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He Will Wipe Every Tear

I am enjoying my Twitter account. Most of the time. Sometimes I must admit it almost makes me throw my iPhone across the room, but such is the nature of politics in 2018. But then there are those moments (usually apolitical tweets) which cause me to pause, think, reevaluate what I’ve assumed to be true. Let me share an example.

One of the fascinations of heaven is the concept that there will be no more tears once we get there. We want that to mean that there will no longer be any moments of heartbreak or sadness or grief once we enter the golden gates. But is that what the Bible really says? Think about it. We assume the Bible says, “There will be no more tears in Heaven.” Does it?

Here is what it really says. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Now, read it again. We cling to that “no more…crying” part but miss the “He will wipe every tear from their eyes” part. There are tears. At least initially. And what happens to with those tears?

What we have in Revelation is a picture of a very intimate relationship with God. His hands touch the face of each individual child, removing every tear from your cheek. That seems to be the point. There will be a closeness in our walk with God that if a tear is shed, He will come and wipe it away.

Think about it. Who wipes a tear from someone else’s eye? Someone in a close relationship with that person. For a young child, that usually means a parent, especially when that knee just got skinned. It is holy ground to sit beside someone as they cry. To wipe away a tear speaks of a level of closeness — of intimacy — in a relationship. And when we understand that concept, we understand one of the rich beauties of heaven. Our relationship with God will so intimate that God Himself will be the One to wipe away our tear.

Heaven is a lot of things. No death. No suffering. No funeral homes. But just as important is this beautiful picture of an intimate God who comes alongside and wipes away a tear. That’s a powerful picture of heaven.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you… Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6:21-23).

The hope of heaven is real and deep. And one of the best snapshots we get of that is a God who knows us so well and is so available to us that He will come and wipe every tear-stained cheek. Every cheek. Every tear. There is so much about heaven we do not understand. But when we get a glimpse behind the veil, what’s not to love about that place? You are right, nothing.

Who Will Remember You?

Friendships are important to life. To a healthy life. To a life of hope and grace.

This week Christie and I got to reignite an old friendship. We met an old friend — some of you know Kathy Swanson from the development of our Employee Handbook. We met for dinner in El Segundo before she moves to Maui next month. Maui? Yes, her husband took a job at Maui Memorial Medical Center. He’s been working on the facility side of hospitals for decades. So, he’s already there and Kathy follows at the end of March. This week was our last chance to touch base before the big move.

If you look at turning points in my life — Kathy Swanson is somewhere there. I grew up with Kathy in a small Covenant church in Downey. It was her mom who taught me in my later elementary Sunday School class. Side note: I was often alone in that class but she still showed up each week and loved me. You never know the impact of being faithful in the life of a child. Kathy’s mom instilled in me a love for travel and Israel and stamp collecting. And then it was Kathy who alerted me of a job opportunity in Rancho Mirage, where Christie and I served for nine years and where all our children were born.

To spend an evening together was a reminder that true friendships don’t really require a constant presence in each other’s lives. We can survive the gaps of separation. That’s really not a problem. But, when you do get together, you’d better allow enough time. We could have talked all night (we did close the restaurant). We had stories to tell of shared times together and we had to catch up on family matters and then just swap some stories of life.

The hugs were long. The laughter deep. Those mature friendships are the sweetest. But what deepens them even more is a common bond in Jesus. That is often the glue which holds long term relationships together. That common Savior overcomes so much.

I had an encouraging week. And now I suppose Christie and I will have to get over to Maui at some point. We now have cheap housing! And I know many of you head over that way — and if you are ever at Maui Memorial (it’s now a Kaiser facility, but independent, by the way) you’ll have to stop in and meet Mike Swanson, head of facility development. Just drop my name. I have friends in high and tropical places!

But seriously, it is my prayer that we might continue to develop long-term friendships based on Jesus. May our love for Him and each other deepen our bonds. And, maybe even more importantly, let’s not forget how important it is to build faithfully into the lives of the children of Peninsula. I do need a replacement some day — and maybe he’s in your class or Breakout group. You never know the impact of your love on a child 20 years from now. Kathy’s mom is with Jesus, but her impact remains in my life. Who will remember you?

Stuck

As we come to our State of the Church weekend — we face the joy of celebration and the task of evaluation. I want to celebrate what God is doing. Signs of health everywhere. It’s exciting. But along with the celebration must come healthy evaluation. You see, a danger of “church” is that we can easily get stuck. It happens a lot. Even here. Churches usually get stuck because what was working stopped working. And figuring out what to do next is hard. Really hard. I spent some time thinking about that this week and came across a long blog which focused my thinking. It was written by Carey Nieuwhof and helped me do some evaluation.

Where do churches get stuck? In one of three places — in the past, in the future, or in the present. I think I know where we could easily get stuck, but (spoiler alert) I’m not going to tell you, by the way, where that is. You think about it and let me know what you think.

It is easy to get stuck in the past. We’ve been around a long time now, and the past has some great memories. And people. But the past died long ago. What worked back then worked because the conditions were right back then. And those conditions changed a while ago. There’s a huge difference between learning from the past and living in the past. It’s foolish to keep trying to re-create the past. It’s gone. If God wanted us to keep ministering in 1995 or 2016, He would have left us there.

We can also get stuck in the future. Really? Yes. We get stuck in the future when leadership tries to move us forward without any clear, coherent or cogent plan. For example, you promise your kids a trip to Disneyland, but never take them. A vision without a plan isn’t a dream, it’s a nightmare. Sometimes, focusing on the future becomes a way to avoid dealing with the present. Many pastors love to live in the future, because they don’t have to deal with anything today.

