5 Things We Need to Remember

Over the last 48 hours I’ve experienced the full gambit of emotions and have seen inspiring and terrifying responses from people all across the political and religious spectrum. In my attempts to process where I am at, what I believe, and how I move forward, I’ve written down these five things I know to have been true before the election and will continue to be true.

There has never been and will never be an obvious or clear “Christian” vote. Politics, and people in particular, are far too complicated, nuanced and multilayered to propagate the notion of “obvious” or “clear” votes for all Christians. There will always be faithful and thoughtful followers of Jesus who vote differently. The Church has always been built on diverse people. This diversity cannot be avoided. We must remember there has only been one clear embodiment all that we should desire and place our hope in, Jesus, and He allowed himself to be murdered by a mob consisting of all political and religious affiliations. Since Christ, every person with any degree of influence has held (and will hold) unimaginable brokenness as well as potential for good. It is important to recognize this in ourselves and others.

Recognize and call out the humanity in all people. As I said already, people are incredible complex and multilayered. We must not reduce a person’s or group of people’s humanity to an oversimplified caricature based largely on our assumptions of who we think they are or what their motivations might be. We must stay away from broad brush generalizations and keep ourselves from creating false dichotomies (i.e Vote for Hillary or accept that you’re a racist. Vote for Trump or accept you’re a baby-killer.) which do nothing except dehumanize, over-simplify, and further entrench divisions between people. Recognize and call out people’s inherent good as image bearers of God by bestowing honor, dignity, and grace upon while consistently inviting them to join you in a deeper and more faithful pursuit of holiness, righteousness, and justice in our lives.

Do not become what you were afraid of or hate in others. One of my biggest fears if president-elect Trump lost was that he would refuse to accept the results of the election and, even worse, those who support him would refuse to accept the results as well. While we have avoided this scenario, #NotMyPresident has been trending real strong on social media and protests have begun all across the country. As Christ-followers, and really as a nation, regardless of who you voted or why you chose not to vote, we must be self aware enough to not exhibit the qualities we are most repulses us in others. We must not disengage or close ourselves off and/or pridefully gloat and kick others while they are down. President-elect Trump is our president so together we must fervently demand/expect and encourage/call out the best of him while he is in office.

Christ stands in favor and opposition of all of us. Let us not over complicate this matter. The cross, that we as Christians hold central to all we believe and all of who we are, stands as the exclamation point on this statement. I’ve learned this from Mike Erre as I’ve listened to his podcast. We must remember tChrist leads with grace for all people on every issue while simultaneously show us where we are wrong or coming up short on every issue as well. This is what the cross emphasizes. He leads with grace by willingly and voluntarily giving up his life but in that very act places the evil within all of us in the spotlight. We need to approach our views of and conversations with people with the confidence and humility this understanding brings. In this recognition there is room to believe that celebration does not vilify grief and that grief does not shame celebration.

We must seek the Kingdom of God in tangible ways here on earth as it is in Heaven. Taking all four of these thoughts into consideration, we recognize there was never, and will never, be a candidate who expedites the manifestation of the Kingdom of God hear on earth. It will always grow as a seed from the ground through the expressions of love, pursuits of justice, acts of compassion, and expectations for righteousness from those who stand as one in Christ. The kingdom of God, as described in the Bible, has room for ever tribe, nation, and language. We need to create room at our tables for all people so that there can be a recognition of the complexities of life, dignity in all people, the grace and admonition of Christ in our lives, and the Kingdom seeds bearing fruit in all places.

I need your help believing and living into these five thoughts because I know I have failed in many ways and have significant blindspots. Lets we walk forward together in this as we break bread of fellowship, drink the wine of sacrifice, and experience the freshness of Christ’s love, grace, and God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in Heaven.


#SameTeamRemix & Young Voices Changing the Game

I am assuming most people reading this have at least heard of the rapper named Lecrae. If not, just go to YouTube, search “Lecrae”, then say goodbye to the next hour of productivity as you listen to one of the stronger and more transformative voices in hip-hop today. Right now, this one is my favorite.

