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Handling Life’s Surprises

I shall begin this Back Page with a statement dripping in sarcasm, in case it’s not obvious. 

I had a wonderful start to the week. From the high of walking in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (among others), I spent my first hours back in the saddle in the dentist’s chair. And when I finally got back to the church office, my speech was slurred and I sounded as if I’d had a stroke. I hid in my office for a couple of hours. Then I went home.

Pain did not prompt the unscheduled visit, but some pressure and a chipped crown sent me to that chair. Oh, that chair. Now, my dentist is as nice as he can be. I like him, just not what he does to me. We don’t get to schedule only pleasant things on our calendars, do we? Sometimes the unpleasant ones have their way of working into the appointment book whether we like them or not. And after last Tuesday, I’m still not done at the dentist yet, but we won’t talk about that.

When I was in Israel we had some surprise appointments too. Like a drenching shower in Nazareth. A fall in Tiberius. A hamburger in Arad (with fries and a drink it was $17). A cooling cloud cover on Masada.Another cloud burst in Pella (Jordan). An amazing Palestinian meal in Samaria, with soup that most called the best they’d ever had in life. Some surprises are good and we like those; others are not so good and we don’t like those.

As we walk with God we need to learn to handle both kinds of surprises with grace and faith. We can’t gloat about the good ones nor stew about the bad ones. How well do you handle surprises? Sometimes I handle them quite well, thank you. Other times, not so much. Isn’t it true that we often question the sovereignty of God when life throws us a curveball? We tend to go straight to questioning His goodness or His faithfulness.

It is in that moment that we must ask ourselves some honest questions. What do we really want out of life?  What do we really want from God?  How much have our dreams been personal, earthly, physical, or consumed only with life here on earth?  Are we willing to let God bring into our life what He considers best?  Or is He just some divine waiter, ready to deliver only whatever we order from the menu?

We serve a God who doesn’t always provide us a simple life or a clear pathway.  God is not messing with you, but no matter what comes your way, He is exercising His power to make you more like Jesus.

So, the next time God surprises you, don’t doubt His goodness, faithfulness, and love. No, lift your hands to the heavens and celebrate. You are being rescued. You are being loved. You are being delivered. You are being transformed. And be thankful that since nothing can separate you from His love, there are more gracious surprises to come!

Evidence

I am freshly back from a couple of weeks in Israel and Jordan. Of course, I’m exhausted. I mean, we walked 68 miles over 13 days, surrounded by six take-offs and countless security lines. With the time change there and back, we are all a bit worn on our return. But it was an amazing trip. Amazing.

But since I’ve been over 10 times, the most energizing part of the journey to me is to listen to folks react to what they see and smell and discover on this journey. The evidence of God at work is everywhere. We stopped in popular sites and some at which we were almost alone. But they all speak to the soul.

Shiloh was meaningful on this trip. You stand on the spot where the Tabernacle/Temple had been found for the longest time in Israel’s history (369 years) and soak in the landscape around you. Solomon’s Temple didn’t last nearly that long. Neither did Herod’s. But at Shiloh could stand and gaze around to where the tents of the people of Israel would have been pitched on those days of festivals over the years. It is there that the story of the presence of God among His people can be told. What a place!

Of course, I love to stop in Hazor in the north so that we can learn of the veracity of God’s Word. The Bible records that Joshua captured and then burned this city with fire. And what have the archeologists discovered? Clear evidence of a fire at Hazor. We saw the consequences of a fire burning with raging heat during the days of Joshua. And then we saw the stone found at Tel Dan with the inscription, the “house of David.” This stone is the only non-biblical reference to King David, which proves his existence. To be honest, many “scholars” have relegated David to the realm of myth over the years. But this stone, inscribed by a Gentile, proves David is no myth or legend, he is real.

We saw two gates dated back to the days of Abraham. We saw the stone with an inscription of the governor of the area, Pontius Pilate. And the stone declaring an ossuary to be that of Caiaphas, the high priest. Evidence of God at work in the land is everywhere. In archeology and in the land itself. We discovered proof of the accuracy of the text. We discovered life-changing scenic vistas which support and inform the biblical narrative.

We stood above the Sea of Galilee and saw what a dramatic difference such a small geographic region could make on the whole world. The Jewish third of that shoreline has changed the world. It changed some fishermen. A tax collector. A Gentile centurion. And yet, having seen the presence of God among them, most never recognized Jesus for Who He was and is. And so, these towns in Galilee where Jesus invested most of His time were cursed, and their cities relegated to a pile of stones.

May we respond in humility to Him who came to bring us to God. May we be faithful to proclaim His tender mercies and follow the instructions given to us. The evidence is real. May our faith be just as real.

The Presence of God

Today was our last day of touring in Israel. Could it be? We will be up early in the morning headed to Jordan. The adventure continues. Our last day in Israel was great. Besides two amazing meals — one Palestinian and one Lebanese — we toured Samaria today — Shiloh, Shechem, and Sebastia. The weather was overcast and not so clear, but that brought the temperature down a bit (for those of us used to desert temps at least). I finally got to stand on one of those twin mountains, so I guess I will be able to keep them straight once and for all. We drove through a Samaritan village to stand on the mountain of blessing. Gerizim or Ebal? Which one was I on? It’s a quiz.

The highlight of the day for me was my second visit to Shiloh. The Ark of the Covenant stayed at Shiloh for 369 years, easily the longest of its homes. It left when Israel was attacked by the Philistines and the Israelites desperate for something to turn the tide of the battle in their favor, took the Ark from Shiloh and used it as a good luck charm. It didn’t work. That’s not its purpose.

I thought about the presence of God as we sat at Shiloh. From the days of God walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve to the future promise of the presence of God in eternity, the Bible talks a lot about God’s presence. After the Fall, God showed up in the Tabernacle. And then in the Temple. And then He left the Temple. And then Jesus came and lived among us and we could see the glory of God.

