Wordle for this week

Here's Sunday's message wordle.
Click on the image to see it closer up and to check out how wordle works.

I loved our worship gathering this week. Everyone giving input and everyone contributing to the message that God had. I have already heard that things that were said by others had impact on people who were there to listen. Thanks to all who took part in the discussion.

When I was a kid, we would do this kind of monthly (or so) Sunday evening worship service in which people could just stand up and give a testimony. It was kind of cool and a great way to worship. I think those went out of style in modern churches because the testimonies were always so random in subject and seemed like an interference instead of part of the plan...

More Vegas

So, I mentioned that I hadn't previously been involved in US activities directly related to the homeless and underprivileged.

I loved serving in the feeding programs. While I was with the team, we served at 2. The Las Vegas Mission, and at a church called the Las Vegas Dream Center. Here's what I loved. I loved that it was comfortable. People enjoying a meal and people enjoying serving a meal. It is much like a meal I would commonly experience in connection with my friends. I loved that people were thankful. No sense of entitlement. No aggressive defense against some kind of perceived indignance on our parts. I loved that I was doing something that mattered and it wasn't hard. I loved that I was doing something small as part of something big. Both of these programs include a way up and off the streets to those who want it. This pic is of Kirk and me getting a lesson in oatmeal service.
I was also involved in Habitat for Humanity with Kirk and Debra. Wow was that awesome. No bells and whistles. No fireworks in the sky. Just good hard work along side good hard-working people. Kirk and Debra had already had a very long week of serving day in and day out, and sleeping on a hard floor with inferior sleeping mats to comfort them. But they continued with GREAT excitement for the task. The other workers with Habitat for Humanity were inspiring. The lead worker is from the Midwest, and assigned to Vegas for this project (7 homes in a redeveloping neighborhood). But there were these other guys who came from all over to just work on these houses. They have done it for years with H4H and go all over. They weren't construction workers, but have learned the trade in their retirement and are the go-to-guys on the job site. They were always encouraging and helpful. Then there were the home owners. They put in 300 hours before they receive their home. One home owner, already in her home, came back to help as a volunteer. Her kids are being mentored in the H4H program that helps them get apprenticeships and educational help. Martha, who we worked along side each day was just exuberant about her new home. She worked without complaint and encouraged all the rest. She has also benefited from the Dream Center (church I mentioned earlier). She volunteers there and in exchange is given access to some of the household items she needs through the Dream Center's community giving program. She is debt free, employed, a committed mom, and a growing believer.
Here are some pics.
This is Debra working on the roof. Did I mention she was deathly afraid of heights, faced her fear, and worked nearly a full day on the roof?

This is Kirk. He loved the roof. For more reasons than I should mention. But Kirk organized this trip and his excitement for serving carried the rest of us along in many ways. Kirk Rocks!!!

Here I am on the roof. I have no desire to avoid roofs. I do have the desire to avoid manual labor in 115 degree heat. Even so, the day's work went quickly. It was fun and rewarding. Take note of my shoe...

In 115 degrees, balck tar paper retains all that heat and may conduct even more. My shoe was a victim of the tar paper as the sole of my shoe slowly melted off... Little by little, less and less of the sole hung on. By the end of the day, it was more work to keep the sole on my shoe than it was to nail the paper to the roof. I should have climbed down and duct taped the sole back on, but I was afraid that the cool temperature of the ground would have kept me from climbing back up.

Daddy got a new pair of shoes!!!

Here are some pics of the fun we had after a full day's work. We only had late night for fun, since we worked days at H4H and evening in one of the shelters.

This is Debra on Fremont street. On the strip or here in Old Vegas, Debra kept mentioning how much she had missed on her previous trips to Vegas (before becoming a devoted follower of Christ) because she had imbibed a bit too much alcohol, or because she never left the gaming tables except to go upstairs to sleep. It was fun to see her nearly child-like exuberance.

This is a shot I took on Fremont Street. I just like it!


Wordle for Last Week's Message

I found this internet tool called 'wordle' (look it up, it's kind of fun!). It takes a text of your choosing and organizes the words into a 'word cloud' that emphasizes the most used words in the text by their size in the 'cloud.' I thought it would be kind of fun to see what I talk about in this visual format so I plugged in the notes from last Sunday's message. Of course, I stray from my notes so consistently that I'm not sure how realistic this representation is.

