Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bret and Lucie's Wedding!!

Now that I have some down time, I figured it’s time to blog about my brother’s wedding. It was this last Saturday, and it was an incredible event! My brother (Bret) has been living in Prague, Czech Republic for roughly the last 6 years. During most of that time, he’s been dating a very sweet Czech girl named Lucie Fricova. Almost every time we’ve seen Bret when we’ve traveled to Europe or when he’s flown home, we’ve seen Lucie as well, and thus have had many opportunities to get to know her. She’s an incredible person, so we were excited and supportive of Bret when he told us that he proposed to her last Valentine’s Day. Well, the day came yesterday, and it was a great celebration.

We arrived in Prague about 5 days before the wedding, and spent time doing a combination of sight-seeing and helping Bret and Lucie with various items to prepare for the wedding (mainly my dad and I getting fitted for our tuxes with Bret, but there were other small things). This was our third trip to Prague, so we didn’t feel the need to do a whole lot of sight-seeing around, but it is an incredible city, and I highly recommend anyone go to visit. Most of my extended family was not able to come, other than my oldest aunt and uncle from PA. But many of my parents friends from their care group/bible study from PCC were able to come out! We were joined by Don and Marian Block, Bill and Ute Hayes, and Phyllis Brown. All of our actual relatives are in the Midwest and on the East coast, so these other folks are like a second family to Bret and I, so it was wonderful to have them there to celebrate.

Prague Castle

My dad and I with the Prague Golem
Tyn Church in Old Town Square

My parents and I

Dinner with Lucie's family

The wedding itself was at a castle about an hour’s drive outside of Prague in a place called Krivoklat. It was the first day-trip date that Bret and Lucie went on together, so it was a fitting location for them to get married. It’s a small charming town, and the castle is very cool (most of us were able to get a great tour of the castle the morning of the wedding). They got married on a pathway on one side of the castle, underneath an archway. While the weather wasn’t the greatest at the start of the day, the clouds and wind mostly cleared up by the time of the wedding, so it was very nice and comfortable outside. Lucie looked beautiful, and all of us were incredibly joyful about the whole thing.

Some shots of Krivoklat Castle

The happy couple

We could take James Bond on!!

Czech weddings are quite interesting. The Czech Republic is predominantly atheist, which is ironic considering how many cathedrals there are in Prague. Like most of Europe, they have a very rich religious history, but Communism really does do a lot to wipe out any sentimentality towards religion or spirituality. I often explain that in the US, most people will say they’re spiritual or that they believe in God. In the Czech Republic, people aren’t even all that spiritual. Most don’t bother to take the time to have any concept of God, let alone Jesus. The worldview is really simple – just enjoy life and be a good person. It will probably be another generation or two before any sense of spiritual renewal among Czechs becomes prominent. Needless to say, Lucie is an atheist, and Bret likewise doesn’t have any faith beliefs or practices that are part of his life. So, when they asked me to speak at their wedding, I knew it was going to be a unique experience.

Because of the lack of religion, the typical Czech wedding is more about the legal issues of marriage than anything else. Love and relationships are definitely talked about, but what’s most highlighted are the legal bindings of marriage. The person that performs the ceremony is a registrar who works for the government, someone who has no personal relationship with the bride and groom. But Bret and Lucie wanted their wedding to be more substantial, which I think is part of the reason why they asked me to speak. The wedding was done with a translator, and I spoke in between the portions where the registrar spoke.

Bret and Lucie asked me speak at their wedding maybe 6 months or so ago, so my ideas for what to say had been marinating in my mind for a long time. I told Bret that out of my own personal convictions, I had to talk about God in my message. I didn’t mention Jesus, but I talked about how God has created us to love and be in loving relationships, and that God helps us to love when we fall short (if you want to read my message, it’s posted here). Finally about a week before we left for Europe, I sat down to write the wedding homily, and emailed it off to Bret and Lucie to make sure it met their approval. They approved the first draft, absolutely loving it! I was amazed, as I expected that I would have to write 2 or 3 more drafts. Lots of prayer went into the writing, my speaking, and ultimately into how it was received by everyone, but particularly Bret and Lucie. Thanks to all of you who were praying about this, the fruit of it came through incredibly! Everybody enjoyed the message, as I received a lot of encouraging compliments from our friends and family, and from many of Bret and Lucie’s friends and family. During the reception afterwards, I definitely had a lot of fun but interesting conversations with people about Christianity, but more about my desire to be a youth pastor. Most people there think I want to be a priest!

After the ceremony, we moved on to take pictures in the castle courtyard and then the reception. The family and wedding party had a special dinner separate from everyone else. We had a fabulous dinner, but the rest of the guests’ buffet options looked quite good as well (they were slow roasting a whole pig and served it!) During our dinner, Bret and Lucie had to eat the soup out of the same bowl, and had a large bib wrapped around both of them! I guess that’s the Czech version of the bride and groom feeding cake to each other. It was pretty funny. Both my dad and my uncle gave toasts, but who knows if Lucie’s family understood or not (the translator from the ceremony said his job was done for the day!).

Eating soup with a giant bib!

Cutting the cake

After cake, the dancing began. Bret and Lucie’s choice in music was also interesting, because Bret’s not really a fan of mainstream pop or rock and roll music (mostly industrial, electronic, and drum & bass). He loves DJ-ing, and had one of his friends run the music. Not too many of the songs were really dancing songs, but Bret and Lucie and others managed to work with it. Early on, they played a few traditional Czech polka songs, and a man who was a longtime friend of Lucie’s family was a very good dancer. Bret and Lucie, meanwhile, faked it, and then polka’d right out of the room together!

Various dancing shots. Can you tell which ones are the polka ones?

I like this one in particular.

Another Czech tradition that is unique to us is the kidnapping and ransoming of the bride. At some point in the evening, the groom’s friends kidnap the bride, take her to a bar or pub and begin to get her drunk with a bunch of shots. The groom has to come find her and pay the tab to “ransom” her back. Fortunately, Bret knew about the tradition, and only noticed Lucie was gone after about 20 minutes or so. And because Krivoklat is a really small town, there were only two or three possible places where she could be. So they found her pretty quickly before the tab got too expensive!

