Monday, October 27, 2014

In The Beginning...

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is it's very first sentence - Genesis 1:1.  More specifically, one of my favorite groups of words (four of them), are the first four words in the Bible:

In The Beginning…God

These four words establish that at the very beginning of creation there was one singular and all powerful presence - God.  There weren't other forces competing with God, or other dominions.  All that there was at the beginning was - God.  Also, we know that the very nature  of God is "goodness" and "love".  So, there wasn't any evil as we know it.  It was all "good" and all "love"

Actually, even though we call the chapter that these words come from - Genesis - for the Hebrew people the book of Genesis is known as - "In the Beginning" (Bara - Sheet).  For centuries rabbis have opened worship services with these four words:

In the Beginning…God

All good things must begin with God at the very center of them.  God is the force that brings all things into focus, into order, into creation, into life.

Yesterday, Mission Street Church was launched.  And if we were to establish four words with aptly sum up our new church's launch, it could be these same four words:

In the Beginning…God

*  God was there for the nearly 200 people who attended

*  God was there at 5:30AM as I loaded the first trailer onto the back of our car

*  God was there at 6:00AM when the first trailer was cracked open, and a team of 5 met to unload, even as the sun was still hidden behind the horizon.

*  God was there at 7:30AM when 10-15 volunteers arrived to help set-up church in the movie theater

*  God was there at 9:20 when people arrived to worship at Mission Street for the first time.

*  God was in the midst of the worship music that was so incredibly played by the Bel Air Street Band

*  God was in the welcome announcements so energetically offered by Dee Harrison

*  God was in the bagpipe band which played Suo Gan - an old Welsh hymn

*  God was in the Lifewater International conversation with Sada Andrews

*  God was in the welcome time in the atrium of the Edwards Movie Theater, as Panera Coffee was consumed and Sprinkles cupcakes were devoured.

*  God was in the message that I offered about the parable of the Lost Sheep, and how God's main purpose, as is our main purpose, is to leave the 99 behind and to go after the 1.

*  God was there as people filed out of the movie theater (theater 6) with beaming grins on their faces, many of them saying, "This is fantastic!  I love it!  This is what I have been looking for for such a long time.  Thank you.  See you next week."

In The Beginning…God

And God Is Good!
All The Time!

All For Now,

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Can I Get A Ticket?

A friend of mine just asked me a pointed and good question: "What am I most looking forward to this coming weekend as we launch our first worship service for Mission Street?"

The question was one I had to think about for a moment because there is so much that I am looking forward to:

*  I'm looking forward to many friends and family who will be coming from all parts of California to see one another again and worship together.

*  I am looking forward to leading a New Church Development once again, a kind of church experience that I just feel I was made to be a part of and to lead in my pastoral calling.

*  I am looking forward to the Bel Air worship band, led by Liz Brackenbury, a broadway singer and a deep woman of faith to lead our music.

*  I am looking forward to the Gold Coast Bagpipe Band, one of the best bagpipe bands I've ever played with, to open and close the worship service.

*  I am looking forward to throwing a huge party (Sprinkles Cupcakes included) for God.

*  I'm looking forward to the raw energy and initiative involved in hauling two trailers full of equipment from a storage unit, to the back door of a movie theater at 6:30AM, leading a one hour worship service, and then, tearing it all down again in less than an hour.

*  I'm looking forward to interfacing with an incredible handful of sound, light, camera production and and tech professionals who are such a gift to Mission Street.

*  I'm looking forward to meeting in a space to worship God that has absolutely no outward vestiges of religion and ecclesiastical infrastructure.

And the list goes on…

But the thing I am most excited about is that a few of the people who will be coming this weekend have absolutely no concept of what a church is, or who God is, or what the whole thing is about.

