San Diego Winter Confrence

Josh and I will be at the San Diego winter confrence all week with 800 something students from the pacific southwest, including 10-12 students from SF State. Please be praying that the Lord would work powerfully this week and create a major "shift" (our theme this year) in their lives and perspective because of their interactions with Christ.

Also, if you want to watch the main sessions live (featuring amazing speakers) go to

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The Story of Silent Night

The story of the hymn Silent Night was on the radio today and it made me cry, both tears of joy and anger. During WWI, in 1914 on Christmas Day, a temporary truce was called on the battlefields between the German and British armies and enemy soldiers came together to give gifts and care for the dead who previously were in limbo in No Man’s Land between the trenches. As they came together they sang the only Christmas song both sides knew, Silent Night, a hymn written nearly 100 years before in Austria where it was unknown for years except for the small town in the Alps where it was written until a visiting organ maker got a hold of the sheet music and gave it to a traveling family minstrel group (think the Von Trap family in The Sound of Music) who began to sing the song as they traveled Europe. Eventually the song grew in popularity was translated from German to English and today remains one of the most beloved of all Christmas hymns.

So why the tears this morning? As I drove and listened to a particularly quiet, haunting version sung by Sinead O’Connor, I thought of what a beautiful picture of Christ entering the world the story of the Christmas day truce and the soldiers singing together is. In the midst of war, death, horror, untold pain, courage, cowardice, mud, grime, filth, no man’s land and trenches, there was a moment of peace, where Christ was exalted by soldiers who had no reason to worship and sing other than being alive. This moment of clarity in the midst of such evil, death and darkness is a wonderful picture of what the birth of Jesus was and is to a world ravaged by sin and death. The joy of the birth of Christ of course, is that he grew up and went on to live the life we never could and defeated death and evil on the cross; the birth is the decisive moment of God entering into the world, putting his plan in motion. A plan that involved God himself suffering, experiencing a fallen world, God himself having people die for His sake (the young boys murdered by Herod after the rumor of the coming King reached him) before He died for all creation’s. It would be akin to the generals who were leading the insanity of WWI entering into those trenches, seeing No Man’s Land and experiencing the suffering and death there. Of course those generals were the problem not the solution but you get the point. The joy of the birth of Jesus is that He is Emmanuel, God with us in the midst of it all.
What angered me to tears when I heard the story this morning was the tragedy that after they sang together and exchanged gifts, after Christmas was over, the war continued, death marched on and hundreds of thousands more were lost due to the evil, prideful, nationalistic, sinful stubbornness of a few men sitting comfortably in their chateaus and castles. The same awful men who condemned the Christmas Truce treasonous. Of course I am simplifying things a bit but even the complicated truth is just as insane and stupid. What angers me is why evil like that exists in a world where I believe, sin and death are already defeated, the outcome is final but the game is still going on so to speak. I wish I understood, I wish I had an answer but I don’t and I come to a fork in the road, a decision I have to make: either I reject Jesus and choose to believe such evil is a part of human life that will never change or be defeated or I surrender my ignorance and frustration to Jesus and choose to follow Him with all I am and hold on to the hope He promised, that one day He will rid the world finally and decisively of all the ravages of sin and heal a fallen creation. For me the character of Jesus wins out, the evidence of his astounding faithfulness in my life, the moments I have seen his restorative healing love trump evil cause me to trust in him, like a child trusts his father when He says one day the hope promised will come to be final. It doesn’t change the anger that wells up when injustice is allowed to triumph over justice but it causes me to trust God’s ultimate justice is coming, in His timing, to rid the world of evil and that He is God with us now, in the midst. That is the hope of Christmas, the joy of Jesus, the future hope promised to us.
*As a small footnote, such faith and trust in God’s ultimate justice shouldn’t lead to an escapist (and in my opinion very American evangelical) mentality of screw the world lets just focus on heaven. The whole point of such a future hope is that we would reflect Jesus in the here and now and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to bring the future into the presence, to bring the hope, message, and active love of Jesus into the world around us. I realize I am just repeating a theme I often repeat on this blog but when I see on TV that you can buy an American flag colored Christmas tree with a freaking CROSS in the middle of it I get kind of depressed and feel the need to reiterate it.
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Zechariah in the Christmas Story

This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing The King’s Speech, a movie about King George the 6th of England and the relationship he had with his speech therapist. The movie is incredible, and if Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush don’t win Oscars for their respective performances I am no judge of good acting (which I am not, I am a missionary not an actor). Anyway, the movie tells the story of King George’s battle with a lifelong stutter and how he eventually finds his voice at the time when his country needs a pillar of strength and courage to look to as they plunged headlong into war with Hitler’s Germany.

So what does this have to do with Christmas? Well the story of Bertie, as King George is called in the film, reminded me somewhat of Zechariah’s story in the Gospel of Luke and it got me thinking of that often lost portion of the Advent.

