Showing posts from 2012

How Christmas addresses the Newtown murders

The discussion about the Newtown shootings on December 14 has raised important questions about God. Where was he? Why didn't he prevent the shootings? As my cousin put it,  After the shooting in CT today, I feel I have fallen further away as a Christian. I can't wrap my mind around a father who doesn't protect the innocent. I hate feeling this way, but nothing lately makes sense. Anyway, just hoping for a little guidance.I addressed the issue in church on December 16, and I'll include the gist of my thoughts below. Here's the position I have heard some Christians take. I find it unhelpful and wouldn't consider it real guidance.
In his sovereignty, God controls everything that happens in our world, and only he can understand why he ordained the Newtown shootings to take place. There are atheists who have commented that if this is the Christian answer to Newtown, then they have even more reason not to be Christians. I believe God rules over all things, but "…

The truth about Christmas peace

I woke up too early this morning. But it's Christmas Eve! I didn't want to miss anything that would happen today, so I got out of bed. I was the first one up, and I had the chance to be with God in the spirit of this day. I turned on the Christmas tree lights and spent some time quietly strumming carols on my guitar. Then I made hot tea and settled down to read the Scriptures. Here's what stood out to me in Luke 2:1-20, the story of Jesus' birth.

I stopped at the word "peace." It washed over me like a wave of warm contentment. It is cozy. It is relieving. It is freeing. Peace. Is there any greater word that can be spoken?

The angel choir sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

The pronouncement of shalom comes to us across the centuries. I receive it today just as fresh as it was that clear and quiet night. I welcome peace. I drink it in like a man parched with thirst.

And yet there …

The naming of John the Baptist was a test of faith

If you have children, you want things to be a certain way for them. You have hopes and dreams. You want them to be safe from harm, grow up well, and thrive. To a certain degree, all us parents want to control our kids and what happens to them. However, God wants us to release our kids to him. And sooner or later we hit crossroads where our willingness to let God have our kids becomes tested. That’s the focus of the story in today’s Christmas season Scripture reading, the naming of John the Baptist in Luke 1:57-80.

This is the event that kicks off the larger Christmas story. It goes roughly like this: announcement of John (the Messiah’s forerunner), announcement of Jesus (the Messiah), birth of John, birth of Jesus.

John was a miracle baby. His parents had been married for decades, but they had been unable to conceive a child. They knew the heartache of watching friends and relatives raise housefuls of children while their house remained quiet. However, one day the angel of Gabriel vi…

The desert monk's guide to holiday gift buying

Let's say you live in the fourth century in one of the desert monastic communities. What would your Christmas shopping look like? And what might the desert monks have to say about our gift buying today? Whose side would Jesus be on?

First off, let's get hold of the desert monk's attitude toward creature comforts. They lived in small one-room quarters that were often carved out of rock. They wore skins and simple clothing. They ate little and fasted often. What would they ask for at Christmastime? Probably a book, since books cost a fortune and many monastic communities shared just a handful of them. Other than that, the desert monk's attitude at Christmas would be starkly different from ours.

It all depends on one's perspective and priorities.

Historian John Chryssavgis notes that the whole point of life in the desert was for people to free themselves of the trappings of the world so they could pursue God wholeheartedly. To go from our lifestyle to theirs would ca…

Just another monastic Monday: Praying without ceasing

It's Monday, and it's a good day to get monastic...

"Pray without ceasing." Paul wrote about it (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I keep trying it and failing. Yet it is the goal I am chasing right now. The idea is pretty simple, really. You just see how many times in a given hour you can connect with God in some way or another. But pulling it off? I have rarely met someone who is doing it. Why try then? Because Paul says to. And Jesus modeled it. Furthermore, I have found that the more I connect with God throughout the day, the more he opens up dimensions of who he is and how he is present in the world. It's a mysterious phenomenon, which means it's hard to explain. You just have to go there and find out for yourself. (If you do, tell me about it!)

