Archives for category: prayer

Becoming a dad is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me. It has forced me to come to terms with my (massive) shortcomings, humbles me every single day and has brought me greater joy than I could have imagined. It seems like an eternity ago, but we used to catch our daughter singing the Blue’s Clues theme song to herself in her mirror, dancing and smiling, using whatever toy she happened to find as her mic. In fact, tonight, as we sat together to worship, we caught her watching herself in that same mirror, dancing and smiling, as we sang a praise song together.

Jason Evans wrote a great post awhile back, Making Lunch, in which he talks about how the everyday act of making lunch for his children has become an integral, fulfilling spiritual discipline in his life. J’s words remind me not only of the kind of community I’d like to be a part of, but the kind of father I hope to become:

I am now the father, the teacher of these two little ones. I often tell new parents, “Your children are your greatest disciples… Don’t forget that this is your calling, to disciple these children in the way of Jesus.”

It’s tempting to farm out this responsibility to the professionals at the church. Who hasn’t had a really long week at work and wouldn’t want to drop off the kids for a couple of hours for some me-time? Is it too much to ask youth pastors to perform a quick two-hour extreme makeover on our prodigal kids — after all, what do we pay them for anyways? However, the formation of the resurrected life of Christ in us is a much longer and slower journey, and requires the patient, loving, everyday guidance of those who were first entrusted with these children.

Maybe it starts with helping parents to see that following Jesus around is a worthwhile, fulfilling, honorable endeavor. For those who feel “unqualified” I am reminded of Eugene Peterson’s words, “Everyone is a beginner in this business. There are no experts… Spiritual formation is not something we master.”

When I see how our daughter is growing everyday in brightness and love for God, I am amazed — and deeply grateful — that my failures do not prevent Christ being formed in her. Her life reminds me of this high and holy calling to lead her, in the ordinary and in-between, on the path of following Jesus. When I struggle with the heavy weight of discouragement, I know that I need to reconnect with God, to pursue the life that makes me feel fully alive in Christ so that instead of having a tired, irritable grouch stomping around the place, our daughter can see me following Jesus through the mess, and His life (slowly) being formed in me and — hopefully — she will want to follow Him as well.

I’m heading out on a weekend retreat with our youth group. Please pray for me.

Here’s a little design I worked up for our retreat:

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If I’m not back by Sunday evening, please send a team into the woods looking for me.

I still haven’t gotten my mind wrapped around all of things God was doing at the Passion::Los Angeles regional event from this past weekend. Perhaps I will be able to unpack some of these things soon but the thought of how closely worship and justice are knit together absolutely gripped my heart.

Although I am doing one thing he specifically requested we not do after hearing him speak in saying this, Francis Chan is everything you’d want a speaker to be — dynamic, funny, engaging. I mentioned to our youth group students this morning at church that if God zaps certain people with lightning bolts of communication ability, Francis Chan is definitely one of them. While I certainly appreciate his giftedness, it is the heart of God that comes through so passionately when I have heard him speak.

During one of his messages, he shared about an artist he knows from Thailand who had been teaching children. As she spent time with them, she discovered that child after child had been forced into prostitution. So she did what she knew was right. This artist would enter these brothels, find these children — each beloved, made in the image of God — and literally steal them away from this life of degradation and exploitation. Quickly, she was receiving imminent, credible death threats, so she took all of her children to safety. Today, she awakes every morning to a houseful of rescue, 120 children.

Francis went on to say that he loves college students because they will do crazy things. For example, if he told this gathering of over 3000 college students that he had chartered six planes to go to Thailand so that we could run into these dark places and rescue as many kids as we could, he knew that they would be filled. If those hypothetical planes had been waiting on the tarmac at LAX, even though my college days are distant memory, I would have left that night to go.

Even as I sit here and type these words, my heart rages against the sin, decay and brokenness of our world. How do we live in a world in which evil men and women would abuse children in such unspeakable ways? When Francis brought his oldest daughter out on the stage as he was speaking on this, I could not help but hold my own daughter close to my heart. If it were our daughters out there, we wouldn’t be sitting comfortably in our churches, critiquing the songs — Well, David Crowder shouldn’t have used that Guitar Hero Flying V during Neverending. I would have used the Gibson SG, and on and on — we would move heaven and earth and until they were safe.

They’re all our daughters. Each one of these children upon whom the worst depravity of humanity has been unleashed bears the indelible imprint of our Creator and is unimaginably loved by Him. I love my daughter more and more each year. Becoming a dad is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I would do anything for her, and it is overwhelming to imagine what God’s heart must feel like when He sees what is happening to His children around the world.