I can't figure out how to get the image bigger. If you click on the image, you will redirected to the site that created the image and can see it close up. You can also explore the site. Here a link to a guy who has wordled all the books of the New Testament. LINK


Viva Las Vegas

On the missions trip. Packing up to leave. Just a quick thought for you before I start for home. I'll give you more details later.

What a great trip. My first experiences with a homeless missions trip and a US missions trip. got to work for Habitat for Humanity and have always wanted to (well relatively always... I was born before Habitat for Humanity... In fact I remember the Carter presidency with some vivid recollection.... hmmmm!) Also served in a rescue mission and in a homeless feeding ministry.

When Kirk Warmerdam dreamed up the trip it was a trip to serve. Just get involved with what God is already doing and serve those who are in need and those who are already committed to what God is doing. Vegas became the destination. And Kirk did an amazing job of finding places to serve. I joined the trip half way through.

How do like that hair net look?
This was my first time working in a feeding ministry. It was great. It was more than great.

I can't say that I had a Heaven opening up moment, or that I recognized Jesus peering back at me through the eyes of someone I served. I just recognized that I was where I should be. I was in God's will. I was in the place of a Christ-FOLLOWER.

Anyhow, it's time for me to run to the airport. I'll give you more later.


Someone wants to leave their church!

I found this post on a blog I occasionally visit. It is the musing of a Christian guy who has been wondering if he should or if he wants to leave his church for a house church. He took the time to list his reasons for going to the house church and I have quoted them below.

5. My pastor hasn’t had a relationship with a non-believer in over 10

4. The leaders of my church are workaholics and I find it hard to believe they have a healthy relationship with the Lord when they don’t have the time for their family.

3. I’m sick of it being about one man. Be that the pastor, or the musician or whatever, I want to see them raising up other people and sending them out, content to have many small churches instead of one mega church.

2. There are 1,000 people who attend my church. I know 50 and only care about 20 of them. I attend a small group to go deeper with those I care about, but I have no reason to remember the name of the guy whose hand I shake between worship and the sermon.

1. There is no place to really do ministry, the leaders will not let go of control. I want to pray for people, bless people, watch out for people, be there for people. I want to be invited to do what the Lord has called me to do.

I think these thoughts reveal a lot, and give us all a good reason to evaluate what we do as Christians and how we reflect God as his church. A thought I have had recently is in regard to God calling the church his bride. That is we Christians COLLECTIVELY, not the institution, are the object of God's desire and love. I think of how human men select brides and one of the things we do subconsciously is to choose someone who makes us look good. In other words, we look for someone so beautiful, talented, witty, smart, charismatic, charming, etc. that merely by the fact that we are associated with that person we assume people will think we are somehow special enough to win that person's affections.

I want to make God look good.

What do you think about any of this?


I Make Good Babies


I found this T-shirt that says "I make good babies" several months ago. It was more expensive than I wanted to pay at the time, but I just couldn't forget about it. I think it really says what I am most proud of (my children - the product of a genetic pool for which I own absolutely no personal responsibility) and I wanted it. So I went back to get it and had to find the right size at an out-of-town location.

Well, I kept the shirt in my closet for a couple of months waiting for Father's day to debut the iconic statement on my chest. And on Father's Day it got just the response I knew it would. It is such a shockingly brash way of bragging on my children. No one can read the shirt without a smile if not an out loud roaring laugh.

The best response of all came from my 7 year old Merritt.

On Sunday morning upon arriving at Pioneer Middle School to set up for our worship gathering, Merritt noticed my shirt. he laughed out loud and then read the shirt aloud. I looked at him and said, "so, what do you think?" He looked at me a bit puzzled, so I asked him who my babies are. He responded correctly, "Me, Mason, and Molly." And so I asked with bravado in my voice, "So, do I make good babies?" Merritt paused for a few moments with an accusing look on his face and said, "Dad, babies come from moms."

That pretty much ended that conversation. We laughed together and got on with our Sunday morning routine.



I have attended several conferences in my time as a minister. And thereby had many opportunities to hear some amazing Christian leaders share their insight as well as their personal stories.

