Monday, December 23, 2013

Tea with Grandma

My son and I have tea with my ninety two year old Grandma, his great grandma, every Wednesday afternoon. It has become a time that we cherish, Crosby adores Grandma Helen and my Grandpa Chuck and they return that adoration two fold. When Grandpa and the boy go down for their naps, Grandma and I have a cup of tea and great conversation. Her wisdom and faith amaze me every time I talk with her.

One afternoon, several weeks ago Grandma told me a story about her past that I wanted to pass on to you. Grandma was very involved in her church and in ministry when her children and body were younger. She was a deaconess, a women's ministry leader and a prayer warrior. As part of a CMA (Christian Missionary Alliance) church, she was asked to lead a prayer time at a meeting of all the churches in the area. This was a meeting of hundreds of people and my little 5'2" Grandma Helen took her charge very seriously, she spent weeks in prayer, preparing what she would say. 

She had drawn up two drafts that she really like but both were quite different, and she couldn't decide which one she would use. She debated all the way up to the morning of the conference. She decided she'd bring both drafts and make a decision on which one she'd use when she got there. When they arrived she withdrew into a lower room of the church to go over her speech for a final time and decide which one to use. However when she went to pull out her papers they were nowhere to be found. She realized she had left them at home. Minutes before going on stage in front of hundreds of people and she had nothing. She prayed to the Lord that he would give her the words. She had faith that He knew what she should say and how the prayer time should be led. And that is exactly what He did, he came through and the prayer time went off without a hitch. Afterwards many people came up to her and thanked her for her words. The ladies she carpooled with talked about it most of the way home and my Grandma gave credit where credit was due. 

After the story was finished, Grandma looked at me with eyes full of wisdom only a 92-year-old woman can have. She said "Sometimes God has to push us back into a corner so that he can take control." That one sentence has been on my mind for weeks. We get so caught up in what we're doing for the kingdom; we don't let God into our plan. We forget whose kingdom it is. We make decisions, we jump on huge ministry opportunities, or we take a stand on something we feel strongly about. So God waits, he waits for us to see him, to NEED him. Then he steps in and shows us that he really has control, that there is a reason we asked him to be Lord of our life. 

AC3, trust the Lord, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. He is with us, God is with us. That’s what this season, Christmas, is about. Celebrating the fact that Jesus came to be with us. The GOD OF THE UNIVERSE came to be with you. But if you're too caught up in your own life, your job, your kids, your marriage, what you're doing for YOUR church, you'll miss it. 

I have seen God show up in our church in the last several weeks, in amazing ways. "Christmas miracles" as we called it back stage this weekend. He has fixed things when they were broken beyond repair. He has provided for us in a time when we felt poor. He has given strength to us in a time that we felt weak. He has been there for us through trials, even if we can't see Him in the darkness. But AC3, I think maybe, maybe He had to push us into a corner first so He could show up.

Emmanuel: God with us.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Story, From the Inside

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God.


Our Christmas service at AC3 this year will feature 'The Story', an awesome, modernized musical rendition of the Christmas story. In true AC3 fashion it's imaginative, creative and filled with talented people expressing their love of Jesus through song and theatrics.

Our ironic God


For years, I've known that God gave me a voice for singing but I never knew what I was supposed to do with it, and frankly, I shied away from it as I have ZERO technical training and was afraid to get on stage and sing. Well, with some pushing from my immediate family and my church family (you know who you are!), I decided I would put myself out there and see what happens.

The audition was a few months back, I received good reviews and was told that they would let me know when there was a spot for me. A few opportunities arose but there were other family events on the weekends preventing me from singing on stage. When I received that fateful email asking everyone their availability for the month, I looked at the family calendar and realized that the only week in December that was available was the week of Christmas.

This is the way God works in my life, he finds my worldly shortcomings, like this one of being timid about getting on stage, standing behind a microphone and singing and gives me no choice but to put my faith in Him and push strait through my limiting beliefs.

So here we go, a child of the one true God, not singing harmony in the background of a worship service for our church (like I would have chosen), but thrown right in to sing a lead vocal in the musical climax of our CHRISTMAS MUSICAL PROGRAM!!

Thank you Jesus and thank you AC3!


With 3 rehearsals in the books, I feel incredible, like I'm doing exactly what God had intended for me to do, much like loving my family, completely changing my career path and starting this blog have felt since AC3 led me to the truth about our Savior. There's no possible way that I could feel like this without the amazing production team at AC3. It's unimaginable to have a more patient, talented, loving and passionate group of people than these.

