Origin Story Part 2

A little while ago, I turned out the story of this blog’s origin, or at least its title’s genesis. As I think about it further, and my experience engaging with people in conversation and watching others do the same with different approaches, I think of how we do this on Social Media too.

Enjoy part 2 of the origin.

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As the weeks turned into years of doing this thing called, Ask The Blind Pastor, I made some observations.

  • Sometimes, the Christians are overly confrontational. I had some of my biggest arguments with Christians wanting to change me or get me to think more correctly. Also, a Christian activist came on campus to overtly share his message against sin. Sadly, most were turned off by his offensive presentation style and demeanor and missed the beauty of the gospel message he shared.
  • Most people were not interested in a conversation. I am not sure why, but much of my time there consisted of people walking around me, talking to others in the quad or simply hanging out. The issue of God did not seem like a relevant topic. No matter if I changed the topic to Life or anything else, the pastor word either intimidated or unimpressed the majority of students who saw the sign.
  • Many still stopped to see what was up. Nonetheless, the efforts of being present and available to talk at their level allowed for many, many conversations to happen. Most were of a single conversation, but others came again to continue the dialogue another week. I still fondly remember one cynic who would faithfully met me to debate. I believe we formed a friendship. I wish I could have stayed in better touch with him after I went to Thailand.
  • Consistency mattered. One important part of something like this is being consistent. I have no empirical data to back this up, but can say with certainty it mattered that I was there on a regular basis. An expectation began among the students that I would be there. Thus, when they needed someone to talk to, or they had an issue from a class pop up, they knew they could come find me.
  • Curiosity brought people in. Often, those that were most interested were not the skeptics bringing the debate, but those listening in. I remember one girl who came to Jesus through this ministry was going through a big issue personally. She sat listening as I talked about God’s love in such a compelling way to a skeptic that when I was through with him, she wanted to know more. It is cool how we are still Facebook friends to this day and how she is loving Jesus more and more.

This exercise in putting yourself out there for dialogue, debate and deep conversations did many things in me as I did impact some and see a handful come to Jesus. First, I know that I am not an evangelist. The gift is not on me to see people simply come to Jesus. But, that does not stop me from being evangelistic and watching some come to Jesus. Second, we can all do something to engage the harvest, or witness of our faith, or whatever you want to call it. No one is exempt.

Finally, I learned a lot about the people living in our community, the people I wanted to reach, the people far from God in that young adult age range. I heard why many were no longer in church, or why others were so skeptical. I heard what many valued or cared about. I listened to those who talked with me, as well as those who talked around me. Sometimes, I would simply engage in conversations around me. I began to understand the way people thought and felt about the world around them. And my heart broke more for them. I wished I could do more to draw them to see Jesus.

This is what I meant a few weeks ago when I talked about “Ask The Blind Pastor” on steroids when I had a chance to consult on a TV show with religion as the backdrop, Hand of God with Ron Pearlman.

But out of this sign that I carried with me and kept safely on my desk birthed this blog in which I get to continue the conversation. I get to talk about God, life, culture, mission and the like here. I get to exercise how to articulate what I feel is important, and I hope a few people enjoy it along the way.

Origin Story Of The Blog

This has probably taken too long to come about, but alas we are here with an origin story of the blog.

Well, more an origin story of the name. This is more exciting than a story of why I jumped into the trend of blogging.

I love dialogue, and I love questions, so there we go with the ask part. Oh, maybe we should give a better picture than a word by word understanding of my nature and values.

The title flowed out of a posture I took many years ago while leading a young adults group. Maybe I should phrase the term beginning a young adults group rather than leading one. The group started mostly out of my passion to connect with young people in the area. We had a couple or three or four besides my wife and I in a healthy vibrant mostly young families church with a strong Hispanic mix.

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Our church building was basically around the corner from the local community college, Saddleback College, which claimed some 10s of thousands of students. My passion for these students grew as I took the bus in to work each morning. The bus I rode into work stopped at the community college only a couple of stops ahead of my stop for the church office.

These young people were in that wonderful time of early adulthood, a time full of possibilities, loaded with potential, energy and availability like no other station of life, and fraught with insecurity, drama, and the unknown. This is a wonderfully unstable time of life as young people want to be significant, part of something significant, going somewhere and pretending they are somewhere as they figure out where and who they want to be. I simply love it.

My heart broke for these students. How could I connect them with the story of God and what he was wanting out of their life. What more could be done? We did not have any students from the college among the few young adults we had at our church. And I wanted to get out of the office and into the community.

