Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I have not been to the Christmas Eve program at Journey yet. But we had one service tonight. It was the eve eve service :) at 7pm. I took the day off after some stuff this morning and went to see Christmas lights with my kids and our neighbors. But based on the stuff I have heard and know, here's my top 5 reasons why I'm looking forward to taking my family and joining some friends at the 4pm service:


I texted a high school student of mine who I heard was there and said, "Bro, how was the eve eve service?"

Here is the reply: "It was so good! Adam S and Michael C both had solo songs and did amazing! Lots of former Encounter studs (Tyler, Andrew, Kaley) were involved. Perfect message too!"


I know my friend Ed has spent weeks praying for and crafting this message with the leading of the Holy Spirit and I know it's on the subject of Hope. I KNOW I NEED SOME HOPE. I'm going with an open heart.


Check out this pic. Our service host "Rod" looks awesome here. If I were him, I'd break out in any U2 song I could and pitch some red products. I bet he's wearing a "red" logo shirt under his cool coat. Our Tech team did miracles with him. :)


God came to be with me, I want to do life with Jesus. I need to do life with Jesus. My experience as of late has reminded me it is TOTALLY POSSIBLE to live life near Jesus, but not do life with Jesus. I'm going to this service to give my life to doing life with Jesus. I'm all in. If Jesus doesn't leave that service WITH ME, then I might be there for the 6pm, my own personal 8pm, and 10pm services too until we can walk out the door together. Life without Jesus sucks.


Come on people. I have no idea where the nearest Krispy Kreme is, but holiday colored donuts are flowing like water in the parking lot I hear. My kids are going to ruin their dinner with a donut that melts in your mouth and was trucked there by fed ex or something straight from Atlanta, GA... or maybe Chula Vista... but I'll be clogging an artery on my way out with Jesus too :)



Monday, December 21, 2009


Seth is a high school student in Encounter and he spent the summer working at Sea World. As a job perk, he gets ticket vouchers and several weeks ago, he offered them to me for my family to be able to go. I confessed that we had season passes given to us already, but that I would take some friends if that was ok. He said, "Sure sounds great. Have fun."

So we invited the Bower clan to drive down and do some life with us. They said yes and jumped in their car and met us there today. That took 4 tickets. We gave one to grandpa since grandma already had a pass. That left us with two more that we pitched to Ian and Stina and that made for 14 of us on a Sea World trek this afternoon/tonight.

We go every year in December cuz the Christmas shows are fun, funny, and inspirational. Seriously, the shamu show is like going to church. It's amazing. If you have not seen it, it's worth the price of admission all by itself.

Here's some fun pics we snapped along the way. (click em for a closer view)

THANKS SETH- (notice the sign language :)

Always amazes me what they can teach animals to do:

Hello. I'm posing.


Who doesn't love a good hill roll every now and then?

Grandma and Pops

This pic makes me laugh out loud. I love this kid. He is a total clown.

At the bat rays.

Shannon and Kim

TJ and I

Jake got his shirt wet at the bat rays. So here he is showing off his jacket clone chest.

Um yeah, wanna fly 30 feet out of the air on the nose of a carnivorous 10,000 pound animal? Sure, sounds great to me.

Ok... I'm in too.


Sunday, December 20, 2009


Well, it's been quite the week and I've been trying to post this for days, but I finally have found the time to make it happen.  

On Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 3:30pm in the afternoon, Becky and Billy officially and irrevocably became part of the Berrytribe.   When we returned from Uganda in February of this year, they had a visa to get into the U.S., were issued a residency card good for 10 years, and were ours under an "irrevocable guardianship" from the Ugandan Government.

However, the deal was not done done until we signed the final papers on this end and on Thursday we went from guardians to officially Mom and Dad.   They both will now be issued US birth certificates and have citizenship both here and in Uganda.  So cool.

Billy's new birth certificate will read:  Billy Isaac Lochoro Berry
Becky's new certificate will read: Becky Joy Ilukol Berry.

Here's a pic of us in front of the Courthouse in Kampala, Uganda 11 months ago.

Here's the signing of the official docs here in the US.

Here's the pic of the official Berrytribe and the Judge declaring it so!!!


Monday, December 14, 2009


I know lots of blue collar workers. I know landscapers, contractors, cabinet makers, electricians, plumbers, truck drivers, tile layers, mechanics, etc. Lots of my friends and several of my volunteers are blue collar people. I've got my hands dirty a grip of times with them, done some life with them, and learned a few skills myself from them.

On a grander scale I personally think they are the back bone of much of our country. I also think that in terms of their specific skill set, they are the most under utilized group in the non-profit sector.

