Radical Hospitality

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I miss my family sometimes. My only living relative is a brother of mine. I always worry about him. He’s struggled with addiction for a long time. I miss my mom and dad. I wish they were still around. I have a younger brother who died of a drug-related overdose several years ago when we were living in Hollywood. I miss him as well. 

When I think back to my youth and young adult years, the church was my family. It was filled with sisters, brothers, moms, dads, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandfathers, and grandmothers. I had youth leaders, youth pastors, pastors, and mentors who played a huge role in my faith journey when I was growing up.  Many of them are still part of my life today.

When I was a high school student growing up in Hollywood, I hung out at the church a lot. I was always at the church. I found ways at being at the church. It was the place where I felt safe and at home. If there was a worship service, I’d be there. If there was a youth group event, I found a way to go. Youth camps? Mission trips? Beach days? I was always there. Let’s face it. It was my home away from home. What little of a home I had, the church was my home. It was a place where I knew I would be loved, cared for, and welcomed. I even knew that I’d be fed. Not just emotionally, mentally, spiritually, but physically. I knew there was always food at church. No matter when and where, there was food. If it were a church function, a summer camp, or even after church, there was always something to eat. 

When I was in the tenth grade I found out that I had to have lung surgery. I had a cyst that covered my right lung. It was the size of a grapefruit. It was really by God’s grace that I figured out something was wrong. I spent four weeks one summer at a Christian camp that focused on fitness and leadership for high school students. It was during this camp that I realized that something wasn’t right when I noticed that I was always coughing during and after I’d go running. Someone at the church heard that I was always getting sick and connected me with a doctor in the church. We went and visited him and it was in his office he’d tell me that I had the cyst and that it needed to come out. My family was in no way able to afford the surgery that I needed and were in no place to take care of me. I don’t even remember really how and what took place. All I remember is that I had the surgery at a hospital in Pasadena and that it took several weeks for me to recover. I also don’t know who paid for the surgery. Someone did. Whether it was the church or the doctor who performed the surgery, I have no clue who took care of the surgery financially. What I still remember today was the person who invited me to stay in their home while I recovered. How come I didn’t go home after the surgery? Again, mom and dad were in no place to take care of me. This person to this day is one of my biggest cheerleaders. We’ve not really talked much over the years, we’ve seen each other a few times, and with the advent of social media, we might chat online here and there. At the end of the day, I know this person is one of many people in my life who has always prayed for me and my family. 

Radical hospitality means going out of your way to ensure someone else is loved and cared for with no strings attached. It means doing something for someone else knowing that you might never be repaid. Radical hospitality means that the love and care you show someone else might go unnoticed, no accolades, no pats on the back. This is what the gospel is all about. It means living as Jesus lived. When no one else would talk to the Samaritan woman, Jesus did. When the lady who was in need of healing believed that by touching his clothes, she’d be healed, she was. It was even a man that Jesus told to pick up his mat, get up and walk and he’d walk again. Everywhere Jesus went, he spoke to people, touched them, grace was received, and lives were changed.

What are you willing to do today when it comes to showing radical hospitality to others? What would it mean if you did something out of the ordinary? What would it look like if the body of Christ actually invited and welcomed anyone and everyone into our lives? Maybe the larger church has changed over the years and maybe it’s a different place. What hasn’t changed is that it’s still made up of people who are trying to figure out what God is calling them to be and do in the world. It’s composed of people who’ve had their lives transformed by Jesus. The problem is that we’ve forgotten what it means to be a radical community not afraid to tell others our stories of how we met Jesus at the well and how he told us to get up and walk. 

The next time you hear of or see an opportunity to do something that might involve you being Jesus to someone else or that might involve you giving of your time, let me encourage you to listen to that divine nudge. You never know who it might be. It could be a neighbor, friend, or even a stranger. Radical hospitality requires some risk and a willingness to respond to those moments in your life where whatever is traditional goes out the window. It means trusting those divine nudges. 

It doesn’t require really any money, no programs, just people who have some time and who care about helping others feel that they belong and that one day they too will come to experience the generosity of a radical savior calling us to be people who show radical hospitality. Of course radical hospitality comes from a radical community of people who aren’t afraid to risk it all.

My dad’s heart

So? It’s Father’s Day. For some it’s a special day. For other’s it’s a day that can be difficult. For those of you who are new parents or who will be new parents, God bless you. When you are with your kids, hold on to them tight. Take lots of pictures. Remember every second you have with them. Cherish every moment. Because in a blink of an eye, you’ve sent them off into the world and you hope and pray that the God of the universe will provide cover for them and be their guide. You go from telling them to go to bed as kids to hoping they’re getting enough sleep as they stay up all night studying for a final or if they’re out spending time with friends.