The concept of the presence of God is scattered throughout the pages of the Testaments, Old and New. What is most intriguing is that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is a change in the display the presence of God.

That which lived in Shiloh for 369 years. That which motivated the people to remain unified as a people. That which spoke hope to the lives of the people of Israel. That which provided comfort to the people. That which served as the central focus of worship and forgiveness for a nation. Where is that presence today? It’s in you. The presence of God dwells in each believer. Really? That’s what the New Testament says.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Jesus promised to be with His church always (Matt. 28:20). Ever since the Day of Pentecost in AD 33, the Spirit of God has indwelt each person who believes in Jesus.

That is pretty amazing. God’s presence during 369 years of Israel’s history was at Shiloh. God’s presence today is in you. And me. With that presence, we ought to be able to change the world. Let’s do it. Together. As the Tabernacle of God…on Crestridge. By the way, the answer to the quiz is:  Mt. Gerizim.

The Storm

Shalom from Galilee. My feet ache. I need a nap. But dinner is soon. My soul, though, is refreshed, without a doubt.

Today was our second day of touring and we are exhausted. We’ve walked five miles each day already and seen several thousand years of history within a stop or two. From Solomon to the crusaders to Herod the Great…it all jumbles together from time to time. Today we slowed down, and our visits were unique — all first century –the times of our Savior:  Magdala, Tabgha, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and the Mount of the Beatitudes.

Our journey through Matthew’s Gospel is bringing a fresh light to how I see and understand everything on this trip. It has reinvigorated my thinking and my perspective. In Capernaum, I talked about Matthew — I would never have done that before. I’ll finish up about Matthew on Sunday from Mt. Arbel, the grand overlook of the Sea of Galilee and our last stop before heading south. We’ll take a look at the last half of Matthew 4…sound familiar?

This is the first trip in which I could see the power of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. We experienced it in Nazareth, actually. We went out to the Ridge for a view of the Jezreel Valley and didn’t get a view, but instead gone drenched. Not sure who insisted we give it a try, but they lost points for that decision. Fortunately, I’m not in line for a tip, so it won’t affect my overall performance. Anyway, we got some interesting pictures, and wet shoes.

As we drove down to the Sea of Galilee after that outburst, it was a very different scene than we normally experience. Of course, the skies were still gray, but the beaches and picnic areas along the shore were nothing but mini-lakes. The road was muddy. A car had gotten crushed by a falling tree. Branches were strewn everywhere. At our hotel I talked to the folks at the desk and they said there had even been hail — egg-sized (they have small eggs I think). But it had to have been brutal. In the desert, the flooding killed nine. So very sad.

This morning after we were out on the Sea, white caps popped everywhere. I’ve read about the power of the storms in Galilee, but I’ve never had a chance to see one. I’m not sure I ever want to see one in person again. I would do it while tucked into my hotel room with a front row seat to a storm. But I’d not like to be any closer than that.

Isn’t that how we like to face every turbulent situation in life? Inside. Under the covers. No personal risk. That’s nice, but it’s not how we grow. Nor how we deepen our faith in the reliability of our God. I want to be open to listen to and walk with God in each of life’s trials. That gets risky, but it is worth it in the long run. If Jesus can calm a violent storm (and He can), then I don’t have to be afraid. May our walk with God be deepened today.

To Protect and To Serve

I’ve been approved for a new role in the community, volunteer chaplain for the Sheriff’s department. The phone rang last week to see if I could assist with a death notification. What a way to start! A female inmate was in custody when the coroner called with news that her mother had died. They were not sure how she would react to the news, so I guess they call the clergy.

I said I would love to come. OK, I fibbed a little bit. I wasn’t too excited, but I was willing. When? Now. On my way. I guess.

I’ve never been in jail before (there’s a news flash, right?). A young and very kind black woman walked me through what was going to happen. She was clearly in charge. Someone eventually brought the woman into a holding cell (I guess that’s what you’d call it). The deputy delivered the bad news and the initial reaction was loud, of course. After a few minutes, they left me to talk with her for as long as I thought was needed. No pressure to rush.

We talked for maybe 15-20 minutes. Emotions rolled in and out like the waves in Redondo. She clutched her Kleenex – a well-worn small roll of toilet paper. I think mom was homeless, as was this inmate. I suppose she hadn’t made good choices and now she felt alone. All alone. Mom was gone.

When we finished talking, I made my way across the hall to the waiting officers. I started a bit of a chat with the deputy in charge. It was a fascinating conversation. Brief, but memorable. She shared that on a day like this our humanity is most important. Being a member of the human family was most important on this difficult day. And then she made a comment which struck me hard. I wish I could remember exactly how the words came together, but the gist of it was something like this:  When the sheriffs put humanity first, no one pays attention. They all get a bad rap most of the time, but they are simply humans trying to help us all get through life.

It was a sentence drenched with emotion. These deputies are trying to do their best and love people and serve the community, but they never get much credit. And sometimes, to be honest, it is just hard. Very hard on them. And on days like that one, they will do anything to relieve human heartache. I ached for her, most of all.

It is difficult to work in law enforcement these days. We don’t appreciate them enough. We don’t thank them enough. And yes, there are some bad ones out there. But in case you haven’t noticed, there are some bad preachers and lawyers and doctors and engineers out there too.

I left with a heavy heart for that young sheriff. She’s got a tough job, and I’m not sure there was much I could do to lighten the load. But I will pray. And I will appreciate those who serve to keep order in the community.

Stranger Than A Herd of Goats

It was a bit of a strange sight so it got my attention right away. I was on my way to church, approaching Ralph’s (the one at Crest and Hawthorne). Not many people park on Crest, especially at that time of day. But a crowd had gathered. I saw several cell phones snapping pictures. What could this be all about? An accident? Celebrity? I didn’t have time to think it through, so I never guessed it correctly. But remember, it is spring in PV.

