Wednesday, October 31, 2007


From two army men and Harry Potter himself on their way to school.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007


We asked students to make a list of statements about their family. They could be fun, tragic, positive, negative, anything. We passed out cards and gave them just take a few minutes in the service last week to describe their family.

We selected a bunch of them to use in a video piece which I'll post later, but here's the list of stuff they said in no particular order. It certainly proves family is a roller coaster and students need a safe place to be themselves. Godly mentors are desperately needed to safely navigate this world we live in today. Oh do they need that!!!!!.

(PS... if you're reading this and on the off chance, your son or daughter goes to our youth ministry- try to avoid assuming that whatever is true of your family was written by your student. There were 110 students who could have turned in cards and lots of their stories overlap. I share them here purely as a reminder of a the varying family situations and feelings represented in a simple weekend youth group meeting.)

1. My mom laughs like a stupid bird
2. I’ve never met my dad.
3. My dad is Australian
4. My sisters and I fight a lot…so when we’re not fighting we feel funny
5. My mom and sister disowned our family. They don’t love me
6. My mom doesn’t believe in God
7. I wished my mom would have died
8. My mom thinks I’m fat
9. My parents are divorced
10. My family fights every Sunday morning on the way to church
11. My mom cheated on my dad
12. My grandma races in NASCAR
13. My brother is my best friend
14. My cousin is in jail for running down the street nude
15. I try to like my brother but lately I just don’t
16. My family is inter-racial
17. I feel like my dad needs to try to parent more
18. My uncle is a pimp/drug dealer/bartender in Costa Rica
19. Both of my parents are illegal immigrants
20. My cousins are prettier than me and my grandma isn’t afraid to tell me
21. (sad face) ☹
22. My mom collects Santas. She has 100s. Its one of the few things I claim as inheritance.
23. My cousin, aunt, and grandma all got pregnant at 17
24. My brother and I don’t have a relationship--at all. I think he hates me.
25. I have 9 brother and sisters
26. My family plays an intense game of spoons every Christmas
27. My mom lives with the pain of a disease
28. My mom always yells so I never know when she is mad or happy
29. My family is very quiet
30. (drew a family picture) Dad (Satan horns), Mom (Satan horns), Me (angel halo), brother (Satan horns)
31. My sister puts me down. Everyday.
32. My sister calls me a mistake.
33. My mom is one of my best friends
34. My grandma writes death threats to the president at least once a week
35. My parents are divorced but best friends
36. There’s 8 people living in my 2 bedroom, 1 loft condo.
37. My best friends have become my family
38. I am best friends with my brother
39. My aunt gets extremely drunk at every family reunion
40. My parents are OLD
41. My grandparents are racist
42. My grandma died when I was 4 and my dad never told me
43. My stepmom thinks she is psychic
44. My aunts think that they are actual, real angels
45. My dad has been in prison since the day I was born
46. My sisters raised me
47. My dad’s a redneck and likes to go bow-hunting for deer
48. My grandpa is a drunk. I haven’t heard from him in a while.
49. My dad speaks in outline format
50. My mom sings really ugly songs all the time
51. I used to not like my mom, but now we’re really close
52. My family is big on talking while the TV is on. I’m the only one who HATES it.
53. My parents can’t stand each other most of the time
54. My dad trusts no one. He thinks my friends steal from us.
55. We eat dinner at the TV
56. My dad is a pastor and my uncle grows marijuana
57. My parents broke up before I was born
58. My family is always on a computer
59. We can’t sing at the dinner table…but we can base on each other
60. I love my family because we all get along
61. My dad and I get in fights everyday
62. My mom and I both snort when we laugh
63. My sister is a recovering alcoholic and drug user
64. My brother enjoys farting on people
65. My cousin is in a psych ward in Chicago
66. The only reason my brother and I get along is because he cooks for me.



We're in a new series in our high school ministry called, "It Ain't the Brady Bunch" and it's all about family. Here's the series breakdown of the 4 week series:

  1. It Ain't the Brady Bunch.... but it is my family.
  2. It Ain't the Brady Bunch... but they are my parents.
  3. It Ain't the Brady Bunch.... but these are my wounds.
  4. It Ain't the Brady Bunch.... but I can shape my future.

We decided it'd be fun to play our version of the Family Feud on week one. So, we made each table into it's own family and did some "survey says" contests. You know, where they survey 100 people and then list the top "x" number on the board. Well, I didn't feel like looking around for the top 100 lists on the internet, so I just poled my kids instead. I asked them each to come up with 3 answers and it then became, guess the top 9 things the Berry Boys said.

My favorite category was "Name Stuff Mom Needs."

Here's the list. They make me laugh.



Romans 12 calls us to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. This fire thing we went through in San Diego county as brought fresh perspective to that verse in my life in recent days.

Here's a church family in Rancho Bernardo or RB that was damaged by the fire. You may want to follow their blog in the coming days to know how to pray and maybe even how to help some fellow followers of Jesus who got their world turned upside down recently.

If there ever was a time in Southern California where people are looking for help and seeking find the hands of Jesus in true community... today is that day.