Failure is part of the exercise. I'm not sure there has ever been a person who one day decided to connect with God multiple times an hour and suddenly did so without encountering so much failure that he/she wanted to qui…

Tripping over my words in a conversation with an unchurched friend

I'm back from my hiatus from blogging with a scary story for a Halloween day...

A couple of days ago I had a conversation with Mike, my favorite Sacramento barista, about what I do as a pastor. He's not a Christian, and I don't think he has a lot of church background. He asks great questions. As he was making a mocha for another customer, he inquired, "So do you... you know... preach?" It was like being asked if I pull kittens' tails and throw rocks at children.

I said, "I do preach, but at the same time I'm not sure how I feel about the word 'preach.' It carries a lot of baggage."

He said, "Yeah, like all that fire and brimstone. That's not good. Well, what do you do if you don't call it preaching?"

Quickly fumbling for a way to reinterpret preaching on the spot, I replied, "I help people imagine what it is to live a constantly improving life."

As he put the finishing touches on the mocha, he smiled and nodd…

Finishing a book manuscript

I am taking a couple weeks off from blogging as I finish revisions on a book manuscript for IVP.

The book is about the movement from living for Jesus to living with Jesus. There is a vast difference between living for Jesus by knowing and doing religious things, and living with Jesus by walking each day in his presence. More to come on that!

See you in mid-October.

How Jesus can help you interview for a job

I have a couple of friends who are interviewing for jobs, and it is something most of us do every once in a while. If you are a Jesus-follower, you stand a better chance of being a great interviewer.
Thorin Klosowski at Lifehacker posted today, commenting on an article in the Wall Street Journal, "The Receptionist is Watching You." Klosowski begins,
When heading into a job interview you might think that you need to start your performance with the person interviewing you. However, as the Wall Street Journal points out, everyone ranging from the security guard to the receptionist is watching you. Here are some excerpts from Leslie Kwoh's WSJ article:
Want that job? Better be nice to the receptionist... assistants are not only close to the boss, they’re generally sharp observers who can instantly sense whether someone will fit in with company culture, says Karlena Rannals... It’s just one way companies are filtering candidates in a tight labor market where more applicants a…

Can Jesus get a rise out of us?

I knew we had gone to Disneyland too many times when our kids started complaining about having to go on this ride or eat in that restaurant. They had become jaded, even to the Happiest Place on Earth. Susan and I have become like the kids in the family -- we are the ones most likely to get geeked about Disneyland.

Being jaded about Disneyland is inconsequential. Being jaded about spiritual things is life-threatening. Jadedness frustrated Jesus. Thanks to, this afternoon I meditated on Luke 7:31-35.
31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’ Get the picture? A group of kids is trying to get a rise out of another group of kids. First they play happy songs. No response. Then they try a funeral dirge. Still no response. Nothing…

What is spiritual fasting?

There are various reasons people fast – to lose weight, protest injustice, and so on. To go on a spiritual fast is to abstain from something for the purpose of drawing close to God. That something could be necessities like food or drink, or sources of comfort like chocolate or television. The standard biblical practice is to abstain from food and/or drink. 
There are many ways to fast. I’ll suggest one. When I was in Haiti after the earthquake, Haitian political leaders called a three-day fast so people would pray for the ravaged country. With thousands of buildings down and 230,000 people suddenly dead or dying, the country had literally been brought to its knees. The Haitian practice of fasting, at least where we were, was to set aside the hours of 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM to abstain from food and/or drink as much as possible, and devote oneself to prayer. Part of the day was given to time together, worshiping and praying in groups, and part was for time to continue praying and worshipin…

The power of believing in someone

In his letter to Philemon, Paul asks his friend Philemon to do something extraordinary and costly. A man named Onesimus is with Paul. Onesimus is a slave who has run away from Philemon's house. He is a fugitive from the law who has found his way into Paul's sphere of influence and become a Christian. Paul is legally liable if he harbors Onesimus, but he doesn't want Onesimus to be executed. What will he do?

He sends Onesimus back to Philemon with a personal letter requesting that Philemon not execute or even punish his slave. What is more, Paul wants Philemon to make Onesimus a free man so he can spend his time serving the gospel.

