17 Days Alone…Almost Over!

This afternoon, Allison is coming home from 17 days with a team from Parkcrest in Africa. I’ve had the kids alone during that time. Before this, the longest I’d ever had them alone that was 2 nights. Here’s a few things I learned from those extra 15 days with the kids alone…

  1. Single parents are incredible. Seriously…I already had a huge amount of respect for single parents, but it went way up
  2. There is a special bond that happens with your kids when it’s just you and them for this long together. I didn’t realize what a gift these two weeks would be for us
  3. Something smells like feet in the fridge and I can’t figure out what it is…hurry home Allison! Speaks for itself
  4. I’m really grateful for some friends who were able to take the kids when I had to preach, come over to hang out with me for a bit after they went to bed, and take them for a few hours so I could do other things. I’m not good at having to rely on other people…this was a good reminder of the significance of community for me
  5. I’m so proud of Allison for going on this trip for several reasons, but one of them was that it was hard for her to leave our kids for that long. In retrospect, the two weeks she was gone won’t feel like very long for our kids, but it will be an important example to them of obedience and sacrifice on her part.

I’m so proud of the almost 100 people from Parkcrest who went (and are still going) on mission trips this summer…but really excited to see one in particular later today

Glorious Mess is Free on Kindle Today

Mike Howerton is a stud. Seriously, he’s one of my favorite people and has spoken into my life in significant ways over the past 12 or so years. I’m not blowing smoke when I tell you that I wouldn’t be who I am in ministry today without some wise words of counsel from Mike and people like him along the way. 

Mike’s newest book, Glorious Mess, is free today on Kindle. Even if it weren’t free, it’s worth picking up a copy. If you buy it and don’t like it, let Mike know and he’ll give you your money back (actually, I don’t think that’s true, but I’d love to see you try, plus it makes for good advertising).

Mike let me post a portion of his book here for you to get a vibe of what it’s about. Read it, get a copy on kindle for free today and then buy a copy to give away…

I am a pastor. 

I work in a church.

I am also a mess.

 

I went with a buddy to Gold’s Gym one time. One time. Everyone there looked like Ahhh-nold. Even the women had muscles and a gap in their front teeth. Each one bronzed, glistening, cut, and lifting more than I could wrap my mind around. (I understood there would be no math at the gym.) I went over to the pink weights, looked in the mirror, and was startled to realize that someone had replaced my biceps with those of a third-grade girl. I didn’t belong. This gym was for the Big Dogs. I wasn’t even a dog, really. More like toy poodle, which science reveals is predominantly rodent. I never went back, opting instead for an intense workout program that consists of wrestling (on the floor with my kids) and surfing (the internet). 

 

I wonder how many times this experience happens in a church setting. A spiritually interested person decides to go to church. When they get there, they are overwhelmed with the fact that no matter who they look at, they don’t measure up. The teaching is from a guy who apparently hasn’t wrestled with a single sin issue in his life since he became a follower of Jesus, at age 5, when he had to repent of making a frowny-face after his folks asked him to clean his room. Everyone seated around them is dressed to the nines, votes with a clear conscience, drives a paid-for Volvo, and has children who probably smile demurely from homes that look snipped out of Better Homes and Gardens.  Better than whose home and garden? Mine, for one.

 

Who can measure up? This is an obvious exaggeration, but the view from the outside is very one dimensional, unless we take the pains to change it from the inside. 

 

With three elementary school kids, a dog, multiple sports teams and dozens of neighborhood friends, my home is continually in a Defcon 5 state of disarray. I’m personally bringing the harried, wrinkled look in, praying it catches on. My children are wonderful gifts from God Himself, and I wouldn’t trade them, but they have rarely nodded demurely. They tackle demure kids. It’s pretty messy where I live.

 

The truth is, no matter how it looks, most everyone is a bit of a mess. 

