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Preview: re-think: a modernist trying to figure out missional church


my personal reflections on life and what it means to follow Christ

Updated: 2018-03-06T11:24:07.127-08:00


What if I am living in sin?


I settled into seat 17c and began to untangle my earbuds as others entered the airplane. Earbuds often act as a not-so-subtle “do not disturb” sign when among strangers. But before I escaped into my private, undisturbed flight a gentlemen with a thick accent indicated that he was in seat 17b. We exchanged pleasantries and even before the flight left the ground, as if to break the unspoken code of pace of conversation, this very friendly and talkative Ethiopian gentleman name Abdi asked the question, “what is your vocation?”  I usually try to avoid this question for as long as possible because as soon as they hear “I’m a pastor” their tone tends to change and I begin to hear about their frequent attendance at their distant uncle’s church. Still, he asked, I told him what I did, and he took the conversation to the next level. He is a committed, evangelical follower of Jesus. I was fascinated as I learned a little about his country. I learned about the poverty, and the high mortality rate among children. Then we began to talk about the differences in the church in America and Ethiopia, and that’s when he got all judge-y. He made this statement: “What American Christians often call “blessing,” we call “excess” or “gluttony.” What?!?!  Outwardly I nodded and listened, inwardly I was crafting my iron-clad defense. After all, Jesus was accused of being a glutton, so we’re in good company right? Of course I didn’t tell him about my suburban home with 4 cars in the driveway. I didn’t show him the picture on my IPhone 6 of the black 2011 Camaro SS I want to buy one day (yes, it’s a midlife crisis car.) “I don’t live an extravagant life” I reasoned within. But as I talked with him my inner justification began to feel as empty as the two unused rooms in our home. We had a great dialogue, we listened and learned from each other, and though our life experiences and contexts are quite different, we knew we were brothers each touched by the grace of Jesus. But it left me with a nagging question.Is it possible that something I (we) define as scripturally acceptable and even “blessed” another believer could define as sin? If so, who is right? I could defend and justify my position biblically but so could he. We both felt sincerely right. Is it possible that I am living in sin that I don’t even know is sin – that the Holy Spirit has not yet convicted me of yet? Of course it is possible, and I would suggest it is likely.The encounter reminded me of a number of things:Jesus knows our heart and whether we are His. There is a difference between a heart that is defiant in the face of biblical truth and one that is open to letting scripture speak into our lives. Stay soft and open to continual and probably even significant transformation, because if we're not careful we can be deceived, and God wants us to be holy. See Romans 12:1-2.Two believers, two churches, even whole Christian communities can have sincerely different opinions on matters of conduct, yet can still be fellow believers. Don’t be too dogmatic about who is “in” or “out.” There just may be a sincere believer who thinks you too are living in sin. J  See Romans 14:1-9; Philippians 3:15The cross of Jesus has paid the penalty for our sin – even those sins we don’t yet even know are sins.  The Holy Spirit is capable (and is the best One to do it!) of bringing conviction as we all grow in Christ. See Romans 2:1-4; Romans 8 and Galatians 5:16-25.So what if you’re living in sin and you don’t even know it? If you have received Christ, don’t worry – He’s paid for it! Don’t live in fear. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.  But stay soft-hearted and open to change. Similarly, what if someone else claims to be a Christian, yet we think they are living in sin, but they have confidence in what they do? Stay humble and don’t be too quick to judge the salvation status of another based solely on their [...]

If You've Ever Drifted...


(image)      On Tuesday morning I escaped to our family’s lake cabin to try out a donated old trolling motor on our old faithful row boat. Since I was trying out the motor, I figured I better put some fishing gear in the boat. And off I went! The motor worked beautifully and the speed of the troll was apparently just right as I landed some nice rainbow trout. I paused near the middle of the crystal, quiet lake to both take in the stunning beauty of Mount Rainier that rose above the sun-drenched horizon, and to change out my lure as an excuse to stay out just a little longer. After fiddling with the line and lure for a few moments, I lifted my eyes to realize that I had drifted near the lily pads on the north end of the small lake. There was no noticeable wind. The lake was quiet. Still, I drifted.
     Our natural tendency is to drift. It takes no effort to drift. We get carried – carried from the place we thought we were, carried from things that help us grow, carried from commitments and covenants, carried from the truth and direction of God’s Word. If we’re not careful, we drift. And though it seems quiet and harmless, if we are not careful we will find ourselves in the weeds. The author of Hebrews tells us: 
"It's crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we've heard so that we don't drift off." - Hebrews 2:1

     It takes energy and intention to keep from drifting. It takes effort and strength and sacrifice. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is “to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” Love is intentional action.  Love God with everything. In your passions, love God. In your motivations and will, love God. In your thought life, love God. In how you use your physical body, love God.  

     When you consider where you are – in your heart, soul, mind, strength – have you drifted?  God doesn’t want you in the weeds. He has more beauty and bounty for you than that. He has fish for you to catch. Turn around. Ask for His forgiveness. Get that motor running and love Him again. Because He sure loves you!

A Theology of "Returning"


“The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”   - Luke 10:35

Last week I was sitting with a new friend, Pastor Greg Russinger, who mentioned this verse, almost in passing, and he said, “we need a theology of returning.”  That one statement has struck a profound chord in me.

This verse is at the end of the powerful parable of the Good Samaritan. And I’ve begun to think that perhaps this one statement, "and when I return," is as important for our day as any other truth in the parable. And when you start to think about it, there are so many examples of “returning” in the Scriptures.

I’m often in a hurry and in all honesty sometimes when I’m in a store I don’t even see the people helping me. We are a mobile, fast moving, transient culture. We are shaped by our free-market, entrepreneurial, bargain-hunting society from an early age to be savvy consumers and productive performers. So we run hard, get what we need for the best deal and move on so we can do more and better things. And that mentality has certainly shown itself in the church.

And in our missional emphasis we are urged to “go” and spread the Good News. But perhaps we need to remember again that this is just a start. It isn’t always enough to go, or to do a good deed. The Good Samaritan helped the wounded stranger, payed for his hotel, and then returned to care further for this new friend. It cost him, and then the investment continued because he was worth it. 

