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Thursday, April 26, 2012


I'm in the Book of Judges these days in my devotional reading, and I really enjoyed the story of Gideon this morning. I love the way he questions God, and how God meets Gideon in his insecurities and doubts:
“But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” (Judges 6:15)
How many sermons have we heard about the unlikely leaders in the Bible? While I have heard several messages about Moses, Jacob, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Paul, I think what I like about the Book of Judges is that it is a pantheon of unlikelies!

Yesterday I enjoyed reading about Deborah in Judges 4-5, who was certainly unlikely in being a woman back in ancient Israel, who nevertheless was able to recruit Barak to be her commander in battle. I loved that he said, “I will go, but only if you go with me.” (4:8)

I suppose we all like the unexpected Peter Parkers types as heros. It certainly creates a great plot tension, right? But I personally connect with it because I can relate to it. I haven't been asked to conquer the Midianites like Gideon, but in the pastoral world, I'm an unlikely candidate according to the world's standards... female, not raised in the church, still working with young people decades after I was a teenager myself.

Yet I am so grateful that he has made me worthy. I am loved, and God is continuously revealing to me what He created me to do. One of the many reasons I enjoy being a Free Methodist is found in its name: I am free! I am being made into His likeness, being freed from the shackles of sin, free from my past wounds, free to serve and free to love without condition. It's a good life.

Here is what I am up to these days as I work and serve out of this freedom:

  • A featured article in this new edition of Youthworker Journal. In fact, I gave them the idea for the entire issue's topic - "Isms." I had shared with them the series I'd presented to students last year on the ancient worldviews of polytheism, pantheism, monotheism, dualism, deism and atheism, and how I have always found that students like to talk philosophy if it is taught in an understandable way. More importantly, youth need a fundamental comprehension of worldviews to be able to notice them in the world around them, and to also have a context for their own faith. So they made an entire issue out of it!
  • I've continued writing a monthly column on spiritual disciplines for youthworkers at YMToday.com, a ministry of the Center for Youth Ministry Training (CYMT). The fifth article came out last week.
  • A new youth ministry consulting project with Youth Ministry Architects right here in town this weekend. Additionally, I am currently coaching youthworkers in two different churches in Seattle through YMA, plus four Free Methodist youthworkers from churches in So Cal.
  • My third year teaching a Mayterm course (starting May 7) for Westmont College is the largest yet. Currently I have 14 students enrolled, which is the most I've ever had. And invariably a student or two tends to sign up the day that class starts. I'm working with at least 9 different non-profit agencies in which these interns will be placed. I will meet with the students twice a week to teach them what I believe are the 8 core competencies needed to live out our faith in the workplace.
  • I will have 9 Free Methodist interns this summer. This is Year Two of the interns program, and it was a fantastic process, from Dec 2011 till this month, of working with faculty, staff and administrations at Azusa Pacific University and Westmont College to find intern candidates. Forty referrals and twenty interviews later, along with fielding a load of references, we've whittled down to the 9 interns being placed in our churches ranging from Lake Elsinore to Santa Barbara. I cannot wait to get started with them! They will be supervised on-site by pastors, but I also get to conduct a weekly "webinar" with them all, along with one-on-one meetings. We will read books, share experience
  • Believe it or not, I have had a few side projects running... I have done some consulting in leadership development for staff and volunteers with Westmont Athletics, Fuller Seminary, Habitat for Humanity and a local church. I head back to Fuller Seminary next week.
  • In addition to youth ministry consulting and coaching, I continue to work with several senior pastors as well, meeting with them weekly through Skype. At this point I am working with five of them.
  • A whole blog post could be written about my next "big thing," which entails the launch of an entirely new leadership development project for the Free Methodist Church in Southern CA. As of last night, our new board was approved in order for us to form The Center for Transformational Leadership. I will be the co-director and focusing primarily on campus relations and recruiting. My work with interns flows out of this role, and I have some other projects brewing with administrators at Westmont, APU and Seattle Pacific University. In fact, I'm flying up to Seattle on May 20 to participate in a very cool event that we're calling "Why Are You?" I doubt I can adequately explain what it is -- just go to the link! Even though I lack the capacity to describe it in a succinct manner, I'm super excited about it, and thankful to partner with Dr. Rob McKenna on it. I hope to bring one to So Cal in the near future.
  • Alongside all of these work-related things, I delight in a weekly lunch with a high school student to talk about life and theology, a Tuesday night bible study with dear friends who are like family to me, and a Bible study this semester in the Book of Philippians with 5 outstanding sophomore women from Westmont who have made me a stronger follower of Jesus with their earnest questions and quick minds. They spur me on.
Like Gideon, I tend to see myself through the lenses of insecurity and weakness. I have spent far too much of my time and energy focused on how I don't want to be, and used my frailties as an excuse for not diving in. How very, very thankful I am that God sees me through His own eyes as Creator, Father, Redeemer and Lord, and considers me equipped for service.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


This goes without saying, but I tend to have longer times with the Lord on Saturday mornings. And the longer I linger, deeper and sweeter (and butt-kicking) are the insights.

