Tuesday, December 05, 2006

God and the Art of Sanding Down Furniture

This past weekend was a great one. On Saturday I spent the first part of the day sanding down and refinishing our coffee table, which we acquired freely a few months ago. It had some great coffee mug stains, a purple crayon streak and a few wobbly legs. Not very troublesome for sandpaper, stain and glue. Now it sits in the same place with a better look and a better structure, at least to me.

Working down in the dungeon (our basement) has been good for me. I'm there underneath our house, looking at what lies beneath, trying to correct a woodworking problem, to make an unwanted stain disappear or simply trying to straighten something that is crooked. Just in case you think I'm romanticising--I also scream and unnecessarily pound excess wood due to my own mistakes and oversights. Oh, not to mention me grovelling on the cold, dirty basement floor right after I pounded my thumb with the hammer.

On Sunday Barb and I spent the afternoon in our living room. She napped in the winter sunlight and I finished reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I finally finished that book after years of psyching myself up for it. It didn't disappoint. There's a reason it's a classic. There's this one sentence that Marlow, the guy who is telling the story throughout the book, says that has stuck with me, "No, I don't like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don't like work--no man does--but I like what is in the work--the chance to find yourself. Your own reality--for yourself, not for others--what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means." And as I read Genesis this morning--the very first book in the Bible about the very first things--I wondered if God already knew this and that is why he placed Adam and Eve in the Garden and gave them the responsibility to tend it.

As I have undertaken some major projects around the house (and other projects and other times) I have found this to be true. When I take on something like the above or even completely refinishing our hardwood floors like I did a few months ago, I am faced with what's inside me. There is no one else around. There is only me, God, and a bunch of filth. It's quite interesting--me working on the table and the floors (especially the floors)--I felt this deep connection between me and God, that we were together working. I work on the floor; he works on me. I didn't arrange it. I didn't plan or pray for it. That's just how it's been. Honestly, it's like that because God has outsmarted me, but that's a conversation for another time.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Becker, Warren and a Little Girl

I guess there is a lot on my mind lately. Barb is plumping up with child and is giving that Thanksgiving turkey a run for its money. Although she might cost more per pound; I'll have to look at the insurance bills. Along those same lines is the very fact that within the body of my bride is another. That for the past 18 or 19 weeks her heart has been beating 160 beats per minute as her developing body needs more nutrients, more blood, and more oxygen. At the same time my wife's rib cage is expanding as her lungs are growing so that she herself can produce for our child more nutrients, more blood and more oxygen. That this week our little girl is growing her epidermis, which has been determined by her Creator, fingerprints established, freckles and tone. It's astonishing that she is working alongside God right now, so to speak, fulfilling the requirements of external life. Even further, within my bride is our little girl and within our little girl are all the eggs she will have for the rest of her life. Our grandchildren are literally within my wife and girl at the same time. All of this is imprinted into her; she knows what to do though she cannot articulate a single sentence. It is almost as if God had arranged everything for us to do without us ever really knowing we are doing it, and without our consent or input, as is my case.

At the same time as my child, my wife and my burgeoning fixation on the creativity and ingenuity of God, are two books that have completely demolished and renovated my thoughts on human nature, life, death, and eternity: The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker and Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. I rarely find myself in the new releases portion of any bookstore. I don't really go for new when it comes to a lot of things, books especially. I try to find classics, something with time-tested value that has an enduring reputation. Even with church planting and some pastoral or leadership issues I don't go for the newest glossy paperback. I go to pastors dead and gone, theologians who shook and shaped their cities or countries and who could also shape me if I were as willing. Becker wrote The Denial of Death in 1973 and subsequently received The Pulitzer Prize. Warren wrote his book only four years ago, but it has remained atop the New York Times best-seller list for multiple years (175 weeks as of May of this year). So his book is relatively new but has major cultural influence today.

This is all I can write right now, as the content of the books are staggering. Eevery paragraph in Warren's book could be a paragraph to live by. Likewise, in Becker's work there are certain pages that latch on to you and force you down to the ground, wrestle with you, and later become some of your best companions. Though Becker was a cultural anthropologist who spent his life gathering and synthesizing multi-disciplinary thoughts about the "why of existence" and Warren ,a pastor, theologian and humanitarian, seem quite opposite on the surface they both have some astounding cohesiveness. Both agree that each one of us has a desire for immortality, a desire to live and have influence beyond our own years, that we have an intense inner yearning for life and self-expression, but that we all fear life and we all fear death. They both agree that satisfaction in life comes not when we focus on self but when we ultimately surrender to God everything we've been trying to build for our own glory and immortality. It's like the Scripture says, "God has placed eternity in the hearts of everyone."

Recently a friend sent me an email and within that email was a line that was stuck in my brain like a splinter, "Do not fear that your life will end, but that it will never truly start." And so, I sit with Becker and Warren, fighting, feuding, sparring with them in a pugilistic three-for-all, and I am the better for it.

Anyway, thanks for listening to the rambling--perhaps a few paragraphs too long. I hope to build a document with quotes and cross references with the both of these guys as I feel it is at the base of any teaching that I'd give from Scripture. Alright now, stay warm and safe.


Monday, November 13, 2006


Ah, this time next week I'll be figuratively spiking a football in the endzone of certainty as we find out if it's a boy, girl, or monster. I have been wanting a girl, however, in the second or third week of finding out Barb was pregnant, my gut instinct said, "boy." Barb's instinct says "boy" to, which is better than, "boy, two."

