A Christmas Prayer

From the desk of Max Lucado…

Dear Jesus,

It’s a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.

The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.

Hopefully,

Your Children

Remembering the victims and praying for the families of Sandy Hook Elementary in NewTown, CT as well as for our nation!

Christmas Traditions

In the Old Testament, the Isrealites remembered God’s provision and faithfulness through feasts and celebrations. Several times a year, they’d stop what they were doing and celebrate how God brought them out of slavery, or how God protected them from their enemies. Additionally, several times throughout the Old Testament, men of faith would also set up memorial stones to remind all who passed by of God’s great provision.

In Genesis 35:14, Jacob set up a pillar, a type of memorial, in the place where God had spoken and revealed Himself. In 1 Samuel 7:12, Samuel took a stone and set it up saying, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” Every time the Israelites went by them, they would remember what God had done. How He had brought them out of bondage, healed their children, and supernaturally provided for their needs. Having those memorial stones helped it to stay fresh in their memory.

Over the years, our family has carried out a tradition of giving Christmas ornaments to one another. Our tree is laden with ornaments going back to my childhood. And Jennifer and I adopted this family tradition over 20 years ago when we first got married and have for over 20 years accumulated ornaments, that like the Israelites, bring back  special memories. As we were decorating the tree tonight, I was flooded with memories of years gone by. There was the “Our First Christmas” ornament, with a picture of a much younger Bryan and Jen (and as Zach jokes, with hair). We have ornaments that were given by missionary friends from Russia & China. And there are many that memorialize the 2010 SF Giants World Series victory!

However, several years ago, due to the increasing population of ornaments on our tree, Jen & I decided that we would only buy one ornament for each other. That ornament usually derives from our vacation destination, or signifies a significant memory from the year. We haven’t yet purchased this year’s ornament, since we really didn’t have a vacation this summer because of Zach’s broken leg, so we were laughing tonight about getting a moving truck ornament, or finding an ornament with a boy who’s in a cast. Whatever we find, it will remind of us some special memory we shared together as a family.

It was also fun to see Zach really appreciate the tradition we share this evening. He proudly hung most of his ornaments on the front of the tree. He talked about each one and together we remembered our time together with our dog Maggie. We talked about how we miss her and what a great dog she was. We talked about the fun we had in Hawaii during our sabbatical and about how we need to go back this next summer. We looked at ornaments he made in elementary school! It was a grand time and in about 10-12 years, many of the ornaments will likely move out when Zach charters his own course in life. We keep his ornaments boxed separately, so he can carry the tradition on, when he starts his own family. And we look forward to a day that we’ll be able to recall those special memories with his family.

Yes, celebrations and memorial markers help us to recall and remember God’s goodness in the land of the living. And I am grateful for the traditions that my mom started and that we now continue on, for they truly remind me of how full and blessed my life really is!

To God Be The Glory!

The last sixty days have simply been a blur! There has been so much that has gone down, that it’s hard enough to remember, let alone try to capture it in words. When we received an offer to join Team Adventure back on October 3, we were led to a crisis of belief. Do we stay with the status quo? Or do we step out in faith and trust God for the unknown. As we prayed for a sign to determine God’s perfect will, He gave us these words on Saturday, October 6, from the devotional Jesus Calling:

“Be willing to follow wherever I lead. Follow Me wholeheartedly, with glad anticipation quickening your pace. Though you don’t know what lies ahead, I know; and that is enough! Some of My richest blessings are just around the bend: out of sight, but nonetheless very real. To receive these gifts, you must walk by faith—not by sight. This doesn’t mean closing your eyes to what is all around you. It means subordinating the visible world to the invisible Shepherd of your soul.”

After reading these words, we sensed God saying, “It will be OK. Trust me. I am leading you in a new direction.” With God’s prompting, and receiving the confirmations of godly counsel, I took the leap. And honestly, it felt like I was about to jump off a huge cliff, unaware of how things would truly shake out. However, as soon as I leaped, we experienced God’s provision in so many ways, which only confirmed that God was truly leading us back to Sac!