It was like a match made in heaven. But what to do to connect me to this beautiful and open field for conversations.

Through several brainstorming sessions with my pastor and I, we came to the conclusion, I needed to get on campus to make connections. I could enroll as a student in some fun class like pottery, a language arts class, creative writing, or something else. In the end, I decided to go straight out for my purpose, to connect with students as a local pastor, graciously, noncombatively, relationally and open-handed. However, as a blind person, I struggled with how I would connect with students. What might I do?

The strategy took form.

I would take a sign with me. A sign inviting conversation.

A sign to let people know I am blind. For me, people often miss my blindness as I have eyes that look normal. And with sight for 20 years of my life, I still look like I see with them even as I don’t. More importantly, a sign would help me as I could not simply observe who might be open to a conversation. Furthermore, I wanted students to engage me, and not to perpetuate the stereotype that witnessing is getting up in people’s business.

My sign took various adaptations but primarily read, “Ask The Blind Pastor Anything About God” The key was Ask The Blind Pastor. About life, about doubt, about anything at all.

I placed the sign on a table or in anything near the bench I sat on in the quad. And this created space for conversations.

This sign started something for me that helped me engage with people, people outside of church, something that has turned into a blog and constantly learning, listening and dialoguing. I went a couple of times a week, week-in-week-out. This became my passion. I made sure my office assignments could be flexible, so I could be out in the community. If anything, I did not want to be stuck inside the office as the world went by outside. The world often gets neglected as we pastors stay in our church work bubble, and when we forget the importance of modelling a missional posture to the world, it is no wonder evangelistic engagement slips in our churches.

If we wonder why the church is struggling to reach the world, we must ask is the church attempting to reach the world? Some are, some people are, and some churches are doing exceptional at this commission from God. However, too many are simply leaving the task up to someone else, up to the professionals, up to God and his sovereignty, or simply worrying about other things. And with the gravitational pull of working in and for the church, it is easy for leaders to simply stop being present in their community, their neighborhood, their city.

For me, I created an opportunity to dialogue, and I learned a lot about those who were not in church, their values, their passions, their reasons, and simply who they were. I loved it, and I have never forgotten the importance of listening and dialoguing with people outside of the church.

What are ways that you engage with those outside of the church bubble, outside of your bubble?

Clinging To Hope

We had a glimmer. A glimmer of hope. We felt we heard a word, a word that gave us hope to keep holding on.

Holding on like one day those Cubs will win it all. As a Cub loyalist, you get used to saying, maybe next season. Maybe

Maybe next time.

This is what it is like when you are trying to get pregnant, when getting pregnant is not easy. We often said, Maybe next time. We waited and hoped and waited longer as merely one couple who had difficulty in this area.

There are a multitude of reasons why couples struggle to have children. Some are easier to diagnose than others. For me, I had a low sperm count, so each cycle we hoped, maybe this time. The hoping and waiting can really tear at the fabric of your humanity. We are created to reproduce, so what do you do when that doesn’t happen? We even met with a fertility specialist, a doctor in Thailand while we were living there. He helped us try some interventions short of IVF, but each time fell short. However, on furlough from our mission’s assignment, we thought, let’s just take a break. Let us simply let the stress of wondering and hoping and yearning to get pregnant not be a part of these three months of crazy schedules and travel. Let’s take not only take a furlough from the work in Thailand but also a furlough from working at making a family.

We were six years into our marriage, and the question of when are you going to have a baby seemed to hit a little harder. The answers strained a bit more to come out.

‘It is all in God’s hands’

‘It is up to God’

‘We’ll see’

And so on.

The emotional pain ground at our soul as we navigated our friend’s desires for us to have children. We were now two-and-a-half years into trying. Trying to do what should be natural. What should be God’s design for marriage, for family. But still nothing.

In all of this, we held onto a promise. A promise we received around our first anniversary.

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We were at Foursquare’s Missionary training in Los Angeles at the Historic Angeles Temple property.  We were soaking in the history of our movement, and the heritage to disciple the nations. In the two-week intensive, we found our heart growing in our desire to fulfill our calling to mission.  At this point, we had no idea that Thailand would be our destination, but we were grabbing our destiny.

