Thursday, March 31, 2011

Living the Story #20, Lent 2011

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." -Luke 11: 23

Let's be with Jesus. Even our best efforts and deeds, if they are not done with him, will have the opposite effect.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." -John 15:5

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Living the Story #19, Lent 2011

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them." Matt 5: 17

At our new place, my desk is now sitting in front of our bedroom window that faces east. There is a municipal golf course and park across the street. Right now, I can see a man tending one of the putting greens and the little rolling hills of the course that lead to a small line of trees and just beyond that, the rising sun. Pretty sweet, huh?

Right now, in this beautiful, serene scene, laws are being fulfilled. There is the law of gravity that helps us make sense of most of the universe. This law keeps our earth spinning around the sun and the golf course guy firmly in his tractor and me here in my seat to see it all.

And then there are the laws of thermodynamics. One of which states that energy can neither be created or destroyed, it can only change form. The sun, right now in space is burning white hot (it only looks yellow because of our atmosphere). The energy inside it is transferred into light which travels to me right now filling my room, warming my face and warming the earth to a habitable temperature.

Light follows it's own set of laws. And we could go on and on to explain the intricacies of what's happening just outside my window. But really, what's important to me about this scene is not finding how it all works, but resting in the wonderful fact that these laws are real and can be counted on as I observe them being fulfilled right in front of my eyes. It's fun to know the laws of how stuff works, but it's better to behold the beauty of them being fulfilled and give thanks.

Hung up on the intricacies of how the christian life works? Just look to Jesus. He is certain as the dawn.

If you're reading this on facebook, you can watch the video of Amie's dance posted with this entry at

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Living the Story #18, Lent 2011

Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven."

"Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'

And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'

He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.

So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."

Matthew 18: 21 - 35

Jesus' teachings are not complicated. They are beautifully simple. They are not easy, but they are simple. If we all took just this one story to heart, it would change the world.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Living the Story #17, Lent 2011

"Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country." Luke 4:24

Sometimes, you gotta get away.

This week, I'm teaching a Discipleship Training School from Youth With A Mission in Pismo Beach (thus the reason for the lateness of my post today). They've come for a week of training and outreach here in Modesto. This kind of school is a great tool that God uses to draw young people to relationship with him and share with them who he's created them to be and what he's wired them to do.

Some of the students today shared that they needed to leave home (if even just for a time) and come to this school in order to understand things they have heard all their life at home or in church. To see more clearly, sometimes you have to look from a different vantage point.

Jesus had many followers but chose 12 to walk with him more intimately. And they walked. From town to town, through the country and in villages, these students of Christ learned on the road and through doing.

That's what we're doing this week, walking with Jesus and paying attention to the opportunities he sends our way and doing our best to respond in the way he leads.

Is there a routine I'm stuck in? Am I locked into a mindset? Have I boxed others into my perception of who they are?

Walking with Jesus will always lead us down strange and creative paths. Let's welcome him.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Living the Story #15, Lent 2011

You may notice that I skipped a day. Let me just tell you that yesterday, nothing happened the way it was supposed to...well, almost nothing. It ended well but I was just not able to post. And then I thought I'd get all fancy and link yesterday's reading with today's reading but that doesn't really work. For a creative take on yesterday's reading, might I suggest this post...CLICK HERE.

Today's reading is the story of the angel coming to Mary and letting her know that she will miraculously conceive and bear Jesus into the world. Mary has questions but the angel reassures her. Her simple response of faith is a beautiful legacy to us.

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."
- Luke 1:38

You are probably not a person of great influence. You are probably very limited by your circumstances and hang ups. You are probably insecure and worry about what others think of you. You probably fear the future. You probably worry over money and time.

Nevertheless, God wants to use you to bring Jesus to a dying world.

Let it be to us according to his word. Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Living the Story #13, Lent 2011

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matt 20: 25 - 28

We are hosting a team this week from a native community in Canada. Mostly high school kids on Spring break and some community leaders with them as well as a couple of old friends from YWAM. We are having a great week.

For everyone to serve, of course, at some point, you have to let yourself be served. This team served me yesterday in a way that is humbling and beautiful. They helped me move.

A few weeks ago, my former landlord let us know that his house was in foreclosure. He is 71 and his wife is 68 and they just lost everything to the bad economy. They needed our house as they were losing theirs. And they needed it quick. Within a week we had found a suitable rental near the new location of our church and then we had just over a week to pack up the house. Then, the team came.