I have a few decisions in front of me these days, some bigger than others. The older I get, the more nuanced and complex are the things I have in front of me. The details of what I am currently working on are not the issue here. More important is how consistently thick-headed I am faced with dilemmas! 

I say this because my default mode, when facing any choices, is to take a problem-solving "if I think about this long enough I can figure it out" course of action. I will ponder and obsess and doodle over an idea or problem, consult with several people I trust, then come to my conclusion...

THEN, I bring my solution and "pray" about it. In reality, I'm asking God to simply rubber-stamp my own choice, as if he is my personal UPS delivery man. Sheesh.

Let's be honest -- we tend to treat God like a cosmic vending machine rather than our Sovereign Lord. At least I do.

Yesterday I spent a chunk of time going into my aforementioned default mode over something, yet was unable to "solve" it. As I sat down this morning to read some scripture, warm latte in hand, this was the passage I was immediately confronted with:

Joshua 9
3 But when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to deception to save themselves. They sent ambassadors to Joshua, loading their donkeys with weathered saddlebags and old, patched wineskins. 5 They put on worn-out, patched sandals and ragged clothes. And the bread they took with them was dry and moldy. 6 When they arrived at the camp of Israel at Gilgal, they told Joshua and the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant land to ask you to make a peace treaty with us.”

7 The Israelites replied to these Hivites, “How do we know you don’t live nearby? For if you do, we cannot make a treaty with you.”

[the Hivites spin a tall tale about their desperation and need...]

14 So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord. 

I immediately stopped reading. I had to do some business with God. My soul was deeply convicted and I recognized that I had not prayed one second about this decision that I had been laboring over for 2 days.

I confessed my sin and stupidity. Soon the entire experience was emphatically driven home by this hymn:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, thou my true word,
I ever with thee and thou with me Lord;
Thou my great Father, I thy true son (or daughter!);
Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, sword for the fight;
Be thou my dignity, thou my delight;
Thou my soul's shelter, thou my high tower:
Raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise:
Thou mine inheritance now and always;
Thou and thou only first in my heart;
High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven's joys, O Bright Heaven's sun!;
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all. 

I am grateful for his vision, his provision, his unending grace. Whatever decisions you face this day, do not forget to pray about them first. After tha, I'm not sure there is much else left for us to do, other than to pray for  the strength to live out what he asks.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Choppin' Broccoli

(If the title of this post doesn't make sense to you, watch this clip from YouTube...)

I am so happy that local broccoli is out in the stores, so I bought a big bunch, ready to celebrate the advent of spring!

Then the rains came down... and kept coming. And I started getting a case of cabin fever. I needed to shake myself out of my wish-it-was-spring funk, and as often happens, a good round of cooking cheered me right up.

I had heard of broccoli pesto before, so I thought I'd give it a try with the vegetables I had on hand. This recipe is basically a patchwork of several that I saw online, so if you don't trust it, google "broccoli pesto" and you'll have plenty of options to go out on your own. Go crazy. You won't be disappointed. I found this much lighter and distinct as a pesto. Some recipes also noted that it serves well as a dip or spread.

serves 4(?)

1 stalk of broccoli
1/4 c olive oil
2 cloves garlic, diced
2-3 large leaves of swiss chard (I had some in my garden)
A handful of chopped cabbage (remember, I just used whatever I had on hand)
1/3 c walnuts (you can also use pine nuts, but I find them a bit rich)
1 tb capers (I know, right? They brought a nice salty taste)
1-2 tb grated parmesan
1 tsp salt
1 tb lemon juice, plus zest if you have it
Whatever pasta strikes your fancy... use something with twists and ridges so the pesto has something to grab onto

1. Start steaming the broccoli. Once the water reaches a boil, steam it only for 3 minutes. I tossed in the chard and cabbage too.

2. In another saucepan, bring water to a boil, then cook your pasta.

3. Toss the walnuts in a skillet and briefly roast them.

4. While the pasta is cooking, put the broccoli, other vegetables, olive oil, salt, capers and lemon juice in a food processor (one recipe said to not use a blender because it will pulverize the steamed broccoli).  Pulse a few times. Now that there is a little more room in your food processor, put in the walnuts, the parmesan, and a dash more of lemon juice or olive oil if it's not smooth enough for you.

Don't forget, this pesto is a bit "fluffier" than a basil-based pesto. But Oh So Good.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Reading this post title may cause you to wonder why I'd be bringing up Ebenezer Scrooge in April.

