Reflections on a Red Nose

26 05 2017

Yesterday was one of those cool days.  People around the country donated over $33 million to help children in need.  Next year I am sure they will be able to raise even more.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Regional Task Force on Homelessness Governance Board meeting.  One of the presenters made the point if San Diego truly worked together we could get homelessness to functional zero in five years.

Currently our city has an estimated homeless population just over 9,000.  That population grew from the previous year despite thousands of people doing random acts of kindness, wearing red noses and shopping at Walmart. (Recent Walmart ads say they contribute to feeding the poor when you spend money with them.)

There is a price to our individualism.  The significant issues in our world are handled ineffectively while we feel satisfied because of our individual efforts to make the world a better place.  It is like putting out a forest fire by each of us taking our own little cup of water and randomly throwing it into the flames.

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend two different churches.  One had smart people and was well resourced.  The other was not well resourced but had people who truly were in need.  The two churches are not connected even though they have the same beliefs.  Each had their cup of water as the forest fire raged.

Deuteronomy (24:19-22) and Ruth show ways in which the Nation of Israel established a system of care for those in need.  The New Testament shows the Church being a collective body caring for those in need.

The Church has a strategic opportunity (as it always does) to be a unified force impacting our world.  Lets ask harder questions of ourselves and our leaders.  Issues like homelessness and child poverty can be complex but we have really smart people sitting in our Churches every Sunday morning.

Are we going to let corporations and governments outperform the Church?  I recently finished the book “The New Parish.”  It offered a powerful perspective on leadership.  The authors challenged us to ask the question: What is worth following?  Let that question sink in.  Then, let’s take our cups of water remembering Jesus’ words:

“When I was hungry you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” Matthew 25:35.





A Reminder for the Church

12 11 2016

Yesterday we had a chance to pause and focus on something positive, honoring Veterans.  When we think of a Veteran, we don’t think of a political party or race.  We simply get to acknowledge a person’s service and sacrifice.  Their identity as a Veteran is stronger than any other label.

Those who served know you have very little choice in a lot of things.  You don’t get to pick your Commanding Officer, your roommates (in a berthing on a ship…that can be a lot of roommates!!) or the people you have to work with.  You have to figure it out because the mission of your unit is more important than your personal perspective.  Is there ever conflict?  Absolutely and sometimes that conflict is significant.  It takes good leadership and proper focus to deal with those conflicts.

By now you have looked at the title of this post and you read the last paragraph and you know where I am going.  In my last post I shared my frustration about how segregated out churches are.  If we truly are a body called to work together, we must see segregation limiting our effectiveness.  Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35).  Put that alongside Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to love more than just the people we like (Matthew 5:43-47) and the bar is set pretty high.  So high in fact the only way we could pull it off is if we had God’s help…hmmm maybe that was God’s plan all along.

If people look in our churches and see great communities but everyone looks alike and tends to agree on issues of politics or other social topics, then the church is really no different than their work’s softball team.  The only difference is they probably feel they can be themselves at softball.

I am not advocating we focus on unity.  I am saying if we truly focus on Jesus one of the byproducts will be a community with unity and a love that is very distinctive from the world.

I was listening to a podcast on a social science experiment regarding bystander intervention on college campuses.  The researchers did not know how to handle an interesting finding.  People they classified as conservative Christians were very likely to speak up if they saw someone discriminating against a person who was gay.  I was not surprised.  I expect Christians to speak up and stand by a person being wronged.  I was proud of the Christians at that college who were being true to their faith.

So what do we do?  We take this strategic opportunity to start building bridges with people different than us.  We work to make our churches distinctive communities.  A good place to start is to reach out to people who are struggling with the results of the election.  Find out why they are having a hard time.  Simply listen and try to understand.  Then, stay connected.  Build a relationship and build a church that will stand as a distinctive light four years from now…yep we will have another election…sorry.

Four years from now wouldn’t it be amazing if there were churches where people worshiped together even though they completely disagreed on politics because they loved Jesus and each other more.  The world would be shocked.  Here is the cool part.  I believe we would also be more effective because we would be a body able to draw from all of our gifts, strengths and perspectives.

What would we tell the world?  We would say we are just following Jesus.  After all he did say, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”





Awareness is Painful

17 10 2016

It has been too long since I posted!!  I will hopefully post more frequently but I make no promises!  This morning, as I do most mornings, I was having a philosophical debate in my head.  I have amazing discussions and solve most of the world’s problems.