Saturday, October 27, 2007


Driving out of my neighborhood about an hour ago, it started to sprinkle and then God gave us a rainbow. There's thousands of people in San Diego County that need a rainbow of hope today. I'm praying it comes from God and through God's people. On Sunday I'm going to join my high school students as we commission ourselves to do just that.


Friday, October 26, 2007


Only once in my life has anyone ever confronted me on my prayer life.

No, not like if I pray or when do I pray, but actually on how I pray. It came from Ron Ritchie, a trusted 70 year old mentor. I was 32ish when he looked me in the eye over lunch and in a way only a man who looks like Moses/Grizzly Adams could have said, "Brian, you use God's name like a comma when you pray. God I pray that (comma God) you would help me do blah blah blah (comma God).... " I think it was the first time in my life I'd actually truly thought about how I spoke to God and what words I chose.

He also introduced me for the first time to the PRAYER TOAST. We did it every night after bible study with Ron and our clan of disciples over dinner for a year of Tuesday's. I use it all the time in restaurants now. Rather than bowing your head and wondering if you're going to get the prayer done before the waiter returns to interrupt you awkwardly, you just ditch the head bowed deal, grab your beverage, raise it to the sky, and thank Jesus for the fellowship, the food you're about to eat, the amazing chance to enjoy breath in your lungs, and invite God's presence to be at the table with you. It's really refreshing. You should try it sometime. Inviting God to join your table and thanking him for the blessings of food and friends is always sincere and very rare today.

Well anyway, ever since that year of prayer challenges by Ron, I've been particularly sensitive to my own prayers and annoyed by some of the traditional habits of the church today in prayer. A couple of things that have happened this week made me think of it, so I decided to blog them. Here you go, here's my list:

  • THE ANNOUNCEMENT PRAYER: This is not really a prayer at all. It's not really talking to God, it's just talking to people while they are in the hypnotic state of eyes closed and heads bowed. It often involves transition hints like, "as the band comes up" or reminders like, "we know that this week is the big blah blah blah".
  • THE HOUDINI PRAYER: This may or may not be sincere prayer, but it is strategically placed so that we magically whip people on and off stage while your eyes are closed. While you're supposedly talking to God, the band can magically disappear and the speaker appear or visa versa- as if the angel of the Lord himself whisked them off the stage like Houdini.
  • THE NO ONE'S LOOKING PRAYER: This is the prayer where we begin by talking to God, then pause to talk to you, asking no one to look around, cuz evidently that screws up the sincerity of someone really talking to God. Now, while "no one's looking, please raise your hand or look at me or whatever..." cuz now we're pausing in prayer to talk to you all.
  • THE GOD IS A COMMA/MUST LOVE TO HEAR HIS OWN NAME PRAYER: This prayer is one I was very good at and have tried to ditch. It's the prayer that uses God more times in one sentence than is humanly possible. It is common, but evidently only something we do in prayer. Can you imagine saying to me at dinner, "Dear Brian, thanks so much Brian for having us over for dinner Brian. I just love you Brian. Brian you have blessed us so much Brian that we wanted to tell you Brian that we are here to serve you Brian with our whole lives Brian. Amen Brian. Amen." Yeah, it sounds stupid, but if you insert God in there for me, well, you have the classic comma/name prayer.
  • THE END THE MEETING PRAYER: This prayer is just a prayer we do cuz the meeting is over and evidently, no two Christians are allowed to talk and then leave without praying to sorta close the book on this deal. Most of the world just says, see you later. Christians feel the need to make sure God knows we're done talking now.
  • THE IN CASE GOD WASN'T LISTENING PRAYER: This is where we go around the room and have everyone share prayer requests. Then, after we have talked to one another for a while about them, we then repeat exactly what we've all been talking about but now, we do it with sentences that begin with "Dear God" and end with "Amen" since evidently when we were saying them before, we were talking to ourselves and God was busy somewhere else.
  • THE GOSSIP PRAYER: This is a classic one. This often never makes it to prayer. But under the umbrella of protection of a prayer request, we gossip about others so that the person who is receiving the juicy facts can take them back and pray about them.
  • THE SUPER SPIRITUAL PRAYER: This one is where the person praying uses words that only God can understand and that are only used when praying. It's often with hands held up, sounds really super theological, and usually gets them asked to pray a lot, cuz it sounds like something God himself might say in 1850.
  • THE IT'S TIME TO SHUT UP PRAYER: This prayer is not really prayer. It's just a reality that the one at the mic is being ignored, so instead of waiting for the crowd to get quiet, they just start praying and inevitably, a shhh and side slap hitting fest goes across the audience that tells people to shut up, somebody up front is pretending to pray so you all will stop talking.

ok... I could go on... but it's getting depressing since I've been guilty of almost all of these a time or two.

I think I'm going to stop blogging and go pray. I surely need it.


Thursday, October 25, 2007


For the love of all things holy. Please. Get a clue and stop smoking in our natural park.

Not only are they telling us everywhere in San Diego that smoke and ash is horrible for you to breathe, but on top of that, people come to my court to smoke and drink all the time. I didn't realize I was in weed central when I bought the house, but I have come to consider this just part of my local context. Normally, this is just annoying, a slight danger to my kids safety while playing outside, and an occasional chance for student ministry on my block. But occasionally it becomes idiotic.