My heart felt like it was being crushed in a vice grip when Francis spoke of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 — they’re all our daughters, they are all created and loved by God and, in some barely comprehensible way, they are all Jesus. Who else could be more aptly described as the least of these? It is unbearable to imagine Jesus — Jesus — hungry, naked, thirsty, imprisoned, voiceless, oppressed and yet, when we choose to bring light into dark places, to come against such horror with redemption and rescue, to allow our worship to overflow into righteousness and justice, we have done it for Him.

To learn more or to find ways to get involved, here some organizations committed to bringing about justice in our broken world:

Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! – Amos 5:23-24

As Eugene Cho wrote recently in southern california is burning, it can be hard to actually enter into another person’s experience. Even for us, right in the midst of the firestorm and its aftermath here in SD, there can be a strange disconnect. Like others around the nation, we’ve been watching the firestorm from the television. As Shane Hipps comments, “The screen always wins.” I mean, we are here and it wasn’t even a week ago that we were grabbing only the essentials as we evacuated through the smoke and sirens early in the morning and yet watching the constant news feed has a strange, dulling effect. The sense of being “informed” creates a false sense of understanding, which can easily create a barrier to actually engaging the reality of individual people’s lives.

Sometimes it takes just being there to feel and understand it. During our return back to San Diego, we drove past the Camp Pendleton fires which created a menacing black cloud through which we had to drive. This junky cell phone photo (which, not to worry, were taken by my wife from the passenger seat!) shows how powerful one small brush fire can be — the hills and valleys in the immediate vicinity were, at the time, pretty well ablaze, so you can imagine what the larger scene looked like:

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However, more than just driving by, what brought home the impact of these fires for me was helping a church family try to deal with the aftermath. This particular family lives in one of the hard-hit neighborhoods and were just able to re-enter today. After much worrying and wondering, they were relieved to find their home in good condition. Their neighbor five houses, down, however, was not so fortunate:
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I have heard about the random nature of fires — one house will be perfectly fine, the next completely leveled. But it is an altogether different experience to see it with my own eyes. We spent most of the afternoon trying to clean up the ash and soot that covered most of everything and to try to make their place livable again.

On Monday, while were still greeting evacuees at our church, a stranger wandered into our education building. After talking for a bit, finding out some of his story and giving him some bus fare, he said (regarding the wildfires), “You know, people call these kinds of things ‘acts of God.'” I told him I didn’t think that was an accurate description of what was happening. As much as we’re all grateful that God has spared our homes, can we really say that we out-prayed or received more favor from God than those who lost their homes? I don’t think this is a straightforward one-to-one proposition — otherwise, we’d all end up losing our places, wouldn’t we?

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After cleaning the front of the house and the garage, we moved to the backyard — which, if we didn’t realize it before, definitely put into perspective how close they came to losing their house. One family member saw the garden hose in the back and didn’t remember leaving it out, and then we saw this burnt out palm tree, not even ten feet from the house:

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We could only guess that either a firefighter or neighbor who stayed behind saw the burning palm tree and doused the flames with the garden hose. Just beyond the white fence is the ravine through which the fire cut a brutal path — embers kicked up from the Santa Ana winds must have caught the house five doors down.

However, the street just across the gulch was hit much harder. I passed house after house that looked as if some angry, mythic giant had just stomped on them; but there was the same randomness — one house was hit, the next three were fine, and then two in a row were gone. News crews were out in full force (I saw at least three), chronicling the heartbreak of families trying to salvage whatever they could.

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My daughter attends the preschool of a church in this community in which 57 families lost their homes. Tonight, they hosted a gathering of worship, prayer and sharing. It did our hearts good to stand with others in our community who have lost it all and yet can say, “We are survivors; God is with us” as we did as a modified benediction today. Reading Scripture together, seeking God and interceding on behalf of others, sitting together in silence. The old hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” came together with a new resonance tonight.

We realized tonight that, in our longing for connection, community is not going to come to us — we have to pursue it, build it wherever we are. If you are in the San Diego area, there are plenty of people in need. Some need help sifting through the rubble, some might need special expertise navigating the maze of FEMA and insurance, and some might just need you to listen to their stories and weep with them. Let’s be the body of Christ to a hurting world. Or, as Donald Miller writes, followers of Christ are called to live “as if something was broken in the world and we were supposed to hold our palms against the wound.”

After an arduous and extremely surreal couple of days on the run, we are finally back home.

Apart from the ash covering the stairs and landing in front of our place, things are looking pretty normal around here. However, that sigh of relief that I breathed upon seeing our apartment complex still standing was followed quickly by a prayer for the thousands who have now found themselves homeless. Or, perhaps even worse, still do not know the status of their place — as is the case with one of our church families.

