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Church Blog

Easter Morning

Easter morning.  Our usual warm and welcoming mix of new friends and old gathered over coffee and bagels, though a few more than usual were new and a few more than usual had chosen to dress up in honor of the occasion.  We were called to begin worship by the music of bagpipes – definitely an innovation, and a very cool one, here at City Church.  A simple wooden cross was draped with fresh flowers, and Bill preached from a simple and strong passage – turn around and look, in Jesus the kingdom of heaven has come close enough to touch, near enough to enter.

Then the neighborhood egg hunt began, and the fancy Easter gloves came off!  It was laughter-filled chaos.  In the video our friend Jordan shot, you can see my daughter body-check a boy, just knock him right off his feet, in hot pursuit of yet another candy-filled egg, and she wasn’t the only one with her eyes on the prize.  Then it was over, and everyone was gloating over their booty, except for just one child, in tears – my little boy.  I didn’t see what happened; I was still busy pretending I knew how to face paint.  But he showed me his nearly empty bag as he collapsed in my lap, wailing.

And the kingdom of God came near.  All of his little buddies and several of the older kids gathered around to see what was wrong, and then without any prompting they began reaching into their own brim-full bags and baskets, dropping one egg after another into his until it was overflowing, too.  The kingdom of God belongs to such as these, Jesus told us.  We receive it with the simple, empty-handed faith of a little child, or not all, he told us.

The party was dwindling, all the eggs gone.  And one more neighborhood family arrived, another hopeful young boy with an empty basket.  The kingdom that remained gathered once more, this time with my boy sharing, too, from what he’d been so generously given.  It was a sermon without words, and it just wrote itself.

Share the Love: at Home, Beach, or Coffee Shop.

The journey to starting a Learning Community is easy, and the rewards are enormous. I first joined the Learning Community team when I participated in the first Financial Peace University (FPU) back in Fall 2015. I remember one Sunday, as I was minding my own business, the infamous Diana saw me and wanted to hear my story. She listened to all the things I wanted to do, places I wanted to go, and things I had planned for my future. But didn't know where to start with my finances. She excitedly said, “Why not join FPU?!” I was thinking to myself, “I don't have time to join a club. I have a full time job and a full time load in school!” But something told me to say yes.

As Diana started to explain what FPU was, I became more and more interested. I joined the group, and little by little I started to get more and more involved. I craved more, and Diana saw my desire to help, so she asked if I wanted to join the planning team. I thought, “I'm not good enough. What do I have to offer?” But little did I know, God uses all talents if you are willing and able. I began to go to the FPU planning meetings once a week, and you know what? I loved it! I loved being a part of a team that cared for others, and I saw people's hearts grow and their hopes soar with the idea of being financially free. As we wrapped up our series in the new year of January 2016, I had the new hope of being financially free and the sense of being part of a team. I started to crave more of this community.

Then City Church had this great idea to spread the awesomeness gained from FPU to other parts of our community. What if we could use groups like this to be more involved with each other? And that is how Learning Communities were born - with the idea of sharing what you love the most with others. Just pick one thing you love to do, whether it be surfing, gardening, or playing in the dog park, and share that thing with others! I believe Learning Communities help us to form small connections with others that weren't there before. In creating a community, it turns into a safe place. It's a chance to be close with each other and to build new friendships without building up a wall when you first meet. Learning Communities offer something fun and exciting to do and a way to connect that wasn’t there before. The benefits of learning new things and meeting new people are worth so worthwhile.

Learning Communities are not hard to start either - just pick what you like to do or something you like to teach and pick a time and a place to meet. You can host them at your house, the beach, or the coffee shop down the street. The great thing about creating Learning Communities is you can meet anywhere, as long as you have an open heart and a willingness to be loved. I think this is the greatest of all is loving on others and being loved in return. That's what true Learning Communities are all about.

The "Happy" Happy Hour Learning Community!

The "Happy" Happy Hour Learning Community!

Real People

When I got the text from Diana inviting me to the women’s retreat, instantly I was excited and replied that I wanted to go.  As the day grew closer, my anxiety went up.  Am I going to be ‘churchy’ enough for the rest of the ladies? What if I get tired? How will I stay awake?  I have fatigue issues, so I have a hard time committing to things because I worry about being seen as disengaged or cut off – truth is, I’m struggling to stay awake and don’t want others to know!

