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The Final Solution

I may be at a loss for words this morning, which means I may not be able to clearly put my thoughts to ink. But I’ve been stewing all week about a conversation I overheard while waiting for a couple of new tires (don’t ask) on Monday. One man (“Guy One”) in his 80s struck up a very serious conversation with a man more my age. Guy One had been thinking about an issue for several years and wanted someone with whom he could bounce off his ideas (thank goodness it wasn’t me). He got so enthralled in his conversation that when his car was ready, he told them to wait. He had to keep talking. My car was ready a couple of minutes later, and I bolted. Half an hour was 29 minutes too much for me.

The premise was this: the world is in a whole lot of trouble, species are being wiped out by the thousands, and the changing climate is threatening our existence. Man is the problem. So, man must be the solution. That was the introduction.

Then comes Guy One’s solution. If the problem is humanity, and it is somewhat recent in origin, the problem must be that there are just too many humans living on the planet. Earth cannot sustain 8 billion people. The solution? Winnow the number of humans down to one billion. That is an 87% reduction in the earth’s population, by the way.

The next 20 minutes was spent in figuring out how to accomplish that goal — which would save the planet from extinction. Guy One loved the Chinese solution to overpopulation, immediate institution of one child per family. Large families were for the ancient world (though Guy Two pointed out they were needed even 50 years ago on the farm). Of course, abortion would be advocated and encouraged everywhere.

They spent time contemplating how to rid the world of all these extra people who were destroying the planet. There is no kind way to accomplish that goal. They discussed with disgust how religion would object (do you think?). I’m wondering who gets to decide who lives and who dies? Neither of them volunteered to lead the pack. At least with Thanos, it was random, right? (That’s an Avengers film reference, by the way). It’ll start with the old. And then the least useful. And then…

What disturbed me all week was the idea that two mature men could be discussing in public what I would call a second “Final Solution.” I just assumed with all their life experiences, they’d have developed a moral compass. Nope, that doesn’t come naturally. It was a chilling discussion, which left God out of the picture completely. And intentionally.

Where is this planet headed? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I support a healthy planet. We all should. But today, people are anxious about the future. The rhetoric is harsh. And the fear is real. I can’t believe we only have 12 years left. But if you do, then is this a viable solution? Sounds to me like we need a Savior. One willing to lay down His life for the sheep. We have One, by the way.

Joy and Sadness

Mother’s Day is one of those holidays that both the church and the world celebrate. As I kid it was a great day. My dad would always buy something special for my mom. We might have cooked something special, but it was a Sunday, though, and the first day of the week has its own routines. These days, there are tons of graduations on Mother’s Day weekend. That changes the dynamic a bit. Right?

But Mother’s Day isn’t a celebration for all. It can be tough for many. It’s tough for those who have lost a child. Or who are spending the last Mother’s Day with a sick mom. Or a first Mother’s Day with no mom around. It’s tough on those who would love to be mothers but aren’t. Or for those with abusive moms. Or estranged moms. These situations are difficult, and today only intensifies that pain.

It’s a tough decision each year — how do we handle Mother’s Day? We want to honor moms, but not ignore those hurting. That’s a fine line to walk. I came across this question while wrestling with this “holiday.” Here’s the question:  Should we be surprised that such intense joy and sorrow are wrapped up in motherhood?

God’s first recorded words to Adam and Eve implied motherhood: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Motherhood was part of Eden, and it should have been an experience of pure joy.

But after the couple sinned, God pronounced the consequences of their rebellion. To Eve He said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” This pain goes beyond the physical pain of childbirth — it includes everything painful about childbearing and motherhood: miscarriage, infertility, SIDS, abortion, rebellious children… the list could go on and on.

But we don’t stop reading at Genesis 3:16 — the story continues. Four verses later it says, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (3:20). Despite the curse, life would come, and redemption would come through life. The first thing that happens after Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden is a birth — God’s mercy in the midst of His curse.

Eventually, Christ Himself will come, “born of woman,” to bring salvation to his people and break that curse (Galatians 4:4). Until the redemption of all things, however, the effects of the curse are still with us. Motherhood continues to be a mixture of great joy and tremendous pain. We live in a time that requires us to mourn over all that is broken and rejoice over what is good and right. At the same time.

On this Mother’s Day, weep for yourself and for those you love who mourn over infertility, miscarriages, abortions, wayward children, and other consequences of the curse. At the same time, rejoice for everything good and right in motherhood that shines as a testimony to God’s goodness, mercy, and redemption. Celebrate life, extol the praiseworthy deeds of the moms around you, and praise God that He will one day, finally and fully, set everything right and wipe every tear from our eyes.

Let joy and sadness mingle today. As it should every day.

Opportunity to Reach Out

Sixty-nine percent! That’s a significant amount. That’s the number of parents in the US, according to Lifeway research, who would let their child attend a VBS at someone else’s church IF invited! That number includes people who don’t even attend church themselves on a regular basis!

Nine in 10 adults who went to VBS as a child have positive memories of attending. Even among those who didn’t go as a kid, 61 percent have positive thoughts about the program.

Here’s some more statistics, not as encouraging as the previous. As of 2013, according to Pew Research, only 37 percent of all US Americans attend religious services weekly. Less than half of that number attend Bible believing Christian services. The number continues to drop each year.

These statistics say a lot. In a time when religious institutions are not considered very important to the majority of folks in the United States, a simple children’s program we know as “VBS” is valued! Those statistics say to me that our VBS, the one we’re doing the last week of June, where we’re expecting over 150 kids to attend, can have a significant impact on community.

