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Harvest in Our Own Backyard and Beyond

Team Bombo is home from Africa (well, there is one couple still traveling in South Africa by choice). But the rest of us are home trying to get back into this time zone after an exhausting couple of weeks. We ended up having over 6,000 patient visits (some patients do see multiple doctors) and 323 decisions for Christ in the six days of the clinic. By all accounts, it was a significant week of ministry in the rural suburbs north of Kampala, Uganda.

We had dinner in Kampala on Monday with Pastor Alex and his wife, Millie, and they related a story from just last Sunday. One week ago, after we had gone, they had four Muslims come to church seeking God. They shared and prayed with them for three hours after the services. That story confirmed what both Pastor Alex and myself concluded anecdotally about this year’s medical clinic. The repetitive nature of the medical mission in that community is softening hearts to Christ. Especially the Muslims. Alex and I both noted a crowd that was much friendlier than usual. They were appreciative, engaging, and more thankful than we’ve ever seen before.

There is something to say for sticking somewhere long term.

But that’s not the only place where we are seeing opportunities to reach the community with some hope. Last Sunday morning, we – yes, we right here at Peninsula – began a fresh round of ESL classes. Last season we had about four people attending. This year we upped our visibility a little. Well, a lot. Apparently, the lawn banner is perfect to draw the attention of those wanting some help with English. Last Sunday morning, we had someone from the preschool attend, someone from SBECC, and the rest from the community. Thirteen people in all came to the first class. They came from Guatemala, Taiwan, Mexico, China and Japan. Their levels of English proficiency varied. But this is great news.

We’ve been promoting it for a while now, and have obviously found an itch that needs some scratching. And this one is right in our own back yard. There are people in our own community that will come to something we offer at church if we just take some action to help them meet their own personal need.

There is a field waiting to be harvested. We need to pray for the laborers to work the fields. And I think sometimes we forget that the field is white to harvest even in our own back yard. Pray for Sharon Posse and her team as they present the love of Jesus to people who want to improve on their English skills.

And pray for Pastor Alex and the church in Bombo, who must live and minister in a heavily Muslim area, hardened most often to the Gospel. But they get sick and need a doctor. May physical needs drive them to understand their spiritual needs.

There is something to say for sticking somewhere long term. People are watching to see if we really love them. Even here at home they wonder, “Do they really care?” We must figure out how to show them we do care, and then watch God work. It’s going to be a great fall.

A Father’s Love

Sometimes ministry takes place because of grand preparations. Sometimes ministry takes place with a casual word, spoken without much thought to its impact. Any medical mission is in the category of ministry which requires great preparation. If you are going to demonstrate the love of Jesus to people who are sick, you need to be prepared with the right tools to do so.

But tonight, I experienced the other kind of ministry, that which takes place without much thought of its impact. Granted, we can destroy relationships with a casual word, but we can also draw people to God through the casual word.

I was chilling out in my room tonight getting ready to write my daily journal. My next-door neighbor was with me and we were just talking. Not writing. There was a knock at my open door, and Jeff went to “answer” it. There stood one of the young gals that works here in the office at the guest house. She wanted to talk, and it was clear she was under some level of distress.

The three of us sat down to talk. The conversation began as she explained how she came to be in our presence tonight. I had said something earlier in the week. As I was leaving the dining room – and I probably was exhausted and just wanted to get to my room – I said (and it’s not even clear it if I spoke to this young gal or not…), “I have to go say goodnight to my daughter.” Casual comment, right? No big deal, right?

But it was that statement of a father’s love for his daughter which brought her to me tonight. She was overwhelmed that there really was a father out there that would love his daughter. Her father abandoned her family when she was young. And recently, her husband abandoned her and her year-old child. Her husband even said the same thing to her that her father had said to her mother as he walked out years ago. Children don’t forget those traumatic moments of life, do they?

So here we three sat, weeping. I was desperate for words that could bring her comfort. She needed some hope. I blathered on and tried to connect with her. After some time, we prayed together on our knees. Her situation is desperate. She didn’t ask for money, but sought reassurance that God loved her in spite of all the failures of love which surrounded her.

As she left, I probably said the most important thing I could have said that night. Words she will probably remember as much as those casual comments made as I left the dining room. Only this time they were not random words. They were spontaneous, yes, but they reflected my heart. As she turned to leave I said to her, “Goodnight, my daughter.” I wanted her to know that there was a father figure in her life who would love her in spite of everything else. I could be that model of God to her. It’s the least I could do.

We will chat again before I leave. There was a whole lot of pre-planned ministry this week. And there were also those random moments where ministry just happened. And God is leading in both.

God At Work

I never know what to expect when the wheels hit the tarmac in Africa. There is always a sense of fear because I don’t know what the days in Uganda will hold. I don’t look forward to the exhaustion and the sweat, but I do enjoy sitting on my bed after a long day in the quiet of another African evening writing and being alone with my thoughts. It is nice, however, to again be in that place where all I can do is depend on God. I don’t always do it very well, but God is at work. Without Him, we are either wasting our time over here or we will fail — and fail miserably. I guess maybe even both.

But this year there is the sense that we will not fail. He is here. I suspect we will see God do something beyond what we could ask or think. I hadn’t even left the church last week when I began to wonder what God was going to do. We had yet to receive a budget from the church in Bombo. Estimates, yes, but no final budget. There were legitimate reasons, but I had to leave without that firm number in place. So, I took as much money as our accounts would allow (and perhaps a shade more) and headed to the airport.