Sorry that this is such a long post, but it was quite a day, and worth taking the time to tell of the highlights and how special it was. I know for me, it was a great day to see my brother and Lucie get married, as they truly are in love with each other. I’m confident that God spoke and said what needed to be said. I’m thankful for all the encouragement and affirmations I received from my friends and family. I even got to pray for Bret before the ceremony started, something I haven’t done with him for a VERY long time. Everything turned out great, and I’m thankful that God provided and guided and spoke through the whole thing. Who knows, maybe God planted a few seeds in Bret and Lucie’s hearts and minds. Keep praying for them to come to know Jesus. I confess I’ve had my doubts in the past (and sometimes still do) but am hopeful nevertheless.

Bret and Lucie Wedding Message

This was the message that I gave when I spoke at my brother's wedding:

Friends and Family,

We are gathered here today to celebrate Bret and Lucie as they enter a new stage of life together in the bonds of marriage. They have chosen to marry each other because of their great love for each other, because of the commitment to each other, and because they wish to declare their love in the presence of those closest to them. Their relationship has been quite a journey, hasn’t it? Can you believe, Bret, that it has only been about 6 years since you decided to leave everything familiar in the United States and come here to Prague to begin a new stage in life? Did you ever expect that it would lead you here, to marry the woman who has not only become the love of your life, but whom also has become your best friend? Probably not, I assume. Or Lucie, did you ever think that you would fall in love with an American aspiring-artist-turned English teacher? Maybe, maybe not, some people aim very high!

Nevertheless these two found each other. And what has been amazing about their relationship is their commitment that they have demonstrated to each other even from the earliest stages. The quality about Lucie that Bret always pointed out from early on was how sweet and kind Lucie is, and how she desires to take care of people in need, doing so with a grateful heart. There’s a reason she enjoys her work with Unicef. She wouldn’t be so good at it if it she didn’t care so deeply about helping people around the world in need. Their first meeting late one night at a bar in Prague speaks to that caring quality of hers. My parents and I have never learned the full extent of Bret’s (*cough*) state of mind that night, and something tells me we never will! Bret was still new to Prague and had yet to fully learn his way around the city, particularly how to get back home. But Lucie clearly saw that Bret was in no condition to take care of himself that evening. So she did what came natural to her – stepped in and gave a caring hand by opening up her home for him to stay for the night. And after encountering each other enough times after that, their dating relationship began.

Bret also demonstrated a commitment to Lucie early on. When Lucie began having some health problems, Bret stood by her to make sure that she was being taken care of properly. I don’t think they had been seeing each for that long, or if their ability to speak in English to each other was very developed. Bret has often joked with us how Lucie’s English improved significantly in their time together, but his Czech was much farther behind. But Bret knew that Lucie needed someone to help her through her sudden changes. And in the long run, they have helped each other become better people, ultimately learning to love each other through the different seasons of life.

You see my dear friends, we are created to love each other. With all my heart, I believe that God has created each person on this planet with the desire and the capacity to love. It is why we need our families, why we need a community of friendships. God has created us to love, and calls us to show that love in real, tangible ways. We are God’s creation, and because of that, we seek love and desire to show love for each other because of the love that God has for us. Let me read to you a passage that describes what this love that God calls us to looks like.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

This is real love. Love is always shown in our actions with each other. But let’s be honest, we can often make a lot of mistakes along the way as we try our best to love each other. Bret and Lucie have been through many things together, and have worked through them. And they will continue to struggle together. But they are committed to each other, because today they are swearing their total love and devotion to each other, a commitment that requires us to give every bit of ourselves to. And I believe that in the times we are unable to love each other to the fullest degree possible – with patience, kindness, without boasting or anger like those lines I just read to you – it is in those times that God helps us and gives us the ability to love each other when we feel like we have nothing of ourselves left to give! That is how potent and how important love is, and why marriage is such a huge deal.

I like to think of the marriage commitment that Bret and Lucie are making today as a covenant relationship. A covenant relationship is a love relationship that is defined by the most intense commitment, the greatest passion, and the greatest desire to remain together through the thick and thin. It is the kind of love relationship that fails to be captured only with words, but is always being demonstrated in their actions, in their time together, and in guiding each other on this journey of life together. It is a vow that is not and should not be taken lightly. It is the kind of relationship that when you see two people like Bret and Lucie together demonstrating their love for each other and to those around them alongside each other, that people look and say, “Wow! That is real, that is special, and that is good!” I can’t think of a greater calling for two people in love than to make this kind of commitment to each other. And it’s because of this vow, this commitment, this covenant, that Bret and Lucie have so much to look forward to as they enter this new and exciting stage of life together.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is it ok to be addicted to baptisms?

Hey all. Just thought I would share this video from Bass Lake. Thanks again for all your prayers and support. Be encouraged, it is making a difference!

BASS LAKE 2009 BAPTISMS from Brian Holland on Vimeo.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jesus freaking us out at Elevate!

Hey all, thought I'd write a quick entry to cover what God's been doing lately with the high school ministry at Pomona First Baptist, where I've been serving as a volunteer/intern for the last four years. I don't know how much time I have left with this group, but I'm enjoying what God is allowing me to see and be a part of.

Of the last four years, this is really the most exciting time in our ministry. About 3 or 4 months ago, Brian Holland, the high school pastor, changed the vision/mission statement to "Insideout ministries exists to exalt Jesus as the greatest, one student at a time." Before the mission statement always had to do with creating community of disciples who love Jesus and serve Him, but the focus was on the community. Now we've changed the focus on exalting Jesus, and things are VERY different. We're now calling Wednesday nights "Elevate" as part of changing the vision.