The first 3 days, there's been a lot of "hand holding" so to speak, there's no doubt I need it as this is all new to me. On day one, I couldn't find my cues, I was running in the wrong direction half of the time and felt lost yet EVERYONE stayed calm and coached me to where I needed to be.

Tonight, after day 3, I'm filled with confidence and excitement to share 'The Story' of Jesus Christ, our Savior coming to earth in the flesh to redeem us from our sinful bodies. Being a small part of this story, His story in this powerful house of God that my family calls home is a great honor and I'll be praying diligently in the coming days for strength to perform well and to honor God well this weekend.

Go, tell it on the mountain...


So, AC3er's and non AC3er's alike, please join us as we tell this amazing story, the story of Christmas and how Jesus came to us in the flesh to save YOU! These people are amazing and 'The Story' will be enjoyed by all.

Now go! Let's fill this house up all weekend! Make sure everyone you know is invited, in person, on Facebook or wherever else that anyone will listen, it's a story worth knowing....

Click here to go to AC3's website for details on times for encounter services this weekend.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Is Christmas OK to celebrate or does the "No Christmas" stance border on legalism?

These days, you'll get two groups of people telling you that Christmas is a sham Christian holiday, because it's origins are pagan.  The first group are the irreligious agnostics you might know who seem to take some Grinchy delight in exploding your sense of Christmas specialness.  The second group are the very religious, very rigid Christians who condemn anything that is directly or even remotely associated with paganism, witchcraft and spiritualism.  Also, the second group is often having a hyper-protestant overreaction to Catholicism.  The effect is like that of the militant ex-addict we all know, who no longer sees any difference between a beer and a binge. Ironically these two groups share arguments for completely opposite reasons, and yet the result is the same:  make everyone feel lousy about celebrating Christmas.

So is December 25th Jesus' actual birthday?  No one knows for sure when Jesus was born.  Some very creative biblical study can be done to make a case for December 25th. But after reading all the arguments for why Jesus was possibly born in December or September or even the Spring, you find all of them lack this one thing:  explicit biblical support.  They are all cases built on circumstantial evidence and Scriptural inferences.  Which doesn't mean these theories have no merit, it just means we DON'T KNOW for sure.  And that means it doesn't matter, for sure.  

Clearly, Jesus was really born.  Anyone who celebrates that event, is going to be doing so on a somewhat arbitrary date.   We celebrate the births of presidents on days that do not correspond to their actual birthday's.  It doesn't mean they weren't born (Mr Agnostic), and it doesn't mean we're being sacrilegious (Mr No-Christmas Christian).

But why on that date, and why with the trappings we do, like trees and holly are yule logs and stars?  A lot of these traditions have unclear beginnings.  It's true the Romans had a mid-winter celebration, and they lit fires and lights to Saturn.  The pagan Germans used evergreen trees at the winter solstice and yule logs and holly.  So should we assume that if these things began as part of idolatrous worship they should be forbidden?

Well, the Bible nowhere forbids people to put a tree with lights in their living room in December.  The principle some Christians imagine forbids this, is that of God's people separating from pagan beliefs and practices - in Jeremiah 10:1 for example.  This is an important Christian principle to honor.  But let us have a complete understanding of how this principle played out before we apply it to Christmas.  Jeremiah 10:2 says, "do not learn their ways".  What were those?  The same Prophet lists these in chapter 7:5-9:  idol worship, murder, infanticide etc.  Idol worship is clearly a huge concern, but are the symbols and trappings of Christmas idols?  No one I know, who puts a tree in their home or holly on their door, is doing so to appeal to a god who is not the Lord.  They don't do so to gain favor with that god and they surely don't support the immoral practices that God detests in Jeremiah 7 - which pagan idolatry did.  So the principles forbidding the occult can't apply to Christmas traditions as MOST people practice them.  

A case might be made that the commercialism we attach to Christmas IS idolatrous, since it elevates acquisition and materialism above God in our heart's affection.  There's plenty of Scriptural principle forbidding that.  And in that area, we might say Christmas gift giving can lead us into real temptation.  But in and of themselves, that, and other traditions are harmless.  As music is harmless, depending on how it's used.