This morning’s debate was about a reality I have become painfully aware of.  Race is a huge topic in our country and everyone has an opinion.  I believe most Christians hold my perspective; the church is a place for all people.  We take Revelations 7:9 literally: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language.”  We expect Heaven to be racially diverse.  Unfortunately, the Church in the United States is waiting until then for that to be reality.

As I prepare for life after the Navy, I checkout church websites.  Wow!!! The lack of diversity is appalling!  So, I googled multi-racial churches and…I am not sure what our definition of multi-racial is but I sure wasn’t finding it.  The ironic part is this is not new.  I remember racial reconciliation was a major topic in the early nineties with the rise of the Promise Keepers Movement.

What happened?  I think we bought into the idea of church being a “safe place.”  We sought to make people feel “comfortable” with the hope they would grow spiritually.  We fell into a trap.  We slowly settled into our own groups which meant we divided by race.

The culture says faith is a private matter.  It is something that helps people with their emotional well being.  Our safe and comfortable churches shout we agree.  When race flashed as a major issue, the church was left on the sidelines.  We were irrelevant.  Many see the white church as part of the problem.  Meanwhile, the black church is struggling to find the powerful voice it had during the Civil Rights Movement.  We sit divided just like our country.  In other words, we are no different than the world around us with our faith being a private matter that helps our emotional well being.

Racial diversity can be difficult but the Church has a powerful foundation that truly makes us salt and light.  I compare racial diversity like jogging.  Most mornings we don’t want to get out of bed.  However, when we do it consistently, we build endurance and more importantly we can run when we have to.  Somehow we stopped jogging in the nineties.  The consequence today is instead of running out ahead of our country and inviting them to consider the power of the gospel, we are huffing and puffing and falling further behind.

We have to put on our running shoes.  The Church is God’s ambassador to a world that desperately needs hope!  Let’s stop being safe and comfortable and start being relevant and engaged!  The starting point?  Take a look at your church’s leadership page.  What do you see?  If it is all one color…you may need to go for a jog.





But I assumed…we did this together

18 09 2015

In my last post I assumed we were equal.  It is a critical starting point to helps us keep a proper perspective and enables us to engage with God and one another in a profoundly powerful way.  That is important because of of my next assumption…we do this together.

Ephesians 4:15-16:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

I was listening to a Ted Talk on poverty.  I was frustrated because ever time the speaker mentioned a bright spot in dealing with poverty it fell right in line with what a healthy church should be doing.  However, the only way the church can effectively mentor, provide safe places for at risk youth, support people facing a wide range of struggles and make sure we are grounded on God’s truth is if everyone is doing their part.

Sadly we have a tendency to see our organized churches as a spectator event instead of a team sport.  I do not want to minimize the countless small acts done behind the scenes by dedicated Christians living out their faith.  However, we are so much more effective when we work together.

Football season is upon us! Imagine if the coach told players to play where they wanted and hopefully score.  There would be chaos as 3 people try to be the quarterback and 4 want to be receivers.  There would be no one on the line because that is not very glamorous.  You get the idea.

I believe the Bible is clear we are suppose to be one team lead by God with everyone having something to contribute.

The implication is we need to rethink how we do church.

The difference between reality of what the church is suppose to look like and what it actually looks like is so overwhelming only God could straighten it out…maybe that is not such a bad thing.

Unity and working together is hard.  It makes us uncomfortable and we will have conflict.  It is also incredibly rewarding.  Imagine Jesus truly being the leader and people from different races and political ideologies working together.

If you are a Christian I encourage you to spend some time in prayer inviting God to reveal your role on His team.





But I assumed…

2 09 2015

What if you went to Chick-Fil-A and saw a hamburger on the menu?  They would have some explaining to do and they may want to rethink their ad campaign.

We have expectations and those expectations lead to assumptions.  I have been convicted about the importance of key assumptions we need to effectively live out our Christian Faith.  I will spend the next few blog posts talking about them.

Assumption one:  We are equal

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28

In the United States we love to believe we get it when it comes to equality.  We point to the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”

Of course, we gloss over “all men” did not include slaves or women.  Isn’t that how it often goes?  We say everyone is equal but our actions often reveal some different assumptions.

The biggest assumption I see when it comes to Christianity is “my sin is bigger than other people’s therefore I can’t be forgiven or be a part of God’s plan.”  Too many people sideline their relationship with God and others because of this.  If we can grasp that we are equal then we recognize that sin is sin and we all struggle with it.  We have to hear Paul’s words, “no temptation has overtaken you but what is common…” (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Once I realize you and I are the same, then I see there is hope.  Sin is put in proper perspective and managed by God’s grace and transforming work in my life.