Maybe we need to start intentionally returning to places in our neighborhoods, not with the intention to just get a meal, or to get the best deal, but to call those who work there by name, to learn their story, and to foster a deeper relationship to bless them. Maybe we need to rethink short-term mission trips and keep returning so we can build long-term relationships. Maybe, sometimes, beyond buying a meal for that guy on the street corner we ought to keep going back to find him and befriend him. Maybe we should keep returning to the same church for the next 30 years so we can learn what it means to be a family. Maybe we need to return home once in a while to “strengthen our brothers” and express our love to those who raised and shaped our lives.

Jesus gave us the Good News, left His Spirit, and is returningbecause He thinks we’re worth it. God help me to build into my life the habit of returning too.

Band-Aids on Internal Bleeding


Recently I strained a ligament in my abdomen. It hurts! So I have been taking ibuprofein so I don't feel it as much. Ibuprofein can only mask the pain. But the ligament is what needs to be healed. A Band-Aid is helpful unless the real problem is internal bleeding.“Build a huge wall!” “Get rid of guns!” “Carpet bomb the hell out of them!” “Get Out of NATO!”“Strengthen NATO!”“Don’t leave your laptop visible in your locked car or it will get stolen.”“Put a security system with cameras in your house.""Elect a Conservative!""Elect a Liberal!"All Band-Aids. Aspirin. We could do any or all of the above ideas with 100% success and not ultimately solve the issue at all. Yes, sometimes we need a good Band-Aid or an extra-strength Tylenol to buy us a little time or make us a little more comfortable. But when will we understand that the growing problem we have in our world and in our neighborhoods is a spiritual issue – a heart issue, and with relentless urgency pour our energy, resources and effort into that which will actually heal the problem? We have got to help people find life and love in Jesus. We have got to make disciples. That changes the heart. That is God’s plan A. And He doesn’t have a plan B.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” – Eph. 6:12,13“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures… Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.”   – James 4:1-3; 7-8[...]

7 Characteristics of Great Leaders in the Church


7 Characteristics of Great Leaders in the ChurchIn the last thirty years of ministry I have had the privilege of working under great leaders, and I’ve had the privilege of working alongside great leaders, and I’ve had the privilege of watching great leaders emerge. In reflection I have considered this question: what are some key characteristics of those that I would consider great leaders in the church in the last 30 years? The list below is a snapshot of those characteristics.This list assumes a devotion to Christ and His church. You will also notice that absent from this list are particular skills, gifts, spiritual disciplines or devotional habits. This is not a list about talent or biblical literacy. I’ve known very talented individuals that were not good leaders, and I’ve known many very knowledgeable in the scriptures but who wielded very little or even negative influence. This list is about attitude and character. These are the things that, in my experience, often separate great leaders from good people. 1. PartnerThey seek to not only know the mission but also understand it and advance it. They are not simply seeking to fulfill their own agenda. These continually ask the question, “What does my Pastor/Leader value and how can I help bring that value to life?2. BelieverWhen I say “believer” I don’t mean simply a Jesus-follower. I mean someone who believes great things can happen. We have enough cynics & skeptics. We’re not taking any more applications for that job. These people “find a way to yes,” as Pastor Joe Wittwer has said. They have a Caleb spirit (see Numbers 13 & 14). Caleb didn’t say yes out of blind faith or without knowledge of the obstacles ahead of them. He did it in the face of the challenge, knowing that the effort and risk was worth the mission. Be a believer in:a.      the power of God to come throughb.      the missionc.       the capacity of others to come through. When Caleb said, “we can do it” he was also expressing confidence in the people.3. See-er – “What if…”It was always so encouraging to me as a pastor to hear that somebody else was dreaming about what we could be. Then I knew that for them church was not just about getting their weekly fill-up. It was about a bigger mission.In this I also include those leaders who have eyes to see. They notice things.  When they look around they do so with a sensitivity to new person in the room – the one that may feel like an outsider.4. Joyful ServantMark 10:43 – “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”            The joyful servant is such a joy to have around! There are many reasons that a person may serve:  out of guilt or obligation, out of a sense of penance, to be a hero, etc. But the joyful servant does it in the spirit of Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” And according to that verse, right motivation is a choice!5. EncouragerHebrews 10:24-25 “ And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”The encourager has the uncanny ability and desire to find the best in people and situations because they are consciously looking for the good. And when they find something of value to speak of, they not only say it tothe person, they say it to others about the person.6. DependableThis person can be counted on to be there. And there is something reassuring about their very presence. They recognize the importance of their presence and their partin the mission. And when they can’t be there they know that a hole is created, they own it, and they make sure their spot is covered.Ephesians 4[...]

Please, don't just "go to church."


If you are concerned about the direction of our culture; if you don't think the church is making a big enough difference; if you want to grow like crazy, we've got to do much more than just "go to church."

In the great commission Jesus told us to “make disciples – teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” How does that happen? I mean, practically, how do we know that is happening? We can teach people to obey in large, inspiring gatherings or in bible studies, but teaching is not the same as making disciples. The mission is not to teach. The mission is to make disciples. And we only know if someone is “obeying” what they are learning if we are in life and on mission with them. Are they functioning in faith? Are they responding well when they are angry? Does their witness at work (effort, attitude, language, dependability, etc.) speak well of the Lordship of Jesus in their life? Do they exhibit joy in all circumstances? Is their marriage growing in love? How are they doing in the face of their most daunting areas of temptation? These are questions we can only know if we are involved in one another’s lives on an ongoing, consistent, long-term basis.

That is why I am more and more convinced that we must be intentional about getting smaller. And I don’t mean just a weekly small group “meeting.” I mean intentionally investing in one another’s lives for the purpose of becoming more like Jesus; encouraging one another, challenging one another and being determined to continue when you want to quit. It is a slow process because trust takes time. It wars against our tendencies to isolate within the comfortable rhythms of our own life and family. It will bring accusations of being “cliquish.” But Jesus modeled discipleship by sharing his life with 12 men. He couldn’t do it with everyone equally, and neither can we. He did 12. And to be obedient to the great commission, we must do it with at least a few. It doesn't have to be formal. It doesn't have to be a program. In fact, I would propose that it must be a lifelong habit for every believer. Find a few people to intentionally invest in and do it.

