Today is Ash Wednesday, the day Christians enter into the season of Lent. It’s a day when many of us enter into thoughtful introspection about the reality of our condition (called sin) which prompted God’s final solution through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus. It’s also a time many of enter into a time of fasting as we await the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter. Why do we fast, be it from food, technology, or certain activities?

Here’s a great explanation by NT Wright: “We need to take time and make the effort to bring our lives into line with the new reality. We do not fast because we commemorate some great national disaster. We fast because, as those already caught up in Jesus’ kingdom-project, in God’s new world, we need to be sure that we are saying a firm goodbye to everything in us that still clings to the old.”

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God Is Moving

I just got back from speaking at a men’s retreat this past weekend. Obviously I go into these times of ministry praying that God would use me to help others, but this weekend I don’t know who was encouraged more – the men I spoke to, or me. I think I was the one who was more encouraged because literally every man, who spent a little time with me, told me amazing stories of redemption, stories that were living examples of Jesus power to completely transform lives! When you hear stories of men putting needles in their veins, beating their wife while their kids watched, and then after meeting Christ become a pastor on the streets of a large city, with the son who watched your dark side serving by your side to reach homeless teens – you find yourself amazed. When you hear about how God can meet a man in prison and turn his life from meth addiction, and hear about meeting Christ in lock down, and hear about men’s hopes and dreams to serve Jesus – you find yourself marveling at the power of God. When you hear all of these stories coming out of different churches, in different communities all throughout Northern California, you walk away with a renewed awareness of the fact that God is moving powerfully in people’s lives. Sure God’s work may not be working on the scale I’d like but I cannot say He is not at work!

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Why Me Lord?

For a long time in my life I’ve asked the question, “Why me Lord?” when things weren’t going my way. An unexpected car repair, illness, and conflicts all tended to lead me into a head space of whining out loud to God, “Why me Lord?’ But in the last few years I’ve been trying to reframe the question and ask it in a different way in a different context. These days when I get a nice tax refund, I can pay an unexpected bill, I enjoy good health, and the love of my family with whom I enjoy that good health,  I’ve stared asking “Why me Lord?” In this way I’m learning to stop complaining so much, and learning deeper levels of gratitude by recognizing the many ways God continues to prove Himself so good towards me. Who am I to enjoy the health God has given me thus far? Why do I, of all people, get to experience the amazing wife God has brought into my life? How is it that God made it possible to give me three amazing kids, the home I live in, the church I get to serve and the long list of blessings God has given me? Who am I to be given eternal and abundant life, and my eternity is secure, when I haven’t in any way earned such grace? Try it today. Instead of asking “Why me?” as a complaint, ask “Why me?” as an act of praise.

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It’s funny how low my motivation has become in writing this blog. Once I made the decision to get out of the blog-space at the end of April, almost as quickly I began to feel the drag of doing it. It’s funny how this thing that was once a joy became a chore so quickly. But the fact is – “not feeling it” doesn’t mean the thing I’m doing isn’t full of meaning. Emotions go up and down but the meaning of our work doesn’t change. Even a half-hearted honest blog confession, like this, can be the thing that produces a smile in someone, or the feeling that they’re not alone in the rat race of life. So, though I don’t write this morning with great passion, I still write because the process of writing shapes me, and my writing is always put out there with a sense of hope that it might help someone beyond me. Happy Monday!

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Church Health And Missional Patience

I just read this insightful interview about the nature of the church’s mission in post-christian North America. This Christianity Today interview is with Pastor Colin Smith and there are two issues he addressed I absolutely agree with in my own experience.

Church Size vs. Church Health:

Question: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading, and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?

Colin’s Answer: Church health is not the same as church size. I come from the U.K., where secularism has made deeper inroads into the culture than here in the U.S. Church attendance has dropped dramatically but, in my opinion, church health in the U.K. is better than it was 20 years ago.

One reason for this is that as nominal Christians abandon the faith and leave the church, those who remain realize their dependence on God in new ways. When numbers go down, spiritual temperature can go up, and I have seen new resilience, new cooperation, new faith and new venture in many U.K. churches.

If that happens here in the U.S., we may be in a better position than before and, like Gideon’s army, more useful to the Lord than when our numbers were larger.

A Patient View On Our Mission:

Question: What does evangelism look like today, and how can we begin to develop a passion for showing and sharing the love of Jesus on a daily basis?

Colin’s Answer: The first priority is always that a person becomes one of Christ’s sheep. Evangelism today needs to begin further back. For much of the 20th century, Christians were able to assume a basic understanding of who God is, what sin is, and why we need a Savior.

When people rebelled, they usually had some knowledge of the God they were rejecting, and when they chose not to believe, it was the God of the Bible they chose not to believe in. So when Christians shared the gospel we could assume a basic understanding its categories. But today, many of the people we are called to reach do not understand the basic categories of the gospel—hence the need to begin further back. 

Some years ago, I met Tony Howarth, a pioneer missionary, sent by his church in the U.K. to an unreached people group in northern Thailand. He described the long process of gaining the trust of the tribe he served, and then of learning to read and write their language.

When I asked him where he began in sharing the gospel with these people, he said, “We tell them the Bible story.”