We can also get stuck in the present. Just like we can get stuck in the past and in the future, we can also get stuck in the present. How? Churches who get stuck in the present usually have no learnings from the past or vision for the future. One sure sign we’re stuck in the present is that there are no next steps to move us forward. We aren’t trying anything, we’re not experimenting. We’re probably not even diagnosing. We just are.

This weekend is all about how we get past being stuck. We must be committed to learning from the past, imagining a better future, and creating a plan. It’s easier to say than to do, but our future hangs on our ability to do just that. Most churches will tilt toward being stuck in the past or living in the future, but on their own, neither is healthy. Can we glean lessons from the past, envision a better future, and make a plan to get there? I sure hope so.

Otherwise, we’ll just be stuck and won’t be able to get past it.

JC and the Holidays

I spent a day this week with my daughter, who is a social media communications and marketing manager. We were talking about upcoming holidays and she said that in the marketing and communications world, holidays were always important – a chance to promote something. She said you can piggyback any holiday to a marketing campaign.

This made me think. Do Christians effectively use holidays and other special events to promote the most important person in our lives?

Christmas isn’t a holiday that we believers claim as our own. People of all beliefs or none at all use the early winter as a time of celebration. In the third century, however, Augustine claimed that Jesus had chosen to be born on the shortest day of the year for symbolic reasons. Though pagan tradition has used the winter solstice for festivities to celebrate the start of days becoming longer, we as believers have used that reference as proof that Jesus is truly the light of the world.

Easter is another piggyback holiday. The word itself is derived from a pagan goddess that was celebrated during the month of April. Aligning Easter, or as we often refer to it as Resurrection Sunday, to the Hebrew celebration of Passover is how we have made sure to celebrate the most important day in Christian history.

But what about other holidays? Have we been effectively using times of celebration to bring the love of Jesus Christ to our friends and family?

Speaking of love, the next big holiday on the calendar that is approaching is Valentine’s Day. Certainly, Christ’s love for us is the most compelling love the world has ever known. Do we use that day just to give people closest to us boxes of chocolate or cards, take our spouse or significant other out to dinner? Or can we use it as a day to bring people to the love of Jesus Christ?

On July 4th, instead of just celebrating our independence from tyranny, we can proclaim our freedom from sin and separation from God. On Labor Day, instead of taking a day of rest, we can be reminded that our work bringing the Good News of our Savior should never stop and be encouraged by 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor in not in vain.”

Halloween is a hard one. It’s a day the world celebrates darkness. We, however, have used it as a day to introduce our community to our church through the Harvest Festival. We need to be sure we also shine a light in all that is good in the love of our Lord.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand is easy. Probably the easiest of all to declare our thankfulness to God for all He has given us and to share that love and the salvation message to others.

Yup, as followers of Jesus, we have to be marketing strategists. That’s what we are called to do in Matthew 28:16-20, “…go and make disciples of all nations…” Are we doing it?

The January Blues

I am not a lover of the month of January. Christmas decorations are boxed away (as they should be) so the environment is starker than it had been from the holidays. The lights which had shone so brightly have now gone dark. And then there is that annual meeting to prepare. And the budget to finalize. And a new year to plan. And it is cold (sometimes). So, January is just depressing for me. Always has been. Maybe it’s just more a letdown after the joy of December.

As I’ve worked my own entry in the Annual Report — and searched through the pictures of 2017, I’m actually encouraged this month (a little). And what’s encouraged me is the realization that 2017 was not as rough as I thought. It was a pretty good year.

Passion week was amazing. We had a huge crowd and (I think) a clear message. Our Journey Classes changed many lives, as reflected in at least some of the 21 baptisms this year. That’s right, 21. God is using us in the lives of those who genuinely want to know Him. What an honor.

And though the summer was brutally busy and crazy (the remodel, remember?) that celebration in September made it all worthwhile. That, and the screams of laughter which now fills those rooms regularly. And then there was the 10th anniversary of annual medical mission in Bombo. The celebration in Uganda was genuine and appreciative. Of you!

And then there was the provision of three new part-time staff added to our number. Colleen, Andrew and Brooke came to fill some huge gaps in ministry leadership, and we have enjoyed the fruit of their labor and of their ideas for six months now. What will it be like to have them in place for an entire year? Only God knows. But I can’t wait to watch what happens.

So, for at least this January, I’m battling the post-holiday blues. God is doing something. We are reading the New Testament before Resurrection Sunday (it can be a challenge to keep up, but you really should join us). We have some new areas of discipleship to explore and students to reach and children to serve.

In the midst of the gloom of January, there is a reason to look up. Well, there always is if we’ll just stop and do it. But our God still rules the heavens. The Savior still never leaves us. The Spirit still fills and empowers us. It’s exciting to look ahead, but what have we seen of God’s faithfulness along the journey so far? He has never let us down, and He won’t start now. Take some time this week to get away from the routine of life if you can, and just thank God for what He’s doing here at Peninsula and in our own families. We are so blessed, and so much will be required of us. We can’t take our foot off the gas pedal. There is too much at stake. We have the only message of true hope in the world. Let’s live like it. And act like it.

Rain or Shine, Blue Skies or Gray

I was pretty glad to get back to SoCal last Saturday.  What a relief to see the sun again! You’d been missed, old friend.  In our four days in Dallas it was nothing but gloom.  On several levels.  No sun.  Period. A Trojan loss in the Cotton Bowl.  Nothing over 50 degrees.  Ever.  Get me home!

I’d spent four winters in Dallas in my seminary days, but I didn’t remember the “June gloom” of this Dallas winter.  There was not even a hint of sunshine for four days.  No shadows.  No breaks in the clouds.  Nothing.  It was ugly and monotonous.

