About three weeks ago we took some of our students from Two Cities Church to the Fresno Grizzlies baseball game. It was “Christian Fellowship Night” and “My Job Depends in Ag Night.”

During the game I was taking a lot of video on my Go Pro Hero 6 Black. Some kids took notice and eventually came up to us and excitedly asked, “Are you guys YouTubers?”

Josiah thought it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Here are some highlights…

“How can I help people give more of their life away?”

That’s a question that I’ve been wrestling with for the past nine months or so. As a pastor I’m always trying to figure out where the next spot is, spiritually, that I should lead our local church. And the thing I keep coming back to is that we want to love people well and part of loving people well is serving them.

But why ask THAT question at all?

Well, simply put, the measure of a life well lived is not in how much one acquires or accomplishes, it’s in how well one loves.

This past Easter, our church, Two Cities Church, partnered with Action Community Church, the City of Clovis Parks and Recreation Department and the Clovis Police Department to put on the very first church-city Easter event to serve our community. We planned for 3,000 people and ended up with over 2,000.  Enjoy this vlog I put together showing some of the set up, event and tear down process.

Remember when you were a kid and you didn’t care what other people thought about you? Personally, I wore neon for a season. Now, if I cared about what others thought… do you think I would’ve worn neon? No way! And then I went into a camouflage stage. Pretty drastic. I went from, “Look at me!” to “You can’t see me!”

We recently went to Pismo Beach for our annual family getaway and what I’ve noticed is, the kids don’t care about the strangers who are judging us from afar.

You may be asking, “Why are peopling judging you?”

Well, simply put. We’re a mixed-race family and we tend to turn heads wherever we go from that, but on top of that… our kids have recently decided they need to communicate their needs with very loud voices. So, people look because of the noise and then they stare because of our mix.

They also stare because our kids are always doing some goofy dance… and I’m always taking video of that very dance.

But you know what… it’s okay. We love our family and we wouldn’t change a thing about it. Everyone gets judged for all kinds of reasons, but God calls us to love. So that’s what we try to do.

Here’s part one, of two, of our most recent trip to Pismo Beach and Avila Beach, CA.

I had two distinct parts of my childhood.

1. The third child.

2. The last child.

I have a brother and sister, who are roughly 8 and 5 years older than me, respectively.

My brother, Jason, left for college in the fall of ’91 and my sister, Cheronn did the same in the fall of ’94 and finally I did the same… to the same college, in the fall of ’00.

That means I lived at home with my brother for almost 9 years and with my sister for almost 13.

Then from 13-18, I was the last child.

My brother and sister greatly influenced me. They were heroes for me.

Jason was the video pro. He recorded, to VHS, every movie we rented. He would, without a computer, mind you, re-edit, or re-mix different music over his favorite action sequences. I vividly remember watching the Speeder Bike chase scene from Return of the Jedi remixed to the song Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins.

Sort of like this…only way before this guy did it.

I looked up to his sweet skills and still do.

Cheronn was the musical talent that I aspired to be. I took voice lessons with her when I was in elementary school from the accompanist of the Clovis West Choir program. I remember recitals and performances. She’s not the only musical person in the family, but she was the one I saw perform the most.

I attended her evening rehearsals for her Women’s Chorale so much that I learned the songs, in Latinor whatever languages they were singing in. I loved going to those.

I was a strange kid, I know.

Don’t get me wrong, I was, in their words… a turd to them, especially Cheronn. But I’ve always loved and respected them.

I still admire them.

My brother still works with video, he’s a high school video teacher, he teaches math too, and his students are going on to produce content and do things in that industry.

My sister surprised us all just a couple of years ago by starting a pursuit into nursing. She’s done lots of different things and it took a long time and the temporary loss of our mom to cancer, to help her find a passion she wants to pursue.

I am so proud of her for bravely pursuing something she feels called to do with her life.

She recently was “pinned” and finished her nursing program at Clark Community College in Vancouver, WA. With the help of our dad, I was able to go surprise her and support her by attending the ceremony.

Here’s a documentation of that journey.

I don’t know if you have siblings, but today, I hope you can remember and appreciate them.

Give them a call, text, or write a blog post honoring them. They deserve it. After all, you were probably a turd to them too. 👍🏼

I love you, Jason and Cheronn. Thanks for always supporting me.

In December, my in-laws took us to Disneyland and California Adventure. It was the first time Eli had been and we had a blast and we spent an extra day at the parks after the rest of the family left. A couple of things to note:

  1. People don’t like to be on video, so I don’t take much video of people who aren’t me or my kids. Erica doesn’t like to be on video either, thought she values that I am preserving these memories in video-form.
  2. Erica felt horrible this whole trip, but she powered through like nobody I’ve ever seen do before. I mean, she was exhausted and in pain, the whole time, and when we got home she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with “walking pneumonia.” So… that’s just a side note.
  3. When Eli was dancing, there’s a good chunk of that in the video below, Erica said, “This is the best day of my life.” Even though she was in pain, she still found a great deal of joy in watching our kids create some life-long memories.

Enjoy the recap video…

Back in November, our family took a trip up to the Northwest and visited family in Eugene OR, Dallas OR and Vancouver WA. Thanks to Uncle Mitch, whenever we go up to Eugene, we get to spend a little time playing around in the University of Oregon’s Player Development Area. It is attached to PK Park, their baseball field. Enjoy…

Today marks the end of a significant part of our family story.