Almost across the board, the blue collar workers that I respect and love are:
  • intensely creative
  • detail oriented
  • proud of the work they do when they walk away from it
  • hard working
  • and feel like their professional skill set can't be utilized in the church.
Now it's true that it's not every day that we have tile to lay, pipes to fix, cabinets to build, or electrical lines to run in the church. But when I watch shows like "extreme home makeover", once I get past my tears, I am inspired and reminded that the heart to help in the blue collar world is over the top. These people LOVE to change lives and make a difference. But with their specific professional tools, clearly they don't often feel like they are being used for maximum impact. Each episode, builders and workers proclaim, that this has been the greatest joy and the most significant thing they have ever done in the career/life.

I blogged about a success I experienced in using this group in ministry once before here.

I now want to tell you about a friend of mine who is also a volunteer in our ministry. His name is Jason Janik. He essentially runs a business that his mom owns called "Top Notch Manufacturing Inc" and loves to play paintball and hit sling shot carrying high school students in the desert who aren't looking too :)

I could tell you so much I appreciate about Jason in his pursuit of students as a small group leader, his servants heart, his passion to be a good husband and dad, and so much more.... but lately, he has chosen to use his professional skill set to change our ministry. All on his own, without being asked or even a hint from me, he's initiated, finished, and delivered on two ideas he had.

  • Jason saw that in the desert, the wind would pick up and it would blow out the flames in our BBQ, making cooking a seriously annoying task. We tried duct taping tin foil around it one year to keep the wind out, and Jason said to himself, "enough of that, I can fix it." So he did. Even though a schedule conflict kept him from going to the desert with us this last fall, he delivered on his idea before we left and it was a life saver. It even collapses on top of the BBQ to make it better and cleaner for transporting it. (Below is Matt, cooking on it. Who incidentally, along the same lines, is in charge of our facilities team and noticed the wheels on this BBQ were dumb and on his own, added massive ones to it which make moving it about a billion times better. Man I love get-it-done people.)

  • Jason's business has a "waterjet". Which is essentially a very expensive metal cutting tool that uses extreme water pressure to do the work of cutting a computer generated image out of just about any piece of material, up to like 6" thick. So, Jason gets this idea that he could use it to make ornaments for our high school group. He rips the logo off our website, re-creates it on his computer, orders the materials, cuts the ornament, shoots me a sample, and says, "Hey, what do you think?" I told him he was a genius and he donated 140 of them for our christmas party and we gave them away as gifts as students left.

Jason. You are the man. My hat is off to you, my very talented, very much appreciated, and very hard working blue collar job man. Thank you for blessing the Kingdom of God with vision, initiative, and your mad professional skills and tools.

PS. If you want hire him to do something like this for your church or business, you should contact him.


Saturday, December 12, 2009


One of my greatest joys as a youth pastor is watching kids laugh. I know it's supposed to be watching them repent, or ditch a bad habit, or learn something new about God... and those are great, but I think when they laugh would be in that list for me too.

I love it when they feel at home so they can laugh.
I love it when they genuinely forget about their worries for a few hours and laugh.
I love it when they are allowed to be 15 and not forced to act like "an adult" and they laugh.
I love it when they get dressed up, invite a friend, and laugh.
I love it when they genuinely have a great time, and laugh.

It's one of my favorite pieces of our semi-formal Christmas party we throw every year. I attended a similar one like this all 4 years of high school in my youth group. I've now thrown one like this for 16 years as a youth pastor. Every time, it is tons of work. So much work that after 3 full days of nothing but set up, stress, hard work, and preparation, I wonder if it's worth it. But after the first kid genuinely smiles, says something like "this is great", and then laughs with their friends... I say to myself, "it's all worth it, I'd do it again"

One "bit" or "element" we do solely for the purpose of silliness and laughter every year is change the words to the 12 days of Christmas. We assign tables to certain numbers and have them stand up and shout their day out as we "sing/shout" it. It's tons of fun. This years list was Roman themed to go along with our decoration theme. Here's the whole list, from the perspective of the 12th day.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
  • Twelve gods a-greeking
  • Eleven sculptors sculpting
  • Ten roman columns
  • Nine lions feasting
  • Eight 
Caesar salads
  • Seven gladiators fighting
  • Six abs a-packing
  • Five naked runners
  • Four big head-wreaths
  • Three coliseums
  • Two chariots racing
  • and a toga for this fine partee. 

I posted some pics on facebook, but here's some for the bloggin world, starting with the set up, and then a few from our night.