For a couple of months now, I have been getting coffee at a small coffee shop here in Camarillo.  Each day, I have just gone into the coffee shop and bought a coffee and talked with my friend who is the lead Barista there.  This past week, I decided to take a risk and tell my Barista friend about our new launch of a church, and to invite him to our opening service in the movie theater.  I had no clue about how he might respond.  To be honest, I thought it might be the end of our relationship.

To my surprise, he was elated.  "Oh wow!" said my friend, "This is amazing."  "I love it."  And then he asked me a question that I will never forget.  "Do you think I could get a ticket for this new worship service?"  "A ticket?" I asked.  "Yes, this sounds amazing, I really want to come, where do I buy a ticket for the service?"  I was flabbergasted.  My friend actually thought he needed a ticked to come to….church.  "You don't need a ticket.  Just come," I said.  "But I want to make sure I get a seat, how much are the tickets, where do I buy one?"  "You don't have to buy a ticket, just come," I said.  The man was insistent.  He needed a ticket.

For a moment, this exchange almost literally broke my heart.  This man was so excited for this new church, and wanted so badly to be a part of it, and was worried that he might actually miss out.  And maybe this man's entire life-frame of reference was that everything in life that is of any worth has to be purchased, it has to be bought, you need a ticket for.

I was about to tell him that admission was free, but then I thought twice about that.  In a real sense, admission to church is not free. It's not free for any of us.  God bought our admission to church, to new life, to eternal life, many years ago on a cross. He bought it with his life.  So, in a real sense, my friend,. who has never been to church before, was quite correct.  Perhaps this total outsider knew more about God and theology than I did.  Admission is free but we do need a ticket - that was bought for us a long time ago.

Then, I looked at my friend in the eye and said, "There is just one more seat available, and it has your name on it.  I will save a seat for you.  I have your ticket."

My friend was brimming with happiness and appreciation.  And so should we all be, who worship God week to week.  We do need a ticket.  And we have one.

If you are in the area, I will see you this coming weekend at the Edwards Movie Theater, at 9:30AM in Camarillo.  If you live afar, then please pray for us!

All For Now!


Monday, October 13, 2014

How I Pray

I should begin this week's post with a huge disclaimer.  One of my worst Spiritual gifts is the gift of prayer.  I'm not just saying this to sound humble, or to try and draw you into this post.  I am truly awful at prayer.  And this blog post is all about prayer.  So, if you happen to be an "expert" prayer, please read no more.  But if you are like me, and CS Lewis I am told (Lewis thought he was a very, very poor prayer, even though he prayed all the time), and you are awful at prayer - then continue reading.

It's not that I don't try to pray, or work at it, or do it a lot.  Also, like CS Lewis, I don't pray to change God, but because I need to be changed.  I need prayer, God doesn't.  I pray for myself mostly.  I'm pretty selfish in my prayers.  I need to grow in the area of praying for others.  So, these are my basic forms of prayer:

I pray "micro prayers" on the way to work, or while driving Haley to school.  "Lord, be with this day."  "Help Haley to have a good day."

I pray "nervous prayers" on Sunday morning when I first wake up before I preach, "God, help me in my message."  "Help me to help people today."

I pray "confessional prayers" almost every day.  These are almost always the same, "God, forgive me for all the ways I have fallen short.  Be with me.  Help me.  In Christ's name, Amen".  I don't bother listing out sins that I have committed (unless they are really big ones).  I know God already knows my sins, and repeating them again and again to myself can have the effect of making me feel bad.  Also, the list would go on forever, and who has the time (Luther figured this out, and it is what led him to the Reformation).

I pray "angry prayers".  Sometimes I even cuss in angry prayers.  "Lord, I'm really ?!?!?!?! !?!? off right now.  !?!?!."  I know that God has already heard such language before by far more spiritual people than me (AKA:  Jeremiah - "Dear God, The nation of Israel is a whore" Jer. 5:7).  I have never actually cussed at God, or to God in my life, except once.  I still feel bad about it.  We were trying to do a big kick-off worship service in San Antonio, Texas, and on Sept. 26, it began to snow.  Snow in Southern Texas in September!  I was really, really angry.  But I shouldn't have said that to God.