We had a great Easter Sunday just two weeks ago! Over 400 people attended one of our two services that morning. We had eight new families bring children to the Rise Up with Jesus program. It was an amazing morning! But imagine doing that five days in a row! That’s what VBS is like. Every day, kids and adults alike hear and sing heartfelt worship songs. They listen to stories from the Bible and hear the Gospel message. A Bible verse is repeated more than 20 times throughout the morning. They know they are loved by the attention and care from all the VBS volunteers, some who have worked behind the scenes to create the decorations, prep the crafts or donated the snacks.

And every child who attends VBS has at least one parent. Many who do attend a church somewhere in the South Bay, but also many who don’t. Reaching out to them the week they are here is vital. Reaching out to them AFTER VBS is even more important! Showing families we love them and are concerned for their kids is the most important message each of us need to give. We need to be intentional about this and to be truly effective, this needs to be a total church activity.

There’s lots to do in the weeks and days leading up to VBS. Our small little team has been meeting and working regularly since shortly after Christmas. Now that Easter Sunday is behind us, it’s full steam ahead. They could use some help! Pray and consider how you can be a part of unique opportunity. There’s a table on the patio this morning that can answer your questions!

A Place Where God Can Use Me

I did my second ride-along with a sheriff deputy this week. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as the first one. There were moments of lights and sirens. But the humanity of the department was on full view — we spent a good chunk of time waiting for a flat tire to be repaired. It happens even to them. When the tow truck didn’t have the right jack for that vehicle, he had to use the dinky jack provided in the car itself. It was a bit comical. And so human.

Most of our calls amounted to nothing. Fortunately. And then there was the out-of-state car parked near Del Cerro park. The driver was apparently enjoying some hillside hiking. But, he left his cell phone and keys in the passenger seat — and the window open. Not a really smart thing to do. Even in PV. And, of course, the car was parked the wrong direction. Do other states let you do that? The dilemma was how to respond. We didn’t want to come back and take a burglary report, but who knows when the driver was going to return. Another officer ended up locking the valuables in the trunk and writing a parking ticket. With a lovely note about being a bit smarter with security.

I almost got left at Chicken Maison. I was in the restroom when an emergency call came in. By the time I got out, the officers were gone. Now what do I do? I ran out and got into the waiting car. We picked up the food a couple of hours later. Cold.

The life of a deputy is certainly interesting and boring at the same time. You never know what’s next. Or when trauma will appear. That tension surrounds you throughout the shift. And when they do have to respond, they don’t know what’s waiting for them around the corner or on the other side of those tinted windows. They all have my respect. And though it may seem peaceful around here, crime is present, and we all need to be wise.

As I rode around not doing all that much, I thought how apropos this was to the Christian life. Often it feels like we aren’t really accomplishing a whole lot. Most of life is pretty mundane. It can feel like we are spinning our wheels. Or running in place. Life isn’t always about that next exciting adventure — it’s about relationships. It’s about being faithful and willing to be used by God. And that’s why I’m out with the deputies, to build some relationships, to be in a place where God can use me.

Easter was like that for us as a church. We made an inroad across the street. We had some just check us out. It is all about building long-term relationships that we might have an open door to share Jesus at some point down the line. It is the quiet ministry which often yields the most long-term results.

So, we press on. A tire may go flat. We may come across a situation where a solution is not easily found. But we do the best we can with the tools given to us by God. And that makes everyday life so exciting. How will God lead you this week? Keep your eyes open for ministry. Every day.

Lessons from Notre Dame

On Monday, the world watched with a deep sense of sadness as the beautiful cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was consumed by fire. It was a mesmerizing scene. There were many tears shed on that day after Palm Sunday. Why? Why was this such a traumatic event for the world? Much has been written to answer that question.

Some argued that we came face-to-face with the transitory nature of life. Nothing is permanent on this planet. Nothing. So, on Monday we faced our mortality and it moved us deeply. Perhaps.

Part of our sorrow may have been linked to the power of architecture. The size and the beauty of that building helped us consider the grandeur of God. That was its purpose. For others, it had become a monument to the genius and goodness of man. So, to watch history burn was very sad. Perhaps.

Of course, a pure secularist has his own twisted take. Writing in Rolling Stone magazine, Michael Kimmelmann said, “But for some people in France, Notre Dame has also served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place. ‘The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation,’ says Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University.’” How can a building be overburdened with meaning, when it is all about God and the story of redemption? I guess that’s one way to get over the grief of those flames.

There are many in our world who want to see us freed from any notion of the divine. So, for them any rebuilding process will be a clear step to remake architecture for man’s glory, not God’s. That, for me, would be an even greater tragedy.

Some believers have said this is a great lesson for us. It will all burn in the end anyway, so what’s the big deal? But, things will survive into the New Jerusalem. There will be buildings and great architecture. And most likely that cathedral could still be standing. Perhaps. But as a pinnacle of human civilization, to watch it burn on Monday was terribly sad.

I’m not sure there is an overriding lesson to the burning of Notre Dame. Maybe it is just a tragedy where no lives were lost. One writer put it this way, “As one who has a personal 9/11 story (I was airborne that morning), I have learned to appreciate every day as a gift. Paris is a gift. Notre Dame is a special gift, one that we have enjoyed, appreciated, and been astonished by for nearly 700 years. On April 15, we learned (again) that gifts should be appreciated, that they should never be taken for granted, that they can in fact be taken away.”  (David Gruesel, writing for The Gospel Coalition website).

On this Resurrection Sunday, we do need to remember that there is only one gift that cannot be taken away. And it was given to us by the one Giver. We find hope for life in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Life from death. Hope from flames. That is God’s gift to us. The grave was not the end. Jesus is risen!

Lingering Trials

The sewer saga continues. Yes, the latest trial of our cursed sewer system is dragging on. And on. Piles of dirt remain in the driveway. The Great Trench of 2019 remains open. I’m offering lap swimming for anyone interested. I’m told by mid-week it should all get wrapped up, though I stopped holding my breath a couple of days ago. Might as well just go with the flow – and drain the bank account.