Literally, on the way out the door, Linda showed me a lovely note from someone I’d never met. They don’t even live in California. They heard about the medical mission from one of our favorite doctors who joins us every couple of years. She was bragging about the quality and heart of this mission and this friend was moved (by God it sure seems) to join Team Bombo this year — financially.

Enclosed was a check for (am I supposed to say?) over $10,000. I was blown away. Are you serious? We are just barely making ends meet this year and now we see the provision of God — and as we head to LAX? What is God doing? He’s not abandoning us, that’s for sure.

We made some administration decisions which rose costs for us in Bombo this year. We didn’t know by how much, but they went up. And what did God do? He moved a heart in Colorado to fill in the gap.

And then today, Pastor Alex had to go into town to make the final arrangements for eye care at the clinic. All conversations had been discouraging thus far. In the timing of God, he met the head of the eye clinic on his way to his meeting — and to make a long story very short — she arranged for eye care and follow-ups at minimal (mostly free) cost. That’s huge.

God is doing something. When those wheels hit African soil, I still wonder what we will face. But this I know, we come with a God who is faithful, with a church that is praying and with the compassion of the Savior. When we lift off again, one thing I know: God will have been faithful all along the way. Keep praying.

Red Letters

I’m a little bit jealous of you all this morning. Opening the Word for the next few weeks is one of my favorite seminary professors, but I must say that seminary was a long time ago. A very long time ago. Dr. Sunukjian came to Dallas Seminary after I’d been through a year or two I think (it was a four-year course of study). He joined the pastoral ministry department and brought a breath of fresh air to the preaching side of things. I had him for at one of my sections of preaching. And then I took his “Persuasion in Preaching” class which he taught at his home. I remember so much from him, but I still don’t shine my shoes as often as I should (like never). His practical advice changed me. And, I still do a baptism as he so carefully taught us.

I searched my files this week for his comments on one of my sermons. We would preach (10 minutes max) in front of a state-of-the-art video camera. We would then watch ourselves as the prof would comment on our preaching from a sound proof room. Hey, the technology of the late 1970s was not what it is today. Oh, how times have changed (I didn’t even have a computer then).

We would also get a written critique of our preaching. It was all very helpful. But very intimidating. But I still remember the one phrase he scribbled on the top of one of my grading sheets. I looked for it in my files (I’m sure it’s still there, somewhere) but time was short this week and I just couldn’t remember the passage I preached on that particular afternoon. But I remember the note he wrote. I don’t have Ken Garland’s memory (this would be the right moment for that), but the gist of what he wrote was: you are an ok preacher, but your people will listen to you because you have a way of delivery that builds trust in you. The first half was more kind than that – but you get the point.

I knew I wasn’t a great preacher. That wasn’t hard to figure out. But, he gave me some hope that maybe someone would want to listen to me preach. Some day. It was clear that it was not that day. We did have to listen to some very “interesting” sermons in those classes, by the way. I wasn’t at the bottom of the pile. But not close to the top either.

But it was those words printed in red across the top of my evaluation that gave me hope. Real hope. They encouraged me. He encouraged me. I have never forgotten those red letters. Perhaps it’s taken me 40 years to live up to that potential he saw, but I am the pastor I am today in large measure because of his teaching ministry back in seminary.

Enjoy these Sundays. And remember, a couple of well-timed words can be cherished for decades. Give some hope. Be an encourager. Sow it broadly. And keep serving Jesus. Next week, from Bombo, Uganda.

A Wedding Celebration

We don’t really host all that many weddings around here. There are lots of reasons for that, but when someone from the church gets married here, it’s a big deal. And this weekend was a big deal. Yesterday (tomorrow as I write) Daniel DeMoss and Olivia Chen tied the knot. And I tied it as tightly as humanly possible. My goal was just to make it through the ceremony without making a fool of myself with an overzealous consumption of Kleenex. We’ll see how that goes, and I can report on things this morning.

I’ve known Daniel for almost 24 years now, since he was 7. His dad, Kurth, chaired the search committee which stuck this church with me all those years ago. It’s been quite the journey. From top secret negotiations to the big reveal of my candidacy to those DeMoss children ransacking (only kidding, Juliet) my house on Saturdays after Chinese school. In those days, there were plenty of water fights on that long driveway on Oak Street. Lucky for us that Chinese school was just around the corner, which brought them to our neighborhood every weekend.

There were those days in Awana which brought some parenting skills to the front (I do believe they got kicked out of their small group one week for not being the model young men they are today). But at least they had the creativity to explore the boundaries, right Lorenzo? Through high school, I watched Daniel explore his faith in Christ to an even greater dimension. This church was a shaping influence in his life.

We moved our sons into the dorm at USC. Together. Oh, Trojan Hall, the smells you had to endure. We shared graduation together. Then, Daniel was off to medical school and Jeremy to work.

What a journey. I wouldn’t have missed a moment or changed a thing.

So, to Daniel and Olivia, my prayer is that all the blessings of God would be yours in fullest measure. As you launch on this adventure of Christian marriage there will be amazing highs and painful lows. But through it all you must keep Christ at the center and always seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. And then the promise of Jesus to supply all your needs will be yours.

This is a bit of a nostalgic weekend for me. The years have been good — and the people sweeter. Weddings are significant milestones in life. They mark a turning point in a journey. Life’s never the same after that white dress is stored away. Never. But that is the plan of God who invented marriage and told us how to make it work to bring Him glory and make us all more like Jesus. It’s a brilliant plan of His, if we don’t muck it up.

