

2. Compassion- A group of guys who meet every morning in my store told me, "Right here, every morning... this is our church. This is spirituality to us". As a pastor I miss these people because I spend so much time in "sacred" spaces. It is amazing to spend a good amount of time in this space so that I can listen, encourage, and pray for the people who have yet to experience the love of Jesus in their lives. To grow in my compassion for the majority of people who don't have a place to connect is an invaluable lesson.

3. Unity- I am a part of a small church that absolutely needs the encouragement and support of others. We borrow a building from an amazingly gracious local church, we received sound equipment from another church community, I help out another local church from time to time with teaching their youth, and several other pastors from a network of churches (Mosaic Alliance) encourage me and keep me going. The Church is so much bigger than us, we are just one of many and joining with others with no feelings of competition is the way Jesus wants us to be.

4. Desperation- I have the privilege almost every week with interacting with people who do not-yet-believe who need to hear that there is a God who loves them and who has been pursuing them. I've been able to listen to the stories of brokenness and pain from others and I have been able to enter in to their stories. The thing with all of this is that it is far beyond my capabilities. I have to cling to God and desperately depend on His leading and guidance. When we are pushed beyond what we think we can handle, we find ourselves right where we need to be.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day

I think Father's Day was invented by mothers.

On Mother's Day, the kids spend as much time as possible with the fathers.
On Father's Day, the kids spend as much time as possible with the fathers.

On Mother's Day, the fathers attempt to cook dinner for their family.
On Father's Day, the fathers BBQ dinner for the family.

On Mother's Day, fathers use their money to try to buy something nice for the mothers.
On Father's Day, mothers use the father's money to try to do something nice for the fathers.

All in all, it probably works out this way for a reason. The mom's usually do a much better and more thorough job parenting than us fathers do and they need these breaks.

For me, I was able to sleep in ( a nice start to the day), I got to play "beat-up monster" with the boys, I got a great card from Ian and a clay heart-shaped ashtray, I went bike riding with the boys while Sara got to stay home and rest (clean), I gave the dog a bath, I relaxed for a while while Ben napped, I cleaned the garage, I BBQ'd dinner, I had a raspberry pie that Sara and Ian made, and got a back rub to end the day.... I like Father's Day.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Radical Minimum Standards

What if everyone who said they followed Jesus lived by a radical minimum standard? Could we all think like this...

"I had entered the kingdom believing that every believer lived by a radical minimum standard and lived for the expansion of the kingdom of God. The standard was no extraordinary thing, just ordinary Christianity. To hear the voice of God, to be led by God's Spirit, to be God's witness among the nations, and to see God's power translate into the transformation of the human heart- this was our one calling" - E. McMannus in "The Unstoppable Force"

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Photos





It has been a while since I have updated any photos so here are some relatively recent photos of the kids.

Monday, June 01, 2009

6-1-09

What's wrong with the world?

It's already June 1st.

I must be getting old because I find myself saying things like, "time sure is going by fast this year". and "I Just don't know where this has gone".

We are now in the countdown for the final days of school so this time of year is actually really fun with kids. They are excited for summer and the chance to move on to the next grade. I remember what a big deal it was to achieve these milestones growing up. Now they are just reminders that the older we get the more life all just blends together.... Okay, enough sounding like this. Happy June 1st.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Money

This is me... venting.

We recently got news that if we refinance our home loans we will save about $300 per month! The problem is that we have never missed a payment, our credit scores are in the 800's, our loan to value ratio is 65-35 (which is great) but our income is too low this year to qualify for loans we already have. The banks told us that we could save a lot of money and even though we have 10 consecutive years of paying our home loans on time, we can't be trusted. We were also told that if we default on our loans we would be able to refinance for a much lower rate immediately.
In other words, because we can be trusted to make our payments, they cannot trust that we will make our payments at a lower rate.
If we prove that we can't be trusted at our current rate, they will trust us with a lower rate.

We also got news this week that several companies we deal with announced 20% rate increases. This is primarily because too many people are not paying their bills. So, those of us who sacrifice and do all we can to stay on top of all the changes are asked to pay more.