Jesus believes we can change the world. The way to do it is by making disciples. Share your life on purpose with purpose. Make disciples. We can do this!

Stereotyping and the Myth of "Fit"


Recently, perhaps more than ever, I have heard many friends & family say something to the effect of “I just feel like I don’t fit.” And admittedly I find myself more and more in the in-between places – not able to clearly identify with a particular ideology, party or label. Most of us like to believe (and often take pride in the fact) that we are free thinkers, not bound by a neat set of characterizations. Still we tend to have a lean according to a core set of values – conservative or liberal, evangelical, mainline or orthodox, left or right, etc.      In my most frequented circles there is a predominant set of “beliefs.” I would be generally labeled as a conservative evangelical Christian. But in so many ways I don’t fit the assumptions those labels often come with: I’m against the death penalty, I care deeply about environmental issues, I really can’t stand Christian music radio stations, we occasionally frequent bars (gasp!), I enjoy contemplative worship and liturgy,  etc.  Even in my own denomination I hold some views that are just a little different than many of my colleagues.      Labels are fraught with assumptions and expectations. And when we don’t fit the preconceived mold or meet those expectations, people are surprised or even disappointed. I’ve been derisively called “liberal” by a conservative acquaintance surprised at a particular position I had taken.     But “fit” is a myth. When you actually get to know somebody you realize that nobody fits neatly into a label. They have a story. They have experiences that have led to unique positions. They have pain that has shifted their perspective that you never knew they had. They are not blind followers of an adopted creed. They are a creative expression of a brilliant God. And when we get to know them our assumptions get a needed adjustment and our understanding and expectations are brought into proper alignment.      This is the bane of stereotyping. It happens from a distance, and it keeps us from growing and learning from those different than us. None of us want to be stereotyped because it comes with unfair assumptions. Jesus kept shattering assumptions of what He should do, where He should be and who He should associate with. For the follower of Christ the characterization of our life should be the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We can disagree on topics such as immigration, gun control, gay rights and economic strategy and still be faithful Christians. But in our current American social and political climate too many have conflated biblical Christ-like characteristics with political ideologies and particular behavioral metrics. This actually distracts us from our central mission and blurs the proclamation of that which actually can solve the brokenness of our world – the life-transforming Gospel of Jesus.      So if you find yourself feeling like you don’t “fit” you are not alone. Just stay close to Jesus - He knows your developing story, and He fits us in His family just where He wants us.[...]

My Address to Congress


(image) Two days ago I listened to Pope Francis address the Congress of the United States. It was a moving speech that addressed issues of our day – poverty, the value of life, immigration, and climate change. 

Since then I have pondered, “what would I say to Congress?” Since I’m sure that my invitation is just around the corner…

Mr. Speaker, honorable members of the Congress, and friends,

Thank you for your service to this great country, a country built on the principle of freedom. Today I want to talk to you about the One who can truly make us free. God loves you. There is nothing you can do, no bill you can pass, no law you can enact that can make God love you any less or any more than He does right now. I know that you hear from this country that you aren’t doing enough, and I suspect that internally you wonder if you’ve done enough – not only for this country, but enough to matter. God believes you matter. And He believes every person in this country matters. Yes we fall short, every one of us falls short and we can never in our own strength live up to God’s perfect standard. Sometimes we are self-serving and hurtful toward others. Sometimes we are self-destructive. Those things separate us from the God who is our source of life! That’s why we need a Savior – to give us true freedom – to allow us to live the life He dreams for us. That’s why Jesus came – God’s perfect Son. He lived among us and fought against those who believed law could set us free. He showed us that He fights for the poor and the marginalized, the sick and the sinner, the weak, the outcast and the powerless. That is you and me. He fights for you and me. He wasn’t just killed. His mission was to fight for us and to die in our place – to pay a price He didn’t owe to pay a debt we couldn’t pay. His death paid for our sin. And He rose from the dead, signifying the defeat of death and sin and offering us life again. You don’t have to earn his love. It is a gift. You just have to be willing to receive it!
  • So the idea of laying down one’s life for those you love – that is God’s idea.
  • The idea of caring for the poor, the marginalized, the weak and powerless – that is God’s idea.
  • The idea of protecting and fighting for freedom and opportunity – that is God’s idea.

When you fight for these ideals, you are reflecting characteristics of a God who loves us beyond our comprehension.

But if you want to experience personal freedom – freedom from guilt, despair, emptiness, wondering if you’ve done enough, anxiety, self-destruction or endless striving – get to know Jesus. True freedom will never come through laws, economic strategies or constitutional amendments. It will come through getting to know the God who loves you like crazy. And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.

Thank you, and may God Bless America!

Sometimes it is Good to Go Back


Songs take you somewhere.
Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like an Eagle" and Barry Manilow's "I Can't Smile Without You" (don't judge!) put me in my parent's basement playing pool as those songs made there way through my Technics turntable and my Kenwood speakers. "Three Times a Lady" by the Commodores transports me to my friend Dean's house at a high school party. And Toto's "Rosanna" carries me back to my bible college freshman dorm room with my new college friends - all finding our taste of newly found freedom.

But there are other songs too. "Trust and Obey" carries me back to the Immanuel Baptist Sanctuasium of the mid-70s with my mom in the choir and my sister and I both attempting to make the other bust out laughing. It didn't seem like I paid attention but to this day I remember every word.  "Lay Hold" takes me to Young Life's Malibu Club in British Columbia in the spring of 1980 where I first sensed God calling me to a deeper level of service to Him. "He is My Light" by my friend Gary Moreno and "Lord I Come" by Kyle Rasmussen take me to an empty, dimly lit sanctuary in Tujunga, California in the early 90's where I sat at the piano alone singing through impassioned tears as God reassured me of His promises and His presence. And "Draw Me Close" reminds me of my young family and our young church plant core team full of hope, vision and passion - children running everywhere - gathered at Graham Grange crying out the truth "You're all I want, You're all I ever needed..."