When we got to the house, I was excited to see where the weekend would take us (and to see who I’d be spending the next 2 days with).  Megan and Diana had a great weekend planned out for us – a lot of eating, talking and getting to know ourselves, each other, and Jesus.  The best part of the weekend, for me, was an activity we all did on Saturday night where we spent several hours sharing the “life boards” that we had made earlier in the day (second best part was the alcohol; don’t tell anyone I said that). 

I found myself sitting in a room full of women that I see at church, women that I’ve known but never really knew.  Behind all of our makeup, cute shoes, smiling faces, and stressful lives, we were all the same – broken humans that were all connected through our love of Christ and our desires to be whole.  To be with women that truly are remarkable, strong, genuine, resilient, and just like me was a reminder of why I love City Church. 

I often sit in the back of church and observe the individuals and families around me.  I make up stories in my mind of how great their lives must be in comparison to mine.  I heard once that perception is reality.  This retreat helped to reframe what I thought was real – perfection.  The retreat reminded me perfect people are not real, and real people are not perfect.

Port City Salsa

My husband and I were preparing to go on vacation in Pismo Beach.  We love the slower pace of the Central Coast.  And OMG! The cliffs of Montaña De Oro!  They just call to us.  For two weeks every year, we go to wind down from the hectic holidays and the insanity that goes on behind my hairstylist chair. Jason Brown, one of City Church’s founding pastors and my mentor at the time, said that he had a gift for us before we went.  A gift? We love gifts!  We went by his house, and he gave us a pound of coffee - Patria Coffee, a product that City Church Compton, a sister church, sells on their premises.  The three plus hours it took for us to get to Pismo smelled heavenly thanks to Patria.  Once unpacked and ready to settle down in Pismo, we decided to brew a batch of coffee.  I have never had such sweet smelling coffee as Patria. And while it was really really good, I had no idea what it was going to do for the future of City Church Long Beach. 

Inspired by Patria’s simple packaging and delicious flavor, I started thinking. “What a good idea… WE should sell something!”  That idea stirred within me the entire time we were in Pismo.  So much for vacation.  The wheels had already started to turn.  Rick, my husband, saw the gleam in my eye and knew we were in for a new adventure.  After our two weeks of rest were over, we came back to the hustle of work and the joy of doing ministry at City Church. Tuesday morning came and I had my regular meeting with Jason - time to connect with my mentor and see what was in store for the new year. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Jason! That coffee! So good! You know what? We should sell something!  Let’s make almond brittle and sell it!

Jason (in his typically calm voice): What? What about your delicious salsa? Why don’t we sell that?

Me: But the brittle is only three ingredients! I could totally master three ingredients! (Mind you…I have never made brittle in my life before, but three ingredients seemed doable.)

Jason (again, placid): But salsa is a staple in the kitchen.

Me (not so serene and certainly starting to feel a little stormy): I don’t want to make salsa!  I have been making it since I was a little girl!

Jason (whose repose is now actually starting to agitate me): Diana, it’s the best salsa I have ever had.

Me (totally annoyed): Well Jason, if you want me to sell salsa, it has got to have a purpose because I have no interest in making salsa.

Jason: Your salsa is really the best I have ever tasted.  Think about it.

Me (feeling slightly defeated): Grrrr….okay.

While Jason often raved about the salsa that I shared with him on countless occasions, I never really took his compliments seriously.  I thought that he was just being like pastors were supposed to be: kind.  But this time he added the words, “Think about it.”  So I did.

And that is how, in January of 2015, a salsa enterprise was born in my heart. Over the next few months, I started to see the purpose salsa making could have. Being raised in poverty without much support for personal growth, I knew what was lacking in the lives of kids like myself, and I saw that the salsa enterprise could be a vehicle to render some hope for our youth.  I knew how badly some of the younger folk could use the mentorship and the encouragement this venture would provide.  I saw the vision for a social enterprise that would be set up to invest in the next generation and help them be empowered to their full potential.  What if we developed a business and created jobs for the neighboring community while serving up the best salsa ever?  What if we helped young people learn how to succeed on an emotional, spiritual, financial, cultural, educational, and a physical level?  Could we actually accomplish that with the heat of our salsa?

I could feel the passion of this possibility surging up in me, and I began to pray, “Dear Lord, what the heck do you want me to do with this?” I was moved to speak about the venture with a couple of people.  For some the idea sounded too far-fetched. Others just flat out said they were not interested.  In the beginning, there were a lot of closed doors and dead ends, and after Jason and his family moved to Iowa, I almost put the entire thing behind me. Yet the idea would just not go away, though I often wished that it would.