This week qualifies as idiotic. We have no school which means that there are bored high school students all over the place. They have nothing to do. So my court becomes like some kind of get drunk and high smokers magnet.

Problem is, half the freakin' county is on fire, over a billion dollars in damage, 14 people have died, and these kids are smokin' in the biggest unburned fire tinder box my community has. It's literally 50 yards from my house. Dry and highly flamable. Here's what I'm talking about.

So, once a day for the past 3 days I've walked outside to find cars in the court I live on. All 3 times I've walked over to talk with a group of high school students who drove them. Here's what happened:

  • Met 2 high school guys before they got out of the car. Said, "I know that a lot of people like to come to this park to smoke and get high. If you're planning on smoking in the park today, that would be a really really bad choice. The world is on fire, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't risk ours." They agreed and left.

  • I walked into the park to find 3 girls. They weren't hard to find. Weed is easy to follow. I found 3 girls sitting in a circle tokin' up. I said, "Not only is it illegal to smoke weed in this park, but today there are hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes because of fires. And you're smoking in the midst of a huge pile of dry leaves and sticks. Could you please stop and leave." They said, "We have an ash tray." I said, "Great, but could you stop anyway." They said, "yes, we'll leave."

  • I walked into the park to find 15 students who had parked 3 cars in my court. As they were walking out with beer in hand. They said to me, "What's up?" (while trying to hide beer behind their back and 2 made a sprint for the creek to go around to their car behind my back.) I said, "Um, the world is on fire and you're smoking and drinkin' in a grove of eucalyptus trees that will go up in flames in a second." They said, "Yeah, I told so and so not to do that." I said, "If you catch this place on fire, we're all in a world of hurt. Not to mention the fact that you're underage, drinking, and then driving your car past my kids on your way out of here." One guy with a beer got smart and said "But I like this forest." I said, "So do I. Find somewhere else to get drunk and high." I left and ignored them since they were leaving. One part of me really wished I could hand them an invite to youth group (the cards are at the printers right now). A second part of me really wished I was a cop. A third, really big part of me wanted to punch the kid with the smart mouth and the half drank beer bottle in his back pocket. The other part of me decided to ignore parts 1 through 3 and take my kids to dinner instead. Next time maybe I'll let part 3 win.


I think I'm gonna make that into a sign and put it over the entrance.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Here's the latest overall statistics on the fires in our burnt state.

Here's the latest info I can find on the California wildfire overall statistics:

- Acreage: 431,377

- Homes Destroyed: At least 1,447, according to individual county reports.

- Evacuation: Over 1 million people have been evacuated.

- Damage: Over 1 billion dollars in damages

- Deaths: One fire death, five fire-related deaths.

- Injuries: 30 to civilians, 39 to firefighters.

- At least 12 major fires still burning

Here's the latest on the Harris Fire- the one that is still burning in some places, with the active part about 5ish miles from my house:

- About 73,000 acres north of the border town of Tecate.

- 10 percent contained- Containment expected Oct. 31.

- 200 homes destroyed, 2,000 homes and 500 commercial properties threatened.

- One civilian killed, 25 injured civilians and seven injured firefighters.



Um... this would not have worked in my world. My wife is currently gone. If I was Tim Stevens, I think she'd probably just stay away.



I awoke this morning to no fire. Just smoke. Like the thickest campfire smell I've experienced in a while. I think if you spend 5 minutes outside it will smell like you've been bonding with the firemen with marshmallows and hot dogs for a week.

I had to ditch my trip to Idaho. Sucky fire. Guess I don't have much to complain about. I still have a house full of crap I don't need. Unlike the 500 homes in Rancho Bernardo where people were left with smoke and a slab of concrete.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007


The time has come to start Fighting Fire with Fire.

I know a few firemen. Well, more than a few. And I know a few more cops. And I'll tell you this. The cops don't want anyone to get hurt, but they love a dangerous call. They can't wait to get chase a dumb criminal down and send in the dogs. Oh they love to send in the dogs.

And firemen don't want anyone hurt, but every one of them is a pyromaniac. They don't want you or your stuff to burn (well definitely not you, but secretly, they might be okay with some of your stuff burning, especially if it means they get to go in and try and save the rest of your stuff) but they lie awake at night dreaming of setting stuff on fire. I tell you they dream of it. That's why they drive all over the state for a fire. It's a RUSH for them.

Tonight, the winds died down and the fire was coming down the mountain near my house. Since the wind was not ripping across the flames, this gave the firemen the window to fight the fire with fire that they had been waiting for.... so they set fires at the bottom of the hill which will naturally chase itself uphill and meet the fire coming down the hill. So, I promise you this... there are some firemen from all over this fine state having the time of their life setting a forest of grass and trees not far from my home on fire. Make no mistake about it. They are laughing right now and breaking out the marshmallows since there was nothing but vegetation between Steele Canyon High School and the approaching fire... so GAME ON.

here's the photo from my kid's fort as best I could get it at night. Most of the fire pictured was just set by the firemen.