The story of Zechariah is a story of helplessness. To be helpless is a fault in our world, a characteristic reserved for children. In fact, the entirety of our modern education system is really devoted to unmaking our helplessness and furthering our independence as individuals. To experience true, humbling helplessness can be somewhat of a shock. And yet the Bible is very clear in its insistence that we are indeed in desperate need of help from our God who loves us.

Nowhere is this more poignantly realized than in Luke’s Christmas story. From Mary to Joseph to Zechariah to Elizabeth to the infant Jesus himself, each character in one form or another displays a wonderful lack of control and a desperate dependence on the Lord and his faithfulness. For Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, the story begins with a visit from Gabriel, the arch-angel. Zechariah is a priest who loved God and obeyed his commandments blamelessly, and yet his life has already been marked by the helplessness of being unable to become a father. How humbling and heartbreaking an experience it must be for a husband and wife who want to make the transition to loving father and mother but are unable to. As Zechariah and Elizabeth’s age increased so did the murmurs of their family, neighbors, town and society. Zechariah was a man with no heir, no child to carry on his legacy and family. How hard it must have been on his faith that the God who the Psalms promise “will give you the desires of your heart” had not and had left him and his wife barren. It is a testament to Zechariah’s faith that he continued to dutifully love and obey God in spite of this.
So imagine his audacity when he is visited by Gabriel who, speaking on behalf of God, promises a child. Imagine the pain that reestablished itself in Zechariah’s heart, the wounds which were reopened as he heard this promise and simultaneously recalled moment after moment of bitter disappointment, of dashed hopes and of angry pleas to God seemingly unheard. You can almost hear the defeat in his voice as he remembers time after time when he felt deep in his soul Elizabeth was pregnant, only to have those feelings give way to the crushing reality that she was not. “How shall I know this,” he whispers, barely audible, “I am an old man and my wife is past child bearing age.”

And Gabriel responds, “I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of the perfect, holy and good God.” Its interesting that Gabriel, in the midst of Zechariah’s pain and doubt affirms the greatness of God, something Zechariah, a priest no less, needed to be reminded of in that moment. And then Zechariah’s mouth is shut and Gabriel tells him, you will see the goodness of God, the wonderful plan he has laid out for you all along. Watch only and do not protest as the Lord takes one of the darkest, most painful corners of your existence and turns it into joy and gladness. “Many will rejoice,” Gabriel says, “your community will look at Elizabeth, see your son, and be themselves reminded of the wonder and glory of God.” And Zechariah is left silent, helplessly awaiting the fulfillment of a promised hope again. How constantly he must have wondered in his silence, if God would really come through this time. His helplessness before the Lord would have increased each day as his hope and fear grew. As Elizabeth began to show, his heart would have leapt, ‘could this really be?’

But in all the days leading up to the birth of his son, never did he experience the depth and completeness of his utter dependence on God like the day his son was born. As he saw his son for the first time, as he held him close how Zechariah’s heart must have pounded and how helpless he must have felt before the glory of God, his awe complete, his dependence pure, his faith void of doubt, his pride destroyed, his fears vanquished, his hopes fully realized, he stood before his God completely and utterly helpless and did the only thing one could do in the moment; he found his voice again and praised the King of Kings.
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Some Thank Yous

Thank you for today, and if it come tomorrow
Thanks for the cold air that makes its home in Autumn
Thanks be to God who makes mornings like this happen
Thanks to rain swept days when all weather rules slacken

Thank you Christ who in love can laugh at my expense
Thanks Alex for making my scattered thoughts make sense
Thank you Paul and Kevin, friends who never stale
Thanks Mom and Dad who always answer, never fail

Thank you orange leaves who teach all springtimes must end
Thank you for your patience Lord when I am a wretch
Thank you there is stuffing for those who hate turkey
Thanks for days of gratitude, we need more dearly

Thank you for the rocky paths that lead to redemption
Thank you that You love us without condescention
Thanks to my wife who proves life isn't always fair,
'Cause I don't deserve a love so sweet but she is always there

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Reflections on Psalm 23 & 24 Part 2

This is the second post of a two part reflection on Psalm 23 & 24, which I (Josh) have been reading over the past couple of weeks.

Psalm 24
A Psalm of David.
1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
2for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
5He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

7 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
9Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!

In Psalm 24 following directly after Psalm 23, David widens his scope and focuses on the Kingship of God. A king himself, David realizes and acknowledges that God’s kingdom contains the whole earth “and the fullness thereof”. God is the King of Glory, the royal savior who has founded and established the very earth. What I noticed as I read this psalm directly after psalm 23 is the different type of hope it presents. Psalm 23’s hope is the promised intimacy of a loving nurturing God who is Shepherd, who walks with us, makes us lie down in green pastures, who leads us to refreshing streams, who serves us and allows us to dwell in his presence forever. Psalm 24 takes a different tone. The King of Glory, David’s King and ours, is first and foremost holy. He sits on his hill and David asks the question, “who shall ascent” to his place to be near him, while in Psalm 23 David sings he will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever”. The King of Glory demands holiness, clean hands and a pure heart from those who worship him. In Psalm 23, God is the Shepherd alongside us but in Psalm 24, we have to “seek him”.