This week they got new pipes installed, but then discovered (the details are still a bit murky) the clay pipe under the street was damaged more than they could line. So, as I type they are saw cutting the asphalt and the utility companies are on their way to make sure that when they trench on Monday that they don’t do more harm than good. On this project, that’s an important factor.

Life is a series of trials, and some want to linger. The Great Sewer Repair of 2019 is now one of those lingering trials. It tests patience, drains the wallet, and is a major inconvenience at times. But it’s not life-threatening and the solution is just more time and money. Maybe I’m supposed to learn not to cling to either tightly. Didn’t know I was, though.

Discerning the right lesson can be a tough mental and spiritual exercise. Peter talks about trials coming in various shapes and varieties. He doesn’t say, however, that we are supposed to figure out the why’s of each one, just that they are at work to produce in us a genuineness of faith. Maybe I don’t have to figure out the “why” to refine my faith and let all this result in praise, glory, and honor. Upon some reflection, that seems to me the most biblical of conclusions.

I can’t really know what God is doing in my life with any certainty. Or why. But I can love Him and trust him and obey Him during each trial. The variety of flavors in the trials of this week, just make me lean on Him. The goal of it all, even sewer mayhem, is clear – that at the end of faith is the salvation of our souls. It’s all about refining our lives life that we might please our Savior and our God.

I’m not sure what you have had to endure this week. There are a lot of you struggling with issues much more significant than sewers. And more expensive. So, let’s band together on this Palm Sunday morning and acknowledge that it is God who saves us. He always delivers. Always. And it was the trials Jesus endured in this week ahead that have secured our hope.

Resurrection Sunday looms on the horizon, but the trials Jesus faces between now and then are much more significant than anything we ever face. And yet Jesus was faithful. May we be too, no matter what the flavor of the week is chasing us. We have a living hope. That’s all that matters.

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” 1 Peter 1:6

The Root Problem

As I type, workers are saw-cutting my nice, beautiful concrete driveway. There wasn’t enough cutting on Day One of this project, so they are at it again today. Our sewage pipes have been an issue for over a decade. We tried to deal with this issue in 2011, but the crew couldn’t dig deep enough on their own to get down to the problem pipe, so we bore down in a spot closer to the surface and put in a cleanout that was easy to access. In theory, we “solved” the problem. But only in theory I guess.

I call the plumbers every six months to come and clean out the pipe. We have a significant root infestation. Lately, however, the pipes don’t stay clear for even six months. Six weeks is pushing it. We’ve tried all kinds of solutions, and I’ve had enough. This week, we get to spend a lot of money, just to make sure we can take a shower on a Sunday morning. You are welcome.

I was promised this would only take a day. We are on Day Two. They should be done today. If they should go to Day Three, it means we get to enjoy the weekend with a pile of dirt in our driveway. It’s not that big of deal, just messy and inconvenient. I’m at the point of “whatever it takes, just get it done right.” The plumbers are all nice guys — and between work at the church and here at the house, we are on a first name basis. But that’s not a good thing, is it? No. It’s not. After today, we hope to become friendly strangers. We can only hope.

Sometimes we put things off because that’s the most economical option out there. That’s been the working theory for the last 10 years. And it was. Until it wasn’t. It worked until the roots created their own home in my pipes (which are not wide enough to get the heavy-duty equipment down in there).

There is a lesson in those roots for our spiritual lives. If we let the roots of the world, the lust and greed and pride so take over our lives, they will eventually require a great cost to remove them. Because at some point, they will choke out that which is most essential in life — our walk with God.

Are you knowingly letting roots entangle your walk with God? Are you neglecting Him? Are you ignoring Him? Are you sliding through life without rigorously killing the weeds of lust? Or pride? Or greed? Or discontent? Or selfishness? Or gossip? Or judgmentalism?

My small group has been working our way through Jerry Bridges, “Respectable Sins.” It is a powerful and convicting book which has helped us (painfully) confront the sins in life that we tolerate. And there are plenty of them. It is very important to keep putting to death the deeds of the body. Or they will overtake our soul.

As I sit here typing, I’m sure I’ve spent several hundred more dollars fixing a long-lasting root problem. So how long will I let the sinful roots of self invade my walk with God?

“No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” 2 Timothy 2:4

Always Faithful to Her Savior

On Saturday, we will gather to celebrate the life of one of our most faithful and enduring figures which graced the life of Peninsula. The staff was just with Eileen Summerfelt on her 90th birthday in February (Valentine’s Day). Her downhill slide was obvious. She is now happily home with Jesus.

She wasn’t perfect, obviously. But what I will say is that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen God continue to be at work in a life as He was with Eileen. And I mean that in the most complimentary of ways. God softened her heart over the years and she was faithful to her Savior. Always. The last years of life were not easy. But she never wavered in her faith, and it showed. She was positive, enduring the struggles of life like a trooper. And let me be honest, she faced some curveballs in life.

She cared for aging parents for a very long time. She buried two husbands and one son. Heartache was never far from her experience. But I think she let those experiences temper her life, not allowing bitterness to take root. When you are widowed at age 50, you could walk away and question God. Not Eileen. Her faith sustained her.

Perhaps you may not know, but Eileen had an amazing voice (I never heard her sing a solo, however). She also played the piano and was our preschool music director for 25 years. Her heart was here and she always loved for me to give her updates on the preschool. She loved children. And music.

A couple of days before she passed away, she carefully thanked her family for all their care and she shared her deep love for them, and for Peninsula. Life had been good to her. She missed coming to church each Sunday, it was hard for her to not be here among us all. In her last days, she opened her guarded heart and let her love flow.