We didn't quite make it as far as packing but this team served us with happy attitudes and very hard work. They helped us pack up, clean up and unload at the new place, all in about 5 hours! It was refreshing to our hearts, helpful beyond my ability to define it, and a wonderful picture of grace to me. Sometimes, "thank you" just doesn't cut it.

Jesus came to serve. Can you let Jesus serve you through the grace of others? Jesus wants to serve you. Do you see that in the reading today? He came to serve. That means, we have to let him.

So often we rush ahead to "I have to be like Jesus and serve!" But first, you have to let grace wash over you. Let him serve you. Receive help. Be weak. Let him minister to you through prayer and the help of others. He longs to have you sit with him and for you to let him refresh your heart. Let go of your lists and sit with Jesus. Let him wash you and love you.

Then, after Christ has served you, how can you be like him for others today?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Living the Story #12, Lent 2011

Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice." Matt 23: 1 - 3

I recently read a book that talked about about orthodoxy. That's a big word that just means "right belief." Orthodoxy is important. Believing rightly is a big deal.

There is a certain preacher out there under lots of fire these days from the "christian community" (two words that really are the opposite of what's happening these days as the hateful, prideful things being said in the name of Jesus and his community or "common unity" are hardly represented). People are upset at him as they perceive him straying from "right belief".

I won't comment on what I think of it all here. I haven't read the new book yet. But this book I read talked about orthodoxy as well as "orthopraxy" which is a word I think the author made up but he defined as "right practice." These two things are as important as one another. Our practice or actions confirm our beliefs.

If we're worried that someone has left orthodoxy and publicly and pridefully dismiss them through silly things like blogs and social media, then we have missed the point. The scripture tells us that if we're concerned about someone, we should go to them lovingly with a heart to restore.

And in the mean time, the people of Japan and Haiti and Burma and the streets of any city in any country all around the world really don't care right now whether a new book is theologically sound or not. They are waiting for us to do the right thing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Living the Story #11, Lent 2011

"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
Luke 6:36 - 38

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Living the Story #10, Lent 2011

"After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, 'Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.' And he said to them, 'How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?'

And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them." - Luke 2:48 - 50

Losing track of a child is really scary. Mary and Joseph had been searching frantically for the boy Jesus for three days. When they found him, they were immediately relieved then it seems, immediately exasperated.

We think of Jesus' answer here as surrounded by angelic music, a small light shining down on his face. I think, as a parent, this answer would have sent me through the roof. But Mary and Joseph don't react. Relieved, they take the boy home "and his mother kept all these things in her heart."

Twelve long years ago, Mary and Joseph had been visited by angels and had been sure of their calling to birth and raise the Messiah into the world. They were willing to endure discomfort and difficulty for the sake of that call. But then that calling became keeping house, making money, paying bills, cooking and eating and observing routines.

How easy for us to forget the plot in our routines. I think Mary and Joseph don't get angry here because realization hits them in the face. "Oh, right. Angels, star, mission, Messiah, wise men...he's not just another boy. He's Jesus."

Later on, others who had walked with Jesus, seen miracles and heard him speak would be distraught for three days. In their grief and disappointment, they forgot their hope. They found Jesus too, right where he said he'd be.

You have seen miracles. You have been sure of a calling. You have been full of faith and willing to take risks and face difficulty for the sake of bringing some good into the world. What's happened? Have you lost your edge in routines? Have you forgotten where you come from and where you are going? In grief and disappointment, are you robbed of hope and joy?

Remember. Repent. Return.

Jesus is alive.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Living the Story #9, Lent 2011

"...if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go, first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Matt 5: 23, 24

As important as giving, singing, prayer and attending meetings is friendship. In fact, relationship comes before all of them. Our giving, our sacrifice, our time, our talent, our activity has no authority or integrity unless we are right with one another.

It is not our working, organizations, statements or associations that shows the world we follow Jesus. It is our love for one another.

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jn 13:35

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Living the Story #8, Lent 2011

"...whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." - Matt 7:12

A group of us in Modesto are going through a 30 prayer and action guide this month called "Steps of Justice". This is a YWAM ministry dedicated to helping connect the church to issues of justice around the world concerning the poor, oppressed and disenfranchised.