I realize this sounds like David is presenting two very different Gods but I don’t think he is. Rather than contrasting the two Psalms compliment each other. The King of Glory comes to bring justice and victory over evil, he is strong and mighty and none can stand against him. The Shepherd is with us in the very shadow of evil and death. The King of Glory demands holiness, a completely pure heart; the Shepherd leads us to paths of righteousness, helping us by his steady hand and presence to become holy.

The hope of Psalm 24 is that God, the King will come and defeat evil in the world, bringing his justice and glory. It is the hope that the enemies of Psalm 23 will be destroyed, the valley of the shadow of death will be restored and safe once more and there will be no more evil to fear. What I love about David is his understanding that both aspects of God’s nature are needed in order to have a full understanding of Him. Without a Psalm 23 understanding of the God who loves us, who leads us intimately, who walks with us and overflows with mercy and goodness, we are left with the King of Glory alone, the King who you see from afar on his holy hill, whose power is terrible and absolute and while you want him to be victorious and rid the world of all evil, you aren’t comfortable calling him friend or speaking to him. The King demands holiness and the reality is we as humans are incapable of producing such holiness. We must have the Shepherd guiding us to paths of righteousness, walking alongside us, inviting us into his presence.

But without a Psalm 24 understanding of God, we are left with the Shepherd alone, who is good and loving and merciful but not necessarily someone you would say is all powerful. He protects us and is with us through evil, comforting, but comforting us is not the same as coming in power to definitively destroy all evil. We need the King of Glory to shape our hope for the future, the hope of evil defeated and the world restored.

The beauty of these Psalms is that they point to Jesus who is the Shepherd and the King of Glory in one, the God who loves us so infinitely and intimately he became one of us and who defeated sin and death by his death and resurrection. Rather than be unsure of how close we want to be to the King of Glory, God’s intimate love manifest through Christ assures us we can come close and dwell in his presence. Rather than being unsure of just how powerful the Shepherd is when it comes to evil and death, the Cross tells us evil is already defeated, waging a losing war and one day Jesus will come in glory and power to rid the world completely and finally of both. Jesus came to live with us, to Shepherd us into the very presence of himself than defeated evil on the cross. In Jesus the Shepherd and the King of Glory come together in perfect harmony.

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Reflections on Psalm 23 & 24 Part 1

This is the first post of a two part reflection on Psalm 23 & 24, which I (Josh) have been reading over the past couple of weeks. The second half on Psalm 24 and bringing the two together will be up later this week.

A Psalm of David.
1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD


Lately I have been reading over Psalm 23 and 24, noticing the contrast between the two adjacent poems. It is a contrast which adds depth to what each is saying about God. On the one hand you have Psalm 23, one of the most beloved and beautiful passages in the entire Bible. The Psalm is almost tangibly full of the gentle peace of a life lived in the presence of God, a God who nurtures, cares for, protects and provides for us. One can almost picture David composing it, perhaps walking as king among the very landscape where as a young shepherd boy he first fell in love with the Lord. With each line David discovers the depth and unquenchable love of God for him. Each familiar stream, pasture and path reveals clues to the good and merciful God who chose David to be King over Israel. This is a David young and fresh from the pressures of being a King, the triumphs and horrors of war, the overwhelming responsibilities of bureaucratic life and the constant needs of his people. So David, as we all need to do from time to time, takes a personal vacation back to his home, his shepherd childhood where he was free to wander the countryside and soak in the majesty of God, the God who was and is his Shepherd.

Psalm 23 reveals a motherly aspect of God’s love. It has a quiet, almost maternal tone; like a mother, God protects and comforts, nurtures and provides for David, the psalm is similar in tone to Psalm 91 where God desires to bring David ‘under his wings’ as a hen would her chicks. The love of God for David and for us is eternal, never wavering, the fullness of what a mother’s love for her child in this world points too.

The Psalm also finds David connecting his past as a shepherd with the realization that God is the ultimate Shepherd. God leads to green pastures, to quiet streams, is a source of comfort through dangerous valleys and provides food and drink for those He guides. He knows his flock intimately and totally and seeks us when we are lost, something Jesus reminds us in Luke 15:1-7.

It is no wonder Psalm 23 has become one of the most cherished passages in all Scripture, for it taps into the basic human desire to be loved, cared for, protected and sheltered. As I read the Psalm, I become acutely aware that I am God’s child or lamb, that he is my caretaker, my nurturer, the source of my very life. He is the perfect shepherd, the perfect mother, the perfect source of unfaltering love. W.H. Auden once wrote:

Nothing can be loved too much,

But all things can be loved

In the wrong way.

Psalm 23 reminds us, or in some cases informs us for the first time, that God will never love us the wrong way, his love will always be perfect and we can never have too much of it.