At the conclusion of the training, they had a commissioning service in which they prayed over each of the candidates for missionary service. For this divine moment, they had invited a special guest to pray over each of us. One of the pillars of our movement, Gene Darnell, began praying over the different couples who were preparing to go overseas to far flung shores or lands. We listened intently as she prayed prophetically over each person. As she drew near to us, our hearts raced in anticipation of what she might pray over us. We hoped for a word of how God would do a mighty thing through our lives in the place we would go, wherever that was to be. We wanted to hear of the divine purposes God had over our life. As twenty-something’s, we knew the world was at our fingertip, and we knew God had big plans. And His plan would overshadow our biggest dreams.

When she came to stand in front of us, we couldn’t hide our eagerness to hear what God would say through her, even as we stood stoically ready to receive a word.

And we could have never anticipated what she would say next.

We would have never guessed it in a hundred years.

Not ever.

She said that she did not have a word for us. But… those words faded off as my heart dropped. God did not have a word for me in that moment. Wow, oh wow. Talk about feeling deflated, letdown, or having the rug pulled out from under you.

But she did have more for us.

well not us.

She said that her word was not for us. However, she had a word for our son. Inquisitively, she asked if we were expecting. Quickly, rw replied, nope, we were not even trying at that point, not even imagining a child as we were still newlyweds in our minds. The little glint of a baby was not even in my eye.

Nonetheless, God had a word for our son and for his future ministry.

Wonderful as having a special word for our future son was, we didn’t give this word much thought over the next couple of years until…

Until having a child became difficult.

Now, back to our furlough, our time in the US after three years in Thailand. After much discussion and inner-turmoil, we decided to let go of the stress of not getting pregnant for a few months before reassessing our plans going forward. To make a long story short, in that break, God blessed us with a miracle. We found ourselves pregnant days before returning to Thailand and couldn’t have been more ecstatic and nervous. We didn’t want anything to go wrong since making the first one was such a slim shot. I didn’t have confidence to say, I could just make another one.

We were blessed in March of the next year with Eliana
 who is now four and as rambunctious, curious, and sweet as could be.

Yet, we still had this promise, this word, this hope for a son. In no way did this diminish our love or joy for the miracle that was Eliana. We knew God blessed us richly with her and would be satisfied if we only have had her.

But a glimmer of hope began to peak up in our hearts. We thought about having two children, maybe more depending on how God blessed us. And so we started trying again, and again, and again.

Quickly, we were back in that old pattern of saying, maybe next time. The pain of waiting 27, 28, 29 days only to have the cycle start again. I held out hope, optimistically believing this could be the month only to have those empty hopes come crashing down again and again.

But we had a promise. We knew that word had come from God. I am not sure how, but we knew that word resonated in our hearts as from God. But now we were nearing our 10-year anniversary. This word was becoming faint as it was nine, long, pain-filled years old.

The picture in my mind of how this word even came at that meeting many years ago was becoming blurry as old memories do. The word and promise was fading, but I was ever-clinging to hope. This thing called having a baby happened once, so surely getting pregnant could happen again. Couldn’t it?

Anything is possible, right.

At the point where hope feels so dim, and you are only reminded of it every 28 days, you start ignoring the longing to have a another child the rest of the time.

I still remember that night when Tina came to me on the couch to share the good news. Since I thought we were waiting one more day before testing, so the surprise pretty much bowled me over. I was speechless and elated all at the same time.

The promise was being reborn in me as the baby was beginning its life.

At the big ultrasound, we found out that this baby was going to be a boy. And the promise was going to be fulfilled, even if it took 10 years. God is not slow in working, but time sure seems to move slow in waiting for God’s timing.

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On April 9, 2015, our little boy was born, healthy and beautiful. We waited to name him until we met him, but there definitely was one name that had to be the one for him—Zachariah Kenneth Opie. Zachariah means God remembers which couldn’t be more true to our story and waiting. Our clinging to a promise.

Are there things in your life, you are still waiting to see take place.

A Life Well Lived

Last week, we celebrated a life well lived at the Foursquare Convention in Anaheim. And as I know this man well, his life has left behind a wake of God’s touch on the world and waves and waves of impact in a family with ongoing influence through the generations.

And this is as good of a reason as any to get back into the swing of blogging after an extended hiatus. His heritage has left a huge imprint on his family.

One of the sweet things I look forward to each year at convention is when our movement pauses for a moment to honor those who have served in ministry for a lifetime (50 and 60 years). I love stopping to say thank you to those who have stayed in the game for the long haul. These men and women are the people I want to live like, far more than the convention speakers.