So, it's great to live in a mystery right now. However, I know that when I find out if it's a boy or girl the mystery will get only more profound. As Barb was talking to me on our weekend drive a few days ago, she said, "Jason, I was just looking at my hair and thinking about what color our kid's is going to be. I have no power to make it one way or the other. God has decided and God is deciding a lot about our kid without asking or letting us know. Isn't it great?!"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's been 6 weeks?!!! But why, Jason?

Ah, here it is, mid-November, nice breeze, comfortable conditions inside and out. This place is starting to feel a bit more like home as we unpack, repack, throw away, and/or set up our things. The baby unofficially has more stuff than any of us, lucky thing.

We find out Thanksgiving week if it's a boy or girl. Judging by Barb's belly, it's a giant. My birthday is on that week, so I am blessed all ways around.

Recently went up to Minnesota with the team to the Alpha conference to learn from the creators of the course. It was a great trip for us as a team as God solidified some visioning stuff and also as we worked out some immediate structure things with our meetings. And, blessing again, a friend from Hillside was there at the conference, Steve. We were able to have great talks and share a meal downtown one night. Steve and I meet in all the exotic places--dormitory in seminary, Catalina, Corte Madera/Larkspur, Minneapolis. Ah, the life of a jet-setter.

I know I haven't been posting as much. That's for a few reasons. Let me number them:
1. This will be a more personal site and will deal primarily with family and person items.

2. Church planting updates and anything to do with that kind of thing will go to another site. It it http://projectmustardseed.com/blog/ There's various stuff on there so you'll have to do some sifting through. If you want updates or our newsletter, which will condence the news down, then email me (or reply to this post) and I'll hook you up.

3. We are in the planning stages of organizing, strategizing, and building a website. God's brought along our side a very capable web-wizard who is also turning out to be a great friend. So #2 above is for updates, thoughts pertaining to our situation in Memphis, and this website might eventually incorporate it.

4. To blog about everything is to blog about nothing.

5. "Blogs are written by people with nothing to say and are read by people with nothing to do," which is a quote I heard Guy Kamasaki say at a conference in San Francisco. So I quote that to myself every now and again as I login and then ask, "Is this worth saying?"

6. Further with #5, I want to make sure I write well and have something good to say. We all have enough to read, so there's no need for me to write everything I think. I agree with Otto Rank who said, "there is already too much truth…an over-production which apparently cannot be consumed!" The bookstores and blogospere proves it: never has so much been written, yet so little been said.

I sincerely hope that you and yours are doing well. I appreciate you reading this and showing interest in what's going on in me and with me. Drop a line and holla if you wish.



Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Womb of Promise

Well, there has been relief from the heat as of late. Yesterday was so hot that cups with ice water in them even sweated. Sometimes you can see it drip from the trees. But a "thunderstorm" passed by in the night. The morning sky is dark and the ground is damp. Water runs down our windows like tears from heaven, as fluid as my hopes and dreams.

I'm on our second floor right now and I just drove Barb to work. My engine is beginning to run, fueled by coffee and 8 hours rest. Recently I found myself digging in a book of the Bible that I haven't been to, I haven't searched through in a while--Ezekiel 34. The chapter is broken into four parts: words that God spoke to those who are in leadership of God's people, words that God speaks about himself, words God spoke to his flock, and God's promise of a Future Shepherd, Jesus.

"Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David (one from David's throne), and he will feed them;p he will feed them himself and be their shepherd . . .I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing. And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing . .. then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have broken the bars of their yoke and have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them . . ."

Promises are potent. If met they are the health of life and joy. If broken they are more poisonous than hate.

God is faithful to his word. Jesus is the one shepherd from the line of David. David retaliated toward a lion and a bear because they jacked one of his sheep. How confident we should be that Jesus (who is from the family of the World's Best Shepherd) is the Shepherd of those who have believed in the truth of Jesus' dying on the cross for our sins.

Promises. Dorment hope.

Dorment but not, hmmm......without effect.

Promises . . . like rain from the heavens that is well-timed for the fields.

Promises . . . like obedience to our Lord will not go unnoticed by either our enemy or friend.

Promises . . . like no greater joy is knowing Jesus because Jesus knows best.

Like a sheep that knows protection carries a cane and a slingshot.

Promises . . . like the womb of my wife who is bearing our first child.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Kingdom of God is like 22 tons of hay

Barb and I visited my family this past week, who live about 1.5 hours south of us. We celebrated 3 birthdays (Steve, Sherry, Amber) and had some awesome Mama-cooked meals. Have you ever ruined a meal by eating too much? Not me, it just can't be done, not with Mama.

My cousin, Gerald, came by. Dad had been growing hay for years and would in turn sell it to Gerald for his cattle. Gerald had been working in the field and had come by to pay Mom for the hay. He had rolled 16 rolls of hay, each weighing 1,000 to 1,500 lbs. each. Earlier in the summer he had rolled 28. It seems incomprehensible to me that we have grown 22 tons of hay. It has been relatively easy: seeds were planted; God watered them; it grew; it was cut, dried, then rolled.

Jesus did a lot of work with people like my family and he would speak to them in their language. When he was in an agricultural region he spoke to these people who had broken ground and deposited seeds into the earth hoping to get back more than they had planted. These people had soaked their clothes working diligently and who had probably been stunned at the mystery--"they go to bed at night and get up by day and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately uses the sickle, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29).

After that passage Jesus goes on to talk about a mustard seed. He says that though it is such a small seed, yet "when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large brancehes so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade."

