What excellence looks like

This is what my daily sermon looks like.

Every morning after I drop Maddie off at school, I watch this crossing guard work the intersection of Benson and Arrow Highway and I am inspired.

I don’t know this guy’s name, occupation, or station in life, but for a few seconds before my light turns green he preaches to me, showing me what excellence really looks like. He is friendly, enthusiastic, decisive, and strong. He tells cars when to back off and when they can proceed. He takes extra time with the children and the elderly, and he gives wide berth to the skateboarders who nearly run him over, often throwing him a high five as they cruise by.

His outfit is crisp, his demeanor is clear, and perhaps even more importantly he seems to be having fun. I watch him monitor his intersection and I vow to be a better pastor. I watch him perform his crossing guard  duties and I vow to be a better dad.

There’s something about excellence–about a job well done and well expressed–that challenges our passivity and inspires us to greater heights.

He’s only a crossing guard but he’s teaching me about worship. He’s teaching me about life, and I’ve actually come to look forward to seeing his work each morning. I hope the hosts of heaven can watch you and me at our worship and work and feel the same inspiration and awe that this crossing guard evokes in me.


Eucharistic living—YOU are broken bread and poured out wine

The centerpiece of many Christian traditions is Communion/Eucharist—the bread and the wine, ancient symbols of Christ’s redemptive suffering for the healing and quickening of the world. What we sometimes overlook in our various approaches to the Eucharist; however, is the fact that Jesus is not the only bread and cup—you are too.

In his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers draws a direct connection between the Eucharist and Christ’s followers, stating that we have been called to follow Jesus’ lead in pouring out our lives for the world.

Broken bread and poured out wine—that’s what we have been called to be in the service of others. Just as the Apostle Paul viewed himself as a drink offering “poured out” on his followers’ faith (Philippians 2:17), so we are to live sacrificial lives that enrich the lives of others.

There is a mandatory rhythm attached to Eucharistic living, however. We cannot pour out indefinitely without being replenished ourselves. If we try to live lives of overextended, unsustainable service we court burnout and disaster. Rather, we must embrace a Eucharistic rhythm wherein we are broken and poured out, but then get replenished and reassembled by the grace of God.

If you have been withholding your service to humanity, it’s time to engage again. But if you’ve been engaged for too long without allowing your soul to heal, it’s time to get restored. No one can give forever or run without stopping—we give then receive; we run then we rest. Eucharistic rhythms ensure that we can do this with great health throughout our entire lifetime.

Not the conquering warlord

warrior on a horseA donkey, a red carpet made of cast aside robes, palm branches waved in the air, and little children shouting, “Hosanna!”

That was the extent of the pomp and circumstance with which Jesus commenced His Passion Week. It was hardly the entrance of a conquering hero. Indeed, the Roman warlords of that day would have scorned such a humble entrance.

He was only days away from defeating sin, death, hell, and the grave, and yet Jesus entered Jerusalem in simplicity and “approachability.”

It was vintage Jesus.

From the moment of His birth when common shepherds helped Joseph and Mary count His fingers and toes, to dinners with both preachers and prostitutes, to this innocuous entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus made Himself “reachable” by the average Joe.

In fact after this ignoble entrance into the city He removed His robe and washed the sweaty feet of His followers. It was hardly the action of a Caesar or a Greek god, and yet it embodied the actions of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Ours is a backwards kingdom. We push the down button to go up, we serve to be great, we give our lives away to find them, and our King approaches Palm Sunday amid the laughter and delight of little children.

The Saint in St. Patrick’s Day

Kiss_Me_I_m_Irish_2St. Patrick’s day will soon be upon us, replete with green-clad revelers and rivers of green beer. For some it will be a time to flaunt their Irish roots and for others it will simply be another excuse to party. However, there is a deeper significance to the holiday than merely kissing red-heads and drinking beer.

St. Patrick’s day commemorates a hugely courageous Christian missionary.

Born in Britain in the fourth century, Patrick was kidnapped at sixteen years old by Irish raiders and forced into the gloomy, ill-fed life of an Irish herdsman. After six years of servitude, he managed to escape and return to England where he promptly followed a calling into the priesthood. After his ordination in 417 A.D. he made the startling decision to return to Ireland to minister to the very people who had enslaved him. Claiming that God had told him to “set the captives free” in Ireland, he devoted his life to reaching the Irish villages and chieftains with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, ultimately seeing many thousands of people begin following Christ.

As with all historical figures, there is significant legend surrounding St. Patrick’s exploits, such as the stories of how he drove poisonous snakes out of Ireland and used the Shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, but those stories shouldn’t detract us from his true passion and ambition.