What was it? Goats. Yes, folks. Goats. Like we’ve never seen goats before? We need to park and snaps pictures of goats? I get we do. Well, it is SoCal and Palos Verdes, so they aren’t that common. I haven’t even seen too many in my lifetime. But a bunch of goats penned into a small area is really photo-worthy? I could understand it if there were some young families taking a peek, but these were all seniors — definitely older than me, that’s for sure.

One of the rituals of spring around here is the hiring of goats to eat up the foliage which winter rains have brought. And it was that canyon’s turn. Now, the goats weren’t in the canyon yet, just in a pen waiting to be set loose. But the sight was so unusual that a small crowd had gathered.

Hey, maybe we ought to be more goat-like as a church? I mean we, too, want to gather a crowd. Right? In a couple of weeks, we will be in the Sermon on Mount in Matthew — and I’ll be on the Mount of the Beatitudes in Israel… and how did Jesus gather that crowd? I’m sure there were lots of ways, miracles and compassion and care for people. But Jesus also told us in the Upper Room how to gather a crowd. But His way is not so simple or easy. He said that the way to stand out in the world was to demonstrate clearly that we love one another. It seems a loving and unified group of believers would draw a crowd.

We don’t need goats. We need to love. We need to fall more in love with Jesus. I think we underestimate the power of our relationships with one another. There is so much in our world which divides, let us be an oasis of grace. And love.

I’m not saying we aren’t unified. But I am saying is that to draw a crowd is going to be dependent on how we walk with God and reflect that walk in our personal relationships. Our unity ought to be drawing a much bigger crowd than a bunch of goats along the side of the road. Even a road in PV in the spring. Genuine unity is stranger than a herd of goats in our modern world. We don’t see many goats, but how much true unity do we really see as well?

Not much. We’d better work to maintain it around here. Everything will stand or fall depending on if we can get this love thing right. By the way, have I told you lately that I really do love you. I do.

Our Daily Hope

Just in case you are interested, there are just 378 days until the next Easter. It’s late next year — and still over a year away. I’m thinking that’s not a bad thing, since I’m exhausted (still) from last week’s events. Even though the pastels and flowers are gone this morning, I want to say a couple of things. Thanks to all those who served to make this a very special celebration of Jesus. From the children’s event to the art show and the floral display last Sunday and the printing and design and hospitality shared, and chairs set up just right and the Lord’s Supper. It was a WOW year, for sure. So, thanks for helping us clearly display the story of Him we serve.

And second, we must remember to keep moving forward. We aren’t only ambassadors during some holiday, but all year round. There is a sense that a holiday service is like a movie trailer, providing folks a taste of who we are — and who we serve. We had a great crowd last Sunday (455 in the worship center), and we were able to provide a taste of who we are. But that’s just it. It was only a taste.

We worship Jesus not because of what He gives us materially, but because He provides our lives with hope. That distinction was really obvious on that first Resurrection Sunday. From that morning onward, it is obvious that the grave has not won, that death has been defeated, that the guilt and power of sin has been nullified. Before the sun rose on that Sunday morning, the disciples were astonished, at best; despairing, at worst; helpless, in the least — and Jesus walked in with His life-changing peace.

Jesus stepped into their space in the same way He steps into ours — as the resurrected Christ, the reigning King, the Lord of all. He comes as the one who is not served by human hands as though He needed anything, but who gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. He comes as the one whose glory is not contrived by our praise, but whose glory compels our praise — even today, even on this “normal” Sunday.

Or, perhaps, He compels our praise especially on this normal Sunday because we’re reminded that worship is not about us bringing our best, but about finding Him as better. We come to Him who first came to us. And we come not to give, but to receive. We come as those who need to hear His voice, feel His nearness, know His love.

I didn’t do the count, but we have at least 53 Sundays to get ready to celebrate Resurrection again. In the meantime, we keep our eyes on the Risen Savior and discover Him to be our daily hope. We come this morning to find God, to say together, humbly and gladly in the Spirit’s power, with the heart of Psalm 116:12-13, “What can I offer the Lord for all he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and praise the Lord’s name for saving me.” (CEV)

April Hope Day

Resurrection Sunday 2018. We’ve been planning and waiting for this day since we put the red bows away in January. For us at Peninsula, this is a much bigger celebration than the one in December. Today gives December meaning. But, this year, something is a little different. Right?

This is one of those interesting years, when Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day and Resurrection Sunday is on April Fools’ Day. We hope to overwhelm that foolishness of the other April 1 holiday with something infinitely more important. And fun. When you think about it, the juxtaposition of these two “holidays” is a little strange and odd, but actually it is kind of perfect. How?

It’s perfect because Easter is the day when Jesus completely shocked the world. Even His most devoted followers thought he was dead. After all, they watched him die; they helped bury him. I think they spent the rest of that long weekend confused and sad and drained from the whirlwind of events of the week before.

Some women came back very early on that first day of week, with the Jewish holiday behind them, to finish the burial rites they could only begin in the rush to get Him into the tomb before Passover.

But on that Sunday morning, Jesus defeated death and rose from the dead. An angel showed up to roll away the massive stone in front of the new tomb. And the seal placed by the government was broken on that morning. Jesus appeared first to the faithful women, and then He appeared to His friends, and then to hundreds more before He ascended into heaven. And, He cooked an amazing breakfast up on the shores of Galilee before He left too. Just so there’d be no mistake, this was a very real Jesus. No joke. No trick. This single, shocking event has changed the course of history.