Our time of worship singing has been explosive every single time. Brian's teaching out of this series on the sermon on the mount titled, "No perfect people allowed," and it's some in-your-face stuff. We're challenging students to bring their friends, and they've been doing it! When there have been opportunities for kids to respond to specific things in the message, they've been doing that as well. We've talked about some serious things like the importance of forgiveness, sexual purity, all stuff in the Sermon on the Mount. This last Wednesday, we talked about divorce and the pain that comes from that, and how it is not God's plan for marriages. Our numbers have been up way higher, and this last Wednesday night was an all-time high for us in the last four years, about 120 kids (not that we're about numbers, but usually during this time of year, our numbers are down because of summertime. But, this is clearly a sign that God is doing something incredible). We haven't changed our method, except for the fact that every Sunday and Wednesday, we're inviting students to surrender or recommitt to Jesus. And almost every single time, someone has stood up!

Here's a video of Brian sharing what happened.

Update: 08-13-09 from Brian Holland on Vimeo.

Here's a comment from one of our staff who was gone most of the summer serving Jesus directing a camp in Alaska. She hasn't been around to see what God's doing, so her perspective really brings it home.
“This is NOT the same youth group. I left a little over six weeks ago. It was amazing to be in Alaska working with kids, seeing God change lives as we learned about how to have a lifestyle of 24/7 worship. I was able to read about what was happening at Elevate, but being here and experiencing it in person was a thrill. God is doing great things and changing lives! It’s so good to be home.”

Here’s what high schoolers said about ELEVATE last Wendesday night:

“Every was just worshipping like nothing else mattered. And I was able to worship however I wanted without being judged.” - Mitchell

“Sam gave her life to Jesus and so many new people came!” - Tyler

“I could feel God’s presence strongly through both the message and worship.” - Nicole

“Jesus totally rocked my face off last night...! Well yeah!” - Aubree

“Sam was led to Christ!” - Brittany

“It was amazing because we all were focusing on God and not our friends. We all gave 100% last night. And someone gave their life to the Lord!” - Laura

“It’s amazing because we can see our community growing day by day, and we can see how God is moving everywhere through everyone!” - Cheyenne

“I thought it was awesome because you could totally see God working. No one was ashamed to show God their love for Him, and no one cared what the person next to them was doing. Our only reason for being there was to bring God glory, nothing else.” - Elise

“Jesus was so present.” - Hannah

“It was amazing because you could feel GOD there, and seeing the room just filled with people who wanted to exalt His name.” - Tabitha

“The worship was amazing. You could feel everyone seeking God and wanting to give him praise, and the message dealt with a difficult subject in a way that everyone could relate.” - Victoria

“It was amazing because Jesus was there.” - Shawn

“Last night at ELEVATE the Spirit of God was so present! It felt like the place was going to explode during worship! MAN IT WAS SOOO AWESOME!” - Rebecca

“I walk into ELEVATE expecting God, and the best part about it is I know he is going to show up and rock our faces off everytime!” - Kyle

“I was blown away by Sam committing her life to Jesus. Worship was crazy. It was cool!” - Matt

“...everyone was so on fire for Christ and I would sometimes just sit and listen to everyone worship and I was just thinking, “God, how awesome is this. You must be so happy right now!” - Cosmo

“Elevate was amazing last night because it was really obvious that God was there and because it’s so exciting to witness someone surrender to God!” - Megan

“Worship at ELEVATE was amazing! :) Very moving. I could feel the Lord in us all. Great message to everyone.” - Kinsey

“It totally rocked my face off, when we started the second set of songs... I got goosebumps.” - Josh

I get chills just reading those. I feel so blessed to be part of what God is doing. Thanks so much for your prayers for when I'm called to teach or serve in any way. I really wish more of you were nearby to actually see this, cause this is just friggin' awesome! I'm not writing this to boast or anything, please don't misunderstand me. But it's just so exciting, I can't help but share what's happening. Thanks again for your prayers, they are working! I don't know how much longer God will let me stay down here, but I'm enjoying seeing all this happen.

Bass Lake 2009

Thanks so much for all of you who were praying last week while I was at Bass Lake with PFB’s high school students. It was an amazing trip! We had about 95 kids and around 15 adults on this trip, and God did incredible things in the lives of our students there throughout the week. It was a wonderful week of relaxing, playing in the water, tubing, banana-boating, wakeboarding, volleyball, etc. But most importantly, I really believed that God spoke uniquely to our students there. Our theme for the week was “rescue,” and the first night I taught and spoke on the reality of “What it means to be rescued.” God led me to teach out of Mark 4:35-42 where Jesus calms the storms, and closing out with God’s promises of eternal and worldwide restoration and redemption in Isaiah 25:8-11 (I had previously blogged about God teaching me through that passage, here I got to play my djembe for percussion for many of our times of worship in singing, which I greatly enjoyed and hadn’t had the chance to do for awhile. Here’s a few pics to give you an idea of what our time looked like.

A couple of my small group guys, getting freaked out before the boat gets moving!

Us on the banana

Our time of worship singing together.

We had 20 people get baptized! I was particularly excited about this, because two of the guys that I’ve been mentoring in my small group in the last two years got baptized! And I got the chance to baptize them! It was one of the most incredible things to witness, and to participate in. I’m really proud of my guys, as I’ve seen them grow in their walk with Jesus, get ignited with passion, and have seen them step up and love God through serving and loving on people. They’re awesome! I really wish I could take credit, but I really can’t. I’m so grateful to God that He gave me the chance to see and participate in what He’s doing in their lives.

Chris getting baptized! The before shot . . .

And the after shot. Awesome!

Guillermo (aka Billy) getting baptized. Take a deep breath . . .

And back up! Jesus is amazing! (Billy tried pulling me down with him, but I didn’t go all the way in, hehe)

The first group that got baptized! After we did them, we opened it up for anyone else, more kept coming down, a couple in their full clothes (like long jeans)!

Us together later waiting for the banana. Dylan (all the way on the right) got baptized too.


On the last night of the week, Brian Holland the high school pastor gave the final invitation for students to surrender to Jesus for the first time, and for recommitments, and 11 or 12 kids stood up! It was getting dark, so we couldn’t quite make out who all stood, but it was still great! Finally, Brian called everyone to stand up if they are willing to commit to be used by God in exalting Jesus and continuing this mission that He’s called us on. The vast majority of our group stood up. Afterwards, we continued our time of singing in worship and sharing about what God was doing in our lives around a campfire. I always love those times, because it’s a chance to hear what God has been teaching these kids.

