2013 will bring trials of all sorts, but…


This New Year will not be perfectly harmonious, I know that may not be the most clairvoyant statement, but it is one that we should take to heart as we look into the new year. For many of us it has already presented its first trial or two. Some of these trials are unavoidable, some we create ourselves; some will be big, some will be small; some will make us feel like giving up, some will make us want to dig in our heels and fight. For each trial we have options and directions that we can go, but whatever we face, there is always hope.

The bible is full of passages about trials of all sorts. David faced many trials. Some of them he caused himself, some he couldn’t avoid, but in the face of every trial he turned to the face of God. I admire that about David.

David, by no fault of his own, but powered by jealousy, was pursued by Saul. Each of these times David asked for God to deliver him. He did not betray the blessing of God as he would not take matters into his own hands by killing Saul, as he had opportunity to do so, but rather he leaned upon God to take care of him. He wrote about it, he sang songs about God’s blessing.

Even in his darkest hour, as he transgressed God’s commandments and committed adultery, and then covered up his adultery by committing murder (2 Sam 11), when the prophet confronts him he repents. This repentance didn’t help avoid the death of his child, it didn’t help avoid the loss of power to his son, but it got him back in right relation with God. To David, his relationship with God was paramount, not all of his earthly possessions.

2013 is here, and we will face challenges of all sorts, but if we try to emulate King David in his earnest pursuit of the heart and mind of the Almighty God, then these trials may make us into better followers of God, and more equipped to face trials of all sorts. That is my prayer, “May I learn to be more like David leaning upon You more and my own understanding less, may I sing to You God in good times and in times of need. Help me, fill me with Your Holy Spirit, that I may be completely yours, and help me to remain yours no matter what trials I may face.” Amen.

Black Friday?

Today there were sales. Today we were all supposed to go out and buy in order to help make sure that people stay employed. Today a lot of money, energy, and other resources were wasted.

Life has conditioned us that we instinctively look in the newspaper on Thursday to find out what big screen television we have to get. Look, even my nine month old daughter thinks that she has to get in on Black Friday.

The whole concept that we must go out and support the consumer culture is terribly flawed. I wish I were immune from the draw toward the mall and to the stores in search for a couple deals. Unfortunately, I was out there with many of you, and I engaged in our consumer culture and spent resources.

I will not spend time reciting the numerous statistics I saw throughout social media today about the amount of money that is spent this weekend, and the amount of money that is needed to end any number of ailments in the world. It is appalling that so much money is spent on things that are of little to no worth. Last year I hit that point with my kids, we spent and spent and spent, and filled up two car loads of toys for them last year. How many hours were spent by them playing with these toys? Not enough. How much joy did they get out of these gifts? Not enough. How much money did we spend so that they could have a “good” Christmas experience and get lots of toys? Too much.

I don’t think that you are a terrible sinner because you went shopping today. We are all terrible sinners because we give our allegiance to things instead of God. I cannot change your heart, I cannot even change my own heart, but I pray that we allow the Holy Spirit to come in and make our hearts a little less “black” this holiday season, and may we remember that God calls us to give all of our hearts, minds, and souls to the Almighty.

“Thank you Lord for giving us the will to hand over our power to spend to You, so that You may make a difference beyond what we could expect or even imagine.” Amen

Old Familiar Friends and Places

Today and tomorrow are going to be filled with reunions and gatherings throughout the US as the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. For many of us it is a chance to connect with family and friends, and connect back to old places where we have memories both good and bad. Holidays themselves all a call to remember what has happened and to commemorate and/or celebrate something, some one, or some event. For this reason, we see people either looking forward to or dreading this time of year because we cannot escape the signs of the season, and they seem to begin their invasion of our offices, cafes, stores, and neighborhoods earlier each year.

This is also a time of year that we are confronted by the fact that our lives are not static as people are continuously coming into our lives, and leaving our lives. While we may not have to deal with the ebb and flow of people on an everyday basis, it unavoidably confronts us during these gatherings. In some ways this is exciting, like if a new member of the family has been added, such as the birth of a child, (this is my sweet Sophia’s first thanksgiving) or a new marriage. However, some people dread these times, maybe there has been a death, or a divorce, but there is clearly an absence that cannot be ignored.

During this time, we need to remember that no matter the people that come into our lives or leave our lives, God is constant. Take time out of your day today or tomorrow and look at the things that surround us and allow them to be our altars where we remember that God has been with us. The picture above is of the Campanile on the UC Berkeley campus, which reminds me that God is always beside me, even when it gets very dark and I have trouble finding hope. The people of Israel, as they crossed the Jordan, grabbed stones from the dry river bed and placed them on the banks of the Jordan to remind themselves and future generations that God had been there to allow them to enter into the promised land. The history of Israel had many ups and downs, but God never left them, and no matter what, the stones were there to remind them that it was God who led them into the promised land.