On Tuesday morning of the Anaheim Convention, Tina’s grandfather, Gary Robinson, was honored among these pillars of the Foursquare Church. Each and every one of these people have given of their life and served people and followed Jesus’ call day-by-day with the longview in mind. They not only started strong but finished well. From my vantage point, that matters far more to me than someone who burned bright momentarily only to burn out. I respect them all, but this year there was one of the honored elders of our movement that I had a special connection to as I have gotten to see his life from an inside view.

To me, he is one of my heroes. Why? Because he lived like his faith mattered.

Over the years, I took Gary on as my own grandfather as he loved me like his own grandson. As I got to see him as a person, I grew to admire Gary more and more for his passion. His passion for the Lord was not just a thing seen in public but a thing he carried deep in his heart. His faith, his relationship with God simply exuded from his being. When you spent time with Gary, you knew you were with a man who spent time with the heavenly father.

But it didn’t start this way for Gary.

As a young man who grew up as a thug street gang leader in the 40s, God and godly living were not on his mind. The great story made short goes like this: God got a hold of Gary and never let go. Once this teenage hooligan decided that God was right and true, he gave his whole life over and never looked back. He determined to live his life like it counted. He decided either the stuff in the Bible is true or it isn’t, and he decided to live like it was true. And he saw God show up again and again in powerful, powerful ways throughout his life.

He has incredible stories of the miracle-working God.

Listen to this great message he recently gave sharing the stories of a man of faith. Click here for podcast.

  • He saw God stop the rain.
  • He saw God raise a dead woman when he laid hands on her.
  • He saw God do extraordinary miracles such as: Blind eyes seeing, crippled walking, the sick being made well, and many, many more.

Gary lived a life of faith with God showing his faithfulness time and time again.

Legacy

But to me, the most impacting and powerful story of Grandpa’s life is his legacy. A man who grew up far from God without family or friends with a godly heritage. All of that changed when he determined to live a new way with Jesus as his Lord. He married a beautiful woman who was saved off of the street as a child. Together they saw God transform their life and their families trajectory. They determined to live full on for God, to live with abandon in the way of Jesus with no holds barred. This was not a life of faith exhibited for public or only on Sunday morning but a life of deep faith at home.

His story has been shared again and again as it gets passed on through his children and grandchildren.

His son followed in his footsteps and has pastored for decades, well on his way to a 50-year pin.

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But the best of all is what you could see in the picture here (not including one grandson who had to leave early). Gary had two kids and four grandchildren. Each of his grandchildren are serving God in ministry. My wife, his eldest, and I were missionaries and serve on staff at a local church. The next granddaughter serves as an executive pastor. His eldest grandson is on a pathway to plant a church in the near future while his youngest grandson recently came back from two months in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya for a medical mission.

The family gathered to celebrate a life well lived, but the reality is that his life will continue to live on in his grandchildren and great grandchildren. We love you Grandpa.

2015 And Promises From “Back To The Future”

05031617A-thumb-800xauto-2672015 is around the corner.

And I have been waiting for this my whole life.

It seemed so far from my grasp when Marty McFly went back in time. Well, and into the future, which is what seemed so far away to a 10-year-old boy in 1987.  Going back to 1955 was pretty cool, but when he went into the future 30 years to the year 2015, that captivated my imagination.

I began counting off the years on my fingers until I discovered that I would be 38 years old the year that all of this cool stuff would be in my life. Yet that was older than my dad was. I never thought I would be that old.

Hover boards, tennis shoes that laced themselves automatically, flying cars and a lot of amazing stuff caught my imagination and whisked me into another time, a time of possibilities. Now, the futuristic things mentioned earlier have yet to come into practical usage by the public But some things have worked into our everyday life. We have seen TV with 500 channels which still blows me away that we can create content for that much television. And in this coming year, I am sure much of the future will be here. Surely. At least some of the newfangled things and predictions.

Some seem so possible. Some not as much.

Still, the most far-fetched of all their futuristic ideas was the World Series marquis that read Cubs and Angels. For a long time, I saw that as comic relief in a movie not rooted in reality but in fun and adventure. To me, a boy from Chicago who also lived much of his life in Orange County, these are my teams. And until 2002, I thought, this to be one of the most unlikely of all match-ups. The Angels were a laughing stock of an organization choking away their best chances in 1986 in drastic flame-out fashion and 1995. 1995 when a bunt turned into a game winning home-run propelling the upstart Seattle Mariners into the playoffs for the first time.

