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.





The power of All

6 05 2017

One of the cool things about learning original languages is how it impacts reading the Bible.  Hebrews 1:3 is often translated “sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

When I read “all things,” I naturally limit my thinking to…things.  In fact, the ESV translates “all things” as “universe” which for me means the physical world.  The original Greek simply says “all.”  As I was reading the passage and looking at the Greek, it struck me how powerful the idea of “all” can be.

Limiting my thinking to “stuff” or “things” misses the complexity of life.  We live in a physical reality but we also believe there is a spiritual reality and our minds can take us all over the place.

When I see Jesus Christ in his proper place as sustaining “all,” it is truly profound.  We know from Genesis God spoke to create the physical world.  The rest of Hebrews 1:3 shows Jesus sitting down in the spiritual world.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 to “take every thought captive” putting my wandering mind in it’s place.  “All” shifts the focus from things swirling around in my world to seeing God’s larger world.

“All” puts a lot of things in perspective.

I hope this thought will cause you to also pause and reflect like it did for me.  We serve an amazing God who truly has the big picture and sustains all.





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.”





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.





The Tale of Two Crowds

1 04 2015

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That is the opening line of “A Tale of Two Cities” written by Charles Dickens in the 1850s. It was about the two very different worlds of the rich and the poor during the time leading up to the French Revolution and the brutality of those two worlds colliding.

The idea of two different worlds colliding is what it feels like in the week leading up to Easter. Palm Sunday shows one crowd praising Jesus.  Then, just a few short days later another crowd is shouting for his death.

When Matthew tells the story of Palm Sunday, he mentions a prophecy told in Zechariah 9:9. It is a great reminder that God’s plan will never be swayed by the crowd. Events were unfolding according to God’s will to redeem humanity.  (Matthew’s account is found in Matthew 21:1-11)

While God may be unchanging, we are very easily swayed by the crowd. If you ever read social science experiments you will see that under the right conditions we can be made to do almost anything. It is kind of scary. Just last year Facebook got in some hot water when it was revealed that they had been manipulating news feeds to see how it would impact people’s posting habits.

That leads to our second crowd. Mark 15:11-15 tells us that the people who shouted “crucify him” had been stirred up by the religious leaders. Even though Pilate knew they were being manipulated, he went along with it and satisfied the crowd’s insistence to kill Jesus.

It is a stark reminder we live in a fallen world. We actively and passively rebel against God and we can be lead down that path very easily. Of course, we always believe it will not happen to us.

That is what Peter thought. In Mark 14:29-31 he said even if everyone else deserted Jesus he would not. I believe Peter had very good intentions but as we watch the story unfold those good intentions fail. He falls asleep when Jesus needed him to pray (Mark 14:33-40). He got violent (John 18:10) and he denied him when the pressure was on (Mark 14:66-72).

Peter is just like you and me. We often have good intentions but in the pressures of life we find ourselves defeated just as Peter did.

Luke 22:31-32 gives us more insight into what happened with Peter. Jesus warns him that Satan wanted to shift Peter like wheat. Jesus also told him that he had prayed for him. What an amazing picture! Jesus praying for Peter.

On this side of the Easter story the picture becomes even more amazing. Hebrews describes Jesus serving as our mediator (8:6, 9:15, and 12:24).  Paul will remind Timothy of that reality in 1Timothy 2:5. We have access to God in a profound and powerful way. WOW!

This is what we are celebrating on Easter. Jesus did the work to restore our relationship with His Father conquering both sin and death.

My prayer for each of us is that we will pause and reflect on the significance of Easter. It will require facing our part in crucifying him. It will also be an opportunity to celebrate the one who was not swayed by the crowds but instead focused on his Father’s Will and extends an invitation to us for a new life and the privilege of being in His crowd.





We don’t need Jesus

3 02 2015

They say catchy titles will draw people to read your post.  Did it work?

Can I be honest?  I see some truth in the title.

“Give us our daily bread”  Honestly, I look for that in my paycheck that comes faithfully twice a month.

“Your will be done” is great as long as it can be accomplished on the weekends and preferably not during football season.