For those who have overcome sins in their life, there is another dangerous assumption: “I am not like them.”  This assumption often plagues those inside the church.  We acknowledge that we were once sinners like “them” but we add a subtle twist to the story of God’s grace.  We take credit for our victory.  We will use spiritual terms but our actions show what we really believe.  Those with this assumption often make decisions for God about who is in and out.  This was exactly the mindset of the Religious Leaders Jesus fought against.

This idea of being equal before God has very big implications.  It sets the stage for all of us have the chance at redemption and helps us stay balanced as we grow and mature in our faith.  It builds bridges and helps us connect to others…all others without discrimination.

Today there are lot’s of discussions about racism and discrimination.  Political solutions look bleak as politicians label and attack anyone who has a different point of view.

It is an amazing opportunity for the Church.  We can step in and truly engage our world in a uniquely powerful way.  We see everyone as someone just like us.

Do you really believe we are all equal or do you find yourself making assumptions that limits you or excludes others?

If you do not see us as equal, I invite you to pray and consider the implication of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  When we grasp our equality, it is an incredible truth that ripples through our life.  It will deepen our relationship with God and each other.





God is Brilliant

15 08 2014

How would you paint a picture of yourself that could be understood across time and not be limited to one culture? What if it was critical for people to know who you are because…well you are God?

You would have to start with an anchor. You created the universe. You are sooo big that you cannot be confined and put into a box. However, you need to set some boundaries and create a shared understanding. So you begin with stories handed down generation to generation until they can be written down. Then, after you accomplished the greatest feat in human history by conquering sin and death through Jesus’ death and resurrection, you close out the written revelation and entrust it to your followers.

You don’t just let your followers fend for themselves. You give them your Spirit to lead and guide them. You also established the Church. The Church is global and has a diversity in understanding who you are to avoid people making you look like them and limiting yourself to one culture and one group of people. You can do this because you have provided an anchor…the Bible. In the midst of the diversity some core themes and understandings come to light. You are good. Jesus is amazing and the importance of his work is validated. Love, hope and grace come to life. Righteousness and justice take their proper place calling us to live for something bigger than ourselves. You make yourself known to each generation. They are able to draw upon your timeless truths. Your followers are able to make an impact in their communities and around the world.

It is an incredible balance. If we leave the boundaries of the Bible we miss the mark. If we try to limit God to just words on a page we also miss the mark.

It is amazing. People a thousand years ago could know and follow God and if Jesus does not return for another thousand years people in the future will also be able to know and follow God.

Let’s make sure we are reading our Bibles with a focus on understanding it. Let’s not do it alone. We need to have conversations. First with God and then with one another to keep us balanced and focused on who God truly is. Then, we will know God and be able to make an impact in our communities and around the world. I have to say God is brilliant.





Fighting Indifference

7 01 2014

We have arrived at the highest level of human achievement. Last week we ate in a sports restaurant. It had large screen televisions everywhere but that is not what made this place special. My son came out of the restroom with a look of awe on his face. Yes, there were TVs in the restroom so you didn’t miss a moment of the game. What else could we ask for?

We have to acknowledge the excess we have in our country. Many in the world would have been in awe of the plumbing and stable electricity. Some would be amazed at the TV. Some would just have been happy to not being afraid. Even in our own country some would have been excited at having a full plate of food.

By now you should be feeling guilty. However, I have found operating by guilt is not sustainable and more importantly it is not a healthy way to live.

What we need to do is fight against an attitude of indifference that easily slips in. It is not because we don’t care but because we often don’t experience hardships faced by others. The lack of experience can cause us to go on with our daily lives without pausing to consider the needs of others. This is compounded by our ability to get lost in our “cool stuff” even to the point where a guy wants to go to the bathroom. We end up being more worried if we are connected to Wi-Fi than we are about the poor.

James tells us “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27, NIV)

Does this mean I can’t go to a sports restaurant with TVs in the bathroom? No but it does mean that I need to be intentional and not become indifferent to the needs around me.

The Church is the best place to help you fight indifference. Just to brag a little about our church, we encourage people to have bags in their cars with basic essential items to give to homeless people and we go as a group on a regular basis to feed the homeless. We also have a team that will be going on a short term mission trip to Ethiopia and one of the things they will be addressing is Human Trafficking. Our church is not unique. There are lots of good healthy churches that seek to engage the community and invite you and me to participate.