Okay, the Angels who were depicted by a Disney film needing actual Angels to help them to victory seemed like they really needed fantasy to be on their side. The marquis with their name had to simply be slipped in by a writer or producer with a soft spot for his hometown team. It was pretty unlikely to see them in the World Series, right. But they did make it once and won it all in 2002. And from that point, they have played competitive baseball most years. They are no longer longshots to play in the Series. 201 with the Angels in baseball’s World Series could be.

But the Cubs?

The Cubs have found incredible ways to bust the hopes of their fans on the few occasions they have had any chance of winning. Beyond that most years they embody their moniker of the loveable losers. They play, have fun and everyone loves them. Baseball on the North Side of Chicago has become more about hanging out with friends than goals of winning. Few people if any were alive the last time the Cubs won it all, so winning has turned from a distant memory to a dream. One has to dream to even think of this team winning as they have gone more than a century, that’s right a century without winning it all. 1908 seems further and further ago when we watch today’s highlights on an iPad or lowlights on our smart phone. There wasn’t even radio the last time the Cubbies one a World Series ring.

There wasn’t even radio, that simply boggles the mind. Maybe we should fold the sport, because we don’t still do many things that we did before the advent of radio.

The Cubs or the Flubs as many cynics like to refer to them seem as the most unreasonable team to put on a marquis. However, if that happened, you know it would garner big ratings. People would stop to see this most unexpected feat—The Cubs in the World Series. It may not have the Cache of the Cubs against the Yankees or against the Red Sox, the team that Theo brought back from the throes of another curse to win their first pennant in decades.

But to see Wrigley field host anything more than a meaningless summer game, would be beautiful. And for this fan boy, to see them host the Angels of Los Angeles in Anaheim would be the thing of dreams coming true. Only a few months ago, I thought the joke of Back-to-the-Future putting these two teams together in the coming year was as ridiculous as seeing flying cars go by my house next year. Well, they have missed on something that seemed so plausible, but they seem to be within reach for the former.

What seemed like  an Oasis in the desert , a figment of my mind’s eye, might be more likely now, no certain to happen as predicted by an insightful and forward thinking trilogy.

When the Cubs landed the coup of the offseason in Joe Madden, the mad-scientist of a genius baseball leader, they found their way toward respectability. Now, with a couple of trades and free agent moves, they have a team ready to compete filled with veteran stars, Jon Lester, Miguel Montero, Starling Castor and more and loaded with young talent. A few more minor tweaks, and they could meet last year’s team that boasted the most wins.

The Angels and Cubs not only could meet in the World Series, They will meet there. It is meant to be. Just ask Marty McFly. It is without a doubt. Biff has the sports book that guarantees it.

And when my two worlds collide, and the Cubs play the Angels for baseball’s championship, we can all believe in time travel.

Tell me why it won’t happen.

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The Beauty of Christmas: Giving is Better than Receiving

I asked our church a question that I need to ask myself again and again. Do we browse the Christmas deals, door busters, or whatever scares the pants off you enough to get you to the store or to drop the item into the online cart before you miss out for our own wish list or for the others that we are shopping for? Hmmm, Kind of a question that puts into perspective our proclivity to selfishness, a little part of that dark underbelly to Christmas in the 21st Century, the not so beautiful side of Christmas. But there is a part to Christmas that is overwhelmingly beautiful–giving.

The beauty of giving is what I love about the times we can get out and serve or bless with no strings attached. We are not giving to a charity that is offering us coupons, or half-off at Knott’s Berry Farm. We are not giving to get but giving to give. And our church has learned over its short lifetime to give and give. One of our favorite traditions comes each Christmas as we give to our partner church to help those less fortunate have a little more love during Christmas. Getting overlooked at other times of the year might be bad enough, but being overlooked at Christmas can simply turn a joyful season into a hopeless time of year. May that never be.

This time of year can be the most impacting, memorable, heart pounding—simply beautiful space on the calendar when we slow down to make it about its real meaning and motivations of kindness, mercy and blessing. This season opens us to  life-changing moments as Christmas runs deep with the work of Jesus. But not just his work once done long, long ago…his ongoing work in us that manifests in goodness shared all around. At least that is what it should be as those who can bless those in who have need.