Then during one of my regular Starbucks meetings with Bill (who has been mentoring me since Jason moved), I ran into Megan Grant and Chrissy McCauley.  I sat with them to chat for a bit, and in passing, for no particular reason, I spoke to them about the salsa.  I started to tell them about the indifference of some, and the downright defeats that I had encountered with the salsa idea.  And to my surprise, the women responded to my salsa idea with, “We could do this…We could look into… We totally could do that!”  I realized at that moment that I was hearing the word “we.”  Well, duh! Isn’t City Church all about team?  Isn’t Jesus all about community?  At that very moment I realized that this idea was not mine, it was His.  The salsa enterprise did not need a boss - it needed a TEAM! It seemed that the Holy Spirit had a plan that He had not clued me in on.  After that chance encounter with Megan and Chrissy, I called a few friends who called a few friends and had them over for pizza and beer and we began to talk.  Some of those who came over, quite honestly were purely invited for the pizza and beer because they are well liked and well, truth be told, they are just good people to have around.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that they would become part of this dream too.

I went into that very first meeting thinking that if the idea was received with a lukewarm response, I was going to put it to its final rest.  (Remember, I never intended to be a salsa maker.)  Enter this amazing team and almost immediately, it was christened with a name:  Port City Salsa.  We all agreed on its potential and have been diligently working on the project since that night.  We have regular meetings with set goals to accomplish.  Currently we are working on our mission statement and values.  This team is no joke people.  They actually call each other higher.  Team…it’s the only way to go.  We have people working on marketing; we have a legit grant writer; we have our first salsa apprentice; and that’s just a few of the people on this amazing team.  Our team is robust and full of life.  There is no doubt that Port City Salsa will launch this year.  We have business people strategizing for our best success.  I am proud of them and the future of Port City Salsa.  I am excited for the opportunity to transform lives together as a team of people who value people.  Our holistic approach to care for others is something that I think Jesus would be pleased with.  We will keep you updated on our progress, and you please keep us in your prayers.

Our team consists of Ellie Wilbur, James Gowin, Laurie Hambleton, Erin Arendse, Megan Grant, Rick Macias, Diana Macias, Selene Zazueta, Alisa Macias, and Chrissy McCauley.

Pale Blue Dot - Ash Wednesday

My friend Jordan Wanner sent me this picture a year ago. I found it a great way to meditate on Ash Wednesday... that day when we launch into Lent, a season of reorientation that helps us see ourselves in correct proportion to God. 

The picture that you see here is from the Voyager 1 Space Probe, taken as it was leaving our solar system in 1990. It was 3.7 billion miles away when it snapped this shot. In the brownish sunbeam to the right, about half way down, there's a tiny pale blue dot. That's us. That's our entire planet.

Astronomer Carl Sagan captured the humility that such a picture should inspire in us. 

We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The Christian author G.K. Chesterton said that pride is seeing oneself out of proportion to the universe. I think that pale blue dot is a helpful reminder. Stare at it for a while. Ponder just how small this entire planet is. In words that are spoken over the faithful each Ash Wednesday,

"For dust you are, and to dust you will return." 
     - God, spoken to Adam in Genesis 3:19

Ponder these things, and then ponder just how small you are. And how great our God is- to see us, to know us, to love us. 

 

It Doesn't Feel Like Church

I invited Javier up on stage to speak to the congregation about his experiences at City Church.  I’d given him no time to prepare – I ran into him before the service and asked if he’d be willing to share just briefly during the sermon, and he’d said yes.

Here’s my favorite part of that interview:

Me: Thanks for coming up here, Javier.  How long have you been coming to City Church

Javier: About three months.

Me: So were you a churchy person before you came?

Javier: (laughing) No!

Me: Well why in the world did you start coming?

Javier: I didn’t have anything else to do on Sunday mornings.

Me: You mean you were basically bored so you figured ‘why not?’?

Javier: (smiling) Uh-huh.

Me: So knowing that you’re not a very churchy guy, and now you’re coming every Sunday and even getting involved in groups – how does it feel to be into church now?

Javier: It doesn’t feel like church.

