The Adventure of a Lifetime

I was having an incredible year.

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In 2004, I was going to be a new father. My wife, Jen and I felt like the world was unfolding gloriously before us. The spring promised yet another blessing and we teemed with a fresh excitement about our burgeoning family.

But March arrived with more than anyone could have ever dreamed. When our daughter, Addison Grace, was born, the thrill of new life was side-swiped by severe medical complications that threatened death. There came Neonatal Intensive Care Units and scary reports from doctors that sent nurses and orderlies scurrying. And then came the unexpected, thunderous diagnosis: Down Syndrome.

Addie_oxygen1And I was having such an incredible year.

All of the sudden I went from the thrill and exultation of a dream, to the challenge and sorrow of a profound disappointment.

But as it turns out, I was still having an incredible year. I just didn’t know it yet. What I came to discover—even in the midst of my darkest night—is that pain, as gut wrenching as it can be, truly shapes us. Struggle—as unexpected and unwelcome as it always is—has the potential to actually catapult us into an amazing future.

I didn’t know it then, but I was getting ready to walk out a wondrous truth: that sorrow doesn’t stand a chance in the joy-filled face of Grace.

And so I’ve told my story—in a new book. It’s all about this dad’s walk holding hands with two incredible people. They’re two people that showed up in unexpected and astonishing ways—whose presence in my life have left me forever changed for the better. They’re two marvelous, Marcus-changing people who share a common middle name: my first-born daughter, Addison and my Savior, Jesus. Grace was His middle name too.

I didn’t know it then, but the first time that first doctor handed me my first-born, I was grabbing on to the adventure of a lifetime. Addie is eleven now. And I’ve only recently come to realize how much my story is actually our story—together. You and me.

“All-of-the-sudden Sorrows” come hunting all of us from time to time. But GRACE means holding hands with something traumatic and gloriously transformative at the same time. There can be profound meaning in the pain. In fact, we can discover what it means to grab on to the adventure of a lifetime—even if we never saw it coming.

HHWG_3Drender_sidebarI hope you’ll read the book. I hope it encourages you no matter what kind of year you’re having. Because the same Jesus who met me in the dark alley of my disappointment stands ready to meet you in yours. And He desires more than anything to see your pain transformed into miraculous purpose right in front of your eyes. Sorrow doesn’t stand a chance in the face of that kind of Savior. All you and I have to do is begin Holding Hands With Grace.

Let me know what YOU think? Post a comment.

Walking On the Water of Fear

We had a family movie night this past week at my house, and Dad decided to kick it Old School.

Scared

I have four kids: 11, 9, 7 and the little one is 5. And this diminutive crew was about to have their first-ever encounter with one of the best suspense movies ever: Jurassic Park. I say “Old School” because it’s been over 25 years since Jurassic Park came out. Long enough for kids born after the release to be long graduated with Master’s Degrees. But it has maintained its verve on the suspense movie scoreboard in my mind.

Yeah, I know… a little scary for the littlest of the lot. But I figure a kid’s got to come to grips with man-eating dinosaur fear sooner or later. Why not sooner? And yes, my kids will likely spend some time in therapy later.

I found it hilarious—if not somewhat twisted—to watch their different responses to fear. You know when Dinosaurs starting stomping around eating everyone in sight? Some of them leaned forward. Some of them pulled the covers over their heads.

Jurassic_Park_raptors_1The little one scurried out of the room at one point, retrieving a coloring book and crayons from behind her Barbie® Playhouse. She then snuck back into the room, positioned herself immediately behind my back, and began coloring. Her choice of rampart effectively blocked her from the screen, and the aforementioned man-eating dinosaurs.

Whenever I moved, SHE moved. When I zigged, she zagged. It was a dance in silhouette that I brought a big grin to both our faces.

We all get afraid. And everybody draws up a strategy for fear-avoidance at some point. But beyond being cute in a dinosaur DVD, real fear can cripple us. The power of fear can imprison us. Fear holds us back and undermines our opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Peter knew it. Matthew 14 describes a scene straight out of a Spielberg suspense flick: raging sea, stormy gale, night black as pitch. But in spite of everything that loomed to put a shiver down Peter’s spine, ol’ Pete made a decision. He decided on this night that his fear wouldn’t get the best of him. There would be no shrinking back. And before his friends could strap a life jacket on his broad shoulders, or graciously lash him to the mast, Peter was out of the boat, walking on the water.