 

When I first moved from California to Washington I drove a ’79 suburban. It had no heater. Mostly I think a car is perfect if it gets me from point A to point B, but now I am convinced that a heater is also essential. One night that first winter, I walked out from my office late, and the entire truck was iced over. I tried to get in, but the driver’s door was frozen shut. If you’re from someplace warm (and sane), take a moment to let that sink in. Frozen. Shut. So I walked around the car, and yanked the passenger door open. The frozen handle literally broke off, so the door opened but would not stay closed. This did not improve my mood. I noticed my fingers had become icicles. I was carrying a cup of coffee that I brought to keep my hands warm (since my heater wasn’t functional) but then I noticed my windshield was iced over, impossible to see through. I poured the coffee onto the windshield to melt the ice, because I didn’t have an ice-scraper. And I didn’t have an ice-scraper because I’m from Southern California and I hadn’t used an ice-scraper on my car out of necessity in a long, long time. Like never. So coffee was my plan. 

 

It was a dumb plan. The whole cup froze instantly on the windshield. The passenger door was yawning wide open. My fingers felt brittle, ready to fall off any moment. I crawled into the driver’s seat, fixed the loop of my backpack over the passenger door lock, and I drove with one hand holding it closed, with my head out of the open driver’s window because the only thing I could see through my windshield was the brown liquid that was supposed to keep my fingers and my belly warm on my cold ride home, but instead it was frozen solid, like my fingers, like my face quickly became except for my eyes which were bleeding rivers of salt joy down my face, and forming tiny icicles off of my chin. But hey, I was making progress. A mess but moving toward home.

 

We live life like that. We limp along. We tolerate ourselves. We survive our foibles. We put up with our stupidities, with the messes we make and we roll our eyes at ourselves, swearing under our breath, wishing we didn’t make things quite this messy. Personally, relationally, and spiritually messy. I wonder if we aren’t missing something profound. I wonder if we don’t see that in that moment, in that mess, just there where we’re stuck, frustrated, or otherwise not all that impressive…I wonder if that’s the place where God is free to bring His glory. I wonder if that’s exactly where His grace is sufficient.

 

I don’t know where you are in all this…how you view your life, your struggles, your trials, your sin. Do you view your imperfections as a canvas for God’s glory to be on display?

 

All throughout the Scriptures, you see examples of God loving imperfect people, forgiving imperfect people, and using imperfect people for great and glorious things. God’s love for imperfect people is unrelenting. In fact, the bigger the mess, the more glory God seems to get. And of all the glorious messes in the Bible, few are messier than Jonah.

 

Everywhere I go, people grab me and say, “Pastor, give me some Jonah! I need more Jonah! I’ve got a fever, and there’s only one cure…Jonah!” 

 

Ok, not exactly. And there’s probably a reason for that:

It’s one heck of a fish story. 

It’s a whopper of a tale.

 

The flannel board Sunday School story of Jonah smacks of the incredible, the miraculous, and the supernatural. Because it has been viewed in that light, the Book of Jonah is too often dismissed as an ancient fable with little practical value for our lives. I “bing”ed the word “Jonah” and the top ten sites were for children’s books and ancient biblical commentary (well, and Jonah Hill, the actor).

 

How tragic.

 

It’s tragic because one way or another, Jonah’s story is our story. He’s a mess, just like us. I’m a Jonah. You are too.

 

When God calls us, many times we run from the thing we know He is gently prompting us to do. When we run, the storms hit. When the storms hit, we turn back to God. When we turn back to God, we see an absolutely incredible return on our obedience. And even after we’ve experienced God’s grace, we need to be reminded again to share it. 

 

God loves both the reluctant prophet and the repentant people. 

God has a plan for us, even in the midst of our mess, to showcase His glory. 

And God has given us the book of Jonah to learn all about it. 

 

In the five acts of Glorious MESS you will encounter no new evidence that the Book of Jonah records fact…no scientific studies proving a grown man can actually utilize the oxygen from giant gills to survive; no bizarre but true tale about a sperm whale that was caught and opened up to reveal a family of four living comfortably inside with their twin hairless cats.