I’m speechless that it was just yesterday that we were carrying them around in our arms. I can still smell the diaper cream and can still hear the sounds of them giggling and hearing them cry when they were teething or had a fever. I do not take for granted that Debbie and I are super blessed to have three amazing kids. There have been joys and there have been some valleys, but they make us happy, we’re super proud of them and I know God is providing the cover they need each and every day for them in a world that has its ups and downs.

For whatever the reasons, I know today is hard for some and I acknowledge this and I indeed lift up prayers for you today. For those of you who grieve the loss of maybe your father or a parent today, I very much understand. My dad died several years ago over complications due to alcoholism. I miss my dad. There are days I wish he was still alive. I wish our kids could have gotten to know my dad. Dad, was actually at our wedding back in 1990. That was the last time, we really spent time with my dad.

I’m not sure of my father’s faith. I do know that he took a risk one day, when his boss invited him to church and my father refused the invitation. My father worked for a man by the name of Mr. Young at a print shop in Hollywood. Mr. Young invited my dad to church and he said no. Mr. Young wouldn’t give up though and asked him if he had kids. My dad said yes. The next thing you know, dad is walking us to church.

Dad, had his license taken away during the late seventies for drunk driving. We took the bus every where. We walked every where. I remember walking to church with my dad every Sunday. Dad, would walk us to Sunday school until we were old enough to walk to church ourselves. Although my dad struggled with his alcoholism and was verbally and physically abusive to not only me, my brothers, and my mom, he indeed dealt with some personal struggles and some demons.

Here’s what I’ve come to figure out in my life and it’s taken some time to get to this place. Of course with God’s help. Somewhere in my dad, he had a heart. He knew if he’d just took us kids to church, maybe something or someone would do something in our lives that he couldn’t give to us or do for us. Around the rough edges of an alcoholic man from Iowa, my dad had a heart and I believe God had placed upon my dad’s heart God’s purpose for God’s church. If it weren’t for the church in my life, I do not know where I’d be today. If it weren’t for the role of the church in my life, I’d not be where I am at today.

If I were to write a prayer for my kids, this is what it would be. My prayer  is that they would know my heart for them. Just in case you happen to stop by and skim through my feeble attempts at blogging, know that you are loved. I am proud of you more than you’ll ever know. I pray for you often and I won’t stop praying for you. You’re mom and I  are blown away by the men you’ve become and are becoming and I know God isn’t done with you. I know there will be ups and downs. I know there will be moments you’ll need us and moments where you’ll want space.

At the end of the day, I know with all of my heart, that I’m thankful that I get to be your dad and that there’s nothing you can say nor do that will ever change my love for you.

Please Lord, bless my kids. God protect them today. God keep them safe. Guide their steps. Give them community. Give them friends and keep them locked in and focused on what it means to follow you.

Most of all, give them your heart.

Mr. Cooper

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This cool dude is Mr. Cooper. Some of us call him Al. Last Sunday while I was getting ready for Easter Sunday worship at my church, I got a message from one of our friends from our old church, that Al went home to be with the Lord the day before Easter. I was saddened to hear about the loss of one of the coolest guys I’ve ever known. Al was a loved person of the church, he was a dear friend to many, and his family loved him deeply.

Although I was devastated, I knew it was Easter morning. I knew it was a day to give thanks for resurrection life and it was my charge that morning to proclaim the good news of God’s kept promise that Jesus conquered death, the tomb was emptied, and that we’re to be Easter people. It was still a sad day and I was sad that I had not followed up on my friend Al. My last conversation with Al was toward the end of last year. I had shared with him the news that I had accepted a new call to my current church in Los Angeles.  Al was a dear friend and loved me and my family very much. Al loved the Lord. He loved Jesus with all of his heart. He loved serving as a leader in the church. He loved the mission of the church. Most of all, he loved people.

Al was as an old retired World War II US Marine. He’d tell story after story about his experience serving and living overseas. Al joined the Marines in 1943. He was a Master Sargent. There were a couple of funerals I officiated where Al would sometimes help with the honor guard detail. He would proudly wear his uniform whenever he could and would even joke about how it was growing a little tight around his waist. He’d wear it to church on special occasions like on Memorial Day weekend. The picture above was taken after church by one of his friends. Al loved his country and was never afraid to talk about politics. Al also worked with the young Marines in the community. It was the way he gave back to the community. It was his kingdom ministry.