Now do you see why God wanted a year of Jubilee every 50 years? Everything resets so that greedy bastards do not get rewarded too much and so that people who work hard but have to make tough decisions to support their family don't get pushed down too low. Of course this only works in a society that all believe in this system and who do not take advantage of its weaknesses... in other words, it would never work in America.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Reading Update

Many of you in my blog world tend to read a lot and often ask what I have been reading lately. So this time, without request I bring you my most recent reading log.
Before I give it to you I must let you know that I made a commitment to not read my usual 7 books at a time so I decided I would complete all of the books I was going through and then begin the process of reading one book at a time.... This did not last more than a week but I did have good intentions. As long as I am completing at least one book every week or two I am okay with this system.

Recently completed:
Total Church by Chester and Timnis
The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute
The Six Day War: Shaping of the Middle East by Oren
The God Theory by "I Forgot the author"
Excavating Jesus by Crossman and Reed
The Russia House by Le Carre

Currently Reading:
House of Leaves
An Experiment in Criticism by CS Lewis
6 Prayer God Answers by ??
Unstoppable Force by Erwin Mcmannus
In the Rose Garden of Martyrs by ??
At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends by Dwight Eisenhower
A Brief History of Everything by Bryson
The Bible

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Love Muffins

My wife recently posted an entry on her blog which made me laugh even though it was steeped in language and allusions meant for a female audience.
At one point she discusses the trials of removing "muffin tops" which, to a male, was a sentence lost in translation. She later informed me that "muffin tops" are the female word for "love handles".
What a great example of the power of perspective. To most women, the excess weight that forms around the waist (and then apparently spills over the pants forming a "muffin top") is seen as a blight worthy of only a pedestrian description that is best when completely eliminated. To men, this excess weight bears the inspiring title of "love handles".
The difference between the two is vast. On one hand we have a title that is descriptive but ambiguous to the outsiders (men), and on the other we have a title that transcends description and that even becomes on object of affection. For men, we tend to have a more fatalistic approach to our bodies and appearances and, perhaps as a defense mechanism, we try to make our imperfections into strengths.
Consider the fact that somehow we have convinced the world that "bald is beautiful" and that fat bellies are just "beer bellies" that can be heralded as badges of honor and pride. Our wrinkles are signs of wisdom, our gray hair is sophisticated and sexy, our fat around the waist are "love handles", and our dysfunctional limbs are acceptable deficiencies coming as a result of "old sports injuries".
Perhaps this is another injustice as it relates to the view of men and women but it is more likely a result of the differences between genders. Women are kind enough to care what men think so they try to look their best. Men care, but are lazy enough (or wise enough) to change that which we want to change and embrace the things we don't want to change. Therefore, our "muffin tops" are "love handles" that are meant to be clutched by those we love and the hair growing on our backs is so that our beloved women can run their fingers through our hair that no longer grows on our heads.
So where does this leave us? Do we want women to take on this same approach as men and they can start calling their muffin tops, "love muffins". Perhaps they can convince us that gray is beautiful, hairy legs aren't so bad, and sagging body parts are to be revered. The truth is that, as men, we could be convinced that those things are okay but something tells me that women could never quite get on board with this ideology.

Friday, April 17, 2009

For Reinhold

This video is for my friend who lives and works in Sarajevo. This video has nothing to do with him (except that he is German), but I thought it would be a good segue to simply thank him for what he does.

On my first of many trips to Bosnia after the war I was driving through Sarajevo with Reinhold when all of the sudden he turned to me and said, "Where I am?" Meaning "I'm (we are) lost". It is now a phrase I often use when I am not sure "where I am".

He is an amazing person who has given up much of his life to serve the Roma people in Bosnia.
He is a picture of Jesus... but this video is not.

Click Here for your viewing pleasure

Sunday, April 12, 2009

He is Risen

Last year we celebrated Easter Morning with our friends in Jerusalem Israel and as we sang about Jesus I couldn't help but to think what that city would have been like nearly 2000 years ago when they found His tomb empty. For some it must have brought shear terror, for some confusion, and for many it brought hope and then joy. For each response there is a story behind it. Some thought they could use their power to suppress the message of Jesus. Some thought their hate would motivate others to steer clear of this Messiah. Still others liked the teaching but loved their life too much to live it for others.
Whatever the stories were and whatever they are today, this is a day that reminds us that things like hate, oppression, power-wielding, deceitfulness, and bitterness do not win.
Love wins. It won on that day and it wins today!. I think the first verse of this song are appropriate for today.