Back in the days when we struggled as a church family, most of her friends abandoned Peninsula for greener pastures. But not Eileen and Dick (her second husband). They stuck it out, even if it meant that they had to endure some loneliness. They did forge new friendships and always chose the path which honored God. I will always love them for that. After our 40 Days of Purpose experience, she never uttered another word of complaint about music and worship. I think she realized that it was not about her own personal preferences, which were strong, but about the church and God’s glory. I’ve never seen anyone’s heart change so much over these years, at an age when change can be difficult to see.

This morning, there is no doubt that Eileen is enjoying the presence of Jesus. We have been enriched because of her investment in our lives. Another faithful saint has gone ahead of us. We mourn, with hope. And we are resolved to serve the Savior until He calls us home. We will do all for His glory.

“My dear friends, stand firm and don’t be shaken. Always keep busy working for the Lord. You know that everything you do for him is worthwhile.”  1 Corinthians 15:58 (CEV)

Shades Between Good and Evil

Tuesday I did my first Sheriff ride-along. I am not ashamed to admit I was a bit nervous. I was stepping into a world very foreign to me. New language. New culture. New expectations. I move in a world of controlled environments (for the most part) and I stepped into a world that is never controllable. It is often the worst day of people’s lives. And I’ll now be there. So, yes, I was apprehensive.

I rode with a young officer (he was a kid), very nice and very efficient. He welcomed me warmly and we were off to encounter life on the streets of Lomita and the eastern edges of RPV. I endured a couple of “lights and sirens” rushes to emergencies. To be honest, I just held on tight and tried not to scream. He was in full control and I trusted him. It’s the drivers we pass that make you nervous. Where are they really going to go next? Oh yes, I stalked Jordan and Kelly Browne.

To be honest, I think it has taken me a couple of days to emotionally recover from those six hours. The constant pressure of being on your guard. The unknown of what’s next. The pressure to make things right in this dark world. Those officers out on patrol have earned my respect, more than ever.

I won’t get into the gorier details of those six hours, but I will share one lesson I learned. I am used to looking for participles and aorist tenses and the grammatical construction of the Greek New Testament text. That’s my world (and my skills have garnered some rust over the years). I can spot the grammar and build a worship service… but spot the lawbreakers? He has his senses trained to discern something entirely different — right and wrong life decisions.

He was aware of issues I never saw. Something odd about a license plate. Something amiss inside a certain car. I missed one driver who made two turns without ever signaling (now, normally that would catch my attention and drive me crazy). He didn’t miss it, and he got to know the driver a bit more personally (no ticket was issued, btw). He would see things I completely missed. I wasn’t really looking. That’s not in my training.

In my world, I want to so love and do the Scriptures that I have learned how to discern between right and wrong — in my own heart. Because if I move lazily through life and never learn to make those distinctions, I’ll be spiritually immature. It takes practice to see the shades between good and evil. He could see it on the street. I can see it in the heart. He practiced enough to identify those little things which make people stand out.

So, I decided I’d better keep working on discerning good and evil in my world. The world of my heart. I need to get better at spotting errors of attitude and word that I could fix before God “pulls me over.”

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Hebrews 5:14

Butterflies

I was moving slowly on Monday, so it was afternoon before I took the dog for a walk.  It was a nice day, though breezy.  The sun was greatly appreciated after all the rain.  I didn’t get to the end of our cul-de-sac before noticing that something was strange.  Butterflies were everywhere.  Hundreds of them, all headed the same direction, or so it seemed.  I figured it was the breeze that carried them along.  I assumed the recent rains had stirred up the wildlife on the empty hillside across the street.  It was a nice moment, so I stopped for a second to take it in.

I picked up the pace again (must get the heart going) and the dog and I were soon at the end of Calle de Suenos, with its expansive view of the Pacific Ocean.  And what was there?  Butterflies.  Still by the hundreds.  Dare I say by the thousands?  Hmmmm….something bigger than I thought was going on.

We kept pressing forward with our walk.  Down the stairs, up the stairs, and up Calle de Suenos well passed where it becomes Crest. The butterflies were still swarming, even a mile away from the house. Wow, something bigger than I thought was going on.

When Christie got home, I asked her if she’d seen any butterflies at the church. Yes, she had. So, this is not just some localized phenomenon from our brushy hillsides. Something even bigger than I thought was going on.

The Nextdoor website was flooded with comments about the butterflies.  Apparently, it was all over the Hill on Monday. Hmmmm….something bigger than I thought was going on.

As the week went on, we all discovered what that was (and there were still some butterflies in the yard on Thursday).  It was a migration of painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) from the deserts of the Southwestern US and northern Mexico.  The last major migration was in 2005, when we had significant rains in our deserts.  They were headed from the desert to Oregon and beyond.  Before beginning their migration north, the butterflies will lay their eggs in the desert, with caterpillars feeding on vegetation in the desert (which is why having large amounts of rain can be so crucial) and growing through the late winter or early spring before taking to the skies, according to representatives from the National Wildlife Federation.

My guess of hundreds, which had turned to thousands, was more in the realm of billions. Indeed, something bigger than I thought was going on.

But to be honest, that’s often the case in life.  I try to get a glimpse of what God is doing in and through the church, and then discover that something bigger than I thought was going on.  And that’s exactly why this journey of life together is so amazing.  We never know what God’s going to do around the next corner.  But this we do know, it is always bigger than we can imagine.  I didn’t want to overestimate what I saw on Monday, but clearly, I underestimated the phenomenon.  By a bunch.

Let’s not limit God to what we think is happening.  He likes to work in the realm of “more than we can ask or think.”  Let’s join Him in this amazing journey.  Something bigger is always going on.