...decorating the tree, peppermint hot chocolate, soup, fires, christmas movies, and splashing in the puddles-  or at least they are today in the Berrytribe.  Here's some picture proof:

Becky putting up her first ornament- ever, a princess Tiana doll, in honor of both the Berrytribe and Disney's first brown princess.

Here's the top of our tree.  It's a grapevine angel that Shannon and I have added something to every year since we were married.  Last year it was Ugandan beads in anticipation of Becky and Billy.  This year, she was given a classic Ugandan headdress from fabric we bought there last January in honor of Becky and Billy's first Christmas with us.  She is looking very tribal these days.

Here' the puddle splashin' crew. We practically had to unplug the computer to get Billy outside, but eventually, he remembered he is a boy.


Friday, December 11, 2009


Jake got the lead in his school play, "the rumpus in the rainforest".

Since I'm guessing you have never seen/heard of it. Here's the scoop:

  • It's about a frog that wants to go see the top of the canopy of the rain forest. However, he can't figure out how to get there, since his best friend -the Toucan- has a broken wing. So Jake (or the frog) goes in search of anyone who can take him there (jaguars, humans, snakes, monkeys, sloths, army ants, you name it)- most of which refuse for one reason or another or are too dangerous to trust, cuz they might eat the frog. Things are finally fixed with some herbal jungle doctor person gives the toucan a natural remedy and heals her broken wing and she can now take her friend the frog to see "up beyond the trees, just once".

Anyway, I got to see it this morning. He put his big personality to the test. Shannon might have just found her actor in the family. He can dance. He can sing. He loves to do the moves. Kid has been like that since birth. So cute to hear him get excited about it.

Here's a few pics for you. Way to go Jake!!!


Thursday, December 10, 2009


This is true in lots of areas in life.

  • Physically, a muscle you stop using with atrophy away. Stop playing a particular sport and your edge will be gone in no time.
  • Relationally, a friendship you stop attending to will slowly diminish.
  • Practically, almost any skill set you stop using will become a thing you'll describe using the phrase "when I was _______ I used to be able to do ____________. Those were the days."
  • Spiritually, stop practicing a discipline and the original growth you were experiencing in your soul will no longer be there. Perhaps it will hang around for a little while, but eventually other influences will win the day and your spiritual life will reflect the back seat it's been given.
  • etc...
It is definitely true of me Academically.

For me, one of my primary frustrations with my pursuit of a masters degree (and even my reflection back on the last 30+ years of academic education) has been that there is a clear chasm between information given and information that informs and changes the way I live day-to-day. All over the place there is information tossed at me that has no real implication for me.

When I started at UC. Davis, I was a civil engineering major. This meant that I took the highest level of calculus the university offered my freshmen year. 3 quarters (an entire school year) was consumed by my brain overload on math. It's been 15 years since I've touch any of it. And it's gone. All of it. Gone. I can't tell you squat about calculus, cuz I've NEVER needed or used it as a pastor.

I loved going to seminary in Seattle for the time I did because it was all about the bottom line and populated with people in full-time ministry taking the classes. I took like 8 classes before the seminary merged with another seminary for financial reasons and then changed their theology and methodology, causing me to have to go searching for another seminary. But, before things got wacky though, here's how it worked:
  • I had to read 8 or so assigned books. Write a 2 page report on each book outlining it's basic content, what I agreed and disagreed with, and then the practical implication of this book on my ministry context.
  • 40 hours of class in a one week intensive where I listened to professor/practitioners share about what they knew and had learned.
  • A project that was directly applicable to my ministry context: Preaching class: write 4 messages for my student audience. Romans: outline the book in a teaching format for my ministry. Leadership: rewrite the entire student leadership structure of my ministry based on my learnings. Etc. Every class had a project that was customized to a ministry setting.
But those days are pretty far behind me. If I want to make my current classes practical, much of the time I have to do that on my own, cuz it's not required in the academic requirements portion.

So, in the next 30 days of "no greek" before my second class starts, I have to do greek. Because if I don't, it'll be all gone. And I absolutely hate $1200 hoops, which is essentially what every seminary class I take is if it doesn't flush out into practical implications. I really need these language studies to have daily implications for me. I have sacrificed too much for them not to. So far though, most of what I know is floating around in my head, rapidly heading for the drain if I don't figure out a way to clog it up and use it regularly.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009


In my own personal and ministry journey, I think I've stumbled across at least two things that are broken in the church in general. I don't think they are the answer to this post, but I do think they are part of the problem. I see them in my own student ministry and in the adult populous too. I think they are actually American cultural norms that have subtly seeped into the ethos of our church community that will not be broken over night, but must be challenged nonetheless.

They are the tendency among people to be (1) loners and (2) leavers.