We might notice that in his letter, Paul shows great confidence in Philemon. Paul doesn't play the pessimist, saying, "I know my request is probably too extreme. I would be shocked if you followed through." Rather, he stands as an optimist and prays that as Philemon follows through, he would experience God's blessings (v. 6).


Making a commitment to live in God's presence

There is no greater calling or privilege than prayer. I keep getting better at it, and yet I struggle. I find it necessary to keep reading books on prayer so I can be keep on my toes. Otherwise I regress.

Lately as I have been working on a chapter of a forthcoming book on living in God's presence, I have re-read Brother Lawrence's Practice of the Presence of God. It has energized me. Honestly, there is nothing I want more in life than to live closely with God at all times. Brother Lawrence wanted the same thing, and through much trial and error, he found a simple way of praying that changed his life. He simply directed his attention to God at all times.

Once he committed to this practice, he never turned back. However, it took years of training before he had a major breakthrough, after which things came much easier. The commitment was something like this: "God is more loving to me than I could ever deserve. I am convinced that my only business in this life is to please hi…

Prayer is 90% desire and 10% words

What is prayer? The most common answer is that prayer is talking with God. If that's all prayer is, then get ready for a boring relationship with God. I have experienced this and observed it in others: when prayer is words, it eventually becomes words without life. It becomes like reading the phone book to God. "God, please remember so-and-so, and so-and-so, and so-and-so." It is mind-numbingly boring. We rattle off something or other because it's the right thing to do. "There. I prayed for so-and-so. Done." When we pray this way, prayer becomes dry as sawdust. We want more, and God does too.

Prayer is supposed to be deep and vibrant. Contrast "phone book prayer" with the way the apostle Paul prayed for his friends in the church at Philippi.
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it through to completion until the d…

A fresh take on the Lord's Prayer

I can appreciate a fresh take on the Lord's Prayer, especially one that makes sense of Jesus' words and leads me into a place of humble connection with God. The following is adapted from Jack Hayford's book Glory on Your House. A friend recommended the book to me while I was on vacation. This post lays out a way we can pray the Lord's Prayer every day (or multiple times a day) in such a way that we re-establish a right relationship with God. 
Imagine a royal throne, gilded and magnificent but sitting empty. There is a great and mighty king who by all appearances should be sitting on the throne. However, he has generously given to one of his subjects the sovereign right to sit on the throne. This suits the subject, because she lusts for the throne. The king is wise and benevolent. His subject tends toward selfishness. The throne sits open. Who will sit in it? Who will rule?
This drama gets played out every moment of every day in our lives. The following is a way to pra…

Trying to put a leash on God

The Bible says, "The people were delighted with Jesus, so they brought out a collar and a leash to put on him so he would belong to them." Okay, the Bible doesn't literally say that. But it's the picture the Scriptures paint. 
If we are honest, we try to do that very thing. Today's meditation on Scripture points out a dark trait we all share: we attempt to tame an untameable God.
I'll pick up the story in Luke 4, where Jesus has just left his hometown of Nazareth and come to the nearby town of Capernaum. He is just beginning his official ministry. To this point, he has been teaching in the synagogues around the area. He has not yet done a single miracle. He is attracting attention, but his ministry is about to blow up.
Jesus goes to Capernaum. The NIV translation says that Jesus teaches the people on the Sabbath (4:31) -- like it's a one-day thing. In Greek, the wording is "on the Sabbaths" -- plural. In other words, Jesus is there for weeks, te…

Paying "continuous partial attention" to people

Are you really paying attention to people or are you tuned in just enough not to miss anything important?

Today while reading Samuel Chand's book Cracking Your Church's Culture Code, I came across the following quote about listening. It's worth paying attention to... if you can! (You'll see what I mean by that as you read below.)

Chand quotes Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft, who coins the term continuous partial attention:
To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention - CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter. We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place…

The difference between contentment, complacency, and complaining

I was talking with a friend the other day, and the notion of contentment entered the conversation. As he was saying, "I want to be content with what I have," I was thinking, "Me too, although 'contentment' can be a cover for complacency."