But this post isn’t about Lecrae. He’s already won a Grammy, performed with The Roots on the Late Show, and topped the Billboard charts. This is about what has been taking place in the wake of Lecrae’s success. A generation of bold, biblical, political, and prophetic voices finding their platform in the fringes of hip hop.

Humble Beast, WLAK, Beautiful Eulogy, Reach, and along with many other labels and groups are filling my playlists these days. One of the coolest things I’ve seen from this uprising of rappers who are following, preaching, and glorifying Jesus is this trend called #SameTeamRemix. It started with a rapper named Swoope who produced a song called “Same Team” featuring rappers from all different labels. Check it out.

I’ve loved this song and this concept, particularly within a genre of music which is deeply seeded with messages of hatred, exclusion, and disrespect for all other rappers. I then saw that Swoope made the instrumental version of Same Team free online so other groups, cliques, and followers of Jesus could follow Swoope’s lead and make Same Team Remixes. All of a sudden I started seeing young voices, men and women, of all colors proclaiming Christ, celebrating unity in diversity, and doing it all with above average production value and real lyrical talent. Here’s one of my favorites, a group from Dallas.

This stuff is sound! Doctrinally, lyrically, and musically! Trifecta! Here’s what I’m taking note of through all this.

  1. I can listen to indie hip hop by rappers preachin Jesus all day!
  2. These are all “millennials” taking the old truth of the Gospel, mixing it with their cultural craft, and making excellent music.
  3. In a time many churches are working hard to define whose “in” and whose “out” and debating the doomsday news of millennials being “lost” by the church, there is a movement of millennial artists proclaiming truth, unity, and calling for a new reality that isn’t fitting in mainline Christianity or mainline culture.
  4. I’m remembering that historically, the Gospel thrives when the Spirit moves in the margins of mainline culture and when artists, visionaries, prophets, pastors, and culture creators are more concerned about God’s glory than their own platform and glory. I am see this happen, and not just in these videos.
  5. A rising tide lifts all ships.

I’m not a rapper. I’ve dabbled in spoken word but still can’t really get my pen past my own insecurities. So while I’m captivated and in love with hip hop, I’m not suggesting we all become hiphop prophets. I’m simply realizing my desire  to follow Swoope’s lead and collaborate with this diverse family of faith in Christ for the sake of the gospel and unity. Josh Garrels, another one of my favorites who is an indie rock/folk artist who has collaborated with Beautiful Eulogy, sums up what I’m seeing in this #SameTeamRemix trend among these young leaders.

When we are talking about truth and love, you can wield your profession, your craft in a way that hurts people because you’re so good. And so when someone can present it in a way that is inviting people into their joy, that is when the most beautiful things are formed.”

Jesus Followers In Disguise

2014-07-27 11There’s something tragically terrifying and abundantly liberating about embracing a single identity for who you are that transcends all roles, occupations, success, and failures you’ve collected over the years. It’s terrifying because it eliminates our boxes. The boxes we work so hard to form to protect ourselves and at the same time work so dismantle for fear of being pigeon-holed into a single role.

Yet I believe that when Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow him and invites us to take his yoke upon shoulders, it’s a call to view ourselves through a single identifying lens that significantly changes who we are, how we life, and the world around us. Instead of viewing ourselves as, say, Americans who are also Christian, or a high school freshman who is also a Christian, or a single mom who goes to church – I believe that because of Jesus we are now Followers of Jesus disguised as whatever gift, talent, role, or sphere of influence we’ve been given. For me – here’s how I would fill in that blank of “I am a Follower of Jesus Disguised as a ____________”

  • I am a Follower of Jesus Disguised as a father.
  • I am a Follower of Jesus Disguised as a youth pastor.
  • I am a Follower of Jesus Disguised as a husband.
  • I am a Follower of Jesus Disguised as a neighbor. 

There’s a dozen more. Yesterday I was able to speak about this during worship with my church. As a response, I asked everyone to share with us their disguise(s). If you’d like to download the paper and share your disguise, you can download the here or a postcard here.