The story of Jesus spread like wildfire. People left everything they had and often faced death in order to spread the “Good News” of Jesus. Two thousand years later, there are an estimated 2.2 billion people who claim Jesus as their Savior. Not bad for someone who didn’t build anything, who didn’t write a sentence, and who didn’t conquer any territory.

Do you find this strange? Unbelievable? The truth is… so did I. But each of us at Peninsula don’t just believe a story we read in a really old book. We’ve experienced the undeniable presence of God, and it’s changed our lives.

We know He can change yours, too.

And that’s what this Resurrection Sunday morning is all about. Jesus is alive. No joke. No prank on April Fools’ Day. What we celebrate today is actually very, very real. The story has been told and proven to be true for over 2,000 years. The evidence, actually, is more overwhelming for the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the existence of Julius Caesar. Let us shower you with some love this morning. Some joy. And most of all…some hope.

What we remember today is nothing but April hope. Let’s celebrate April Hope Day.

The Cost of Sin

I spent Monday morning walking around (mostly sitting and waiting, actually) in the halls of justice. It’s not a setting in which I am comfortable. It is all a bit strange because is it different.  Joseph Jaramillo and I waited more than three hours for the preliminary hearing for the transient (Gerry) who’s been a constant visitor to Peninsula in the wee hours of the morning.

With lots of time to kill, I went inside the courtroom and listened as other hearings were underway. In the pursuit of justice, they do waste a lot of time. It was, however, fairly efficient and flexible…for a courtroom.

Among the proceedings were two women in shackles, their cases postponed, so I don’t know what they did. There was one guy who was accused of breaking into a truck at a strip mall (while his wife and kid were out of sight in his Mini Cooper waiting) to steal an iPhone. Are you serious?

Somebody else was on someone’s balcony and jumped off (from what I could gather from the conversations in the hallway). That case got postponed too, but seemed more serious than anything else. The jumpsuits and handcuffs certainly raise the level of tension in the room, at least for a novice like me.

There were nine cases on the docket on Monday. “Our” District Attorney had eight of them. He was sharp, but haggard. He knew his cases well but seemed overwhelmed at times juggling all this crime. Such is the nature of the preliminary hearing I guess. Remember, this is a new world for me. My experience inside a courtroom is only as a juror, which has been way too often, from my point of view.

I sat in the back of the courtroom, watching law enforcement officers come and go, watching the judge and bailiff and court reporter and lawyers scurry about, and the administrator for the DA’s office attempt to bring order from chaos. And where does my mind go?  Sin and economics, of course. There is a lot of money being spent every day on the criminal justice system. Police. Judges. Staff. Cleaning crews. Facilities. Lawyers. Everything. It’s a bit mind-boggling. If we could just love our neighbor as ourselves, think about how much money we could save. There is an economic price to pay for sin.

This world is broken. Horribly broken. We can’t keep our hands on our own stuff and even get along with each other. Courthouses aren’t going to fix anything. We need a Redeemer. On Monday I saw the economic cost of sin on society. One courtroom among thousands in the U.S. I’m not sure that connection is ever made by those who argue for the innate goodness of humanity. They argue we aren’t all that bad; we are basically good. Really? Walk around a courthouse. Check out their budgets. Reflect on the costs of building and staffing and maintaining just the buildings. That’s the cost of sin. It is overwhelming. Like our sin.

The day got immeasurably better as I left the courthouse, however. Bruce McGregor was coming to see how we were doing – and took me to an amazing lunch. There is hope, redemption happens.

π Day

For those of the more scientific persuasion, you did not let it go unnoticed that Wednesday was “π day.”  It’s true.  Of course, I was hoping for “pie day,” but alas, no such luck.  π day is not something I think about, but that’s me, not the engineering world which surrounds me.  So, on a whim at staff meeting, I decided to switch things up a little.   I asked everyone on staff to pick a book of the Bible and read the “π” verse.  Now, I really shouldn’t admit to encouraging such behavior.  I abhor the “open the Bible and find a verse” method of Bible study.  I’m not saying God can’t use that – but to make that a habit is most certainly not a healthy way to do Bible study.

But for one day, we gave it a shot.

Now, I must say that I think some of the folks around that table chose books in which they knew they’d find a great “π” verse (that’s any 3:14, by the way).  But one (related to me) went to Isaiah.  I did Matthew, of course.  Someone did Luke.  Then Philippians and Galatians (the tone gave Galatians away) and 1 Timothy (a tough one, actually, so we ventured on to 2 Timothy instead).

But I must admit that is was kind of an interesting exercise.  If you know the context of each verse you can get a sense of the direction and meaning of that author.  Now, the Isaiah one….well, the one who selected Isaiah did not provide any context – so that one was just strange.  And I’m thinking that was the goal of its selection.  You think?

But the Scriptures are rich, no matter where you turn.  And I think we may try that again next year on “π day.”  Since all of the Bible is profitable and speaks to life, it was like sitting through a smorgasbord (a Swedish cafeteria) of biblical truth.  We got encouraged and challenged from a bunch of unrelated angles.  We even had Angel read his choice in Spanish.  That was cool (as we followed along in English).

I’m not recommending this pattern for Bible study, have I made that clear?  But I am encouraging us to listen to the whole counsel of God, not just the parts we like or the parts with which we are familiar.  The whole Bible speaks to us because it is all equally inspired by the Holy Spirit.  And with inspiration comes an ability to touch our lives right where we are, on “π day” or any other day of the year.

Stay in the Word.  Listen to it.  And, by all means, have a plan so that the whole counsel touches the whole of life.  Venture out of the Psalms.  Venture into Leviticus.  Take a trek through Malachi.  Soak up Philippians.  We need a full picture of Who God is.  And we need to allow each part of His Word to do its work within us.  That’s what it’s all about.  No matter what day it is or where we are reading.

Hmmmm…..I wonder what the 3:18’s say?