 

If you believe in God, who spoke all things into existence, who holds the galaxies at His fingertips, who is intimately involved in human affairs, who is capable of loving even the most stubborn human, then this story is a factual non-issue. I know thoughtful Christians who choose to view Jonah as a potent myth, a fable with a heavenly truth built in. I won’t argue that point here (although I believe in the historicity of Jonah), but I know we can agree on this: to an infinite God, commanding a fish and sustaining life for a wayward prophet are no big deal. It’s harder for me to cook a package of Top Ramen noodle soup than it is for an infinite God to perform a miracle.

 

Now, if you don’t believe in that infinite God, then Jonah is the wrong book to convince you. Our foundational view of God’s infinite nature is found throughout the Scriptures, but perhaps most clearly stated in Luke. It goes like this:

 

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 NIV

 

If you believe, as I do, that the Bible has proven itself to be a trustworthy source again and again and again; if you’ve found, as I have, that this dusty desert tome reveals the heart of God and the character of me, then this verse speaks volumes. More than any stat or study I could quote is the realization that God can and does accomplish the AMAZING, whether we are willing or ready to believe it.

 

That’s good news.


Good Grief

Erica McNeal caught the bridal bouquet at our wedding. You’re probably thinking what do I care who caught the bouquet at your wedding? Well, here’s the deal – when the person who caught the bouquet at your wedding writes a book, let me know and we’ll be even. Until then, I’m telling you about Erica.

In the almost 12 years since I went to college with Erica, she has been through a lot. By the time she was 32, she was already a 3 time cancer survivor and had experienced the loss of 5 children. But one of the beautiful things about her is her deep and resounding faith and the way that it’s guided her through all of those tragedies.

Today, is the official launch date of Erica’s new book, Good Grief, where she not only tells her own personal stories, but shares the insights that she’s learned through her own experiences.

Here’s how her story began to unfold while we were still in college…

In 1999, I was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. I was immediately told there was good news and bad news. The good news was the tumor had a name. The bad news was not only had my doctors never treated a patient with this type of cancer before, they had never even heard of it! At this time, the cancer had only been found in the stomachs of men over the age of eighty. I was twenty-two, my cancer was found in my neck, and the last time I’d checked, I was not a man!

And that was just the beginning…throughout the book, she not only gives you glimpses into what she went through, but how she began to process what she was going through and the way people reacted to it. 

I read her book to not only hear her tell her personal stories of tragedy, but to learn to engage better with people in the midst of their grieving and hurt. Speaking through her own personal experiences, Erica gives great practical advice for both those in a tragedy as well as those who are walking it through it with someone. She pushes through tired cliches and helps you to have some tangible ways to engage when you don’t know what to do.

If you’re walking through a tragedy yourself, or alongside someone, let me encourage you to check out Erica’s book…and help out the friend who caught the bouquet at our wedding!

 

by the way, if you buy a copy of the book this week, send Erica a copy of the receipt and you’ll get a pdf version of the book sent to you and she’ll enter you into a drawing to win a gift card to Outback or Carrabbas

A Multiplying Manifesto

This weekend at Parkcrest we talked about what it looks like for us to be a Multiplying Church. Towards the end of the message, I gave a bit of broad vision as to what that looks like.

Here’s my “Multiplying Manifesto” for Parkcrest:

We will become a church multiplication center. Training and releasing people into full time vocational ministry and missions as well as to become church planters.

But we will not just train full-time vocational ministers, but every day ordinary people who are willing to die to themselves to see the Kingdom advanced, who will start non-traditional churches…who will lead out kingdom initiatives in the city…people who will use their jobs and their vocations to see the kingdom expanded.

Parkcrest will become known not only as a church for people who are far from God to connect with God, but as a training ground…a training ground for every day, ordinary Christians to live out their faith in exponential and multiplying ways. A training ground for people who are called into vocational ministry to be prepared not just to lead in a church, but to see the kingdom expanded.

We will redefine success from how many people we can get in here to how many people we can send out…A multiplying church seeks to release as many people as possible to see the kingdom grow.