I went to Dallas with my boys to celebrate a Trojan victory in the Cotton Bowl (you know how well that turned out).  It was actually the first time they had been to Dallas, so I got to act as tour guide. I really tried not to drag up the past — too much – but a trip to Dallas Seminary was mandatory.  I set aside a morning for that sacred visit.  Of course, the seminary shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s.  I thought it might, and it did.  So, my morning visit turned into about 20 minutes.  There was not a single building that was unlocked (I checked).  It was cold and not much to see but the exteriors of buildings.  Granted, as seminary’s go, it’s rather large, but you can easily walk through the grounds in twenty minutes.  Maybe less.

I didn’t want the boys to get too cold (well, Danny, actually) so we parked as close to the school as possible. I took heat for suggesting to park in the “woman’s” parking lot.  I mean what’s the big deal?  There are multiple lots and none of them had a single car parked in them.  So just stop in the lot we were in – why does it matter?  It doesn’t.

And then we had to drive by where I lived while going to school.  Both of those apartments have been torn down and replaced.  It’s hard to communicate life experience when the structures are gone and the neighborhood remodeled.  It is so much more upscale these days.  So, we gave up the tour and headed to White Rock Lake.  I used GPS lest I got caught missing a turn.  It was a high-pressure week.

Even though the weather didn’t cooperate, nor the Trojans, nor the Seminary, we did have a great time.  Hey, I got to be with my boys.  We discovered new (and amazing) places to eat on Yelp.  We stopped in at the Bush Library, Dealey Plaza, the Stock Yards in Fort Worth. BBQ in Oak Cliff, tacos by SMU, and enchiladas to die for in Forth Worth.

But still, there was nothing like coming back to some sunshine.  And what’s ahead?  A fresh year of ministry.  I can’t wait. Let’s make some news by seeking God each day this year.  Success and failure aren’t measured by human terms, but by our health in Jesus.  Let’s keep moving in that healthy direction.  Rain or shine.  Blue skies or gray.  We’ll have them all in the days of 2018.

Just One More Ascent

Just One More Ascent

Just One More Ascent

Sometimes my creativity and inspiration are on “empty.”  This is one of those weeks.  Until….I check my “inbox” and found this link to a recent Ed Welch (no relation) blog.  I found it intriguing.  So instead of a weak attempt and originality, I pass along Ed’s thoughts.  Good ones even.

I think about ladders during the Christmas season.

In the beginning, the Lord dwelled, in all his fullness and glory, in heaven. Yet he came to earth and began to fashion it into his dwelling. There was a ladder—a vertical bridge—between heaven and earth. The full project would take time, but God made visits and walked with us during those visits.

When we turned from the Lord, the distance between us became greater, and human history then became one long obsession about that distance. Life could only be found in being close to God, yet we preferred to get close on our own terms. The tower of Babel was the first of many aborted attempts to make a ladder to God in our own strength. Now, instead of towers, we try to create righteousness in ourselves by our haphazard attempts at being good or religious, but our attempts to climb the ladder still fail.

Yet God’s plan was to bridge heaven and earth, and he was still going to do it. He came close and spoke to people—Abraham, Moses, Job and others. He made promises that he would bless, which means that he must be close because blessing is dependent on his presence.

When Jacob had doubts about God’s promises, he was given a glimpse into heavenly realities. He saw a ladder, and “the angels of God were ascending and descending on it,” and the Lord stood above it. (Genesis 28:12–13). The vision is clear: heaven will, in fact, come to earth. The two will connect.

With this vision in mind, Jesus spoke to Nathaniel. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).” The ladder is the same. Angels are freely going between two realms. What is different is that God, once seen at the top of the ladder, is now on earth. The Lord—the Son of Man, the Ancient of Days, Jesus the Christ—has descended, in all humility and love. In the weakness of a baby, he came to us and the distance between heaven and earth was forever changed.

Just one more ascent. In his death, resurrection, and ascent into heaven he became the enthroned One. From there, his first official act was to give us his Spirit, who descends and is present with us while we remain on earth. Christ did this for those who trust in him, and he did it with us. When we trust him, our life becomes wrapped into his, so we ourselves now traverse the ladder with him.

Christmas is the time we remember that God came down, which had always been the plan. The ladder, once the domain of angels, has become a level path—a well-traveled highway—on which we walk freely with Immanuel.

 

Worship Him Fully This Christmas Season

Worship Him Fully This Christmas Season

Worship Him Fully This Christmas Season

I know of the evils of social media.  Yes, it can consume.  Yes, it can distract.  Yes, it can hinder conversation.  But, it can also bring to mind a thought which changes a day.  Or even a season.  My Twitter feed did that for me this week.  As I was checking down my feed, trying to ignore the latest political nonsense (which I usually enjoy, by the way), there it was.  Just a couple of sentences written at some point before 430 A.D.  That’s old than me and even you, even if just slightly.  But the words resonated with me.  Perhaps I should have known them, because I imagine they are a bit famous.  I’m mean, they made it onto Twitter.  But here is what they said, in speaking about our Jesus:

“He was created of a mother whom he created. He was carried by hands that he formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute” (Augustine of Hippo).

Who was this Augustine?  Augustine of Hippo, St. Augustine, if you prefer, was born in 354 A.D., in Africa. He is one of the most influential theologians of the early church, and maybe one of the most influential ever.  He grew up with the Barbarians invading the Roman Empire from the north and heretics plotted the demise of the church from within.  At age 31, he came to Christ and his life was changed.  As was the church, eventually.

His words challenged me to examine my own perspective of Christmas.  There is really nothing new in what he wrote, I’ve preached incarnation many times.  But the way he said it struck a nerve in my soul.  I was reminded that we cannot overemphasize the humanity of Jesus at the expense of His deity, especially at the manger.  The One Who came to Bethlehem is the One who made the stones of which it was built.  He made the shepherds who worshipped that night.  And the angels. The Word could only cry, not speak.  Not that night.  Or for a while.