Lately our team has been contemplating these stories. It is such a mystery as to how a church is initiated and sustained. We pray, serve, prepare, and mostly, we wait. We see that our task right now is to understand and to cultivate the soil of our area so that when seeds of the kingdom are planted that a people could be formed here that would bring honor to God, pleasure to us, and shelter to those who need it. It is always a major undertaking to work/to labor in the field for God. There is much labor and much waiting. It is a project about mustard seeds--that the seemingly insignificant becomes life changing for all involved.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Well, we're settling in to life in the city of Red Birds, Grizzlies and the Pyramid. Barb and I have been on the fast track it seems the past few months and even now as we are looking for appropriate employment, a house (!), and growing a faith community that God would be proud of.
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Thursday, July 13, 2006

To Amarillo and Beyond

Whew, that was fast. We just crossed the Mighty Mississippi a few hours ago. We left on Tuesday around 2pm and arrived 2,600 miles later in Memphis tonight at 7pm. A few impressions of the country we are so blessed to live in. First of all, if you start in northern California it takes forever to even get out of the state into Arizona. Secondly, hot is hot no matter the humidity. It doesn't matter if it's 102 degrees with no humidity or 84 degrees with the heat index of 102 degrees--hot is hot. Thirdly, it pays to have a car with great gas mileage--well, in relation to most cars sold in the US. Fourthly, life is better ten miles per hour above the speed limit. Fifthly, they really do leave the light on for you. Even past midnight. Sixthly, it's very difficult to get a decent cup of coffee. That's why nation chains like The Mermaid (Starbucks) is appealing to me. I can go into any Mermaid--Corte Madera, SF, Amarillo, and Memphis and not exactly what I'm getting because of the amazing consistency.

Barb has several interviews with schools tomorrow in Memphis. We're hoping and praying. Do that with us, please.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Withdrawing Pennies and Getting Back Gold

I became a follower of Jesus when I was fifteen-years-old. I don't really know why it took me that long to get it, but it did. It was the best decision of my life--well, and the best decision of my afterlife also. Several months after I bowed the knee to Jesus I "surrendered to the ministry," as some call it. I simply said to Christ that there was nothing else I could ever see myself doing than teaching Scripture and helping others along the path toward faith in God through the work of Jesus.

In college I remember bowing down between my bed and my bookshelf and saying with fervency, "God, I'll go wherever you want me to go. I'll do whatever you want me to do. Just make the way clear. Make it evident. Provide the way. I just want to be about what you are doing in the world."

I knew then, and had for a while, that God was going to ask of all of me. That is, that God was going to use me up. He was going to ask all from me. The picture I drew in my head of what that looked like was something similar to martyrdom. I'd give my last drop of blood on the mission field somewhere--China, India, or some other foreign country. My body would be laid in a hero's grave. The preacher would wail about my godly, sacrificial life. I'd be loved in life and revered in death. Young women would cry in the afternoon sun. Simply--I thought God was going to draw out of my account and that he would do so by writing one big check.

What I've come to recognize and what I'm living with right now is this--he does and is drawing from my account. He hasn't written in my big check. No, it's been in a series of small checks in varying amounts. That's not to say that God has been nickel and diming me to death. No, that is to say that God knows how much is in my account and he knows exactly how much I can withstand. It's been in a series of small checks in varying amounts.

What I once thought was large, even to large, when I thought he had gone into overdraft, now is really small. It seemed big for the moment because back then my account was small. Ten dollars matters to an account of One hundred dollars. But one hundred dollars isn't as significant when the account is holding hundreds of thousands. Yes, those big withdrawals in the past look like pocket change now. It's a mystery to me.

This current check that he's written--well, at times I've been wondering if that comma was supposed to be a period. Surely he doesn't mean to withdraw that much. He's never asked that much from me before. He knows I can't take that. But what if something else comes up? What am I to do then?

So, since he hold the account anyway and knows my p.i.n. I (un)willingly accept that withdrawal. Why? Because he's bigger than me and I have a fear in him? Not unlikely. Because he can push me into bankruptcy and make me long for a recession of his presence? Hmmm. No. Well, because I know that he's really good at transfers. He has credited to my account over and over again. And as I reckon the account I see that he has always transfered more than he has taken out and that my account always increases. He has interest in me and that interest is paying big dividends. He has credited to my account all the riches and promises of heaven that have been secured through the benevolent work of Jesus Christ.

Oh, this current withdrawal is tough. But I know that one day I will reckon my account again and see that the transfer back in has not only filled the debit but has increased many times over.

No, I will not give my last drop on the mission fields on foreign soil. Not yet at least. The preacher will not wail and young women will not cry in the afternoon soon. But as I pack my bed and my bookshelf, and as I stand between them I am overwhelmed with the reality that he has stayed true to himself--he has provided, he has spoken, he is leading.

So now I say to you, friend, may the Lord bless you and keep you, cause his face to shine upon you. May he prove himself faithful to you as he withdraws pennies and gives back gold. May it be so among us also. Amen.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ah, Catalina. The name rolls off your tongue and sits in your soul like a foam anchor!? Whatever that means. It was a great vacation and Barb and I had hours of great conversation and fun. It was also good to be with Steve and Jessica during that whole week. It was a great way to spend our last great California get away. If you ever get a chance to go on vacation with Steve and/or Jessica GO FOR IT!
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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Prayers, Thoughts, Emails

Well, I really appreciate the prayers, thoughts, phone calls, hugs, emails, gifts, meals, and the million other things that God has used to encourage and console me during these past four weeks. I am learning so much through this process.

Tomorrow Barb and I are accompanying Steve and Jessica to Catalina Island out in the wild blue yonder off of Los Angeles. Steve and Jessica were married in Tahoe in January. Their wedding picture is in a post I did after their wedding. Their good friends and it is good to make this trip with them before we leave.

