Singing a Song of Rest


IMG_4635 2When I look at this picture I see much of the depth, tension, and resolve that is presented by the poet & song writer who penned the words of in Psalm 62. The psalmist’s opening refrain declares “Only God” is the place of rest, a stronghold for refuge, and source of salvation, a refrain echoed four times in this song. This picture was taken just near a mountain peak off the shores of Lake Tahoe. The young adventurer on overlooking resting on the bench is my oldest daughter who was set on reaching the top of this mountain. The distance and elevation of the hike affected her more than either of us anticipated but she was bound and determined that she would not give up but took full advantage of each of these resting places on the way up. Psalm 62:2 says “Only God is my rock and my salvation-my stronghold!-I won’t be shaken anymore.” In the midst of the struggle to gain perspective of our surroundings we must remind ourselves to take moments of rest rest, like the psalmist and my daughter, in the one who is steady, constant, and welcoming. From a place of rest, stillness, and silence we can take stock of where we are, how far we have come, and where we have yet to go. Yet, we must continue to move forward.

“How long will all of you attack others; how long will you tear them down as if they were leaning walls or broken-down fences?” I see these words in the cement path leading away from the bench just behind my daughter, the path that led her back towards the top of the mountain. We had never done this hike before and she was determined to make it to the top yet, at times, greatly frustrated with me for how unceasingly difficult and unending the hike seemed to be. Would we ever make it to the top? Would this burning in our legs really lead us to a place where we could catch a full view of the lake, which we only could see in momentary glimpses? This is the path that beckons us to continue to move forward, to not simply stop and hide within the comfort of our rest but face those who seek our destruction because our trust is within the strength and salvation of the only God whom rest and salvation is assured.

“Human beings are nothing but a breath.” The psalmist pens these words in verse nine of Psalm 62. As I stood and took this picture of my daughter, I momentary lost my breath as I became overwhelmed with the immensity of what I was seeing. I was looking at a young girl who holds the entirety of my heart yet to see her in light of the trees, the mountain, and even the lake in the background she seems so small, simple, and, dare I say, fleeting. The forest and lake have been in residence for centuries while at our best we may fill close to a single century ourselves. To place my hope and identity in being a the father of this girl or even anything else seemed, in that moment, to be so small in comparison to the longevity of the scenery that encompassed my daughter and I. The one who created this place that has far outlived my ancestors and will long outlive me, is the one and the only God for whom I will trust because it God is the only one whom it can be said, “faithful love comes from you, my Lord” because forever is still smaller than He.

PSALM 62

Only in God do I find rest;
    my salvation comes from him.
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
    my stronghold!—I won’t be shaken anymore.

How long will all of you attack others;
    how long will you tear them down
    as if they were leaning walls or broken-down fences?
The only desire of this people
    is to bring others down low;
    they delight in deception.
With their mouths they bless,
    but inside they are cursing. Selah

Oh, I must find rest in God only,
    because my hope comes from him!
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
    my stronghold!—I will not be shaken.
My deliverance and glory depend on God.
    God is my strong rock.
    My refuge is in God.
All you people: Trust in him at all times!
    Pour out your hearts before him!
    God is our refuge! Selah

Human beings are nothing but a breath.
    Human beings are nothing but lies.
    They don’t even register on a scale;
    taken all together they are lighter than a breath!
Don’t trust in violence;
    don’t set false hopes in robbery.
When wealth bears fruit,
    don’t set your heart on it.
God has spoken one thing—
    make it two things—
    that I myself have heard:
    that strength belongs to God,
    and faithful love comes from you, my Lord—
    and that you will repay
    everyone according to their deeds.

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Grace When There Are No More Words To Say


The Bible tells us a story of an old priest named Zachariah. He and his wife “were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old.” Then one day an angel of the Lord appears to Zachariah and tells him they were going to have a baby. It would be easy to assume this “elevated biblical character” would have an idyllic response, one of praise, worship, and/or gratitude. Rather, in a form true to the honest portrayal of humanity within biblical texts, Zachariah’s response is, “How can I be sure of this?” The angel then says, “Because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”

I have heard this story dozens of times over the course of my life and always believed Zachariah was punished for asking his question. Zachariah gives honesty and has his voice taken from him. How is God good in this? Over the last year, I’ve been able to understand how taking away Zachariah’s voice was actually an act of goodness and grace.