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From the Future: An Entirely Misleading Title

The older I get (24 is ancient), the longer I have walked with Jesus, the more I realize the Christian walk is a constant cycle of learning and unlearning. The Holy Spirit and the Bible are there to challenge us, to point out truth and untruth in our lives and too constantly change the way we interact in the world to be more like Jesus. A year ago, the things I was thinking about on a daily basis were different then they are today. Partially because I have settled on truth I believe the Holy Spirit led me too, and partially, if I am honest, because I lost interest in the ‘issues’ so important to me back then.

The past 3 months I have been trying to find the balance between being informed and knowledgeable about current issues pertaining to my faith and the world and simply enjoying the presence of Jesus in my world, community and life. I have written about this already. What I was thinking about this morning however, is how easy it is for young Christians to hold fast to certain ideas/opinions/things, thinking their minds will never change when it comes to those issues they feel so passionately about. Not to knock passion, we need it in our lives and Jesus demands passion for him. No, I’m speaking more about what I’ve struggled with and continue to struggle with daily when it comes to living in a world of constant input that demands opinions from everyone about everything. Secondary issues are easily elevated to foundational truths with a depressing and destructive effect on one’s walk with Jesus. Instead of His glory we see our own as we engage in imaginary intellectual debate and dream of comprehensively crushing our opponent and impressing everyone listening (admit it, we’ve all dreamt of it). This pride worms its way into our walk with God so even our times in the Word or in prayer are consumed by it. Then two weeks later we realize our hearts are dry and the God we thought we were honoring with our constant mental soap-boxing has actually been waiting for us to shut up and enjoy his life-giving presence, instead of making it all about our own intellectual fortitude.

I guess all that to say is IF I could go back in time and tell myself then (a year or two ago) what I know now, I would say “Relax. Focus on Jesus before any of the crap besides him you are so passionate about. Misplaced passion is one of the great tragedies of the Christian life. Remember why you love Jesus, all he has done for you, and realize the Christian life is a journey of constant learning and unlearning. Trust me, I’m from the future.”

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Light Beams and Musty Old Sheds: Meditations on Earlier Meditations

Imagine you are in a dark moldy shed and the only light coming into the shed is a singular beam from the roof. Being the only source of light, the beam is really the only visible thing in the shed and you are able to view it in its entirety. You see its width and length and the multitude of dust particles drifting in and along it. You are ‘looking at’ the beam.
Now imagine you step into the beam and look up along it towards the roof of the shed. You are able to see outside the shed and into view come trees and sunlight and a small sliver of the world outside of the shed. You no longer can view the beam of light itself because you are in it. You are ‘looking along’ the beam.

For C.S. Lewis, this illustration was important in describing the difference between Enjoyment and Contemplation (see his ‘Meditations in a Toolshed' essay for further clarification). Lewis thought knowledge could be divided into these two sub-categories, knowledge as Enjoyment and knowledge as Contemplation. The differences between the two are reflected in the beam illustration. To know something Contemplatively is to know it impersonally, scientifically, to identify its attributes but to be outside of it ‘looking at’ the beam. For example, I know my wife is physically beautiful (not my subjective opinion, this is just objective fact), she has brown hair, green eyes; she likes chocolate chip cookies and is a good athlete. To know something through Enjoyment is to know it deeply, personally, to be surrounded by it, to be ‘looking along’ the beam is to surrender to its influence and allow the beam to illuminate your line of sight. For example, sharing life with my wife, in the reality and influence of her presence, growing deeper with each other, being challenged by her and growing as a man/husband because of our love relationship.

I mention this, random though it is, because it got me thinking of how I ‘know’ Jesus. As someone who loves to read and learn about Jesus I often find myself growing in my Contemplative knowledge of Christ (which is a good thing) but neglecting my Enjoyment of him.
Think about when you came into a relationship with Jesus and surrendered your life to him. For many, there was a definite Contemplative reason(s) for wanting to commit their life to Christ but the actual act, the moment (or series of moments) of surrender was akin to moving from ‘looking at’ the beam (Jesus) to stepping inside of and ‘looking along’ the beam. In fact the very act of stepping into the beam is in a sense ‘surrendering’ to the beam and allowing it to transform your field of vision. No longer is Jesus something you look at but He becomes the light by which you see the rest of the world.

I do not think I am alone in this struggle for a deeper Enjoyment of Jesus. I’ve found that many people, especially younger people, struggle to find a healthy balance between Contemplating Jesus and Enjoying him. In today’s world everyone is an information junkie and input is nearly unavoidable so the Christian constantly has opportunities to learn more and more Contemplatively about Jesus without pausing to reflect on Him.
But ultimately the transformation Jesus brings is less through Contemplative knowledge of him (important though that is) and a whole lot more through Enjoyment of him, being in his presence, allowing him to illuminate everything else. There is only so much ‘looking at’ Jesus can teach us about him if we are not stepping into his Glory and light to Enjoy him. If we are content to ‘look at’ the beam instead of ‘looking along’ it, we are confining our knowledge of him and hindering the transformation Jesus constantly brings to a life. We are in effect, refusing to surrender and playing it safe, rather than risking the transformation and life changing awe a life lived in Jesus’ presence brings.