Our culture is all over the humanity of Jesus, but not so much the deity.  And that leaves us with a hollow celebration that doesn’t bring much meaning to Christmas – or to life. We worship God in that manger.  Never forget it.  Never deny it.

We have a week left before the big day. And our preparations must include setting aside some time to spend with Jesus, the Baby.  Our God.  I found another quote from Augustine.  Guess I ought to put it on my Twitter feed:

Our Lord came down from life to suffer death; the Bread came down, to hunger;
the Way came down, on the way to weariness; the Fount came down, to thirst.  — Sermon 78

At Christmas, we must remember that eternal God became flesh.  And for such a moment in history we must bow in humble worship our Lord and our God.  You can’t afford to just go through the motions.  You really can’t.  The story we tell is not simple and never ordinary.  God is with us. Worship Him fully this Christmas season.  Fully.

 

We Are A Bit Crazy

We Are A Bit Crazy

We Are A Bit Crazy

It’s been another tumultuous week.  Fires.  Shifting world capitals.  Shooting.  Resignations.  Through all the clutter of the week, I was struck by one news clip I saw this week.  Now, I don’t want to get all controversial on us, we are here to worship Jesus this morning, so bear with me.  As you know, President Trump decided this week to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  I mean, it is where their seat of government is located and the current peace process isn’t going anywhere anyway.  And it’s not like there hasn’t be a Jewish presence in that city since….oh, King David.  Anyway, let’s not get bogged down in the international politics of it.

I saw a clip where a commentator, who thought it was one horrible decision, blamed evangelicals on this move.  And then he attached the word “crazy” to describe them.  I guess us.  Really?  As I thought about it, I decided that perhaps he really did understand us and rightly labeled us as “crazy.”

We are a bit crazy.  We believe that what we celebrate this month took place.  God came to earth as a baby to save us from our sins.  Not sure that’s what he meant, but if it was, then I am a “crazy evangelical.”

We believe that we have a sin-problem on the planet, solved only by God through the person of His Son. Not sure that’s what he meant, but if it was, then I am a “crazy evangelical.”

We believe that the Word of God is the final and authoritative word from the God.  Not sure that’s what he meant, but if it was, then I am a “crazy evangelical.”

He may not have meant all of that, but as I thought about it, my initial anger cooled.  We ought to be those crazy people who believe in God. However, perhaps this commentator was thinking of all the inconsistencies that surface in the lives of those who call themselves evangelicals.  In that we are often guilty.  I’m not sure that’s what he meant, but we can be inconsistent and opinionated and rude.  We don’t always reflect the grace and love of Jesus.

Perhaps this guy understood that we believe something quite different from what he believes and we actually attempt at least to be consistent in putting into practice what we believe.  He just doesn’t like what we believe. And that is what make us “crazy” in his eyes, at least I hope so.

I just pray that especially during this crazy season, he could see some “crazy evangelicals” who love those caught up in a shooting.  Or in a fire. We ought to view those suffering loss with compassion and prayer and action.  We ought to support those evacuated like no other group of people do.  I hope he could get a taste of Jesus in our lives.

I guess I am a “crazy evangelical.”  I’m not sure I’m the reason we are moving our Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem, but I do believe the story of Christmas as told in Luke 2.  Every word of it.  And if that makes me crazy, so be it.  But may my faith in that story help me be filled with grace in all my encounters this week.

December Transitions

December Transitions

December Transitions

There is always a sense of awe and worship as the Christmas season begins. The church is freshly decorated and the change grabs our attention — Christmas is here. But today is a bit bittersweet. We bid farewell today to Krista Ziebarth. Really? It’s true. If you ask me, she hung around Rob and Kelly Jarosch way too much so she’s off to airplane mechanic school (in Oklahoma) and insists the commute is too far. Perhaps there is certain lack of commitment there. Hmmm. Krista has been a faithful teacher at our preschool, housemate to Lucille Beachler, and joy to all our lives. So, Godspeed, Krista. You can get a job back out here fixing all those broken planes at LAX after you are done with school. You will always have a home here.

And then a couple of weeks ago, we lost Carrie Brooks. Most of you probably don’t know Carrie, especially since she was quiet and due to failing health the last few years, she’s been home at Canterbury on Sunday mornings. She would come a bit early and sit with the Harpers. She was one classy Southern Belle who loved Jesus deeply and walked with Him daily.

She had a life with some rather tragic twists and turns, but you couldn’t tell. I heard her story on a visit to Canterbury quite a while ago now, and I just can’t remember all the details enough to put it down in writing today. I do remember it involved a tragic death in the family, followed by a plane crash while someone was coming to comfort her grief in the first loss. It was just hard. But what got her through it? It was the grace of God and her personal walk with Jesus that brightened those dark days.

She’s lived in Canterbury for over 20 years and drove down the hill to church in those first years here. She eventually checked us out (and her son from Maryland did the same) before we gained a stamp of approval. Today she’s enjoying that Savior she loved so well.

So December can be about transitions. Life doesn’t get put on hold just because it’s Christmas. For some it is not a pleasant or happy season, life has gone sour this year – or in some year gone by. Let’s be sensitive to hurting people this season while we let the joy of the incarnation flood our own souls. We cannot let the worldly distractions keep us for focusing on what Christmas is all about. Let’s keep our eyes on the target and lovingly share Jesus as God opens doors. Look for those opportunities. And engage in those conversations. We’ve talked about “the unfinished task.” And please don’t misunderstand the thrust: the missionary label is not just for those who go overseas. Christian maturity means following Jesus into the world. Our world.

Carrie, we miss you. Krista, keep your eyes on Jesus as you begin a wonderful new chapter. As for us? We will keep the birth of Christ as the focus in our church this year. And every year.