Tomorrow Hillside Church, whom I strive to serve, is sending a huge team to Mexico to work with an orphanage that we have an ongoing relationship with. I've not been able to go but I really appreciate the stories and pictures from the teams when they come back with their lives changed.

Today I was thinking about that team, those orphans, Father's Day and my dad. I miss my dad a lot and it really hit me hard a few times this week, which is okay. My Mom went back to work and is doing well. It's good to talk with her and my sister, Lori. The Scriptures talk about true religion is taking care of the orphans and widows. It's no longer a concept to me; it's reality. And the Scripture also talks about God being the Father of the fatherless, of which I now am. I wish I could articulate exactly what's been shown to me in this. I can only simply say that God is true to his word and does speak in the darkness and answers the one who calls to Him.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Hardest Post Yet

A little over two weeks ago my father, Waymond Jamie Elder, died of a massive heart attack. It was a surprise to say the least. It's hard to know exactly how to proceed--in life and in writing. I write this to make it known, to write my appreciation for him and his life of integrity, and to thank God for the support of family and friends.

I grew up on the same plot of ground for 21 years. Mom and Dad lived on three acres that is adjacent to about 30 acres of farmland. Dad and the rest of my family loved(s) working the earth and last week while Barb and I were there we saw the garden he had planted--peas, beans, okra, eggplant, squash, and two fruit trees. The garden was young, planted not too long ago with roots going deeper each day with the hope of a future harvest.

Along the east side of the garden is a creek that separates the 3 acres from the 30. Along the back of that creek are pines, water oaks, and various flowers and vegetation. Laying close to the garden was a pine tree that used to hug the bank of that creek until elemental forces pushed it down and it was forced to let go of its grip of the ground it had held onto for decades. Dad hooked a chain to it and drug it away with his 1968 Blue Ford Tractor. The void the tree left is still easily seen and I am learning that the deeper the roots the great the impact when it is taken away.

As we tended to the garden which is at the back of the 3 acres we saw the often walked ground that he and Mom have taken around the house, down the sloped back yard, past the shed and into the pasture with the burgeoning garden. Dad's footprints were still fresh in the garden. He walked that path and those rows many a morning and evening.

On Sunday we had visitation at the funeral home. Our family gathered in the estate room and the community came out to pay their last respects. Between 400-500 people stopped by, which was overwhelming and empowering. I've always known Dad as "dad" and never as co-worker, employee, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance. It was there that night that I was able to see how far reaching his silent roots had grown and gone out into the community and touched lives. Over and over again the supporters shed tears, gave hugs and noted Dad's character and integrity.

On Monday we had the funeral and Reverend Floyd Lamb gave the message. He is close to our family and has ministered to our family as Dad's parent's both died of cancer and he was also there when our sister, Lori Beth, was born with Down's Syndrome and had heart surgery. He spoke with passion and held Christ up to be glorified. He stated something that really stuck with me and I doubt that I will ever forget it. He said this--we often think of death as a lonely experience, that the deceased is hovering somewhere out there trying to find their way, but the Bible states otherwise. The Bible states that to be absent from the body, for the person who has Jesus as Lord, is to be with the Lord. He said that David's last words to his son Solomon was this, "I now go the way of all the earth." Dad didn't walk a lonely road, unknown road to a mysterious place. He walked a well-worn path to a well-known place. My Dad went the way of all the earth. He is now, because he placed faith in Jesus, with Jesus and is finding more satisfaction that ever dreamed of on earth. It is comforting in these days as I continue to process this grief.

There is a resurrection from the dead Scripture teaches. There is no reincarnation. One day we will be held accountable for our life and one day our spirits will be reunited with our bodies. Believers in Jesus will be joined with him and will live in victory over sin and evil. That's beautiful for me and is no longer a concept. It has become real.

I am thankful for my Dad and I had told him so on several occasions. I was not/am not an easy person to deal with at times. He was a hard worker and an honest man who sought out truth and justice. He loved my Mom and was dedicated to her. He loved his sons and his daughter. He was a provider and a great example. My mom is a beautiful woman who captures my admiration more and more everyday.

Thank you for reading this and for praying for our family.


Barb and I left as soon as we could and arrived home at 4pm the following day. Joy and grief are very similar in that they can both take you by surpirse. As a family we wept hard and often. And we often took comfort in Dad's faith in Jesus Christ which secures for him a Christ-ful eternity.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Day I Grew 1/4 of an Inch

It would be anticlimatic if I said, "The day I grew 1/4 of an inch was last Thursday," so I will say more. I've been having numerous physical ailments from a perpetually inflamed achilles and knee on my left leg to muscles spasms all over. Well several weeks ago a friend said to me that he had went to a specialist, Amy Sable, in San Anselmo and that her help had made him realize some noteable success in his back/neck issues. He gifted me some visits to Amy, which to me is priceless.

So I went and filled out the form and then she measured my height. I was about 6' 3 3/4". In high school I was measured at 6' 4". So having shrunk was news to me. She then had me sit on my bum, straighten my legs out and try to reach toward my toes as far as I could. She measured me in a way that is too complicated to write for some reason. Anyway, she looked down at my fingertips and said, "Jason, I'm so glad you are here." Okay, so she then says roughly that I'm about 11 inches from an average person's reach. So, I'm less than average. My daily look in the mirror and memories of reports have told me as much.

She stretched me with the help of a machine with a pulley and such. I was expecting something more Adams Family; I was gladly disappointed. So for 1.5 hours she worked me over. She then measured me and I was a little over 6'4". Ah, and the best part was no growing pains.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Holy Week

So, it's sunny outside. Quite bright. It seems as if the earth has moved closer to that orb over tha past two months, which I guess, actually did happen. What did they call that? Oh, the axis.