Both Christian and non-Christian Christmas debunkers admit a certain amount of strategic thinking on the part of the church as it accepted and changed pagan rituals and infused them with Christian meaning.  One author claims, "the Church said, 'bring your gods, goddesses, rituals and rites, and we will assign Christian sounding titles and names to them...'".  Well, let's be clear:  the church, even at it's lowest point, never told people to bring their gods into the church to worship along side of Christ!  It did however, accept many pagan rituals.  Rather than the great compromise, this has to be seen as great genius on some level.

Without compromising the truth about Christ, it showed that the Christian message had deep relevance to the spiritual lives of pagan hearers.  It showed (as Paul did with the Athenians in Acts 17) that what they did in ignorance, the Gospel would fully explain/fulfill.

So for example, having Christmas at the winter solstice, might have been done because the Church retained a distant memory of the actual date, or it might have simply been done for strategic reasons.  But if the latter, what shame in that?  Since no one can deny it's a beautiful natural expression of what Jesus birth represents:  Light coming to a dark world.  What a great teaching vehicle!  Same with taking the German's evergreen tree and seeing in it the promise of eternal life, or taking holly and seeing the blood of Jesus and the crown of thorns.  Same with the lights and fires that point to the Light of the World, and same with gift giving showing us how God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son.
In this way, the Church was saying the Gospel didn't repudiate paganism as a whole but rather FULFILLED it.  A more liberal view perhaps, but a better one for making converts, and also a view more attuned to the reality that God is the author of the Nature pagan's worship.

Yes, many perversions about God are in paganism - but it's basic instinct was to see spiritual reality in the cycles of nature the Creator made.  Well, do we think it's for no reason that Resurrection is celebrated in Spring?  The date of that event is known with certainty (unlike Christ's birth) and I see God's perfect touch in the timing.  God is a romantic!  We propose to our girlfriends in the place we first dated, or first kissed or first saw each other.  You can propose anywhere, why do it there?  Because the time and the place and the setting add weight, symbolic significance to the moment - which enhances memory and affection.  That God was raised from the dead in Spring is perfectly consistent with that same God calling for New Moon festivals, the sacrifice of animals, and who had palm trees and flowers carved into his Temple, and who created festivals around the cycles of the harvest.

We follow in His example then, when we freely use symbols, settings, and rituals to add weight to our memory of his work and his love.

Uptight Christians have this lesson to learn:  because a thing is from nature, doesn't automatically make it pagan, or demonic.  And the truth is, just because the devil will use some natural thing, animal worship or a physical ritual to imprison people to himself, or expose his power or dumb down our view of God (Romans 1:23) nature finally doesn't belong to him!!  If he is using it to promote his power or obscure God, then it is the right and privilege of the people of God to relieve him of it!  If it's the devil's rituals, they are stolen goods and we, the children of God, rightly steal them back!  He holds no ground in this world that's rightfully his.  He only perverts what isn't his originally.  Evil is a merely a parasite, as Lewis once said. 

So I would not approach the use of formerly pagan trappings with fear, cowed by their former meaning, former owner, former usage, or former evil associations.  The earth is the Lord's and I am the Lord's and so the earth is mine.  So a Yule log is mine to burn in the fireplace and my redeemed heart remembers the warmth of God's grace coming to a cold world.  A wreath is mine to hang on the door and say to my neighbors, eternal evergreen life is promised!

Yes, I think the no-Christmas stance not only borders on legalism, it marches right on in!  

Making of a Champion: Seattle Seahawks

The Making of a Champion...


The Seattle Seahawks are on the best run in the history of the franchise on the field. They haven't lost a home game in the past two seasons and are one win away from locking up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

I'm here to argue that they're on an even better run, off of the field.


Everything about this team, on and off the field starts with Russell Wilson. The quarterback of the Seahawks has defied odds his entire life to get where he is right now, and where he is right now is among the best players in all of the NFL. He's breaking all time records in his first two seasons and has never lost in the confines of Centurylink Field in Seattle. 

He's quickly become as beloved of a figure as there ever has been in Seattle sports history, and he's doing it while wearing his faith and his heart on display for the world to see. He's not afraid to show who he is, he's outward in his love of Jesus and is quick to give thanks and all of the glory to God for every blessing he has. 

Russell Wilson, the dynamic QB of the Seattle Seahawks

God strategically placed him here.

Seattle and surrounding areas have the smallest amount of Christians per capita in the United States and I've witnessed personally some real animosity coming from people in our region directed at Christianity. Needless to say, our region is in need of some Christian leadership, some bold Christian leadership led by real love of our neighbors and by men like Russell who can really make a difference. 