Blog Fulllwidth

He Will Wipe Every Tear

I am enjoying my Twitter account. Most of the time. Sometimes I must admit it almost makes me throw my iPhone across the room, but such is the nature of politics in 2018. But then there are those moments (usually apolitical tweets) which cause me to pause, think, reevaluate what I’ve assumed to be true. Let me share an example.

One of the fascinations of heaven is the concept that there will be no more tears once we get there. We want that to mean that there will no longer be any moments of heartbreak or sadness or grief once we enter the golden gates. But is that what the Bible really says? Think about it. We assume the Bible says, “There will be no more tears in Heaven.” Does it?

Here is what it really says. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Now, read it again. We cling to that “no more…crying” part but miss the “He will wipe every tear from their eyes” part. There are tears. At least initially. And what happens to with those tears?

What we have in Revelation is a picture of a very intimate relationship with God. His hands touch the face of each individual child, removing every tear from your cheek. That seems to be the point. There will be a closeness in our walk with God that if a tear is shed, He will come and wipe it away.

Think about it. Who wipes a tear from someone else’s eye? Someone in a close relationship with that person. For a young child, that usually means a parent, especially when that knee just got skinned. It is holy ground to sit beside someone as they cry. To wipe away a tear speaks of a level of closeness — of intimacy — in a relationship. And when we understand that concept, we understand one of the rich beauties of heaven. Our relationship with God will so intimate that God Himself will be the One to wipe away our tear.

Heaven is a lot of things. No death. No suffering. No funeral homes. But just as important is this beautiful picture of an intimate God who comes alongside and wipes away a tear. That’s a powerful picture of heaven.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you… Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6:21-23).

The hope of heaven is real and deep. And one of the best snapshots we get of that is a God who knows us so well and is so available to us that He will come and wipe every tear-stained cheek. Every cheek. Every tear. There is so much about heaven we do not understand. But when we get a glimpse behind the veil, what’s not to love about that place? You are right, nothing.

Who Will Remember You?

Friendships are important to life. To a healthy life. To a life of hope and grace.

This week Christie and I got to reignite an old friendship. We met an old friend — some of you know Kathy Swanson from the development of our Employee Handbook. We met for dinner in El Segundo before she moves to Maui next month. Maui? Yes, her husband took a job at Maui Memorial Medical Center. He’s been working on the facility side of hospitals for decades. So, he’s already there and Kathy follows at the end of March. This week was our last chance to touch base before the big move.

If you look at turning points in my life — Kathy Swanson is somewhere there. I grew up with Kathy in a small Covenant church in Downey. It was her mom who taught me in my later elementary Sunday School class. Side note: I was often alone in that class but she still showed up each week and loved me. You never know the impact of being faithful in the life of a child. Kathy’s mom instilled in me a love for travel and Israel and stamp collecting. And then it was Kathy who alerted me of a job opportunity in Rancho Mirage, where Christie and I served for nine years and where all our children were born.

To spend an evening together was a reminder that true friendships don’t really require a constant presence in each other’s lives. We can survive the gaps of separation. That’s really not a problem. But, when you do get together, you’d better allow enough time. We could have talked all night (we did close the restaurant). We had stories to tell of shared times together and we had to catch up on family matters and then just swap some stories of life.

The hugs were long. The laughter deep. Those mature friendships are the sweetest. But what deepens them even more is a common bond in Jesus. That is often the glue which holds long term relationships together. That common Savior overcomes so much.

I had an encouraging week. And now I suppose Christie and I will have to get over to Maui at some point. We now have cheap housing! And I know many of you head over that way — and if you are ever at Maui Memorial (it’s now a Kaiser facility, but independent, by the way) you’ll have to stop in and meet Mike Swanson, head of facility development. Just drop my name. I have friends in high and tropical places!

But seriously, it is my prayer that we might continue to develop long-term friendships based on Jesus. May our love for Him and each other deepen our bonds. And, maybe even more importantly, let’s not forget how important it is to build faithfully into the lives of the children of Peninsula. I do need a replacement some day — and maybe he’s in your class or Breakout group. You never know the impact of your love on a child 20 years from now. Kathy’s mom is with Jesus, but her impact remains in my life. Who will remember you?

Stuck

As we come to our State of the Church weekend — we face the joy of celebration and the task of evaluation. I want to celebrate what God is doing. Signs of health everywhere. It’s exciting. But along with the celebration must come healthy evaluation. You see, a danger of “church” is that we can easily get stuck. It happens a lot. Even here. Churches usually get stuck because what was working stopped working. And figuring out what to do next is hard. Really hard. I spent some time thinking about that this week and came across a long blog which focused my thinking. It was written by Carey Nieuwhof and helped me do some evaluation.

Where do churches get stuck? In one of three places — in the past, in the future, or in the present. I think I know where we could easily get stuck, but (spoiler alert) I’m not going to tell you, by the way, where that is. You think about it and let me know what you think.

It is easy to get stuck in the past. We’ve been around a long time now, and the past has some great memories. And people. But the past died long ago. What worked back then worked because the conditions were right back then. And those conditions changed a while ago. There’s a huge difference between learning from the past and living in the past. It’s foolish to keep trying to re-create the past. It’s gone. If God wanted us to keep ministering in 1995 or 2016, He would have left us there.

We can also get stuck in the future. Really? Yes. We get stuck in the future when leadership tries to move us forward without any clear, coherent or cogent plan. For example, you promise your kids a trip to Disneyland, but never take them. A vision without a plan isn’t a dream, it’s a nightmare. Sometimes, focusing on the future becomes a way to avoid dealing with the present. Many pastors love to live in the future, because they don’t have to deal with anything today.