This answer made immediate sense to me. The Bible begins with God introducing himself, and the Old Testament builds a framework for understanding who we are, why we need saving, and what a Savior would need to accomplish.

God has given us all that we need for explaining the Gospel to any person, at any time, in any culture, and I am convinced that we need to rediscover the longstanding practice of pioneer missionaries, and learn how to evangelize by sharing the storyline of the Bible.

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Rain Delays

My wife and I were watching our son play baseball at Harbor High this weekend. We were sitting in the stands enjoying the game when, all of a sudden, it started dumping on us. When I say dumping, I mean pouring! All of the ball players scrambled to the dugouts, and all of the really smart parents ran to their cars. Aleta and I just sat there under our big golf umbrella. We sat there thinking, “Of course they’re going to call the game. This is baseball. It’s the sport where you always call a game in a downpour.” So we sat in the deluge thinking that at any moment we’d be making our way to the car and heading home to dry out. At least that’s what we thought.

Here’s the thing. Harbor High has a 1.2 million dollar fake grass field. The major part of the investment is deep underground channels of drain pipe and gravel that rapidly channel water away from the field. It is the most coveted local high school baseball diamond during the early part of the season because it drains so well in rainy weather. Because that field drains so well, the coaches just waited out the 15 minute flood knowing the field would be immediately good to go the instant the rain stopped. I didn’t know this! Aleta didn’t know this! So we sat in the rain only to find out they were going to keep playing baseball. When the game ended, we were chilled to the bone. But I have to say I’m impressed by that baseball field. It was drenched to the point of flooding, but was good to go the moment the rain stopped. I guess I want to be like that baseball field, where lots of work has been done by the Lord under the surface of my life where He’s invested in building “good drainage” in my life, and He’s made me strong for the storms, so that when I get dumped on, I get through it, and I’m back in action almost as soon as the storm stops.

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Facing Hard Realities

We’ve heard about the sexual abuse in the Catholic church along with all of their attempts at cover-up. Now we hear about the largest Protestant denomination – the Southern Baptist Church. The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News are in the process of publishing a large, three-part, article on the abuses in Southern Baptist churches over the last two or three decades. You can read more about it in this Christianity Today article. I’m tired of the cover ups, and overlooking the abuse of power by people in authority in our churches. The damage it has done to boys who are now men, and girls who are now women, is unfathomable and wholly unacceptable. Though these new findings are hard to hear, and though we will (I know) discover more abuses as time goes by, I’m gladdened that the church, be it Roman Catholic or Protestant, is having an important reckoning. It’s time we face the hard reality that very sick people do infiltrate our ministries and places of worship to prey on trusting people and we all – church people and church leaders – must be diligent to protect our people and be transparent about abuse when it happens.

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The Radiant Goodness Of God

Our church is working our way through the New Testament letter to the churches of ancient Galatia. Galatians does a beautiful job describing the fact that The Gospel (Good News) is not us performing our way into God’s acceptance, nor is it being forgiven by God and He just barely putting up with our presence forever. The Good News is this shattering message that God loves us in the midst of our sinfulness, and that God has concocted this crazy plan – which would wound Him deeply – to bring us back into relationship with Himself. So any person who is vulnerable enough to trust Him for forgiveness and salvation is now permanently placed into the same position of safety and love Jesus enjoys within the Trinity, and if a person rests in that new spiritual reality it transforms them inside and out.

Someone recommended to me the movie “The Heart of Man” and I would highly recommend watching it to hear the real-life powerful stories of how this Good News about a radiantly beautiful God renders beauty in very broken lives. It’s currently available on Netflix.

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A Proverb

I recently stumbled upon this great African Proverb:

“If while climbing a tree you insist on going beyond the top, the earth will be waiting for you.”

I’ve spent so much of my life trying to go beyond the top of so many projects and plans I’ve had. I’ve done these things in hopes that I would somehow be more to others, God, and even more to my own self. But every time I pursue these “beyond the top” projects my pride, spurred on by my insecurity, comes before my fall.

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Yesterday one of my friends, and members at our church, faced a very difficult experience. During the downpours of this past weekend, the creek beds nearby overflowed and clogged a big drainage culvert. Once it plugged it sent a 2 to 2 1/2 foot high wave of water and silt right at him, almost knocking him over, then hitting his house to finally flow down the street to damage all the other houses. He put out an APB to all of his friends in our church community. It was so cool to see so many people show up to just help out, and blow away my friend’s neighbors with how much help he got from his church people.  I got out there scooping up sludge and hauling it away. Everything was fine, and then while I was washing down the walls of their house I happened to turn my lower back in just such a way that a muscle spasmed out – hard. “Are you kidding me!?” I thought. I was there to help out, there to be strong for my friend, and now I had a wall-washing injury. Truly embarrassing. So while all the other real men with strong backs (which I used to think I had) continued to work, I knew I needed to bow out and take care of myself. The good news is that this morning my friend’s house in a much better situation, and my back is feeling a lot better. But that tweak in that one muscle in my back is my reminder of my weakness. So I enter today like I have to everyday, offering all of me to God which includes offering my weakness and pain to be used by God as He sees fit.

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