Got a minor scare today on the news when they said my area was being evacuated. We actually packed our car with my critical stuff. Made me realize how much crap I have. If my house burns to the ground, honest to God, I only care about my family and less than one trunk load of stuff. Amazing. I have a house full of junk that on the grander scale of life, doesn't matter at all. I need to have a major ditch the crap sale and give it all to the poor or something evidently. I guess I can be more nomadic than I thought if need be.

According to this map on google, my house is actually in an evacuation area, though none of my neighbors or I have officially been asked to leave. Here's the map and my house in relationship to it. The yellow is the proposed, but not adhered to, evacuation area. The red is the actual burn area on Mt. Miguel a few miles from my house.



Well, no school again today. This is the view out my front door as of 6am. It's the "harris fire" that started in Potrero near the Tecate border crossing. I'm guessing it's traveled a good 30 miles on the other side of this hill and this is the far north edge of it pictured below. It looks a little closer than it is. But 3-5 miles is realistic.

here it is as of 6:30 am:

The president declared our communities to the North and this hill to the South of me a federal state of emergency. Hopefully the planes will start dropping stuff today as the sun comes up and the winds will die down. This is crazy. We're talking over 300,000 people displaced from their homes and evacuations all over the place. The one death I am aware of is 2 degrees from me with a family in our church coaching wrestling at Valhalla with he and his son who is also badly burned.

Life can sure take a turn on the dime. Guess I'll have to keep learning to spin on my knees.


Monday, October 22, 2007


I got a call this morning from the boys school district at 6am. Due to the fact that there are like 8 fires burning in the SD area, they have caused the air quality to get bad and one fire to the south east could make it close enough to evacuate us if it continues to be blown our way today. As a result, our school district to be closed today so our kids are home. It's like an area wide fire drill. We had to delay a trip to Idaho to visit some friends by at least a day since I didn't think it would be wise parenting to tell my dad, "See ya. We're out. If the fire gets close enough... go ahead and evacuate ok. See you later."

We're still waiting to see if the fire will come over several ridges and miles to make it to us. I sure do hope not. So we're praying it up and waiting and doing what we can to be prepared and help those in need around us.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Today we were given this case study to read in the last 15 minutes of class. We were supposed to read it and then discuss what we'd do in this scenario... if you want a taste of ethics class at the graduate seminary level :) , you can read on:

Keith Loewen is nearing the end of his seminary education- just weeks away. It has been a long haul, but God has been faithful and the end appears in sight. Norma, his wife, has been incredibly suppportive through the years, and has not complained about their tight finances and the debt load they've acquired. This final year Keith quit the software company he had been working for, and has been working various weekend odd-jobs so that he can go to seminary full-time and finish everything up in a final push to the finish line. One down-side of this strategy is that they have no medical insurance. Their eight-year old daughter Natasha is overdue for some expensive corrective surgery on her legs. It breaks their hearts to see her in such discomfort.

Keith has already interviewed for an associate pastor position at a well-established church in an adjacent state, and has been offered a surprisingly well-paying full-time job, with medical benefits, as soon as he graduates from seminary. "There are a lot of needy people in crisis in this congregation, Keith," the chairman of the church board had confided. "They've already come to love you and Norma, and can't wait for you to come." Completing the Master of Divinity was the only unfulfilled requirement of the position. As soon as Keith gets it, they'll move and, of course, schedule Natasha's surgery.

Keith's last required course had a take-home exam that had to be handed in electronically before Monday morning at 9am. The professor, who has a reputation for being a real stickler, warned the class all term that there would be no grace for late exams. Either get it in on time or take an "F".

With everything going on in their hectic lives, Keith forgot about the deadline. He remembered around noon on Monday while he was stuck in traffic. It was a horrible moment. He called the professor immediately to see if there were any exceptions. But the professor simply reiterated his policy. Keith's only hope was to report that he had sent the exam in on time, but somehow it hadn't gone through on the internet. The professor said he would simply need a witness (someone like Norma, for example) who would support her husband's account of what actually happened.

Keith and Norma were on the couch in their small apartment, discussing their options, and pondering the catastrophic consequences if he failed to graduate. "Maybe this is the time for a little white lie," Keith speculated with his head in his hands. Just then the phone rang, and little Natasha, who'd been listening to their conversation, ran to get it. "It's for you, Mommy," she called. Norma was at the end of her emotional energy. "Tell them I've stepped out," she shouted back. She had bigger problems to deal with.

If you were Keith, what would you do? If you were Norma, what would you do? And what would be your advice to little Natasha? Give reasons for your answers that reflect engagement with categories and concepts discussed in this course.

Here's my answers that I said to my discussion group table:

  1. SLAP KEITH: I'd get my buddies together and have a slap-a-thon with Keith until he gets a clue. What kind of dad watches his kid walk around in pain all day in the name of school? Get a job at Starbucks part time and get some freakin' benefits. Or drop out of school and quit paying thousands of dollars for class and put it towards health insurance instead. What a dork.

  2. SMACK THE PROF: Forget lying to the professor. Let's slash his tires. What kind of jerk can't have compassion for a graduate student who has thousands and thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours invested in this guys salary and is one class away from a degree just so he can hold to his stupid rules. Give the dude another day and knock his grade on the test down a notch or whatever, but wake up and smell the coffee! The world doesn't revolve around seminary.