Time passes and things change. We get older and more civilized. Sometimes life makes us more cynical and with experience life gets more manageable. We are not quite as reactionary and maybe not as desperate or as vulnerable as we once were. We realize that people we couldn't live without have come and they have gone, and our relationship is now more a grateful memory than an active reality. And it isn't always bad, that's just what happens.

But sometimes I let that happen with my relationship with Jesus. Sure, I read my bible and I have friendly, albeit somewhat scheduled dialogue with my Savior in prayer. Youthful exuberance gets exchanged for reasoned experience. I rationalize that I'm always with Him and it is true -  I'm comfortable with Him and more confident now of his ultimate control.

But sometimes it is good to go back to those times when we felt so deeply that we couldn't hold back. Don't let your life experience cause you to wave goodbye to brave idealism and hopeful enthusiasm. Sing the songs that stirred you in dangerous and desperate times. Sing the songs that made you sing a little louder - the ones that made you want to stand up or fall down and realize you are still in desperate need of a Savior - a savior who can still do far beyond all we can ask or think.

"Open my heart to what you want to do, I am yours and yours alone, take my life, my heart, my song - I lay it before You."

When We Lose Our Privileges, and Others Gain Their Rights.


     In the last few years I have traveled quite a bit, mostly for my job. Because I am on the west coast, I fly almost exclusively with Alaska Airlines, and because of the frequency of the flights I am classified by Alaska Airlines as an “MVP.”  This is the lowest level of the frequent flyer classes, but it does allow me certain privileges: I get better seating options; I don’t have to pay to check bags; I get the occasional bump up to first class, and I get to board the plane earlier than others. I’ve been an MVP for 3 or 4 years now. I didn’t really earn it. My job pays for most of the flights.     A couple of weeks ago I had to fly across the country to Pittsburgh and I couldn’t fly Alaska Air. I did fly with a partner airline, but the flight I took was operated by yet another airline. They didn’t recognize my MVP status. I found myself irritated that I had to pay for my checked bag. I had to wait with the masses to get on the plane as I watched all of the privileged people happily and smugly saunter onto the jet way ahead of me. I was frustrated that I couldn’t get my normal exit row seat with extra leg room unless I paid extra for it! So there I sat with less leg room than I had a right to – after all, don’t you know I’m an MVP?! But in this airline world, I was relegated to a lower class.     It is hard when you lose privileges to which you’ve become accustomed. It is especially hard when you have begun to believe that those privileges you enjoy are a right. And the longer you’ve enjoyed that privilege, the more it feels like a right.     I know much about privilege. My whole life has been privileged. I am a white, middle class, American, heterosexual, married, Christian man. Every one of those adjectives comes with either privileges I’ve enjoyed that I didn’t earn (I was born into), or rights and opportunities that I’ve been given (also not earned) that have been kept from others.      The truth is that many in this county have been living MVP lives – we enjoy privileges that have been granted to us. I’m not talking about luxuries you enjoy because of hard work (but even that, I could argue is because of the privilege of being born in a country that gives that opportunity). I’m talking about things like tax benefits associated with being a Christian or being married.  I’m talking about simply being born white or male and the societal benefits that come with that.       So now, when we begin to lose the upper hand because a privilege is removed that we treated as a right; or because others are afforded the same opportunities that were once exclusive to us, how should we respond? Doesn’t it seem silly to demand our privilege? Don’t we look like spoiled children when we do that?      A solution for anger or resentment over these kinds of sweeping cultural changes and challenges is gratitude for what we have. When we truly get perspective for how blessed we have been for those things which we did not earn, our hearts should be filled with gratitude. Gratitude quiets our wanting ways and dispels the arrogance of self-promotion. It causes us to fight for justice for those who’ve been robbed of their rights and their dignity. It reminds us that so much of what we have is a gift. Sure, we may lose some of the privileges we’ve enjoyed as an “MVP,” but let us never forget they are privileges."What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?" - I Cor. 4:7 NLT[...]

Easter for Pastors


As we entered the restaurant, I was filled with a familiar mixture of adrenaline and exhaustion because after all, it was Easter! We had celebrated the resurrection with a record crowd at our young church plant, and all of the planning to give our very best had yielded good results and had taken a great amount of emotional energy. On this particular Easter Sunday, we were going out for lunch with some family. As we were being led to our table we saw another local well-known pastor of a large church and said hello. He asked what I taught on and though I don't remember the specifics, I'm fairly certain it had something to do with the resurrection of Jesus. I've never forgotten his first two words: "That's it?!" He went on to talk about the predictability of my approach and proceeded to explain how he had masterfully unfolded the life-changing, historical, contextual nuances of the Via Dolorosa (or something like that - honestly I didn't hear much after, "that's it?" Suddenly a beautiful celebration turned into an internal battle of my own insecurity and questions about my leadership capacity.

(image) That's the problem with Easter for pastors. I've heard it called the "Superbowl of the Christian year." Now we know that's true because we are reminded that Jesus wins the "big one" every year. But too often for pastors it means that they better deliver a Superbowl-level performance. It is the Sunday when pastors hear, "I'm bringing my neighbor/friend/co-worker/family member to church so I really hope he/she likes it!" And for the previous 4 weeks the pastor has been pounding the need to invite into the congregation, so he is thrilled people are being invited. But he also feels intense levels of responsibility for whether these visitors "like" it or not. And then he sees the advertisements of the extravaganzas that other churches are holding on Easter weekend: "8 million eggs in our Egg Hunt!"; "Come to our church because we don't suck like most churches do!"; "Michael Jordan will be here  sharing his personal testimony in our Easter Service." And the pastor drinks a toxic cocktail of feelings of inadequacy, guilt that he's not more excited about Jesus' resurrection, and worry that the last minute $6 Easter video illustration he just purchased won't have the knock-out impact that is needed.