  • “Jesus Followers In Disguise” is a phrase that I originally heard from Gary Gaddini,  Senior Pastor at Peninsula Covenant Church.
  • At one point during my sermon I said, “your talents and your gifts are not your calling.” This is an inspired truth I heard from Terrance Richmond, who I have met through Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

The Secret Behind Becoming a Radical Christian


There it is. I wish it was something that was deeper and more profound. I wish I had some witty antidote or could break new theological ground in it’s unveiling or even wish that I came to me in a vision that I can now share with the world. But truth be told – I’ve learned the secret behind becoming the Radical Christian that is so hotly talked about and debated these days simply by sticking around.

Why did we start listening to some southern white boy with dreads, dawned in clothes he made himself, living in the ghettos of Philadelphia? Because it was crazy. Why do we keep listening to Shane Claiborne? Because he’s still living there. He’s still making his own clothes. His still championing the poor, the Gospel, the messages he was espousing since day one. He’s still there.

Why did I read some book that challenged everyone’s understanding of God’s crazy love, written by another Southern California mega-church pastor? Because it was a New York Times Bestseller and I like edgy things. Why do I keep listening to Francis Chan for wisdom and council? Because he’s continued to press further and further into the vision that Christ has placed in his heart and the message on placed in his mouth.

Why do I heed every word about faith and church that comes from my 93 year old grandfather who does little by way of today’s “radical faith” definition? Because he’s shown a dedication to his community of faith that is unmatched and unseen any where else in my life. He’s been a bedrock voice, support, challenger, and encourager in his family of faith for more years than I can imagine.

What is it about my grandmother’s life that humbles my greatest theologies, paradigms, programs, and experiences in ministry? Her 50 years of teaching Sunday at the same church. If I’m conservative and say she had 6 kids every year she taught Sunday school, that’s 300 kids the spent an entire year with! Judging by the attendance at her funeral a few years back, she had well more than 6 kids each of those years.

We debate what makes radical faith. We die on hills we call social justice, faith alone, modernity, post-modernity, depth in tradition, life in relevancy, and a thousand more hills with a thousand more names. Here’s the deal: We worship a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He’s sovereign over that which makes your soul burn deep and bright and hot for the Gospel of Christ and his Kingdom come. Yet, whatever it is that is burning deep in your soul leading you to make great sacrifices, go on great adventures, invest deeply, and submit continually here’s my plea: STAY WITH IT!

In four years, my parents will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. In a country where approximately half of all marriages end in divorce, 40 years of faithful marriage is radical. In a country of church shopping, splitting, and reinventing 50 years of faithful attendance, service, and membership is radical. In a country where everyone wants to be the change in every #trending cause, 20 years of dedication to serving the homeless, advocating the end of human trafficking, or raising generations whose faith sticks past adolescence is radical. If we set out to be a radical Christian today. We can call myself radical today. If we set out to have longevity in our faith, mission, and call in Christ, we’ll be remembered as a Christians who undeniably lived radically.

The act of reconciliation requires muscle memory

I love playing and watching both golf and baseball yet I’d be hard pressed to find any commonalities in how these two games are played. I played baseball from ages 5-13, until I realized that you really need to be able to hit the baseball to have any future success in the game. Then in my early 20’s I began picking up golf. Basically in both games you’re swinging a stick at a ball and trying to hit it as far as possible. Yet it didn’t take long to discover that the swinging motions that are skillfully, or in my case clumsily, exerted are fundamentally opposite. The difference between the two swinging motions are subtle but paramount. It’s the difference between keeping your weight forward on your front leg or keeping your weight back on your back leg. Take a look at two of the greatest hitters golf and baseball have ever seen. Tiger Woods on the left, Ken Griffey Jr. on the right. Image

As I was learning how to hit a golf ball I kept using my “baseball swing” and was missing the golf ball. As I was approaching the tee box my mind knew I was going to be swinging a stick to hit a ball, so it defaulted to the only motion it knew. This is called muscle memory. By keeping my weight on my back leg, instead of moving it forward to my front leg I was essentially pulling myself away from ball I was swinging at. This wrecked havoc on my scorecard as well as the landscape!. For me – I had to stop playing baseball, stop swinging a bat, and teach myself a new swing and create a new muscle memory so I could (more) successfully hit a golf ball. It was amazing how these two sports that I thought had very little to do with each other greatly impacted my ability to play either one well.