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The Final Solution

I may be at a loss for words this morning, which means I may not be able to clearly put my thoughts to ink. But I’ve been stewing all week about a conversation I overheard while waiting for a couple of new tires (don’t ask) on Monday. One man (“Guy One”) in his 80s struck up a very serious conversation with a man more my age. Guy One had been thinking about an issue for several years and wanted someone with whom he could bounce off his ideas (thank goodness it wasn’t me). He got so enthralled in his conversation that when his car was ready, he told them to wait. He had to keep talking. My car was ready a couple of minutes later, and I bolted. Half an hour was 29 minutes too much for me.

The premise was this: the world is in a whole lot of trouble, species are being wiped out by the thousands, and the changing climate is threatening our existence. Man is the problem. So, man must be the solution. That was the introduction.

Then comes Guy One’s solution. If the problem is humanity, and it is somewhat recent in origin, the problem must be that there are just too many humans living on the planet. Earth cannot sustain 8 billion people. The solution? Winnow the number of humans down to one billion. That is an 87% reduction in the earth’s population, by the way.

The next 20 minutes was spent in figuring out how to accomplish that goal — which would save the planet from extinction. Guy One loved the Chinese solution to overpopulation, immediate institution of one child per family. Large families were for the ancient world (though Guy Two pointed out they were needed even 50 years ago on the farm). Of course, abortion would be advocated and encouraged everywhere.

They spent time contemplating how to rid the world of all these extra people who were destroying the planet. There is no kind way to accomplish that goal. They discussed with disgust how religion would object (do you think?). I’m wondering who gets to decide who lives and who dies? Neither of them volunteered to lead the pack. At least with Thanos, it was random, right? (That’s an Avengers film reference, by the way). It’ll start with the old. And then the least useful. And then…

What disturbed me all week was the idea that two mature men could be discussing in public what I would call a second “Final Solution.” I just assumed with all their life experiences, they’d have developed a moral compass. Nope, that doesn’t come naturally. It was a chilling discussion, which left God out of the picture completely. And intentionally.

Where is this planet headed? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I support a healthy planet. We all should. But today, people are anxious about the future. The rhetoric is harsh. And the fear is real. I can’t believe we only have 12 years left. But if you do, then is this a viable solution? Sounds to me like we need a Savior. One willing to lay down His life for the sheep. We have One, by the way.

Joy and Sadness

Mother’s Day is one of those holidays that both the church and the world celebrate. As I kid it was a great day. My dad would always buy something special for my mom. We might have cooked something special, but it was a Sunday, though, and the first day of the week has its own routines. These days, there are tons of graduations on Mother’s Day weekend. That changes the dynamic a bit. Right?

But Mother’s Day isn’t a celebration for all. It can be tough for many. It’s tough for those who have lost a child. Or who are spending the last Mother’s Day with a sick mom. Or a first Mother’s Day with no mom around. It’s tough on those who would love to be mothers but aren’t. Or for those with abusive moms. Or estranged moms. These situations are difficult, and today only intensifies that pain.

It’s a tough decision each year — how do we handle Mother’s Day? We want to honor moms, but not ignore those hurting. That’s a fine line to walk. I came across this question while wrestling with this “holiday.” Here’s the question:  Should we be surprised that such intense joy and sorrow are wrapped up in motherhood?

God’s first recorded words to Adam and Eve implied motherhood: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Motherhood was part of Eden, and it should have been an experience of pure joy.

But after the couple sinned, God pronounced the consequences of their rebellion. To Eve He said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” This pain goes beyond the physical pain of childbirth — it includes everything painful about childbearing and motherhood: miscarriage, infertility, SIDS, abortion, rebellious children… the list could go on and on.

But we don’t stop reading at Genesis 3:16 — the story continues. Four verses later it says, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (3:20). Despite the curse, life would come, and redemption would come through life. The first thing that happens after Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden is a birth — God’s mercy in the midst of His curse.

Eventually, Christ Himself will come, “born of woman,” to bring salvation to his people and break that curse (Galatians 4:4). Until the redemption of all things, however, the effects of the curse are still with us. Motherhood continues to be a mixture of great joy and tremendous pain. We live in a time that requires us to mourn over all that is broken and rejoice over what is good and right. At the same time.

On this Mother’s Day, weep for yourself and for those you love who mourn over infertility, miscarriages, abortions, wayward children, and other consequences of the curse. At the same time, rejoice for everything good and right in motherhood that shines as a testimony to God’s goodness, mercy, and redemption. Celebrate life, extol the praiseworthy deeds of the moms around you, and praise God that He will one day, finally and fully, set everything right and wipe every tear from our eyes.

Let joy and sadness mingle today. As it should every day.

Opportunity to Reach Out

Sixty-nine percent! That’s a significant amount. That’s the number of parents in the US, according to Lifeway research, who would let their child attend a VBS at someone else’s church IF invited! That number includes people who don’t even attend church themselves on a regular basis!

Nine in 10 adults who went to VBS as a child have positive memories of attending. Even among those who didn’t go as a kid, 61 percent have positive thoughts about the program.

Here’s some more statistics, not as encouraging as the previous. As of 2013, according to Pew Research, only 37 percent of all US Americans attend religious services weekly. Less than half of that number attend Bible believing Christian services. The number continues to drop each year.

These statistics say a lot. In a time when religious institutions are not considered very important to the majority of folks in the United States, a simple children’s program we know as “VBS” is valued! Those statistics say to me that our VBS, the one we’re doing the last week of June, where we’re expecting over 150 kids to attend, can have a significant impact on community.