We can also get stuck in the present. Just like we can get stuck in the past and in the future, we can also get stuck in the present. How? Churches who get stuck in the present usually have no learnings from the past or vision for the future. One sure sign we’re stuck in the present is that there are no next steps to move us forward. We aren’t trying anything, we’re not experimenting. We’re probably not even diagnosing. We just are.

This weekend is all about how we get past being stuck. We must be committed to learning from the past, imagining a better future, and creating a plan. It’s easier to say than to do, but our future hangs on our ability to do just that. Most churches will tilt toward being stuck in the past or living in the future, but on their own, neither is healthy. Can we glean lessons from the past, envision a better future, and make a plan to get there? I sure hope so.

Otherwise, we’ll just be stuck and won’t be able to get past it.

JC and the Holidays

I spent a day this week with my daughter, who is a social media communications and marketing manager. We were talking about upcoming holidays and she said that in the marketing and communications world, holidays were always important – a chance to promote something. She said you can piggyback any holiday to a marketing campaign.

This made me think. Do Christians effectively use holidays and other special events to promote the most important person in our lives?

Christmas isn’t a holiday that we believers claim as our own. People of all beliefs or none at all use the early winter as a time of celebration. In the third century, however, Augustine claimed that Jesus had chosen to be born on the shortest day of the year for symbolic reasons. Though pagan tradition has used the winter solstice for festivities to celebrate the start of days becoming longer, we as believers have used that reference as proof that Jesus is truly the light of the world.

Easter is another piggyback holiday. The word itself is derived from a pagan goddess that was celebrated during the month of April. Aligning Easter, or as we often refer to it as Resurrection Sunday, to the Hebrew celebration of Passover is how we have made sure to celebrate the most important day in Christian history.

But what about other holidays? Have we been effectively using times of celebration to bring the love of Jesus Christ to our friends and family?

Speaking of love, the next big holiday on the calendar that is approaching is Valentine’s Day. Certainly, Christ’s love for us is the most compelling love the world has ever known. Do we use that day just to give people closest to us boxes of chocolate or cards, take our spouse or significant other out to dinner? Or can we use it as a day to bring people to the love of Jesus Christ?

On July 4th, instead of just celebrating our independence from tyranny, we can proclaim our freedom from sin and separation from God. On Labor Day, instead of taking a day of rest, we can be reminded that our work bringing the Good News of our Savior should never stop and be encouraged by 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor in not in vain.”

Halloween is a hard one. It’s a day the world celebrates darkness. We, however, have used it as a day to introduce our community to our church through the Harvest Festival. We need to be sure we also shine a light in all that is good in the love of our Lord.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand is easy. Probably the easiest of all to declare our thankfulness to God for all He has given us and to share that love and the salvation message to others.

Yup, as followers of Jesus, we have to be marketing strategists. That’s what we are called to do in Matthew 28:16-20, “…go and make disciples of all nations…” Are we doing it?

The January Blues

I am not a lover of the month of January. Christmas decorations are boxed away (as they should be) so the environment is starker than it had been from the holidays. The lights which had shone so brightly have now gone dark. And then there is that annual meeting to prepare. And the budget to finalize. And a new year to plan. And it is cold (sometimes). So, January is just depressing for me. Always has been. Maybe it’s just more a letdown after the joy of December.

As I’ve worked my own entry in the Annual Report — and searched through the pictures of 2017, I’m actually encouraged this month (a little). And what’s encouraged me is the realization that 2017 was not as rough as I thought. It was a pretty good year.

Passion week was amazing. We had a huge crowd and (I think) a clear message. Our Journey Classes changed many lives, as reflected in at least some of the 21 baptisms this year. That’s right, 21. God is using us in the lives of those who genuinely want to know Him. What an honor.

And though the summer was brutally busy and crazy (the remodel, remember?) that celebration in September made it all worthwhile. That, and the screams of laughter which now fills those rooms regularly. And then there was the 10th anniversary of annual medical mission in Bombo. The celebration in Uganda was genuine and appreciative. Of you!

And then there was the provision of three new part-time staff added to our number. Colleen, Andrew and Brooke came to fill some huge gaps in ministry leadership, and we have enjoyed the fruit of their labor and of their ideas for six months now. What will it be like to have them in place for an entire year? Only God knows. But I can’t wait to watch what happens.

So, for at least this January, I’m battling the post-holiday blues. God is doing something. We are reading the New Testament before Resurrection Sunday (it can be a challenge to keep up, but you really should join us). We have some new areas of discipleship to explore and students to reach and children to serve.

In the midst of the gloom of January, there is a reason to look up. Well, there always is if we’ll just stop and do it. But our God still rules the heavens. The Savior still never leaves us. The Spirit still fills and empowers us. It’s exciting to look ahead, but what have we seen of God’s faithfulness along the journey so far? He has never let us down, and He won’t start now. Take some time this week to get away from the routine of life if you can, and just thank God for what He’s doing here at Peninsula and in our own families. We are so blessed, and so much will be required of us. We can’t take our foot off the gas pedal. There is too much at stake. We have the only message of true hope in the world. Let’s live like it. And act like it.

Rain or Shine, Blue Skies or Gray

I was pretty glad to get back to SoCal last Saturday.  What a relief to see the sun again! You’d been missed, old friend.  In our four days in Dallas it was nothing but gloom.  On several levels.  No sun.  Period. A Trojan loss in the Cotton Bowl.  Nothing over 50 degrees.  Ever.  Get me home!

I’d spent four winters in Dallas in my seminary days, but I didn’t remember the “June gloom” of this Dallas winter.  There was not even a hint of sunshine for four days.  No shadows.  No breaks in the clouds.  Nothing.  It was ugly and monotonous.