It hit me in this morning's reading that this simple phrase from Jesus should be our definition of justice. Wrapped up in our needs and desires, we can find our calling in regard to others.

When I am in a time of crisis, I want people to rally around me and help. I want them to give generously when I have a need. I want to be heard and understood. I need times of refreshing. I want to be part of a community of friends. I want to feel like I'm contributing to something worthwhile. And there's a lot more.

Jesus' calling for how we should live is simple to find if we can pin point our basic human needs and good desires.

I can pray for the people of Japan and Haiti in their crisis and give a little extra at the grocery to the red cross. I can take extra time to listen to people and give them my eyes and seek to understand where they are coming from. I can give space and share the load with friends that just need a break from their routine. I can create opportunities for people in my life to contribute gifts, talents and resources to worthy causes. I can show compassion and understanding when others make a mistake that affect me negatively.

I could go on. How can you be more on purpose to live like this today?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Living the Story #7, Lent 2011

"The men of Nin'eveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here." Luke 11:32

When I was a kid, I remember I somehow got my hands on a copy of "The Wittenburg Door" which was a Christian satire magazine. There was a comic in there that I looked for today but couldn't find. I'll just describe it...

  • Panel one: First century Christians are huddled together getting ready to face hungry lions in the colloseum and they are praying together something like, "Lord, give us strength to glorify your name through our death!"
  • Panel two: Cold War era Christians in the eastern block are hiding from soldiers and praying together as well for strength to face their oppressors.
  • Panel three: An American Christian sits in his car in the driveway with a concerned look on his face and he prays, "Lord, the Audi's been running a little rough lately..."

If you're reading this on facebook, you can see the video posted here at our website

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Living the Story #6, Lent 2011

"And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Matt 6: 7 - 15

Monday, March 14, 2011

March's song of the month - Hosea 6

I failed to post a song up in February and here we are in the middle of March. This is the most recent song I have written. Well, I wrote the tune, the ancient prophet Hosea wrote the words and they can be found in the beginning of chapter 6 of Hosea in the Old Testament. So much of Hosea's book is about returning...returning to God after long absence, returning to the relationships that matter most. This has been right where I am and I wrote this tune to go with this personal season of remembering and returning.

If you are seeing this on facebook or would like to go to the song site to download this for your player or subscribe to future posts in itunes, CLICK HERE.

Living the Story #5, Lent 2011

Today's gospel story would be best told by Keith Green...

If you are seeing this on facebook, you can see this video at

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Living the Story #4, Lent 2011

And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Luke 5:30 - 32

For most of my life I've been really good at doing things to people and not so good at doing things with people. It seems the problem the Pharasees have with Jesus here is the "with". There is no recording of anybody having a problem when Jesus fed the crowds. It's when he ate with them that caused trouble.

One of Jesus' names is Emmanuel or "God with us".

Today, you will encounter all kinds of people...a cashier, your waiter, a neighbor, a homeless person, your kids, your spouse, a friend...heck, you may even go to H & R Block and meet a tax collector! How can you be more with the people you're with today?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Living the Story #3, Lent 2011

"Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Matt 9:15

Last night, we hosted two families at our home for a wedding rehearsal dinner. This weekend, I will be the celebrant of my first ever wedding. Amie is the coordinator of the ceremony. Pulling off a wedding is a bit stressful but in the middle of it all, there are these celebrations...showers, dinners and parties.

Some of these folks in our home last night were meeting each other for the first time as the groom is from England and the bride from here in the valley. It was fun to host this meal and be able to witness these two families get to know one another. Together in some way for the rest of their lives because of the love between the bride and groom.

The scripture above is from a story in Matthew where John the Baptist's disciples are trying to figure out why Jesus' disciples are so happy all the time...eating and drinking and hanging out with friends. And this was Jesus' way of saying, "It won't always be this way, sad days are ahead but while we're here, while we're together, let's enjoy it."

For sure, sad days are ahead for our bride and groom. When you marry someone, you sign up to share each others joy, heartache, laughter and struggle. But you walk through it together.

The Bible tells us that Jesus endured the pain of the cross for the joy that was before him. That joy was for sure being reunited with the Father but not just that. The joy in front of Jesus that made him able to choose the cross was you and I. Reunited with the Father and bringing a whole family with him.