"I'm sorry God, for that, forgive me!"

I pray "agenda prayers" before every meeting at church, "Lord be with this meeting, as we talk together about the need to really work hard together as a team, especially as it relates to our first song set of our worship service this coming weekend…"

I pray "couple prayers" every evening after our two girls go to bed.  Several years ago, Star and I decided to begin praying every single evening as a couple.  At first, it seemed a little strange (to be honest), praying out loud with my wife.  Prayer feels like such a personal thing, and to do it out loud feels a bit like practicing the lines of a play while waiting in line at a supermarket.  After about 7 years now of praying every night together, we wouldn't let an evening go without it.

My most favorite prayer time is what I call, "presence prayer".  These are prayers that are more extended, at night, when everyone else goes to bed.  These I usually do on my knees, kneeling before the couch.  I will sometimes also have had a glass of wine.  Sometimes I will put on some music with my headphones.  My favorite recent selection is Lisa Gerrard singing, "Now We Are Free" (Gladiator theme music).  In my presence prayers I try to just "Be With" God.  I don't try and listen for any choirs of angels, or profound voices that ring out in a stentorian roar, (for example: "Graham, turn back!")  I don't bring a laundry list of problems to God.  I just try to be with God.  If God were in the room with me, I would pour Him a glass of wine and just sit.

My prayers are not eloquent.  They are actually really bad prose.  The most eloquent prayer I know is Mark Labberton, President of Fuller.  Labberton's prayers are like the poems of William Butler Yeats.  My prayers are like a bad rap song.

My recent big idea about prayer is that when Jesus gave us the model prayer (the Lord's Prayer), he meant us to say it - a lot.  When I pray the Lord's Prayer, I say it in my own words:

In Heaven
Holy is Your Name
Your Kingdom is Coming
Your Will is Being Done
Here on Earth As in Heaven
Give Us Today Our Daily Bread
And Forgive Us our Debts
As We Forgive our Debtors
You Lead Us Not into Temptation
But You Deliver Us From Evil One
For Yours is the Kingdom
And the Power
And the Glory Forever

How do you pray?

All For Now,

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Is it just me, or does it seem like the world is more dangerous now than ever before?  To listen to the evening news, or any cable news outlet, it would seem like the chance of being beheaded or contracting an endemic life threatening virus is as likely to happen to any one of us, as the chance of the sun going down at the end of this day (picture from Daily Telegraph).

Happily, in the midst of the fear contagion, one news commentator, CNN's Jeffery Toobin, offered some pretty good sense this last week whilst one of his colleagues was almost literally whipped into a frenzy over the chance of dying by one of the aforementioned malignancies.  Toobin said, "Now, wait a minute, just calm down here!  I think we are totally over-reacting to both ISIS and EBOLA.  Did you know, that every day in America 92 people die in a car crash?  That's a high number.  But, to date, nobody, nobody from America has died of the EBOLA virus."

If I can just pause here for a moment to reflect on the fact that two of the major calamities facing the world today have been boiled down to abbreviations and acronyms.  "ISIS" or "ISIL" stands for, "The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria."  The name "Ebola", and as much as the news media are covering the disease but not giving us any real information, comes from the name of the river in the Republic of Congo from which many of the viruses have developed - the "Ebola River".  The actual disease is known as, "Filoviridae Virus".  I was wondering if by giving these two atrocities acronyms or abbreviations if it doesn't give us a kind of nonchalant sense control over the things that scare us.  We have given them nicknames, like calling your husband "Monty" instead of "Montesque".  But back to what I want to mainly focus on for this week's blog post.

What I wonder, amidst the terror that most Americans are feeling right now, is how Christians should respond to the recent events in the world.  Three thoughts come to my mind:

1.  We Should Not Over-React

The world is a dangerous place.  Always has been, always will be.  Our own personal lives are really no more at risk than they ever have been.  Compared to the rest of the world, we, Americans live a pretty safe existence.