We had a great Easter Sunday just two weeks ago! Over 400 people attended one of our two services that morning. We had eight new families bring children to the Rise Up with Jesus program. It was an amazing morning! But imagine doing that five days in a row! That’s what VBS is like. Every day, kids and adults alike hear and sing heartfelt worship songs. They listen to stories from the Bible and hear the Gospel message. A Bible verse is repeated more than 20 times throughout the morning. They know they are loved by the attention and care from all the VBS volunteers, some who have worked behind the scenes to create the decorations, prep the crafts or donated the snacks.

And every child who attends VBS has at least one parent. Many who do attend a church somewhere in the South Bay, but also many who don’t. Reaching out to them the week they are here is vital. Reaching out to them AFTER VBS is even more important! Showing families we love them and are concerned for their kids is the most important message each of us need to give. We need to be intentional about this and to be truly effective, this needs to be a total church activity.

There’s lots to do in the weeks and days leading up to VBS. Our small little team has been meeting and working regularly since shortly after Christmas. Now that Easter Sunday is behind us, it’s full steam ahead. They could use some help! Pray and consider how you can be a part of unique opportunity. There’s a table on the patio this morning that can answer your questions!

A Place Where God Can Use Me

I did my second ride-along with a sheriff deputy this week. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as the first one. There were moments of lights and sirens. But the humanity of the department was on full view — we spent a good chunk of time waiting for a flat tire to be repaired. It happens even to them. When the tow truck didn’t have the right jack for that vehicle, he had to use the dinky jack provided in the car itself. It was a bit comical. And so human.

Most of our calls amounted to nothing. Fortunately. And then there was the out-of-state car parked near Del Cerro park. The driver was apparently enjoying some hillside hiking. But, he left his cell phone and keys in the passenger seat — and the window open. Not a really smart thing to do. Even in PV. And, of course, the car was parked the wrong direction. Do other states let you do that? The dilemma was how to respond. We didn’t want to come back and take a burglary report, but who knows when the driver was going to return. Another officer ended up locking the valuables in the trunk and writing a parking ticket. With a lovely note about being a bit smarter with security.

I almost got left at Chicken Maison. I was in the restroom when an emergency call came in. By the time I got out, the officers were gone. Now what do I do? I ran out and got into the waiting car. We picked up the food a couple of hours later. Cold.

The life of a deputy is certainly interesting and boring at the same time. You never know what’s next. Or when trauma will appear. That tension surrounds you throughout the shift. And when they do have to respond, they don’t know what’s waiting for them around the corner or on the other side of those tinted windows. They all have my respect. And though it may seem peaceful around here, crime is present, and we all need to be wise.

As I rode around not doing all that much, I thought how apropos this was to the Christian life. Often it feels like we aren’t really accomplishing a whole lot. Most of life is pretty mundane. It can feel like we are spinning our wheels. Or running in place. Life isn’t always about that next exciting adventure — it’s about relationships. It’s about being faithful and willing to be used by God. And that’s why I’m out with the deputies, to build some relationships, to be in a place where God can use me.

Easter was like that for us as a church. We made an inroad across the street. We had some just check us out. It is all about building long-term relationships that we might have an open door to share Jesus at some point down the line. It is the quiet ministry which often yields the most long-term results.

So, we press on. A tire may go flat. We may come across a situation where a solution is not easily found. But we do the best we can with the tools given to us by God. And that makes everyday life so exciting. How will God lead you this week? Keep your eyes open for ministry. Every day.

Lessons from Notre Dame

On Monday, the world watched with a deep sense of sadness as the beautiful cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was consumed by fire. It was a mesmerizing scene. There were many tears shed on that day after Palm Sunday. Why? Why was this such a traumatic event for the world? Much has been written to answer that question.

Some argued that we came face-to-face with the transitory nature of life. Nothing is permanent on this planet. Nothing. So, on Monday we faced our mortality and it moved us deeply. Perhaps.

Part of our sorrow may have been linked to the power of architecture. The size and the beauty of that building helped us consider the grandeur of God. That was its purpose. For others, it had become a monument to the genius and goodness of man. So, to watch history burn was very sad. Perhaps.

Of course, a pure secularist has his own twisted take. Writing in Rolling Stone magazine, Michael Kimmelmann said, “But for some people in France, Notre Dame has also served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place. ‘The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation,’ says Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University.’” How can a building be overburdened with meaning, when it is all about God and the story of redemption? I guess that’s one way to get over the grief of those flames.

There are many in our world who want to see us freed from any notion of the divine. So, for them any rebuilding process will be a clear step to remake architecture for man’s glory, not God’s. That, for me, would be an even greater tragedy.

Some believers have said this is a great lesson for us. It will all burn in the end anyway, so what’s the big deal? But, things will survive into the New Jerusalem. There will be buildings and great architecture. And most likely that cathedral could still be standing. Perhaps. But as a pinnacle of human civilization, to watch it burn on Monday was terribly sad.

I’m not sure there is an overriding lesson to the burning of Notre Dame. Maybe it is just a tragedy where no lives were lost. One writer put it this way, “As one who has a personal 9/11 story (I was airborne that morning), I have learned to appreciate every day as a gift. Paris is a gift. Notre Dame is a special gift, one that we have enjoyed, appreciated, and been astonished by for nearly 700 years. On April 15, we learned (again) that gifts should be appreciated, that they should never be taken for granted, that they can in fact be taken away.”  (David Gruesel, writing for The Gospel Coalition website).

On this Resurrection Sunday, we do need to remember that there is only one gift that cannot be taken away. And it was given to us by the one Giver. We find hope for life in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Life from death. Hope from flames. That is God’s gift to us. The grave was not the end. Jesus is risen!

Lingering Trials

The sewer saga continues. Yes, the latest trial of our cursed sewer system is dragging on. And on. Piles of dirt remain in the driveway. The Great Trench of 2019 remains open. I’m offering lap swimming for anyone interested. I’m told by mid-week it should all get wrapped up, though I stopped holding my breath a couple of days ago. Might as well just go with the flow – and drain the bank account.