He walked, not out of duty or obligation. He walked, not pressured or cajoled into it. He walked on the water out of a deep desire to be closely connected to his friend. And his friend just so happened to be Jesus—the world’s greatest Storm Stymier.

Scary situations come hunting all of us. Fear isn’t picky. And my guess is he’s visited your place many times. He’s invaded your calm water when you least expected it. And what stands between you and an incredible, miraculous encounter with Jesus is the Water of Fear—the Sea of Suspense.

You have more in common with Peter than you think. You have a choice: you can let fear whip you, or you can walk on it.

You can try to hide under the covers if you want. You can bust out the crayons and coloring books. You can even try to find someone or something to distract you from facing the fear. But sooner or later, you’re going to get steam-rolled by the storms of this life.

Are you going to let it WHIP YOU or will you WALK ON IT?

Jesus is inviting you toward an incredible, miraculous connection with Him—the Sovereign walking on the Sea of Suspense. And the only thing holding you back is a pesky, little, measly thing called “your boat.” If you listen carefully, you may just hear what Peter heard. That maybe it’s time to crawl right on out of comfortable, and start walking on the water of your fear. And even though the storms will rage, and faltering faith will try to sink your soul, the Hand that holds you fast—imperishable, unsinkable—will be the hand of the Man named Grace.

Jump

I’ve always thought daredevils were crazy. Not really my deal. Close friends of mine are adrenaline junkies, but I usually opt for the path of repose. They jump off cliffs at the beach; I sip soda from the sand.

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But I’ll never forget the first time I tried to gambade off a bluff with some of my buddies. The perch didn’t look that high from the safety of the boat, but as I clambered up the slippery rock face, and stood at the precipice of the highest drop I’d ever jumped, my abdomen and my Adam’s apple shook hands.

“The first step’s a doozie,” I smirked to my compatriot. “What in the world have I gotten myself into?”

A high dive will do that to you. Free falls from height should strike a little fear in your heart, right? It only stands to reason. “People have killed themselves doing this, haven’t they? My mother wouldn’t approve!” But there are times in our lives when the only way to step into the next big adventure is to take a leap into thin air.

One year ago today, I took another leap—another cliff jump—another free fall into our next great adventure as a family. A year ago last week, I stood on the platform of a church I had served for nearly a decade—a church I had built a great life and ministry in—a church that had been the nursery of our little Tribe. I stood on a gigantic platform of safety and announced that my wife and I would be holding hands and vaulting into a tiny, altogether different sort of pool. We would follow the call of God and plant a church in water we’d never jumped into before. And there was room for only two on the platform at a time.

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As we leaped, my abdomen and my Adam’s apple shook hands again. The first step was indeed a doozie. But as we left the ledge of security, we experienced the freedom that comes in the free-fall of faith. We gathered with an intrepid band of other adrenaline junkies in the backyard of a family friend, and began the adventure of building a brand new church from scratch.

The rock face was a little slippery at times. The adrenaline rush would swing between fun and fear on occasion. But we had front row seats to see God do something that could never have been witnessed from the conservative seat of serenity I would have normally chosen. Here in the free-fall, we saw God provide miraculously for His children. We watched a Jesus-calling begin to be answered by scores and scores of people saying, “Yes,” to Him. I watched my own life being stretched and strengthened as I learned first-hand what it is to depend completely on Christ, and unequivocally know His love for me.

FirstLaunchTeamA year ago today, I stood holding hands with my wife atop the scariest cliff we’d ever seen. There was only room for the two of us—no safety in numbers. Just the gut wrenching, “go-big-or-go-home” dive into the dream of God. But to our delight and amazement, God wasn’t hollering to us from Heaven. He wasn’t cheerleading from the cliff-face. He was welcoming us from the water. He was already in. He had already taken the jump before we had. Jen and I were merely joining Him in action.