2.  We Should Live In the Present Moment

A few days ago, one of the wisest people I know, my Spiritual mentor and Counselor, Rev. Dr. Gordon Hess, gave me some very good advice.  He said to me, "Living in authentic Christian experience means living in the NOW.  The past only exists in so far as we bring the past into the present.  The future only exists as we are hopeful about it.  We have three choices.  We can have regret about the past, or we can have anxiety about the future.  We humans live between regret and anxiety.  The better path is to live in the present moment."

Most of the commentary about ISIS or Ebola hinges on hypotheticals about what might happen.  ISIS might infiltrate the United States.  Ebola might have an outbreak here.  ISIS might not be conquerable by air-strikes.  Ebola might not have a cure.  And the list goes on.  Notice, the hypotheticals are always focussed on the worst possible outcome.  Nobody has said, for example, "Members of the Islamic State might see the light, become Yahweh fearing, lead a movement of Democracy in the Middle East."  No-one ever says, "Ebola is totally beatable and winnable if we all work together on this."

3.  Most Important, Christ Followers Should Throw Ourselves Into the Fight to Meet These Crises

Even though the chances of you and I contracting EBOLA are extremely slim, they aren't slim for a 2 year old little boy now living in Monrovia who has no mother or father.  Millions of people need our help in African countries being impacted by the EBOLA virus.  Even though the possibility of being beheaded by ISIS is almost non-existent for us, the perils facing some of the oldest Christians on the face of the earth - those living in Iraq are extremely grave.  Quite literally, the Christian progeny of Abraham and Sarah, are, as we speak, being nearly eliminated from the face of the earth.  We should make their plight our own plight, and their concern our own concern.

In three weeks, Mission Street Church will be launched.  Check out our new website for ways that we will be trying to address sanitation, hydration and clean drinking water as a church through Lifewater International:

In the meantime, stay calm, live in the present and love your neighbor as God loves you!

All For Now,

Monday, September 29, 2014


The pre-eminent psychotherapist Carl Jung used to love to tell a story about a rabbi who was asked one day, "Why did God show himself to people so often in ancient times, but today, no one ever sees God?"  The rabbi responded, "Because, in modern times, no one can bow low enough to see God." The phrase, "bowing low enough" can be summed up by one word in our modern lexicon:


One of the most important aspects of God's ability to act, to move, to bring about fruit in our lives is the disposition of:


Again and again, the Bible offers examples and stories of people who were only able to be healed, receive salvation, turn the corner after they knelt before God,  lowered themselves, repented, asked forgiveness, or were brought from high places to low places.  The list is endless:

*  Adam and Eve trying to be like God, but falling from grace, had to bow before God
*  The rich young ruler had to humble himself with his financial resources before God
*  Moses had to take off his shoes while walking on holy ground
*  David, through his own poor decision making process with Bathsheeba, repented, and bowed
*  Jesus' greatest sermon: "The meek shall inherit the earth", is about bowing our hearts
*  John the Baptists' greatest sermon: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is Near", is about humility

One might argue that the entire Bible, perhaps all of human existence hinges on the human heart's ability to enact:


But you already know this.  My big thought for the week is that humility is not a quality that we can actually have any personal control over.  True humility occurs when we outside forces or actions cause us to have to reverse direction.  In short, we can't WILL true humility.  We can't wake up in the morning and say, "Today, I am going to be the most humble person in the world. I am going to receive a gold medal in humility."   I am more and more convinced that humility only occurs through the hard things that happen to us in life, and our larger ability to give those tough experiences to God.

C. S. Lewis once said that, "A man is never so proud as when he is striking an attitude of humility" (Christian Reflections, p. 14).  What Lewis was capturing is the sense that we cannot impose, or impute humility in our own lives.  We must be made humble by the tough experiences of our lives.  Later Lewis said, "Pain is the megaphone by which God rouses a deaf world."  He might also have added that pain and tough experiences are the way that God allows humility to begin to grow in a person's life.