There will be a day in the not too distant future when there will be people living out Kingdom expressions all over Long Beach, Southern California, the rest of the nation, and all around the world. And they will be bound together as people of Parkcrest not because they all gathered here on the weekends, but because this is where they received a vision for something more…because this is where they were trained not to manage the structure of the church but to see the Kingdom expanded…because this is the place that said we won’t hold on to what we have, but we will die to ourselves so that we can see the movement of Jesus multiplied.

There will be a day when God will use Parkcrest where we literally will not be able to count how many people are affected by our ministry because while we will always have a localized gathering like this, we won’t be able to count them all because they don’t all gather in one place at one time, but instead will have been trained and released by Parkcrest to multiply the movement of Jesus.

And so here’s our most basic role within that…here’s how we participate in that…we die…

We die to being comfortable just calling ourselves Christians. We die to only spreading the movement of Jesus when it’s easy. We die to the idea that paid professionals and pastors lead the movement of Jesus…we die to success being how many people we can gather in one place…we die to church meeting my needs, and start being the church…we die to giving the church a couple of hours a week, and start letting the Kingdom and Kingdom advancement affect the entirety of our lives

 

What Do You Focus On?

With baseball season now in full swing, I’ve been following the Dodgers who incredibly have the best record in baseball with 9 wins and only 1 loss. I was wondering today how many of the players are thinking about that 1 loss and wondering what they could have done differently…what it would be like to be 10-0 with an undefeated record right now.

They probably don’t, because they’re professionals…but that’s what I would do. In fact, it’s what I do far too often.

A couple of years ago at Parkcrest we had an incredible year of people coming to faith – so much so that we actually baptized in a day more people than we ever had in an entire year, and at the end of the year we saw a huge number of baptisms. But it was actually just 1 shy of being a really nice round number that would have sounded so much better. It was hard for me not to focus on what we could have done to see one more person get baptized.

A week ago, we had record attendance for Easter weekend – the biggest weekend Parkcrest has ever had numerically. But we were 11 short of what would have been a really nice round number that would sound really good to say. It’s hard for me not to think, “seriously, in the 17 different services that we had that weekend, there weren’t at least 11 random people in the foyer or something that got missed and didn’t get counted”

It’s interesting, because the big number is what God did, and yet I tend to focus on the small number of how I perceived us coming up short. When I focus on the 11, I miss thanking God for what we got to be a part of. When I focus on the 11, it’s about what I didn’t do as opposed to what God did.

Far too often, I find myself focusing on the perception that I have of what hasn’t been realized, and I miss the incredible things right in front of me.This week, I’m going to commit to focusing on God’s provision rather than my perceived shortcoming so that I can recognize and celebrate what He has done rather than what I didn’t do.

Context Matters

What if I told you about a friend of mine who leads a church, and that church has baptized 10 people over the past 3 weeks? You’d be pretty impressed but it’s not totally out of the ordinary to hear about something like that.

What if I then told you that church averages around 150 people each weekend? A bit more impressive for them to have baptized 10 people over 3 weeks?

What if you also learned that the town this church is in has a population of 1,042? Actually, true story, there was a murder two weeks ago, so it’s now 1,041. Still, that means that in 3 weeks, they have baptized about 1% of their population. Just to give that some context, that would be like Parkcrest, baptizing 4,000 people in Long Beach in 3 weeks. To even begin to comprehend that is crazy and ridiculous.

But here’s the thing that blows me away, and is one of the problems amongst Christian leaders today – no one knows about it or will hear much about it. He won’t be asked to speak at a conference, get interviewed for a major magazine or to write a book about it. But what other church are you aware of that has baptized 1% of their population over a 3 week period?

As people, and especially pastors, talk about results they’re experiencing, I’m learning to ask context questions. For churches that are rapidly growing – are they in a suburban area, a place where there is a large amount of new growth, are people coming to faith or are they changing churches? A church where all of that is true may be growing at a faster rate and percentage than one that is in an urban area with a highly post-Christian population, but the growth of the church in the second context would be a much harder to achieve growth. Context matters.