For many students in San Francisco, pondering Jesus Contemplatively is a necessary start, but it is hardly the end. We (Alex, myself, our ministry team) don’t simply want people to think about Jesus impersonally but to surrender their life to the Enjoyment of him, to be engulfed in his glory, forgiveness, love and strength and to live their life ‘looking along’ the truth of Jesus, rather than simply ‘looking at’ it.
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"Well," and "Enjoying God"

Hello fellow friends and supporters! I realize it has been a while since we have given an update on our ministry and what has been going on in Josh and my life, on our blog at least, so here it goes!
Ministry Update:
Currently we are still in Glendale raising support, hoping to be in San Francisco by the end of the Fall. We have 75% of our support raised which means we have 1/4 of the way to go. We cannot fully express how much God has blessed us through your continued prayers and support. The fact the Lord has brought in 75% of our support already is a huge blessing and something we thank Him for daily.

The school year in San Francisco started the last week of August and our directors Chris and Christine had a baby about a week before the first day of school. His name is Nolan and (based on the pictures I see on facebook) he is adorable.
Currently the City Cru team at San Francisco State is 5 strong (well 6 if you count Nolan), with Chris and Christine, interns Matt and Leah, and second year intern Anthony, all of whom I believe you've heard about through our last prayer letter. The other intern Kyle, as well as Josh and myself, are still in the support raising process and trusting the Lord's timing in bringing in the necessary funds.
Please continue to pray that the Lord gives His abundant love, guidance, protection, and endurance both to the team and City Cru students as the school year moves along.
Other Random Updates:

Josh - God has really been convicting and challenging me to Enjoy being in His presence. Often I am content to simply learn about His intellectually and not allow that knowledge to sink in and transform me. I'll be elaborating on this in a post later this week, but it has been super cool to focus on enjoying Jesus in my times with his. It sounds elementary but you'd be surprised how often we can spend good time with Jesus and forget to enjoy Him.

Alex - People ask me everyday, "How are you doing?" Most of the time I will reply, "Well," not having the time or energy to express what's really going on and also understanding this question is most often a civility used to begin a conversation. However, truthfully that is just how I am doing at the moment, "Well." Support raising, I have to say, is not the most thrilling part of doing ministry, though it is a very necessary part. My preference is to be going, doing, and experiencing significant results from my work. Yes, I go, do and see results though the support process, but it is at a much slower pace and the results are very much out of my control. This has been hard for me, but becomes easier everyday. The Lord has been teaching me to sit, rest and be "well" in His presence. Must I always have something going on or conquering some new venture to be well? No, I can be well sitting here typing this post, sitting outside on the ground listening to the rustling leaves or even just even waiting around for a support call. I am learning to be "well" simply because I am His.

On a lighter note, I just finished reading two books, quite an accomplishment for me as I am a slow reader, A Severe Mercy by: Sheldon Vanauken and The Great Gatsby by: F. Scott Fitzgerald. Both were great books and gave two very different pictures of "love" idealized and then realized, one beautiful and one tragic, yet I wholly enjoyed both tales. I end with two quotes, one from each book, that particularly moved me...

"...though I wouldn't have admitted it, even to myself. I didn't want God aboard. He was too heavy. I wanted Him approving from a considerable distance. I didn't want to be thinking of Him. I wanted to be free- like Gypsy. I wanted life itself, the color and fire and loveliness of life. And Christ now and then, like a loved poem I could read when I wanted to. I didn't want us to be swallowed up in God. I wanted holidays from the school of Christ."
-A Severe Mercy

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
-The Great Gatsby
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A Thin Place

The old Celtic Christians had this idea of ‘thin places’, places in the world where the veil between heaven and earth (which they supposed to be three feet apart) was particularly thinned, with heaven trickling through the veil so that one could experience and feel the presence of God more tangibly there than other places. The more I have thought about it, the more I think there is something to it and this past weekend I caught a glimpse of just what the Celtics were getting at.

This past weekend Alex and I drove up to the Central Coast to go to a wedding of an old friend in San Luis Obispo. The Central Coast has a special place in my heart for various reasons: I love the openness of the landscape compared to Southern California, I love the rolling hills, green or golden depending on the season, sprinkled with gnarled, ancient looking trees, I love the clean air coming off the wild ocean, colder and more dangerous than the waters down south. I have countless childhood memories of Morro Bay and Cayucos, so many they tend to blend together into a distinct ideal, a particular picture with a tangible atmosphere.

The ‘thin place’ (if I may be presumptuous) I’m referring to is an old house on a dry grassy hillside in Cayucos overlooking the ocean. This house belongs to Bill and Lois Roark who have been family friends my whole life. They knew my dad before any of us, before my mom even and my dad reckons he has spent 1/20th of his life at their house on the hillside. The memories I have of the house are a bit spotty: spending time in their old redwood hot tub, or picking the blackberries which grew under and along the deck with my sister, watching the surf come in silently below, seeing dark shadows of owls and other nighttime creatures in the evening, but mostly I remember how beautiful and calm I always felt. Something about looking down at the ocean, or up the hill watching random deer or cows grazing, filled me, even as a child with a deep sense of God’s peace.