The past weeks have been quite good. I've been reading through the Gospel of John and have really had some good study/devotional/prayer times while reading it. There are a lot of details that have been added to that story thanks to Earl Palmer's great but short book, "The Gospel John Wrote." He says so much with a third-world economy of words.

I recently met a man who is a church planting strategist. He's quite the fervent communicator. He is an ex-Marine who served in the Philipines during the 80's. While he was there, from what I understand, a nine-year-old girl came up to him and preached to him that Jesus was the only man that would ever end war. That moment has forever changed him. He began to follow Jesus. I was thinking of him today, mid-ways through Holy Week, and how he and his wife need some special prayers these days.

It's busy around here but things really can't get any better. Barb is healthy and happy and our relationship is totally rockin' right now. Perhaps it is the ballroom dancing classes we've been taking. Last night it was Salsa, the Swing, Foxtrot and general goofiness.

I hope that on the eve of Good Friday, that beautiful but scandolous night, that you since God's presence and pleasure. It was scandolous for him but has worked beauty for this world. May the deepest blessings from heaven be yours.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Landslide of Grace

No, I haven't been under a landslide lately, well, at least not the same as some residents a few miles away. It has been quite busy here lately. Living in two worlds is hard. I desire to finish well here in Marin and also need to get prepared for the work and life ahead in Memphis. Last night we conducted the Good Sense Budget Course. Some Hillsiders came up to me and were totally jazzed about our move (I think that's a good sign) and were asking a lot of questions. Questions beyond, "Isn't that where Elvis . . ." and more toward, "Why Memphis? What's the draw? Any good bbq there? What's a home cost?"

There's a lot of details I just don't have time to write but I'll make it as quick as possible, the phone's ringing.

Last July Barb and I went to visit my family in north Mississippi. One day we took a trip up to Memphis and hung out in Cooper-Young, a district in Midtown Memphis. We prayed and just asked some residents there what the area was like. We got a good vibe, I guess you could say. So we came back home (Marin County) and started praying and talking things out with Robert and Mandy. There was a lot of freedom to pursue this.

Last December we let the leadership of Hillside know, which was an important step. I wanted feedback from Prince and other leaders and believers who know me. We sent emails to our friends who had made similar moves and opened up a hugh dialogue. Barb and I prayed and fasted and really sought God's direction for us. We understood that it was big decision and had a lot of ramifications upon scores of people. We didn't want to leave the Bay Area prematurely and wanted to really discern what His desire was for us.

In early March we went to Memphis and spent some time with Robert and Mandy and saw my family for a few days. We all talked about it. We met with a pastor and a strategist for the Memphis area. It was quite a wake up call for me. The word from God was that it was going to be the hardest work I've ever done and that I'd have to trust Him in unbelievable (ironic wording) amounts. That moving and working in Memphis would be about things with eternal consequence.

Barb and I talked for hours each day and prayed. We prayed for very specific things and they were all answered in a way that pointed toward Memphis. That being said, let me tell you what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that I'm not sad about leaving our friends and the great things that God's doing around here. I'm not saying that Hillside is not important to me. I think about the people everyday. But what I am saying is that God has spoken and I feel compelled to pursue this dream while working with a team.

So these days are busy as we contemplate our first months there. We are all thinking about how to organize, reach out, serve one another and our community. We are getting in to the Scripture to really understand the nature and role of Christ in the church and what we as the church should do. It's beyond seminary--it's life.

So in a way as things have been saturated in prayer we have found ourselves covered in his knowledge, forebearance, patience and love.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Three Months Notice

This past Wednesday my resignation letter was published in the Hillside Newsletter. Today Prince made a public acknowledgement of it. I was greeted before and after each service today with hugs, affirmation, sadness and questions. The first line of my resignation went something like, "It is with bittersweet emotion that I write to inform you . . ." Let me talk about that for a moment.

I have always hungered and longed for a place of worship where there was great music, great teaching, great volunteers and a place where lives are changed. Three years ago I was asked to speak at Hillside as Prince was away on a reading break. Only a half of handful of people knew me. I was warmly received. I was asked back a few months later to speak three times. After that Prince said, "Why don't you and Barb just keep coming and let's see what happens." I really liked that. I had been of a sour church experience or two growing up, and even was part of a very sour experience just a few years before. I had lost my faith in the church, mostly in leadership. I had never really seen godly, humble, self-effacing leadership. I had seen authoritarian, jealous, possessive and not trusting. And it had gotten me into a world of hurt. I was happy to hear, "Let's just see what happens." Because in a way it was allowing me to settle in softly.

We were living in the city and commuting over to Hillside. It was worth it. Several people surrounded Barb and I and made us feel welcomed and wanted--an opposite experience we had while visiting a church in the city just prior to that. I was working a full-time job and two other part-time jobs at the time as Barb was working part-time and finishing her credential at SFSU. Prince approached me and said, "Hillside would like to buy some of your hours." That was a relief. God had begun to awaken my love for the church and more responsibilities were given to me. I can't say I hit very many out of the park, but I got a base hit or two.

Eventually I was asked to be full-time. It has been so rewarding. My giftings, which had laid dormant for a few years, were awakened and sharpened. It's great to be hired to do what you're wired to do. I have never felt unappreciated by the people, staff or council. I've had encouragement all the way and I have been surrounded by volunteers who have chosen to live beyond themselves. I have had phone calls, emails, and short conversations in the church and out in the community where people have just lavished upon Barb and I words of encouragement.