With all that said, I was really hoping that this trip would be something special, and it was. I felt that when I taught, God was definitely guiding my thoughts and the overall flow of the message. I started to pray for clarity for my own life, particularly for where God is moving me within the coming months. While I didn’t get any immediate answers, I felt like God has kept me at PFB for a whole year after I finished seminary so that I could see two of my small group guys get baptized, and to see how God is growing this group. So, that was some clarity for why God has kept me around for this last year. Where God is leading me now? Well, I’m still praying about that one and seeking, so I’d appreciate your continued prayers.

What's also been amazing about this trip is what is going on since we've gotten back. Worship on Sunday morning was AWESOME, and felt like what Wendesdays have been feeling like. And then Wendesday, HOLY COW, Jesus is working! I'll think I'll need to save it for another blog post, but I think what's going on is not just everyone coming back with the spiritual camp high. I think our time at Bass was an important step on this journey that God has for this ministry, and is just going to continue freaking us out. More on that later, but for now, thanks for your prayers and support, because Bass was AMAZING!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Isaiah 25 speaks to “Without a Trace”

Last night I was up late watching an episode of the show “Without a Trace.” It’s a fictional show about the missing persons unit of the FBI, and in this episode they were investigating the disappearance of a young high school teacher. Their investigation reveals that the teacher had an abusive and alcoholic father. When she was a little girl, the teacher saw her father shoot her mother in a fit of rage and drunkenness. Her father goes to prison and serves 15 of 20 years of a sentence. The teacher tries to move on in her life, even changing her name so that her father won’t find her. She lives with pain and refuses to forgive her father. What prompts her disappearance is when she discovers that one of her students is being abused by his own father. Yet her student later reveals to her that it is not his father that beats him, but his mother! The FBI team finds out the truth of all this, finding the teacher and her student safe. The teacher’s father ends up committing suicide out of guilt for never being able to control his anger, and the boy returns home safely with his father while the mother stays in the FBI’s custody.

Needless to say the show is sometimes tough to watch. While the FBI team often finds the person they’re looking for, that’s not always the case and sometimes things turn out quite the opposite. I like the show because the main characters are interesting, and the cases are often quite intriguing. Yet it is gritty and often shows the darker side of life. For some reason this episode got to me more than most. It made me think of how many children suffer from broken and abusive households, or how many people feel trapped in life because of painful relationships or the difficulties of life. It reminds me of how truly fallen our world is, and the great evil that people are capable of.

With my mind wrapped around these ideas, these verses really hit home as I was reading Isaiah 25 during my devotional time before going to bed.

“He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and he will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. And it will be said in that day, ‘Behold, THIS is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. THIS is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.’ ” Isaiah 25:8-9 (emphasis mine)

In context, Isaiah 25 is a song of praise for God’s favor which directly follows a series of descriptions of how God will bring his wrath and judgment upon various nations and the whole earth. Yet in spite of all that, Isaiah speaks of God’s promises of full restoration healing, defeating death and pain and removing sin from His people. This is exactly what began in the ministry of Jesus as he ushered in the Kingdom of God, bringing wholeness, restoration, forgiveness, and reconciliation to a broken world. And as Christ’s disciples we’re charged with continuing this task, assured that God has already been working in our lives to heal and forgive us. As Paul says, we’re new creations because of Jesus, and God has committed us to the word of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:17-19).

I love the fact that God’s promises for full restoration of this world has already began in Jesus, and that we get to see glimpses of it happening in our churches. I’m continually blown away by how God does this stuff in our lives and in those around us, working in powerful miraculous ways. God’s promises are everlasting and are shown to be true because of Jesus and because of the crazy things we get to see! One day our world will be fully restored and redeemed of all the pain and sin and wickedness! I love working with high school students because of how you get to see God work in their lives in these exact ways. Check out this video of my friend Brian Holland talking about how God is working in our high school students at Elevate, Pomona First Baptist’s high school group where God currently has me serving. I love this place! "THIS is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. THIS is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation." !!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Trip to Boise

I just visited Boise, Idaho last weekend. There's a statement I didn't ever expect to say! Seriously, being born and raised in CA, and lived for significant portions of my life either in the Bay Area or Los Angeles, even the thought of going to a place like Boise never crossed my mind. Not that it's a bad place, it's actually quite nice and beautiful. But more on that later.

As I continue my search for youth pastor jobs, one of the places I sent my resume to was a church called Trinity Presbyterian Church in Boise. They sent me a questionairre to fill out, and one of my responses sparked the attention of the senior pastor. On a question about which authors or books played a significant role in my faith journey, theological development, and youth ministry, I put down that Bishop N. T. Wright has been probably the biggest influence on my life in terms of how I think theologically and how I read the Bible. (I highly recommend reading him if any of you haven't yet. He's incredibly insightful!). The senior pastor said that he owns almost everything Wright has written, and has played a major role in his thinking as well. When I did my first phone interview with him and another member of the search committee, our conversation was more theological than anything pertaining strictly to youth ministry. I had a couple of follow-up phone conversations with other members of the search team. After another couple of weeks, they told me that I was their primary candidate and wanted to fly me out for a weekend to see the church and talk more in-depth with them. This was the first time that I was ever asked to fly anywhere for an interview, so it was certainly an exciting opportunity! The church paid for my flight and made all the arrangements. So, last Friday morning I flew out to Boise.

The trip was definitely an enjoyable experience! I had a lot of great conversations with the senior pastor about the history of the church and the ways he has led the congregation for the past 10 years. What makes this church interesting is that it's a Presbyterian church that is moving in the direction of becoming more like an emerging church. The senior pastor has been highly influenced by guys like Brian MacLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, and lots of other folks involved with the whole emerging church ordeal. Having studied under professors at Fuller who do research into the emerging church and other things related to postmodern culture and church development, I'm very intrigued and encouraged by many things in the emerging church. So needless to say I wanted at least to see what Trinity Pres is about.