It’s been a year. A year falling off the most fantastic mountain I’ve ever seen—a year of my guts sometimes shaking hands with my gizzards. But one year, nonetheless, of diving into the most pristine waters of God’s magnanimous plan for our lives. And I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned that in spite of that dubious first-step, the genesis moment of life-leaping faith opens the door to an incredible adventure—one that you could never conjure on your own. And that if you hear the whisper of invitation from the King Himself, you can be sure that it comes not from some wispy cloud in the sky, but from a Heart love-packed for people in the harvest field below your feet. He’s already in the water.

Let abdomens everywhere begin shaking hands with Adam’s apples. May the free-fall of faith thrill you and wreck you and make you into the mission of Jesus. For there is no higher height to which you can ascend than leaping and lowering yourself into the waiting arms of God Himself.

All I Know In a Paper Bag

The older I get, the less I know. Can you relate?

paperbag

I don’t mean that I’m losing my ability to remember, although some would argue I should seriously address my Diet Pepsi addiction. I mean that the more I learn in life, the more I’m keenly aware of how much I have yet to learn. The more I discover, the more I’m cognizant of the very narrow boundaries of my understanding. The universe is vast; my grasp of it could scarcely fill a paper bag.

I have endeavored to follow Christ for most of my life. I’ve admired Him and studied Him and marinated in His book again and again. I’ve spent a lifetime listening to people much smarter than me pontificate on all His manifold qualities. I’ve called upon Him in the darkest of nights and rejoiced with Him in the brightest of life’s blessings. I’ve travelled with Him through glories and graves, vistas and valleys. And all along the path, He has revealed Himself to me.

The walk has been thrilling and enriching and life-transforming for the good. But the longer I walk, the greater the revelation that I’ve barely scratched the surface of Who He is. Gather up all I understand about God. I’d scarcely fill a paper bag. The Mountain of His power, wisdom, grace and grandeur are still an undiscovered country.

And yet, in spite of all I do not know, I know His love.

The Apostle Paul sums up the seeming paradox:

I pray that you… know this love that surpasses knowledge….”

Ephesians 3:17,19 (NIV)

How can I know something that exceeds my ability to understand? The answer is: “I have no idea.” And yet we, mere babes, have the God-given capacity to know the Father’s love.

But the revelation of God’s love lies not in our keen knack to sneak morsels out of God’s love vault. The reality is that our God desires to impart an understandable, experiential expression of His love to us. He intends it. Mountainous though His love is, He actively and eagerly delivers kid-sized pebbles to our paper bag. This side of His Holy Hill, a brown bag will have to do. We simply have no more capacity. But one day, we’ll look on the Himalayas of His love and eternally understand. One day, what we have known in part, we will know fully.

But until then, I’m thankful for a God who lavishly and consistently delivers incomprehensible, yet completely understandable expressions of His love to my tattered paper bag.

Hope Rising

My family and I took a trip to Palm Springs not too long ago. We got a good deal on a timeshare and quickly learned why our vacation was considered “off-season.” The temperature was hot—really hot. It was north of 110 degrees hot. But we immersed ourselves in the pool, got a steady diet of air conditioning and had a great time.

tram

One afternoon, we decided we really wanted to beat the heat. We had heard from some friends about a cool excursion called the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Everyone we talked to said that this daytrip was a must.

We gathered up the kids and headed to the Tram Base Station a few miles away. Elevation: 2000 feet. Temperature: 100 degrees.

As soon as we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, my wife began to renege. What had sounded like a great idea to her earlier in the day, now melted into a malaise of nausea upon seeing the nearly vertical grade we were about to climb. You see, this tram ride just so happens to be the world’s second steepest tramway.

My children were undeterred. Turns out, peer pressure’s got nothing on “Kid Pressure,” and my wife was feeling it. All four of our kids jumped and squealed with excitement as we neared the entrance. There would be no going back for Mom. She emboldened her faith by examining the cable display and counting the steel lines that would hold our lives in their hands.

As we lifted off from the base station, the excitement only grew. We seemed to soar above the valley floor, higher and higher. The views were incredible; the sheer rock face was incredibly intimidating. Up, up, up we climbed. As we did, you couldn’t help but notice the breathtaking views. And we began to notice something more subtle wafting through the open windows: cooler air. The higher we went, the cooler the air became–the more magnificent the vista grew.