This weekend we celebrate a wedding. A milestone. We’ll all be able to do that after I get back from Bombo when we throw open our home to celebrate together the love and wisdom of God in bringing Daniel and Olivia together. Come then and celebrate. Until then, the newest couple in SoCal is Dr. and Mrs. Daniel DeMoss. Sweet.

Thank You, Brooke

Sometimes it doesn’t take too long to make an impact on those around you.

This morning is the last Sunday that Brooke Adams will be on staff as our Event Coordinator. With pressures piling up to complete her Master’s program at USC (Fight On!), she is stepping aside to focus more clearly on how God is leading. I accept that, though I certainly don’t have to like it.

We are changed because Brooke has been here. We need this younger generation to push the boundaries for us old folks. I am, without a doubt, included in that moniker these days. I probably have been longer than I would admit. Since Brooke came, our baptisms have become true celebrations. Christmas was beautiful. The Harvest Festival re-energized. Summer family nights have drawn in many from the community. We have pushed the boundaries in this past year and tried some new things. And that’s exactly what I wanted to accomplish with Brooke around.

Sometimes it takes some grace for us on the higher end of the age scale to make some room for the opinions and ideas of the up-and-coming ones. But if the church – this church – wants to continue to make an impact on the community, we must stretch ourselves. We need a habit of change. We need to enjoy the process of experimentation. We need the energy of youth. We need the ideas of youth. We need to give them space to try new things. Some will be wildly successful, others maybe not so much. But that doesn’t matter. Peninsula must be a place to grow and change and test new methods.

So even though Brooke is stepping out, we will continue down that path. Experiment. Test. Investigate. The only caveat must be: if it fails, move on quickly. We learned what didn’t work, so let’s try something else.

One of the lessons of our text in Matthew 13 this morning is the overwhelming value of the Kingdom. If we believe that, then we must never stop figuring out new ways to engage with our community. We have the hope. We know The King. We have found hidden treasure, so we cannot keep the map to that treasure to ourselves.

Thank you, Brooke, for helping us stretch our vision. For leading us to try new things. For helping us experiment a little bit. To be honest, now it is time to experiment…even more. May the Lord bless you as you continue through this journey of life. You have a home here and a place to grow to be more and more like Jesus. I am grateful that you will continue to help with the planning of the annual Medical Mission to Bombo. What a blessing.

But know that we as a church family love you and appreciate all that you have done. We need some new Brooke’s around here. I am committed to trying new things. To evaluating “old things.” To changing things up to keep us dependent on the Savior. We have the message of the Kingdom to share, we dare not bore people with unsearchable riches of Christ. We must press ahead.

Brooke, you’ve made such a positive impact. Thank you.

Vacation

Vacation. It’s already just a blur, to be honest. But one amazing blur, to be really honest. How would I describe the last month? Well, let me give you a picture, shall I?

I read “Dead Wake,” the story of the sinking of the Lusitania over 100 years ago. It was a new style of writing for me, but it was amazing after I slogged through it a while. Wow, what a story. Of course, I read some John Grisham and Brad Thor. I have to keep the story-telling gene going strong.

I fished. Not all that much or all that successfully, but I did fish. I won the annual family fishing derby, of course. It was close, and not really all that exciting — I only had a day or two with the boys to fish. And I know you won’t believe me, but I had the most giant trout I’ve ever seen on the end of my line but I couldn’t get it into the boat. It was huge. Seriously huge. It dented the boat (I made that part up). But after that morning, Mammoth heated up so that no one was catching fish any more.

I hiked. Well, I walked. The trail to Gem Lake (behind Rock Creek Lake) is simply breathtaking. Christie and I did that with Lady (our golden retriever) and enjoyed almost every step. Just being honest. We made it to Long Lake, and turned around. I mean we can’t wear out Lady too much.

I watched Lady swim. This year, she would run to every patch of water she could find. It was comical and exhausting for her (which means it was good for us).

I ate. We tried some new Mammoth diners and mixed it up a bit this year. I didn’t lose any weight, but hey, it is vacation. We drove up to our (well, my) favorite burger joint in Bridgeport. The soft serve ice cream is amazing (though no different from anywhere else, I suppose). But the setting is beautiful.

I slept. The first few days I enjoyed just being lazy (I’m quite good at it, you know). That was the nice part. No appointments or deadlines. We could sleep in and eat breakfast late. Who cared?

We had a grand time in some amazing scenery. But after that long it was time to come home. Vacation is nice, but vacation doesn’t provide you with purpose. It was time to get back to church and God’s people and plug back in to what He is doing here. I got some time to think and pray (a side benefit of fishing) and now I am ready to see where God leads next. I have lots of ideas, but He’s the chief shepherd, not me.

But what I really want to say is that it’s good to be back. It is the Kingdom which makes vacations sweet — because this life is not about rest, but about serving. A fulfilling life is not about the travel, but about doing the purpose of God in our generation. And I am so ready to get back on task.

Let Christ’s Word Dwell in You Richly

Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Imagine facing a particular situation where you felt powerless and helpless to do anything, yet you remembered (Psalm 46:1) “God is our refuge of strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Or imagine facing the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one and in your grief, you remembered the words, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

Or perhaps, for some unknown reason, you find yourself down in the dark hole of depression or anxiety and you can’t seem to get out, but you recall Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Or imagine facing all the troubles of the day that tend to pile up with Lamentations 3:22-23 fresh on your mind, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

But what if those verses didn’t come to your mind? What if you had to face those circumstances with only vague notions that God was out there somewhere? What if you had no bedrock of truth upon which to stand?