Over a year and a half ago the life Christina and I had known started to fall apart. From January – April of 2016 I found myself wrestling with the darkness and loneliness of depression. It became harder and harder to believe I could be honest about my own life and journey while being a pastor in full-time ministry. During this time, years of “deferred maintenance” on our marriage caught up to us and Christina and I spent the better part of six weeks living together but not speaking to each other. We realized for the first time how healthy marriages slowly find their way to divorce. With tears in our eyes, deep hurts, uncertainty, and trepidation in our hearts, we made a commitment to not give up on each other or the life that we were building together.

We began asking friends to have faith with and for us as we desperately prayed for clarity in how God would restore all that was broken and hurt. Through months of prayer and conversation we believed with our whole hearts God was “inviting us into a space he had created for us”. We moved without the certainty of future success but believed it was time to practice what we had always told others to do, trust God with your whole life. We were believing the space God was inviting us into would be a healing place where all our troubles would find their resolution.

What we experienced upon moving was not so much a year of rest and rejuvenation but a year defined by an onslaught of unmet expectations. We quickly discovered that our expectations of a restful and restorative transition were unrealistic. We realized we had put the idea of life near family on an unattainable pedestal. We discovered how much of our life was intrinsically connected to identities such as “pastor”, “doula”, “full-time mom”, “financial provider”, “California/Bay Area resident”, and even “church people”. All of these identities were taken away from us in one way or another and we were left with insecurities, continued bouts of depression, and fear that we had thrown our life in California away for nothing. Yet, anchored in the depths of our hearts were the words, “God has invited you into this space”. But these words seemed to ring out as an indictment against the goodness of God and we continually asked, “How can we be sure of this?

I reached a point early on in our move where I felt my voice no longer carried the legitimacy or influence I had always been sure it had. I felt that God had quieted my voice as well as so hidden my identity as a pastor, teacher, leader, influencer, husband, father, and son. Over the last year I haven’t so much as prepared a sermon, let alone taught in any formal or informal context. I essentially stopped all social media postings because it all seemed like pretense. For the majority of the past year, I have only prayed in earnest a handful of times as any words I can think of seem to be hallow or disingenuous. All that was left was to do has been to listen.

From this place, I found new perspective in the old story of Zachariah. I see now a particular type of grace that was given Zachariah whose voice was taken from him. There is grace in having to simply listen to what God will say, when he will say it and look for God to do what he said he will do when he will do it, particularly when that which God will say or do seems audacious and impossible. Christina and I have had some of our most treasured faith assumptions called into question or deconstructed. We are now rebuilding what we hope is a richer, deeper, more authentic, and a more fruitful faith rooted in fresh readings of scripture and experience. Slowly, I am finding my voice. Along with Christina, I am learning to see that “blessings” and “grace” are not defined simply by the extent of our immediate comfort and abundance. Rather “blessings” and “grace” are the ways in which God chooses to lead us into deeper and more genuine understandings and experiences of his grace and love. From this renewed perspective, the space God has invited us into has been a place of blessing and grace on his terms, revealed in his ways, so that we may be able to know him as he would like us to know him. I am grateful for the blessing of this past year that has given me new ways of speaking of grace as we begin our second year in the place God has invited us to be.

 

Silent Night – a Father’s lullaby


This song has always baffled me. I have always felt the writer of this song clearly lacked two pivotal experiential points of reference prior to writing this candle lit hymn: being in a barn full of animals and attending a birth. In my experience, I haven’t come close to using “silent” as a. This song must then simple be fictional idealization of a birth to further portray Jesus’ life as “sunshine & roses” even from the moment he entered this world. There had to be chaos, noise, stink, panic, worry, and poop. Lots of poop! Honestly people, there were barn animals and a newborn, poop would haven a central decor piece. To believe it was actually a “silent night” is either outright naive or a staunch defense of adding poop to the nativity scene on your mantel.

What if, though, this isn’t a historical retelling of Jesus’ birth? What if this is lullaby? What if? We know Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, didn’t write this song, but if we listen closely, it sure does sound like the words of a proud papa. Let’s look at a few phrases from this divine love song.