Blog Fulllwidth

Handling Life’s Surprises

I shall begin this Back Page with a statement dripping in sarcasm, in case it’s not obvious. 

I had a wonderful start to the week. From the high of walking in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (among others), I spent my first hours back in the saddle in the dentist’s chair. And when I finally got back to the church office, my speech was slurred and I sounded as if I’d had a stroke. I hid in my office for a couple of hours. Then I went home.

Pain did not prompt the unscheduled visit, but some pressure and a chipped crown sent me to that chair. Oh, that chair. Now, my dentist is as nice as he can be. I like him, just not what he does to me. We don’t get to schedule only pleasant things on our calendars, do we? Sometimes the unpleasant ones have their way of working into the appointment book whether we like them or not. And after last Tuesday, I’m still not done at the dentist yet, but we won’t talk about that.

When I was in Israel we had some surprise appointments too. Like a drenching shower in Nazareth. A fall in Tiberius. A hamburger in Arad (with fries and a drink it was $17). A cooling cloud cover on Masada.Another cloud burst in Pella (Jordan). An amazing Palestinian meal in Samaria, with soup that most called the best they’d ever had in life. Some surprises are good and we like those; others are not so good and we don’t like those.

As we walk with God we need to learn to handle both kinds of surprises with grace and faith. We can’t gloat about the good ones nor stew about the bad ones. How well do you handle surprises? Sometimes I handle them quite well, thank you. Other times, not so much. Isn’t it true that we often question the sovereignty of God when life throws us a curveball? We tend to go straight to questioning His goodness or His faithfulness.

It is in that moment that we must ask ourselves some honest questions. What do we really want out of life?  What do we really want from God?  How much have our dreams been personal, earthly, physical, or consumed only with life here on earth?  Are we willing to let God bring into our life what He considers best?  Or is He just some divine waiter, ready to deliver only whatever we order from the menu?

We serve a God who doesn’t always provide us a simple life or a clear pathway.  God is not messing with you, but no matter what comes your way, He is exercising His power to make you more like Jesus.

So, the next time God surprises you, don’t doubt His goodness, faithfulness, and love. No, lift your hands to the heavens and celebrate. You are being rescued. You are being loved. You are being delivered. You are being transformed. And be thankful that since nothing can separate you from His love, there are more gracious surprises to come!

Evidence

I am freshly back from a couple of weeks in Israel and Jordan. Of course, I’m exhausted. I mean, we walked 68 miles over 13 days, surrounded by six take-offs and countless security lines. With the time change there and back, we are all a bit worn on our return. But it was an amazing trip. Amazing.

But since I’ve been over 10 times, the most energizing part of the journey to me is to listen to folks react to what they see and smell and discover on this journey. The evidence of God at work is everywhere. We stopped in popular sites and some at which we were almost alone. But they all speak to the soul.

Shiloh was meaningful on this trip. You stand on the spot where the Tabernacle/Temple had been found for the longest time in Israel’s history (369 years) and soak in the landscape around you. Solomon’s Temple didn’t last nearly that long. Neither did Herod’s. But at Shiloh could stand and gaze around to where the tents of the people of Israel would have been pitched on those days of festivals over the years. It is there that the story of the presence of God among His people can be told. What a place!

Of course, I love to stop in Hazor in the north so that we can learn of the veracity of God’s Word. The Bible records that Joshua captured and then burned this city with fire. And what have the archeologists discovered? Clear evidence of a fire at Hazor. We saw the consequences of a fire burning with raging heat during the days of Joshua. And then we saw the stone found at Tel Dan with the inscription, the “house of David.” This stone is the only non-biblical reference to King David, which proves his existence. To be honest, many “scholars” have relegated David to the realm of myth over the years. But this stone, inscribed by a Gentile, proves David is no myth or legend, he is real.

We saw two gates dated back to the days of Abraham. We saw the stone with an inscription of the governor of the area, Pontius Pilate. And the stone declaring an ossuary to be that of Caiaphas, the high priest. Evidence of God at work in the land is everywhere. In archeology and in the land itself. We discovered proof of the accuracy of the text. We discovered life-changing scenic vistas which support and inform the biblical narrative.

We stood above the Sea of Galilee and saw what a dramatic difference such a small geographic region could make on the whole world. The Jewish third of that shoreline has changed the world. It changed some fishermen. A tax collector. A Gentile centurion. And yet, having seen the presence of God among them, most never recognized Jesus for Who He was and is. And so, these towns in Galilee where Jesus invested most of His time were cursed, and their cities relegated to a pile of stones.

May we respond in humility to Him who came to bring us to God. May we be faithful to proclaim His tender mercies and follow the instructions given to us. The evidence is real. May our faith be just as real.

The Presence of God

Today was our last day of touring in Israel. Could it be? We will be up early in the morning headed to Jordan. The adventure continues. Our last day in Israel was great. Besides two amazing meals — one Palestinian and one Lebanese — we toured Samaria today — Shiloh, Shechem, and Sebastia. The weather was overcast and not so clear, but that brought the temperature down a bit (for those of us used to desert temps at least). I finally got to stand on one of those twin mountains, so I guess I will be able to keep them straight once and for all. We drove through a Samaritan village to stand on the mountain of blessing. Gerizim or Ebal? Which one was I on? It’s a quiz.

The highlight of the day for me was my second visit to Shiloh. The Ark of the Covenant stayed at Shiloh for 369 years, easily the longest of its homes. It left when Israel was attacked by the Philistines and the Israelites desperate for something to turn the tide of the battle in their favor, took the Ark from Shiloh and used it as a good luck charm. It didn’t work. That’s not its purpose.

I thought about the presence of God as we sat at Shiloh. From the days of God walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve to the future promise of the presence of God in eternity, the Bible talks a lot about God’s presence. After the Fall, God showed up in the Tabernacle. And then in the Temple. And then He left the Temple. And then Jesus came and lived among us and we could see the glory of God.

