Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween and Jesus

Approved Christian Costume
Halloween is one of those events that generates discord among Christian parents and churches. Some advocate total abstinence from any hint of this celebration, some compromise and attend church "harvest" festivals and dress their kids as cute little puppies and Bible characters, and others dive right in with the rest of the community. 

Before I say another word I will "show my hand" and let you know that I am in the third category. We carve pumpkins that sometimes look ridiculous and that sometimes look scary. Our boys go "trick or treating" and I steal all the Butterfingers and Peanut Butter Cups from their loot. Past costumes include pirates, zombies, The Headless Horsemen, Egyptian gods. cute little puppies, dragons, magicians, and Jedi Knights. In preparation we watch movies like Spiderwick Chronicles, Aliens in the Attic, and of course It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. 

Costume of Crazy Bible Guy
Halloween is one of those activities that most people in America celebrate and I think it would be a shame if every Christian hid inside our doors on this night. It reminds me of the time Jesus took his young disciples to Ceasarea Philippi where it was known that people sacrificed to the god Pan and to Caesar. At this place where true evil was taking place, Jesus told his disciples that "on this Rock I will build my church". Jesus declared that the collective gathering of Christians would grow in the very places where people were desperate for hope and prosperity and where they turned to false gods for comfort. Jesus knew He would triumph over evil so instead of being seclusive, He was present. 

Another great moment in Scripture we see Jesus show up at the Pools of Bethesda. These were medicinal pools outside of Jerusalem. These pools became known as a place where the god of healing, Asclepion, was worshipped. Jesus went to this place where no Rabbi would dare be found and he offered healing to someone who was suffering for many years. If Jesus was afraid of being in a place where false gods were worshipped, this man's suffering would have continued. Instead of being exclusive, Jesus was present. 

Life-size costume of Moses.
The 10 Commandments are included!
I'm not trying to convince you to change your convictions, buy a demon costume, and play with a Ougi Board in the name of Christ. I simply want to remind you that Jesus came into a world full of people who are broken and hurting and He met them where they were. He was accused of being a drunkard and glutton and some attempted to insult him by calling him, "a friend of sinners". 

If your faith causes you to abstain from all things Halloween, by all means follow your convictions. But be okay with those of us who join in with our culture on a pretty fun night. Be happy that there are many of us who love Jesus, love dressing up in ridiculous costumes, and who love hanging out with our neighbors. (Even the neighbors who dress like Satan and try to scare the hell out of little children). Also remember that Jesus will build his church even in the most broken and desperate places on earth... and the gates of hell will not prevail. 

Happy Halloween! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Site

I am now posting at a new site here:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Day Two: The Little Things

Day two. 
In Texas where everything is big, you have to look for the little things to make your day. When you start off in Amarillo and know you and your three boys will drive 520 miles across parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri you try to savor every positive moment. With this in mind I was delighted to find the complimentary breakfast at our 1 star hotel included a waffle maker that made Texas-shaped waffles (positive moment number one). If that is not a sign of God's favor upon us, I don't know what is. 

With our bellies filled with Texas smothered in syrup we loaded up the RV and were on our way. Today is a travel day so we settled in for the road ahead. 

Another delightful surprise was found in the town of Shamrock, TX. I was attracted by the "Historic Route 66" signs and the shameless "As seen in the movies" signs calling all travelers to drop in. (If you want to properly travel across the country shameless tourists traps should always peak your interest.)

We discovered the one building in Shamrock that was built in 1936 and was used as a model for the movie, "Cars" (positive moment number two). Sadly, nowhere in town sold bumper stickers or magnets of Texas and Route 66 so our time in Texas ended slightly incomplete but luckily, Oklahoma awaited our arrival.

The highlight of Oklahoma was a stop in front of the state sign (positive moment number three). The boys climbed on the sign, the tree beside the sign, and they caught grasshoppers before getting back into the RV. Nothing else happened in the entire state of Oklahoma. Because our goal was to cover ground I will try to not pass judgement on the entire state for the lack of interesting stops along the way. (On a practical note, there are no easy stops for gas or food on Interstate 44 from Tulsa to the Missouri border. Seriously, there are none.) 