When we arrived at the summit ten minutes later, it was as though the entire world had changed. What we had left at the bottom was sand and scrub brush and molten temperatures. The top greeted us with a forest of trees and trails and greenery from out of nowhere. Oh, and it was 35 degrees cooler too. Elevation: 8500 feet.  Temperature: 65 degrees.

We spent the entire afternoon exploring and investigating trails and rock formations, plants and animals. I’ll be honest, we spent a fair amount of time just throwing rocks too. But as we loaded up in the tram to make our descent to the base station, I considered my life.

kid-looking-upThis little, ten-minute ride had reminded me that even when I find myself in the place of difficulty, the place of desolation—the desert places, I need to believe something. When life brings the heat and I’m standing in the furnace of my pain, I need to hang on to something. I need to recognize that scrub brush and heat are naturally occurring elements of the valley, especially the lowest ones. But if I’ll look up, maybe I’ll see a place that looks very different.

The higher hope rises, the more beautiful the perspective. It took the second-steepest tram ride in the world to bring that into bold detail for me. My life is a lot like that tramway. It’s hot in the valley. But the higher hope rises in my life, the more beautiful my perspective becomes.

That’s why I need to live life looking up. There is a vista, sometimes right above my head, where I can see farther. There is an outcrop, often just above the horizon, where cooler winds have soothed the searing heat. There is a mountain that Hope built. I need only look up and see it. Christ, my Hope, stands on high places, calling me to lift my countenance. The higher I allow His great hope to rise in my life, the more refreshed, the more powerful, the more beautiful the perspective.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

(Psalm 121:1-2 NIV)

Conquering Combustible Comparison

Americans buy a lot of stuff they don’t need, racking up debt they can’t afford, to impress people they don’t even like, and then Instagram it to people they don’t even know. #pathetic #are_you_friggin_kidding_me

ConqueringComparison_MJDirect

Comparison is the enemy of life’s most precious commodity: CONTENTMENT. Left unchecked, words like envy, boast, greed, pride and jealousy will build such significant pressure in our lives that we’re one spark away from a discontentment brush fire.

So how do we overthrow their power? How do we reject what seems so natural for us to indulge? How do we conquer combustible comparison?

1. ADMIT YOUR EYES TELL LIES

Matthew 6:23 (MSG) says: “If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar.”

Comparison puts us in a dark place. And no one sees well in the dark. Truth is, we never see the whole picture of another person’s situation, but we don’t like admitting that to ourselves. I call this “cherry-picking.”

Cherry-picking says:

  • “I want the paycheck, but not the travel schedule.”
  • “I want the prestigious job, but not the commute.”
  • “I want the freedoms they enjoy, but not the marriage they have.”

Husbands and wives do this to each other all the time:

  • [Wife]: “Wish I had the luxury of getting away from the kids like you do.”
  • [Husband]: “Wish I could stay home and not work.”
  • [Wife]: “Must be nice to have some adult conversation for a change.”
  • [Husband}: “Wish I had all that time to just be with the kids.”

All over the world, human beings are cherry-picking situations. While life is made up of good and bad, strength and weakness, upsides and downs, we allow our eyes to tell us the lie that you can somehow have the cherries of another person’s life without the pits.

2. RUN AWAY FROM RISKY SITUATIONS

If your weakness is envy in a relationship (like your marriage), run from the things that tend to trip you up. For most of us, that means being careful what you allow yourself to tell yourself. Listening to those lies from your eyes will burn you every time.

What is risky for you? If it’s materialism, limit your time at the mall—watch it at Walmart. If you struggle with your own vanity, choose modesty. If you put undue value in your bank account, give to someone in need. We have to starve the comparison enemy in our life in order to feed contentment. If we don’t, contentment will never grow.

3. HELP OTHER PEOPLE WINHomeless_Child_Helping

It’s a crazy principle, but it’s a key to discovering true contentment. Jesus said it Himself in Mark 10:43: “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served – and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”

Take the back so someone else can have the front. Give so someone else can receive. Go without so someone else can gain. Your life will be better when you help other people win.