Within a couple of hours of landing in Boise and talking to the senior pastor, I had dinner with him and his wife, and two other couples that are part of the search team. I stayed with the elder to youth ministry and his family over the weekend, and on Saturday spent my time split between more time with the senior pastor and a commissioned lay pastor who has mentored youth pastors in the past. There were lots of questions back and forth, lots of sharing of visions and ideas, trying to get at what I would be bringing to the youth ministry at Trinity. I got along really well with the senior pastor and everyone else I spent time with. It really was a wonderful time of meeting new people, sharing life stories and ministry experiences, and talking about what God is doing at Trinity.

Sunday morning was also very cool, as I got to attend the contemporary worship service and hear pastor Joe preach. While they played only one song that I didn't recognize, they use most of the contemporary worship songs that I'm familiar with (unfortunately they are currently without a drummer. A couple of them asked if I would be willing to play, but I chose not to so that I could just observe). They had some liturgical elements that I wasn't that familiar with, but those were mostly call and response prayers. I also liked Pastor Joes's sermon. It was on Moses' calling at the burning bush, and was quite good. He had some insights into the passage that I hadn't heard before, particularly that while Moses had stood up for the Israelite slaves before, Moses never identified himself as being one of them. Then God calls them "my people" when He calls Moses. This sunday was also the 10 year celebration of Pastor Joe's arrival to the church, and there was a church brunch afterwards. They also talked a lot about their Inside Out Sunday from the previous week, where 150 or so members of the church got invovled in various service projects in the community rather than coming to the church campus for worship. Very cool indeed! Later that Sunday I got on a plane and flew back to LA.

While I enjoyed my trip, I had some reservations about taking the position if it were offered to me. The first being that moving out to a whole new area by myself and starting life in unfamiliar territory definitely scared me a bit. I know that making such a move could be an important step in my life, but the thought of it still did freak me out initially. Even so, I tried to surrender that and not worry, knowing that it was ok if I allowed myself time to think and pray about such a major transition.

The second reservation I had was the size and demographic of the church. There's probably less than 200 active members in the church, and the youth group is only about 20-25 students, a combination of junior high and high schoolers (mostly jr highers). Plus, there's almost no volunteer adult staff for the youth group. I'm not opposed to being part of a small church, but if I were to take on the position, I would have to do some major recruiting. This itself wouldn't be a problem, I'm up for the challenge, but it would be nice if there were at least two or three adults involved in the youth group, rather than just me doing everything. The age group the church as a whole is lacking in most is the 18-35 year old range, and this is the primary age group that I would want to pull from for adult leaders. So, I'd have also be thinking of ways to invite young adults to participate in the life of the church. Also, I'm much more inclined to work with high school or college students rather than junior highers. In essence, I would have to jump over some hurdles before I could really get to the point where I would be focusing on the things I really enjoy in youth ministry - working with high school students and focusing a lot on teaching and discipleship. There'd be LOTS of room for developing and expanding the ministry - which does excite me - but I'd have to do a lot of things that I'm not great at in order to be able to move the ministry in a direction where I could feel like I was being the most effective.

Despite my reservations, it turns out they won't be a problem, as I didn't get offered the position. Pastor Joe emailed me early Wednesday morning and said that even though I bring a lot of experience and passion to the youth ministry, the search team decided that what I bring doesn't quite meet their exact needs at this time. Take it for what you will, but I think that they simply saw the need for someone to enjoy focusing on mostly junior high students rather than dealing with it for the time being to be able to move on to other things. So, I was both a little bummed, but also relieved upon getting this news. All in all, I'm not worried, as I have another job interview with First Baptist Church of Riverside next week (they're only about a hour away from where I live, much closer), and began sending out more resumes to churches I saw recent postings for online before I even got the email from Trinity.

So, the train keeps moving on. God is faithful, and I have no doubt that He'll lead me in the right direction. I enjoyed the experience of traveling to this church, and I feel like it was an important step in this journey of job-hunting. I am encouraged by what they're doing, as I do enjoy seeing how God is empowering different churches to impact the Kingdom. I have trusted God to take care of me throughout the year, and He has. I have not lived in fear, which is a huge difference in how I view life compared to even a few years ago.

Thanks so much to all my friends and family who were praying for me throughout the weekend. I greatly appreciate it. Continue to pray for me, as I will be teaching high school again this sunday at Pomona First Baptist (home for now), and as other opportunities develop.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What's with the naked guy in Gethsemane? - Working theory on Mark 14:51-52

Do you ever come across any passages of the Bible that make you laugh and cause you to wonder why the heck they're there? I love it when stories like these come up, because they're not things you expect. Anybody who says that the Bible is boring clearly hasn't made the attempt to really read it.

I've been reading through a combination of Psalms and Mark in my devotional time, and recently read through Jesus' arrest scene in the garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14. But I had to stop after verses 51-52 because they're so strange. I know I've read them before, but I've never really spent much time thinking about it. This comes right after Jesus' speech upon his arrest and the 12 disciples (other than Judas) flee.

"A young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked." (NASB)

THAT'S IT! The next scene is where Jesus is brought before the high priest and is mocked and accused. What's going on with this naked guy running around the garden? I literally wrote in my Bible "LOL. Why here?" (I told this to my pastor and he said it's like I'm texting God). If I use all of the study tools I know, I don't think I'll get a solid answer. The Greek will still say that he's naked, and if I did a structural outline of the passage, it still probably wouldn't make sense. I haven't read any commentaries, but the text is so random I doubt they would have any solid explanation. One of my professors from APU thinks that the young man is Mark himself. It's a detail only he would have known about. None of the other Gospels have this story. So why is it here? When I read this a few nights ago I probably spent a half an hour trying to think up an explanation. So here's my working theory.

If you read through Mark, it becomes pretty clear that the 12 disciples aren't all that bright. They don't get what Jesus means when he teaches them things, they never can make sense out of the miracles he does, and he repeatedly asks them at different points, "Do you still have no faith?" In short, the disciples are morons while they're with Jesus (keep in mind, I don't see this as a bad thing. I actually find it comforting because of how often I feel like I don't get Jesus or I miss what he's about). So, maybe this is Mark's way of saying, "this is how dumb these guys are" (if Mark is the naked guy, maybe this is him trying to include himself in the stupidity).