In the movement of churches that we’re a part of, they publish a list of the largest churches each year. Parkcrest has been on that list for several years…until last year and this year when I chose not to submit any information. The thing is, I couldn’t figure out why it was helpful. What does it benefit someone to see us on that list? It felt good to see my name and Parkcrest’s name there, but stroking my ego hardly seemed like reason enough to make sure we were on there. Now, most pastors and churches don’t make that same decision, and this really isn’t about whether thats right or wrong – but that to say those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

As I was asked to submit our info this year, something more than years past began to bother me – my friend’s church wouldn’t ever be on that list. Which is unfortunate, because he probably has something more significant to teach people than many of us who are on that list, if people would listen.

I’m all for tracking success and making sure that what we’re doing is moving in the right direction, but at the same time, we can’t forget that as we talk about results, context matters. Our results don’t occur in a vacuum. I wonder if some of the most significant stories have remained untold because we ignore the context and look purely at the results.

Staycation Mission Trip

I’m not a fan of using this for commercials, but bear with me for just one…

This year, I decided to lead a different kind of mission trip at Parkcrest. One where we would still have to take off work, go through the faith exercise of raising funds, and would partner with a great organization to do something significant…but that we wouldn’t go anywhere. We’re calling it a Staycation Mission Trip, and we’re going to be partnering with Habitat for Humanity to help build some homes in Long Beach.

If you go to Parkcrest, or are in the Long Beach area, and want more information, I’d love to have you join us this Sunday for an information meeting at 1pm at the Heartwell Campus.

You can also sign up for email updates here

And you can download the information sheet here

Also, there’s plenty of other great mission trips that you can check out here

…commercial over

On Becoming a Leader Who Reads

The other day as I was listening to Bill Hybels being interviewed on the Catalyst Podcast, he shared something that I’ve heard him say several times – that all leaders are readers. He’s not the only one to say that. I just googled it and got over 188,000,000 links to people saying that exact same thing. Of course, I haven’t heard most of them say it, but I have heard other people say it too. Plus I figure if I google it, that makes it true.

I was trying to remember when this clicked for me. I used to hate reading. The first book I remember enjoying, or really even reading the entirety of without using Cliff Notes was during my senior year of High School, reading The Grapes of Wrath, but it was quite a while before I read another book after that. My sister used to walk down the street reading books. We would go on vacation, and while we would be in these incredible places, she would have her nose buried in a book. I wasn’t even close to that…that’s probably why she has her PhD and I’ve still got my fingers crossed that someone will give me an honorary doctorate someday.

Somewhere along the way, things changed for me. I never became the person walking down the street while reading a book, but I did actually start to enjoy it and began to read more and more. At one point before we had kids, I was reading close to 100 books a year, but kids change things, and I’d rather be hanging out with them anyways, so now I read around half that.

Honestly, here’s what I think happened…I heard enough people who I respected say those exact same words – that all leaders are readers. And while I didn’t have much interest in being a reader, I did care a lot about being a leader, so I figured, maybe if I start acting like one and doing the things that they do, I’ll eventually become a leader. So, I began forcing myself to read. I read books about leadership, ministry, theology…just about anything that anyone would recommend to me. The more and more I began to read, the more and more I found myself liking it. It’s kind of the same way Allison got me to like Grey’s Anatomy, but that’s a different story.

There is no magic formula or secret trick to get yourself to read more. I actually sat down with every intention of writing a list of things to do in order to read more books this year, but somehow this came out instead. The trick to reading more is to just simply read. You don’t like reading? Read more, and eventually, like the vegetables that you learned to like as you ate more and more of them, you’ll find yourself strangely starting to enjoy it. And don’t just read anything – read things that will push you and stretch you. Try the broccoli, because it’s good for you.

What will happen is that as you find yourself thinking more, as you have pre-conceived notions challenged, and as your mind is literally expanded, you’ll want to make more space and time for reading. You won’t have to force it to happen, you’ll want to make it happen.