I have so many friends that each time we connect I am reminded that God loves me, and that it has been by His grace and mercy that our relationships have grown and flourished even though time, distance, and life have created space between us. So for those of you who I have not seen in a while, I thank God because of you, I thank God that our lives have crossed paths, and I thank God that because of our relationship I have become better than I was before we met.

So to my old familiar friends and places, I am thankful for you!

Struggle and Structure

Looking through the Psalms we see that Israel and David are often ensnared in struggles against their enemies and against themselves. Sometimes we become our own worst enemy. I know I took the picture below before a game I attended during warmups, but when a team’s season begins to unravel the team often fights against itself. This causes the team to lose more games than they should. We also tend to underperform when we start unraveling. One bad decision leads to another, and this builds upon itself.


We are creatures that desire structure and consistency. We don’t trust ourselves to operate according to God’s purpose without structure. We have organized ourselves into organizations and churches that we hope will provide us the structure/ theology/ preaching/ group dynamic that we need to keep us within God’s desire for our lives.

The structures we put in place to define our situation, and to make sense of the world we live in often betray us, and take away the freedom that we have been given. Sometimes these structures do not allow us to worship God in a variety of forms, they do not give us the freedom to seek God, to question the things that will help us grow in our faith. In some of these circumstances, we abandon and strike out against what we see as oppression, only to exchange it for another form of oppression. In these cases we either vilify or deify the structure.

All this being said, structure is not bad, but we must be free to challenge the structure at times, when we have come across a situation where structure becomes oppressive, but we also need to be willing to be wrong, and allow the structure to show us where we may be wrong. Understandably, this takes maturity that not all of us may have, but should develop in our relationship with God. This is part of the struggle that we cannot escape or hide from within our structures.

Our God needs to be God, for only God can pull us out from our struggles, and the closer we grow to God the more mature we become in our faith, and the better we are within the structures within which we are organized. Struggle happens, and when it does, let God be our God.



Throughout Proverbs we are called to be people that speak pleasant words. However, I would say that if you polled my co-workers, family, and friends, not one would describe my speech using the word “pleasant”. That is clearly problematic.

I suppose I can take solace in the fact that I am not alone. One needs only to turn on the television during this or any election season, and we are inundated with un-pleasant speeches from every direction on the political spectrum. Although, I guess that isn’t much in which to take solace.

As a people we are quick to bring an unpleasant word when we are upset, but in all situations (not just the good times) we are called to be pleasant, to speak pleasant words to those with whom we contact. Our words need to convey grace and spiritual beauty! When we do this we become a sweet taste, and promote health in our relationships.

I commit myself in all I am and do to seeking pleasantness. That the very essence of the Almighty God rub off on all with whom I come in contact. May the grace and mercy, which instruct our desire for pleasant, fill me up with the Lord’s sweetness, and may that ooze from my pores that this define my very being.

I Can’t Control It All

Today I got on an airplane. It was already almost an hour later than we were supposed to leave, and then just as we were about to leave, the Captain told us that there was a problem that had to be resolved before we could leave. After waiting about twenty minutes on the plane, I decided to call the airline to change my connecting flight because we were going miss the original connecting flight, and I wanted to get a head start on the rush of people that would be trying to book the later connecting flight. However, during my first call, the call disconnected before I could talk to an agent. This happened three times before they fixed the problem and we pushed back from the gate and I had to turn my phone off.

My mind was filled with anxiety. I tried to fall asleep on the flight, but the fear that I wouldn’t be able to make it to my destination kept me awake. As soon as it was okay to pull our phones out, I call the airline, and thankfully get connected to an agent relatively quickly, and as I proceed to describe my situation, she informs me that the airline has already booked me on a later flight.


I am thankful for that agent, and my anxiety is mostly alleviated, but I still run to talk to a live agent as soon as I got off the plane, and they simply print out my new boarding pass, and all that anxiety was completely unnecessary.

Similarly, I try and control God. I try to handle God, directing my prayers, my devotions, my energy into trying to get God to act and move nature in my favor. However, my connection always seems to get disconnected, and I feel as if I can’t reach the Almighty with my prayers and I get frustrated. However, I need to realize that I cannot control God, I cannot be the Almighty, but rather I need to yield to where God is leading me and stop trying to manipulate the Almighty through my actions, my prayers, or even my “devotions”. This isn’t honest or devoted, but rather God calls us to give up our whole selves to worship and sacrifice(Rom 12:1-2).