  3. DRIVE A TRUCK THROUGH THE CHURCH: What is up with this congregation's leaders? I'd drive my truck through the front door in protest as a wake up call to this idiocy. What kind of well established rich church watches the daughter of a future pastor on their team go through delays for surgery under the auspice that he is highly qualified to do the job, minus one small issue of a piece of paper the dude is one class from getting? Someone on this board needs a good fish smack to the face.

  4. WHERE DID THIS GUY FIND THIS WIFE? Did he buy her online? My wife would have left me at the corner and told me not to come home until I figured out how to get a job and help our daughter. It would have sounded something like, "If you love that stupid seminary so much, you can marry it. While you're at it, why don't you just go ahead and sleep there. I'm going to sell all your tools on craig's list to pay for our daughter's surgery. When you wake up and pull your head out of the hole you've got it buried in, maybe I'll let you sleep in the backyard for a while."
I think the issue was supposed to be about lying. Yep, I'm gonna fail this class.



Continuing in my promised weekly posts on ethics, here's my latest internal wrestling match:


Which is more important that you do the right thing or that believe the right thing? Is it more important to be moral or to act moral?

On the one hand we could argue that God sees our motives and judges us for them first and foremost. This is how Samuel was instructed to pick David out of a family line up. He was told to look at the hidden issue of motive, not the physical stature or accomplishments of the individual in question. (1 Sam 16:7) Many use this classic text to reinforce the idea that what God cares about most, is our motivation. In the case of a lie with Rahab for example- it's not what she said, but why she said it (truth or lie) that really matters. On the flip side, in the case of the Pharisees, their obedience was good, but their motivation was bad and thus Jesus condemned their actions as useless and empty. In the world I'm currently studying, this is called "virtue ethics"; which is the idea that being comes before doing and that if you do the right thing, but for the wrong motives, it's fake and doesn't count.

However, we quickly find ourselves in a classic question of, "Which comes first, the chicken or the egg." This argument is somewhat cyclical. For every person that says that right motives produce right actions, there's someone else who will say that right actions formed the right motive in the first place. So which do we do? Is God more concerned that I am good in my actions, or in my motives? Should I do the right thing, even if it's hypocritical to my hearts intentions?

For example: A while back my neighbor's pipes exploded and flooded their entire downstairs. I came home and was expecting to sit down and relax. Instead, I found someone across the street in a minor/major catastrophe. No one's life was in danger, but it was surely jacked up and they needed extra hands. So then, should I serve people and help my neighbor clean up the water spill, even if I'm tired and don't feel like it? Should I go over instead and say, "I could help, but I'd be a hypocrite before God, because I don't want to?" Or perhaps I should say that I won't help you because I know I'd really only being doing it to make myself feel good and think that God is happier with me in my works based theology, therefore I'm not going to help instead. Does that seem right?

If I say yes, I should do the right thing, regardless of my motivations, then what I'm really saying is that God is more concerned with my actions, than my motives and that he actually rewards or uses my good done with wrong motives. Or at the very least, I'm saying that God rewards my good done with wrong motives beyond my evil done in accordance with my selfish motives. Like all of a sudden, good becomes an issue of the lesser of two evils and that I should at least do good, even if I'm not going to be good on a motivational level.

I guess this leads me in the direction of the real deeper question for me of, "Can these two issues be so clearly separated in the first place?" Can I really divide up my life into a clear motive on one side and an action on the other or is my life a muddy mess of motives and actions. Sometimes they line up, either evil for evil or good for good, but most of the time it's not that clear for me. In this case, perhaps the spiritual pursuit of loving God is not to clean up one side of this coin in service of the other, but instead to see both my hands and my heart become fully devoted to God.

Some days that means that my hands will lead my heart. I'll help tie a shoe for my kid when I'd rather sit on my butt and read, because it will form my heart to be more selfless and less ugly. I think this is what led Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. Surely his actions were primarily leading him in what resulted in a more fully devoted heart to God.

Other times I think my heart will be right and my hands will be tired. Jesus said that sometimes, the heart is willing but the flesh is weak. Perhaps he was driving at the reality, that sometimes our heart must move our hands to act when my flesh is in rebellion. Maybe this is how lust and laziness and greed are conquered; by the overthrowing of the actions of my godless habits through the motive of my God-oriented soul.

I read this quote this week that made me think. It's by a guy named William Frankena who said, “Principles without traits are impotent and traits without principles are blind”.

I like that quote. It seems to sum it up this little dichotomy nicely. As a Jesus follower, if I claim to love God and do nothing to show it, I deceive myself. However if I do good and don't love God, I deceive others into thinking I'm really good, when in reality I'm just faking it. And the truth is, most of the time, both are true of me. I'm a muddy mess of heart and hands that sometimes work as a team and other times are at war inside me.

Maybe someday both my doing and my being will be one. In the mean time. I'll keep letting them duke it out in the hopes that the result might move me to more consistently and fully honor my God.


Friday, October 12, 2007


TJ came to me last week and asked if I would help him run for school treasurer. So I asked him why and what it meant and what he needed from me. He said he wanted to help the school count money and raise money for field trips and supplies and stuff and he needed a slogan, some signs, some stickers, and a speech.