Loners may come every weekend and might even call a space their "home church", but they aren't connected to anyone. They come in, sit down, sing, listen, and when it's over.. they quietly walk out. They don't know anyone really. They usually don't serve, they might give in the offering, but they are shielded from any real emotional investment with people.

In our high school program, some avoid connection by going to "main service" where they can hide in the crowd of adults who they won't have to speak to. Some come to our program but they remain unconnected. They sit at the same table with others or will be a mere feet from 6 kids who go to their school, and they won't talk. Or they'll come in, hide behind the screen of a cell phone and the ear buds of an ipod and then leave. They are loners and there are some every weekend.

Loners can be found in any crowd, large or small, and it's not just a personality thing either. The tendency to skim in life and keep shallow, easy to manage, low level investments is at epidemic levels in our culture. We don't talk things through with friends, we pay others to listen. We value the "I can do it" role model and don't feel the need to connect deeply. Add to that the mixed danger and blessing of the internet/social networking and the need to actually be "physically present" anywhere is coming into question. Meetings can be held via satellite, friendships can be maintained over the internet, and we have exchanged doing life together with 140 character update that give us the false sense of proximity to one another.

I think we have a Loner Epidemic in the church and in our culture.

On the other hand, we also have (or should I say had) the LEAVERS:

Leavers stay for a while and then bounce. Maybe it's because they've been burned before and out of fear, they leave. But leaving is constant. I'm not talking about those who move away or even those who God calls elsewhere, I'm just talking about the massive tendency to give up.

Real community, true community can not be fabricated or fast tracked. It takes time and hard work. No marriage escapes the storms of life: they either learn to weather them and are stronger for it, or they get destroyed by pressure and collapse in the waves of trials. The same is true of the church. Many won't stick around for hard times. If someone says something they don't like from the stage, they turn in a nasty e-mail and then leave. If they feel something is wrong, they find 4 or 5 others who "feel the same", then huddle together, call it a consensus, and leave.

We have all heard that, "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence". But I say, "the grass is greener where you water and fertilize it." I know most of my blog readers are not farmers and like me (if they buy their fertilizer at all) get the stuff that comes in nice, sterile bags you can dispense without touching. But in case we forgot, fertilizer is essentially crap. When you stop fertilizing life with crap, you end up with a false facade of health. In southern California, where water is scarce and a nice lawn is a lot of year round hard work, many will settle for the nice, low maintenance, "green" fake stuff instead. This true in church too, we settle for fake stuff or leave if the real stuff takes too much work. True healthy community cannot be found if you don't hang around in the midst of and through some (ie: a lot of) crap. And while we're at it, let's be honest: we all have lots of crap to contribute to the pile.

When God calls us to a community, we can't truly experience what God has for us in it unless we stick around. But we don't do that much these days. Many just leave cuz they can. Investment is low, options are high, and the desire to avoid conflict outweighs the desire for crap filled fertile soil. So they go to the next church in hopes for greener pastures or until the crap gets deep, and then the cycle repeats.

I think it's time to call it. I don't think we honor God as Loners and Leavers. I think we must refuse to settle for something this shallow and this insignificant. God has way more for us than this. God was way more for me than this. I'm trying to be an investor and a owner of my own faith and community. But it is not easy, and some days, it feels like swimming against a cultural tide.


Monday, November 30, 2009


Ever since I started taking our high school men to the desert, my kids have been begging me to take them. I have taken them several times shooting, but never for an overnight stay and never with "fire". But this year I promised them I'd change that and we'd go spend the night and we'd invite some friends and family- (The Berrytribe with Sr. member Papa, The Phillipsons, The Hammonds, and The Bowers)

So, the Friday after thanksgiving we ditched the women, finished loading up my truck, a trailer, and 2 suburbans and peaced out of El Cajon and headed to our favorite desert spot- an hour and half east of us.

Here's what was on the agenda for our 30 hour overnight trip:
  • eat too much food
  • shoot shotguns and .22 rifles to the tune of over 1500 rounds.
  • HUGE bonfire with some explosions
  • model rockets
  • climbing rocks
  • zipline
  • letting my kids do all kinds of stuff they can't do at home.
  • 4 families, 9 kids, 6 adults
Here's what was not on my agenda.
  • 40+ mile an hour wind storm starting at 1 am on Friday night.
  • Having the wind break my french press- for the 3rd time in the desert. I need a steel one for the desert and camping evidently.
  • Getting chased out earlier than planned on Saturday cuz we were completely soaked and freezing from the rain.
Here's the pictures that prove it was all worth it anyway. My kids now have back-to-school stories to tell today and for years to come. Including Billy doing the zipline in a torrential downpour!



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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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