Christmas should draw us together, rich and poor, privileged and under-privileged, well off or underwhelmed, loved or unloved, difficult or easy, in similar ways that the cross levels the playing field. All are equal at the foot of the cross, and all are equally deserving of Christmas’ benefits as rich and poor gathered around the manger. The story of Jesus is for everyone from all backgrounds with no favorites, no secret codes that get us in early, no membership rewards, no extra benefits. Nope, we all share a common bond as humanity, a common identity as we share in that distinction we all carry as image bearers of our creator. Christmas should remind us to think of those like us but different than us, like us in that essence of humanity but different in background, heritage or story, like us in heart and soul, but different in social standing. Here we can help all have a little more equal footing as the baby born in that manger smiles bright on each of us with his love.

And hopefully reflected through us as we spread love to those in need of more love.

For me, I love the season of joy that Christmas brings. No matter what I might long for in this year, I love the opportunities where we get to be a blessing to others. One of my highlights of the year is how we can demonstrate our love for our partner church in a simple but profound way by giving toys to the children of their community, some in the church and some in the neighborhood.

About this time last year, our church, The Connection Churchpartnered with a struggling, inner-city, under-resourced church—Faith Community Church in South Central LA. The partnership emerged easily and wonderfully as God knit the hearts of two pastors together. Two churches led by pastors who look drastically different simultaneously share a common vision to love and serve their community with all the gusto that they can muster up.

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As we have aimed to come alongside a church that loves their neighborhood but lacks the resources to fulfill their vision, I love seeing the partnership develop over the year. And this Christmas has shown the fruit of a relationship forged in love. Last year, we were able to share a smidge over 50 toys for the church to pass out to their children and friends of their children. When we heard that some of these kids may not even get one gift for Christmas, our hearts simply broke. How could this be? We have not walked in their shoes, so we could not imagine what it must be like to wake up on Christmas morning to have no toys under the Christmas tree. Perhaps there is not even a Christmas tree at the front window.

50 toys were handed out to 50 children. We saw God use us as an instrument of blessing to those who needed it the most.

But we heard that more could have been done. When we first initiated conversations with Pastor Perades so close to Christmas, too close to do more last year, we asked how many toys would they want/need. He further explained that if they had 50 gifts, they would have 50 children there to receive the gifts, and if they had 100 gifts, they would have 100 children there. As the word would get out, they would see children from the poor neighborhood flood to the Christmas celebration.

Therefore, this year we redoubled our efforts wanting to see twice the number of kids receive a ray of love during their Christmas.  People from our little church plant spread out throughout the shopping center, box-stores, and malls to gather toys and gifts for those less-privileged. They carefully selected toys that could be enjoyed by toddlers, preschoolers, youngsters, boys, girls, tweeners and children of all ages. When the collection time came to an end, we were able to take 107 gifts, plus-or-minus one to South Central. Christmas would not skip these kids once again.

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In serving and partnering, I love how we get to play our role and no more. We deliver the gifts a couple of days ahead of Faith Community’s Christmas service with no strings attached. They get to do what is best for their people, for their community, and we do not have to be there to receive the glory. Faith Community gets to be the visible representation of God’s love to the children and their families.

Now, let me explain why this giving gesture and participation with the needy has quickly become one of my favorite days of the year. We get to be a blessing on their terms and not ours. And blessing really becomes the movement of this partnership. The blessing is mutual as we learn and receive from them as well.

To me, the gesture of generosity is nice, but when Pastor Perades receives our gift, he shows such incredible gratitude which profoundly moves me. I tell him that I come just for a chance to eat good food at his favorite restaurants, but really, I come to feel the joy he exudes when God answers prayers. I am always blown away by how touched he is that people would get up out of their comfortable world to enter his and join him on his level for a bit. He shares story after story of how God meets them in their hour of need, never growing to callous to be amazed. Yet, I know his struggle of ministering in South Central is real. But I get to hang out with a guy who shows sweet perseverance through the struggle. His heart is so big, and his joy so great; he knows how to express the beauty of Christmas.

When he grabbed the bags with me out of our car, he just lit up. When we placed the bags down on the table and he lingered to look the toys and unwrapped presents over, while we grabbed more out of the car, I knew he was touched. When he suddenly and joyfully blurted these are the good toys, these are not no dollar store toys. No, these are the primo ones! We get Build-A-Bear, skateboards, Disney dolls, games and on the list goes for all ages to be blessed. He tells me all I need to know to know we are in the middle of a good partnership.

Now, it would be cool to be there when the toys are actually received by the children, some more expressive and others more stoic, but this is not our day it is the children’s day. And St. Nick didn’t wait around to see the faces of people brighten; he gave to give knowing that was simply enough.