Honest studies of St. Patrick’s life reveal a man who knew how to live fully present, engaged in the world around him. He didn’t convert the island of Ireland by preaching sermons at its citizens but by building authentic, counter-cultural, Christocentric communities that transformed Ireland into one of the centers of European Christianity.

This week as you pinch the people who forgot to wear green, let’s pause to be inspired by the bold, selfless life and legacy of the real St. Patrick, AKA “the lion of Ireland.”

The end and the beginning

throwing starfishIn the end it’s all about the “one.”

Today will be my last official Hole in our Gospel posting, and I think the most appropriate way to end is with Richard Stearns’ own words. He writes: “In the end God works in our world one person at a time. The hungry are fed, the thirsty are refreshed, the naked are clothed, the sick are treated, the illiterate are educated, and the grieving are comforted, just one person at a time.”[1]

These are important closing words because after spending more than twenty weeks together reading about the dire state of our world we could be tempted to lose heart. We could compare our puny resources with the monstrosity of global needs and feel that our best efforts will still fall woefully short.

Or we could go the opposite direction.

We could recognize that while we can’t save everyone we can save one.

Although we can’t sponsor every child we can sponsor some.

We can’t water the whole world but we can irrigate a region.

We can do our part.

My hope for every Grace Church and non-Grace Church reader is that we would end this particular reading program both broken and resolved, limping under the weight and yet breathlessly excited to make a difference.

Several weeks ago I reminded you of the oft-quoted starfish story, wherein a small boy chose to rescue the stranded starfish that were within his reach even though he knew he could never reach them all.  Let’s be that boy. Let’s carry God’s heart like we never have before. Let’s care at an unprecedented level. Let’s evaluate our time, talent, and treasure and commit to using all three for the glory of God and the needs of humanity.

When people come looking for us let’s be found along the seashore chucking starfish as far as we can possibly throw them.

[1] Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson: 2009): 257.


dr.king“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”[1] This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently summarizes chapter seventeen of Richard Stearns’ The Hole in our Gospel.

Let me summarize the chapter differently.

Where the cry of justice should be heard the church should never have laryngitis.

Psalm 19 states that creation speaks of God’s glory in such a way that there is no place “where their voice is not heard” (verse 3 NKJV). That should be our story too.

Certainly, no church can do everything, but every church should be doing something to ensure that God’s justice and glory gets heard in every corner of our world.

Here at Grace we’re attempting to do our part. Without excluding our other priorities of prayer, worship, teaching, and pastoring our community, we’re attempting to grow in our compassion and concern so that we’re never AWOL when we should be present to serve.

If you’re in the LA County area this Sunday night I would love for you to join me at our 5:30pm Bridge service where we’ll be viewing the human trafficking documentary, Nefarious: Merchant of  Souls. This heart-wrenching movie will undoubtedly enlarge our hearts with God’s burden for the women and children trapped in the sex trade industry. Afterwards we will receive information about how we can partner with Traffick Free Pomona, a ministry of Pomona First Baptist Church that exists to pursue the end of trafficking in our region.

Thank you for your heart and compassion for our world. You are needed and you are loved!

The Hole in our Gospel Reading Program Chapter Seventeen: AWOL for the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of All Time 

[1] Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN: 2010), 190.

Down with the glorified self

Working in Los Angeles County can be hazardous to one’s health. I’m not talking about the high-speed freeways or the frantic pace of life, but rather the cultural atmosphere that insists on glorifying “self.”glorified self statue

Here in the entertainment capital of the world, we are obsessed with beauty, success, and fame, and we can sometimes forget that Jesus didn’t call us to build our own name but to glorify His.

It’s human nature to assert and exalt self, and indeed each of us carries an innate longing for significance; however, the biblical pathway for a significant life is found in giving one’s life away. Jesus said, “Whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25b). This doesn’t mean that we are relegated to lives of obscure insignificance—quite the reverse. It means that no matter how broad our influence or our audience becomes the motivation of our life is ever geared toward pleasing God and serving people.

In the classic Christian book Hinds Feet on High Places the water droplets in the waterfall sang a unique song that revealed the extreme delight that they had discovered as they rushed downward from the heights toward the waiting villagers below. They sang, “From the heights we leap and flow, to the valleys down below.”

The song of the water droplets is our mantra too. We don’t exist to build monuments to self but to descend with delight in service to the Lord. As we increasingly embrace this serving, giving life we discover that we are closer than ever to living the life we have always dreamed of. When we partner with Jesus in loving and serving the world, His love begins to permeate our soul and it leads us into the discovery of “the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19).waterfall