The greatest day in history,
Death is beaten, you have rescued me,
Sing it out, Jesus is alive!
The empty cross, the empty grave,
Life eternal, you have won the day,
Shout it out, Jesus is alive!
He's alive!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ghosts (Angels) from the Past

This past week I had the privilege of officiating a wedding for two people from my church. At this event were many people from the church that I worked at before moving to Israel, most of whom I have not seen since returning to California last Fall. At one point during the reception, I was able to sit and talk with about 10 of the students from this church and just catch up with their lives and to joke around like old times.
It felt so natural to be with them and in some ways it felt as if we were never apart. I still love the people from that church and was completely blessed to reconnect with parents and students that I spent so many years walking with through all cycles of life. I am thankful for that brief moment to remember the great years I had in that church and to see all of those amazing students growing older and hopefully wiser. Small reminders of why we do what we do are always a blessing.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Trendy Faith?

I was surprised to learn that Time Magazine and ABC News both noticed a trend that my wife and I have been pondering lately. Last week, both major news sources dealt with the surprising increase of Christians who are adopting Calvanism (or Neo-Calvanism) as their theological position. One source went as far as to say that this is one of the top trends that will influence thinking in the years to come.
I have seen many friends become more and more convinced of this "reformed" theology but to this point I have not found the need to join in. I am happy to see people taking matters of the faith seriously and I love that many young people want to have a firm grip on their beliefs but I believe history proves that those who come to some opposite conclusions in regards to some "reformed" positions are just as passionate and in love with Christ.
Rather than sharing all of my thoughts, I will direct you HERE for a great post in regards to this issue with equally valuable follow up comments.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Lenting"

This year our church community is taking the Lent challenge to identify in the sufferings of Jesus as well as to have a tangible reminder to pray for each other and our community.

In addition to my usual giving up of hard liquor, tobacco, and "Gossip Girls" re-runs, I am abstaining from Mochas and Soda (pop for those of you outside of California). I did a similar fast in years past but I must confess that this year I did not add beer to my Lent list (Lord, increase my faith).

It has been fun for me to hear from others in our church community who are participating in this ancient fast and the experiences they are having. I think many who are from evangelical Christian backgrounds have never been given this challenge so it is encouraging to see them joining in so whole-hearted. Even with their ambitious spirit I have noticed that each one ends his/her Lent stories with, "I can't wait for this to be over".

Perhaps the most entertaining of all is from the kids who are a part of our church. They too have been given this challenge and they have created a new word called, "Lenting". For example, the other day one of my boys said he was "lenting" google earth and one other informed us that he was "lenting" school. He thought that was a worthy sacrifice for his LORD so I kind of feel bad that I am not supporting his passion. Now if I could just get them to "lent" fighting or waking up before 7AM, then we would be on to something.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

All Glory to God?

One of my favorite verses in all of the Bible is, "not to us, not to us, but to Your name be the Glory because of Your great love". I love this verse because it really emphasizes a desire for the attention to be removed from the individual and it places the attention on God. Many Christians appreciate this type of thinking and attitude but I have found that those same Christians (Myself included at times) criticize other Christians and churches for not "giving glory to God". As I recently pondered the statement, "We give all glory to God", I had to back off of any criticisms of others Christians or churches because I found it difficult to find a good measure for what it looks like to give glory to God.

Biblically speaking, giving glory to God is living out His character in this life... (Reflecting His image). This means anytime we do the things God calls us to do or follow the example Jesus left for us, we give glory to God. Reaching the lost, loving the orphans and widows, caring for the poor, and giving grace to the privileged are all qualities that Jesus demonstrated in his life. It stands to reason that when churches do these things, they are giving glory to God even if they don't express it in words.

I know people like Joel Olsteen, Rick Warren, Robert Shuller, and Mother Theressa get criticized for being "all about themselves" (okay maybe not Mother Theressa but I wanted to make sure you were paying attention). I find it difficult to believe that any of these people would actually say that they are doing the things they do for themselves. In fact, I am sure that each of them would say they believe all they do is for the kingdom of God. Since they all have seen hundreds of lives changed for the better because of their teachings, their prayers, and their service, how could we ever say that they are not giving all glory to God?