In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus offers one of the most inconvenient, and I’d say overlooked, elements of worship. The element of reconciliation.

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” (NLT)

It’s easy to give lip service to the idea that we give our whole selves to Jesus yet too often we live as though our spiritual lives and social lives have no connection. When we gather with the church for worship, we are proclaiming our gratitude or need for prior, present, and future reconciliation to God through Christ. All worship truly finds its roots here. Yet, when live our social lives without any efforts to pursue reconciliation (personally, communally, and globally) it is no different than using our best baseball swing to hit a golf ball. Right as we throw our self forward into worship we are simultaneously pulling ourselves away from Christ. Sounds like a pretty serious recipe for a stint on the disabled list…swinging forward while pulling yourself backwards.

We can’t fully move forward in our worship or relationship with Jesus if we aren’t willing to fully move forward in reconciling our relationships with the people we can see, touch, speak to, work with, and share our planet with. Why? Because the Jesus is at work and pursing reconciliation in a might way with the same person(s) I am withholding relational peace from. See, I can walk forward with Jesus as he’s reconciling all people when I’m walking away from people who I need to be reconciled with. They are two opposite motions.

Reconciliation must be at the heart of our worship. This way, the more we prioritize healing broken relationships the sooner reconciliation will become our new relational default during the other 6 1/2 days of our week. We’ll have created a new muscle memory through our relational conditioning, made possible by the Holy Spirit.

So, the time I approach the tee box (worship) and I know there’s something off on my swing (relational conflict), my best bet is to step off the tee box, take a few practice swings (go be reconciled), and step back up to the ball (come back to worship) ready keep my weight on my front leg (Christ as first in all things) all the way through my swing (my act of worship).

Thoughts on Confessions and Compliments

There’s a new trend on Facebook (though it’s not a new idea or outlet) where someone will create a Facebook page for their city or school as a platform for people to anonymously make confessions or leave compliments. As a high school youth pastor both these have been filling up my Facebook newsfeed with students comments and my inbox from concerned parents. I have two thoughts about this all; one to high school students, who seem to be the primary demographic for both confession and compliment pages, and one to parents, who seem to be the most shocked and appalled by the confession pages.

To our teenagers: An anonymous confession is like jumping out of a sinking boat without a life raft. In one moment you’re relieved to have escaped the sinking boat only to find yourself now struggling by yourself to keep yourself afloat on your own strength. When we have the courage to bring people with us into our pain, shame, and insecurity that riddles all our lives (yes, everyone!) we become a people who keep each other afloat. There have been many times in my life where I have had anonymous notes complimenting me on something I’ve done or something that someone sees me to be. As much as I value these gestures, the compliments that have most impacted my life or shaped my view of myself are the ones spoken to me face-to-face or read in an email from someone who personally acknowledges what they appreciate about me.

Confessions and compliments are best done and received in relationship. Why? Because as humans we have this amazing, relentless desire to be known. When we confess something, whether its a shock-and-awe confession on a Facebook page or the last hope confession of a broken heart, we want to be recognized and seen as valuable. (“Wow, you’re the one who wrote that crazy post on the confession page! You’re hilarious!” or “I’m so sorry for the pain that you’re experiencing, I can imagine and will be with you while you heal.” Both are desired responses in attempts to be recognized.) This is why face-to-face compliments are so essential. Don’t steal an opportunity to potentially change the trajectory of a kid’s day because you’re afraid to publicly affirm them.

When I look at Jesus, he is always present to hear my confessions and speak affirmation   in grace and sincerity. Read the Gospel. Jesus came not in anonymity, not as some far off deity that hides behind stone statues, monstrous cathedrals, or religious song and dance. He came to see us in our brokenness then walk us into transformation through his most public affirmation of his love for us, the cross. As the Church, can we be better at cultivating a community that can handle people’s confessions in grace and lead each other to Jesus through our constant public affirmations of each other? Be vulnerable in our confessions and bold in our compliments because you are a generation who values relationships and connection in profound ways. I want to argue that for teenagers in Lamorinda this is the greatest way you can make significant changes in your circle of friends, our school, and our city.