I went to Dallas with my boys to celebrate a Trojan victory in the Cotton Bowl (you know how well that turned out).  It was actually the first time they had been to Dallas, so I got to act as tour guide. I really tried not to drag up the past — too much – but a trip to Dallas Seminary was mandatory.  I set aside a morning for that sacred visit.  Of course, the seminary shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s.  I thought it might, and it did.  So, my morning visit turned into about 20 minutes.  There was not a single building that was unlocked (I checked).  It was cold and not much to see but the exteriors of buildings.  Granted, as seminary’s go, it’s rather large, but you can easily walk through the grounds in twenty minutes.  Maybe less.

I didn’t want the boys to get too cold (well, Danny, actually) so we parked as close to the school as possible. I took heat for suggesting to park in the “woman’s” parking lot.  I mean what’s the big deal?  There are multiple lots and none of them had a single car parked in them.  So just stop in the lot we were in – why does it matter?  It doesn’t.

And then we had to drive by where I lived while going to school.  Both of those apartments have been torn down and replaced.  It’s hard to communicate life experience when the structures are gone and the neighborhood remodeled.  It is so much more upscale these days.  So, we gave up the tour and headed to White Rock Lake.  I used GPS lest I got caught missing a turn.  It was a high-pressure week.

Even though the weather didn’t cooperate, nor the Trojans, nor the Seminary, we did have a great time.  Hey, I got to be with my boys.  We discovered new (and amazing) places to eat on Yelp.  We stopped in at the Bush Library, Dealey Plaza, the Stock Yards in Fort Worth. BBQ in Oak Cliff, tacos by SMU, and enchiladas to die for in Forth Worth.

But still, there was nothing like coming back to some sunshine.  And what’s ahead?  A fresh year of ministry.  I can’t wait. Let’s make some news by seeking God each day this year.  Success and failure aren’t measured by human terms, but by our health in Jesus.  Let’s keep moving in that healthy direction.  Rain or shine.  Blue skies or gray.  We’ll have them all in the days of 2018.

Just One More Ascent

Just One More Ascent

Just One More Ascent

Sometimes my creativity and inspiration are on “empty.”  This is one of those weeks.  Until….I check my “inbox” and found this link to a recent Ed Welch (no relation) blog.  I found it intriguing.  So instead of a weak attempt and originality, I pass along Ed’s thoughts.  Good ones even.

I think about ladders during the Christmas season.

In the beginning, the Lord dwelled, in all his fullness and glory, in heaven. Yet he came to earth and began to fashion it into his dwelling. There was a ladder—a vertical bridge—between heaven and earth. The full project would take time, but God made visits and walked with us during those visits.

When we turned from the Lord, the distance between us became greater, and human history then became one long obsession about that distance. Life could only be found in being close to God, yet we preferred to get close on our own terms. The tower of Babel was the first of many aborted attempts to make a ladder to God in our own strength. Now, instead of towers, we try to create righteousness in ourselves by our haphazard attempts at being good or religious, but our attempts to climb the ladder still fail.

Yet God’s plan was to bridge heaven and earth, and he was still going to do it. He came close and spoke to people—Abraham, Moses, Job and others. He made promises that he would bless, which means that he must be close because blessing is dependent on his presence.

When Jacob had doubts about God’s promises, he was given a glimpse into heavenly realities. He saw a ladder, and “the angels of God were ascending and descending on it,” and the Lord stood above it. (Genesis 28:12–13). The vision is clear: heaven will, in fact, come to earth. The two will connect.

With this vision in mind, Jesus spoke to Nathaniel. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).” The ladder is the same. Angels are freely going between two realms. What is different is that God, once seen at the top of the ladder, is now on earth. The Lord—the Son of Man, the Ancient of Days, Jesus the Christ—has descended, in all humility and love. In the weakness of a baby, he came to us and the distance between heaven and earth was forever changed.

Just one more ascent. In his death, resurrection, and ascent into heaven he became the enthroned One. From there, his first official act was to give us his Spirit, who descends and is present with us while we remain on earth. Christ did this for those who trust in him, and he did it with us. When we trust him, our life becomes wrapped into his, so we ourselves now traverse the ladder with him.

Christmas is the time we remember that God came down, which had always been the plan. The ladder, once the domain of angels, has become a level path—a well-traveled highway—on which we walk freely with Immanuel.

 

Worship Him Fully This Christmas Season

Worship Him Fully This Christmas Season

Worship Him Fully This Christmas Season

I know of the evils of social media.  Yes, it can consume.  Yes, it can distract.  Yes, it can hinder conversation.  But, it can also bring to mind a thought which changes a day.  Or even a season.  My Twitter feed did that for me this week.  As I was checking down my feed, trying to ignore the latest political nonsense (which I usually enjoy, by the way), there it was.  Just a couple of sentences written at some point before 430 A.D.  That’s old than me and even you, even if just slightly.  But the words resonated with me.  Perhaps I should have known them, because I imagine they are a bit famous.  I’m mean, they made it onto Twitter.  But here is what they said, in speaking about our Jesus:

“He was created of a mother whom he created. He was carried by hands that he formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute” (Augustine of Hippo).

Who was this Augustine?  Augustine of Hippo, St. Augustine, if you prefer, was born in 354 A.D., in Africa. He is one of the most influential theologians of the early church, and maybe one of the most influential ever.  He grew up with the Barbarians invading the Roman Empire from the north and heretics plotted the demise of the church from within.  At age 31, he came to Christ and his life was changed.  As was the church, eventually.

His words challenged me to examine my own perspective of Christmas.  There is really nothing new in what he wrote, I’ve preached incarnation many times.  But the way he said it struck a nerve in my soul.  I was reminded that we cannot overemphasize the humanity of Jesus at the expense of His deity, especially at the manger.  The One Who came to Bethlehem is the One who made the stones of which it was built.  He made the shepherds who worshipped that night.  And the angels. The Word could only cry, not speak.  Not that night.  Or for a while.