So pastors I urge you to rebel against the temporal, carnal, worldly pressure to perform. Don't compare your results to the hype you'll read on your twitter feed. The power of Easter is Jesus! You aren't the agent of change, the Holy Spirit is! Sure, we should prepare, and give our very best. But God has been pursuing those folks that will sit in your service since before they were born. God is the one who opens their windows of opportunity. Their eternal destiny is not in your hands, it is in His. And at Easter, regardless of what we do, Jesus wins! So relax. Resolve to soak it in and truly enjoy the celebration. And if you share the gospel, if you talk about the resurrection, I can assure you that your Father in heaven will applaud and say "that's it!"

A New Dog, a New Day


Jack was 8 ½ when we realized he had lymphoma. Just two months prior he had been attacked by two pit bulls who had broken through our back yard fence. We thought the health complications he was experiencing were related to the attack. But as it turns out, the lymphoma had spread and he died on Christmas Eve, 2014. He was the first black lab we had ever owned. I grew up with Springer Spaniels and owned and loved Springers. But Jack was the best dog I ever had. I took his death hard. In fact, it seemed harder than it should have been. I knew I loved that dog, but why was it this hard?It is because Jack was with us through some of the most significant events of our life. My primary way of processing change, difficulty, loss, transition, new seasons, etc. is to go off somewhere by myself. Sometimes it is simply to go in my backyard; sometimes it is an early morning walk or a run through the nearby elementary school yard; when possible, it is the 15 minute drive to our family’s lake cabin; and often it is a trip to the hills where I can wander a trail through the woods, or take in the sacred stir of a hidden small stream. But over the last 8 ½ years, I wasn’t really ever “by myself” in those times. Jack was there. ·       Jack was there in 2007 when after meeting for 14 years in schools, and after 8 years of permits, process, problems and progress, the church I was pastoring, Celebration Center, finally completed our first building project.·       Jack was there in 2007 when we sent Bob, our first child, off to college.·       Jack was there in 2009 when our church underwent significant strategic transition that took a toll on us.·       Jack was there in 2009 when we sent Johnathan, our second child, off to college.·       Jack was there in 2010 when we sent Annie, our last, off to college and we became empty nesters.·       Jack was there when our kids all graduated from college, when they moved away, and when they wrestled through their own big decisions about faith and life and their future. And we had great pride. But like all parents, we also carried and toiled over those decisions with them. That was cause for many trips to the hills!·       Jack was there in our times of uncertainty about our calling and our future.·       Jack was there when we had abiding peace, joy, opportunities for celebration and gratitude.·       Jack was there when we were angry, hurt, discouraged and sad.In the summer of 2014, I took a sabbatical. Lisa and I desperately needed time to gain some healthy perspective and clarity about our future. I spent a great deal of time at the lake and in the hills. I wrote, I ran, I rested, I prayed. And every time, Jack was there with me. Often over that summer I would talk to him. I’d give him my thoughts as we drove in the truck. He’d listen to me sing and hear me grumble. I’d ask his opinion about everything from what hike we should take to what course my career should take. He didn’t say much, but he sure was a good listener. He was eager to just walk with me. In October of 2014 Lisa and I made the decision to resign as leaders of Celebration Center - the church we started in 1993. We were ending one season, and beginning a new one as I would begin giving my full attention to the development of the Pacific Planting Network – a ministry devoted to helping others plant churches on the West Coast.  We announced that decision to our board on December 2nd.It was just days later that we learned of Jack’s ly[...]

St. Patrick - Our yearly missional reminder.


St. Patrick's Day is upon us, and though I am not Irish (he actually wasn't either), he is one of my favorite saints! It is more than beer, shamrocks and lucky charms. In fact, some of the facts about St. Patrick might just surprise you!He was born a Romano-British citizen and his given name was Maewyn Succat. He was taken by Irish invaders from Britain at age 16 and served as a slave in Ireland for six years. This was an important time in his development as a disciple of Christ. While in slavery he prayed, and he studied. He escaped slavery and went back home, but he later returned to the homeland of his captivity, Ireland, to spread the gospel and plant churches.In the 5th century, it is believed that Patrick was responsible for the planting of over 200 churches and he won 1000's of people to Christ. When Patrick entered a new town or province, he would often befriend the local ruler and introduce him to Christ. Patrick would then establish monastaries for the training of Christians with a strong emphasis on mission. He effectively established missionary training centers throughout the country in order to reach the whole of Ireland.Patrick also learned the local language, the old Gaelic, and translated the gospel into their culture. He used their colloquialisms. He studied their culture. And he helped them understand Christ within their own context. Here are a couple of classic examples:1. It was Patrick that used the indigenous shamrock (three-leaf clover) to explain the Trinity to the Celts. Three leaves, one clover; three persons, one God.2. It was also Patrick who used a druid symbol of reincarnation, the circle, overlayed it with a cross and created this "celtic cross". This was brilliant in two ways: 1) it used the current cultural symbolism to help them understand the gospel, and 2) it represented the triumph of the gospel over the false religions of the day.As you wear your green today, remember the mission of St. Patrick!Christ be with me, Christ within me,Christ behind me, Christ before me,Christ beside me, Christ to win me,Christ to comfort and restore me.Christ beneath me, Christ above me,Christ in quiet, and in danger,Christ in hearts of all that love me,Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.- a prayer of St. Patrick[...]

Here's Why...


Why am I giving my full attention to develop the Pacific Planting Network?

Here’s Why…

  • Jesus loves people like crazy.
  • Too many people haven’t experienced the life-changing love of Jesus.
  • I’m sick of the enemy stealing people’s identity, killing people’s hope and destroying people’s lives.
  • I believe the local church is God’s plan to reach the world with the good news of Jesus.
  • We are closing more than 4000 churches in the U.S every year.
  • Church growth is not keeping up with population growth.
  • Church planting is the most effective strategy to reach new people for Jesus.
  • We desperately need churches who are at the same time full of grace and full of truth.
  • The thing that gets my blood pumping is working with people who want to plant new churches.
  • God has been strategically and specifically preparing me for this assignment.
  • I still believe in the crazy idealism that God’s Kingdom can come and God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven.
  • I still believe the church can reflect Christ in such a way that whole communities are actually changed for the better.
  • I believe God loves to use new kinds of churches to reach new people in new places.
  • World class, culture-shaping cities all across the Western United States need 100s of great churches who will make a difference in the shaping of our culture.
  • I believe that Kingdom-impact churches will operate in Kingdom-minded ways – creatively collaborating across denominational and territorial lines with the only credit going to Jesus.
  • There are great people out there with a great call who need somebody to champion their effort to plant a great new church.
  • I believe church plants done with integrity strengthen the other churches in a community.