Going back this past weekend, I experienced the same thing, and as I sat around the lunch table listening to conversation I looked around the house and noticed it hadn’t changed a bit. Bill and Lois have lived at the house for 40 + years and have loved God in it for that time. I believe the fact God has been worshiped and glorified there for so long has left a spiritually tangible mark, one that is easy to miss but not really hard to find if you are looking for it. The house has a palpable tranquility, despite the fact conversation volume tends to be near yelling levels since Bill and Lois are in their mid 80’s. But for me it goes beyond the mere tranquility of the surroundings and ventures into stranger and harder to describe territory. The best word I can think of is depth. The house has an unexplained spiritual depth, a sense that God is not far off, like you could go sit out on the deck and you’d be closer to him than you ever have, like you could hear his voice, soft but clear and he would have a conversation with you like he has with many over the years. I wonder how many times Jesus has comforted someone on that deck, spoken words of encouragement or calling, shared the sorrow of a deep loss or the joy of new life, or simply sat and watched the sunset.

I’ll admit, I’m not sure if the sense I got had more to do with my own family history there or something else entirely, but there was no mistaking the sense of God in that place. I think places like that have marks, residual reminders of the glory of God, of the many prayers uttered and answered, of mornings when the presence of Christ was a quiet comfort and of the days or nights when the beauty and wonder of Jesus was overwhelming, those moments when heaven didn’t merely trickle through the veil to earth but burst through it like a river. Something of heaven remains, subtle but present nonetheless and it is up to us to find those ‘thin places’ and simply be. Be silent, be overwhelmed by the peace of God, be open to the whispers of Christ, and be fully yourself in the quiet presence of the Creator.

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Leaving The City

Well... San Francisco, it's been fun, motivating and challenging. We hope to be back soon and permanently. Now back to LA to finish finding the rest of the support team the Lord has prepared for us.

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Explore The City Day

Today our team got to explore and get to know the city together, and I mean the whole city! Here Josh, Kyle and Matt enjoy a well deserved ice cream at the second best ice cream shop in the city, Bi- rite.

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Get to Know The City

There are about 900,000 people living in San Francisco, a 7x7 mile area.

39% of those people were born outside the US. It really is a city with no cultural majority.

It has the second highest homeless population in the US.

1 in 5 males over the age of15 are gay.

20% of the city's population cycles out every year.

SF state mirrors the city's dynamics and less than 2% of the students there are Christian.

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We Made It

We are in San Francisco now! We met are team last night and they are amazing! Thanks for you're prayers. Today we will begin some work and planning. Here is a pic from my morning walk.

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If you're going to San Francisco

Well we are going to San Francisco but no there are no flowers in our hair. We will be up there for 5 days to meet the rest of our ministry team for the first time and to do some pre- school year prep. Please pray over our time there: That the members of our team will get some good time to connect and bond before the school year. That the Lord would guide our meetings and that we would be hearing from Him and His will for the school year. And that the Lord would refresh us and send us back to LA ready to finish up or support. You guys are great! Stay tuned for updates during the week!

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Jesus, Story and Dos Equis: Or What I Learned From A Beer Commercial

Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t think Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials are awesome? You know the one: a bearded Hemmingway-esque man in a suit, sitting at a table in some exotic locale surrounded by beautiful local women. The narrator tells of his character as grainy 8mm video of him cliff diving and bull fighting play in the background, “The police often question him just because they find him interesting”, “He's a lover, not a fighter, but he's also a fighter, so don't get any ideas".

The commercials tap into a sense of adventure and story most of us don’t experience in our own lives. We may have memories and moments of adventure but not a lifetimes worth. I’m reading a book about story right now and one of the author’s main points is that many of us don’t live a very good story. We can live a comfortable story without a lot of conflict and pretty one dimensional characters and wonder why life is so boring. I think I mostly agree with his sentiments.

But this idea of living a good story got me thinking of where Jesus fits into the picture. He is after all, the main character of the “greatest story ever told” and the center of our lives as believers. In fact one of the crazy things as Christians is that we get to enter into this ever expanding and seemingly never ending story of God as characters, each with a unique part to play…at least that’s what is supposed to happen.

I was reflecting this morning on how ‘boring’ a life with Jesus can seem and how this perception permeates both the Church and society in the West. Let’s be honest; for many people being a Christian means believing in the atonement, being as good as possible with the assurance of heaven in the end. To those on the outside looking in, being a Christian seems to be more closely intertwined with having a couple very strong political views and not getting drunk than it does with being a character in the story of Jesus. It is no wonder then, when people are not interested in talking or even thinking about Jesus. Why should they want Jesus if the story we as Christians are often telling is boring?