The concept of the presence of God is scattered throughout the pages of the Testaments, Old and New. What is most intriguing is that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is a change in the display the presence of God.

That which lived in Shiloh for 369 years. That which motivated the people to remain unified as a people. That which spoke hope to the lives of the people of Israel. That which provided comfort to the people. That which served as the central focus of worship and forgiveness for a nation. Where is that presence today? It’s in you. The presence of God dwells in each believer. Really? That’s what the New Testament says.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Jesus promised to be with His church always (Matt. 28:20). Ever since the Day of Pentecost in AD 33, the Spirit of God has indwelt each person who believes in Jesus.

That is pretty amazing. God’s presence during 369 years of Israel’s history was at Shiloh. God’s presence today is in you. And me. With that presence, we ought to be able to change the world. Let’s do it. Together. As the Tabernacle of God…on Crestridge. By the way, the answer to the quiz is:  Mt. Gerizim.

The Storm

Shalom from Galilee. My feet ache. I need a nap. But dinner is soon. My soul, though, is refreshed, without a doubt.

Today was our second day of touring and we are exhausted. We’ve walked five miles each day already and seen several thousand years of history within a stop or two. From Solomon to the crusaders to Herod the Great…it all jumbles together from time to time. Today we slowed down, and our visits were unique — all first century –the times of our Savior:  Magdala, Tabgha, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and the Mount of the Beatitudes.

Our journey through Matthew’s Gospel is bringing a fresh light to how I see and understand everything on this trip. It has reinvigorated my thinking and my perspective. In Capernaum, I talked about Matthew — I would never have done that before. I’ll finish up about Matthew on Sunday from Mt. Arbel, the grand overlook of the Sea of Galilee and our last stop before heading south. We’ll take a look at the last half of Matthew 4…sound familiar?

This is the first trip in which I could see the power of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. We experienced it in Nazareth, actually. We went out to the Ridge for a view of the Jezreel Valley and didn’t get a view, but instead gone drenched. Not sure who insisted we give it a try, but they lost points for that decision. Fortunately, I’m not in line for a tip, so it won’t affect my overall performance. Anyway, we got some interesting pictures, and wet shoes.

As we drove down to the Sea of Galilee after that outburst, it was a very different scene than we normally experience. Of course, the skies were still gray, but the beaches and picnic areas along the shore were nothing but mini-lakes. The road was muddy. A car had gotten crushed by a falling tree. Branches were strewn everywhere. At our hotel I talked to the folks at the desk and they said there had even been hail — egg-sized (they have small eggs I think). But it had to have been brutal. In the desert, the flooding killed nine. So very sad.

This morning after we were out on the Sea, white caps popped everywhere. I’ve read about the power of the storms in Galilee, but I’ve never had a chance to see one. I’m not sure I ever want to see one in person again. I would do it while tucked into my hotel room with a front row seat to a storm. But I’d not like to be any closer than that.

Isn’t that how we like to face every turbulent situation in life? Inside. Under the covers. No personal risk. That’s nice, but it’s not how we grow. Nor how we deepen our faith in the reliability of our God. I want to be open to listen to and walk with God in each of life’s trials. That gets risky, but it is worth it in the long run. If Jesus can calm a violent storm (and He can), then I don’t have to be afraid. May our walk with God be deepened today.

To Protect and To Serve

I’ve been approved for a new role in the community, volunteer chaplain for the Sheriff’s department. The phone rang last week to see if I could assist with a death notification. What a way to start! A female inmate was in custody when the coroner called with news that her mother had died. They were not sure how she would react to the news, so I guess they call the clergy.

I said I would love to come. OK, I fibbed a little bit. I wasn’t too excited, but I was willing. When? Now. On my way. I guess.

I’ve never been in jail before (there’s a news flash, right?). A young and very kind black woman walked me through what was going to happen. She was clearly in charge. Someone eventually brought the woman into a holding cell (I guess that’s what you’d call it). The deputy delivered the bad news and the initial reaction was loud, of course. After a few minutes, they left me to talk with her for as long as I thought was needed. No pressure to rush.

We talked for maybe 15-20 minutes. Emotions rolled in and out like the waves in Redondo. She clutched her Kleenex – a well-worn small roll of toilet paper. I think mom was homeless, as was this inmate. I suppose she hadn’t made good choices and now she felt alone. All alone. Mom was gone.

When we finished talking, I made my way across the hall to the waiting officers. I started a bit of a chat with the deputy in charge. It was a fascinating conversation. Brief, but memorable. She shared that on a day like this our humanity is most important. Being a member of the human family was most important on this difficult day. And then she made a comment which struck me hard. I wish I could remember exactly how the words came together, but the gist of it was something like this:  When the sheriffs put humanity first, no one pays attention. They all get a bad rap most of the time, but they are simply humans trying to help us all get through life.

It was a sentence drenched with emotion. These deputies are trying to do their best and love people and serve the community, but they never get much credit. And sometimes, to be honest, it is just hard. Very hard on them. And on days like that one, they will do anything to relieve human heartache. I ached for her, most of all.

It is difficult to work in law enforcement these days. We don’t appreciate them enough. We don’t thank them enough. And yes, there are some bad ones out there. But in case you haven’t noticed, there are some bad preachers and lawyers and doctors and engineers out there too.

I left with a heavy heart for that young sheriff. She’s got a tough job, and I’m not sure there was much I could do to lighten the load. But I will pray. And I will appreciate those who serve to keep order in the community.