That’s why.

To find out about the Pacific Planting Network go to 

What is Next for Us?


Twenty one years ago we planted a church community called Celebration Center. We have loved this church. On January 4th we resigned. And now for the first time in 30 years we will not be serving in a pastoral capacity in a local church. It is a strange, unfamiliar place to be in. Many have asked what we will be doing, and while much is still unclear, I thought I'd share what we know.I will be developing and expanding a ministry called the Pacific Planting Network. We will help individuals, churches and organizations plant new churches in new places to reach new people for Jesus. We have just incorporated as a non-profit, we will be forming a board and broadening our organization to plant churches primarily in the Western United States. At this point we are not moving - we will work from our current home. Why this? And why now?For the last couple of years Lisa and I have felt a change coming. We didn't know what it would look like. We thought maybe it would be a change from within the church. But helping church planters has always been a passion. For over 20 years we have helped others plant churches through coaching, training and encouraging. About 4 years ago I assumed the role as director of church planting for Pacific Open Bible, giving a day a week to this assignment. We built a team, developed a strategy and called it the Pacific Planting Network. Over the last 4 years we've planted 17 churches. There are over 2000 people gathering in those churches now. It has become clear that this is what God wants me to give my time and energy to in this next season of my life. It is a documented fact that church planting is the most effective means of reaching people for Jesus, and that's what I want to see happen.We also believe that God has been preparing Celebration Center to receive a new pastor. It is time fora new leader with fresh vision to take the church to new places of impact and growth. And we are excited for the church as well.The Pacific Planting Network, though now its own entity will continue to be a strategic partner of Pacific Open Bible. Much of my support in this new ministry endeavor will come through my relationship with Pacific Open Bible who have been generous champions of this vision. But we also hope to work with other individuals, organizations and associations to help them in their church planting efforts. It is an adventure of faith. We will be raising funds to help plant Gospel-focused churches up and down the West Coast. And I will also be raising personal support so that I can give my full attention to this endeavor. At this point we are looking to raise $2,000 per month. If you want to help or simply find out more about the Pacific Planting Network, go to appreciate your prayers in this transition. I've always believed that in a life of following Jesus there should always be an element of terrifying exhilaration. We're in that now.For the Kingdom,Chris[...]

Sabbatical update - 30 days in.


We are one month into our sabbatical. The first 30 days are for "rest & recovery" as prescribed by a professional counselor who is helping to guide us in this for maximum benefit. Some have asked how it is going, so we wanted to give a brief update.

(image) Rest & recovery from what? From the normalcy of ministry; from accumulated and un-released pressure; from things we have carried in our own strength that in some cases we didn't even know we were carrying. The rest allows us to begin to get proper perspective and renewed clarity so that we can best enjoy God's presence and hear God's voice which is the ultimate purpose of the sabbatical. In our case, rest hasn't meant being idle, or sitting on the recliner or lounging on a beach with a little umbrella drink in our hands. It has meant departing from the normal. It has meant disengaging from some things and people that we normally love in order to re-engage in new ways with Jesus and with each other. It has meant stripping and staining a deck, clearing brush, and trips to the dump. :) It has meant working out hard every day and trying to eat better. We have taken some extended times - full days - to simply be quiet with our bibles and enjoy Jesus. We have visited different churches in different cities to worship in new ways and to hear what God might say to us. I have spent some time in the mountains, and Lisa has spent some time at the ocean. These are refuges for us. We are listening and we are writing.

We are unwinding, enjoying God, and hearing Him speak. He has spoken some very personal words to us.

This next 30 days are for "research." We will be reading. We will be meeting with some mentors and gaining insight from them. We will be learning. In the midst of it I will get to bring our daughter Annie back home after 4 years in Southern California.

We think about the church all of the time and we miss you. I'll admit that I have snuck some peaks on my phone through the security cameras at the church on Sunday mornings just to see what is happening! So if you find a camera on Sunday morning, wave, I just might see you! (creepy, I know :) )  But seriously, we believe that this sabbatical will bear great fruit in our own lives and in the next season of ministry for Celebration Center. We are so grateful for this time, for our leadership team at CC, and for those speaking throughout the summer.

I heard a study last week done by the University of Virginia that showed that many people would rather give themselves an electric shock than be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes! Quiet and rest are so difficult for us. But it is often in those times that we can hear Jesus speak. You may not get a sabbatical, but make sure you get rest. Take time to find a quiet spot to just enjoy Jesus and listen to Him speak to you. 

We are praying for you and thank you for praying for us. We love you!

Why a Sabbatical?


Beginning on June 16th, Lisa and I will be on a sabbatical for three months. When we started the church nearly 21 years ago, a policy was built in that if a pastor served for seven consecutive years, he or she would take a sabbatical in the seventh year. This will be our third sabbatical. The first one we took about 5 weeks. The second one we took 6 1/2 weeks. This time I had decided I was not going to take the scheduled sabbatical. But after some strong advice from those God has put over our life and from our counselor, we agreed it was the right thing to do. Why are we doing this? Let me start by saying what we don't believe about the sabbatical:We don't see this as a vacation. We don't believe we need it more than others. Everybody has difficult things in their job and life, and everybody needs seasons of rest, though not everybody has this same opportunity. We get that. We don't take it lightly. We believe it is a strategic time in our life and in the life of the church.Now here is why we are doing it:We've been advised to do it. It will be broken into three parts:Rest & recovery - significant chunks of time with the Lord, turning off all ministry-related communication, counseling, exercise and healthy diet.Research - reading, meeting with mentors, listening to the Lord, writingReflection - Lisa and I will take a retreat and evaluate what the Lord has said and is saying to us.To make sure we are emotionally and spiritually healthy for the next season of ministry.Because it is good for the church. Not only will it give us fresh vision and perspective, but it also causes people to step into greater roles of responsibility, it allows the church to hear other excellent God-ordained voices, and it removes undue dependency on the the pastor.There is a full schedule of ministry and activity for the summer. You can find it HERE. The best thing you can do is stay connected and involved. Thank you  for your prayers as we embark on this important time, and please know you will be on our hearts and in our prayers as well.We love you!Pastor Chris & Lisa[...]