To Parents: These confession and compliment pages should be great news! Has there ever been an easier segway to connect with our kids and their friends in ways that lead to significant conversations? Teenagers in our town are creating PUBLIC PLATFORMS to air what can be very PRIVATE REALITIES! If you have spent any time browsing the confessions page, it can be disconcerting to say the least thinking about what our teens are thinking, writing, or even doing. Yet if we can keep a broader perspective of what is being posted we can begin asking some really awesome questions! “What do you think about the confessions page?” “How seriously do you take what is written?” “What are the benefits or drawbacks of anonymous confessions and compliments?” “If you have a big confession to make, who would you feel most comfortable talking to?”

Parents, let’s be aware and discerning in all that our kids and teenagers in our community are participating in. I pray that within that process we can see how, with a Kingdom of God redemptive perspective, we have great opportunities to build relationships, teach accountable confession, and affirm our teens in amazing ways!

Symptoms of a Broken Heart

Westboro Baptist.

Still reading? If you are you might be surprised to see that by the end of this post you’ll see why I have decided to not disassociate myself with them or disown them from the body of Christ.

Still reading? Okay…here we go.

After reading this passage in Mark 7:1-23 with a group of college students something crazy happened. My judgement turned to compassion. Funny how that happens while reading scripture humbly in community. Also, by the way, it is often times very disorienting how that happens when reading scripture humbly in community.

In this passage the Pharisees are livid with Jesus because he allows his disciples to break the traditions of their elders by not washing their hands before they eat. They says, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”

Jesus responds by saying, “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you?…It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”

My question to the college kids I was with was was this: What would be a modern day equivalence of this story?

We wrestled with this question a lot, not really being able to think of anything when one of the kids asked, “What about Westboro Baptist?” He explained saying, “We feel like all their hate signs, protesting, and hurting of people has given us the right to disassociate with them. You know, think of them as “unclean” in the body of believers. According to Jesus, it’s not the signs that are the problem, it’s their hearts right?”


In my opinion, our Family’s (the family of God) biggest black eye, was just humanized by a 20 year old trying to authentically apply the teachings of Jesus into our modern worldviews. How annoying. But I couldn’t argue. I believe he’s mostly right.

Does Jesus hate when we hurt others? Unquestionably yes. Did Jesus come to propagate an views and practices of peace, love, reconciliation, and justice that are inline with the realities of Heaven? Absolutely. Does he stand idly by while people are persecuted, marginalized, and belittled? NEVER! But Jesus is also not about the business of revenge or abandonment.

Since that Monday I’ve combed through the Gospels and have yet to find a single encounter when people brought problems to Jesus that focused on external problems where Jesus did not refocus their attention on internal heart problems. The woman at the well thought because of who she was, what she was, she couldn’t speak to Jesus only to have Jesus chose to revealed his great plan and identity to her before anyone else. Pharisees condemn the act of working on the Sabbath then he calls into question their compassion? A paralyzed man is brought by friends to be healed; then Jesus heals hearts and legs. Saul imprisons and murders followers of Jesus; then Jesus murders the hatred in Saul’s heart.

As followers of Jesus we accept a unimaginable history of radical compassion and grace. We are to have eyes like Christ who sees our broken outward actions as symptoms of broken hearts. This is good news to all men, women, and children because we can never “out-hate” or “out-hurt” a person or group. But when we choose to allow ourselves to be moved with such compassion that we call upon the God to heal hearts through his Son, regardless of their outward labels or actions, we put out ourselves in great company. The company of the saints before us who changed lives and worlds through Jesus. Yet even greater company than this, we put ourselves in the company of men and women who stood at the foot of the cross watching Jesus pay the greatest price in the wildest act of compassion and grace for the most undeserving people of all time, you and me.

Do I condone what Westboro Baptist does? No. But I also recognize that my own church has great brokenness in our outward expressions of faith and that these are no more or less fundamental symptoms of our misunderstanding of God’s love for us and the world around us. On a more personal level, what about the transgender guy who I always see at my coffee shop or the neighbor who relentlessly makes my life more difficult. I definitely have preconceived reasons as to why they should be kept at a distance. But are their outward expressions any more or less of a reason for heart level compassion than the ways my brokenness manifests itself publicly?