When a crisis hits, the need for Jesus shines brightly.  As a Chaplain I am in awe when I bring the power of the Gospel into a situation.  I am always amazed and humbled when God moves me out of the way and touches hearts.  Then, I go home where I have a good marriage and, while my kids frustrate me from time to time, they have normal middle class American problems.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done.  On the night he was handed over to be crucified he has a desperate time of prayer and says “not my will but your will be done.”

Wow!  Jesus lives out the very thing he taught.  I am convicted.

If you can relate to me, I challenge you as I challenge myself to re-engage our world.  I don’t believe we have to wait for a crisis.  We just need to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable.

My conviction was helped by a NPR story on my drive home.  The reporter was being honest that the stories of Jesus seemed distant but a priest who stood up for the poor and was killed for his stand made the stories of Jesus real.  No, I do not want us go out and get shot.  However, when we engage our world, we bring hope and make Jesus real in lives of the people around us.  Then, we have the privilege of watching our Savior change lives.

After listening to the story I went into the store to pick up a couple of items.  As I looked around, the Holy Spirit pointed out that each person I saw had a story and God loved them.  It was an invitation to join him as he looks for his “will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I want that. I need that.  I need Jesus.





These are socks…Love

16 01 2015

This is my final devotional in this series.  It has been based on how Coach Wooden, the legendary basketball coach for UCLA, would begin his first practice.  He started off each season by teaching his team how to wear their socks.   He believed the basics are what wins the game.

What are the Christian’s socks?  What are the basics we have to remember to be effective?  I believe there are three; faith, hope and love. Today I want to focus on love.

Love is the most overused word in our vocabulary.  Everyone has their idea of what love means.  I think there are two distinctive for the unconditional love we need as socks.

First, it must come from a place of strength.  John 10:18 is a uniquely powerful verse.  Jesus says he has the authority to lay his life down and pick it back up.  In other words, he was the only one who could die sacrificially in place of humanity.  This is critical to understand.  There are a lot of people who would die for another person.  While that is admirable, it does not have the same power as what Jesus did.  When Jesus laid down his life, reality was fundamentally changed.  Our relationship with God was fully and completely restored.  God did this out of the purest form of unconditional love.  There were no strings attached and no other agenda except love.

As Christians we tap into that love.  This is why Jesus says the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others.  It is only in my relationship with God I have the understanding to unconditionally love anyone else.

As a pastor and a Chaplain I have often seen people who love from a place of weakness.  They do things because they need to feel accepted, they want to portray an image or they want to cover up an area of their life.  The majority of the time they are not doing it with evil intent.  They are doing it because they are longing for love.  They will join churches and even go into ministry all with the hope of being good enough or accomplishing something significantly enough that will let them feel loved.  Sadly they are missing the true depth of Christian love. They are missing their socks.

God’s unconditional love comes from a genuine place of strength.  When I accept this type of love, it transforms me.  I rely on God to show others love.  In other words I operate from God’s strength.  Will there be sacrifice?  Of course but it comes from pure motives and a right perspective.  It is truly powerful and transformational.

This is a deep concept so I encourage you to meditate on it and talk to God about it.  Once it clicks, I promise you will be amazed and in awe of God.

The second aspect of unconditional love is boundaries.  Healthy relationships have boundaries.  The very concept of love implies a relationship so it makes sense there would be boundaries.  A great example is the marriage relationship.  If I say I love my wife but hurt her or cheat on her you could legitimately question my love.  Because God has invited us to freely choose to enter a relationship with him, it is reasonable that we would live within the boundaries of that relationship.

We need three things to know God’s boundaries.  First, we have to have an active prayer life in which we are not just asking God to do things for us but we are slowing down to listen for God’s voice.  Second, we have to read the Bible.  This is the sacred text of Christianity.  We believe it is inspired by God and unique in both it’s power and authority.  Finally, we have to be connected to a healthy church.  In a healthy church we can have good relationships to keep us grounded and help us grow and mature.  I know I often sound like a broken record when it comes to the importance of being connected to a church but I see the difference in lives of people who are connected and those who aren’t.

So do you have your socks on? I hope this series has given you something to consider.  Let’s make sure we have our socks on and let’s get into the game.