Our culture is all over the humanity of Jesus, but not so much the deity.  And that leaves us with a hollow celebration that doesn’t bring much meaning to Christmas – or to life. We worship God in that manger.  Never forget it.  Never deny it.

We have a week left before the big day. And our preparations must include setting aside some time to spend with Jesus, the Baby.  Our God.  I found another quote from Augustine.  Guess I ought to put it on my Twitter feed:

Our Lord came down from life to suffer death; the Bread came down, to hunger;
the Way came down, on the way to weariness; the Fount came down, to thirst.  — Sermon 78

At Christmas, we must remember that eternal God became flesh.  And for such a moment in history we must bow in humble worship our Lord and our God.  You can’t afford to just go through the motions.  You really can’t.  The story we tell is not simple and never ordinary.  God is with us. Worship Him fully this Christmas season.  Fully.

 

We Are A Bit Crazy

We Are A Bit Crazy

We Are A Bit Crazy

It’s been another tumultuous week.  Fires.  Shifting world capitals.  Shooting.  Resignations.  Through all the clutter of the week, I was struck by one news clip I saw this week.  Now, I don’t want to get all controversial on us, we are here to worship Jesus this morning, so bear with me.  As you know, President Trump decided this week to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  I mean, it is where their seat of government is located and the current peace process isn’t going anywhere anyway.  And it’s not like there hasn’t be a Jewish presence in that city since….oh, King David.  Anyway, let’s not get bogged down in the international politics of it.

I saw a clip where a commentator, who thought it was one horrible decision, blamed evangelicals on this move.  And then he attached the word “crazy” to describe them.  I guess us.  Really?  As I thought about it, I decided that perhaps he really did understand us and rightly labeled us as “crazy.”

We are a bit crazy.  We believe that what we celebrate this month took place.  God came to earth as a baby to save us from our sins.  Not sure that’s what he meant, but if it was, then I am a “crazy evangelical.”

We believe that we have a sin-problem on the planet, solved only by God through the person of His Son. Not sure that’s what he meant, but if it was, then I am a “crazy evangelical.”

We believe that the Word of God is the final and authoritative word from the God.  Not sure that’s what he meant, but if it was, then I am a “crazy evangelical.”

He may not have meant all of that, but as I thought about it, my initial anger cooled.  We ought to be those crazy people who believe in God. However, perhaps this commentator was thinking of all the inconsistencies that surface in the lives of those who call themselves evangelicals.  In that we are often guilty.  I’m not sure that’s what he meant, but we can be inconsistent and opinionated and rude.  We don’t always reflect the grace and love of Jesus.

Perhaps this guy understood that we believe something quite different from what he believes and we actually attempt at least to be consistent in putting into practice what we believe.  He just doesn’t like what we believe. And that is what make us “crazy” in his eyes, at least I hope so.

I just pray that especially during this crazy season, he could see some “crazy evangelicals” who love those caught up in a shooting.  Or in a fire. We ought to view those suffering loss with compassion and prayer and action.  We ought to support those evacuated like no other group of people do.  I hope he could get a taste of Jesus in our lives.

I guess I am a “crazy evangelical.”  I’m not sure I’m the reason we are moving our Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem, but I do believe the story of Christmas as told in Luke 2.  Every word of it.  And if that makes me crazy, so be it.  But may my faith in that story help me be filled with grace in all my encounters this week.

December Transitions

December Transitions

December Transitions

There is always a sense of awe and worship as the Christmas season begins. The church is freshly decorated and the change grabs our attention — Christmas is here. But today is a bit bittersweet. We bid farewell today to Krista Ziebarth. Really? It’s true. If you ask me, she hung around Rob and Kelly Jarosch way too much so she’s off to airplane mechanic school (in Oklahoma) and insists the commute is too far. Perhaps there is certain lack of commitment there. Hmmm. Krista has been a faithful teacher at our preschool, housemate to Lucille Beachler, and joy to all our lives. So, Godspeed, Krista. You can get a job back out here fixing all those broken planes at LAX after you are done with school. You will always have a home here.

And then a couple of weeks ago, we lost Carrie Brooks. Most of you probably don’t know Carrie, especially since she was quiet and due to failing health the last few years, she’s been home at Canterbury on Sunday mornings. She would come a bit early and sit with the Harpers. She was one classy Southern Belle who loved Jesus deeply and walked with Him daily.

She had a life with some rather tragic twists and turns, but you couldn’t tell. I heard her story on a visit to Canterbury quite a while ago now, and I just can’t remember all the details enough to put it down in writing today. I do remember it involved a tragic death in the family, followed by a plane crash while someone was coming to comfort her grief in the first loss. It was just hard. But what got her through it? It was the grace of God and her personal walk with Jesus that brightened those dark days.

She’s lived in Canterbury for over 20 years and drove down the hill to church in those first years here. She eventually checked us out (and her son from Maryland did the same) before we gained a stamp of approval. Today she’s enjoying that Savior she loved so well.

So December can be about transitions. Life doesn’t get put on hold just because it’s Christmas. For some it is not a pleasant or happy season, life has gone sour this year – or in some year gone by. Let’s be sensitive to hurting people this season while we let the joy of the incarnation flood our own souls. We cannot let the worldly distractions keep us for focusing on what Christmas is all about. Let’s keep our eyes on the target and lovingly share Jesus as God opens doors. Look for those opportunities. And engage in those conversations. We’ve talked about “the unfinished task.” And please don’t misunderstand the thrust: the missionary label is not just for those who go overseas. Christian maturity means following Jesus into the world. Our world.

Carrie, we miss you. Krista, keep your eyes on Jesus as you begin a wonderful new chapter. As for us? We will keep the birth of Christ as the focus in our church this year. And every year.