Looking back on the last 60 days, there is so much I want to write about and give glory to God for! First, we were so blessed by our SeaCoast Grace Church family as we began our transition. We felt loved, celebrated and released to fulfill God’s leading. In addition, the Grace Christian School community was so giving, supportive and key in helping Zach say goodbye to great friends, teachers and administrators. Additionally, I am amazed that we had four offers on our home in four days and sold it for above our asking price. Our realtor Dave Chamberlain and his wife Linda were amazing. They had great faith in our home, the market and represented us very well. On top of it all, we were able to purchase a beautiful home in Roseville, and one with the pool that Zach really wanted.

Finally, we have been so blessed by Team Adventure! They have welcomed us with open arms and been so supportive, encouraging and helpful. Yes, God has led our family well and it’s good to be back in Sac. And as we share a meal with family, or celebrate Zach’s birthday at the local bowling alley with his cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, we’re reminded just why we migrated home. Thanks for your prayers, support and love. I am blessed to call you friends.

:: The Gift of Peace

Peace is one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given to us! In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet Isaiah foretold of the peace we would experience upon Christ’s arrival. On any given day, we experience many negative emotions that will try to rule our hearts. This happens when we spend too much time being anxious, angry or fearful. But the good news is that we have the power to choose between letting our emotions rule us or letting the Prince of Peace fill our hearts and mind with tranquility and thankfulness.

The babe in a manger reminds us that God cares about us and wants to change our lives. When He works in the lives of his people we see love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace.  The name Prince of Peace reminds us that only through Jesus will we truly have peace of mind. Christ can indeed bring peace to any situation. The most difficult circumstance, the most ruthless enemy, the deepest pain – none of these are beyond Christ’s reach.

As you worship this Christmas, open your heart, soul, mind and body to his perfect peace. Let the peace of God’s presence transform you today and every day. He can calm your heart and mind. No one brings peace like Jesus.

:: The Hope of Christmas

At Christmas we have great reason to hope! John 1:1 proclaims that, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:14 goes on to say that, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word is Jesus, the living God!

When the prophet Isaiah foretold of the birth of Christ, a new hope was born. A hope that lives in us today! And after Jesus came in the flesh, he promised to return and take us to be with him, giving us eternal hope!

Many think the story of Jesus begins with Christmas, a babe born in a stable to a virgin. But we forget, or don’t realize, that Jesus is also referred to as the long-awaited Messiah, the promised one. In fact, the promise of Messiah goes all the way back to the fall (Genesis 3:15). From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible tells us a story of God’s redemptive plan to bring fallen man back into relationship with Himself, pivoting on the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Whereas the Old Testament looks toward the coming of the Messiah, the New Testament looks at the fulfillment of Messiah and how God’s plan is satisfied in Jesus. And as the story continues, the church looks forward to his imminent return when Jesus…the resurrected Messiah, will reconcile all things unto Himself.

The season of advent has always been connected to the promise of hope. This Christmas, I pray that you may truly rejoice and celebrate the greatest hope that the world has ever known!

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father Who dwelleth in the heavens.

Top 5 Memories from SeaCoast Grace

Today was my last weekend at SeaCoast Grace Church and I found myself both reflective and grateful for the memories and ministry I have enjoyed these last four years. As I was driving into services for my last time, I was recalling all the fun times and big moments, where I saw God clearly at work. And while there are too many to mention, I did manage to hone in on my Top 5 memories from SCG, so here they are, in no particular order…

1. Impact Seal Beach – Uniting four churches in Seal Beach to serve the City of Seal Beach was so awesome! We got the support of the city, the Chamber of Commerce and support of our congregations to beautify the city by painting signs, planting trees, and beautifying parks. It was a real testimony to the community, as four churches, from different denominations, became one church in action…loving God and loving others.

2. Beach Baptisms – One of the greatest thrills I have as a pastor is celebrating the courage of those who desire to publicly declare their faith in Jesus through the act of baptism. And while every baptism is meaningful, there are some real stand outs to me. One of those, was watching a woman, frail from battling cancer, step into the Pacific Ocean with such courage and determination, and witnessing a large fish jump out of the ocean, as she was being baptized. It was a beautiful reminder to us all that day, of how “we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

3. Night of Worship – Anyone who was at the Night of Worship on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 would all agree, that was a special night! I wish we had this service on our Vimeo channel, because we all sensed the Spirit move in a significant way at SeaCoast that evening. It was truly incredible to watch God do His work, as we offered praise to Him!