Meet Little Abi, a True Russell Wilson Fan


I would like you to meet Abi. Abi is a part of our church family. She was born prematurely, at 24 weeks, 1 day. From the time of her birth she has had complications that on several occasions had the doctors believing she would not make it through another night. But each time, she has beat the odds. In the 9 precious months since Abi's birth, she has been in Seattle Children's Hospital all but 3 weeks of that time. But she is a beautiful, tenacious fighter.An unforeseen piece of this story is the consistent care and concern that has been shown to Abi and her family by Seattle Seahawk's quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife Ashton. Nearly every week, they have come to visit Abi. They hug her parents; they pray for her. They do it quietly because they are the real deal. This has been an incredible source of encouragement to her family, who are now even more rabid Seahawks fans than ever before. And recently, Abi was featured on billboards in a fundraising battle between the 49ers and the Seahawks for Children's hospitals. Her little life is touching other lives around the country.Abi's BillboardBut for me the real heroes of this story are Abi's parents, Chris & Mindie. With the unimaginable emotional rigors of seeing their baby girl endure countless medical procedures in her brain, her respiratory system and in her heart (she now has a pacemaker), they have been there day after day, steadfast in their love and in their faith that Abi is in the capable hands of her loving heavenly Father. In the midst of it, life moves forward. They work, they care for their 2 year old son, Eli. Still with many battles ahead of them, looming financial pressure, and the practical realities of ongoing medical needs that Abi will face, today I asked Chris if he ever felt angry through this. He responded, "I haven't been angry at God because He has been so good to us." I walked away humbled and inspired.Will you join with me in continuing prayer for this family and for precious Abi?[...]

I hate Halloween, but what an opportunity!


I'm not a guy that pronounces condemnation on those who dress up their kids and go out for free candy. I think for some it is simply a fun day. But I'm not a fan of Halloween. When our kids lived at home, we never once "observed" Halloween. We often just plain ignored it. We don't like the dark spiritual aspects of it disguised as innocent fun. The truth is that there are demonic forces that are entertained and at work on Halloween. Now I know that sounds heavy, but it is true.

Still, this day unlike almost all other days (especially once fall rolls around), is the one time when neighbors walk unabashedly up to one another's front doors. Instead of the cordial yet distant neighborly wave as we drive through the neighborhood and then hibenate into our homes, now neighbors are face to face (or perhaps Spiderman to Captain America) with one another. This is a fantastic opportunity for very natural missional activity to our  neighbors. So I've been thinking, how could we redeem this time to both get to know and bless our neighbors? Here are a few ideas simply to trigger your own creativity:

1. Be neighborly. Smile. Compliment the kids' costumes. Find out the neighbor's name. Ask if they live nearby. Give out candy that kids like to eat (by the way, nobody really likes Almond Joy...) Be nice to kids who are too old to trick or treat. Relax, have fun and be yourself.
2. Set up a place in your front yard where you can give out hot cider, hot chocolate & pumpkin bread.
3. If you know a photographer, set up a photo booth and offer to take pictures for the families.
4. Think of a follow up connection point - maybe a Thanksgiving dessert swap or a Christmas party.
5. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give you open doors to develop relationships with your neighbors.

"Love your neighbor as yourself."  Just maybe this Halloween could be a literal open door to "love your neighbor."


We've Met Every Tuesday Morning for Years.


(image) "Okay, remember, what do you say if a stranger offers you candy?"

The seven of us laughed this morning as Sean told us that story of brilliant parenting. We laugh a lot. It isn't a bible study, but we do talk about the bible. It isn't an "accountability group," but we are accountable to each other. There's no leader. We don't have a format or a structure, although sometimes we implement one when all (or even one of us) needs it. Leslie used to be our  barista but she moved to a new store when it made better sense for her family. Now Rose usually helps us.

We talk about our lives. Within two weeks Mac will deploy to Afghanistan again, and he isn't getting the time he needs with his family before he goes. Sean's (another Sean) pain has subsided from the effects of MS - the new diet seems to be helping. Tyson has a girlfriend! Marshall continues the court hearings for his foster son. Chris is making progress on the company he has started. Tyson went to the dentist. Sean is having a tooth pulled. Chris is going to help us with our new sound board.  Mac shouldn't have slid like that in a softball game... And on and on it goes.

This group has met every Tuesday at 6:00 am in some form for many, many years. We lost Greg when he moved to England, and Walt when he moved to Colorado. We joke that "it's really better when they're not here," but we miss them. But others have come. It isn't really an open group. People come by invitation and right now there really isn't space for any more. I know that might sound terrible but it's the truth. Jesus had 12, not 13.  We can only do about 7, cause we're not Jesus. What is this group? It is guys committed to being there and to being honest. We encourage each other. We make fun of each other. We pray for each other. We challenge each other. We don't always want to get up that early and go, but we go anyway. There aren't always profound revelations that come out of those times. But over the years we've walked with each other through some terrible times and through great joys. We've been through loss and victory together. We're for each other. We're friends.

If there is anything the church needs it is people who are willing to commit as friends for the long haul and who are willing to let each other's lives be our agenda. But don't wait for someone else to take the initiative. Call somebody. Invite them into your life. Invest into their life. Meet every Tuesday morning at 6:00 am, or every Thursday at 5:00 am, or ?

It's worth it.

All the Times God has Failed to Fulfill His Purposes



...let me think...


Ever been flipped off in church?


Things were going well. The music and worship was beautiful on this Sunday morning. The church was buzzing with enthusiasm as people in the congregation were just coming off a transition in which they were laughing, chatting, & greeting one another. I was moving from my front row seat to the stage when it happened. I heard a sweet little voice from the second row. I recognized this voice as the extraordinarily articulate voice of 5 year old Avery. She is the daughter of a committed couple in our church. And her dad, Marshall, who was sitting next to her, serves on the board of trustees and was a candidate for elder.