In my own life I have had many things, though compared with others not so many, that have helped me to become more humble:

*  In college I contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and had to drop out for a while, but I became more humble in the process.
*  The first New Church Development that we started in San Antonio, Texas failed.  That was a really hard experience, but I became more humble.

There are many other experiences which I would like to write, but which are either too raw or I am still processing which have helped me to become more humble.  These experiences I would never have desired to undergo, nor would I ever want to go through them again.  But I am thankful that one of God's favorite tools for bringing about fruit in this world, is when a human heart comes before God and says, "I'm sorry."  Then, change can begin.

All For Now,

Monday, September 22, 2014

No "gods" Before God

So, here's a small confession to begin this week's blogpost with.

A lot of the Bible's rules, regulations, laws and edicts don't seem like they have a whole lot to do with me.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I am glad they are all in there, but, for example, when the Bible says; "Any alien living among you shall not eat any blood," (Lev. 17:8) I wonder what to do with this text. I am not aware of any aliens living among me, and if I was aware of them, I guess I could call The Department of Homeland Security, but would they care if that alien ate blood.  A burger anyone?  Or, here's another text which seems to defy a direct application to my life; "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest," (Lev. 19:9).   When I read this, I look at the four walls of my tiny apartment in Camarillo, California and realize that we barely have any plants in our house, let alone a field.  These texts, I must remind myself, are not just written for me, but the Bible is for all humanity, for all of the history of the entire planet earth, for the entire cosmos - so, though they must apply to someone, they do not necessarily apply to me.

Keeping this in mind, one of the main texts of the Bible which I have always felt was written for someone other than me is the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Deut. 5:7).  Whenever I have read this, I have said to myself, "Well, that one's not for me either."  I don't have any idols in my house.  I do not have shrine to Chemosh, the first century God of the Moabites, or I do not have any statues of Athena, as Paul preached against in the book of Acts, so this text is not written for me.

However, as I have contemplated this text, I have thought that there are at least two ways to interpret it.  It could be interpreted as idols (statues of foreign gods), or it could be interpreted as what we do as Christ followers to prepare ourselves to come before God, to worship God.  In other words, it could mean, "When you come before God, you should make sure there are no impediments, vices, distractions, unhealthy outside influences in your life."

Every evening my wife Star and I say a prayer together.  We pray for everything that we are thinking about, worrying about, contemplating, hoping for, and working on.  We pray for our children that they might have a good day at school the next day.  We pray for our future worship leader at Mission Street, that he/she would have great success here.  We pray for the rest of our church staff.  We pray for past call settings that we have served in.  We pray for our friends and relatives that are struggling with some aspect of their life.

Now, if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I do have many small "g" gods in my life.  I do have many vices and idols which can become "gods".  A short list of these includes:

*  TV
*  Food and Drink
*  in an earlier part of my life Smoking
*  my I-Phone, I-Pad, MacBook Pro
*  Working Out and my Body Image
*  my desire to neatly Order all parts of my life
*  my personal Ambitions
*  my Insecurities

These are a short list of my small "g" gods.  Now, God knows, and I know that many of these small "g" Gods will be with me all of my life.  God, and I, would prefer that they not be in my life at all, and yet, many of them always will be.  I am human.  However, when I come before God in prayer every night, with my wife, I work hard to rid them of those few moments that I am spending intentionally with God.

*  I turn off the TV when I am praying
*  I try not to be drinking a glass of wine when I am praying
*  I turn off my I-phone
*  I try not to be wearing my work-out clothes
*  I try not to worry about all the things of my life that are out of order
*  I try to remember that my whole life really isn't just about ME!