Let me explain. Someone might decide not to work too hard at bettering themselves physically, vocationally, spiritually, and so on. It's like the guy who finally lands a spouse and then lets himself go. He thinks, "I am good now. I will just be content with this. I don't have to work on myself anymore." Or like the person who starts a relationship with God and then essentially does the same thing. "Me and Jesus are good. I am content with my spiritual life. I don't need to work on this too much." That is false contentment. It is another word for complacency. And Jesus was absolutely opposed to complacency.

It occurred to me today that true contentment is an act of worship. It is saying to God…

Personal presence and germs

We discovered that one of the best cures for people who hover on the “germophobe” side of life is to go to Haiti. Dust is ubiquitous, and especially if you are playing with kids, “sanitary” is a relative term. At some point, you just decide you are either going to be present with a kid or try to protect yourself from one of many possible diseases. I do not struggle with germophobia, but one day on this last trip I had a couple of encounters that stretched my boundaries.

One afternoon we went into a tent city to visit and pray with people. In the first tent we entered, there was a mother and her son, who looked to be about ten years old. They were both burning up with fever, possibly from malaria. Mother was lying on her stomach on the tent’s only bed. She was covered with a white sheet. The boy was clothed but lying on a thin mat on the ground. I looked down at him and crouched to feel his skin. Hot as an oven. Then I thought, “Here goes nothing,” and I sat on the ground on the edge …

Jeannette was the one who brought me to tears

On this trip, I was struck by how much I valued people who have been with Child Hope for a long time. I especially felt this way toward the staff members. Haitian employees and American interns can come and go, and that’s why the people who are “old reliables” mean so much. This trip I felt so much appreciation for those people who were there before I started visiting Haiti (May 2009) and are still there, going strong.

Through all the goodbyes at the end of the trip, I didn’t cry. One of the older boys even asked me, "Why aren't you crying?" :-) It wasn’t until the very end that I teared up, and it was Jeannette, one of the cooks, who got to me. She has been with Child Hope for years, and she is a fixture at the Guest House. She comes in every morning with a cheerful attitude, and she loves to serve. Some mornings she is heavy hearted because a family member is sick (her grandson was sick the whole time we were there). Other days she might not have slept well. It does…

Reflections on our May 2012 trip to Haiti, post 1

This is my sixth trip to Haiti. I started going there in May 2009, exactly three years ago. It strikes me how every trip is different, yet certain themes tend to be similar. I have experienced Child Hope from both sides. Five of my trips have been with stateside mission teams, and one trip was as a temporary Haiti-side staff member. The latter was the emergency trip I took after the earthquake in January 2010.

Of the five team experiences, I have never been on a team that has been highly “project” driven. We have always done projects of some sort, but every time I have been to Child Hope, our team has concentrated on being relational. It was interesting to get to the mission in Haiti this time and have Tammi Jo, the Child Hope team coordinator, say, “We know your teams are going to spend a lot of time being with people and going out into the community.” Bingo. This team was comfortable being present with people, showing them attention, praying with them, encouraging them, and loving…

Wednesday in Haiti and more on Yooveline

Wednesday was one of those crazy days in this place when you set out to do one thing, and three hours later, you did different things. There's a saying for days like that: "TIH" (This is Haiti). In the morning, we expected to do projects. Half of the team succeeded in getting to their projects. The other half (the half I was in) got to do some things we didn't expect but were glad for.

We found out Yooveline was baking at Brittany Meadth's house, so Susette took us over there. We got to talk with Yooveline again and watch her bake some chocolate chip cookies. She is trying to build a business baking. Brittany says she catches on quickly, and she has a good chance to be successful. Since she is spending time with the Meadths and Manasseros, Yooveline is also learning some English. That will help her market baked goods to Americans in the Child Hope network. While we were talking with her, we placed an order for some treats for our team and the resident interns. We…

Tuesday in Haiti

Sorry for being a day behind. It's a very full schedule every day, and writing posts can be a real challenge.