So maybe the young guy starts running around naked, because he thinks that this will distract the soldiers long enough for Jesus to make his getaway! Maybe he's thinking, "Jesus, get out of here, I got this. Hey guys, I'm naked, just try and catch me! Wheeee!" Meanwhile Jesus is shaking his head thinking, "I spent three years with these guys, and this is the best they can come up with." He breathes a heavy sigh and shakes his head, knowing that he can laugh with his disciples about this when he sees them in three days.

So, that's my theory on this strange passage. Not very profound, no deep spiritual truths, but sometimes really funny stuff pop ups when you're reading scripture (especially Mark). We might has well have a little fun with it as we're reading, enjoying God's sense of humor for including stuff like this in His Word. Have fun with that one! If you have another explanation, I'd love to hear it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Music Part 3: Inspired to worship because of Jazz and Sting

I'm still watching the Ken Burn's Jazz documentary on DVD. Only made it through 2 out of 10 discs, so it's slow going but quite enjoyable. One of the things I've found so enjoyable in watching the documentary about the development of jazz music is how it inspires me as a musician. I've been a fan of jazz music for roughly 8 years, and listen to it partially because it challenges me to play better. In fact, one of the things I look for when I listen to certain artists and bands is how their music inspires me to be a better drummer. This is essentially one of the major reasons why the Dave Matthews Band is my favorite group - I will never be able to play as well as DMB's drummer Carter Beauford, or even be able to play exactly like him. BUT, that doesn't mean that I can't continually push myself to practice harder and incorporate beats, fills, rolls, and patterns that he uses into my own style or with the groups that I play in. I really only play in worship bands, and I really enjoy it. Part of what I try to bring to the table is a different feel or different types of fills and patterns that one wouldn't expect, but which still work for the song and potentially enhance it. I'm greatly indebted to Carter and DMB, as well as David Garibaldi of Tower of Power, Stevie Wonder, Dave Weckl (famous jazz/fusion drummer), and many others, because I look to their playing styles for inspiration and ideas for how to play better.

It's amazing to me how much music inspires the various parts of our lives. Different songs and genres can bring about so many types of emotions - love, joy, anger, frustration, excitement, passion, and so on. My mood can change radically because I play a certain song or band, or a song can help me express something that I had been feeling but was unable to articulate. But I think most importantly, music should inspire us to worship God as the one who created music and endowed people with the ability to play it, and for all of us to enjoy it. I'm not speaking strictly of Christian music or worship music in this case, but those both apply. Here's a story to illustrate what I mean.

About four years ago when I was living in Santa Cruz, I was working at Twin Lakes Church and got to play fairly regularly with Rob Patterson, the worship leader of the Genesis service (currently he leads the worship music at Faith Community Church in downtown Santa Cruz, an emerging church plant that is being backed by Twin Lakes). During that year, Sting went on tour for the "Sacred Love" album. My dad and I went and ended up finding Rob and his wife on the field at Shoreline Ampitheatre. We all loved the concert, and as Rob and I talked about it in the following weeks, he said that he enjoyed it so much he kept wanting to raise his hands in worship! But, he restrained himself, saying "No, I can't do that. This is Sting, not God." But he went to say that in those moments he would pray "Thank you Lord for creating Sting and giving him the musical abilities that he has, regardless of whether or not he acknowledges you as the source of those gifts. At least I know that they came from you and I can praise you for that."

Imagine that! Being inspired to praise God because of a Sting concert! My friend Rob and I were inspired because of Sting's music, and it challenged us not only to be better musicians, but to enjoy the fact that God created music and wants us to use it to celebrate Him and the life He has given us.

I feel like I could go on on and on about this because of how enjoyable music is and the different things it inspires. But rather than reading what I have to say about it, I'd rather hear other people's ideas. How does music inspire you? What kinds of music do you find inspirational, and what does that inspiration lead to? How would define inspiration within music? What do you feel compelled to do or to be when you listen to the music that you do? What do you need from music, and how does music speak to your emotions or help you articulate them? Does music have to be "Christian" or "worship music" in order for it to praise our Creator? How does music inspire you to think about God and follow Christ more intimately? Please, I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on any of this.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who says So Cal isn't beautiful?

I took some of these pictures during late December/early January after it would rain consistently for a few days. I'm pretty sure that this is Mt. Baldy. It was cool, because as the rain went away and the clouds cleared, you could see a TON of snow on the mountains. This is the view right from the front of my house in Rancho Cucamonga (about 40 or so miles east of Los Angeles). To think that God creates this stuff just to be creative and for us to enjoy! I was so blown away by how cool the mountains looked, I had to take a few pictures. I don't do that very often, but sometimes the urge just strikes. Who says Southern California isn't beautiful?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Music - Part 2: What gives music meaning?

This is a question that I've been thinking about for a long time, ever since my high school days. I think for many people the answer would be simple - the lyrics. A song has meaning because of the message contained within the words of the song. While that is certainly true, is that the only place? What about instrumental pieces of music, like a large number of jazz and orchestral pieces? Are they devoid of meaning because they don't have words? Do the lyrics communicate the true nature of what a given song intends to be, or is there more that is factored in, such as the relationships between the musicians, the context out of which a song or a genre arises? Why does a silly love song like the Beatle's "I Want to Hold Your Hand," speak so profoundly to a generation of young teenagers when a song with more lyrical depth and creativity may go entirely unnoticed?

Now, I don't want to downplay the power of words, because the spoken word does have incredible creative power. The prophets in the Old Testament and Jesus certainly believed that God's word had the power to create and do powerful things (ever notice that most of the miracles Jesus performs are preceeded by a spoken command of some kind?). But when it comes to music, I find that focusing solely on the text of a song misses a lot of what is meant to be communicated. I'm of the opinion that a significant amount of meaning of a song comes from the interaction of the band members, as well as the listener when he/she experiences a given song.