Stranger Than A Herd of Goats

It was a bit of a strange sight so it got my attention right away. I was on my way to church, approaching Ralph’s (the one at Crest and Hawthorne). Not many people park on Crest, especially at that time of day. But a crowd had gathered. I saw several cell phones snapping pictures. What could this be all about? An accident? Celebrity? I didn’t have time to think it through, so I never guessed it correctly. But remember, it is spring in PV.

What was it? Goats. Yes, folks. Goats. Like we’ve never seen goats before? We need to park and snaps pictures of goats? I get we do. Well, it is SoCal and Palos Verdes, so they aren’t that common. I haven’t even seen too many in my lifetime. But a bunch of goats penned into a small area is really photo-worthy? I could understand it if there were some young families taking a peek, but these were all seniors — definitely older than me, that’s for sure.

One of the rituals of spring around here is the hiring of goats to eat up the foliage which winter rains have brought. And it was that canyon’s turn. Now, the goats weren’t in the canyon yet, just in a pen waiting to be set loose. But the sight was so unusual that a small crowd had gathered.

Hey, maybe we ought to be more goat-like as a church? I mean we, too, want to gather a crowd. Right? In a couple of weeks, we will be in the Sermon on Mount in Matthew — and I’ll be on the Mount of the Beatitudes in Israel… and how did Jesus gather that crowd? I’m sure there were lots of ways, miracles and compassion and care for people. But Jesus also told us in the Upper Room how to gather a crowd. But His way is not so simple or easy. He said that the way to stand out in the world was to demonstrate clearly that we love one another. It seems a loving and unified group of believers would draw a crowd.

We don’t need goats. We need to love. We need to fall more in love with Jesus. I think we underestimate the power of our relationships with one another. There is so much in our world which divides, let us be an oasis of grace. And love.

I’m not saying we aren’t unified. But I am saying is that to draw a crowd is going to be dependent on how we walk with God and reflect that walk in our personal relationships. Our unity ought to be drawing a much bigger crowd than a bunch of goats along the side of the road. Even a road in PV in the spring. Genuine unity is stranger than a herd of goats in our modern world. We don’t see many goats, but how much true unity do we really see as well?

Not much. We’d better work to maintain it around here. Everything will stand or fall depending on if we can get this love thing right. By the way, have I told you lately that I really do love you. I do.

Our Daily Hope

Just in case you are interested, there are just 378 days until the next Easter. It’s late next year — and still over a year away. I’m thinking that’s not a bad thing, since I’m exhausted (still) from last week’s events. Even though the pastels and flowers are gone this morning, I want to say a couple of things. Thanks to all those who served to make this a very special celebration of Jesus. From the children’s event to the art show and the floral display last Sunday and the printing and design and hospitality shared, and chairs set up just right and the Lord’s Supper. It was a WOW year, for sure. So, thanks for helping us clearly display the story of Him we serve.

And second, we must remember to keep moving forward. We aren’t only ambassadors during some holiday, but all year round. There is a sense that a holiday service is like a movie trailer, providing folks a taste of who we are — and who we serve. We had a great crowd last Sunday (455 in the worship center), and we were able to provide a taste of who we are. But that’s just it. It was only a taste.

We worship Jesus not because of what He gives us materially, but because He provides our lives with hope. That distinction was really obvious on that first Resurrection Sunday. From that morning onward, it is obvious that the grave has not won, that death has been defeated, that the guilt and power of sin has been nullified. Before the sun rose on that Sunday morning, the disciples were astonished, at best; despairing, at worst; helpless, in the least — and Jesus walked in with His life-changing peace.

Jesus stepped into their space in the same way He steps into ours — as the resurrected Christ, the reigning King, the Lord of all. He comes as the one who is not served by human hands as though He needed anything, but who gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. He comes as the one whose glory is not contrived by our praise, but whose glory compels our praise — even today, even on this “normal” Sunday.

Or, perhaps, He compels our praise especially on this normal Sunday because we’re reminded that worship is not about us bringing our best, but about finding Him as better. We come to Him who first came to us. And we come not to give, but to receive. We come as those who need to hear His voice, feel His nearness, know His love.

I didn’t do the count, but we have at least 53 Sundays to get ready to celebrate Resurrection again. In the meantime, we keep our eyes on the Risen Savior and discover Him to be our daily hope. We come this morning to find God, to say together, humbly and gladly in the Spirit’s power, with the heart of Psalm 116:12-13, “What can I offer the Lord for all he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and praise the Lord’s name for saving me.” (CEV)

April Hope Day

Resurrection Sunday 2018. We’ve been planning and waiting for this day since we put the red bows away in January. For us at Peninsula, this is a much bigger celebration than the one in December. Today gives December meaning. But, this year, something is a little different. Right?

This is one of those interesting years, when Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day and Resurrection Sunday is on April Fools’ Day. We hope to overwhelm that foolishness of the other April 1 holiday with something infinitely more important. And fun. When you think about it, the juxtaposition of these two “holidays” is a little strange and odd, but actually it is kind of perfect. How?

It’s perfect because Easter is the day when Jesus completely shocked the world. Even His most devoted followers thought he was dead. After all, they watched him die; they helped bury him. I think they spent the rest of that long weekend confused and sad and drained from the whirlwind of events of the week before.

Some women came back very early on that first day of week, with the Jewish holiday behind them, to finish the burial rites they could only begin in the rush to get Him into the tomb before Passover.

But on that Sunday morning, Jesus defeated death and rose from the dead. An angel showed up to roll away the massive stone in front of the new tomb. And the seal placed by the government was broken on that morning. Jesus appeared first to the faithful women, and then He appeared to His friends, and then to hundreds more before He ascended into heaven. And, He cooked an amazing breakfast up on the shores of Galilee before He left too. Just so there’d be no mistake, this was a very real Jesus. No joke. No trick. This single, shocking event has changed the course of history.