4. SAY THANKS FOR WHAT YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN

Nothing breaks the back of combustible comparison quite like stopping to appreciate all that you already have. This isn’t just a Thanksgiving exercise. This is a life-long decision. Giving thanks for what we’ve already received helps us value not only the past, but the present. Beating back the brush fire of comparison will lower the combustible pressure in your life and allow true contentment to rise.

The Combustible Comparisons

My first car was a 1978 Buick Regal. What was yours?

Combustible_Comparison

I didn’t get the keys to this bad boy in ’78. I came of age in the late 80s, which meant my first ride had some serious mileage on it. The headliner sagged onto your head when you rode in it. The door latches didn’t really work. The window cranks had broken off. At one point, I actually had to tie the driver and passenger doors together with a rope from the inside, roll down the window and get in Dukes of Hazard-style.  But it worked. It got me where I needed to go. And it was a gift to me from parents who were doing their dead-level best to give me what I needed.

Buick_RegalTo further complicate my transportation self-image, I was a scholarship kid at a private high school. That meant I was a poor boy in a rich man’s world. Every time I pulled into my parking place at school, I stood out among a sea of red sports cars and convertible Beemers. But rather than appreciate my car for the first taste of independence and freedom that it was, I compared it to what other kids had and I was discontent.

 

We all want to be happy. But few people recognize the primary enemy of their own contentment. It’s a crafty little explosive device that creates so much pressure that your life can become downright combustible.

James 4:2-3 (NLT) says:

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them… you want only what will give you pleasure.”

Contentment’s greatest enemy is comparison. There are five that sneak around inside each one of us—combustibles just waiting for a spark. When I compare:

1. My worst to your best: ENVY

That’s what I did with my old car. I didn’t compare my best to their best: my parents for example. I picked what I thought was my worst. Envy invades my life when I compare my junk to someone else’s jewels—my jalopy to someone else’s Jaguar. When we see our “have-not” in another person’s “have” we fall prey to the enemy of envy.

2. My best to your worst: BOAST

You know that guy who brags about himself all the time? We all know one. He’s the expert on everything—ad nauseam. If you can’t think of someone, you’re probably that guy for someone else. This comparison burns relationship because we’re all thinking the same thing: “Where’s the nearest exit?”

3. My less to your more: GREED

Year by year, the holiday shopping season creeps earlier and earlier. Retailers, once satisfied to begin the Christmas crush on Black Friday, have begun to invade Thanksgiving itself in order to satiate the materialistic appetite of America. When I compare my lack to your abundance, greed threatens to detonate my contentment.

4. My win to your loss: PRIDE

This was me over the past few years as a San Francisco Giants fan. When you win two out of three World Series Championships, it starts feeling easy. You start believing you’re entitled to it. The problem is that pride always precedes a downfall (Prov. 16:18). And the Giants proved that in 2013, finishing sixteen games out of first with the same World Championship roster.

5. My loss to your win: JEALOUSY

This comparison observes:

  •             “I lost my job, but you got a promotion…”
  •             “My marriage sucks, but you give the impression yours is good…”
  •             “I’m barely scraping by, while you’re going on vacation to Maui…”
  •             “You seem like you’re on the top of the world. I’m an Oakland Raiders fan…”

Every person I know desperately wants to be content. Recognizing the enemies of your greatest desire is essential to beating back the brushfire of deadly comparison. Which is your biggest pressure point? Share a comment below.

Run For the Hungry

I don’t know anyone who enjoys being hungry. I know I don’t. In fact, most Americans have made the pursuit of food one of the biggest foot races in their life.

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We run to food every chance we get: for comfort, for celebration, for socializing, for fun. We don’t like being hungry, so we slather that aversion with super-sized servings of just about everything. Judging from the obesity rate in the U.S., now at nearly 36 percent, the run FROM hungry is about all the exercise we get.

But more and more, right under our cuisine-sniffing snoots, an altogether different race is being run. Today in San Diego, as many of 30% of the households can’t make financial ends meet each month. That means that 640,707 people are making the no-win decision between paying simple household utilities and buying groceries. One in four children are food insecure. They’re hungry, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

A few years ago, my wife and I stumbled across a Thanksgiving morning event in downtown San Diego called: “The Run for the Hungry.” It’s a 5K/10K fun run through the streets of the Gaslamp and East Village districts of the center city. The proceeds go to support the efforts of The San Diego Food Bank, which serves nearly sixteen million meals a year to people who need them.