Anyway, there's more to be said. There is also the future posts about the calling to Memphis, to work that desperately needs to be done there, and the pursuit of creating a church where one can come and hear truth and hear it gracefully. There is also the pursuit of a dream that is happening with team, as Robert and Mandy have gone before us and have really laid some great foundations in contacts and getting to know the personality of Midtown Memphis, especially Cooper-Young. I'm extremely excited and energized for that work in Memphis. I truly believe that I would not be energized or equipped to plant this church with the team if I had not been at Hillside.

I look forward to the upcoming months of finishing well here at Hillside. I've got great teams all around who are ready to give these missional initiatives their all. Hope all is well with you.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Madness and a Red Moon Rising

What shall I write? Shall I write about how I think Earl Palmer's Commentary, The Book John Wrote, is shaping and reshaping my view of Jesus and the gospel according to John? I've heard his book on Revelation is a great read.

Shall I write to say that I'm still disappointed that Kevin Covais is still on American Idol? www.votefortheworst.com is supporting him. It's funny. Sad.

Shall I write to express my appreciation for the work that Jack Bauer has done once again in helping thwart plots against our country?

Shall I write to say that I just haven't been in a blogging mood as of late. I don't think it's because I'm not motivated. I think I'm putting on my winter fat. I'm hibernating.

Or shall I simply write a few quotes? Yes, I shall do that and do that well.

Elie Wiesel writes in Zalmen, or the Madness of God, when giving the response of the doctor, "I don't hear well when I'm shouted at."

In Zalmen, the Rabbi is arguing with his son-in-law, Alexey. Alexey, though Jewish, doesn't hold to the tradition and thinks the past is a burden, a dead wieght that stops the Rabbi from moving forward. The Rabbi responds, "...Alexey, I move forward--just like you and others like you--though a little more slowly. There are advantages to that. It enables me to look about me, to admire twilight as it draws closer, and also, with a little luck, to befriend others who like myself are looking for th source and know where it can be found no matter how inaccessible it seems."

And this quote from Red Moon Rising, by Pete Greig, "When we get our minds around the character of God prayer, devotion, and discipleship cease being techniques and become instinct."

Hope this was worth the pixel power.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Constant Blogger

Last week Barb and I went to visit friends and family. It was a great visit and perhaps I will talk about that later on, but that is not the point of this post.

Did I ever tell you that I am on a government list that keeps track of me--when I fly and when I change anything with my flight? Did I tell you that at one time I had a beard that reached down to my chest and that an Indian Muslim thought that I was Muslim? Did I ever tell you that? Well, it seems like I've got some 'splain' to do.

A few years ago I grew my beard out and it was long and it was gorgeous. I cared for it with the finest conditioner and stroked it ponderously as I contemplated the deep things of life. It was a source of pride dripping in strands down my face. It also altered my appearance, well, that and my freshly scorn cranium. I looked, shall I say, beautifully different.

During that time Barb and I were in India. We haggled a rickshaw driver down enough for a ride across Delhi. At one point he asked me mover the high scream of his two-stroke engine, "You Muslim?" as he stroked his beard. His face wore a smile and something like hope, hope of meeting an American who believes in Allah. I responded, shaking my head, "Jesu baktah."

After India we visited my family in Mississippi. I was tan (rare occurance) and had the long beard. I was stopped by TSA when they were doing the random searches. I was pulled aside after the first metal detector and then I was pulled aside and searched at the gate when they were searching there also. This happened in multiple airports. After I shaved my beard I have no longer been stopped or pulled aside . . . until yesterday.

So, after I shaved (I think) I had visited my family and we had put our bags into the trunk of my dad's car. When TSA took the bags they swabbed it really nicely and questioned me. They said a ______ substance was found on my bags and that they had to search them. They then wrote my name down in this notebook. Now, if I was in a very playful mood I could talk more about the notebook (was it a notebook that the writer kept close by when he saw someone with striking features, such as my angular face?). So, I hypothesized all the way home, which was longer since my detaining allowed me to miss the flight.

Then it came to me--I bet Dad had bought some fertilizer for the lawn and had laid it in the trunk of the car. I put our bags in the trunk and BOOM!!! the residue made its way onto my bags. I don't think it was residue from my power bars or dried apricots. The ingredients in the fertilizer, which are sometimes used in explosives, set the machine off.

Well, yesterday I made a simple change (actually, Barb and I both made the change) and my ticket was flagged. I suppose it was because my name made it into that notebook. I took my shoes off as usual (what was that guy's name who tried to explode his shoes--I think I might hate him for that inconvenience) and the guy took my ticket and said, "I'm going to need you to step over here with me. Your ticket has an "s" on it here." So, I gather my self, take a look at Barb and smile (she's seen me pulled from line multiple times before). They baton me up and down, left and right. They look through my stuff and say, "You may go." And then I walk down the ramp to my gate sometimes perturbed and sometimes gaily. What are you going to do?

But as I reflect upon what I just wrote and what I've been reading and watching lately I have this to say--there are thousands, perhpas millions of people who have been marched in lines unjustly, have been interogated brutally, and have suffered the most grievious things imagineable as their loved ones watched on helplessly as tears dropped from their eyes and all hope fled. God help them.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I think it is interesting how a tone in a picture, a sunset, or even the countenance of a city can express one's mood and even impact it. I took this picture about six weeks ago when a friend of ours was visiting. This is one of the best views of the city. It's from "our side," Marin County. The financial district, Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz, Angel Island, Berkeley, Oakland and everything east is to the left. And to the right there is the always chilly north coast and the ocean with three thousand miles separating us and Hawaii.
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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Donde Esta, Senor Blogger?

Perhaps many (optimistically speaking) of you have been clicking over to August Burning and asking, "Donde esta, Jason?" or simply, "Where is Jason? He hasn't posted much of late. Is he okay. Did he get lost? Did he move? Did he lose his keyboard? All of those are valid questions and I want to affirm that in you--it's always good to ask.