We often will find that no matter what we do to try and conform the Almighty to our will, we will fail and find ourselves worrying and getting frustrated by the things we ultimately cannot control. God will surprise us when we finally give up on this, and God takes care of us, and ultimately we will find blessings in areas we do not expect. It may not be exactly what WE thought it would be, but it will bless us beyond measure.

Where are your blessings found? I challenge you as you read this to give up your concept of control, and yield to God in all things, and find out where you will be blessed.

Don’t Get It Confused

Throughout my life I have tried to be viewed as a person that tries to give his all to God. Clearly I have fallen short through the process and I have given in to the things that this world deems as good. This is evident as I think about the fact that I am writing this blog post on the iPad I was given as a gift, but couldn’t settle for just an iPad, but I also needed the matching bluetooth keyboard. I am a technophile, and this mere fact shows that I give in to the latest and greatest the world has to offer. (I certainly am not claiming that owning an iPad is a sin, but my obsession certainly crosses into the idolatry side of things.)

However, in preparation for a sermon I recently gave I was reminded that as much as I want to be viewed as a devout follower of God, it IS NOT ABOUT ME!!! I get this confused far too often. In Acts 13, Paul recounts the history of Israel, and throughout this history the main thrust is not about what Israel has done, it wasn’t about how well the law of Moses was followed, but rather it is about how FAITHFUL God was and is, and how much GRACE is poured upon us time and time again. I will fail, but God has taken care of that sin, and God will continue to take care of me.

This bashed in my skull again as I sat reading Romans 12, as I worship I have thought that I was bringing something to God, but in fact, God brings the goodness, the grace, and the fulfillment. So again I am told loud and clear that IT IS NOT ABOUT ME!!! So I realize that it takes a lot more humility to simply accept the grace that God pours upon me, and to even go further to ask for serving after serving of this grace.

We are called to respond to this grace, but our response is not the source of the grace, nor is it the reason the grace was given in the first place. God gave us grace because He LOVES US ABUNDANTLY, and that is why CHRIST DIED, that is why our JUSTIFICATION can only be found through the power of God expressed in Christ dying on the cross and being raised from the dead. That happened. Whether or not we respond by living our lives as worship-filled as we can, God still LOVES us!

SO don’t get it confused, IT IS NOT ABOUT ME!!! (or any of us.)


Being outside has always been my son’s preference, and I will give him the credit at pulling me out of the house, and getting me active once again. He loves going down the slide, climbing anything he can climb, and pretending he is on a boat/spaceship/ school bus, etc. I enjoy watching him do all of this, and even more when he invites me in his fantasy. This is supposed to be a safe place where energy can be dissipated in a safe environment so that kids can play. However, at our favorite park, there have been more “older kids” just sitting and waiting for something to happen. While they are waiting,  they usually have stuck to sitting on benches away from the playground, but as the weather has warmed up there are more people and “those waiting for something to happen” have moved closer and closer to the playground, until they are actually sitting on the equipment, moving to this spot as children are playing. Bad enough, right? It gets worse.  While on the equipment they were smoking, loudly arguing using unimaginative language, and fighting. Our boat/spaceship/ school bus has been infiltrated by pirates.

Before we found ourselves asked to walk the plank, we decided to take a break from that park, and use our imagination more.

The other day we went to a wilderness park, where we were able to use the original playground equipment, trees, ponds, hills, and open space. Much like the playground, there are still the dangers of  falling down and skinned knees, but we did not encounter any pirates, and we were able to have fun enjoying nature. While the playground was always the safe choice for fun, we found a great blessing in just playing around and exploring. The important thing about play is not the specific equipment, but in the fact that children are incredibly inquisitive and have the ability to make the most out of their environment. As a parent I have looked and searched for the “best” playground with the most equipment , but I am reminded that a child’s mind is the best piece of equipment.

As a father I have sought to give my son all the tools and toys to foster his imagination. I don’t buy him every toy, but, as we sit in his room playing looking around at all the toys we aren’t playing with, I recognize that I have purchased too many toys. I have thought this is cool, or that will be fun to play, I forgot that the key to play is not the toy, but the child playing. The Almighty created my son with a mind and a body made for play. I need to remember that there is nothing and no place that will ever be anything more than the thing or place is seen to be in the eyes and mind of my son.

As an adult I am just like that, I find myself bored, and that life will just be better if I get a new this or that. Maybe an iPad will do the trick? Nope. Not even the iPad2 is better than the Creator’s natural gifting. We have become old, and our equipment might be rusty, but if we shake off the dust, we will find the best tools and toys occur naturally.