This week they got new pipes installed, but then discovered (the details are still a bit murky) the clay pipe under the street was damaged more than they could line. So, as I type they are saw cutting the asphalt and the utility companies are on their way to make sure that when they trench on Monday that they don’t do more harm than good. On this project, that’s an important factor.

Life is a series of trials, and some want to linger. The Great Sewer Repair of 2019 is now one of those lingering trials. It tests patience, drains the wallet, and is a major inconvenience at times. But it’s not life-threatening and the solution is just more time and money. Maybe I’m supposed to learn not to cling to either tightly. Didn’t know I was, though.

Discerning the right lesson can be a tough mental and spiritual exercise. Peter talks about trials coming in various shapes and varieties. He doesn’t say, however, that we are supposed to figure out the why’s of each one, just that they are at work to produce in us a genuineness of faith. Maybe I don’t have to figure out the “why” to refine my faith and let all this result in praise, glory, and honor. Upon some reflection, that seems to me the most biblical of conclusions.

I can’t really know what God is doing in my life with any certainty. Or why. But I can love Him and trust him and obey Him during each trial. The variety of flavors in the trials of this week, just make me lean on Him. The goal of it all, even sewer mayhem, is clear – that at the end of faith is the salvation of our souls. It’s all about refining our lives life that we might please our Savior and our God.

I’m not sure what you have had to endure this week. There are a lot of you struggling with issues much more significant than sewers. And more expensive. So, let’s band together on this Palm Sunday morning and acknowledge that it is God who saves us. He always delivers. Always. And it was the trials Jesus endured in this week ahead that have secured our hope.

Resurrection Sunday looms on the horizon, but the trials Jesus faces between now and then are much more significant than anything we ever face. And yet Jesus was faithful. May we be too, no matter what the flavor of the week is chasing us. We have a living hope. That’s all that matters.

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” 1 Peter 1:6

The Root Problem

As I type, workers are saw-cutting my nice, beautiful concrete driveway. There wasn’t enough cutting on Day One of this project, so they are at it again today. Our sewage pipes have been an issue for over a decade. We tried to deal with this issue in 2011, but the crew couldn’t dig deep enough on their own to get down to the problem pipe, so we bore down in a spot closer to the surface and put in a cleanout that was easy to access. In theory, we “solved” the problem. But only in theory I guess.

I call the plumbers every six months to come and clean out the pipe. We have a significant root infestation. Lately, however, the pipes don’t stay clear for even six months. Six weeks is pushing it. We’ve tried all kinds of solutions, and I’ve had enough. This week, we get to spend a lot of money, just to make sure we can take a shower on a Sunday morning. You are welcome.

I was promised this would only take a day. We are on Day Two. They should be done today. If they should go to Day Three, it means we get to enjoy the weekend with a pile of dirt in our driveway. It’s not that big of deal, just messy and inconvenient. I’m at the point of “whatever it takes, just get it done right.” The plumbers are all nice guys — and between work at the church and here at the house, we are on a first name basis. But that’s not a good thing, is it? No. It’s not. After today, we hope to become friendly strangers. We can only hope.

Sometimes we put things off because that’s the most economical option out there. That’s been the working theory for the last 10 years. And it was. Until it wasn’t. It worked until the roots created their own home in my pipes (which are not wide enough to get the heavy-duty equipment down in there).

There is a lesson in those roots for our spiritual lives. If we let the roots of the world, the lust and greed and pride so take over our lives, they will eventually require a great cost to remove them. Because at some point, they will choke out that which is most essential in life — our walk with God.

Are you knowingly letting roots entangle your walk with God? Are you neglecting Him? Are you ignoring Him? Are you sliding through life without rigorously killing the weeds of lust? Or pride? Or greed? Or discontent? Or selfishness? Or gossip? Or judgmentalism?

My small group has been working our way through Jerry Bridges, “Respectable Sins.” It is a powerful and convicting book which has helped us (painfully) confront the sins in life that we tolerate. And there are plenty of them. It is very important to keep putting to death the deeds of the body. Or they will overtake our soul.

As I sit here typing, I’m sure I’ve spent several hundred more dollars fixing a long-lasting root problem. So how long will I let the sinful roots of self invade my walk with God?

“No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” 2 Timothy 2:4

Always Faithful to Her Savior

On Saturday, we will gather to celebrate the life of one of our most faithful and enduring figures which graced the life of Peninsula. The staff was just with Eileen Summerfelt on her 90th birthday in February (Valentine’s Day). Her downhill slide was obvious. She is now happily home with Jesus.

She wasn’t perfect, obviously. But what I will say is that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen God continue to be at work in a life as He was with Eileen. And I mean that in the most complimentary of ways. God softened her heart over the years and she was faithful to her Savior. Always. The last years of life were not easy. But she never wavered in her faith, and it showed. She was positive, enduring the struggles of life like a trooper. And let me be honest, she faced some curveballs in life.

She cared for aging parents for a very long time. She buried two husbands and one son. Heartache was never far from her experience. But I think she let those experiences temper her life, not allowing bitterness to take root. When you are widowed at age 50, you could walk away and question God. Not Eileen. Her faith sustained her.

Perhaps you may not know, but Eileen had an amazing voice (I never heard her sing a solo, however). She also played the piano and was our preschool music director for 25 years. Her heart was here and she always loved for me to give her updates on the preschool. She loved children. And music.

A couple of days before she passed away, she carefully thanked her family for all their care and she shared her deep love for them, and for Peninsula. Life had been good to her. She missed coming to church each Sunday, it was hard for her to not be here among us all. In her last days, she opened her guarded heart and let her love flow.