You see? Guys like Al are the real deal. He was part of a generation of men that had a deep love for God, country, and family. Al was indeed part of the greatest generation. Al has a powerful testimony too. Several years ago Al’s wife passed away. Al would often talk about his bride and how he missed her every single day. He would always let us know when her birthday was. The loss of his wife hit his family as well as the church pretty hard. It literally changed Al’s life. Al loved his family with all of his heart. He especially loved his grandkids and how God was working in their lives.

Al was an honest man and wasn’t afraid to tell you how he felt about something. Al often shared a prayer of praise or concern during the worship service. It was always something about his family and about his grandkids. Al would also remind the church to continue to pray for our country and for the leadership of our country. Al would even encourage everyone to go out and vote.

Al would always ask me how I was doing. He cared about those who served as pastors. Al treated everyone with respect and care. He always encouraged me and my family. There were some days we’d disagree about church stuff, but at the end of the day, I knew Al and I were on the same page when it came to the mission of the church, that mission being loving God’s people.

Al over the last few years had some health issues. There were some moments I thought Al would go home to be with the Lord. Al was like the energizer bunny and the little engine that could, all rolled up in one. Maybe it was the Marine in Al that kept him going.

I got to spend some time with Al off and on over the last couple of years. We’d have some fun talks. He’d ask me how things were going. He was always still interested in what I was doing. I learned more about pastoral care and being a pastor with Al than I ever did in seminary. In some ways, Al pastored me.

I’ll miss Al. What Al leaves behind is a legacy of faith and an example of what it means to have a love for God, country, and for his family. I know for me and some of Al’s friends, we will continue to grieve his loss and we will celebrate that Al was a faithful Christ-follower until the end.

I’m not surprised that Al was called home to be with Jesus during Easter weekend.

It was really not the end of Al’s life on April 4th, 2015.

It was only the beginning.

No Pushing

Leadership sometimes means you help others do whatever it takes to get ahead in the world. At the end of the day, it means doing things for others that you thought you’d never do. Of course, if you don’t like people, you most likely don’t agree that leadership sometimes means you put others first.

Leaders don’t push people around. Leaders push people to the front of the line. Leaders look for the best in people. If you’re a leader of leaders, you’re always spending your time listening and watching. If you work with people, your always looking for that one person who naturally goes out of their way to put others first. It’s indeed something that is learned over the years and if you’re a leader of leaders, you’re always on the watch for that one person. You can tell it in their voice and you can see it in the way they interact with others.

For example. I think churches don’t pay enough attention to the people on the sides and in the back of their churches. As a pastor, I’ve learned over the years to do my best to make my way to the back of the church and to catch the sides of the church when it comes to meeting people during a worship service. On any Sunday morning, there are two congregations within the church. The people in the front of the church and the people on sides and in the back of the church.  The small church has the luxury of being able to practice this kind of intentionality. It’s the heart of the gospel. We’re just too busy sometimes doing what’s easy. We’re used to sitting with those we know. The conversation is much easier. What if the local church actually practiced this on any given Sunday morning? This doesn’t happen over night and it means risking a little and being bold in the way we interact with others as Jesus people.

Leadership sometimes means you might miss out on the accolades. The pat on the back or that simple thank you that might never come your way. The reality is that you might never get that thank you or that pat on the back for doing simply what Jesus calls us to do and as the scriptures teach so clearly when it comes to loving and helping others get ahead and treating others with care and respect.

When we stop pushing others around and start helping others move to the front, we might actually come to understand what Holy week is really about when it comes to how Jesus modeled what a real servant leader looks and sounds like.

Philippians 2 1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. MSG 

Sometimes Ministry Smells

I feel like I’m still in my early 20’s. I’ve matured some. Added a few pounds. The gray is starting to show. The kids are growing up way too fast. Our 25th anniversary is around the corner and our wedding feels like it was just yesterday.

As for ministry? I’ve been a youth ministry worker. I’ve done weddings, baptized babies, and have done some funerals for some amazing people. I’ve been called to the ER in the middle of the night and during the day. I’ve sat with folks receiving chemo treatments and have sat with folks in court as their loved ones were being sentenced. I feel like a social worker sometimes and other times a chaplain. I was even a church custodian for a period of time when I was in my late teens and early 20’s. I’ve done lots of stuff in the church.

There’s something new that I can add to my list of things I’ve done as a church pastor. I can officially say I’ve cleaned up poop and not the doggie kind. It didn’t happen just once on the church campus. It happened a few times. The first couple of times it happened, I used a water hose and some bleach. It worked, but I bleached my pants while doing it, which sorta looks kind of cool. When it happened again I decided that I’d go to home depot and purchase a pressure washer. God bless the person who invented the pressure washer. I won’t bore you with the smelly details. As for the couple of people who also helped clean it too? Thank you!