We crossed the border into Missouri (and took our photo), then took the first exit and drove a half mile into the state of Kansas so we could say we've been there... because we could (positive moment number four). Back into Missouri and we were in our campsite within thirty minutes. I booked our spot at this RV park a week earlier by sending one email and no deposit and received the response, "Gotcha down" from a guy named Rick.

 We arrived at our site, jumped in the pool, and met Rick (positive moment number five). 

Five solid positive moments on a day that included driving over 500 miles through cowboy country is a great day in my book. I am grateful for my great family and the opportunity to take adventures such as this. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Day One: The West

The first thirty six hours of road trip fun is all about getting out of the West. In the West the states are wider, the mountains are taller, and the scenery is mostly dry and bare.. That  means driving an RV though the often arid and barren lands takes longer. 

I'm not complaining, I really like driving hundreds of miles through Arizonan and Californian deserts while staring at Yucca plants and rocks but who wouldn't love doing that?

In my travels I have learned it is best to travel through the most barren and ugly pieces of land when the sun is down (sleeping kids make driving through deserts much more enjoyable) therefore Day One of our trip entailed leaving San Diego at 8PM.

The kids did what I hoped and mostly slept through the night (I had to wake up the older boys to get the obligatory photo in front of the Arizona state sign). By the time they woke up and were ready for the day we were in the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, Arizona. Painted desert is aptly named but the "petrified forest" should perhaps go by, "Sporadically Placed Pieces of Petrified Trees in the Desert National Park". I'm sure the name was considered but signage proved too costly. 

God blessed us with a little rain and no heat so we were able to hike a few miles and actually enjoy the park before any other tourists showed up. The blue, purple, greenish, red, and brown rocks and sand are pretty cool and almost worth the 10 hour drive. The two younger boys completed their Junior Ranger guide and received badges for the park (apparently my oldest is now too old for that). 

We were told not to take anything from the park so when I bumped into a Ranger I tried not to look too awkward while talking and slowly and inconspicuously releasing handfuls of purple sand from my pockets. That distraction proved worthwhile while the boys loaded a 100 pound petrified tree limb into the RV. (It didn't happen quite like that but the youngest did leave with pockets full of rocks. Judging from the view while driving the last 10 hours, the desert will survive with slightly fewer stones.)

The rest of the day entailed driving through New Mexico and served to confirm my two previous experiences in this state; 1. This state contains beautiful scenery and picturesque views and, 2.Albaquerque basically sucks for people under 25 years old.  

By nightfall we checked into a roadside motel in Amarillo and despite providing all pertinent information prior to check in, the young man at reception graciously introduced us to Texan speed and efficiency.

while he took twenty minutes re-entering our information into their system. 

1161 miles and 24 hours into the trip and all is well. We are thankful for good beginnings.... And for getting out of the West. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Because We Can

"Why would you do that" is the response I get the most often when I say I am driving across the country with my three boys. "How often did you sustain a head injury as a child?" Is the second most common response.

This idea doesn't really sound that bad does it? My boys and I are driving from San Diego to Maine and back in a twenty foot RV and watching Major League Baseball games during the hottest time of year. What could possibly go wrong with that?

The truth is I know this trip might be a little insane and some days will go on forever but some experiences have the potential to be amazing.  That is really the point... The potential to be amazing. Creating memories with my boys (memories that will surely get better as time goes on) is a unique opportunity that only happens when we just go for it.

So for the next three weeks we will enjoy all this country has to offer and try something unique simply because we can. See you on the road.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Benefit of Pain

Tomorrow I am speaking about the benefits of pain and I remembered this great post from my wife that relates well to my thoughts. One of the main points I will discuss is the fact that pain and trials in life bring things into focus. I think the following reflections from my wife during our last days living in Jerusalem are worth a re-post so here you are:

A Walk To Remember

Today Ryan got home in the late afternoon and did a "boy's night" and let me loose to walk the city of Jerusalem one last time. I grabbed my ipod and my purse (hey you never know) and headed out to retrace a route that has become as familiar to me as hometown would be. I walked out of our apartment, down the steps and onto Gidon. I crossed over the train tracks and turned on Emek Refaim. Emek is a chic shopping street in the high end "German Colony" of Jerusalem. It is fun to people watch here- especially on the eve of Shabbat when everyone is racing to pick up their last minute challah from the bakery, good wine from the wine shop, and fresh bouquets for the table. Tonight the cafes were full of patrons eating kosher salads and drinking cappucinos and turkish coffee. Plenty of window shoppers walked the pavement and at this time, the breeze was still warm. I walked down to where Emek meets Derek Bet Lehem and King David Street and turned up King David. I did a quick detour into the (this is original) King David Hotel just to say that I had been inside the building where most US presidents and many world dignitaries have resided over the years. Then I turned down towards the old city - down a hill, then up again. Through a little concrete valley made up of fountains and steps, which ultimately leads to the base of the Jaffa gate entrance to the Old City.

Because it was "Sara night," instead of going through the gate at my right, I headed left, into the newly constructed, modern (and very Irvine Spectrum, California-like) outdoor mall. I gleefully walked from store to store thrilled to be sans children. As I exited the mall, up a steep staircase, I saw the Jaffa gate ahead of me and made a conscious decision not to head into the city tonight. We had been to the city as a family two days prior to say our goodbyes to the vendors we have befriended, and to say our goodbyes to the sights and smells that we have truly grown to love. I turned to walk away and was a little surprised to feel (gasp!) not a tear, but rather a pang. That little ache in my heart caught me off guard. At this point I also realized a song by David Crowder had come into my ear through my ipod earphones. The words "Take my heart, I lay it down At the feet of You who's crowned" are playing while I start to have a little panic attack. We are actually leaving! I cant go for a run and end up at the rock of Golgotha anymore.... I walk towards a cross walk and the "walking green man" immediately replaces the red one signaling me to walk and I think... but I want to stop! I dont know if I am ready to say goodbye... Meanwhile David is singing "Take my life Letting go I lift it up to You who's throned..."

I walk through my favorite park and at this point the sun is beginning to drop low in the sky. The golden hue of the evening sun is gathering in little pools of light under the olive trees. I start to walk up the stairs again, past the fountain, up towards my "thinking spot" under the bouganvilla, and I turn back to glance again at the old city. There is still so much we haven't done in Israel, I think. Ryan and I never came to this park just the two of us, to watch the sun set over Mt. Zion and the road to the Mt. of Olives. We could still get one more meal of our favorite arab salads and grilled meats. We could still spend more time in the West Bank with the orphans there, or in the refugee camps. I wont be getting good Israeli coffee with my favorite Jewish friend again to discuss theology and matters of the heart.
"Take my fret, take my fear All I have I'm leaving here Be all my hopes, be all my dreams You're my delights Be my everything (I have also during this walk put David Crowder on repeat mode...I figure the song is the perfect way to just swim in my emotional outpouring)."

David faithfully (he cannot say no to the ipod repeat button) croons out to God "And I will worship You, Lord Only You, Lord And I will, I will bow down before You Only You, Lord." And I actually laugh. Not because I think that worship of God is funny, but because I realize that God has done a funny thing in me this year. You see, there is this movie that I love called "A walk to Remember" about a pastors daughter and a "bad boy rebel cool kid." In the movie you figure the two will get together, but you think that eventually the girl will start to at least dress a little cuter or start acting a little "cooler" but she never does. The "cool kid" does fall in love with her and it is because he is changed by her inward qualities and I believe God in her.

Jerusalem has most definitely not changed this year but somehow Ihave. I have genuinely come to love Israel, and not because of its outward appeal. I love Israel because GOD HAS BEEN HERE with us this the same way that He was with us in California, the same way that He will be with us wherever we are. I have cried out to God many times on the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem and He has answered me and embraced me. Despite the constant struggles (which I might add I have not been shy to blog about), God has faithfully, and lovingly kept my head up - even if barely enough...

I walk past the lion fountain and praise God for this year. I genuinely (yes, genuinely!) thank Him for our time here. I am excited because I know that He will be with us even next year as we enter into newer (and I think scarier) ventures in life. I can be moved to tears by the living, pulsing heart of God in Jerusalem. It's okay because it beats in California as well. And all the world! And my heart skips a beat as I walk through a crowd of some out of town, camera toting tourists, elegantly dressed muslim women with their children, a young Jewish couple with heads bent towards one another, and I hear David singing in my ear a love song to God, that I too am singing at this point "And it's just You and me here now -Only You and me here now- You should see the view When it's only You."