Back in the days when we struggled as a church family, most of her friends abandoned Peninsula for greener pastures. But not Eileen and Dick (her second husband). They stuck it out, even if it meant that they had to endure some loneliness. They did forge new friendships and always chose the path which honored God. I will always love them for that. After our 40 Days of Purpose experience, she never uttered another word of complaint about music and worship. I think she realized that it was not about her own personal preferences, which were strong, but about the church and God’s glory. I’ve never seen anyone’s heart change so much over these years, at an age when change can be difficult to see.

This morning, there is no doubt that Eileen is enjoying the presence of Jesus. We have been enriched because of her investment in our lives. Another faithful saint has gone ahead of us. We mourn, with hope. And we are resolved to serve the Savior until He calls us home. We will do all for His glory.

“My dear friends, stand firm and don’t be shaken. Always keep busy working for the Lord. You know that everything you do for him is worthwhile.”  1 Corinthians 15:58 (CEV)

Shades Between Good and Evil

Tuesday I did my first Sheriff ride-along. I am not ashamed to admit I was a bit nervous. I was stepping into a world very foreign to me. New language. New culture. New expectations. I move in a world of controlled environments (for the most part) and I stepped into a world that is never controllable. It is often the worst day of people’s lives. And I’ll now be there. So, yes, I was apprehensive.

I rode with a young officer (he was a kid), very nice and very efficient. He welcomed me warmly and we were off to encounter life on the streets of Lomita and the eastern edges of RPV. I endured a couple of “lights and sirens” rushes to emergencies. To be honest, I just held on tight and tried not to scream. He was in full control and I trusted him. It’s the drivers we pass that make you nervous. Where are they really going to go next? Oh yes, I stalked Jordan and Kelly Browne.

To be honest, I think it has taken me a couple of days to emotionally recover from those six hours. The constant pressure of being on your guard. The unknown of what’s next. The pressure to make things right in this dark world. Those officers out on patrol have earned my respect, more than ever.

I won’t get into the gorier details of those six hours, but I will share one lesson I learned. I am used to looking for participles and aorist tenses and the grammatical construction of the Greek New Testament text. That’s my world (and my skills have garnered some rust over the years). I can spot the grammar and build a worship service… but spot the lawbreakers? He has his senses trained to discern something entirely different — right and wrong life decisions.

He was aware of issues I never saw. Something odd about a license plate. Something amiss inside a certain car. I missed one driver who made two turns without ever signaling (now, normally that would catch my attention and drive me crazy). He didn’t miss it, and he got to know the driver a bit more personally (no ticket was issued, btw). He would see things I completely missed. I wasn’t really looking. That’s not in my training.

In my world, I want to so love and do the Scriptures that I have learned how to discern between right and wrong — in my own heart. Because if I move lazily through life and never learn to make those distinctions, I’ll be spiritually immature. It takes practice to see the shades between good and evil. He could see it on the street. I can see it in the heart. He practiced enough to identify those little things which make people stand out.

So, I decided I’d better keep working on discerning good and evil in my world. The world of my heart. I need to get better at spotting errors of attitude and word that I could fix before God “pulls me over.”

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Hebrews 5:14

Butterflies

I was moving slowly on Monday, so it was afternoon before I took the dog for a walk.  It was a nice day, though breezy.  The sun was greatly appreciated after all the rain.  I didn’t get to the end of our cul-de-sac before noticing that something was strange.  Butterflies were everywhere.  Hundreds of them, all headed the same direction, or so it seemed.  I figured it was the breeze that carried them along.  I assumed the recent rains had stirred up the wildlife on the empty hillside across the street.  It was a nice moment, so I stopped for a second to take it in.

I picked up the pace again (must get the heart going) and the dog and I were soon at the end of Calle de Suenos, with its expansive view of the Pacific Ocean.  And what was there?  Butterflies.  Still by the hundreds.  Dare I say by the thousands?  Hmmmm….something bigger than I thought was going on.

We kept pressing forward with our walk.  Down the stairs, up the stairs, and up Calle de Suenos well passed where it becomes Crest. The butterflies were still swarming, even a mile away from the house. Wow, something bigger than I thought was going on.

When Christie got home, I asked her if she’d seen any butterflies at the church. Yes, she had. So, this is not just some localized phenomenon from our brushy hillsides. Something even bigger than I thought was going on.

The Nextdoor website was flooded with comments about the butterflies.  Apparently, it was all over the Hill on Monday. Hmmmm….something bigger than I thought was going on.

As the week went on, we all discovered what that was (and there were still some butterflies in the yard on Thursday).  It was a migration of painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) from the deserts of the Southwestern US and northern Mexico.  The last major migration was in 2005, when we had significant rains in our deserts.  They were headed from the desert to Oregon and beyond.  Before beginning their migration north, the butterflies will lay their eggs in the desert, with caterpillars feeding on vegetation in the desert (which is why having large amounts of rain can be so crucial) and growing through the late winter or early spring before taking to the skies, according to representatives from the National Wildlife Federation.

My guess of hundreds, which had turned to thousands, was more in the realm of billions. Indeed, something bigger than I thought was going on.

But to be honest, that’s often the case in life.  I try to get a glimpse of what God is doing in and through the church, and then discover that something bigger than I thought was going on.  And that’s exactly why this journey of life together is so amazing.  We never know what God’s going to do around the next corner.  But this we do know, it is always bigger than we can imagine.  I didn’t want to overestimate what I saw on Monday, but clearly, I underestimated the phenomenon.  By a bunch.

Let’s not limit God to what we think is happening.  He likes to work in the realm of “more than we can ask or think.”  Let’s join Him in this amazing journey.  Something bigger is always going on.

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