We have shut the door on an incredible season of personal and family growth. And we have opened a new chapter.

On July 3, 2017 we welcomed a little boy into our home as our foster son. Elijah came to us at just the right time. He hit the ground running, growing, learning, and yes, screaming too. And it’s been a big process adjusting to life with three kids and it’s been especially challenging because he came to us at 3-years-old.

Erica and I have always felt called to do for one what we wish we could do for all, through fostering to adopt or fos-adopt. Even before we were married we talked about adoption and always knew it was something we wanted to do down the road. We started seriously looking into it close to two and a half years ago when someone called us out of the blue asking if we would think about adopting their grand-daughter’s baby. That threw us for a loop and forced us to begin having conversations. We determined it wasn’t the right time or situation. But we began a process.

In that process, even before we welcome Elijah to our home, there were plenty of ups and downs. We were “submitted” for a lot of kids. But we were never chosen. We were praying fo the right child, at the right time, for the right reasons and God did not disappoint. When we were brought to a “disclosure” meeting with the county of Fresno department of social services, we were handed a huge redacted packet of Eli’s history. We asked questions and we were presented with all of the data. And then we had to leave and think and pray about it.

The next day our social worker called us and said, “So, what do you think?” All I could say was, “I’m running out of excuses. Let’s do it.” And I don’t regret any of it.

Today marks the end of that process.

Today, February 23, 2018, we went from fostering Elijah to welcoming him as our newest Foster. If you track with our social accounts, you’ve missed a lot of what’s been happening because we could only post certain things and we couldn’t show his face. But now, as Elijah James Foster, and our son, we can show his face.

I’d like to invite you to enjoy this montage video of some highlights from the last 7 and a half months.

Our experience with Elijah has revealed to me, even more, the depth of God’s love for us. I can’t wait to share some of those things with you. Stay tuned.

“Coming to Two Cities was a big change and I realized that God was always with me whether I believe it or not. That he would always be by my side and that he loved me no matter what.” – Madison McKenna, Baptism, Nov 2017

“It’s okay to be how I am because God made me this way and he created a purpose for me and I just need to find that purpose and pursue it.” – Jessica McGrail, Baptism, Nov 2017

There are many myths we live by that God never intended for us to believe. They’re just things that we pick up on and never really think about. Things that perhaps, you learned from the people who unknowingly taught them to you, by how they lived and how they talked. It’s those off-the-cuff and untested nuggets of “truth” that sometimes make the biggest impact on our theology and faith.

I recently wrote about one of these myths here: The Perfect Before Presence Myth.

In the spirit of the Christmas, today’s myth has to do with the idea of Immanuel.

The Immanuel Means Easy Myth

Here’s the basic idea.

  • Jesus demonstrated his love for us by coming down in human form, Immanuel (God with us).
  • Jesus died for us and then rose again, and provided a way for reconciliation with God.
  • Since we know God is With Us (Immanuel) and God is For Us (He died and rose again for us),
  • We trust Jesus with our lives and everything is easy and clear after that.

Ok, maybe I’m oversimplifying it, but isn’t that how we think? I mean, in fact we tend to believe that if God isn’t answering my prayers in the way that I want, maybe He’s not there at all. Right? Isn’t that our logic?

Here’s the deal though, if God were small enough for you to control with your will, meaning He always did what you asked for, He’d be less-powerful than you and that’s not the God I want to worship, and not the God I’d trust with my life. I want to follow, I want to worship a God that doesn’t do everything I want Him to do, but does what is best for me. Isn’t that what you want? You don’t really want someone to cater to your every emotional whim, do you?

  • You want a Rock.
  • You want Steady.
  • You want Trustworthy.
  • You want All-Powerful, All-Knowing and Everywhere-All-The-Time, not conjured upon your requests and slips out when you’re done with Him.

At least, that’s how I feel. Take for example how Jesus prays right before he’s arrested…

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” Luke 22:42 NIV

Jesus, talking to the Father, asks for another way… and the Father doesn’t do it. Since when does Jesus ask for something and it not happen?!

Ever get a “no” for an answer to your prayers? It’s not fun, trust me… truuuuuuuust me, I know this one well. But I don’t want a God who changes all his glorious plans because I want Him to.

So here’s the truth…

  • Jesus demonstrated his love for us by coming down in human form, Immanuel (God with us).
  • Jesus died for us and then rose again, and provided a way for reconciliation with God.
  • Since we know God is With Us (Immanuel) and God is For Us (He died and rose again for us),
  • We trust Jesus and follow Him.
  • He acts on behalf of His purposes with our best interest in mind. But His our best interest has more to do with eternity, than the here and now. He’s playing the long-game. He’s knows how everything works out… and it’s glorious.

Following Jesus is like walking in a cloud. You can only see a few feet in front of you and He doesn’t clear the next few feet until you take a couple of steps.

It’s not all smooth-sailing after you take the plunge to trust Jesus and anyone who tells you it is, is either very fortunate or lying. Take a look at all of the major characters of faith, they all experienced darkness and confusion, even after God revealed Himself to them.

I think it’s time we stop, inadvertently, teaching, whether in word or deed, that Immanuel Means Easy. We know better than that, don’t we?

If you’d like to digest these kinds of ideas more, I suggest binge watching these message series:

What myths do you accidentally live by? Are those myths holding you back from truly living a life of freedom?