But in America, we like happy endings, so I needed to text Pastor Perades Sunday afternoon to catch his summation of how the event went for their church and community. I knew he was putting on the full-court press to get all the neighborhood’s kids there that were in need of a special Christmas treat, not just one more toy to add to their collection, but a real demonstration of love. He was grabbing people on our way out of the parking lot to lunch to make sure they knew what was up.

Thus, I anticipated a good report. But what I got really blew me away as I previously posted Pastor Perades thoughts of realism when it comes to giveaways. He has not found gimmicks to be as evangelistically fruitful as we often think. Yet giving away love should always be at the heart of how we live. After that, the rest is up to God. But when you tie together relationships, community, love, the story of Christmas and a bit extra in the gifts department and a few other factors I am sure I am unaware, you can get a great moment, a beautiful moment, a moment in which 16 people give their lives to Jesus. This is where the church lives out their mission on their own feet with a little nudge from their partners down the way in Orange County. Oh, imagine what could happen if more smaller churches partnered together. Hmm, sounds like a good post for the days between Christmas and New Year’s as we reflect on values for the coming year.

Christmas doesn’t get any better than when people accept the greatest gift into their heart, a gift that forever changes them. And Faith Community got to play a big part in helping see the gift of Jesus actualized in these people. And we played a part in that too, a small but essential part.

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What are your favorite memories of giving this Christmas?

Waking Up To My Calling

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I have told this story over the years in different venues from churches, to chapel at my alma mater to the class I teach at LPC—Multicultural Evangelism. But now, might be the time to share the story here, a little background on where I came from, and how I got to where I am. Oh, and to add in a missing piece to this story that has haunted me for a couple of decades–who was that speaker at camp?

I love sharing the crazy way that God worked with me or in spite of me to get me where he wanted me, the mission field. I still get chills thinking of how incredible God is at getting us to the places he wants us to be. I am blown away when I reflect backwards on the pathway God used to place me in the middle of where he wanted me—his calling.

The story of calling is an interesting thing. We don’t often define calling well, that mysterious thing that grips our heart and compels us onward in God’s mission. Calling is that thing we return to again and again when questions, doubts, and concerns assail us. We come back to a confidence that God has a purpose in what he is doing in and through us. Yep, “Calling” keeps us going.

My calling came to a distinct point of grabbing my heart 20 years ago, the summer before my senior year in high school. And I remember it vividly to this day. Sometimes, there are moments that simply burn themselves into your mind, memory burn. The distant memories surrounding my calling stick with me like it was yesterday.

At 17-years-old, I went to summer camp for the first time with my new church, the Foursquare church in Woodstock, IL.

You might ask, Why did I go? The same reason many teenage boys go to camp, because a cute girl invited me. This was reason enough to approach my football coach and ask out of two-a-day practice ahead of my senior year, ahead of my time to shine as a varsity starter. I gulped, gathered myself, and asked coach if I could get out of practice. It was not his favorite idea of the year, but he relented and allowed me 24 hours.

Yeah buddy!! I was on a solo mission as I drove my beater of a car the three hour drive into the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin to arrive at Spencer Lake Campgrounds. Tired, frazzled, worn out, but excited, I made it to camp. No matter, I had energy reserves ready to kick in. Quickly, I found the kids from my youth group at the line for dinner. That cute girl, however, was strangely difficult to locate. No worries, the dudes were around, and we were able to pass the time by being stupid guys.

Fast forward to the evening service. Worship was awesome. I sang, danced and praised my heart out during a hot August night in 1994. Anticipating a great message for missions.  That is when the disappointment set in.

The speaker was a guy that I had heard the previous Sunday at my church, twice. As I retold this story over the years, beginning with a graduation brunch with the then President of our movement, all I remember is that an old guy was speaking at our camp, an old guy who spoke twice at my church. I had no excitement for what he was going to say. Don’t get me wrong, I like the stories our elders have to share, but I was not looking forward to story time. I wanted passion, fun, and something that connected with where I lived as a teenager.

Now, my tired body, pushed to the limit by football practices, had nothing left. The adrenaline high of seeing my friends, of jumping around in a worship service, of being in the presence of God drained out of me. Quickly, I went from being alert, tuned in, and full of life to a drowsy boy. As soon as the speaker started, I knew he was giving the same message he gave at my church, a good message, a solid message on missions, but the same message. I was ready for something new, but had little ability to stay awake for the same message again.