At least 6 times I have heard (or I might have read it in a book or two) stories from these leaders describing encounters they have had on airplanes, in which they shared the gospel with someone sitting next to them. Well, time and time again, I have left those conferences determined to be bold and witness on my plane ride home. And time and time again, I am either sitting next to another minister leaving the same conference (and feeling the same disappointment that I am feeling - having no opportunity to be used as a witness) or sitting next to someone with such an unsettling personality that the desire for any kind of conversation is quickly extinguished.

Well recently I have travelled quite a bit by train. This past week, on a train trip, with no preconceived notion of Christian witnessing brownie points and no ideas of keeping up with the accomplished leaders I have come to respect, God put a witnessing opportunity right next to me. And it was OUTSTANDING.

I was disembarking from the Amtrak bus in Bakersfield, awaiting my train connection. I selected a bench on which to wait for train boarding that had only one other occupant. I sat near him, making a conciliatory nod and grunted a "hi." He was tattooed on most of what could be seen with some tattoos that I know are jailhouse tattoos. He was smoking and asked if I minded his smoke. I said no and minded my own business. After a few minutes I thought it was appropriate to ask about his trip and make some small talk. After a few cryptic answers to my overt niceties, he divulged that he had been in jail and was headed to a halfway house. It was then time to board the train and after introductions, I thought our conversation was over. I felt content, having been kind and maybe even encouraging to someone.

When seated on the train I could see where Roy was seated ahead of me. And I had an overwhelming sense of need to continue our conversation. I sat praying and waiting for the train to move and arguing within myself about how this guy was going to think I was awfully strange to approach him again. Then when our tickets had been collected I went up to Roy and invited him to join me for a bite to eat in the cafe car. He quickly accepted my invitation and we had a deeply spiritual conversation in which I got to tell him about God's love and plan. I told him about Jesus on the cross and the guarantee of NEW life in Christ. Roy revealed the story of his birth mother's abandonment, his adoptive mother's death and his life in the California Youth Authority and subsequent life in and out of jail.

It was awesome. As we approached my stop, Roy reached across the table, grabbed my hand and said, "pray for me before you go." I did. I gave him some of my contact information and was sorry to leave him.

How strangely wonderful that what was once an obligation, or a spiritual trophy to me had instantly transformed into a privilege ordained by God alone. I'm still brewing on the impact of it all.

Finally, I have a story of a travelling evangelism encounter. And finally, I understand it for what it is: God's divine appointment between a believer and someone on the way to belief.


What's so exciting?

Well, Sunday was very exciting to me. It was one of those Sunday mornings when God's activity in our midst was obvious to me.

I have learned that God is always active and never fails to work among His people when we gather together to honor Him. So many times I have left a worship gathering down on myself or frustrated with the particular short-comings that came together on that particular Sunday; only to hear from someone (or multiple someones) that God ministered to them in specific and powerful ways during that worship gathering.

Anyhow, back to this past Sunday. Well, it was a Sunday I was excited about because it is one of my favorite topics in the Christian world: connecting with God and being transformed by the supernatural encounter with His Spirit. But it was also a Sunday when 3 crucial members of our Sunday morning team were going to be gone. They are the guys who handle the bulk of the technology. It was also one of those Sundays when some of the preparation of items for the gathering wasn't ready for completion until late on Saturday (and since I AM NOT a night person) or early Sunday morning.I really didn't recognize how this strain was building up in me until Sunday morning as I was preparing to leave. I was just feeling a struggle and very anxious... very.

Well, I should have realized that this was a spiritual struggle more than a physical one. Indeed, when I arrived, the set up of the worship space went very smoothly and we were ready in near record time. My anxiety began to lift. As I sat in the back of the worship space, reflecting on my notes one last time and praying there, I began to feel very in tune with God's Spirit and ready to begin.

The crowd was on board from the beginning of the opening video. It was one of those gatherings where I could feel their hearts following my words. It was a gathering in which I was aware that as my public prayers were being released to Heaven, they were joined by the personal prayers of those with me, instead of simply agreed to. As the season of musical worship began, our congregation was together in spirit instead of just together in the gym.

We had several guests at our worship gathering as well. After the gathering they were greeted, had prolonged conversations before leaving, and even went to lunch with some epic regulars. It was Christian community at its very best!!!

These are the Sundays my dreams are made of.