Russell Wilson is the embodiment of a leader, his character sometimes nets him the mantra of being a robot, that he's programmed to be a man of integrity. A man who loves his neighbor unconditionally, a man who embraces the idea of greatness and gives the glory for all of his accomplishments to God. The quote below is from Russell Wilson last January, at a press conference before the Seahawks playoff game against the Falcons.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity. As some of you may know, it’s kind of ironic I ended up here (Seattle) because I put all the teams in a hat. I told my wife, I’m not normally like this. But I put all the teams in a hat, and the one team I pulled out was the Seattle Seahawks. I’m not sure if God or my Dad or somebody had something to do with that. But just to be here is a great opportunity. I’m trying to take advantage of every opportunity I get. You’ve got to cherish these moments."
  Asked what he thought when he was drafted by the Seahawks after he pulled their name out of the hat, Wilson said, “Just I knew I was in the right place at the right time. God’s always done that for me in my life. It’s amazing how that works out. The biggest thing is continue to work and have that work ethic and determination to be great, and don’t shy away from it at all."
Literally gives me chills to read this looking back on the past two years and what this kid has accomplished. He also spends every single Tuesday at Seattle Children's Hospital, brightening the days of little ones that can always use a smile, he never waivers from his efforts to give back to this community and he never waivers in his efforts to make sure the world knows that the glory belongs to God, not to Russell Wilson.

The film.


In early October, 2013, a group of Seahawks including our star QB started to publicize something they were calling "The Making of a Champion". I along with thousands of other Seahawks fans were obviously intrigued as with conventional thinking, we've never been "champions" here in Seattle and sports fans have been awaiting that precious moment for a long, long time.

What ensued was far more than this follower of Christ could have imagined. The Making of a Champion was much more than a short film about football, it was a story of these men, leaders in our community and insights in to their personal walks with Jesus. These men put themselves out there, in the middle of a broken world, a broken city with broken culture and declared that they love Jesus. Courage and conviction in every one of their eyes and in their hearts. They explained what led them to God and that even though they'd obtained their worldly goals by playing or coaching in the NFL, that the glory is God's for every gift that He's given them.








Where they go from here.

As for the Seahawks, they're on the verge of the best season in franchise history and have the best record in the NFL with the playoffs in just a few short weeks. To say that I'm excited about all of that would be an understatement, I'm equally excited to see what this group of champions will do in the off season in our local communities and our local churches.

You can go to their webpage, here for more information on what they've got going on or connect with them on your favorite social media network.


Monday, December 16, 2013

The Jesse Tree, a Way to Focus on Jesus This Christmas Season

Like many Christians these days, I am bothered by our culture of selfishness, materialism and busyness. The Christmas season seems to be the summit of all three of these corrupted values.

Ironic isn’t it...?

...the season Christians chose to celebrate the arrival of The Messiah, advocate of poverty, simplicity and peace, is now the the season to relish their opposites.

Ok...we’ve all heard the sermons on this disease. Every church pageant and newsletter article in the month of December is focused on finding the “true meaning of Christmas”..right? Heck - even Hollywood regularly preaches to us to about “family”, “servanthood”, “peace” and “joy”  as they advertise the latest bloodthirsty video game (on sale to your 9 year old with a coupon from their “Happy Meal”)

- let’s talk real antidotes: The Jesse Tree.

Simply put, the Jesse Tree is an artistic representation of the lineage of Jesus. It refers to Jesse, King David’s Father and direct ancestor of Jesus (see Luke 3 and Matthew 1). In fact the original idea of referring to one’s ancestors as a  “family tree”comes  from the Bible: Isaiah 11, where the prophecy of Messiah coming from Jesse’s line is referred to like this:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

Putting Jesus’ family tree into art really caught on in Medieval times when the gospel was spreading throughout Europe amongst illiterate masses of people. Art was used to tell Bible stories. It’s why we see so many stained glass windows, frescos and tapestries depicting Biblical scenes. The Jesse tree was a common image used to teach of Jesus Royal lineage.

Over the years it has become a tradition in some Christian streams to make a Jesse Tree in the days leading up to Christmas. Some folks set up a small tree inside their homes and decorate it with ornaments representing key descendents in Jesus’ family. Others expand the idea and decorate a tree (or a window, or whatever) with images to remind of ALL of Christian history, beginning….well at the beginning. It serves as a means of focusing attention on Messiah instead of Material, on History instead of Histrionics and on the Gospel instead of Getting.