Tuesday was a day that was described by one teammate as a day marked with celebration and another as a feast. What an awesome day! We had three major activities.
In the morning, our team went to the Manasseros' house and prayed over the staff. I served as a Child Hope staff member for a little over a month after the earthquake, and I thought it was a highly challenging but deeply rewarding role. Our Sanctuary team wanted to support the staff, because they are the ones really making this ministry happen. The staff is mixed between Americans and Haitians. At the end of their staff meeting, we encircled them, and each of our team members read a passage of Scripture as a prayer over the staff. The passages were not discussed ahead of time, but they sure seemed to dovetail nicely with each other. I was deeply blessed by watching the team act as one in encouraging the hearts…


This morning (Monday) we prayed as a team that God would surprise us with opportunities to serve people. This afternoon he answered.

I had been talking to Susette Manassero (one of the host missionaries) about things the team had on its heart. She knows Sanctuary teams as teams that want to do something impactful for individual families, one at a time. On past trips, we have been privileged to have three houses built for Haitian families displaced from their homes by the earthquake in January 2010. This time we lack the funds for a house. But it looks like God is opening another door for us. The following idea was voiced by Susette, but it really seems like it has come from God.

Yooveline is a young woman who, at age 18, is already a single mother. She has bounced around from place to place and is living in the nearby tent city. Both of her parents have passed away. She has felt like she has been at the end of her rope in recent weeks. As of today, she didn't even have diapers for…

Monday in Haiti

Since blogging time can be hard to come by, I want to do a quick recap of yesterday and a little longer recap of today. Yesterday (Sunday) we got up, ate breakfast, and went to church with the Manasseros at Port-au-Prince Fellowship. It is a church with a mixture of ex-pats from other countries and Haitians. We heard a sermon about not growing bored with the basic good news of being reconciled to God through Jesus. After church we came back to the Guest House, ate lunch, and had about a two-hour block to take naps and chill. After a grueling travel day on Saturday, the rest time was a tonic for the soul!

Sunday afternoon we finally got to see more of the kids, as we rounded up the girls and boys and went to Quisqueya Chapel and played soccer in their open field. For those of us who have been to Haiti before, this was a time of many happy reunions with Maison de Lumiere kids who are dear to us. For newcomers, the process of meeting people began. Sunday afternoon was sweet in its laid …

Haiti team post from Miami, May 11

"The Airport of Matching T-Shirts"

One of the distinctive features of Miami airport... Terminals with flights going to Haiti turn into gathering places for people with matching t-shirts. Yellow shirts that say "Love a Child." Blue ones that say Hattiesburg. Medical team shirts. American college and university shirts. it's like being in the narrow part of a funnel where humanitarian and mission workers get squeezed together before being scattered out again. It is an odd sensation. 

On the lighter side, Bret said he wants to join one of the teams that has matching t-shirts. :-) He also says he just saw Van Halen and Britney Spears in the airport.

Haiti team post from Miami, May 11

7-hour layover? Piece of cake. Not only did our team not kill each other, it seemed like the LA layover went quicker than we expected. We passed our first test! Onward to Haiti. 

A quick review of airports... 
Sacramento: small, easy to get around in, nice
LAX: small terminal, not enough restaurants to choose from, wifi service so bad we couldn't even use it, but good star watching
Miami: lots of room to roam (even stairs to run!), lots of restaurants, good wifi, lots of Creole spoken :-)

Our final plane boards in a half hour.

Haiti team post from LAX, May 11

FRIDAY, MAY 11, 2012
The layover of doom? We are in terminal 4 of LAX. We are excited, because we have already passed 3-1/2 hours of our 7 hour layover.

My theory is that this layover will make or break the team. Once during college, I drove across the country with three friends. We drove about 20 hours, and we only stopped when necessary. All night it was rock music and my friends' voices. By the time the drive was over, I wasn't sure I liked those guys anymore.

Seven hours in LAX. Then a red eye across the country. Then a couple hours layover in Miami. Will it be like that drive across the country during college? If we all start posting ungracious things about each other, you will know. Haha!