Nope -- I'm going in a completely different direction. It disappoints me that the only image that reflexively comes to most of our minds when we hear the word "ebenezer" is that of the miserly and mean fellow of Dickens' The Christmas Carol whose heart is thankfully changed... not because it's not a classic story, because it is, but it comes many centuries after an even better story about the original ebenezer -- actually, several of them.

I referred to one of them in an earlier post, where I reflected on the lyrics of the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;

Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

In that post I mention that an "ebenezer" is a stone of help, the place where Samuel erected a monument, in grateful remembrance of the divine help, given in answer to prayer, in a great battle with the Philistines. The same place had before witnessed the defeat of Israel and the capture of the ark, 1 Samuel 4:1; 5:1; 7:5-12.

If you're a hiker or mountain biker, ebenezers are what I would call "spiritual cairns." Do you know what I'm referring to? Cairns are those little stacks of rocks that are used to mark trails so that travelers who have never taken a particular route do not get lost.

But an ebenezer has a triple significance -- it not only marks a trail, but it also stands as a reminder of God's faithfulness at a particular time. In other words, the ebenezer should prompt those who see it to remember the story, and then tell it to those they are with. There's a perfect example of this from the Book of Joshua that I just read this morning...

To set the scene, remember that the Israelites, led by Moses, had fled the oppressive slavery of Egypt, experiencing the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea to facilitate their exit. Despite seeing this stupendous event, they still doubted and grumbled, to the point where God insisted that that whining generation die off before the nation was allowed to enter the Promised Land. So they wandered for 40 years (the story recounted in the Book of Exodus) and in the Book of Joshua, we watch the Israelites finally able to enter the Promised Land, led by Joshua:

Joshua 4:

When all the people had crossed the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. 3 Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight.’”

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. 5 He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 6 We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”

8 So the men did as Joshua had commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan River, one for each tribe, just as the Lord had told Joshua. They carried them to the place where they camped for the night and constructed the memorial there.

Don't forget, the Israelites, like many in the Middle East at the time, were nomadic, so they would pass by these markers more than once over the years of their traveling. Without a stable sense of place, they needed such reminders to give them their true bearings, both physically and spiritually.

Reading that story should give each of us pause:

Am I constructing ebenezers so that I do not forget God's miraculous goodness? 
When I pass by them, do I think of the stories of God's provision and care? 
Most importantly, am I telling those stories to others?

In fact, I have had used ebenezers for many years. For example, my own home is an ebenezer. Having worked in youth ministry my entire adult life (which one never does to become rich!), I never made quite enough to be able to save a down payment. Yet at the age of 35 I had my dear mentor, Ruth Schmidt, leave me an inheritance when she died from Lou Gehrig's Disease (enough for a down payment in 1996) so that I could buy a home. In her generous hospitality I had used her amazing home on Santa Barbara's Riviera often as a place for events, fundraisers and meetings, and she wanted me to be able to continue that on my own. There are no words to adequately describe my joy and thanks at this creative gift that keeps on giving.

So many times a month I see my beautiful home as my special ebenezer. God put a roof over my head, in a town where many people find homes unaffordable. Incredible. I am then reminded, over and over, that God has a FAR better imagination that I do. Whatever problem I face, I know that he sees the way clear. So rather than look at my problems, I need only look at Him.

Another quote I read this morning builds on this even more:

   All miracles are simply feeble lights like beacons on our way to the port where shines the light, the total light of the resurrection. All miracles finally refer to this one and find their explanation in it. It is the miracle.
   ... Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)

So not only should ebenezers be reminders of God's work in our lives -- his miracles of love, joy, comfort, renewal, provision, healing, the list could go on -- but those miracles should then point to the greatest miracle, that we just celebrated on Easter.

Consider those 3 questions I listed above. Those are the ones that scroll through my mind -- periodically, but not enough. I was reminded of them today, and share them here for blessing and accountability. Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cruel Month

Those who know me well know that I am rather addicted to listening to NPR, so it's nothing new to hear that I listen to the news every morning as I get up, brush my teeth, make coffee and eat my breakfast.

But very slowly, in the last few days, I've noticed something as I have had the familiar hum of news in the background... April is indeed, as T.S. Eliot called it in his classic poem The Wasteland, "the cruellest month":
  • Martin Luther King Jr was murdered on April 4, 1968
  • The siege of Sarajevo, a horrible civil war, began on April 5, 1992
  • The Waco tragedy at the Branch Davidian complex ended tragically on April 19, 1993
  • The genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda started on April 7, 1994
  • The Oklahoma City bombing was on April 19, 1995
  • The massacre at Columbine High School was on April 20, 1999
  • The slaughter at Virginia Tech was on April 7, 2007
  • This strange and horrible recent shooting this week in Oakland occurred on April 2
I would imagine that most who will read this post live comfortable lives. We rarely, if ever, go hungry or lack for a warm bed and shelter. There is money in our checking accounts, we own computers, we go to college, we are not threatened with slaughter and attack. It is easy -- a given, really -- that we will go "soft." In our ease and safety it is actually a challenge to recall why we need salvation.