I’ve been aware of the Jesse Tree tradition for several years now, but this year I decided to engage with it. The Northumbria Community (a Christian monastic community in N.E. England I am affiliated with) produces a Jesse Tree “craft”, meant for families with smaller kids, I think, but no less meaningful for grown ups I have found. Beginning on December 1st, and on each day until the 31st, I read several Bible passages and a brief reflection from a booklet, color in a paper “ornament” representing the topic for that day, and then decorate the “tree” with those ornaments. The first day begins with the Creation itself, and each successive day builds the anticipation to the arrival of the Christ Child on the 25th; reminding me of many key points in Biblical history along the way.

The truth is, I have found it much easier to resist participating in the junk that EVERYONE says is wrong with Christmas (but does little to change) because I picked up a daily ritual which actually focuses my attention elsewhere, gives me something to touch, to see, to contemplate.

This version of the Jesse Tree doesn’t stop with the Baby Jesus, However. It continues through his growth, ministry, death, resurrection and Great Commission: the very top of the Jesse Tree reached on New Year’s Eve, December 31st: the next day begins a new year, and a new opportunity for me to live up to the family name.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Brendan Liturgy

The Brendan Liturgy is named for the 6th century (484 –577) Irish monk who's travels were written down in the form of an epic poem. Christians have used Brendan's story for inspiration and reflection for centuries. It is divided into 16 "chapters". I was reading the 9th at the end of November...

Brendan Liturgy Part IX: "Year after year they continue in circles over the waves…then, as they journey exactly the way they had before, waiting a glimpse of it’s beautiful, far distant shore, darkness intensifies until before their eyes the land of promise they saw…"
The question we are confronted with in this part of the Brendan saga is: “Can I trust God’s timing?” I suppose all of us would like to say, “yes”. I also suppose that if all of us were honest with ourselves, we would have to add, “but I rarely do.”
It’s not that we don’t WANT to trust God’s timing. It’s just that any timing which is indexed to anything other than our own desire feels like a burden if not a flat-out personal offense. It is the nature of fallen man.
Therefore – one must be willing to endure this sensation of offense if one is to truly surrender to God’s timing. A fascinating thing occurs, though, the more one endures: Like most efforts of this kind: it builds up a strength. Over time the sensation of burden gives way to a sensation of growth. Like building a muscle group through weight training or cardio-vascular condition through exercise, painful sensations in the body give way to feelings of euphoria.
 2 weekends ago we had what some of us around the office like to call “A Big Ministry Weekend”. It’s short hand for saying that we were witness to multiple events in which the promises of God were being fulfilled. We saw people baptized, families coming together, wounds healed, people becoming inspired, all kinds of good stuff…
…it was that sensation of euphoria that comes at the end of many hard workouts. God delivers what is needed, exactly WHEN it is needed. Not before. Not after. It came together for me in a moment which I should have expected, but I didn’t: Communion.
I rushed into the Auditorium as the last song of our worship time was being played. I had been chasing something down or stomping out a fire somewhere else (I don’t remember now what it was) and I saw the elements waiting for me at the front of the room.
I fell into one of those movie special effects where everything around me blurs, or freezes, or in some other way differentiates itself from the object I have fixated on (see the scene from the Tim Burton movie “Big Fish” when the Ewan McGregor character first sees the love his life.) I then found myself sitting; elbows on knees, looking at the tiny plastic cup with the deep, purple liquid in one hand, and the tiny octagon of bread in the other, and the thought  quickly but gently  bloomed in my mind:
“This is what connects it all. There was a moment in time when God’s body was broken and his blood shed. Whether you’re convinced it happened 6,000 years after God spoke light into the universe, or 14.7 billion years after he did doesn’t really matter in a moment like this – because it is enough to know that it happened exactly when it should have…when it MUST have. This moment of realization for me – could not have happened before it did. As I gaze into that little pool of rich color trembling in my hand, I am aware that somewhere else on planet earth, other hands hold the cup, other eyes perceive the same color, share in the same moment – God’s moment, placed exactly where it should be.
All the moments that lead up to this “big ministry weekend” are now passed. I watch them recede into the darkness of the cup and disappear. The moments to come are concealed from view in that same darkness. The light will shine in that darkness and I will see it exactly when and where I should.
There is only now.. “I AM Present to you NOW”, He said to Moses.