What happens when we encounter those moments in our lives where we have to actually do what the gospel says? What would the larger church look like if we actually practiced what we preached when it came to living as Jesus lived and loving as Jesus loved? Was I frustrated when I had to clean it again? Most definitely. I even expressed my anger to a few guys in the community who are experiencing homelessness that the pastor was livid and tired of cleaning it. I think I would have laughed at me if I were them because for a moment I was human and wasn’t afraid of anything.

What’s the silver lining in this? I know a whole lot more names now and they know who the pastor is. One guy has actually shared with me some of his own story about his life. The church is at its best when it works at trying to fill in the gaps that we sometimes forget to fill. Learning people’s stories is one of those gaps we can do better at and should do better at. No matter who it is.

Yes. Ministry sometimes smells. No matter who you are and what you do in the world as a Christ follower, you’ll experience times in your calling where stuff just happens. You’ll encounter different kinds of people and there will be times, you’ll have to sit with them in their joys and in their not so joyful moments. You’ll encounter people that will make you feel uncomfortable and people who will make you smile. No matter what it is that you do in your calling, you’re bound to meet someone that simply doesn’t look, sound, or think or act like you.

The gospel sometimes is uncomfortable. It sometimes smells. That’s the hard part. We just need to decide how we’re going to respond in those moments when it starts to smell.

Baby steps. It takes time.

Under the Archway

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It’s still in Los Angeles. Although it sits on a corner in a neighborhood, that isn’t too far away from the city, it’s still a sacred space. For those who drive by, they might not notice it. For those who live in the neighborhood, they see it every day.

There are self-help meetings throughout the week. There’s an after school art program for children and on Friday afternoon’s people pick up organic fruits and vegetables at the church from an organic farmers market that uses the church campus. Down the street is one of the busiest Trader Joes I’ve ever seen. There’s a coffee place that I like about five minutes away. They make a mean jalapeño cheddar scone. It’s a really cool little neighborhood not too far from everything else in the city.

The church isn’t really in the heart of the city although downtown Los Angeles isn’t that far away. Maybe a fifteen-minute drive. Dodger stadium isn’t that far away either. There’s a high school nearby and an elementary school within walking distance from the church. I’ve noticed tons of children and families in the community. There’s also a nursing home in walking distance from the church. 

This corner is indeed a sacred spot. It’s a holy place. I’ve heard some say, “you’re the church that has the food pantry.” I’ve heard others say, “it’s where the AA meetings are.” It’s a place of healing. It’s a place where people come to find silence from the noise filled city. It’s a corner depending on what day of the week it is, where people gather and give thanks to God for the gift of grace and mercy found in Jesus. Sunday mornings people gather together in the sanctuary as well to be in community together to experience what it means to listen to God and to simply sit still. It’s also a corner where people are allowed to just simply be. No strings attached. Come as you are.

In most cities, there are churches that sit in communities that have all kinds of issues. Whether it’s an urban church in the middle of the city or a church outside the city, there’s always something happening in the community. What I’ve noticed over the years that every church on every corner has in common is that it’s the place where people come and find rest at the foot of the cross. 

No matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like, whether or not you believe, it’s the one place in the world that should be a place of rest and where pillows are given out at no cost and free of charge. Pillows. Yes, I said pillows!  

The neighborhood church should be a retreat center for the soul. It should be the place where we’re not stressing out about whatever it is that we usually stress about in the world. People need the local church to just chill and to just be. Our problem sometimes is that we’re not very good at just being. I think the Psalmist was spot on when he said that God is a safe place to hide. I think the local church is that place and should be a refuge. (Psalm 46:1-10) 

I’m convinced that pastors don’t hang out enough at the foot of the cross either. What would it look like if we who serve alongside others in our churches actually spent more time at the foot of the cross? The way we view people would change. Our hearts would start to change and our agendas would start looking like God’s agenda when it comes to loving our neighbors. 

Sometimes we have people who sleep on our church campus. There’s a guy who sometimes sleeps at the entrance of the sanctuary of our church, under the archway. Right above the archway on the roof is the cross. 

Under the archway? Maybe he’s on to something. Maybe we who follow Jesus and do our best to be new commandment people need to practice the discipline of sleeping under the archway, in front of the church, at the foot of the cross, on the corner, in the neighborhood, near the city.

As we begin the season of Lent in a few days, let us not forget where it is that we find rest. Let us be the kinds of people that are always making room for everyone and anyone looking for a few moments of peace and quiet and most of all some rest. No strings attached. Come as you are, pillows provided, free of charge.

See you under the archway.

“To God be the glory.” Amen.

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 CEB