So we came up with this campaign slogan, TURN YOUR TRASH INTO CASH.

Then he and I made campaign posters, printed labels/stickers to give to his friends, and wrote his campaign speech, which he gave yesterday:

Hi ravens. I am T.J. Berry and I am running for the office of treasurer! And I want the job. But lots of other people do too. So why choose me?

Good question. The answer is simple: It’s because I’ll turn your trash into Cash!!!

If you elect me, soon you will see recycling trashcans at the lunch area. I’ve seen you guys buy water bottles and soda cans and throw them away. Instead of throwing them away put them into our new cans at lunch or after school. Then, every month, I’ll get some of you together and with the help of my dad, we will take the cans and bottles to the recycling center. The money that we get, we will turn into the school. And soon you’ll see your trash become a field trip, school supplies, fun days, all different sorts of stuff.

So vote T.J. Berry for treasurer. That’s right. Vote T. J. Berry and I’ll turn your trash into CA$H!!
And on Friday I made sure to go with Shannon to pick up the kids. We decided either way, we'd go to ice cream to either console or celebrate with him. As we were backing out of our house, I forgot my camera and ran back to get it. Shannon said, "What do you need it for?" I said, cuz if he wins, I want the smile on camera.

While we were waiting in the car line, I could tell by his mannerisms that he'd won. So as we drove up, I leaned out the passenger window with my camera to get the real deal on film as he's yelling, "I won! I won! I won!". Here you go.

Ladies and Gentlemen, one happy 5th grade boy who just got elected his school Treasurer shot by one happy Dad who has now evidently booked himself to be recycle boys ride for the remainder of the school year Fridays I suppose.

(PS.- Tyler lost a tooth this week just in time for school pictures. You can check out his proud missing tooth face in the upper left hand corner too)



with this and this. These two should not both be true of the same planet.



These pictures from NASA here are AWESOME. I love this stuff. Not to burst the bubble on the picture below, but they added the moon in from other photos for effect and magnified the topography 50x to give it the depth this picture has. But it's AWESOME. I love it when creation declares the beauty of God. There's a whole bunch more on that link- well worth some browsing time.


Thursday, October 11, 2007


I suck at updating my myspace. I'm horrible at checking it. I get reminders that I have friend requests, comments, and all kinds of junk on there. I tried to sign up for facebook once to see if I could do that any better, but something froze and my computer went stupid in the process and I took it as a sign from God that it wasn't worth it.

However, I have a big problem as a high school pastor, my students use myspace comments and bulletins all stinkin day long. I think they have a chip embedded in their brain somewhere that syncs their thoughts to their comment section. So in an effort to try and speak their language, we decided to open up a student myspace for our youth group sometime last year. I met with a student who helped me get one started and set up and then she handed me the password. That was a bad idea. It was janky (my new 80's hold over word cuz my students have never heard it and think it's funny- so I throw it around a lot lately), and I never updated it because as I previously already confessed, I suck at updating my myspace.

So, the other day I got smart and stopped trying. I took a big let-go-of-the-control-of-our-reputation gulp and asked a trusted high school student who comes to the office every week to take control of our student myspace. Yep, I gave them the keys to our whole world on the myspace highway. But, it has paid off. Big time. It now has the weekly bible study from our weekend program on it every week. It has updated photos. They actually went online and started finding all our high school leaders and students who come to youth group but weren't on our "friend list". The students on that list now get weekly reminder bulletins about our upcoming events and programs. It's so awesome and they are excited that our myspace is actually functional and the best part of it all...

I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT and I never have to say anything to make it happen. This article I ran into today, says that's not only the smartest thing I ever did, it's evidently the entrepreneurial thing to do these days!

Now if I could just get them to handle my personal one, I'd be really good.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007


I'm taking an ethics class this fall. More specifically, a Christian Ethics class. That is, it the discussion of what the Bible and Jesus teach about right and wrong, how it is shaped by the community of the church and our world, and what are the motivations that cause us to behave a certain way- among other things.

Anyway, I am supposed to keep a private journal on my thoughts and then simply indicate that I've had at least one entry per week regarding the class on my honor to the professor.

Well, instead of private, I decided to do it publicly here on my blog. So, for the next 10 weeks, once a week, I'll post an response or a rant or a question about what I'm reading or wrestling with.

This week: I've been chewing on this question: "Are some sins worse than others?"

I know that the Scriptures teach that all have sinned. I know that they teach that the summation of all our "good works" is like filthy rags and thus, all sin is a fatal problem with humanity. I know that we can't overcome sin on our own and that I desperately need God to free me from myself. I think I understand depravity. But, are we all equally depraved?

IF WE ANSWER NO, ALL SIN IS NOT EQUAL... then we validate what seems to be a biblical truth that some sin can even be so grand as to be "unforgivable". At least one that is. I remind all our adult staff in our ministry that when we teach, God holds us to a higher standard according to James. When we say all sin is not equal, we seem to agree with the intention of the law that someone who lies to get out of a parking ticket shouldn't be on the same level as someone who lies to get out of murder. In our society, we have degrees of punishment for various "sins". For example, a child rapist should not get the same punishment as a young man who steals groceries to feed his family. Is this just our humanity or is it the divine reality flushed out in our judicial system?