I think that’s where “letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly” comes in. Not just reading the Word or receiving teaching on it, but letting it dwell, that is, letting it have a home in your heart.
“How does that happen?” you ask, hoping I don’t use the “M” word. Answer: You fix it in your mind, you learn it by heart, you commit it to your consciousness. There. I didn’t say “memorize.” Oops.

Commit yourself to letting one verse dwell richly in you. Choose a verse that is meaningful to you or you can use the Monthly Memory Verse card found at the welcome cart (There is a new verse for August!). Repeat each phrase until you have it without looking. Then add the next phrase until the verse is at home in your heart.

Now that you have it, don’t stop there. Don’t simply let it have a home in your heart. Let it dwell “richly.” “How does that happen?” you ask. Answer: Think about it. Let it roll around in your mind. Look at it from all sides. Ask questions of it. Like honeycomb (Psalm 19:10b), suck all the sweetness out of it by cherishing every word. Use your travel time, shower time, or laundry time and get into the Word by getting the Word into you.

Grab a friend and challenge each other to let Christ’s word dwell in you richly. It will be well worth the effort.

God At Work in the Desert

Amid the hundred degrees summer days, God is at work here at Belk Farm. For years, PCC has been partnering with the Tesoro Club in Coachella Valley – an organization that strives to disciple children and youth through various camps, sports, and Bible studies. Throughout this week, our small yet encouraged PCC team is running a week-long VBS for middle school students.

We have just made it through the halfway point and the students are beginning to truly engage. In any week-long program, there is always pressure to break down walls quickly. I honestly was a little discouraged that we were not initially resonating with the students; but, a few days of intentional fellowship through small groups and goofy games had a major impact on even the most hesitant of kids. Suddenly our days are filled with a sea of smiles, kids constantly jumping all over us, and difficult yet meaningful conversations. It’s in those moments I remember why we came back. The environment here is intoxicating, drawing each of us in and fostering everlasting camaraderie.

As a young youth pastor, the Tesoro mission trip brings an extra level of joy for myself. I get to watch many of my students serve with humble hearts and perseverance as they grow into natural leaders. I feel like a proud parent watching their kid – or at least how I imagine a proud parent feels. I have been asking a lot of them. It’s nerve-racking to stand in front of 40-50 middle school students and preach the word. I think about Sarah Keller. Just this last year she was a sixth-grade student in MSM (Middle School Ministry). For this whole year she has been participating in small group Bible studies; but now on this trip, she is helping lead one. That gives me so much hope for the future; as our youth group is very young but full of students who want to know God and let him be known. I want to encourage our younger members to step out of their own comfort zones and expand beyond their personal faith. So if you are a high school or middle school student, watch out, because next year might be your time to serve in the desert.

Early Morning

I went on a hike early in the morning last week. The trail started at the floor of a canyon, allowing for a few shaded miles to start the loop I aimed to conquer before lunch. With coffee in hand, I began my journey. Beetles scampered underfoot, large white flowers were stretching open, and bunnies lazily hopped through grass. A mile in, I spotted a deer on the other side of the trail quietly munching on some greens, watching me pass. There are sights only offered in early morning as the world awakens.

Soon after, I spotted three more deer stretching their necks up into a tree. I stopped to watch as they balanced on hind legs to reach higher. As they continued with their breakfast unconcerned by the girl in a bright blue shirt, a biker also paused to observe and said, “I spotted a bobcat just ahead. It’s the first time I’ve seen him since the fires.” I thanked him for the tip and took off with an accelerated pace. I rounded a bend to a trail intersection where I saw a man wielding a four-inch knife, appearing poised to fight something big. He spotted me quickly approaching and said, “It’s a bobcat!”

Unfortunately, once I turned the corner there was no bobcat. It had slinked off into the dense, shadowy trees. The man from Arizona tucked away his knife near his bear spray, justifying his preparedness saying he was unsure if bobcats were like mountain lions. I held a metal coffee cup, my obvious tool of defense. Even though I didn’t see the cat, being in its presence brought excitement to the quiet morning.

By mile seven, the sun burned above the populated trail. The heat and noise sent animals into hiding, the early morning magic gone. I’ve had a lot of early morning adventures this year in various corners of the world. I never regret a pre-sunrise alarm once I’m out exploring beautiful parks, quiet streets, or wild safari reserves. In the stillness, I become overwhelmed with the intricate beauty God has woven into life like hummingbirds, bright yellow egg yolks, dewy grass, still bodies of water — things absent or rushed past when the world gets crowded and loud.

I think Jesus likes early mornings, too. In the Bible, Jesus makes breakfast for His disciples early in the morning. Jesus rises early to retreat and pray. The tomb was found empty in the early morning. These events brought excitement to the disciples lives because Jesus and His power were present. He was right there stoking a fire on the shore of a lake, speaking with His Father, and freed from death’s bondage. I think we can confuse quiet with the feeling of absence. But God is not sleeping while we wander down a trail in dawn’s light. With patience and attentiveness, the still and quiet moments can be the ones most filled with manifestations of God’s presence.

Happy summer, make time to enjoy a quiet morning.