On our own we tend to slip into indifference. Be honest. When was the last time you helped a person in need? When was the last time you gave to a charity? When was the last time you volunteered? Having just finished the Christmas season, we had more opportunities than normal to give and help those in need. As we settle into the regular routine, we won’t have as many opportunities handed to us and the chance of becoming indifferent will increase.

So let’s commit to fighting indifference. If you are not plugged into a healthy church find one and seek to serve in an area that helps the community. If you are plugged into a healthy church it is time to get involved. For those who don’t go to church, I encourage you to be intentional about volunteering and giving to an organization that helps make the community stronger.

The price for indifference is that we will have a really cool place to go the bathroom but we will miss the opportunity to make a difference and live a life that counts.





Running for President in 2016…

12 01 2013

Not!  When you saw the title did you groan?  Are you sick of politics? We just finished being bombarded with election ads when we began enduring the drama of the “Fiscal Cliff.” In the midst of the drama tragedy struck in Connecticut. Our political leaders are now engaged in the discussion on gun control and access to mental health care. As I have been watching everything unfold, it struck me just how limited government’s power is from a human perspective. Because this is not a political blog, I will ignore the debate about the role of government. That is for others. I want to focus on the church and would offer that we have the ability to address the human dynamic.

What am I talking about? I am glad you asked. Can you legislate compassion? Can you pass a law to make someone love another person? Is there a form you can fill out that will distribute joy? While laws may be able to outlaw certain behaviors, they can never impact the underlying traits that govern those behaviors. To prove this all you have to do is talk to a person who experiences hate and bigotry even though they don’t experience any illegal discrimination.

There is a temptation to find the magical law that will solve those underlying traits. When the church goes down that road, we call it legalism. Legalism is simply the misguided belief that laws solve heart problems.

I was reading a philosophy book and the author did a classic move. He quoted a commentary about how the world was going downhill and how hopeless things were becoming. The author then asked the reader to guess when the commentary was written. It read like it was written today but in fact it was written during the time of Plato. Human problems are timeless and as old as … humans.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 4:18, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…”

The church operates in terms such as faith, hope and love. We are God’s instrument to bring his message to the world. We have the freedom to create healthy communities not constrained by boarders, political ideology or ethnic background.  If there ever was a time for the church to engage now is that time.

Take some time to ask yourself the following questions:

1) Am I a part of a church?  We must understand the danger of individualism that says we can do this on our own. We can’t. We need each other.

2) Is my church safe and inviting? In other words, is it a place anyone can come to seek God, get help or simply receive prayer?

3) Is my church healthy? I understand this question is subjective. It will require both a gut check and time in prayer asking God. That is okay. Remember there is no rule that you will be able to pass that will make it healthy. It is a question focused on the human dynamic and our relationship with God and each other.

If you identified growth areas for your church, what are you going to do about it? Often times when we see shortcomings it is easy to pass along blame or make sure a rule is passed to make everyone become like me. We need more than that. We need ownership, responsibility and a deepening relationship with God.

Politicians will continue to debate. Discussions are already underway about who will run in 2016. Laws will be passed that may help within their limited capacity.

My prayer is the church will stand up and be counted. We will operate in our currency of faith, hope and love. We will stay true to Jesus and avoid the dangers of legalism. We have answers to the human condition. Just like Abraham we are able to hope even if there appears to be no reason to hope.





Living beyond laws

8 08 2012

I am back!  I returned from deployment at the end of June and I was able to spend some down time with the family.  To be honest it can be hard to get going after a break.  The good news is that the need to write is pushing me to the point I had to get started again.  So here it goes…

Within the last several weeks we have had two terrible shootings that have rocked the nation.  After the grieving there are a couple of normal responses the community has.  First, we try to figure out who the person was and why he did it.  Second, we evaluate our laws to see if they need to be changed or new laws need to be added.  I want to focus on the second response.

Laws establish boundaries for what we believe is acceptable behavior in the community.  In reality laws only control some behavior some of the time for some of the people.  Want proof?  Did you break any speed limits this week?