In the previous blog posting, I talked about how one of the things I love most about music is that it is collaborative. More than one person is required to make music happen in a band, especially in a live setting. This is ultimately the reason why Dave Matthews Band is my favorite band. Not only are they phenomenal musicians, but the way they play together is awesome! Some of my favorite parts of songs are not when Dave is singing, but when they are jamming together, doing solos, or changing the dynamics of the song from what was originally recorded. If you look at the faces of the band members, they are smiling at each other, laughing, looking intently at one another as they move and groove to the music. The notes and tones played by the saxophone and the violin set the tone and emotion of nearly all of their songs. I listen to Dave Matthews Band, as well as numerous other groups, because of the interactions happening between the musicians.

I can say that as a musician, there is a unique kind of relationship that is created when you play with people. Some of my best friends are musicians I have played in bands and worship teams with. There is a unique kind of comraderie that comes out of playing music together. It's a bond in which you gain an ability to relate to each other and enjoy each other's company even if you don't really know the person all that well.

Something that has always struck me about music is that it has the potential to break down barriers between people. The most prominent is racial barriers. Perhaps the earliest form of racial reconcilation during the 20th century in America can be seen in jazz music, as white and black band members play together, and build a sense of brotherhood that would not have been possible in any other circumstances. The mutual love of playing music together takes prominence, rather than focusing on differences in color or culture. I have not heard many songs that attempt to tackle racial reconcilation head on in their lyrics. But the occurrence of it is happening on stage when men and women of mixed races play together. That by itself is something powerful!

Now, lots of people, especially teenagers will use the excuse, "I don't listen to the lyrics, I just listen to the beat or the style." I'll admit, I used this when I was in jr. high and high school. That is a very naive excuse. The problem is, if we listen to a song enough times, we'll know the lyrics by heart whether we chose to listen deliberately or not. I do think lyrics are to be taken seriously, but that is not the give-all-end-all for me. A lot of our ability to choose how much lyrics influence us depends more on our walk with Christ than anything else. I find that if I'm obeying like I'm supposed to be, if I'm in the Word regularly, participating in the life of my church, than I'm usually ok. God's given us the ability to think critically about these things, so let's do so.

Another important place to look for meaning in music is the interaction going on between the performer and the listener. Whether in a live setting or listening to music on your cd/ipod in your own time, there is a distinct type of relationship going on between the two parties. If we're listening to a recording, we're inherently performing some kind of act of interpretation. A lot of that has to do with our own emotions and life situation that we bring when we listen to a piece of music. Songs stay with us because we hear them at a certain time in life, or we hear something in them that catch our attention. What's strange is that what we take from a song might be something that the artist never originally intended - but that interpretive experience is still legitimate.

Let me give an example of this. The Columbine High School massacre occurred during my junior year in high school. I've been in California my whole life, and know no one at Columbine High. Yet for some reason, this horrific event struck a chord with me, particularly in how I thought about my faith. I won't go into the details of how or why, but I needed something to help me connect emotionally to this tragedy. What came to me was a Caedmon's Call song called "Center Aisle." The song is originally about Derek Webb's experience after a funeral where a friend's sister committed suicide. Yet this song spoke to me and helped give words to my emotions regarding the Columbine incident. One song, two entirely different situations, and this song created meaning for both events.

One more thing I want to address with this is the idea that meaning in music is found in the culture a genre arises out of, and therefore speaks to that culture by providing words and a vehicle for emotions. Many of the Beatle's songs, by themselves, are just silly love songs. Yet a song like "I Want to Hold Your Hand" isn't really just talking about two young love birds walking down the street holding hands. It speaks more to a youth culture which, beginning roughly in the post World War II era, began to find itself experiencing a world very different from that of the previous generation. And these differences are so stark, that teenagers started to feel isolation, abandonment, alienation, etc. This continues to this day amongst our teenagers. I took a class called "Theology and Pop Music" towards the end of my studies at Fuller Seminary, and he said this. "The principle role that pop music plays is that the music being performed somehow gives an expression to how young people feel and can’t quite articulate." Some of this expression is found in the lyrics, but a significant portion of it is found more profoundly in the interactions of teenagers as they listen to the music they do, the kinds of families they come from, and any number of other elements.

There's lots more that can be said about all of this, and maybe that's best left up for discussion and dialogue among each other. My hope is that we would seek to ask ourselves how and why our music speaks to us the way it does, and why we find some songs "meaningful" and other less so. Now's your chance to comment. Where do you find meaning in music? Why do certain songs or genres speak to you or matter so much to you? As Christians, how can we learn to discern these various sources of meaning so as to better interact with our world? I'm really interested in people's ideas, so please comment.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Music - Part 1: Reflections on Jazz

Lately I've been watching the Ken Burns: Jazz documentary film collection. It's incredibly fascinating! It tracks the developments of jazz music from it's beginnings in New Orleans in the early 1900's through the swing era, bebop, and beyond. I haven't finished the series yet, but I really enjoy it. Anyone who's a fan of music, American history, and good storytelling would love this series. Put it on your netflix queue, you'll love it!

Needless to say I've been thinking about music because of watching these films. Well, more than usual anyways. I'm almost always got music on the brain in one way or another. Something is almost always playing in my head, whether it's a single song, parts of a concert, particular drum beats that I would like to play, and so on. It's almost impossible for me to not tap my feet or my fingers. If I'm sitting at a table, I'll start tapping my fingers or my hands - I can't help it, it's part of me. Heck, I'm listening to a contemporary jazz band called The Yellowjackets right now as I type.

One of the major things I love about music (jazz in particular) is it's corporate nature. I love the interaction that happens between the musicians when they're performing. It's a kind of communication that doesn't require words, and relies on a different kind of body language than when you're sitting and having dinner with friends and family. It's all about watching each other, reading each other, finding that groove TOGETHER. It's also about encouraging each other, laughing, and creating excitement and passion TOGETHER. I do not believe music is meant to be an individual enterprise. I may be a good drummer, but that only really comes out when I'm playing with other people, and we're challenging each other, encouraging each other, and so on. Early in the Jazz documentary, Wynton Marsalis (famous trumpet player) talks about how he can go play at a club in a particular city, work with a few guys and start playing without much preparation or hashing over details. He says that when they're playing together, "now we can have a conversation. Now we're having a dialogue."