The story of Jesus spread like wildfire. People left everything they had and often faced death in order to spread the “Good News” of Jesus. Two thousand years later, there are an estimated 2.2 billion people who claim Jesus as their Savior. Not bad for someone who didn’t build anything, who didn’t write a sentence, and who didn’t conquer any territory.

Do you find this strange? Unbelievable? The truth is… so did I. But each of us at Peninsula don’t just believe a story we read in a really old book. We’ve experienced the undeniable presence of God, and it’s changed our lives.

We know He can change yours, too.

And that’s what this Resurrection Sunday morning is all about. Jesus is alive. No joke. No prank on April Fools’ Day. What we celebrate today is actually very, very real. The story has been told and proven to be true for over 2,000 years. The evidence, actually, is more overwhelming for the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the existence of Julius Caesar. Let us shower you with some love this morning. Some joy. And most of all…some hope.

What we remember today is nothing but April hope. Let’s celebrate April Hope Day.

The Cost of Sin

I spent Monday morning walking around (mostly sitting and waiting, actually) in the halls of justice. It’s not a setting in which I am comfortable. It is all a bit strange because is it different.  Joseph Jaramillo and I waited more than three hours for the preliminary hearing for the transient (Gerry) who’s been a constant visitor to Peninsula in the wee hours of the morning.

With lots of time to kill, I went inside the courtroom and listened as other hearings were underway. In the pursuit of justice, they do waste a lot of time. It was, however, fairly efficient and flexible…for a courtroom.

Among the proceedings were two women in shackles, their cases postponed, so I don’t know what they did. There was one guy who was accused of breaking into a truck at a strip mall (while his wife and kid were out of sight in his Mini Cooper waiting) to steal an iPhone. Are you serious?

Somebody else was on someone’s balcony and jumped off (from what I could gather from the conversations in the hallway). That case got postponed too, but seemed more serious than anything else. The jumpsuits and handcuffs certainly raise the level of tension in the room, at least for a novice like me.

There were nine cases on the docket on Monday. “Our” District Attorney had eight of them. He was sharp, but haggard. He knew his cases well but seemed overwhelmed at times juggling all this crime. Such is the nature of the preliminary hearing I guess. Remember, this is a new world for me. My experience inside a courtroom is only as a juror, which has been way too often, from my point of view.

I sat in the back of the courtroom, watching law enforcement officers come and go, watching the judge and bailiff and court reporter and lawyers scurry about, and the administrator for the DA’s office attempt to bring order from chaos. And where does my mind go?  Sin and economics, of course. There is a lot of money being spent every day on the criminal justice system. Police. Judges. Staff. Cleaning crews. Facilities. Lawyers. Everything. It’s a bit mind-boggling. If we could just love our neighbor as ourselves, think about how much money we could save. There is an economic price to pay for sin.

This world is broken. Horribly broken. We can’t keep our hands on our own stuff and even get along with each other. Courthouses aren’t going to fix anything. We need a Redeemer. On Monday I saw the economic cost of sin on society. One courtroom among thousands in the U.S. I’m not sure that connection is ever made by those who argue for the innate goodness of humanity. They argue we aren’t all that bad; we are basically good. Really? Walk around a courthouse. Check out their budgets. Reflect on the costs of building and staffing and maintaining just the buildings. That’s the cost of sin. It is overwhelming. Like our sin.

The day got immeasurably better as I left the courthouse, however. Bruce McGregor was coming to see how we were doing – and took me to an amazing lunch. There is hope, redemption happens.

π Day

For those of the more scientific persuasion, you did not let it go unnoticed that Wednesday was “π day.”  It’s true.  Of course, I was hoping for “pie day,” but alas, no such luck.  π day is not something I think about, but that’s me, not the engineering world which surrounds me.  So, on a whim at staff meeting, I decided to switch things up a little.   I asked everyone on staff to pick a book of the Bible and read the “π” verse.  Now, I really shouldn’t admit to encouraging such behavior.  I abhor the “open the Bible and find a verse” method of Bible study.  I’m not saying God can’t use that – but to make that a habit is most certainly not a healthy way to do Bible study.

But for one day, we gave it a shot.

Now, I must say that I think some of the folks around that table chose books in which they knew they’d find a great “π” verse (that’s any 3:14, by the way).  But one (related to me) went to Isaiah.  I did Matthew, of course.  Someone did Luke.  Then Philippians and Galatians (the tone gave Galatians away) and 1 Timothy (a tough one, actually, so we ventured on to 2 Timothy instead).

But I must admit that is was kind of an interesting exercise.  If you know the context of each verse you can get a sense of the direction and meaning of that author.  Now, the Isaiah one….well, the one who selected Isaiah did not provide any context – so that one was just strange.  And I’m thinking that was the goal of its selection.  You think?

But the Scriptures are rich, no matter where you turn.  And I think we may try that again next year on “π day.”  Since all of the Bible is profitable and speaks to life, it was like sitting through a smorgasbord (a Swedish cafeteria) of biblical truth.  We got encouraged and challenged from a bunch of unrelated angles.  We even had Angel read his choice in Spanish.  That was cool (as we followed along in English).

I’m not recommending this pattern for Bible study, have I made that clear?  But I am encouraging us to listen to the whole counsel of God, not just the parts we like or the parts with which we are familiar.  The whole Bible speaks to us because it is all equally inspired by the Holy Spirit.  And with inspiration comes an ability to touch our lives right where we are, on “π day” or any other day of the year.

Stay in the Word.  Listen to it.  And, by all means, have a plan so that the whole counsel touches the whole of life.  Venture out of the Psalms.  Venture into Leviticus.  Take a trek through Malachi.  Soak up Philippians.  We need a full picture of Who God is.  And we need to allow each part of His Word to do its work within us.  That’s what it’s all about.  No matter what day it is or where we are reading.

Hmmmm…..I wonder what the 3:18’s say?