This week my prayer is that when my default worldview sees the outward labels of people or hurtful actions of those around me, I will be moved toward pray and care for them on a heart level and forgo my assumed right to hurt or dismiss them.

Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. These are symptoms of a broken heart. I’m so thankful how Jesus has compassion on us and transforms our hearts so that we may have right actions because we could never have grace and compassion like Jesus on our own.

The Kingdom of Heaven Belongs to Such as These

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

Christina and I have the sweet pleasure of knowing dozens of close friends doing amazing kingdom work all across the world. One of our closest friends who has sacrificed, labored, and benefited greatly in her following and reflecting of Jesus is our friend Autumn Buzzell.

Autumn works with City of Refuge Ministries and founded Faith Roots International Academy in conjunction with City of Refuge. The purpose of COR is to rescue children who are enslaved as forced laborers in fishing villages on Lake Volta, the worlds largest man made lake. Children are often sold or given away to fishermen from families who are either too poor and hopeless to believe they can care for their children or are manipulated into believing that their whole family will benefit financially from sending their children away. COR ministry rescues, rehabilitates, nurtures, educates, and raises children they have negotiated for (as opposed to re-captured) as well as orphans who are brought to them.

Recently Andrew and Kika Grupe decided they were going to spend three weeks with Autumn and City of Refuge Ministries. One amazing side note: They brought their 13 year old daughter with them!

Kika, who is a preschool teacher, went knowing she was going to be providing, training, and implementing preschool curriculum at Faith Roots. Andrew, who is a photographer by hobby & passion, went knowing he was going to be capturing the stories, truths, and realities they experienced so they could be shared back in the US. Kaley wasn’t sure what she was going to be doing but recently she wrote about her experience and it greatly inspired, challenged, and moved me. I’m thankful that this family, particularly Kaley, are good friends of ours and are passionate Christ followers within our community and world! Here is Kaley’s story.

Oh man. Ghana. I mean, what can I say? It’s kind of expected to say that it was amazing. But, truly, it was more than that. It was more than I could ever really describe to someone. It was eye opening, full of love, full of sadness, full of wicked attempts of evil, and full of hope. There was so much that happened, and it’s so hard for me to respond when someone asks how it was, or what it was like. I mean, yes, it was great, but it goes beyond that. It was like a message straight from God, there, opening my eyes to his wonders anew.

            I guess, if I had to say one story, one thing that happened in Ghana that really touched my heart, it would be about the first few days I was there. At first, I came into Ghana, almost weary of how different the culture was. The food was too spicy for me, it wasn’t a very varied diet, and the people all seemed the same. When I first came, I was dreading the action I had taken. I didn’t want to be there, where the electricity had it’s own mood, where the plumbing was sometimes non-existent, where the food was so.. odd… I didn’t want to have to make bonds with people, and come so close to them, let them take a place in my heart, only to have to leave after three weeks. What could three weeks of service even do?

            So, with these thoughts in my head, I stayed to myself more or less. I’d wake up, take my shower, go eat bread for breakfast, then return to my room, and stay in there. I didn’t know what to do. I’m always rather awkward about meeting new people, and I didn’t know how to go about making any friends with the kids in the Freedom Center, in the home. So I was just locked up in my room. Occasionally I’d go out, play with the little kids, the 2 and 3 year olds, because that’s always a rather easy task. I’d also help my dad sound record, which I didn’t like a whole lot either. I was close to just screaming. I had come here to do service, not to be a lazy person all day. But I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was tricked into coming to Ghana.

            It all changed soon enough. At the story time, which was after dinner almost every night, I had caught the eye of a few kids. One in particular was a twelve year old boy named D.K. He was a rather rambunctious kid, who I wanted to definitely stay away from. He’d pull on my hair, and was just a nuisance. Little did I know, this was him extending his hand for friendship.

            On the first Saturday I was there, the  heads of City of Refuge, Stacy and Johnbull, their kids, a few of the volunteers, my family, and I went out to the mall in Accra to celebrate Stacy’s son, JJ’s, birthday. I went to the mall, and had a fun day. I was easily reminded of America, because the mall truly seemed like it. We went and watched a movie, got to eat pizza, and it wasn’t anything like the small, middle of no where villages that were common in Ghana. It felt like home.