But no, I wasn't kidnapped or anything like that, but be sure that if I were kidnapped or adult-napped I would really miss blogging to you. You are some of the most faithful and sporadic readers I've ever had, and it's to you I am grateful.

The truth is, I haven't had much to say. I allowed my blog to lay fallow for a while as I simply thought and read. I've got much to say, but I simply can't type that quickly, but be sure, that if I could I would. Did I commit blogger homicide by laying fallow? Who knows. Nothing is certain in this world where even google stock goes down in price.

Since I blogged last I have made up a few rules for myself. These are not to be taken as a general rule for all mankind, but is simply for me.
1. I will never eat Thai food again, unless, of course I change my mind, but at the way it's been going, it will be years. Let's just say that Thai food has been like the proverbial "good man," I just couldn't keep it down.
2. I will never eat at Naan-N-Curry by Golden Gate Park or the one in the Tenderloin. On a recent day off I said, "I'm in the mood for Naan-N-Curry." Afterward I said to myself, "I must've been in the mood for lukewarm, greasy spoon, no service, half-eaten food on the floor, nasty water pitchers, thrown together like a nuke was falling kinda food."

And in the affirmative category I will right

1. When the power goes off during a storm I will start a fire in the fireplace and cook chili and say that it's the best dang chili ever cooked in a living room, which is what happened Sunday night.
2. I need to read what Steven Samples calls "supertexts." These are texts that are hundreds of years old and still hold our culture today. I'm not too into Plato or Socrates or the Aenid but I did go to Green Apple Books in the city on that medicore food mood day off and collected what I think are come classics. And this is where I need your help. . . .

What's in your top ten, or heck, if you don't have a top ten, what is in your list that you say, "One of the best 5 books I've read," or "I want to read this book."

I don't want any list that has like, "The Owner's Manual of my 1985 Thunderbird." I've already read that. It's dry and, and, and, well, oily.

Anyway, holla.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Robert and Mandy

Well, Robert and Manday and Adam are moving. The truck is packed and they will be headed westward later this week. It's been good working with Robert http://www.robertgrisham.blogspot.com. He's one of the best worship leaders I've been around. He is respected and loved by those he has worked with. Mandy herself made quite an impact at the elementary school she worked at for the past 5 years. She has reached out to the community and brought parents, teachers and students together for some really moving music programs. My prayer is for safety and rest and that the furniture and things makes it to their new place on time. God speed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Architecture and Archaeology

Hmm, today I was viewing a dvd on leadership. It was good stuff. From time to time I do that over breakfast and into the late morning. It prevents me from watching the local morning news (we have basic cable), which really doesn't offer me more news that a cursory look at Yahoo!. Carson Pue, who ministers in Vancouver, B.C., spoke about the various phases of mentoring, which was captivating to me. I think it may have been him or the previous speaker who said that growing as a seeker and follower of Jesus is more like archaeology than architecture.

Now, Barb and I have a brand new friend, Amanda, who just moved into the area and got a job at an architecture firm. So, in fear of loosing this friendship over this simple post, I want to say up front that I am in no way downplaying the importance of architecture. Without architecture we'd have, according to the name, no archs. Archs seem very important. Doorways would be boring and perhaps we'd have no major fastfood chain that has a clown for its mascot. Nevertheless, let me go on to the next paragraph.

The truth, the brass tacks of faithing and living life with Jesus in mind, is not about putting on a nice exterior, of going modern, medieval or even postmodern. It's not covering a delapidated interior with a nice shell. Faithing, living and so forth is about going deep, not about building up, at least at the beginning. It's about discovering the heart, or what's under it all. I know I've built layer upon layer and later I discover that the core of that part of my life was not good. It's hard.

I know that as a leader, or growing leader, and really and bluntly, as a follower of Jesus, I cannot escape that. Jesus was obsessive about the crucial role that the heart plays in our life. He denigrated preconceived roles, rituals, religion and formula and went to the heart. He really wasn't shy about talking about what's underneath. One time he told a bunch of religious guys that on the outside the architecture was nice and white like marble, but just a few feet under that facade was filth.

So we dig it out--escavate it and bring it to the light. It's hard stuff but it's good stuff. Who really wants or needs to be carrying around bags and layers of filth? Who wants a landfill heart?

That's what I'm thinking about tonight.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Luxurious Worth of Our Soul

Tomorrow we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many have an appreciation for his work and life and for others who live lives of service. He was really good at painting a picture of the ideal, of stirring within your mind and heart a beautiful picture of what could be. His wife, Coretta, said about his, I Have a Dream, speech where he repeats the refrain, "I have a dream that one day . . .", "It was as if the kingdom of God came down, if only for a moment." He spoke of a desire for a new day to dawn.

This past summer Melba spoke about her experience of growing up in the segregated South and specifically Little Rock. It seems that there are always those who go before us, pave the way for others, who live hard lives so that others may have a better one. I believe there is a Chinese proverb that talks about how one generation plants a tree and the next rests in its shade.

Luckily, MLK, Jr. was not the first to care about the worth of a person, the dignity of a man or woman, or even the undeniable, priceless, even luxurious worth of our soul. His life and thought stemmed from what he had heard and learned about Jesus. At the Christmas weekend celebrations we sang a song that applies to these thoughts, O Holy Night.

The song talks about how the whole world, you and I, lay in our brokenness, longing for things to get better. That we ourselves are shackled by that brokenness, and that it makes us slaves and others seem like enemies. But there is good news, that, "It is the night of our dear Savior's birth," that upon his advent in world history, and, I think, our personal history, the soul feels it worth, that it is a new day. There is a thrill of hope all all the weary rejoice, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morning.