Blog Fulllwidth

Harvest in Our Own Backyard and Beyond

Team Bombo is home from Africa (well, there is one couple still traveling in South Africa by choice). But the rest of us are home trying to get back into this time zone after an exhausting couple of weeks. We ended up having over 6,000 patient visits (some patients do see multiple doctors) and 323 decisions for Christ in the six days of the clinic. By all accounts, it was a significant week of ministry in the rural suburbs north of Kampala, Uganda.

We had dinner in Kampala on Monday with Pastor Alex and his wife, Millie, and they related a story from just last Sunday. One week ago, after we had gone, they had four Muslims come to church seeking God. They shared and prayed with them for three hours after the services. That story confirmed what both Pastor Alex and myself concluded anecdotally about this year’s medical clinic. The repetitive nature of the medical mission in that community is softening hearts to Christ. Especially the Muslims. Alex and I both noted a crowd that was much friendlier than usual. They were appreciative, engaging, and more thankful than we’ve ever seen before.

There is something to say for sticking somewhere long term.

But that’s not the only place where we are seeing opportunities to reach the community with some hope. Last Sunday morning, we – yes, we right here at Peninsula – began a fresh round of ESL classes. Last season we had about four people attending. This year we upped our visibility a little. Well, a lot. Apparently, the lawn banner is perfect to draw the attention of those wanting some help with English. Last Sunday morning, we had someone from the preschool attend, someone from SBECC, and the rest from the community. Thirteen people in all came to the first class. They came from Guatemala, Taiwan, Mexico, China and Japan. Their levels of English proficiency varied. But this is great news.

We’ve been promoting it for a while now, and have obviously found an itch that needs some scratching. And this one is right in our own back yard. There are people in our own community that will come to something we offer at church if we just take some action to help them meet their own personal need.

There is a field waiting to be harvested. We need to pray for the laborers to work the fields. And I think sometimes we forget that the field is white to harvest even in our own back yard. Pray for Sharon Posse and her team as they present the love of Jesus to people who want to improve on their English skills.

And pray for Pastor Alex and the church in Bombo, who must live and minister in a heavily Muslim area, hardened most often to the Gospel. But they get sick and need a doctor. May physical needs drive them to understand their spiritual needs.

There is something to say for sticking somewhere long term. People are watching to see if we really love them. Even here at home they wonder, “Do they really care?” We must figure out how to show them we do care, and then watch God work. It’s going to be a great fall.

A Father’s Love

Sometimes ministry takes place because of grand preparations. Sometimes ministry takes place with a casual word, spoken without much thought to its impact. Any medical mission is in the category of ministry which requires great preparation. If you are going to demonstrate the love of Jesus to people who are sick, you need to be prepared with the right tools to do so.

But tonight, I experienced the other kind of ministry, that which takes place without much thought of its impact. Granted, we can destroy relationships with a casual word, but we can also draw people to God through the casual word.

I was chilling out in my room tonight getting ready to write my daily journal. My next-door neighbor was with me and we were just talking. Not writing. There was a knock at my open door, and Jeff went to “answer” it. There stood one of the young gals that works here in the office at the guest house. She wanted to talk, and it was clear she was under some level of distress.

The three of us sat down to talk. The conversation began as she explained how she came to be in our presence tonight. I had said something earlier in the week. As I was leaving the dining room – and I probably was exhausted and just wanted to get to my room – I said (and it’s not even clear it if I spoke to this young gal or not…), “I have to go say goodnight to my daughter.” Casual comment, right? No big deal, right?

But it was that statement of a father’s love for his daughter which brought her to me tonight. She was overwhelmed that there really was a father out there that would love his daughter. Her father abandoned her family when she was young. And recently, her husband abandoned her and her year-old child. Her husband even said the same thing to her that her father had said to her mother as he walked out years ago. Children don’t forget those traumatic moments of life, do they?

So here we three sat, weeping. I was desperate for words that could bring her comfort. She needed some hope. I blathered on and tried to connect with her. After some time, we prayed together on our knees. Her situation is desperate. She didn’t ask for money, but sought reassurance that God loved her in spite of all the failures of love which surrounded her.

As she left, I probably said the most important thing I could have said that night. Words she will probably remember as much as those casual comments made as I left the dining room. Only this time they were not random words. They were spontaneous, yes, but they reflected my heart. As she turned to leave I said to her, “Goodnight, my daughter.” I wanted her to know that there was a father figure in her life who would love her in spite of everything else. I could be that model of God to her. It’s the least I could do.

We will chat again before I leave. There was a whole lot of pre-planned ministry this week. And there were also those random moments where ministry just happened. And God is leading in both.

God At Work

I never know what to expect when the wheels hit the tarmac in Africa. There is always a sense of fear because I don’t know what the days in Uganda will hold. I don’t look forward to the exhaustion and the sweat, but I do enjoy sitting on my bed after a long day in the quiet of another African evening writing and being alone with my thoughts. It is nice, however, to again be in that place where all I can do is depend on God. I don’t always do it very well, but God is at work. Without Him, we are either wasting our time over here or we will fail — and fail miserably. I guess maybe even both.

But this year there is the sense that we will not fail. He is here. I suspect we will see God do something beyond what we could ask or think. I hadn’t even left the church last week when I began to wonder what God was going to do. We had yet to receive a budget from the church in Bombo. Estimates, yes, but no final budget. There were legitimate reasons, but I had to leave without that firm number in place. So, I took as much money as our accounts would allow (and perhaps a shade more) and headed to the airport.