Think of Jesus in the Gospels, was he boring? Sure maybe in 21st century America the general consensus is Jesus was a some holier than thou dude who spoke in parables and platitudes about morality and some other stuff and definitely sounds mind numbingly dull but the Jesus of the Gospels isn’t anything like that! Do you think the disciples would have left everything so they could sit around listening to some soft-spoken guy telling them to “love the little children” while the big eyed Precious Moments cretins smiled angelically up at him? No way! Jesus was unexpected, he was exciting, he was healing people and casting out demons and arguing with the Pharisees and all the while he was claiming to be the climax of the generations long story of Israel. He was anything but boring.

And yet today the very mention of the name Jesus makes people zone out. It can make me zone out. There are weeks when I don’t understand or fully grasp the story I am in, when I forget I am actually in the story of Jesus, that I have an important part to play in the community and relationships around me. Usually those weeks are full of selfish pursuits trying to fill a sense of adventure and purpose I mistakenly think Jesus cannot fill. But then some weeks, some mornings like today I remember just how crazy it is to be a follower of Jesus. To believe that God entered into the world in human form in order to defeat death and evil once and for all, that he suffered and died, that he was fully human and fully God, that he rose from the dead, that one day he is going to return to Earth to fully rid the world of evil and heal all of Creation!? Even if you don’t believe it you have to admit it’s a pretty compelling story. And that’s just the story of Jesus; the rest of the story of God, humanity and the world offered in the Bible is just as compelling, just as mind blowing...but we often forget this…we often think of Jesus as a morality to obey, not an adventure to embark on. What’s a better story, a relationship or a set of rules?

Part of me wonders if the reason the Left Behind/Rapture theology is so popular in Western Christianity is because it offers a compelling narrative. We are going to be snatched up into heaven and then all hell is going to break lose on earth? That’s some pretty intense adventurous stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I think its all nonsense and a total misreading of Scripture but it sure is a good story. And maybe it’s because of this many people are so passionate about it. I wonder how many people think of the story of their daily lives walking as a follower of Jesus in today’s world in the same passionate way. I wonder how often I do. My guess is if I grasped the enormity of the story I was a part of, following Jesus would be infinitely more compelling and adventurous and wonderful and more alive.

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Driving, Worth and Existentialism: A Confession of Sorts

“What if a person isn’t supposed to be alone, isn’t supposed to have glory on his own, but rather get glory from the God who loves him? What if, in the same way the sun feeds plants, God’s glory gives us life? What if our value exists because God takes pleasure in us?” ~ Donald Miller

If I am honest with myself, if we are all honest with ourselves, on any given day at any given moment, I operate as if I have glory on my own. What I mean is at some point during the day, and usually at multiple points, I have an interaction with another person in the world around me and my words or deeds are founded in my belief that I am more important, smarter or better than the other person in some way. I’ll give you an example: I struggle with anger when I drive. If someone is going to slow I get frustrated and move in close to try and get them to speed up. If someone cuts me off, I’ll swear (either out loud or in my head) at them and shake my head. But why? What gets me so angry? On the surface I would probably say, “Well, they just shouldn’t have done that” or “it was dangerous”, but the truth goes deeper. The truth is when I get angry on the road it is usually because I feel disrespected, like the offending party doesn’t give a crap about my existence, is barely aware of it or worse, is totally aware of it and yet values their own over mine.

I think this dynamic, this feeling of self-worth and self-righteousness is our misplaced need for the love of God playing itself out in our lives. Instead of seeking God and finding our worth in the fact He loves us, we constantly seek the approval and justification of our existence from other people. And when someone doesn’t approve, or doesn’t notice our worth we get very angry. I know this is true of me anyways.

In San Francisco, many people when asked if all humans have equal worth would say yes. Which I suppose is good, we do and it’s nice they think that. The problem is, for many, this is just lip service. They may say it and even think they believe it and yet live their lives as if they don’t believe it. For some, all humans have equal worth as long as their opinions line up with a certain political party or religious ideal. For others, all humans have equal rights until those equal rights infringe on their own private lives. And I bet if your follow up question was, “Well, why do they all have equal worth” you probably would get a pretty rambling answer.

But I think Donald Miller is onto something here. I think what gives people equal worth is the fact that God loves each one of us, not how much money we make, or how much we are adored by those around us, or how talented we are. I happen to believe this and I also happen to forget this on an hourly basis. My belief that God’s glory and love alone is what gives all humans worth is swell and dandy until someone drifts into my driving lane while yammering away on their cell phone at which point my red-faced cursing would seem to suggest, actually Josh, you really believe you are more valuable than that person. This is all very true and very convicting. I often am no better than Clamence in Camus’ The Fall when he says, “I could live happily only on condition that all individuals on earth…were turned toward me, eternally in suspense, devoid of independent life….doomed in short to sterility until the day I should deign to favor them,”.