As Christians we believe that God transforms our lives.  In Galatians Paul lists the byproduct of being in a healthy relationship with God (Galatians 5:22-23).  We call them the fruits of the Spirit.  He says something interesting at the end of the list, “Against such things there is no law.”  That makes sense.  How do you legislate gentleness?  Can you force a person to be joyful or have peace?  These things have to be byproducts of something deeper.  I would offer the discussion we need to have is not about laws or the one individual but our own personal growth and how to be a healthy community.

I am grateful we live in a country that gives us freedom.  We are able to have a “market place of ideas.”  The church brings Jesus to the market place.  We offer that a relationship with him will transform us.  It gives us new life.  It results in communities built on love that are good and faithful.  Has the church ever gotten it wrong?  Absolutely.  I offer we get it wrong when we shift our focus from Jesus.

Now what?  If you are not a Christian I would invite you to consider Jesus.  Talk with a Christian you respect and explore what it means to have a personal relationship.  For those who are in a relationship with Jesus, take a peace of paper and write the 9 fruits that are mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control).  Consider each one and ask yourself “Am I growing naturally in this area?”  If you are human you will have mixed results.  There will be areas you are growing and there will be areas you need to work on.  For those areas you need to work on avoid the easy answer which is to make a rule (or law) to try and change.  Instead pray and ask God to change you. Please be willing to listen.  God will open opportunities for you to grow.  It may be by talking with someone, reading your bible, getting plugged in with a church or looking for a way to get involved in your community.

The result will be transformed individuals living in communities that are vibrant and healthy.  Will we still have tragedies?  Sadly, until Jesus returns we will.  However, we will have given ourselves the best chance to avoid them and an effective way to respond.





You look like someone I know

8 03 2012

There seems to be a breakdown in how people treat each other.  In politics it gets downright ugly.  Once a person is seen as being on the other side of the issue, there are no limits to how much we can bash them.  The attacks are often personal and frankly mean.  Meanwhile, the images portrayed as normal make people worry about how they look.  The idea of beauty has become an airbrushed fantasy.  It is heartbreaking.  Does Christian theology have a response to this?  I believe it has a very powerful response.

First, you may be surprised that I used the word theology.  However, theology is why we do the things we do.  Theology is simply how we understand God.  So if your theological view is there is no God you will live your life accordingly.  If you view God as judgmental waiting to punish you then that will shape how you live.  Some believe God is present in everything…the bottom line is how we understand God and the things of God ripple into all the other areas of our life either consciously or unconsciously.

What is the Christian theology on self-image and how we treat others?  You may have heard the term Imago Dei.  It means the image of God.  Christians believe we are made in God’s image.  This has huge repercussions.

First, we have value and worth regardless of any external factor.  Society may or may not find you attractive.  However, you have inherent attractiveness because of whose image you are made in.  Many would agree that we need to have an internal sense of value and worth.  However, I would argue that value needs to be anchored in something larger than ourselves.  If we don’t anchor it the result is a tendency to earn our worth or look for worth in other people.  If I try and earn my worth I will never feel I have arrived.  I will burn myself out.  If our worth comes from another person we set ourselves up.  All of us are human.  We make mistakes and don’t always appreciate the people around us.  The Christian view is to anchor our value and worth in God.  God does not need our actions (one of the benefits of being God) and is able to be a steady rock in the midst of our human relationships.

Second, we are an image of God and not God.  This puts boundaries on me.  I need to be respectful and acknowledge there is one who is greater than me.  When I disrespect another person, I am not showing respect for the one whose image that person carries.  This means I see everyone has having value and worth not because of what they do even if they have hurt me or because of who they are.  I show them value and worth because they are made in the image of God.

Imagine if we treated everyone with respect and dignity.  Yes, even the person who we do not like or the person who has hurt us.  At the extreme we see this in how we treat prisoners.  Even though they may have done horrible things, we insure they are treated with dignity.  To do anything else opens the door for interpretation for how others are treated.  (I hope you can see the idea of people deciding to treat people differently because of the color of their skin or their political views.)  This takes Jesus commandments to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love our enemies to a whole new level.

If I see I have value and worth because I am made in the image of God then I will have self-esteem.  If I see you have value and worth because you are made in the image of God then I will treat you with dignity and respect.  That should happen regardless if I agree with you, if you look a certain way or if you do something I think is wrong.

Confession as a Christian leader:  The Church has not always gotten this right.  The Church is made up of humans who sin.  This only reinforces my point about being anchored in God and not other people.  However, the Church’s theology is clear.  We need to allow this theology to ripple into the other areas of our lives.  You are in the image of God and so is every other person you encounter.  I pledge to act like it.  Will you?