Literally, on the way out the door, Linda showed me a lovely note from someone I’d never met. They don’t even live in California. They heard about the medical mission from one of our favorite doctors who joins us every couple of years. She was bragging about the quality and heart of this mission and this friend was moved (by God it sure seems) to join Team Bombo this year — financially.

Enclosed was a check for (am I supposed to say?) over $10,000. I was blown away. Are you serious? We are just barely making ends meet this year and now we see the provision of God — and as we head to LAX? What is God doing? He’s not abandoning us, that’s for sure.

We made some administration decisions which rose costs for us in Bombo this year. We didn’t know by how much, but they went up. And what did God do? He moved a heart in Colorado to fill in the gap.

And then today, Pastor Alex had to go into town to make the final arrangements for eye care at the clinic. All conversations had been discouraging thus far. In the timing of God, he met the head of the eye clinic on his way to his meeting — and to make a long story very short — she arranged for eye care and follow-ups at minimal (mostly free) cost. That’s huge.

God is doing something. When those wheels hit African soil, I still wonder what we will face. But this I know, we come with a God who is faithful, with a church that is praying and with the compassion of the Savior. When we lift off again, one thing I know: God will have been faithful all along the way. Keep praying.

Red Letters

I’m a little bit jealous of you all this morning. Opening the Word for the next few weeks is one of my favorite seminary professors, but I must say that seminary was a long time ago. A very long time ago. Dr. Sunukjian came to Dallas Seminary after I’d been through a year or two I think (it was a four-year course of study). He joined the pastoral ministry department and brought a breath of fresh air to the preaching side of things. I had him for at one of my sections of preaching. And then I took his “Persuasion in Preaching” class which he taught at his home. I remember so much from him, but I still don’t shine my shoes as often as I should (like never). His practical advice changed me. And, I still do a baptism as he so carefully taught us.

I searched my files this week for his comments on one of my sermons. We would preach (10 minutes max) in front of a state-of-the-art video camera. We would then watch ourselves as the prof would comment on our preaching from a sound proof room. Hey, the technology of the late 1970s was not what it is today. Oh, how times have changed (I didn’t even have a computer then).

We would also get a written critique of our preaching. It was all very helpful. But very intimidating. But I still remember the one phrase he scribbled on the top of one of my grading sheets. I looked for it in my files (I’m sure it’s still there, somewhere) but time was short this week and I just couldn’t remember the passage I preached on that particular afternoon. But I remember the note he wrote. I don’t have Ken Garland’s memory (this would be the right moment for that), but the gist of what he wrote was: you are an ok preacher, but your people will listen to you because you have a way of delivery that builds trust in you. The first half was more kind than that – but you get the point.

I knew I wasn’t a great preacher. That wasn’t hard to figure out. But, he gave me some hope that maybe someone would want to listen to me preach. Some day. It was clear that it was not that day. We did have to listen to some very “interesting” sermons in those classes, by the way. I wasn’t at the bottom of the pile. But not close to the top either.

But it was those words printed in red across the top of my evaluation that gave me hope. Real hope. They encouraged me. He encouraged me. I have never forgotten those red letters. Perhaps it’s taken me 40 years to live up to that potential he saw, but I am the pastor I am today in large measure because of his teaching ministry back in seminary.

Enjoy these Sundays. And remember, a couple of well-timed words can be cherished for decades. Give some hope. Be an encourager. Sow it broadly. And keep serving Jesus. Next week, from Bombo, Uganda.

A Wedding Celebration

We don’t really host all that many weddings around here. There are lots of reasons for that, but when someone from the church gets married here, it’s a big deal. And this weekend was a big deal. Yesterday (tomorrow as I write) Daniel DeMoss and Olivia Chen tied the knot. And I tied it as tightly as humanly possible. My goal was just to make it through the ceremony without making a fool of myself with an overzealous consumption of Kleenex. We’ll see how that goes, and I can report on things this morning.

I’ve known Daniel for almost 24 years now, since he was 7. His dad, Kurth, chaired the search committee which stuck this church with me all those years ago. It’s been quite the journey. From top secret negotiations to the big reveal of my candidacy to those DeMoss children ransacking (only kidding, Juliet) my house on Saturdays after Chinese school. In those days, there were plenty of water fights on that long driveway on Oak Street. Lucky for us that Chinese school was just around the corner, which brought them to our neighborhood every weekend.

There were those days in Awana which brought some parenting skills to the front (I do believe they got kicked out of their small group one week for not being the model young men they are today). But at least they had the creativity to explore the boundaries, right Lorenzo? Through high school, I watched Daniel explore his faith in Christ to an even greater dimension. This church was a shaping influence in his life.

We moved our sons into the dorm at USC. Together. Oh, Trojan Hall, the smells you had to endure. We shared graduation together. Then, Daniel was off to medical school and Jeremy to work.

What a journey. I wouldn’t have missed a moment or changed a thing.

So, to Daniel and Olivia, my prayer is that all the blessings of God would be yours in fullest measure. As you launch on this adventure of Christian marriage there will be amazing highs and painful lows. But through it all you must keep Christ at the center and always seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. And then the promise of Jesus to supply all your needs will be yours.

This is a bit of a nostalgic weekend for me. The years have been good — and the people sweeter. Weddings are significant milestones in life. They mark a turning point in a journey. Life’s never the same after that white dress is stored away. Never. But that is the plan of God who invented marriage and told us how to make it work to bring Him glory and make us all more like Jesus. It’s a brilliant plan of His, if we don’t muck it up.