Perfect is not found in places or things, because just like The Boss says, “Baby we were born to run,” and climb, and play. So whatever your preferred play, use the natural tools we have been given, and stop relying upon all our toys and equipment.

Once all the eggs have been found…

So I have been out of the game for far too long. It seems like Ash Wednesday was yesterday, Lent was this morning, Palm Sunday was lunch, and Easter finished five minutes ago. But in our congregation, similar to many congregations, we spoke about the journey toward the cross and the road we take toward a deeper relationship with God through the process of going without during Lent. But that is all done now, because all of the eggs have been found and we can move past that stage in our faith walk for another year. Or can we?

For many of us the journey toward the cross is filled with the reminder of our failures, marks showing us how we have fallen short of the glory of God. But that pain doesn’t tell the whole story, because the story doesn’t end on Friday; but rather death, pain, and our failure are overshadowed and redeemed through God’s victory and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus!

We spend much of our lives alternating between living our lives flaunting our failures and trying to redeem ourselves because we are not worthy.

When we flaunt our failures and are living in the world of  “cheap” grace we are of the mindset that the Easter Egg of Grace should be brightly colored and three-feet in diameter. We know the egg is there and we can turn around and get it at any time, but we are going to do our own thing until it is more convenient.

However, when we view ourselves as not worthy, we are of the mindset that the Easter Egg of Grace should be camouflaged and the size of a pea.  The quest is going to be arduous, and we don’t think it is possible to find the egg because we are so blind from our sinfulness.

Most of the time we are actually in the middle, and see the Easter Egg of Grace as the pink egg above.

But the story tacked on to the end of John is how the Lord reaches out to us, especially after we have finished celebrating the Resurrection.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

 “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

The Almighty is calling us to follow. We failed, and we continue to fail, just like Simon Peter, but the Lord calls out to each one of us to do the Kingdom work each day. We have chores we need to get done, the sheep need to be taken care of and fed, the lambs need to be fed, and we need to learn to follow better. The eggs are not hard to find, but we need to follow Jesus to their hiding place, and once we get there we find abundant grace.

Gifts, Humility, Forgiveness, and Heroism

Last week I prepared a sermon about Joseph (OT) and I have always been intrigued about this man. Was he perfect? No he wasn’t. However, most of the characters in the Old Testament had some flaw. With certainty though, Joseph was GIFTED, God had given him something, but he didn’t exactly know how to use the gifting at first.

God spoke to Joseph through his dreams, and probably understanding full and well what it meant, sought to blab it to his brothers. This dream essentially rubbed it in his brothers face that they would bow down to him, and he would rule over them. He was the arrogant kid that essentially rubbed in the face of his brothers that he knew he was better than them. His brothers were already upset with him because they saw him as a tattle tale, and as daddy’s favorite, which was thrown into their face every time they looked at his coat. So they looked at their arrogant brother and sought to break him, so they eventually sold him, and removed him from their sight. Joseph’s arrogance had betrayed him, and he lost all that he had which fed his pride.

Humbled, Joseph went around and was a good servant. He did all that he could to be successful, giving his work into the hands of God, and God blessed him. Not that this went straight to his head, but the success caused Joseph to let his guard down, and he fell into the trap set by his master’s wife. Feelings of invincibility probably caused him to enter into a circumstance that ultimately got him thrown into prison. Lesser arrogance than what he threw into the face of his brothers, but still a lack of humility.

God stayed with him, and continued to offer him gifts and blessings, even in the outward appearance of no gifts, no reason for pride, as he was locked up. God had a plan for his life, one that he probably had no clue, and his thoughts were far from those dreams that he had told his brothers, another life ago.

So Joseph used the gift God had given him even while in prison. This time he interpreted two men’s dreams, but this time the reward was not instant, for as soon as the man that benefitted from Joseph’s interpretation, did not help Joseph. This caused a deep humility to dwell within Joseph, so much so that he would remember that God is the source, and Joseph is merely the vessel.

Thus the time came when Pharaoh needed some dreams interpreted. Here Joseph supplied the information that allowed Egypt to be saved from the effects of a Great Famine. For this act Joseph, was rewarded with great power and prestige. At this point his brothers enter the scene again because the famine reached Canaan and his family. They came looking for assistance from Egypt. Instead of treating them with the wrath they probably deserved, Joseph helps them out, and actually saves his whole family, because through the power of the Holy Spirit, Joseph offers forgiveness and salvation to those who started his downward spiral.

He even wanted to offer them the assurance that they were forgiven because he knew that God blessed him throughout the midst of his humbling, by telling them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” His brothers needed to be humbled, but Joseph did this through the love of God, not the wrath.