IF WE ANSWER YES, ALL SIN IS EQUAL... then we validate the biblical reality that sin is evil. Period. All sin is a diversion from God and is thus bad by default. We seem to support the idea that God hates sin. All sin. We however must also then agree that degrees of bad are a human invention and that bad or evil is bad or evil, no matter how deep you go. I remember a set of ads post the horror of 9/11 where the government was trying to convince people who do drugs that they support terrorism, since those countries often supply the drugs. They were in essence saying, "Do drugs and you might as well start bomb buildings- they are in the same boat. They are equal." Which is the problem with this view. It produces the saying my fraternity brothers and I used to joke around with one another about. "If you're going to sin, might as well sin BIG." But this seems to go against the heart of the matter too. If this is true, then there is no such thing as "baby steps" that lead to holiness. You either sin or you don't. Period.

So, where does this all lead? Um...... good question. Welcome to the YES and NO reality of the mystery of following God. Yes, all sin is equal- so don't do it. No, all sin is not equal and some sins will take you farther from God faster and deeper than others- holiness is a pursuit and God will bless your travels, so for what it's worth, choose to sin small- or at the very least, sin less.

I think.


Monday, October 08, 2007


I think I've avoided talking about things like abortion and homosexuality and the like on this blog because of the way the church has jacked up these issues so much. I also am not a big politics guy and America is largely a political country before a religious one. That and the fact that I don't need the comments section to be a debating zone have left me silent at times when I might blog on. But anyway, I believe that God cares about those issues. I care about them. I care about how the church deals with them and a lot of other issues too.

While our staff is not perfect, if you ask me sometime, I'll tell you a story or two about why I think that the way my current pastoral staff handles these issues makes this one of the best churches in the world to work at. I've seen some amazing displays of love and grace and truth and redemption. It's literally what I think Jesus would do and it's sweet to be a part of a church staff like that. No, we're not perfect, and we have made our errors in the process, but I sure do love the results I do see.

Along those lines, we have some proximity to a ministry in our area to those who have had an abortion or are considering one. I like the way they help and not judge. I like the way they speak with compassion and truth. I like the way they deal with this as a sociological and a theological issue.

If you're looking for a resource to direct someone who is considering abortion, this website might be worth sending them to.

This video is worth the slightly under 90 seconds it will take to view. I think it shows their heart pretty well:



That's the subject of my teaching for this coming Sunday in high school. And evidently a long post this morning....

So this morning I sit down to eat my breakfast and wait for it to be time to take my kids to school, and I see an interview with A.J. Jacobs. He's a New York Times best selling author who has started to become accustomed to, and make a name for himself in, the genre of experiential novel. I made that genre up. I'm not sure really what you call it, but it's like reality tv only in word form and on one subject. I'll explain:

His first book - the one that put him on the New York Times a-list was "The Know-It-All". For this one, he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica- 44,000 pages cover to cover- and records the craziest and most interesting pieces of trivia along with the experience of the journey itself along the way. Somewhere in there he competed on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and became so annoying that his wife started to fine him $1 for every useless trivia piece he inserted into a conversation. It's probably worth buying just for that tid bit. That sounds hilarious to me.

Anyway- book number two for AJ (which just hit store shelves) is called, "A Year of Living Biblically" in which he attempts to keep all of the rules and regulations of the Bible as literally as possible for a year. He sets out, so he says, to genuinely understand the Bible and religion and to seek to find a model of faith or belief to share with his young infant son as he begins tries to raise him in this crazy world. He begins as an agnostic and at the end says he's a "reverend agnostic". He says that means, "Whether or not there is a God, I believe in sacredness. Rituals can be sacred, the Sabbath can be sacred however you choose to observe it."

There is an interesting interview with Newsweek posted online here. The interview was either read by Matt Lauer before doing the interview I watched this morning or was handed to him as a script or something, because it is almost verbatim the questions and answers from there.

In this experiment of living this way for a year, he decided to grow out his beard which causes his wife to refuse to kiss him for the final 2 months. At one point he gets in a minor altercation with a man in a park who confesses to be an adulterer and he tries to stone him with pebbles (not the point nor the Biblical methods truly used, but that's probably not the point either).

Since completing the writing of the book, he has begun to feature a, "Bible Question of the Week" feature on his blog. Where he writes, "So if you have a question about the Bible, please email it to me. It can be anything even vaguely related to the Bible. It doesn't have to be a profound theological question. It could be something like: "Why does the number 40 pop up in the Bible all the time? (40 days of rain, 40 years of wandering, etc.)"
I'll do my best to answer. And if I can't, I'll outsource it to one of the Bible experts I met during my year. So feel free to email them to me at"

Hmmm. I might take him up on this one, just to see what he says. I think I'll read his responses for a while nonetheless.

But as trite as this book sounds to me with it's tongue-in-cheek humor, it also is profoundly true and needed. In the Newsweek interview, he admits that this is a bad hermeneutic to read the Bible literally without any contextual filter. Which I applaud, however he still sees the answer to this dilemna of what to do literally and what not to as more of a "cafeteria" picking and choosing of what to eat and what to ignore. Which makes, in my opinion, for the oxymoron of comfortable Christianity.