I’m running again this Thanksgiving, if you want to join me. And every year, while I’m running the race, I ask myself the same question. Thanksgiving morning, before all the family face-stuffing begins, I take inventory: “Am I hungry?”

HungryPhysical hunger, especially the sort experienced by so many struggling people in the city center, is a blight that we must stand up against. It’s basic, it’s solvable and everyone can do something. So Thanksgiving morning, I will…do something, that is.

But chances are, if you’re reading this from your high-speed internet connection or $500 smart phone, you’re not all that worried about where your next meal is going to come from. You know where to go get your next grub. You have an app for that. But ask yourself: “Am I hungry?”

No matter what challenges or comforts life has dealt you, your heart is plagued by a different sort of hunger: a soul craving. You were custom-made with an intrinsic appetite for something bigger than yourself. You were crafted with a God-thirst right at your very core. You try to quench it in every conceivable way. You feed the appetite with every sort of delicacy. But it’s a hunger that can only be satisfied by the Life-yielding Bread of God.

“Am I hungry?” I ask myself, “Hungry enough to run for it?” Am I thirsty enough to reach for the Living Stream? Has a longing for something bigger—something God-sized—consumed me enough that I’ll stop at nothing to possess more of Him?

The spiritual discipline of fasting is powerful. It leverages the reminders of physical hunger for spiritual purposes. As the body’s craving for food increases, it begs the soul-question more and more: “Am I hungry—hungry for God?”

Pastor and author, John Piper, who has written extensively on prayer and fasting, says that, “Fasting is the exclamation point of the prayer: ‘God, I need you!’”

Take a look around you. Maybe drive down a city street or two. There are hungry people everywhere you look. Many need food, of the sort your local grocer can provide. But as you reach out to meet that significant need, ask the question your heart’s been begging you to examine: “Am I hungry?”

Maybe your next move is to step away from the super-size-me steeplechase and forgo a meal or two for a spiritual Q&A with God. In fasting and prayer, allow your physical hunger to sharpen your spiritual dependence on Him.

For when God is the supreme hunger of your heart, He will be supreme in everything. And when you are most satisfied in Him, He will be most glorified in you.” (John Piper)

31 Flavors

My car alarm went off last night. The clock struck one and my SUV lit up the neighborhood. Now, this alarm isn’t one of those “other” annoying car sentries that constantly whine when the wind blows or after a bassy-stereo drives by. My alarm NEVER goes off—until last night.

31_Flavors

I startled to attention, stumbling around in the dark for my flashlight, and made my way to the front door. Something was definitely wrong. This doesn’t just happen in my driveway. And when your car is honking and blinking and generally raising cain at zero dark thirty, you don’t just roll over and go back to sleep.

Turns out, one of the kids didn’t close their door all the way and the alarm had been engaged. For the first time in its life, my SUV’s alarm was sounding simply when the wind blew, much to the chagrin of my next-door neighbor. No hoodlums stealing my stereo; no robbers removing my radials. Just the wind. Just a door left open a crack.

But for many people, another door has been left ajar. The alarm sounds may not be going off yet, but there’s a problem in the driveway. There’s a bomb under the bed. There’s an IED in the doorway of their life. This bomb lurks in the shadows. It ticks silently away, disguising itself in the camouflage of selfishness. It is the powder keg of prejudice.

“Not me,” you resist. “This is 2013. I’m a progressive person. I went to college, for crying out loud. I’m no bigot. I love everybody.”

If you’re like me, you’d like to think this sort of thing couldn’t possibly happen in my driveway.  You might even take a quick peak and comfort yourself with the knowledge that your tires are still on your truck. But don’t just roll over and go back to sleep. Whether the alarm has sounded or not, the truth for most of us is that there’s at least a door cracked open somewhere in our lives. Maybe just a smoldering ugliness just waiting for a spark. Prejudice goes by other names, you know. Things we consider normal or comfortable. People or places that are our favorite. Words we say without thinking. Maybe it’s a stereotype you apply to others, or a term you use in jest. Maybe you joke with ethnic slurs or words like “retarded” or “loser.” What do you whisper under your breath when someone “invades your territory” who looks or walks or smells differently than you? What ways to you entertain prejudice in your life and convince yourself it’s perfectly reasonable?