This is just a thought. I would love to hear any ideas on this matter.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why the GOP is Dying

I recently read one of those amazing emails that floats around the Internet and makes it from computer to computer.
You know... the ones that are actually written by people like Rush Limbaugh but are signed by an untraceable 8th grader who speaks as the voice of reason with uncanny intelligence and maturity for his age. Yes, I mean a email that's title begins with Fwd:...

So this one proposes that the conservatives and liberals in our country divvy up the land, the people, the possessions, and the ideals of our country. The conservative can have the things they like best and the liberals can have their things. I understand that the point of this email is to vent in such a way that the "conservatives" can feel better about the current state of our country more than to make a consistently logical argument in favor of these proposals, but I must use this opportunity to share some of my problems with the email.

The email portions are italicized:

"Dear American liberals, leftists, social progressives, socialists, Marxists and Obama supporters, et al:
We'll keep the capitalism, greedy corporations, pharmaceutical companies, Wal-Mart and Wall Street. You can have your beloved homeless, homeboys, hippies and illegal aliens. We'll keep the hot Alaskan hockey moms, greedy CEO's and rednecks. We'll keep the Bibles and give you NBC and Hollywood .

I have no problem with someone saying they like these things and they want them, but I wonder what the Bible has to do with this? This email implies that those who love greedy CEO's etc. are ones who love the Bible and ones who love the homeless, the hippies, etc. are ones with no Biblical, and might I assume, moral grounds for these beliefs.
It seems to me that this view should be exactly opposite. The Bible speaks against greed more than it speaks against murder. The Bible commands that we not only tolerate, but actually care for the homeless, the (illegal) aliens, and the "unlovable" (which I am substituting for 'hippies' because that is who fits here). In fact, more attention is placed on the moral command to love and care for the poor in the Bible than any other people group. The notion that those with wealth should care for those without wealth is not a Liberal viewpoint, it is God's viewpoint.

You can make nice with Iran and Palestine and we'll retain the right to invade and hammer places that threaten us. You can have the peaceniks and war protesters. When our allies or our way of life are under assault, we'll help provide them security.
We'll keep our Judeo-Christian values.. You are welcome to Islam, Scientology, Humanism and Shirley McClain. You can also have the U.N.. but we will no longer be paying the bill.

I actually don't have a problem with the idea of defending our nation and allies and appreciate the right to use force when necessary. I don't agree with lumping all of Palestine and Iran into this mix but that is far too complex for me to explain here. Allow me to simply say, that I think Jesus is much more of a pacifist than I am and he would dispute this point more than I would. My biggest problem with this paragraph is that again, this writer seems to lack any real Judeo-Christian values that are actually found in the Bible, but rather values that are found on Fox News.
We'll keep the SUVs, pickup trucks and oversized luxury cars. You can take every Subaru station wagon you can find.
I think this line implies that the environment is not important. I have no qualms with big cars or with wisely using the resources we have (I drive the largest vehicle found on the road), but "Judeo-Christian Values" that do not respect God's creation are no values at all. Biblically speaking, we are given the privilege of "ruling" the earth, but with that privilege comes the responsibility to treat it well. God made this great creation and I cannot envision any logically thinking Christian actually believing that God does not care how poorly we treat His creation.
I have a great little vegetable garden in my backyard. If I give it to someone to use any way they like and they completely destroy because I told them they are in charge, I will be pissed off that they were so disrespectful to this thing that I carefully created.
You can give everyone healthcare if you can find any practicing doctors. We'll continue to believe healthcare is a luxury and not a right.
I too believe that healthcare is a luxury and not a right. But I also believe that Jesus said how you treat one another will be the test of whether you truly are a Christian. If Christians do not want the government to provide healthcare to those that can not afford it, then they better start providing it through their own means. THIS IS THE WAY OF JESUS. Christian doctors should volunteer services or lower their costs to the poor and wealthy Christian businessmen should set up funds to pay doctor bills for those who cannot do it on their own. Biblically speaking, the government doesn't care for the poor, because it expects the followers of God to do it.
Finally, We'll practice trickle down economics and you can give trickle up poverty your best shot. Since it often so offends you, we'll keep our history, our name and our flag. Actually, the Bible that this writer wants to keep issues a decree that the entire Nation of Israel forgives all debts and returns all land to original owners every 50 years. This was done to ensure economic equality so that the divide between the rich and the poor does not progressively widen.
.... And about keeping your history, your name and your flag... The history of this country is a beautiful history of brave people looking for better lives. It is a history of immigrants (can you believe it) who wanted a brighter future for their kids. It is a history of people seeking religious freedom (like the hundred's of Persian Christians from Iran who live in my town). It is a history of people who had nothing in common except for the desire to see a better day so they fought and died side by side. It is the history of a country that once justified slave trading by using verses from the Bible until people really began taking the Bible to heart and then they bravely changed course. It is also the history of a country who sacrificed hundreds of thousands blacks, whites, hispanics, asians, liberals, and conservatives to protect other countries from invading forces and that found a way to stand together in the face of difficult times. It has leaders who sacrificed the comforts available to them to brave the cold and snow with the less fortunate as a sign of camaraderie (George Washington).
The name of the country is "United States of America". If you want to keep the name, you must remain united. Being united does not imply that you agree, it simply means that come hell or high water, we are the USA. We will face tough times, we will have to dig a bit deeper to pull one another up, we will sacrifice some of our comfort to remain united and move ahead. But in the end the world will watch and they will follow.
-I didn't realize I would stand on that soap box so long.- I appreciate the views of this writer but I do not appreciate the fallacies in his reasoning. This is why the GOP has lost its grip on this country. They use tired arguments that are filled with passion but no punch. Their ideas are not all bad, and the ideas (ideals) of the other side are certainly not all good but a new line of reasoning must emerge if the Grand Old Party wants to avoid being the Grand Dead Party.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why am I the only one laughing?