And hard days are still ahead but while we're here, while we have each other, let's enjoy it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Living the Story #2, Lent 2011

"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Luke 9:23

Walking by Aaron Alford

The young man sat in the shade of a small tree. It was the heat of the day, on a day that felt as thirsty as the dogs that lay panting in the nooks and slivers of shadow. A sparrow lit upon a ledge, its tiny beak open, too tired to sing. Few people were busy about the small town. Three men sat under the awning of a shop’s front door, not speaking, keeping an indolent eye on the street.

A man walked wearily toward him, a lone figure in the empty avenue. He was a foreigner, a soldier. The three watchmen blankly followed him with their eyes, somehow giving the impression of both contempt and apathy. The young man could see the soldier’s face shining with perspiration. His shield was strapped to his back, and over his shoulder he carried a large tent pole. With it was a simple wooden cross frame, his bedroll tied across the top and from which dangled a large pack and sundries. A metal canteen and a small cooking pot clanked noisily with each step, echoing down the silent street.

Read the rest of the story HERE...

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Living the Story #1, Ash Wednesday, 2011

For the season of Lent, I'll be sharing some thoughts here from the daily liturgical gospel readings...

"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Matt 6:1 -4

Denise was driving home from a community meeting a little over a year ago. The meeting she had attended served food and the organizers offered here some of the left overs to take home. On the way, she saw several homeless men and women in a park and she quickly decided to pull over and offer them some of the food. It was Sunday.

The folks accepted the food with joy, telling Denise how hungry they were as there was no charity that brings food to the homeless on Sunday. Denise was a little taken aback. She decided that no one should go hungry on Sunday.

Denise works all night. Saturday morning she goes home, gets a little sleep, wakes up and starts cooking. She takes food from her kitchen out to the park every Saturday and Sunday.

She has no organization. She has no 501c3. She has no website. She has no funding. She shares her own food with the poor. Her little beat up van is stuffed with tables and chairs. She loves relentlessly and oozes joy. She trusts God to enable her and take care of her and the friends she has made. Everyone is welcome at her table.

And the community of the homeless and poor have responded. Some guys donate a portion of their recycling to Denise to help buy the food. Others who receive food stamps buy her meat at the grocery. Some put nickels and dimes into a small collection can at the end of the table.

Denise will never sound a trumpet for herself. But maybe it's ok if I do. If you want to know more, contact me and I'll let you know how you can support her mission.

But if you want to be like Denise, look around, see a need and quietly trust God to use you to meet it. Beautiful things will happen.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Global girls...

This past week was our annual visit from Global Youth Network, a justice education and action organization in Canada. And continuing with a popular trend, they sent me a team with 9 ladies and no dudes (7 were vegetarians unlike last year :). This was my first time hosting a Global team on my own and without knowing any of the group that was coming to boot. This was a great team. It was a tiring week for all of us but so rewarding.

Some highlights...

Games - Global teams love to play games. It's just part of their DNA. I think it comes from being stuck in airports, train stations and other uncomfortable places for undetermined amounts of time. So we played a my house, with my kids, in our host church, with the youth group and our airport kids group. Leave Global alone for a few minutes and games will ensue.

Day out in the city - We usually send teams out for a little day scavenger hunt in downtown Modesto. The girls split in two groups and went about downtown talking to folks, making new friends among the homeless and learning about our community from them. One group took some new homeless friends on the tour through our historic McHenry mansion. They gave these guys the gift of dignity. It seemed like all had a great day being with the people on the street.

Partners and friends - I got to show off some of the great (and quiet) things happening in our city, taking them to meet friends at The Vine House, City Ministry Network, Advancing Vibrant Communities, Jeff in the Airport neighborhood and Denise who feeds (and loves!) people at Tower Park every Saturday and Sunday.

Day out in San Francisco - We usually take visiting teams for a little tourist day in the city. Josh went along this time to give me a little male companionship and we all had a great time seeing some history, some tourist spots, the golden gate bridge, the ocean and awesome Indian food.

Surprise (again!)- Every year with these teams, I sit in awe at the beauty of simple friendship and the magic that happens when we just take a little time to stop, notice people, listen to them and care about them. It changes our whole perspective. It changed me once again and I want to live that change more every day.

Thanks girls!

P.S. the late night run to the emergency room after an impromptu wrestling match was quite a hoot as well. Let's just say Global Youth Network has a funny way of deciding who's going to be the leader :)