We discriminate based on appearance and ancestry, on gender and age and ability and more. We chase after one person’s affluence, while running from the poverty we see in someone else. We show favoritism in subtle and brazen ways. And all the while, the IED is ticking at the side of our road. How do we diffuse the bomb before it goes off? How do we control the fire before the conflagration burns us and the people around us?

IJohn_420-21Three things are required to diffuse the powder keg of prejudice in our lives.

1. Love Extravagantly: This is a church for people who don’t have it all together. We have all kinds of people and backgrounds here. We’re choc full of Catholics and Charismatics, doubters and derelicts, agnostics and atheists. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. We believe Jesus loves you extravagantly. And so do we.

2. Serve Selflessly: Jesus loved, and Jesus served. Try serving someone else selflessly. Nothing gets your mind off your stress like serving someone else’s.

3. Invite Liberally: Prejudice pushes away. You kill it by inviting people in with liberality. A liberal invitation to others means assuming a posture of openness, of kindness. You break the power of bigotry and hate when you intentionally soften your heart to others and invite them into a community with kindness.

Center Church is a little like Baskin-Robbins. Like any self-respecting ice cream shop, we have 31 flavors of people. We have vanilla and mocha, but don’t limit ourselves to serve only one or the other. I love chocolate, but we don’t just stop there. There are multiple flavors and variations of people at Center Church. Some are plain; some are exotic. Some come simple; some come sprinkled with eclectic toppings. But we value every flavor in the ice cream cabinet here. And we serve them all, all the time.

If you want to value people like that, you’re welcome here. And chances are, you’ll end up saving yourself a very noisy trip to your driveway in the middle of the night. Because the powder keg of prejudice has no power where it has been rained upon lavishly with love.

So It Grows

A couple of weeks ago, my next-door neighbor dropped off a house warming present. She walked up the center of my yard with a bright, big smile on her face and four baby plants in her arms. “These are for you!” she exclaimed. “I thought your kids might like to watch them grow.”

Planting

She released her tender grip on two pairs of bean plants, still in their plastic containers. Each of my kids stared wide-eyed at this new curiosity, wanting desperately to grab the one earmarked for them. My neighbor giggled her delight at the warm reception.

“These little babies will be growing beans in no time,” she smiled. “Watch and see!” And with that she wheeled and waltzed back down the stairs.

The Tribe stood around for a moment contemplating their next steps. Then a flurry of activity began. Four little pots were assembled in a row and soil filled to the brim. Little hands dug little holes, just the right size for little bean sprouts. There was primping, patting and even a little pontificating about how big these little sprigs would grow. Each pot was watered and tenderly set into its place. And then we waited.

Each morning over the past two weeks, as the Jones Tribe walks out the door and into our day, we pass by four little bean plants. Each day they receive water and sunlight and a cheery conversation from my three year old. And each day we’ve continued to wait.

Bean PlantYesterday was different. There, hanging from the tip of the tiniest, little leaf were two brand new beans. It’s like they showed up out of nowhere: perfect, fresh and custom made by their Creator.

Our little hands played their part in helping these little beans along. But for all our planting and watering and waiting, we were only bystanders. It was God who made them grow. It was God who was at the very center of this genesis—and these little babies had His fingerprints all over them.

The Apostle Paul said of the church that,

It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.

(I Corinthians 3:7 MSG)

For the past many weeks, a group of expectant people—a new tribe—has been fawning over a new planting. Little hands have carved out little places of possibility for a new church at the center to grow. We have planted. We have done some watering. But in the end, the growing is up to God. The fruit of this endeavor belongs to Him: perfect, fresh and custom made.

October 20, 2013 will mark our very first gathering. I can hardly wait to check for beans. But as excited as I am, there’s no guesswork here. As surely as the bean plant will produce a harvest in due time, so too will God’s church.

I’m a lot like my smiling neighbor. Center Church will be growing beans in no time. Watch and see! God is at the center of this genesis and as is always the case, these little babies too will have His fingerprints all over them.