Maybe that’s a part of the reason that all leaders are readers. Not necessarily because they’re the people who are born with a natural love of reading, and not just because of the insights they gain in their reading, but because they’re the kinds of people who would be willing to discipline themselves to read when they didn’t want to and when they didn’t love it and when they would rather zone out watching celebrities try to learn to dance. Maybe they’re leaders not just because of what they’ve read, but because they force themselves to read.

And by the way, not all readers are leaders, but that’s a whole other thing…

Rob Bell’s Parting Epistle to Mars Hill

On Rob Bell’s last Sunday at Mars Hill, he read them a parting epistle that he had written to them. If you haven’t read it yet, set aside 15 minutes, and soak it in.

so as i’ve been thinking about my sermon here today, i found

myself returning again and again to the power of a good letter. someone may text you or ping you or email you or direct message you or contact you on facebook-but none of those particular mediums of communication can begin to compare to a letter in which the person has labored over every word, going back over it again and again and again, crafting the phrases and searching for just the right word and turn of phrase to capture exactly what you want to say. technology has given us a wide array of methods to communicate and because of this variety,

it’s important we remember that this is a distinction to be made

between diversity of form

and depth, significance, and soul.

so, i’ve written you a letter…


remember, the movement is word to flesh.

beware of those who will take the flesh and want to turn it

back into words…


when people

ask ‘what about mars hill?’ or ‘what’s mars hill going to do?’

it’s as if mars hill is a disembodied reality with a life of its own.

here’s the twist: the church is not an inanimate, impersonal

product. there is no ‘mars hill’ in theory. there is no abstract, disembodied entity mars hill apart from the people in this room

who ARE mars hill…

 

if you want this church to be some other church,

then please leave this church and go to that church.

this church has it’s own unique path,

it’s own particular DNA

and you must be true to it,

or you will lose something vital to who you are,

and why God brought you together…

 

people whisper sweet nothings to their lover

but they yell ‘fire.’

reflect on this with me.

love, whispered.

danger, yelled.

fear, it turns out, is often louder than love.

sometimes fear is good, and yelling even better,

especially when there actually is a fire.

but other times fear is toxic, destructive,

the opposite of love.

remember that.

look for it.

and call it out, confront it when you come across it…

Read the entirety of it here

Learning to Receive

Last week was one of those weeks where we saw the generosity of God show up in our lives several times in really tangible ways. It started with getting a large check that was totally unexpected from our mortgage company explaining that they had miscalculated something over 1 year ago and they needed to give us a refund. Then, someone in the church anonymously gave us money to get tires on our car replaced. And then a friend found out about a kind of bike I wanted to get, happened to have one laying around and brought it over and gave it to me.

All this was crazy, and honestly a bit overwhelming, but I had a hard time with it. When I think about generosity, I tend to like to be the one who’s generous. I like to be the one who anonymously gives a gift, or who gives up something that I have to help someone. I like to be the one who gives, but it’s hard for me to be the one who receives. When I get something, I want to have done something for it…I want to earn it, or deserve it. To simply receive something makes me feel a bit off kilter.

But really, a part of generosity is learning to receive. There can be no generosity without a recipient.

I’m learning that generosity isn’t always about what you give, but it’s about living with a certain posture. A posture that says everything belongs to the Lord. That sort of posture should make it easy to give, but really, that sort of posture should also make it easy to receive. Because just as I am generous with what I have because I believe that it really belongs to the Lord anyways, I should be able to receive it well also because it wasn’t theirs either…it was the Lords.

So, maybe in a culture where we are conditioned to feel good about ourselves by what we do for others and where we see generosity as an action that we do for someone else, maybe we need to learn instead to see generosity as a fundamental posture of how we live. A posture that lives with open hands that says everything is the Lords, and so all that I have is the Lords and all that I receive is the Lords.

Maybe for some of us, a part of learning to live generously will happen as we learn to receive well.