Perhaps today, even this very moment, can signify the rise of a new sun, the breaking in of a new day, a day of hope, a day of praise, a new day of purpose and worship.

Shall we pray.

Jesus, you did teach us to love one another
Your law is love and your gospel is peace
Chains you shall break, for the slave is our brother
And in your name, Jesus, all oppression shall cease
And sweet songs of joy and choruses of gratefulness we raise to you
For all taht is in us praises you and your name
Christ is the Lord,
So ever let us live beyond ourselves
In the name of Jesus, the Bright and Morning Star. Amen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Sign in Heaven, A Shirt Down Here

I don't know if there are any signs in heaven, like, "one way," "do not enter," "Ped X-Ing." But today I was thinking about that briefly, and I thought that there might be one sign, "No Perfect People Allowed." And then I thought, "It's quite ironic, that when we think we are perfect that's when we mess a lot of stuff up." It's usually when we are broken and humble and sense the depth of our God-need that we usually do okay.

Sadly, I think some churches have the wrong signs up, or that some Christians have the wrong t-shirts on (I'm speaking figuratively here and not in cotton-polyester terms). I've gone into my legalistic closet before and put on the nicest, "No Imperfect People Allowed" shirt that legalistic currency could buy. I've actually taught similar material before, I ashamedly say. I've even known some churches who have as their mantra, "No Perfect People Allowed," or at least that is what it seemed like to me, where they/we put burdens on people's shoulders that not even our forefathers could have carried. And those churhces wonder why no one comes. Nobody wants to be around a grump and a pessimissic person. Even in break rooms the teachers (I worked at an elementary school a few years back) could be having a great time, but one person could pull out their, "No Imperfect People Allowed" ruler and the place would get quiet and get empty thereafter.

I'm not saying that churches shouldn't teach the Law or hold to standards or anything like that. I'd be a fool and heretic if I did. However, I am saying that there should probably be, speaking in Betty Crocker terms, 2 parts grace for 1 part Law. Grace without law leads to license. Law without grace leads to legalism. Both are equally dangerous.

In Luke 7 Jesus didn't have the same t-shirt on as the other religious leaders. He forgave a woman with a questionable reputation and a dude named Simon (not his disciple, but the host) said, "If Jesus was a Prophet (prophets can be known for their judgment side) then he'd know who she was and he'd judge her a good one." But Jesus said, "Simon, you guys think you have it all together and you have your nice t-shirts on and appear to have it all together. But the Messiah didn't come for people like you. You don't serve; you didn't wash my feet with water. She washed my feet with her tears. You didn't even greet me, but she hasn't stopped kissing my feet. The person who is forgiven a lot experiences and expresses boundless love. The reason you aren't loving, serving or kind is that you think you don't have any problems." In a way, finishing up, saying, "So, Simon, if you don't mind me saying so, you need a change of heart and a change of clothing. I've got a satchel full of No Perfect People Allowed t-shirts outside, I could get you one if you wanted."

OUCH!!!!! Jesus said it in his own words else where (Matthew 9:9-13), "It is not the healthy who need to go to Kaiser, but its the sick. For I, the Messiah, didn't come for the righteous, but sinners." To have no problems is a problem. So, if you don't mind me showing my skin for a moment, I'm going to just take off this raggedy and tired perfection only and go with a more mild and appealing t-shirt.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Steve and Jessica are Married!!!!

This past week Barb and I were able to celebrate with Steve and Jessica and scores of others up in Tahoe. Steve and Jessica were married at Edgewood Resort and said their vows in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It was impressive--the scenery, ceremony and friends. Quite the memory maker.
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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Crazy Making Formulas

So, anyway, what I was saying is this, what I've been learning, with divine intervention, is that formulas are not the best way of approaching God. Henry Cloud and John Townsend have this book, 12 Christian Beliefs that can Drive You Crazy. What I realized when I was reading bits and pieces of it is that we all have assumptions that are really formulas. Here are a few: If I have God then I really don't need people to help me or to encourage me; If I make right choices I will grow spiritually; doing the right thing is more important than why I do it; If I'm spiritual enough I will not have pain, sinfulness and most crap that people send my way will not bother me. That's a few that they tackle.

I have a few assumptions and formulas of my own: if I read my Bible everyday I will get smarter and understand God more; If I pray, God will be more happy with me; If I do the right thing then I will be blessed, which means that "God's people" won't get mad; it's better to live in peace than to help resolve conflict; if I don't "hear from God" then I must be doing something wrong or there is "some sin in my life." My other assumption is long gone, "If I blog then I will only get positive and affirming comments." The pen is mightier than the sword, and I have fallen on both!

So really 2005 and 2006 are really tied together for me (check previous 2-3 posts). This jive about formulas puts be further along the road I walked last year when God was teaching me about "being."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I guess January is a time to reflect and a time to look forward. The past 12 months or so have been about God teaching me how to be myself. Seems simple. Last January I was steeping in the truth that God created me with certain strengths and weaknesses and I should live within those. I spent most of last year asking this question, "Who is God calling me to be? Why has he created me? What work am I here to do and what am I to be?" It was a time of seeking out the depths of being and doing, one being inextricably linked with the other.

The prompting I've been getting lately is that, for the mean time, I should simply seek God in relationship and not in religion, in friendship and not in formula. Religion has killed many a man and many a faith. It's quite a thought: God being emotionally interested in me, of having that feeling in the pit of his stomach because of his concern for me. I hope to sail further into that bright horizon.

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