I must (not as one who has committed a year of my life to living Biblically, but my entire life to living Biblically) ask the question, "Am I this devoted to the task as he was for his year? Do I keep the statues and commands of the Bible and Jesus on my mind and heart as Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 119 challenge? Do others see me as radically devoted to living and serving God? Does my behavior resemble that of Jesus? Do I practice what I preach?"


I think I should. I want to. But at the same time, I do think that there is a meaning at the core of the teaching that is the true point of the teaching sometimes. For example, the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:29 "If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." I have sinned a lot with my eyes. I still have two. I obviously don't think this is a teaching I plan on following literally, nor did A.J Jacobs by the way, nor do I think it was what Jesus expected his followers to do, otherwise he would have been popping out eyes to save people, not healing them.

But this begs a question I've been messing around with for several weeks now: "How literal should I read the Bible and are those who follow it literally actually more Godly?"

As an example, one of the books I'm reading right now, that I'm a little late to the party on, is The Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne. A friend of mine gave it to me a couple of weekends ago and said that Rob Bell gave it to everyone in attendance at his "isn't she beautiful" conference on the church and leading and stuff last January or something like that.

Anyway, I started reading it and one of the themes of the book is taking Jesus' teaching literally. Especially if it involves possessions or money. He says that those who take Jesus' teaching literally on selling all of one's possessions and living a sorta nomadic lifestyle are more Godly and the "True Christians". Here's a quote from a part of the book where he records his summer trip to Calcutta, India to work with Mother Teresa and in search of true faith.

Eventually (Andy) told me his story. He used to be a wealthy businessman in Germany, and then he said he read the gospel and it "messed everything up". He read the part where Jesus commands the disciples to sell everything they have and give it to the poor (Luke 12:33), and he actually did it. I had met some fundamentalists before, but only "selective fundamentalists," not folks who took things like that literally. He sold everything he onwed and moved to Calcutta, where for over ten years he ahd spent his life with the poorest of the poor... I had gone in search of Christianity. And I had found it. I had finally met a Christian.

So, this Sunday, when I talk to students about "I said I wanted to follow Jesus... and I meant it", what should I say?

I could tell them to live like AJ Jacobs and wear white clothes like Ecclesiastes says and not cut their hair and only have two sets of clothes like Jesus (and incidentally Mother Teresa too). I could tell them to gouge their eye out when they sin. I could tell them to forgive one another 490 times. I could tell them to sell all they have and move into a homeless village downtown.

But I don't think much of that is the point. I won't tell them to follow Jesus at an arms length and only in the comfortable stuff. But I won't be telling them to read every story of Jesus' encounter with a man or woman in the Bible as a play by play for "real Christians".

Maybe I'm just being selfish and not really following Jesus myself. Lately, I hear a lot of sideline comments about how those who live in the suburbs are self-absorbed, money hungry, and American society moguls. I think Shane thinks that. That's my read and the feel I get sometimes in the book, not his words exactly. It is mostly because of statements like one where he says that he's a fan of everyone being welcome into the church, "whether than means not turning off transsexuals or folks who drive SUV's." I found that an interesting contrast, since evidently my sin of owning and driving an SUV is just the opposite extreme of choosing to date men while cross dressing like a woman. I really feel sorry for the transsexual who drives an SUV.

I'm trying to be a real Christian- a real thinking and living and breathing one. I take my Bible and my faith and following Jesus seriously. But I guess the question at hand might be, "When do I take it literally?"


Friday, October 05, 2007


I recently started adding blogs to my bloglines through some links I find when reading other sites. I reorganized them into 4 categories:

  1. friends and family
  2. pastors
  3. thinkers
  4. professional feeds
Anyway, one I put under the professional feeds category is by Tim Sanders. He's one of the original founders of yahoo or something like that- I've heard him teach at Catalyst or the Leadership Summit or something. If you ask me, the dudes a little weird. But I thought he might be interesting, so I added him.

But in his latest post he questions the "dog eat dog" reality of the world. He asks, "Really, who has ever seen a dog eat a dog?" He then proves his point by saying he thinks we life in a "dog-sniff-butt-dog world".... and he says it without even cracking a smile. I played it 4 times and laughed more and more as I heard him say this. I think I want his voice saying that phrase to be my cell ringtone. "I think we live in a dog-sniff-butt-dog world."

Take a listen for yourself.

evidently you "tune into other people" by sniffing their butt or something. I don't get it. But I think it's hysterical.


Monday, October 01, 2007


It's official. We're now bagless. I think that's supposed to help our carbon footprint or something. I don't really know. I guess it's a start. I do know we no longer get bags from the grocery store or target. We-read my wife- keeps them in her car and brings them in with her. Nice thing is, they're a lot stronger, reusable, and we even get like .15 per bag each time we use one at Albertsons- so that's cool too.



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San Diego, CA
Husband. Dad. Jesus Follower. Friend. Learner. Athlete. Soccer coach. Reader. Builder. Dreamer. Pastor. Communicator. Knucklehead.

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