Certainly, as we face the pains of this life -- death, disease, loss, betrayal, depression, physical suffering, among others -- we are reminded of the weight of this life, and our own participation in its heaviness. But slowly and surely, we usually pick up the pieces and get on with things.

Because of our day-to-day responsibilities, the global, universal, horrendous gravity of sin over centuries sometimes escapes us. This list above is a quick reminder of the unique capacity of humankind to destroy ourselves and others. These agonies described, which are sadly a mere smattering of the ways we have devolved over time, radiated waves (and continue to this day) of torment and misery through so many lives.  I will not even pretend to be able to capture their implications in words.

Last night at my church's Tenebrae service, where we recounted the story of the crucifixion, I sat still long enough to ponder the cross, its tragedy, pain and shame. What I find most powerful in Tenebrae is not just facing the reality of my own sin and brokenness... but the collection of verses, readings and songs build in me a miniscule taste of the immense suffering of the heart of Christ:

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Another song at the end was a song of gentle hope:

Life is full of light and shadow
O the joy and O the sorrow
O the sorrow

And yet will He bring
Dark to light
And yet will He bring
Day from night

When shadows fall on us
We will not fear
We will remember

When darkness falls on us
We will not fear
We will remember

When all seems lost
When we're thrown and we're tossed
We remember the cost
We rest in Him
Shadow of the cross

I left, in the darkness at the end of the service, with the reminder that while the abominations and monstrosity of sin have torn each person in different ways over millenia, the hope of the gospel can also glimmer and take hold, bringing healing and transformation. May we shout this hope, tomorrow and every day. That is our job, and our utter delight.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

FSE #5

Like many of you, my work life is filled with a ridiculous number of emails. I hesitate to add up how many I have to burn through every day (not to mention Facebook messages, texts, and heck, even an old-fashioned phone call...), but a quick check tells me I'm averaging about 100 emails a day.

Nevertheless, I manage to enjoy many of them. Just today I received one from a beloved graduate studying abroad in Spain who wants to catch up and tell me what she's learning these days. Earlier this week I received one from another studying in Argentina who is, during her free time, reading a little theology and has some questions. Yesterday I received a "think-out-loud" message from another former student who wanted to just share some of his thoughts on his own spiritual formation. I consider it a remarkable privilege to have these sorts of conversations...

For the sake of confidentiality I will certainly not share his email, but he described some thoughts and questions he has about his own ability to stay focused on the things he cares about the most in the midst of many other competing priorities. He referenced some verses from Romans 7:
The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin.  I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate... And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  (vss 14-15, 18-19)
He reflected on his own desires to keep moving forward proactively, but getting stuck in bad habits. His questions remain with me 24 hours later:
The cure for a weak will is developing a strong will.  But how is this done?  More to the point, how does one do this without a strong will already?
I responded with a lot of sympathy and understanding. Not exactly, "Been there, done that," because heck, I battle with my desires, my will and God's will every day. They aren't something I can conquer or check off my list. Instead, my prayer is that of John the Baptist in John 3:30,
He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.
I told him that I have learned to strengthen my will over the years in part through keeping my "eyes on the prize," focusing on my long-term goals and less on the day-to-day. In other words, I have learned from good ol' Stephen Covey that I want to "begin with the end in mind," and build my life and daily actions according to how I want to be remembered. This is also resonant with the classic "running the race" passage in Hebrews 12:1-3. I can't wait till I am older to shape how I am remembered. Put another way, I have sought to shape my decisions according to who I want (and feel called) to be rather than what I feel.

All of this ran through my mind as I read the Common Prayer devotional today, which noted that on this day in 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. Stunning words were quoted from a sermon that I will share here:
“Every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. Every now and then I ask myself, ‘What is it that I want said?’ I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”
I am humbled by these words... and saddened that his hopes expressed here were realized far too soon. But nevertheless, I am also grateful that he remained faithful to his calling. He didn't do things based on how he felt. Rather, he did what needed to be done, and relied on God's power to do it.

I have learned to think this way from some wise leaders and role models in my life. But I'm happy to say that I have also learned to "live with the end in mind" from my life with students. They make me want to be a better person - both by the reality that they are watching me, and by their own witness. In their earnest, optimistic, energized desire to know Jesus and live life to the fullest, I stay young. What a good life I have.

Consider the life of Dr. King and those worthy role models you have known. What is it that you want said?