Friday, July 05, 2013

Class Reunion Rules

Last weekend I attended my 20 year class reunion (apparently I am older than I thought). Throughout the weekend I wrestled with the decision whether to enter into conversations with long lost, or as was often the case, never found friendships from the teenage years. Each decision was really a judgment of the potential value the small talk will ultimately have in my life.  (There is nothing like a class reunion to illuminate one's latent egocentrism).  

I am certainly not opposed to reigniting old friendships or even in discovering new ones, but in my profession words are important so I am less apt to waste them on equally uninterested ears.

Even with my ongoing internal debate, I was able to observe some unspoken norms for reunion weekends and come up with some official rules to help guide you as you navigate your future celebrations.

#1- Be polite and say, "hello" to everyone but set a time limit on small talk. I was tempted to avoid all conversations with people I never connected with twenty years ago but I am a firm believer in the idea that says, "I have not met all my friends yet" so I was open to finding new connections as if I met each person for the first time.

The key to this is to know when to end the conversation. This is nothing personal but if after thirty seconds you realize you will not speak with this person until the next ten year reunion, you need to begin looking for a way out of the conversation. Try not to say, "Let's be honest, we are wasting each other's time because I really don't want to see a picture of your kids and I'm not even going to pull my phone out to show you pictures of mine so let's just move on". Try something more tactful like, "Excuse me for a minute, I need to check on something... anything".

I can honestly say I was encouraged to re-connect with some lost friendships and even establish some new ones and I only had to enact rule #1 a handful of times.

#2- Don't hold classmates to yearbook promises. As tempting as it might be, don't bring up your bitterness that the popular girl wrote, "Keep in touch" or "We should hang out this summer" but never followed through. People say many things when intoxicated with graduation nostalgia so you have to forgive and forget.

#3- Remember that high school was 20 years ago. At these spectacles it is inevitable that each person will reform the old cliques and even revert to high school behavior. When you are pushing forty years old it is a little more difficult to get wasted, say stupid things, and wake up the next day regret free. For those likely to revert, put $10 cash in your pocket and keep the credit cards at home so you limit your alcohol intake. If eighteen year olds who are wasted looked stupid in high school you should see what it looks like when you are wasted at age thirty eight.

#4- Tell the real story. Let's be honest, most of the people attending reunions feel pretty good about where they are in life but the truth is, twenty years after high school it turns out the popular kids, nerds, athletes, and over-achievers all end up... normal. Most of us have normal lives with spouses, kids, jobs, and bills. Some have traveled more, made more money, or had more spouses but we are mostly on a level playing field. Feel free to say, "my life is pretty normal", "I am pretty happy", or even "I am hoping for some better things ahead". There is no sense in impressing people you haven't seen in ten years and that you will likely not see for ten more.

Most people debate whether to attend reunions at all and with the invention of social media perhaps the need for these gatherings is waning but I say, "Go and have fun". Just as we should have learned in high school be yourself, be open to new friendships, and realize we are all basically in the same place we were twenty years ago when we wondered what the next twenty years will bring.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How to Make a Kid's (or a Father's) Day

Two Major League Baseball players rose high in my personal rankings last week when my son and I attended the Padres vs. Nationals game. Like many times before, we arrived early in hopes of catching a ball during batting practice and possibly even getting an autograph or two.

As the players from both teams headed off the practice field and into their clubhouses to prepare for the game, two Washington National pitchers (Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzales) stopped by a young boy who was calling their names and requesting a signature. My 10 year old son quickly joined him and was able to get autographs from these two popular players.

Each time a major league player signs an autograph for a kid he is doing something more than offerring him a valueable collectible. This simple act of taking time to acknowledge that kid and his request is creating an inspired moment for the young fan. It sounds cliche' but one look into my son's eyes after receiving the signature says it all. These players validated my boy's respect for them as people and it gave him a sense of importance to have these "big names" stop and look him in the eyes.

Players who take the time to sign a few autopgraphs and pose for pictures demonstrates their understanding of the responsibility that comes from being a star. These guys play a game for work and in doing so have the eyes of thousands of young people on them everyday. Their job teaches kids about working hard and having fun. It says, "dreams can come true" and, "don't forget to appreciate life as it passes by".