This weekend we celebrate a wedding. A milestone. We’ll all be able to do that after I get back from Bombo when we throw open our home to celebrate together the love and wisdom of God in bringing Daniel and Olivia together. Come then and celebrate. Until then, the newest couple in SoCal is Dr. and Mrs. Daniel DeMoss. Sweet.

Thank You, Brooke

Sometimes it doesn’t take too long to make an impact on those around you.

This morning is the last Sunday that Brooke Adams will be on staff as our Event Coordinator. With pressures piling up to complete her Master’s program at USC (Fight On!), she is stepping aside to focus more clearly on how God is leading. I accept that, though I certainly don’t have to like it.

We are changed because Brooke has been here. We need this younger generation to push the boundaries for us old folks. I am, without a doubt, included in that moniker these days. I probably have been longer than I would admit. Since Brooke came, our baptisms have become true celebrations. Christmas was beautiful. The Harvest Festival re-energized. Summer family nights have drawn in many from the community. We have pushed the boundaries in this past year and tried some new things. And that’s exactly what I wanted to accomplish with Brooke around.

Sometimes it takes some grace for us on the higher end of the age scale to make some room for the opinions and ideas of the up-and-coming ones. But if the church – this church – wants to continue to make an impact on the community, we must stretch ourselves. We need a habit of change. We need to enjoy the process of experimentation. We need the energy of youth. We need the ideas of youth. We need to give them space to try new things. Some will be wildly successful, others maybe not so much. But that doesn’t matter. Peninsula must be a place to grow and change and test new methods.

So even though Brooke is stepping out, we will continue down that path. Experiment. Test. Investigate. The only caveat must be: if it fails, move on quickly. We learned what didn’t work, so let’s try something else.

One of the lessons of our text in Matthew 13 this morning is the overwhelming value of the Kingdom. If we believe that, then we must never stop figuring out new ways to engage with our community. We have the hope. We know The King. We have found hidden treasure, so we cannot keep the map to that treasure to ourselves.

Thank you, Brooke, for helping us stretch our vision. For leading us to try new things. For helping us experiment a little bit. To be honest, now it is time to experiment…even more. May the Lord bless you as you continue through this journey of life. You have a home here and a place to grow to be more and more like Jesus. I am grateful that you will continue to help with the planning of the annual Medical Mission to Bombo. What a blessing.

But know that we as a church family love you and appreciate all that you have done. We need some new Brooke’s around here. I am committed to trying new things. To evaluating “old things.” To changing things up to keep us dependent on the Savior. We have the message of the Kingdom to share, we dare not bore people with unsearchable riches of Christ. We must press ahead.

Brooke, you’ve made such a positive impact. Thank you.

Vacation

Vacation. It’s already just a blur, to be honest. But one amazing blur, to be really honest. How would I describe the last month? Well, let me give you a picture, shall I?

I read “Dead Wake,” the story of the sinking of the Lusitania over 100 years ago. It was a new style of writing for me, but it was amazing after I slogged through it a while. Wow, what a story. Of course, I read some John Grisham and Brad Thor. I have to keep the story-telling gene going strong.

I fished. Not all that much or all that successfully, but I did fish. I won the annual family fishing derby, of course. It was close, and not really all that exciting — I only had a day or two with the boys to fish. And I know you won’t believe me, but I had the most giant trout I’ve ever seen on the end of my line but I couldn’t get it into the boat. It was huge. Seriously huge. It dented the boat (I made that part up). But after that morning, Mammoth heated up so that no one was catching fish any more.

I hiked. Well, I walked. The trail to Gem Lake (behind Rock Creek Lake) is simply breathtaking. Christie and I did that with Lady (our golden retriever) and enjoyed almost every step. Just being honest. We made it to Long Lake, and turned around. I mean we can’t wear out Lady too much.

I watched Lady swim. This year, she would run to every patch of water she could find. It was comical and exhausting for her (which means it was good for us).

I ate. We tried some new Mammoth diners and mixed it up a bit this year. I didn’t lose any weight, but hey, it is vacation. We drove up to our (well, my) favorite burger joint in Bridgeport. The soft serve ice cream is amazing (though no different from anywhere else, I suppose). But the setting is beautiful.

I slept. The first few days I enjoyed just being lazy (I’m quite good at it, you know). That was the nice part. No appointments or deadlines. We could sleep in and eat breakfast late. Who cared?

We had a grand time in some amazing scenery. But after that long it was time to come home. Vacation is nice, but vacation doesn’t provide you with purpose. It was time to get back to church and God’s people and plug back in to what He is doing here. I got some time to think and pray (a side benefit of fishing) and now I am ready to see where God leads next. I have lots of ideas, but He’s the chief shepherd, not me.

But what I really want to say is that it’s good to be back. It is the Kingdom which makes vacations sweet — because this life is not about rest, but about serving. A fulfilling life is not about the travel, but about doing the purpose of God in our generation. And I am so ready to get back on task.

Let Christ’s Word Dwell in You Richly

Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Imagine facing a particular situation where you felt powerless and helpless to do anything, yet you remembered (Psalm 46:1) “God is our refuge of strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Or imagine facing the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one and in your grief, you remembered the words, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

Or perhaps, for some unknown reason, you find yourself down in the dark hole of depression or anxiety and you can’t seem to get out, but you recall Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Or imagine facing all the troubles of the day that tend to pile up with Lamentations 3:22-23 fresh on your mind, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

But what if those verses didn’t come to your mind? What if you had to face those circumstances with only vague notions that God was out there somewhere? What if you had no bedrock of truth upon which to stand?