Round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.” The moment Joseph would have seen Mary getting her first chance at sleep with his son in her arms, yes…there must have been a deep sense of heavenly peace!

Shepherds quake at the sight…” Joseph would remember that raggedy gang of misfits and outcasts approach the stable, full of mixed emotion…mostly fear! He remembers what they had told him about their encounter with more angels than any human had seen prior and now were in the presence of Israel’s Messiah and a baby to boot! That’s enough to rattle even the bravest and most callous night dwellers.

Silent night, all is calm, all is bright…” In a literal sense, was the night of Jesus’ birth silent, calm, and bright, surely not. I imagine though, Joseph, in his core, needed to believe that in the midst of so much unmet expectation, there was something beautiful taking place. There are times when we must harken our deepest trust in God’s plan, look into the heart of chaos, and with a brave holy imagination, use words to create room for a present reality that seemingly doesn’t fit in the moment we find ourselves. There was a season where on of my daughters would awake in the middle of the night crying almost every night for a couple months. I did not whisper in her ear, “This is terrifying, dark, and hopeless. I am fearful with you and am uncertain there will be resolution.” Rather I take a deep breath and began dreaming a new dream aloud, “Sweet girl, all is good. Jesus is here and stronger than your fear. There is great light in this room and angels abound. Shhh, all is well. I love you and there is not place I would rather be than here, with you.” I needed these words as much or more than my sweet girl did, I needed to see a brighter, holier, and more silent night than the one I was experiencing.

Jesus, Lord at they birth…Christ, the Savior is born” Joseph, the step-father of a boy whose identity would be question for the entirety of his life, refrains who he knows his son to be. There is power in a father speaking specific words of identity over his children.

To all the fathers who may be reading this, Christmas is a crazy season full of insane expectations to live up to and manage. Bank accounts, family members, vacations, traditions, Christmas lists, Christmas parties, and end of the year charity write-offs bring us to a place where we are strangely akin to the feeling of raising a family in a chaotic barn. Fathers, let’s take moments to sing songs, tell stories, and imagine adventure with our children and wives that create space for the realities of God. In this season, may we speak words that strengthen our children’s identity and have our attitudes and actions be marked by gentleness. I’m grateful for this song and reminder this Christmas season.

O Come O Come Emmanuel


Christmas music is the best music. Period. Done and done. With its merry music and cheerful chimes, I play it year round, shamelessly overshadowing Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even yes, Flag Day. My hope this advent is to spend time reflecting on a few of the Christmas songs we will be hearing so often this Christmas season that we forget the joy and hope of the words they bring. So many of these songs tell great stories of one of the most unprecedented events in the history of the world. The event where our Creator God, whom we long desire, would become part of his own creation so that we may find him! I pray this will be a fruitful journey.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is far and away my favorite song of the Christmas season. I feel this song is the most transcendent of all songs we regulate to a short five-week playlist. What other song more beautifully articulates the daily friction between the present suffering and anguish of so many of us while in the same breath calling out the present hope of the promised coming of our Lord?! Let’s remember the backdrop for the first Christmas, when Jesus was born. Israel was an occupied people who hadn’t heard from their God in nearly 400 years. All tangible reason for hope was surely lost, leaving this small nation little to hold on to but its steadfast belief in the promise of God passed down to them from their fathers and mothers. We see all this hauntingly and poetically portrayed in the first verse & then the chorus of the song.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel…” We begin singing with a desperate plea. You can almost hear the tears behind the first refrain. After years, generations, even centuries of feeling a silent absence of the God of your forefathers and presently living as an occupied people, mourning in exile. There is no longer time to politely wait. “We have done wrong, we are being held captive by the tyranny of sin, oppression, and the nations who occupy us. Be our ransom! Come, God With Us!”

“Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!”I had always figured this to be a cheerful chorus to a Christmas song talking about baby Jesus in a manger. Yet this refrain is a bold and courageously defiant proclamation of hope! In spite of circumstance, feeling, oppression, and death, we WILL rejoice because “God with Us” is making his way!