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Today, we awoke at my father-in-law’s place before six in the morning to the sound of sirens wailing in the near distance. After making sure things were settled down at church on Monday, we drove straight up to Orange County to my father-in-law’s place because they were uncomfortably close to the Santiago Fire (apparently — inexplicably — the result of arson). We wanted to makes sure we were there to help them evacuate, if necessary. After all, our church community has one another, but we are the only family around to help my father-in-law.

It was the sound of police sirens that first alerted us to the evacuation up in Rancho Bernardo, so when we heard them in OC my heart was pounding as I raced to the computer to find out what was happening. Unfortunately, they are still using a dial-up connection to the internet. I was not aware that people still used dial-up. This was, perhaps, a divine test of my patience, as pages that take more than five seconds or so to load usually drive me nuts. After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to locate the number to the local sheriff and to the Santiago Fire hotline. I received assurances from both that the danger was not imminent, and there were no evacuations for this community. This, despite the fact that we could see the flames from the second-floor balcony and ash was beginning to fall like snow.

We spent the remainder of the morning calling every church family we could, making sure everyone was alright. Throughout the morning, we kept receiving the good report that many were able to repopulate their homes. We also kept in contact with the local sheriff’s department and fire hotline to make sure there were no local evacuations. After receiving assurances that things were stabilizing around OC, we made the trek down the 5 freeway back to San Diego. We passed through the area of the Camp Pendleton fires, which had caused intermittent closings of the 5 throughout the morning. Though this fire was “small” in comparison to some of the beasts that have been raging across Southern California, there is something extremely emotional about seeing a wildfire up close. I’m just glad that our daughter was sleeping as we passed through the hellish, billowing smoke that blackened the afternoon sky.

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Something cynical inside me wants to rebel against the constant media barrage and emotional manipulation — the Kenny G tracks playing over photo montages of people weeping in front of their burning homes, the breathless “on the scene” reporters, the grandstanding talking heads using the crisis to yammer on about their pet political stance.

Firefighters battling Southern California blazes, from SignOnSanDiego.comAnd yet, there is no denying some of what has unfortunately almost become cliche during these kinds of tragedies. There can be no doubt about the heroism of the hundreds of firefighters who have fought these blazes day and night. With hardly enough time to rest for a moment, these brave men & women have put their lives on the line to save lives and homes. One family lost their home, but firefighters found a safe moment to dash into the home and grab some photos before all was lost. As one firefighter said during an interview, “Every home is our home.”

I don’t mean to sound gratuitous in saying this (I never use this as sermon material), but I am reminded of 9/11. We were on the ragged edge of disaster there as well — living just across the bridge to the city in Palisades Park. We have heard it so many times, but when everyone else was running away from the burning towers hundreds of firefighters were running toward them. And we have seen the same selfless heroism on display this week.

In fact, the reason we felt secure in leaving my father-in-law in Orange County was because of the incredible work of the understaffed firefighters to make a stand against the Santiago Fire. Almost on sheer will it seems, they have beaten back the beast.

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The crazed dash to evacuate our place really put things into perspective for us in terms of what is really important. I was really pleased to receive my Junky Car Club membership in the mail a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn’t quite ready to live out their motto, “Learning to live with less so that we can give more” by losing everything we own to the firestorm. However, amidst the sirens and smoke, ash and adrenaline as we evacuated the blaze, what really mattered was getting our family out of there.

I am so thankful for my wife and daughter. My wife was the first one to bring panicked church members together to pray — and not only for the winds to cease and the fire to fall back, but for our community to seek God’s heart. During the non-stop news reports, our four-year old daughter kept asking if our place burned down. We tried explaining that we hoped things were fine, but even if we lost our place that God would still take care of us. Finally, we realized she was concerned that her dolls would be hurt and that she was not there to help them escape. Today, we heard a story on the radio about a man who bought out the local big box retailer for children’s backpacks. Our daughter asked us why he did that, and we explained that there were lots of kids at the stadium who lost all of their stuff in the fires. Her eyes lit up and she said earnestly, “I have toys at home. I can share with them!”

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There is an uneasy calm as things get back to “normal” around here. Will tomorrow bring another phone call about a friend who lost a home? When can we stop wearing masks outside? Can the talking heads and pundits wait until at least next week before launching their politicized tirades against whomever?

I am worn out. And, even in saying that, I feel guilty because I know there are many others just down the street who do not have luxury of typing those words in the comfort of their home. All I can do is join the psalmist and pray:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Thank you for your prayer, concern and offers of shelter and help — you have been God’s tangible grace to our family. May God continue to have mercy on all of us here.