Being a barista is much like being a bar-tender. We get to interact with hundreds of people each day as they rely on us to feed their addictions. Because this task can get a bit monotynous, I try to vary my conversations and comments with everyone and I see my job as a mix between being a source of encouragement and joy for people and, of course, as being a source of pure comedic bliss.
Because I tend to have a dry sense of humor I often find myself as the only one laughing... which is fine as long as I am still laughing.

So this week I bring you some of my own favorite jokes from this week that only drew blank stares from the coffee junkies.

Scenario: (A public bus driver comes in and asks to exchange a dollar bill for 4 quarters).
Me: "Do you need quarters for bus money?"
Bus Driver: Says nothing while staring blankly, then he walks away.

Scenario: (Uptight woman comes in and orders a coffee and asks if it is fresh).
Me: "It was fresh last night when we brewed it but it is still hot so it should be fine".
Uptight Woman: Says nothing while staring blankly. She then walks away with her FRESH coffee.

Scenario: (Woman asks why she should register her Starbucks card online).
Me: Because it activates the card's GPS and we will know when you go into competing coffee shops.
Woman: "I don't go into other shops".
Me: Good.

Scenario: (Woman comes in and asks if the Berry-Chai Infusion is good).
Me: "It is if you like the flavor of toothpaste after drinking grapefruit juice"
Woman: "I don't think I have ever done that"
Me: "Then you should have a White Mocha".

Scenario: (A Regular comes in after a long absence from our store and confesses that she has been going to other coffee shops).
Regular: " I'm sorry, I feel like I have been cheating on you guys."
Me: " As long as the stores were in a different area code it doesn't count."
Regular: Stares blankly then says, "Don't worry, it won't happen again".
Me: "That's what they all say."

Scenario: (A guest with a thick Italian accent comes in who says he was one of our first customers in our store 15 years ago).
Me: "We know, we still have your picture hanging above the toilet".
Italian Man: Laughs boisterously.
Me: "I love Italians".

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Renewed Discipleship

It has been too long since I posted a real post so I thought I would end my day (that began at 4AM this morning) with some coffee, a little reading, and some overdue writing. (Please beware the no forethought is going into this writing, it is simply random musings for the sake of updating my reader).