A lot of times we find ourselves in a dark world, filled with violence, manipulation, deceit, slavery, and betrayal. Regardless of our belief systems, religion, or nationality, perception or reality, we can at times, or in totality, feel like an oppressed people drowning in a divine absence of tangible hope. We are left wondering, will our Savior, our King, our Lord ever come to ransom us, to fill us with hope, to restore us? We shout, “O COME, O COME, YOU WHO CALL YOURSELF GOD WITH US!”

Then, and only then, once the noise, fear, anger, and worry of our heart has been vacated through our authentically raw confession are we able to remember the whispered promise. The promise from our covenantal God that he has indeed come as Christ our Lord and given us victory over the grave! To which we sing in individual and corporate defiance to the darkness of our feelings and the world around us, the refrain, “REJOICE, REJOICE! God with us shall come!” This is a song of anticipation, expectation, and defiant hope. This is a Christmas song warranting faithful, joyful, and hopeful voice by all people seeking the presence of God at all times of the year. May this carol build within us the anticipation, expectation, and defiant hope, which begins to find its culmination in a babe born in a stable.

Let’s Talk! What are the things you most anticipate during the Christmas season What do you do with all that anticipation?Whose version of this song is your all-time favorite?

 

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.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • “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).

Is it possible Jesus was a bit insecure?


It’s been so long since I last wrote a post and so much has taken place over the past eight months that I won’t even begin to try to catch up. So instead, let me share with you one of the exciting moments from this past week. I was given the privilege of teaching our whole church family this past Sunday morning as we were honoring our graduating seniors. I spoke on how we navigate transitions and introduced the idea of developing the skill of “Transitional Decisiveness” based out of Ephesians 4:1. If you’d like to listen to what God had to say through me, you can hear it HERE.

You must understand how gracious my family at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church is towards my family and I, as well as hundreds of others within our community. It is something I am most proud of when I think of our church. In this light I have received numerous emails, text and Facebook messages, etc. about how people were moved and/or hear God speak to them through me on Sunday. It’s been a bit of a surreal experience as even last night, three days later, people still felt compelled to compliment me or share how it impacted their view/outlook on their current circumstance.

Before you think this is some sort of desperate plea for more affirmation or desire for the ambiguous internet to lavish anonymous praise upon me, I realized something when I was reading my Bible this morning. I realized that Jesus may have been bit insecure!

Luke 5:15-16 says, “News of [Jesus] spread more and huge crowds gathered to listen…but Jesus would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” I rarely see among those with raising popularity or fame withdraw from their fans, roadies, groupies, congregants to places where there is nobody around to further strengthen their budding popularity and fame. These types of people are often considered aloof, out of touch, insecure, or not ready for the spotlight of influential leadership. Not to mention, as a pastor who spends 70 percent of my time with self-consumed adolescents (a characteristic I’ve grown to appreciate & understand because of this TED Talk), moments of recognition of my strengths is not something that I feel naturally inclined to retreat from.

But the more I’ve prayed through and reflected on these verses I realized that there’s no way a man who called the Pharisees to righteousness, over turned temple tables, and stood quietly in the midst of Roman interrogation could be categorized as insecure. Jesus’ withdrawal from the crowds was a great testament to the confidence He had in who He is and what He was called to.

The praise and affirmation of the crowd can be as addictive as any drug and can blind us faster than staring at the sun. One of Satan’s first attempts to derail the mission of Jesus was with the allure of popularity and fame. If God’s enemy could simply shift Jesus’ focus from listening to the voice of God and begin chasing the adoration of the crowd, the whole of God’s plan would have been lost. Jesus would not let this happen – He was too passionate about the voice of His Father for it to be lost in the noise of the crowd.

The crowd’s affirmations (or fans, groupies, congregants) are what hinders the mission of God. It is my own brokenness that can be exploited amidst the feelings of raising fame or popularity on any scale. Pastors, for our churches sakes, may we be leaders who regularly withdraw from the crowds and congregants so the voice we hear the loudest and most clearly is the voice of the One who as been speaking to us long before anyone knew us for what we could do, bring, or offer.

I love my church. For their sake and mine, I will work hard to find at times to confidently withdraw so I may abide with the One who knew and loved me before I had done, brought, or offered anything of worth to anyone.

The Secret Behind Becoming a Radical Christian


Longevity.

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.