            Of course, all this had to end sooner or later. We had to go home, and on the ride back, I started to become closer to Johnbull and Stacy’s kids. I laughed with them, and was happy that I could be in Ghana. The long ride was bumpy and tiring, and I was pretty excited to be able to get back to the ministry’s volunteer house.

            When I got back, I went into the volunteers’ house, where my bunk was. On it, I noticed a letter in an envelope. Inside was a letter from D.K., a sweet letter about how he wanted me to come and play with him and the other kids, and he asked why I was so quiet. He told me that I needn’t be quiet, and that he loved me so much.

            Finally, I realized what I was supposed to do. God was calling me to play with the kids in the Freedom Center. So, the Freedom Center became my new home. I hung out with the kids, day in and day out. I ate dinner with them, not with Stacy, Johnbull, Autumn, or where the other volunteers were supposed to eat, I ate with the kids, even though it wasn’t my favorite. I gave them all the love I could. And in return, they all loved me back, and became my new family. I made friends, and I started to learn the stories of these kids. For example, D.K. had been a fisher’s slave, he had to get the net out of the water in the lake. This was a hard task because the net would sometimes get caught on the underwater trees, making it very likely for someone to drown while detangling the net. His time there was so hard, but it seems impossible, that this kid, who had had such a horrible life, is now smiling so much, and loving with all he can. Now, instead of being a fisher’s slave, he’s a fisher of men. It’s just completely amazing how City of Refuge changed them so much. But it hasn’t only changed them, it’s changed me too. I’ve realized how important it is to give your love to anyone and everyone, and how great it feels to latch onto that love. A love that grows with time, and gets sweeter and better by the day.

Half Right (or Wrong) Theology

It seems over the past three months I have had a number of teenagers and adults ask me where I stand on the “issue” of homosexuality and Christianity. Being a part of the PC(USA) has lent itself to having many of these conversations regarding biblical rightness within our denomination but there’s also been a number of people who are tired of the canned, “I’m pro”, “I’m anti” answers. They want answers that address the gray areas, the uncomfortable middle position many of us stand in when it comes to trying to discern and decipher our theology.

Everyone has some sort of theology because  the word theology simply means the study of the nature of God. So if you’ve ever wondered about or have opinions of God, well you have spent time forming some sort of theology. I spend nearly every waking moment processing, studying, or living out my theology, which is why my recent realization came as a huge eye opener.

I was having a conversation with a teenage girl who is faithfully, painfully, and prayerfully trying to form her theology in regards to homosexuality in light of the fact that she has a close family member who is both a follower of Jesus and openly gay. At one point in our conversation I was explaining her the biblical reasons behind my own biblical understanding I realized that something wasn’t sitting right with her. I asked what seemed to be the problem with my answers and she said, “I get what you’re saying, I just don’t know how what you’re saying will sound to [my family member] when I bring it up?”

With that question I realized what was missing with my theology – I had spent hours studying it but in comparison I had only spent a handful of minutes actually practicing this theology. I had no real understanding of the personal implications that my theology had for the people that were the subject of my theology.

This past weekend my wife, Christina, and I spent time questioning, praying, and talking about who we believe God to be in light of our recent loss of our unborn daughter. It was a beautifully rich, and painful, process of wrestling with what we know to be true about God based on scripture and how that actually fits or shapes the realities of our experiences with God. After a few days we both felt like we were able to settle on in a place where our theology of suffering carries both KNOWN and PRACTICED elements. We know what the Bible tells us about suffering and we are able to practice this theology in light of our personal experiences.

I believe that there are two important parts to shaping our understanding of who God is and knowing his heart. The two parts are the Known Theology and the Practiced Theology. We need to be people who pursue God is both aspects of our understanding and practice.

Known simply means the aspects and attributes of God and our calling as followers of Christ that we have come to know through reading scripture. Practiced Theology refers to the aspects and attributes of God and our calling as followers of Christ that we have come to know through our personal relationships and experiences.