4. Good Friday Services – Bringing back Good Friday services to the Cypress Campus was awesome! From packing out the East Auditorium the first year, to filling up the West Auditorium the second year; it truly was a blessing to see. And to be asked to speak at both of these services was an honor. I will also never forget my second Good Friday service as the Campus Pastor in Seal Beach, when I went to open the doors and there was a line of people waiting to get in and grab a seat. That was a first! And there wasn’t an empty seat in the place. Unreal!

5. Dad Life Video – We had a lot of fun as a pastoral team making this video. And it was just good to goof off with my peers and let everyone else see another side of us. It was a demanding two days of video and production, but so worth it. The video still makes me laugh.

There are so many other memories that flood into my head…Eight Great Summer Dates, watching my son do air guitar at the Seal Beach Campus Talent Show, praying with people to receive Jesus, crying with families that lost a loved one, and watching Zach grow to passionately love Jesus. These are the memories I will forever treasure. Thank you SeaCoast Grace Church for ministering God’s grace, for loving my family and for making a difference in my life! You will be missed.

10 Things I’m Looking Forward To…

10 Things I’m Looking Forward to in NorCal…

1. Adventure Christian Church
– We’re excited to join the team of Adventure Christian Church in Roseville! God is doing a great thing there and I am thrilled to serve with some good friends and alongside a former seminary professor of mine.

2. Family – We’ve missed our family! And with our move back to Sacramento, we’ll be within a two-hour drive of most of our family!

3. Seasons – Instead of two seasons, I’ll get to experience four distinct seasons and appreciate all the beauty that these seasons bring.

4. Green Belts & Open Spaces – No longer will I be living in the concrete jungle. Instead I’ll be living in a land of open spaces, with real rivers and wildlife to appreciate.

5. Reconnecting with Friends – We have some great friends in Sacramento and I can’t wait to live close and reconnect with them!

6. SF Giants – I love my SF Giants! And while I won’t be able to afford to see them with the frequency I did with the Angels, I am looking forward to being at the crown jewel of MLB and routing on the Orange & Black!

7. Lakes – I am looking forward to warm days out on the lake with family and friends. Either skiing on Folsom Lake or house-boating on Lake Oroville with the rest of the clan! Also, looking forward to hiking to Rock Lake in Plumas Eureka State Park once again.

8. Cost of Living – What can I say? The dollar goes a lot further in Northern California. And I am looking forward to getting on board with Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps once again.

9. Proximity to Favorite Getaways – We’ve missed being able to drive to San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and Napa for the day. These are some of the most beautiful places in the world!

10. Our Home – Our offer was accepted on a home in Roseville! It’s a beautiful two-story home, near to the church, with a swimming pool and a dog run already built-in. We look forward to creating special memories in this home for years to come.

Generational Curses?

I was recently asked this question regarding Exodus 34:6-7, which reads, “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6, 7) The question was concerning verse 7, about punishment for third and fourth generations, and whether this changed with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Here is my response…

There are no generational curses in the life of a Christian. In Jeremiah 31:29-30, God promises us that the children will no longer pay for the father’s mistakes; but, we should also remain in covenant with Him (Ezekiel 18). However, there are spiritual consequences to our rebellion towards God, and it is OUR rebellion, not our ancestors, that is relevant here. However, I do believe we are prone to certain generational sins, because of how we were raised. However, on judgment day, everyone shall give an account of himself to God (Rom 14:12), and for this reason, we need to accept responsibility for our own sin.

In addition, we shouldn’t be quick to blame our personal hardship on the generational sins of our forefathers either. A good example is found in John 9:1-3 where Jesus encounters a blind man who was blind from birth. The text reads, “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man who was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” So in Jesus’ words, sickness, disease or suffering does not automatically mean there is sin in the camp. Therefore, we should not blame our misfortune or our family’s misfortune on the sins of our ancestors. We alone are answerable for our own sins.

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