In short, when I come before God, I try to have no "gods" of my own.  What is quite interesting is that the first commandment doesn't tell us that we should destroy all of our small "g" gods.  It doesn't say, "Rid yourself of all gods".  It also, interestingly, assumes that all people, all people will have small "g" gods, and it acknowledges their presence.  The Bible doesn't say, "God is the only god in the universe".  God, the one true God, Yahweh/Jesus, knows that there are other small "g" gods.  No, the writer of Deuteronomy (historically thought of as Moses), knew better.  He knows that humans would have gods, and that these gods exist.  The point is that when we come before The GOD, we should not have these small gods around around.

Now, I must go and harvest some of the grain from my fields…but remember to not glean from the edges!?!?!

All For Now,

Monday, September 15, 2014

When God Walks...

I recently made an interesting discovery as I was reading my Bible.  From the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation there are many, many accounts and descriptions of Jesus/God going on;

A Walk

Before I make my larger point, let me give you some examples.

*  In the book of Genesis, just after Adam and Eve ate the proverbial fruit of the tree it says, "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was WALKING in the garden." (Gen. 3:8)

*  When Jesus was beginning his ministry in Galilee and recruiting his first disciples, the Bible says, "As Jesus WALKED beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew." (Mark 1:16)

*  One of Jesus' most famous miracles is when He WALKED on the water; "About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, WALKING on the lake.  He was about to pass them, but then they saw him WALKING on the lake, they thought he was a ghost." (Mark 6:48-49).

*  One of the first sightings of Jesus after he is resurrected is when he is on a WALK on the road to Emmaus; "As the two men talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and WALKED along with them." (Luke 24:15).

And there are many, many other texts in the Bible depicting Jesus/God on;

A Walk

Maybe you can think of more examples.

What is the significance of this?  Well, on it's face there is, of course a practical dimension to walking in the ancient Middle East.  Walking was one of the only means of transportation.  If you were going to get from point "A" to point "B", and you were poor, as the disciples and many early people were, you would walk.

However, I think there is a deeper, more spiritual thing going on when Jesus walks.  I have always felt that when Jesus was on a walk, he was listening for God's voice, he was praying, he was contemplating larger things.  Perhaps it was in the combination of physical motion, and Godly thinking that inspiration came to Jesus.  There is a dignity in Jesus' walk.  Even in the face of great adversity and evil Jesus walked.  Jesus WALKED to the cross.

We might ask ourselves, why aren't there any descriptions in the Bible of God running?  When Peter and John find out from the women in the garden that the tomb that held Jesus only a few nights before was empty, the Bible tells us that there was a veritable running race between Peter and John to get to the cemetery; "So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were RUNNING, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first." (John 20:3-4).  There are no descriptions in the Bible of Jesus running.  Even when Jesus' friend Lazarus died, Jesus does not run to save him.  Though the Bible does not say, one gets the feeling that Jesus simply sauntered his way to meet his friend who was dead.

Walking is a deliberative, paced, metered, thoughtful, discerning mode of movement.  There is a slow, foot after foot, step after step dynamic to walking.  After a run, a person can feel winded, and tired.  A run requires a short burst of energy.  A walk requires an ongoing expending of energy.  C.S. Lewis was famous for his long walks through the countryside, or in-between his house at The Kilns and Oxford.  Lewis would often say that the walks were a way of stimulating his mind, and his body.  There was a spiritual dimension to Lewis' walks.  The actor John Travolta once said on actors theater that the most important thing to learn in acting was not what you say, but how you walk.

I used to compete in Oratory at a national level, and I remember that my coaches would always tell me that my walk up to the front of the stage was as important as the first words that I said.  A speech tournament can be won through a good confident walk and it can lost, even before you utter your first word, through a sheepish, scuffling or scared walk.

Each morning when I wake up and think about this great effort that we are on to start a new church, I say to myself, "Just remember, Graham, that all great things of God are a WALK, they are not a running race or a sprint.  Just WALK through this day, and then WALK through the next day, and the day after that, and Jesus will be walking with you."

And he will WALK with you as well!

All For Now,