The next thing I knew, I was jerking my head up, yanking myself awake. I couldn’t sleep through the only night of camp I went to, could I? The answer: Yes. I gave up the battle of trying to stay awake. My head stopped bobbing up and down, stopped pulling back awake, and gave in to the battle of sleep as I folded my arms over my lap and drooped my head down. And I was oblivious to the world around me for I don’t know how long, maybe 45-60 minutes.

When I started coming to, dragging my sleepy head back into the world of the living, I heard the speaker beginning to call people to a response. He was wrapping up his message and concluding it with a call to mission. The speaker was calling people into two categories. One were going to be like ducks and another like beavers. The ducks would be those that would fly, would travel, would brave long distances to take the gospel to other peoples. At the same time, the beavers would stay back home, building, gathering, and compiling resources to support the ducks in mission. Both were needed. We needed those that would go, and those that would send.

But I was still catching up to the story. I wasn’t sure what this related to. In fact, I was still quite groggy and felt super confused. I was not from Oregon and did not know my zoology super-duper well. I wanted to ask what does this have to do with mission and evangelism. I was lost  in the middle of the analogy when suddenly the middle became the end.

The speaker began to call people forward in response to what God was doing in their hearts. He called those who felt the burden to go, to be like a duck to one side of the platform. Meanwhile, he called those committed to support, to resource, like the beavers to another side of the platform.

I couldn’t help myself as I was drawn out of my seat toward the front. I couldn’t say emotion of a great service grabbed me, no, this was bigger than that. I felt compelled to go forward and stand with the ducks, the group committed to go, to be on mission with God. There was no doubt in my mind where I should stand, although the cobwebs were still in my head keeping me from fully grasping what was happening. But I was there. I responded to the call for missions with my friends.

However, I completely rearranged what God was saying. I didn’t want to accept the going as the call and wanted to be a missionary to my people, to my city.

Long story short, I avoided the mission’s call to the best of my ability. I avoided the girls in Bible College with a call to missions. I ducked my calling without even knowing it. In my mind, I was staying on track to be a pastor, a church planter to Chicago, a missionary to my city. My plans made such good sense to me.

But all of this changed when I met my wife shortly after graduating Bible College.

When things started to get serious, she informed me of her calling to missions. Immediately, my heart dropped. I thought, how could this be. I worked so hard to get by without getting in a relationship with a missionary. She wanted to lay out the framework for how things were going, make sure her calling didn’t get derailed.

She gave me three options:

  • We could continue dating, and if things progressed, we could date while she served overseas for a year and get married when she comes back.
  • We could continue dating and if things led to marriage, go overseas together for a year.
  • Or, we could break up.

And the story ended happily ever after as we ended up going together as a married couple.

Soon I discovered this was my calling. Soon I came around to understand that I fulfilled what God spoke into me that night when I slept through the message. I became the missionary, the duck who would fly far to take the gospel to distant places. I ended up on God’s path all along even though I worked hard to get around it, to juke Him. He would not be juked or jived. God took me where he wanted me to be.

I found that it doesn’t matter if we forget our calling, as long as we stay close to God we will get where he wants us to be.

Now, for years, one thing plagued me. Who was the speaker? I usually remembered the different camp speakers who impacted my walk. I was good with names, but not this one. As a punk high school student who knew nothing about anything, I totally missed the significance of who this was. I went on my way never giving a second thought to who it was that spoke into my life. I could not tell you who that divine contact was for the life of me.

I told the story again and again merely calling him some old dude. But now, after years of serving overseas and now teaching on the subject, I wanted to know who it was. Who was this man that gave me a passion for missions?

Where could I turn to find the answer? I asked around to those from my church, to others who might know with no results. Finally, I sought the answer from the former camp director’s wife. I messaged her on Facebook and after several attempts, she sent me the answer. When I heard who the speaker was, I was floored. I could not believe it.

Don McGregor.

Yes, the one and only, Don McGregor. I was clueless at 17 who he was, but as a student at Bible College, I found him fascinating when he spoke in one of my classes on leadership. I still remember things he said there.  To this day, I have stored away some of the nuggets on leadership I learned from this giant in missions. But our interaction was short-lived. It was not for a much longer time later that I met him again.

In our last year as missionaries, we met the then, 84-year-old missionary statesman at a conference. He quickly became one of my heroes. As one of the pillars of Foursquare Missions, he blazed a path that still has fruit throughout Asia. Oh, and in his mid-60s, he spoke at my little camp, the night I awoke to my calling.

Tell me this. What was your calling like?