Taking a moment to make a kid's day says, "I remember being young and dreaming of making it big. I remember having heros and how much I looked up to them. I do not take this privilege lightly."

So thank you Strasburg and Gonzales. Your act of kindness last week created a new fan... actually two new fans if you count my son.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Coming Out As a Bigot?

When ESPN analyst and reporter Chris Broussard was asked about his opinion regarding Jason Collins' admission that he is gay and he is a Christian, Broussard came out of his own closet.

He didn't come out as a gay man, he came out as a sports journalist who has developed opinions about the Bible and Christian living. I always knew him as an insightful analyst who often proved too accurate when he predicted the quick demise of the Los Angeles Lakers this play-off season. Most of the sports community also knew him this way... until he ventured into new territory.

When asked about Collins, Broussard said he found it hard to believe a committed Christian could actively engage in living in a way contradictory to the Bible. He did not stop with an active homosexual lifestyle, he went on to say he also did not believe you could be a committed Christian and engage in hetero-sexual sex outside of marriage.

So in one statement he alienated 1 out of 360 active NBA players who claim to be gay and Christian. He also aliented all the other players who claim to be Christian and still actively engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.

After making these comments, Broussard went on to say, "Today on OTL, as part of a larger, wide-ranging discussion on today's news, I offered my personal opinion as it relates to Christianity, a point of view that I have expressed publicly before. I realize that some people disagree with my opinion and I accept and respect that. As has been the case in the past, my beliefs have not and will not impact my ability to report on the NBA. I believe Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement today and I have no objection to him or anyone else playing in the NBA."

The response against Chris Broussard was swift and harsh. ESPN apologized for the comments and said they support diversity (presumably as long as the diversity does not include Broussard's opinion). One article said Broussard came out as a bigot and lambasted his stance supporting his view of the Bible. Even one Christian group began a petition to get Broussard suspended for, "gay-bashing".

As is often the case, I am missing something. Chris Broussard believes the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin so he addressed this issue in the context of his paradigm. He wasn't, "gay-bashing". He was "hypocritical Christian bashing". We all know bashing hypocritical Christians is perfectly acceptable so it is difficult for me to accept Broussard's comments as inappropriate. Never did he say there was something wrong with Collins. He did not say Collins was a coward, sub-human, or unacceptable. He did not call names or promote and call for hatred of Jason or others like him. He stated his opinion that says, "Anyone claiming to be Christian and living in un-repentant sin is not living according to the Bible".

Chris Broussard not only called out Jason Collins, he called me out. He said if I claim to be a Christian, which I do, I must not take my sin lightly and must work to live in a way described in scripture and modeled by Jesus. In the euphoria of public opinion and the understandable support for Collins, Broussard's words went  misunderstood. If what Broussard said was so wrong, then all of us who claim fiath and yet walk in our own sin should join together in our opposition of this newly outed bigot.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Forced Simplification

I have been absent from the writing world for several months now and feel like my readers (or reader... "hi" mom) deserve an explanation.

No profound reasoning or philosophical change occurred in my life except for a case of circumstances spurring some introspection.

In early December the logic board on my laptop died leaving me with only my desktop computer in the office (I know... I am suffering like a hungry child in India). At first I thought this was a simple set back but quickly realized how much I depend on my laptop. The majority of my writing and studying is done on my laptop. Even the majority of my social media is done via my laptop therefore my ability to exaggerate the events in my life in an effort to increase my "likes" on social media has all but disappeared. Even this post is created on my wife's computer.

With this new circumstance I have been forced to simplify. Somehow now I have time for reading, time to commit to to an excersize routine, and even more time to study. My forced simplification is having some nice benefits.
At the same time, we have decided to get rid of cable and our land phone line. Again, this is not the result of a major philosophical or moral decision, but rather simply a financial decision. The beauty is I no longer find myself getting sucked into the latest happenings in the Duck Dynasty as I wander between channels during Sportcenter commercials.

Times like these for me demonstrate just how "wired" and inter-connected our modern lives have become. A little time away from the endless mounds of information forever pervading my eyes and I feel out of touch.... but it is an "out of touch" I am growing to love. Perhaps next my cell phone will break. I can only hope!