I think that’s where “letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly” comes in. Not just reading the Word or receiving teaching on it, but letting it dwell, that is, letting it have a home in your heart.
“How does that happen?” you ask, hoping I don’t use the “M” word. Answer: You fix it in your mind, you learn it by heart, you commit it to your consciousness. There. I didn’t say “memorize.” Oops.

Commit yourself to letting one verse dwell richly in you. Choose a verse that is meaningful to you or you can use the Monthly Memory Verse card found at the welcome cart (There is a new verse for August!). Repeat each phrase until you have it without looking. Then add the next phrase until the verse is at home in your heart.

Now that you have it, don’t stop there. Don’t simply let it have a home in your heart. Let it dwell “richly.” “How does that happen?” you ask. Answer: Think about it. Let it roll around in your mind. Look at it from all sides. Ask questions of it. Like honeycomb (Psalm 19:10b), suck all the sweetness out of it by cherishing every word. Use your travel time, shower time, or laundry time and get into the Word by getting the Word into you.

Grab a friend and challenge each other to let Christ’s word dwell in you richly. It will be well worth the effort.

God At Work in the Desert

Amid the hundred degrees summer days, God is at work here at Belk Farm. For years, PCC has been partnering with the Tesoro Club in Coachella Valley – an organization that strives to disciple children and youth through various camps, sports, and Bible studies. Throughout this week, our small yet encouraged PCC team is running a week-long VBS for middle school students.

We have just made it through the halfway point and the students are beginning to truly engage. In any week-long program, there is always pressure to break down walls quickly. I honestly was a little discouraged that we were not initially resonating with the students; but, a few days of intentional fellowship through small groups and goofy games had a major impact on even the most hesitant of kids. Suddenly our days are filled with a sea of smiles, kids constantly jumping all over us, and difficult yet meaningful conversations. It’s in those moments I remember why we came back. The environment here is intoxicating, drawing each of us in and fostering everlasting camaraderie.

As a young youth pastor, the Tesoro mission trip brings an extra level of joy for myself. I get to watch many of my students serve with humble hearts and perseverance as they grow into natural leaders. I feel like a proud parent watching their kid – or at least how I imagine a proud parent feels. I have been asking a lot of them. It’s nerve-racking to stand in front of 40-50 middle school students and preach the word. I think about Sarah Keller. Just this last year she was a sixth-grade student in MSM (Middle School Ministry). For this whole year she has been participating in small group Bible studies; but now on this trip, she is helping lead one. That gives me so much hope for the future; as our youth group is very young but full of students who want to know God and let him be known. I want to encourage our younger members to step out of their own comfort zones and expand beyond their personal faith. So if you are a high school or middle school student, watch out, because next year might be your time to serve in the desert.

Early Morning

I went on a hike early in the morning last week. The trail started at the floor of a canyon, allowing for a few shaded miles to start the loop I aimed to conquer before lunch. With coffee in hand, I began my journey. Beetles scampered underfoot, large white flowers were stretching open, and bunnies lazily hopped through grass. A mile in, I spotted a deer on the other side of the trail quietly munching on some greens, watching me pass. There are sights only offered in early morning as the world awakens.

Soon after, I spotted three more deer stretching their necks up into a tree. I stopped to watch as they balanced on hind legs to reach higher. As they continued with their breakfast unconcerned by the girl in a bright blue shirt, a biker also paused to observe and said, “I spotted a bobcat just ahead. It’s the first time I’ve seen him since the fires.” I thanked him for the tip and took off with an accelerated pace. I rounded a bend to a trail intersection where I saw a man wielding a four-inch knife, appearing poised to fight something big. He spotted me quickly approaching and said, “It’s a bobcat!”

Unfortunately, once I turned the corner there was no bobcat. It had slinked off into the dense, shadowy trees. The man from Arizona tucked away his knife near his bear spray, justifying his preparedness saying he was unsure if bobcats were like mountain lions. I held a metal coffee cup, my obvious tool of defense. Even though I didn’t see the cat, being in its presence brought excitement to the quiet morning.

By mile seven, the sun burned above the populated trail. The heat and noise sent animals into hiding, the early morning magic gone. I’ve had a lot of early morning adventures this year in various corners of the world. I never regret a pre-sunrise alarm once I’m out exploring beautiful parks, quiet streets, or wild safari reserves. In the stillness, I become overwhelmed with the intricate beauty God has woven into life like hummingbirds, bright yellow egg yolks, dewy grass, still bodies of water — things absent or rushed past when the world gets crowded and loud.

I think Jesus likes early mornings, too. In the Bible, Jesus makes breakfast for His disciples early in the morning. Jesus rises early to retreat and pray. The tomb was found empty in the early morning. These events brought excitement to the disciples lives because Jesus and His power were present. He was right there stoking a fire on the shore of a lake, speaking with His Father, and freed from death’s bondage. I think we can confuse quiet with the feeling of absence. But God is not sleeping while we wander down a trail in dawn’s light. With patience and attentiveness, the still and quiet moments can be the ones most filled with manifestations of God’s presence.

Happy summer, make time to enjoy a quiet morning.

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