What's so exiting! I believe that epic grows and as more people are launched into their roles of ministry we will see this be the norm instead of a random confluence of factors. I'm excited because we had a win. We had several. We got Christian community right. We got worship right. And if we worked on our spiritual self this week, we got growth right too. THAT'S EXCITING!



OK, so we have tried unsuccessfully twice over the past 2 weeks to live for 5 straight days without spending any money on anything but gas. It seems like it shouldn't be that hard. I mean, buy the groceries in advance and go for it.

Ohhh, the reason we are doing this is to experiment with habits that build deeper spirituality for Christ-followers. We have practiced prayer in a couple of ways, fasting, solitude and silence, scripture, and simplicity. We have not had time for many others in our efforts, but this is a great start.

Well, back to simplicity. We were challenged (by me - the teacher of the class) to eliminate all of the little money spending luxuries we encounter on a daily basis, to clear out more room for God in our days. Well, last week I tried to start out and after 2 days failed because of our preparation for Molly's birthday party and a graduation celebration for our good friend Darin Parson. (Congratulations to Darin on acheiving your Masters in educational administration... I'm not sure what the technical name of the degree is. Sorry if I botched it up somehow.) So, after the party, I thought I would start up again on Monday, soon realizing that in our focus on Molly's party, we were not ready for Rhonda's mom's birthday on tuesday. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law cmae to town for the celebration, so there was not only gift and card buying, but restaurant dining as well.

So, it's Friday of the second week since the assignment and I have completed 3 days which will be interupted this evening by another graduation party being held at a restaurant. So, 3 days it will be.

Here is what happened during my 3 days. I exercized each day. I had quiet time with God each day. I had productive work, time with the kids, and home cooked food. Sounds like a good life.

Since simplicity helps us keep our priorities in tact, our relationship with God grows because He is our priority. The problem is that the complications in life are in and of themselves good things. Sometimes godly things. And our meaningful relationships with others bring complexity into our lives as well.

What does simplicity mean in our culture of multi-tasking, multi-media, multi-vitimins, multi-multi...?

It means keeping the main thing, the main thing... and letting other things go unattended if necessary. It means not letting the complexities of other people's lives complicate ours. It means giving the gift of friendship instead of useless trinkets. It means letting parties be gatherings instead of productions (Dang!!! I like the production parties A LOT.)

In my head, I'm justifying my penchant for big parties! I'll let you know how I do with that!


A Purpose Encounter

While at the little league playoffs, I met a family that had attended epic for a while. I met half of Hanford there in fact. But to my point... In a brief catching up conversation in which the family shared with me their journey to another worshipping community and their efforts to make connections there, they shared that they are in the midst of the adoption process, through a California state adoption. We talked a bit about the details of that, and I shared that Rhonda and I hoped to adopt in the future because we feel like we have plenty of love to share and see it as a ministry opportunity since Jesus made care for orphans a primary responsiblity in the Christian community. (As a side note... the future is quite a ways off... Our child raising plate is quite full at the moment with our three very young children.)

In that conversation the father in the family I was visiting with shared that he would really like to help other families get through the adoption process with more ease than he and his wife experienced in their attempts to adopt. I'm sure he saw my jaw drop and then I shared with him that one of our visions for epic as a serving ministry was to collect funds and help people through the process of adoption because it is a Christian necessity to care for orphans. And that Christians have the best kind of love to share with needy kids.

There was an instant God moment taking place. We both knew that this was the fulfillment of a vision God had given and a purpose God was developing in us. I love it when these things come together. In fact these moments have become my favorite moments in ministry. They are what keep me going.

I find these moments so powerful that I have been very resistant to over-planning the steps of epic's development just so God can provide these moments. Moments when His visions meet up with his servants and they powerfully come to life in our church. This is so much better than guilt-motivated recruiting. When someone connects with their purpose through their spiritual gifts and their God-given guidance, it's ministry that lasts and succeeds. Middle School Ministry at epic is an example of this, Debra's notorious ministry to the underprivileged, our High School Intern, Growth Classes, and so much more are example of this at work for us. I just love it.

If you are part of epic and have a ministry that you can see God developing... tell someone. We want to make it happen. If you are a Christ-follwer in any worshipping community and have this development happening... tell someone. I experience Gos so much more when I am active in ministry than I do anywhere else. You will too!

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