Archives For faith

This is a quote I’ve heard on more than one occasion from some of my favorite people, Jim and Carrie Tienken. Chances are, if you’ve lived in Fresno and attended any of the local churches for long enough, you’ve run into one or both of these fine people. We recently shot a video of them at a local coffee shop, just telling us a bit of their story. The questions were simple:

  • What do you love about our cities (Fresno and Clovis)?
  • What do you think we could improve upon in our cities?
  • Why are you a part of Two Cities Church?
  • What kinds of roles do you play at the church?
  • What’s one of your favorite wins we’ve experienced?

You know, simple stuff.

But in the middle of all of that Carrie calls herself a “Recovering Pharisee” and explains that when she first came to Two Cities, she was extremely judgmental. She is brave. She just said that on video for the whole world to see. Wow.

I think far more of us, Jesus people, Christians have more of that in us than we’d like to admit. But what I love about Jim and Carrie is that they’ve realized that’s not Jesus’ response to people, his response is gracious and so they are actively seeking ways to be more gracious and giving their judgements over to God.

I want to be like them when I grow up!

Maybe you’re asking, “What’s a Pharisee?” Well, a Pharisee was a certain class of people that lived contemporary with Jesus in Jerusalem and the surrounding communities. They were devout religious-Jews. They took the Hebrew Scriptures very seriously, literally and they held every part of those documents in high esteem. So high, in fact, that treating people with graciousness was hard to do. Consequently, they were notoriously harsh with people they felt were breaking the Law of Moses. They were judgmental.

Sometimes, we, Christians can be that way, even with the Old Covenantal Law of Moses, which, by the way, doesn’t apply to us because we are actually under the New Covenantal Law of Christ. That’s enough back story, here’s their video, enjoy.

 

When I was nine or ten years old, I built a fort out of tree limbs and debris. I leaned them up against the front of our house like some sort of natural shelter. I thought it was awesome. My dad, on the other hand, did not. It was an eye sore for the neighborhood, not something a home-owner wants to be known for.

He made me take it down, just as quick as it went up. In that moment he simple told me, “No, you can’t put this here.” But his “no” wasn’t forever. It also came with a promise.

HE ALSO TOLD ME, “YES, I WILL HELP YOU BUILD A REAL FORT.”

In my brain, that meant that day. But again, he said, “No, not now.” He was much too busy and I totally understand that. His office was at home and I was constantly trying to disrupt his workflow. He had tight deadlines and no guarantee of income. He had to work hard to keep the business and our family afloat. He continually, and gently, pushed me out of his office while he worked. Something I do now, everyday, with my own kids.

So his “no” was temporary. He would help me. But it would have to be on his time table.

Weeks went by, maybe even months and I continually asked him, “Can we build the fort today? Can we? Can we? Can we?” And eventually, after many attempts to get this project started, I almost gave up hope.

I needed someone to intercede on my behalf. Someone who also had the ear of my dad, someone who had a relationship with him that was all their own and could plead my case on my behalf.

I needed mom.

My mom marched into that office, after noticing my defeated plea, time and time again, she said, “You promised and you need to follow through.” And in that moment, the plan was birthed. My dad said, “Okay, this Saturday we’re going to start working on it.” I was thrilled. This was going to be fun.

Early that Saturday morning, we went to get the supplies: wood, nails, shingles, windows, hinges, siding, electrical boxes… this wasn’t what I was expecting. This was shaping up to be something far better!

We worked all day, several days, and by the end I had a majestic fort. It was beautiful. I don’t know the exact dimensions, but I think it was probably in the neighborhood of 100 sq ft, complete with electricity, bunkbeds and trap-door for entry. Basically a tiny house on stilts.

This was epic.

  • If he hadn’t squashed my little fort dream…
  • If he hadn’t promised me a new one…
  • If I hadn’t persisted in that promise, continually asking for fulfillment…
  • If my mom hadn’t interceded on my behalf…
  • And if he wasn’t a man of his word…

…I WOULD OF BEEN STUCK WITH THAT LITTLE JUNKY FORT.

But that little junky fort was the prelude to something amazing.

YOUR EARLY UNDERSTANDING OF GOD IS TYPICALLY SHAPED BY THE BEHAVIOR OF YOUR FATHER.

If you had an absent father, a missing father, or a work-a-holic father… you tend to view God in the same light. And the same things can be true of your mother, but for whatever reason, dads tend to have a bigger impact on your impression of God than moms.

I AM GRATEFUL THAT MY DAD SHOWED ME THAT A FATHER CAN BE TRUSTED.

But at some point,every father, no matter how great, fails. They are not perfect. They say the wrong thing. Their busyness or frustration bubbles up into words that cut like a knife and can’t be unsaid. So, as we mature, we must realize, whatever good our fathers showed us was from God and whatever deficit they created in our hearts was not because of God, but prideful-sinful-human nature.

God can be trusted, no matter what.

If you have a father-wound, as we all do to some degree, I want to challenge you to let that go, to forgive. If you have been struggling with the idea of a perfect-heavenly father because of your experience with your earthly father… choose to trust. He can be trusted.

HE MAY BE SAYING “NO” TO YOUR JUNKY-FORT-DREAMS NOW, BUT HE’S GOT SOMETHING FAR BETTER IN MIND.

  • Be patient.
  • Keep asking.
  • Don’t lose hope.
  • Get someone else to intercede in prayer for you.

And believe this promise:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 NIV

Awareness is the enemy of contentment.

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Remember when you were a kid and you just wanted to play hide ’n seek… like all the time?

I remember playing different variations on that game. Monsters in the dark, Kick-the-can, Tag, Spy, and their are so many more. My kids love playing hide ’n seek. And they’re terrible at it.