I think these are important lessons that we as Christians need to learn as we live out our faith as the Church. In his book Border Crossings, Rodney Clapp has a chapter in which he explains that jazz can be a source of instruction for our churches. At a jazz club, there's interaction going on between the band and the audience. The audience applauds each soloist as he/she ends her solo section, sometimes shouting out exhortations and encouragement to the player in the midst of the solo. "Go man go!" "Bring it home!" "Yeah, you got it, keep it coming baby!" What if we found ways of applying this form of encouragement in our churches? We all have spiritual gifts that God has given to us. We bring those gifts, talents, sacrifices, and what not to Him in worship when we gather together on Sundays and at various functions throughout the week. When someone from our community is "performing," in his/her natural giftedness, whatever that may be, we need to be shouting "YEAH! That's awesome! Go, go, go!" On the one hand, it's recognizing individual achievement, but on a bigger level it's us coming together as a community and recognizing the beautiful work that God is doing in one of our own. Some people obviously get more attention or notoriety when that happens, unfortunately (let's be honest, it's really rare to hear a bass trombone solo; although, I have heard it once!). But even when that happens, I think we're all able to recognize how we're contributing to the whole project of being God's people coming together in worship, and do so joyfully.

This corporate nature of worship is really why I love music, and being able to play music. I love playing in worship bands, and I love being able to interact with them while we're playing. One of my pet peeves is when I'm trying to look at the other band members, and their faces are buried in the music. Ok, on the one hand it's good that they're tracking with the music, making sure they're playing the right thing. But when I see that, I almost want to shout out, "Hey man, just feel it with me! Work with me! Let's get this in the pocket!" I love being able to watch the other musicians and smile and laugh with them while playing. The best part about it is, IT'S WORSHIP! It pleases God because we're doing it out of our love for Him, in response to the work that He has done in us, and we're bringing our best to the table. I would love for the chance to be able to play in a jazz group sometime in the future, or a rock band, or something. But I'd also be just as happy if I all ever did was play in worship bands for the rest of my life. I just hope that others are encouraged by it, that it helps inspire them to worship, not because I'm all that great of a player (although I do take my craft seriously and have found a level of confidence in it that I never had before), but because I'm just like anyone else bringing their gifts of worship to God amidst a worshipping community.

I would love any comments, questions, or to hear anyone else's ideas about this.

First Blog

As I'm sure is the case with almost everyone when the start blogging, I begin by saying, "This whole blogging thing is pretty new to me, so I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with it." I did some blog posts about a year and half ago for a class of mine, but did not really keep it up after the class was over. I've posted one or two things on myspace back a few years ago, but I stopped using myspace some time since then. I now use facebook quite regularly, but have not made any endeavors to post any notes or topics or particular things other than really basic information about myself.

So why start now? There's a number of reasons why I feel like now would be a good time to begin blogging regularly.

1) For probably the first time in my life, I feel like I have lots of time on my hands. I have always been busy with school and ministry stuff. I finished my master's of divinity degree at Fuller Seminary this last summer, and have since been looking for work as a youth pastor. My life is very much in transition, relying and waiting on God to open things up in my life for me to move forward. I don't know what's next, and I haven't known for some time. In the meantime, I am doing what I can in terms of searching for work responsibly, maintaining a level of involvment at my church, and trying to keep some kind of regular pace to my life.

2) I like to write. While the rigors of writing numerous papers in college and in seminary were often intense, I found that I actually enjoyed the writing process. I found that so long as I paced myself well, was confident in my research and ideas, and could organize everything before I started writing, I would enjoy the work. Obviously I did this with mixed success, some assignments better than others. Yet I knew that with each paper I was reliant upon God's power and influence to write something that would glorify him and accomplish the task for the given class. Having finished my seminary degree, I've needed to find other creative outlets. I have made attempts at writing out ideas and screenplays for movies that I would love to see, but will probably never be made (I have never aspired to be a screenplay writer, and still don't feel like I have a lot of ideas, so this still isn't really a goal of mine). Writing story and screenplay ideas is more of a creative outlet for me rather than for lots of people to see. That being said, blogging would be a similar outlet. Heck, maybe I'll even post excerpts of things I've written on here. We'll see if I am so moved.

3) Reading other people's blog posts have made me want to share my own thoughts and ideas. Everyone has a different take on things in life, so if a number of people I know are doing so, there's no reason why I can't take a crack at it.

So, what can you and I expect to see on this blog thing? Here are some of the ideas I've been thinking about writing on.
1) A series of reflections on music. I'm a musician, so naturally I love to listen to music, play it, watch it, read about it, etc. I often think about music and faith, the idea of being inspired by music, what I value and love about music, where meaning in music is found, and anything related to any of this. I'm thinking of a series of postings, so we'll see how it all comes together.

2) Thoughts on church and culture, living out a Christian life, what God is showing me when I'm reading scripture, so on.

3) My own "apologetic." In other words, why I'm a Christian. Not so much my testimony per se (although that will surely be part of the explanation), but more of a reason why I believe in Jesus and have tried to be faithful over the course of my life. In the sermons the pastor at my church gives he frequently utilizes a lot of apologetics and logical reasoning, giving "proofs" and validity to believing in the Christian faith (i.e. stuff from Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, scientific evidence that points to a creator, etc). I like that stuff, and I find it encouraging and useful, but for me it's not really getting to the core of why I follow Jesus.

4) Maybe some of my book reviews or papers from seminary. At this point, anything else that strikes my fancy to write about will get up on here. I recently heard bishop N.T. Wright speak at Lake Avenue Church a couple of weeks ago, so I might write something about that. Also probably some reflections from my time at Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Seminary. I'm also reading Francis Chan's book Crazy Love so maybe I'll post a few ideas from that.

If you're still reading after all this time, good for you! Hopefully you're interested in what I'm thinking of putting on here. I'm a very detail-oriented person, so I tend to write more extensively than shorter. I guess we'll see how this turns out!