All of us have theologies that we’re are defining our lives around but are only shaped by one of these two aspects. We either form theologies devoid of relationships or experiences with the issue or people that we’re forming our theologies around. Which frees us from the burden of negotiating LOVE as a filter in our views. Or we base our views of God solely on our experiences which frees us from the burden of truth.

As Christ followers we’ll never comprehend the full revelation of God through Scripture and we’ll never experience the fullness of humanity so I pray that we may be wise when shaping our understanding of who God is, the desires of his heart, and the realities of his Kingdom come. May those of us who are predominately “KNOWN” theologians seek to place ourselves in potentially uncomfortable positions so that we may practice and see on a heart level the implications of what we believe. And may those of us who are predominately “PRACTICED” theologians bring our world views and experiences to scripture and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us who God is in light of what we’ve seen, heard, and felt.

May we both know that while there are a few areas in our life where we have an equal balance of known and practiced theology, most times the cup of our understanding in only half full and we need others who are often times vastly different than us to help us fill the empty half.

Rest Doesn’t Just “Happen”

Monday I took the day off from work. Well, I planned on taking most of the day off from work. I wasn’t going to go into the office but I did have an important 3:30 meeting set up that I didn’t want to reschedule for fear of being seen as a flake or poor planner. As 3:30 was approaching I realized that I hadn’t had a true day off from work in nearly a month; I called and rescheduled my meeting. An overwhelming feeling of freedom, grace, and fresh air came over me. Oh yeah, who was my meeting with? A high school student who needed 30 minutes of my time to catch up on a few things from a retreat this past weekend. Like I said, really important.

I don’t know about you, but where I live we place a high value on stress. Here in the affluent suburbs of the East Bay we have this unspoken code that the more stressed you are, the more important you must be.

Stressed about your role in your company’s merger, kids’ basketball playoff schedule, three nonprofit boards you sit on, and shooting an 80 at last week’s charity golf tournament? Wow, I really admire how you can do all that you do.

This isn’t limited to just the adults in our lives, I see it in our high school kids too. We have kids, as young as junior high, who are spending 12-13 hours of their day filling and negotiating all their commitments at the constant encouragement of parents, coaches, tutors, directors, and yes, even pastors. It’s no wonder there is such reckless expressions of celebration among teens in the party scene. They’re trading 3 hours of “freedom” for their 80 hours of busyness and stress each week.

My small group bible study is reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan. This past Sunday Chan’s words on stress struck me pretty hard. He says that constant stress and worry wreaks of arrogance. Chan’s words, coupled with my fear of taking time off from work, brought me to a place of reflection on our constant pursuit of busyness, stress, and acquiring a false sense of importance.

We are obsessed with busyness and stress because we feel that it validates us. The more full our schedule is the more important we feel. The more deadlines we have looming the more needed we appear to be. The more worries I am carrying and/or trying to resolve for my friends, family, and work the more validated I feel. Now, naturally there will be seasons of life and circumstances that demand more of our time, energy, and generally cause our blood-pressure to remain at an elevated state. I’m not speaking to the natural ebbs and flows of life.

I’m talking about how we seek out over-involvement and cultivate life styles that are devoid of extended periods of peace. What I’ve realized is that when I’m living this way I have an exaggerated view of my own importance which shows itself in self centered planning, recreation, and particularly in worship. Sabbath rest and intentional free-time are our strongest weapons against the chaos and selfishness that Satan tempts us with every day. Sabbath Rest and Intentional Free-Time can be small yet powerfully significant proclamations that I am not defined by what I can produce. Rather I am defined by the movement and presence of God in my life. Restorative rest and free-time don’t just “happen”. We have to take the initiative to carve those times out and abide in them. Jesus never just happened to find himself alone without the crowds all around him and decided to rest since nothing else was happening. Jesus always left the crowds. He walked away. He constantly sought to strip himself of busyness and stress which cultivates a false sense of importance.

I pray that I, and we as addicts of busyness, may grow in our reflections of Jesus in such a way that we intentionally seek out regular Sabbath rest and free(dom) time. In doing so we will become receivers and barers of his peace that truly surpasses all understanding.