And yet Jesus has changed all of this. Jesus’ very presence on earth, his life, his death and his resurrection were all confirmation, proof if you will, of just how valuable we are to God. Not because we have any inherent worth or value in ourselves, but because a perfect God loves us perfectly which makes us infinitely more valuable than if our worth was determined by ourselves. Imagine how radically changed your own life would be if you constantly lived your life through this reality. Imagine how changed your relationships would be, how changed your family would be, how changed your community would be, how changed your city or town would be, on and on until finally you come to how changed this whole world would be if the love of God for each person regardless of race, gender, age, or any other subdivision was known to everyone. If we all grasped how valuable we are and more importantly how valuable everyone else is in the eyes of God and how much He loves us and how it is this love that gives us value in the first place. My guess is this world would be a drastically transformed place. My guess is my own life would be a radically transformed one…and that is what I’m praying for, for this reality to really change not just my perspective but my heart. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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In The Big and The Small

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!
-Luke 1:45

Faith in the Lord to accomplish what He has said, this is what the Lord desires. Faith in the big things: like one day we will be with our Lord with no pain and no sorrow, perfected on the new earth; and faith in the small things: like God called us to ministry in San Francisco and thus will provide the financial support to get us up there. Whether faith in the eternal or temporal the Lord values it the same, it is the state of the heart with which He is concerned.

Yet the faith in the big can inform and encourage our faith in the small and vice versa. If we truly believe God is who He says He is in His word we know that "The Lord of hosts has sworn: As I have planned so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand." (Isaiah 14:24) We also know that "with Him there is no variation." (James 1:17) Therefore if we count sure our salvation in Christ, why should we be uncertain of His promises being accomplished in smaller ways. Additionally, if we have seen the Lord's faithfulness over and over again in our live in slighter circumstances why should we ever begin to doubt God's love for us or be half-convinced of His forgiveness?

We shouldn't, I shouldn't. I must stand today and say, "Lord I am as confident that you will get us up to San Francisco as I am that my name is written in Your Book of Life." This is what God desires; blessed are those who believe what the Lord has said will be accomplished in all circumstances.
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Does God Care About Sports?

Does God Care About Sports?

These are not profound (or well written) epiphanies, but rather, random thoughts I had while watching Sportscenter one morning, so please excuse the lack of structure (and closure) in this post. Think of these as merely fun things to think about.

1) Does God care about sports?...short answer, No. There are days when I hear athletes often thanking God for their teams win, or their performance on the field and think, “God doesn’t care about your stupid football game.” Maybe it is a bit cold hearted, but excuse me if I have a bit of a problem thinking of God as intently concerned with the outcome of a sports game when there are wars, genocide, famines and diseases ravishing the world. At the same time, I do think God gives people the ability to perform excellently in sports and is glorified when they do. It is an interesting contrast: yes, as a God believing athlete, you should give praise to God for the talents He has given you, but you also shouldn’t be so na├»ve as to think God cares if your team wins or not. God doesn’t take sides.

2) Sport is a common, unifying thread throughout all humanity, no matter the culture, country or continent, sport or competition is everywhere. Even skinny hipsters race their fixies. Sport or competition seems to be inherently part of what it means to be human. Why is that? For one, I think it allows individuals to identify with a united community and allows very different people to be of “one mind and one spirit”, to quote Philippians. Of course that can be a good or bad thing. On the one hand, being a fan is always a form of tribalism and othering which in the worst cases can lead to violence and actual hatred of other humans simply because they support a team you despise. On the other hand, sports can unify a community in a profoundly positive way. Think of Nelson Mandela, using the South African Rugby team, a team that symbolized apartheid in every way so much so that black South Africans always cheered for whoever was playing them. Mandela used the team to unify a nation on the brink of a race war. In that instance, I think God really was on the side of South Africa in the Rugby World Cup. As weird as it may sound, I think there are times when God wills a side to victory, not because they other team is so evil, but because a victory would redeem or heal a particular community. Is this always the case? Of course not, but I think it happens once in a blue moon.

3) One of my friends had a profound thought while at a Dodger game once. He, a twenty-something, white guy was in the bathroom on a scorching hot day at The Ravine. It was so hot, he took off his shirt and put it under running water in the sink. At the sink next to him was a huge, Latino dude with tattoos everywhere. As he rinsed his shirt, the man next to him said, “Yo homes, that’s a good idea!” and proceeded to take off his shirt and do the same and the two started talking and had a conversation about the Dodgers. It was two profoundly different people, who would have never talked to each other in any other situation, connecting and having a shared experience of being a fan. My friend began to think about how the Church is similarly a community of people for whom the common denominator is Jesus, not personality, or interests, or gender, or ethnicity. I thought it was an interesting and valuable insight and one I plan to reflect on the next time I am at a Dodger game.

So what do you think?

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Quote of the Week: May 2-9th

A new weekly feature; some weeks the quote will be quite long, some weeks it will be short. There is no rhyme or reason to why I choose them other than they speak deeply to me.

“You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way through the resurrection power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.”

~ Bishop N.T. Wright, “Surprised by Hope” pg 208
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