As I reach the top of the stage and began to turn around I heard "Pastor Chris!"  - her voice cut through the quieting commotion of the crowd to get my attention.

I turned to look at her and as I did, Avery was holding her hand toward me with the middle finger extended. Yep, she was flipping me off - giving me "the bird."

Marshall, as if in slow motion, was diving to cover what he watched with horror. Perhaps my reaction should have been different, but it was all I could do to not bust out in laughter. After the kids were dismissed, I could not look the way of Avery's mom & dad the remainder of the service because I knew I'd start laughing. I know, I know - I should be more "led by the Spirit" than that, but frankly, I think Jesus was laughing too.

Now, the question you are probably wondering (as I was) is "why did she do that!?" Perhaps she saw it somewhere and was trying it out. Or if you are particularly cynical you may think "what are her parents teaching her at home!?" Maybe she just really doesn't like the pastor...

Later I discovered that sweet little Avery had a hangnail on her middle finger and it was hurting so she wanted me to pray for her. In hindsight I wish I'd stopped right there and gathered around her to pray for the touch of Jesus on her precious finger.

How often do we misinterpret a gesture, a spoken word, a post, a facial expression? And we hold an offense over what perhaps at most is a misunderstanding. Don't assume the worst of people. Don't live life from a posture of distrust, cynicism & suspicion. Take the risk to trust. Believe the best of people. Sure, sometimes you'll be disappointed. But you're heart will be free and you'll find yourself laughing more.

And by the way, we still let Marshall become an elder... :)

2012 - A Celebration Center Year in Review


For our faithful, beautiful church family, I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on a few great things that happened through your faithfulness as a church in 2012. While the list below is by no means exhaustive, here are 10 ways you've made a difference, in chronological order, sort of... :)1. A New Church in Hilo, HI.  In January we sent Jon & Stephanie Nobles & family to launch a great new Open Bible Church in Hilo. Jon, with a heart to reach a community that has historical roots for his family, is building bridges for the gospel there. They were followed by Matt Duffy and then Diron & Hailee Van Wagner and kids to help build the team to reach that community. We continue to support them, and we know this will result in lives changed for eternity! 2. Malaria Nets. We set a goal of 500 bed nets to save over 1000 kids from the preventable disease of malaria. We raised enough to purchase well over 1000 nets!  video3. 12 Baptisms, & Dozens of Commitments to Jesus. We had the honor of celebrating the baptism of 12 beautiful lives, each one expressing their public commitment to follow Christ and live life in Him!4. Soles for Jesus.  We gave 100s of pairs of shoes to people in Africa this year, preventing disease in another simple, doable way!  www.solesforjesus.org5. Thanksgiving Baskets.  Many of you were able to bless a neighbor, family member or friend with a gift of help at Thanksgiving.6. 55 Foster Kids. This is how many foster kids you adopted to bless for Christmas this year!7. Snowflakes for Sandy Hook.  Our kids made beautiful snowflakes that will decorate the school at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT when they return in January as a statement that we stand with them in their time of loss.8. Water for India.  You gave to help provide wells for those in India who have no clean drinking water, another expression of good-will to open the door for the good news! (Still waiting on the total $ amount...)  video9. Ongoing monthly support to these ministries:    Local: New Beginnings Home, Graham Teen Challenge, Love Inc., Family Renewal Shelter, God's Ranch, Helping Hand House    National: New Hope Christian College, Pacific Planting Network    International: Tammy Swailes - Missionary to Ukraine, Open Bible International Ministries10. A New Church in Spokane! That's right! 2 new churches in 1 year! Pastor Kelly & Brandi announced their intention to launch "Center Church" in Spokane, WA. While they have already begun their move over there, they will officially begin that process in January. What an honor to help support two great new church plants! This continues to prove to be one of the most effective way to reach new people for Jesus!We echo the sentiment of the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:3-6 when he said,  "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."We are grateful to be a part of a church of such grace and generosity.We love you,Pastor Chris & Lisa[...]

Another Perspective on Sandy Hook.



I'm simply posting this link here because it needs to be heard. Thanks to Pastor Michael Hidalgo for this thoughtful post.

God With Us at Sandy Hook

Crazy Free Thinkers!


I like it when people agree with me. It is so great. What a joy when people accept my opinion or philosophy or belief as truth! When people agree with me, I just want to go get a bowl of ice cream with them and talk about how right we are.

But to my chagrin, I am surrounded by free thinkers. I am not sure how this happened. I would be fine with free thinkers if I didn't know them so well. Then I could speculate as to all the reasons they think so wrongly: "They obviously haven't thought this through," or "Wow, they must have had a terrible upbringing" or "They're dumb." Unfortunately, these are people I know! They even include my own children! In fact, as I look around my life and my history, many people that have been under my direct influence think differently than I do! How could this happen? When my study has been vast, my arguments finely tuned and my rhetoric unassailable, how do these people dare take a different position?

And worse, when I talk with them, they actually have reasoned, thoughtful arguments. They seem to truly care about people, and they even take facts into consideration. At times, they even cause my mind to flinch, as if to say "I've never looked at it that way before," or even "maybe I should re-think this." Now of course I don't want to admit that out loud as if to convey some sort of weak willingness to be a free thinker...

The truth is, I love it when people think freely. Of course I want those I love to come to the same conclusion as I have on what I consider the huge, central issues of life. But when we come to new dimensions of truth through the struggle of thoughtful dialogue with people we love and respect and through prayerful study and revelation, our understanding is deeper, our heart grows bigger and our life takes on an approachable humility.

My hope is that we will "know whom (we) have believed" (2 Tim. 1:12) with great confidence, but that we would never forget that "we see in a mirror dimly" and that "we know in part" (1 Cor. 13:12). This will keep us loving, keep us learning, keep us seeking, keep us humble, and allow us to keep listening.

"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." - James 1:19

Let's go get a bowl of ice cream.