My family has now been back in America for over 6 months and we have been moving ahead with our new church community in Orange County since September. I work at a local Starbucks because they offer great benefits for the family and because I think it is a great way to live out the ways of Jesus around people who may not normally encounter these ways. In addition to my 30 hours working for "the man", I am temporarily helping out a friend in his church a few times per month (he helps me by paying me a little, and I offer him teaching for their youth). On top of all of this, my wife and I are walking with a few dozen people in trying to create a new type of local church in Orange County that focuses on going and being Jesus to the world, instead of asking the "world" to come and see Jesus in our "Sacred" spaces.

Even with all of these jobs, I have never felt so relaxed and on track in ministry than I am now. There are many things I wish could be done but I know that this is the season God has us in and my job is to trust that He has things under control. Part of our new expression is to place the focus more on living journeying together throughout the week in ways that brings the light of Jesus to the world so the need for hours of programming is not needed. A good dinner party filled with good food and good wine and with some church friends and some non-church friends is the extent of our programming (other than weekly teaching).

In fact this year, my wife and I have realized how working in the "traditional" church has ironically kept us away from the very people we should be reaching. Now that our social lives are not overbooked with Bible Studies, small groups, women's & Men's ministry events, and children's activities, we actually have the time and energy to spend time with the families at our kids' school and our neighbors who we see almost everyday. As a Barista, I encourage and pray for dozens of people who are not Christians but who are willing to share their struggles with me as I make their drink each morning. We have been able to bring food to Non-Christian friends recovering from illnesses, pray with non-Christians struggling in their marriages, serve co-workers who openly reject the existence of God, share meals with people of other faiths who are open to our hospitality, and help not-yet-believing neighbors to see how God's story is intersecting in theirs.

I am finding that for me, "Making disciples of all nations" is now more than helping people follow Jesus after they take the first step of coming to church. For me it is what I should have been doing all along, and that is to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world so that they can see their need for a relationship with the Risen Savior. (Isn't it the kindness of God that leads us to repentance anyway ? Romans 2:4) Then it is to help them make the ways of Jesus a reality in their own lives. Again, it is not that I ever worked in a church that is against real discipleship, it is just that we can get so caught up in programming discipleship that we never actually make it into a real life thing.

I am grateful for the people who have decided to join us in our new church with a renewed emphasis on outward living and true disciple making. We are a slowly growing, diverse, personal, and fun but serious group of people who are already making positive changes in our communities. We are already hearing the very beginning of some great stories about God's work in people's lives so I hope that in the weeks to come (If I am diligent in writing) I can relate some stories of these encounters.

As I said, this is an unplanned, random sampling of some thoughts. Thanks for checking in.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Confession of a Blog-Slacker

One thing about blogs is that if they are not regularly updated then people will quit checking in on them and they drop off the radar as a blog worth reading (assuming it ever was worth reading). This reality looms over me as I feel the pressure to write something and post it regularly so that my reader does not forget about me (as if a mother could forget about her son).

But the reality is that I am currently working three jobs while still trying to be available for my wife and kids and therefore finding time to write something meaningful is at times impossible. I am thankful that I even have work so that my family eats and even pays our mortgage so for this I will never complain, but some weeks this blog will lie dormant.

I just urge my reader to remain patient, check in from time to time, and when this season passes (in the next 10-20 years), then I may have time to write more frequently with thoughts worth pondering, discussing, arguing about, etc.

Thank You and Shalom.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Questions for the New Year

In leu of making resolutions this year, I pose a few questions that I would like answered for the year...

1) How is it that I am strong enough to carry my 18 month old son in my arms but I am not strong enough to hold him down to change his diaper?

2) How can wearing socks often be the difference between my being warm or cold?

3) Why can I play basketball for 3 hours straight but if I go for a run I am ready to die after 2 minutes?

4) Why are 4 year olds so smart and inquizative and teenagers the opposite?

5) Why do dogs and kids listen so well unless they don't feel like it?

6) When the price of a barrel of oil doubles, why does the price of gas at the pump quadruple? When the price of a barrel of oil drops 70%, why does the price of gas at the pump go down 30%?

7) Is the sound of angels singing in heaven as good as the belly-laugh of a toddler?

8) How can beer and coffee taste so good when the first time you try them they taste so bad?

9) When did it become unsafe to put 6 kids in the backseat of a car without seat belts or unsafe to ride in the back of a pickup truck?

10) How is it that I was raised without computers, internet, cell phones, starbucks, and Chipotle burritos but I am not sure life would go on today without them?