They always give up their positioning even before I finish counting. They do the classic thing where they cover their eyes and think that as long as they can’t see me, I can’t see them and I think it’s adorable. My favorite is when they simply slide under a blanket on the bed and don’t realize they’ve made a huge human-shaped lump on top of the bed.

I love playing with them but sometimes I hide a little too long and stay a little too quiet, it freaks them out.

Do you ever feel like God hides from you? Like he’s stayed a little too quiet? Like, is he just playing a huge game of hide ’n seek? Or do you ever wonder if you can you actually find him?

In the Old Testament of the Bible, we find a great deal of rich history, from which Jesus was birthed. It’s the historical backdrop of the narrative of Jesus and there seems to be a ton of hide ’n seek between God and the nation of Israel. At one point most of the nation is taken away as captives, as exiles to Babylon, a foreign ancient-world-power.

God writes a letter to the exiled nation of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. And here’s part of that letter as it’s translated in the Message version of the Bible…

This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” – Jeremiah 29:10-14 MSG

And then later in Jesus’ ministry he’s speaking to a bunch of people in his famous inaugural all-day sermon called, The Sermon on the Mount and in chapter 7 of Matthew he says this

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

So, if you really want to find God, seek him out with your whole heart, hold nothing back for fear of failure because both the prophet Jeremiah and Jesus both indicate that God will be found by you.

In mid-July I spent a day with my family at Wild Water Adventure Park, or as you long-time Clovis people would say, Clovis Lakes. The park has changed a lot since I was a kid, but some things remain pretty much the same… like the big family tube ride, The Rapids.

This is the first time we’ve been, that my oldest, Josiah, was not only big enough to ride the big rides, but he actually wanted to try a few.

So I took him on The Rapids. First off, let me just say, carrying that gigantic raft up the hill by yourself is a tall order, but once I caught my breath and we got in the raft, I could see the excitement in Josiah’s eyes.

But have you ever done something that you thought looked really fun and then in the middle of it, you realized, it’s kind of terrifying too?

Well, that’s what happened for him. As we approached the drops, he realized he was going down backwards, and his face changed. His screams got louder and higher pitched. Now, of course, that made me laugh really hard because I knew he was going to be fine and that feeling when your stomach drops… that’s all part of the fun.

Do you ever feel like God is laughing when you think you need saving?

I don’t know if he ever does that, but if he does, maybe it’s because he knows exactly what’s ahead… and what’s ahead, past the fear, is absolute joy. And we can be sure that our best fatherhood or parenting moments are not even close to how great our Heavenly Father is. Just listen to what Jesus has to say about that:

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11 NIV

Now, if there’s one thing the scriptures teach us about joy, it’s that the most joyful people go through some of the hardest things before they find that joy.

Sometimes you’ve got to go through it, to get to it.

So what happened with Josiah? Well, like you might expect… after the screams, came the laughter and he went again with mom. Now, mom on the other hand, she said, “Those drops are a lot bigger than I remember!” 😂

I hope today, if you face any fear, you’ll be able to face it head on, knowing your heavenly father is right there with you. If you can do that, you’ll find the peace and joy that surpasses any earthly understanding.

Watch Josiah’s fear turn to joy in our family vlog at Wild Water Adventure Park.

This post first appeared on the Two Cities Church blog.

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

In the wake of so much tragedy, my best friend, Paul Haugen has released a song that he wrote a few months ago. It is meant to bring hope and inspire and I pray it does those things for you. Enjoy.

“I wrote this song a few months ago after the divisiveness on my Facebook feed had reached a high point. I had this sense in me that in spite of all of our differences and strongly held beliefs there was and is a connective tissue that holds us together; that there’s this thing inside of us that makes us so much better together than we could ever be apart. I believe that connective tissue is hope. I think we all want better. We all want change. We just are really bad at listening sometimes. I remembered a time in my life where I felt safe and I really want that for my kids. What really scared me was thinking about how long it had been since I felt that way and the thought that my kids might grow up in a world without that feeling of safety. I wanted to write this as my stake in the ground declaring that I believe we can be more; that we can be better. So this is me hoping that we find a way to love one another and maybe find a little bit of hope.” – Paul Haugen

 

At Two Cities Church, when we say our mission is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, what you’ve got to understand is that’s not an easy thing. There’s often pain involved.

It’s like learning to swim. This summer we welcomed a foster-son into our home. This little 3-year-old boy, in the month and a half he’s been with us, has learned to swim! He wore floaties a handful of times, but doesn’t want them anymore. He actually never really did want them. He would get into the water and immediately want them off. So I’d take them off and he’d shove off from the step. Well, what happened?

He sank.

Thankfully, he held his breath and I was right there with him. I can always see when his eyes go from, “I’m doing it!” and transition to “Uh oh!” And that’s when I’d bring him up and he gasped for air. But he learned quick!

My point is, before we grow, we often experience some sort of pain and we might even have a panic in our yes, but God is right there and he knows when we need to be pulled out and when to push us a little so that we can grow our capacity for holding our breath.

Whatever pain your experiencing, God is growing you in some way. He’s growing your…
  • capacity for empathy
  • trust
  • skills in managing something small, so you can handle something bigger
  • parenting patience (Am I right?)
  • and many other things

And the amazing thing is, one day what you’re struggling so hard with, if you face it again, you’ll fly through it with greater ease.

I mean, when you finally learned to swim, it was amazing… it’s like flying, through water. It’s gliding, it’s smooth and easy movement… you’re no longer frantic or flailing. You understand physics, buoyancy, and the mechanics of how to move through the water with minimal effort.

Think of it this way. God gives you more than you can currently handle, contrary to popular belief, so that you will lean on Him and he’ll grow you.