 

Maybe that shouldn’t be our goal – to ‘not feel like church’ – but I must admit I thought that was a remarkably generous compliment that Javier gave City Church. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis, wrote about a new kind of faith that he saw dawning in the West.  He called it “religionless Christianity” – a move away from church as an institution and away from God as a useful idea.  In a letter written from a Nazi prison on April 30, 1944, Bonhoeffer described his thoughts about the state of Christianity: "You would be surprised, and perhaps even worried, by my theological thoughts and the conclusions that they lead to... What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, for us today."  I feel a lot like that.  Others might be worried by my thoughts. I wonder what Christianity really is.  I don’t think it’s what I’ve thought it is.

Bonhoeffer, again writing from prison, says that “Man has learnt to deal with himself in all questions of importance without recourse to the ‘working hypothesis’ called ‘God,’” the result being that “‘God’ is being pushed more and more out of life, losing more and more ground.”   The ‘God’ he’s speaking of is the ‘God’ of religious Christianity—the God who makes great campaign slogans and coffee cup inscriptions, who demands flowery prayers and four-spiritual-law evangelism, and who can be found on Facebook posts and in the abstract systematic theologies of the modernists.  Bonhoeffer rejoiced to see that ‘God’ fade.  And he was hopeful for the rise of the religionless God, whom he saw in Jesus.                        

Give up your good Christian life and follow Jesus.
- Garrison Keillor

My spiritual director (basically, my mentor) was thinking this through with me and summarized it this way: “We’re so much safer when we’re disoriented.  We’re so dangerous when we have all the answers and have everything nailed down.”  I’ve been on a journey of letting go of so many of the answers I’ve had, seeking instead to find Jesus.  As I’ve been de-religion-ifying my life I’ve found so much more freedom. And yet it’s also a real loss to not have those closed systems and neat answers to rely on and to give structure to life.  Religious Christianity provided me so much security and predictability that it’s been hard to let go.  But I’m trying to respond to the prophet, Garrison Keillor, who said, “Give up your good Christian life and follow Jesus.”

The end result, I hope, is what people like Javier are experiencing.  It may not feel like church, but we’re getting Jesus.

Reflections on the Election

Dear City Church of Long Beach,

       My son Timothy’s candidate did not win yesterday’s election.  Here’s the text I got from him early today:

Psalm 46 was especially poignant this morning:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall… Be still and know that I am God.

       Pretty thoughtful for a 17-year-old kid.  It was helpful for me to be reminded that God is God, and that I am not.  And that God has a lot of experience dealing with nations that are in uproar.  I want to accept His invitation to be still and trust Him to be God.   Perhaps that will help me sleep better tonight.

       I have friends who voted Republican, friends who voted Democrat, friends who voted Independent, and friends who chose not to vote.  Some are celebrating.  Many are grieving.  All are my friends.  I wonder, what does it look like for me to be their friend (and possibly pastor) today?

       As I was praying about that question, I stumbled onto the Apostle Paul’s engagement with these issues.  Immediately before Paul starts in on politics (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities…” Romans 13:1), he lays the foundation for how to go about being political creatures.  He writes,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.  Romans 12:14-16 

       I wonder what it would look like if those of us who followed Jesus took these words to heart.  Paul assumes that it’s not always going to go well for us – that we are going to experience persecution.  That means our enemies are going to exercise power over us for our harm.  Can you imagine if, as a community, we responded to that harm with blessing instead of cursing?  The watching world wouldn’t know what to do with us. I suspect that’s exactly what God would be saying to us as a church right now – what if we committed to blessing people today instead of cursing them?  Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t protest or work for change.  But how radically different would we look if we went about those activities with the attitude of Jesus?

       I think Paul’s next words speak to those of us who did not vote for Mr. Trump.  We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice.  That may seem impossible to you.  I suppose that’s fitting since the One we follow loves the impossible. His call is to recognize not only the positive aspects of the people who voted for Mr. Trump, but also the positive aspects of what they voted for.  Can you do that?  Can you seek to understand them and value them and honor them?

        Then I think Paul speaks to those of us who did vote for Mr. Trump: mourn with those who mourn.  I’ve been in touch today with a number of friends who are hurt and fearful because as a woman, a queer person, or a person of color they experienced the election as a rejection of their worth as people.  Many others feel a real sense of loss and anxiety because their values have not been validated.  Jesus calls us to understand their pain and to actually enter into it.  Can you do that?  Can you see why this election result would be so painful for them, and can you grieve deeply with them?   

       Finally, Paul invites us all to live in harmony with one another.  That’s just downright crazy.  All of us, in harmony?  Our nation is so divided, so full of anger and hatred and cursing and name calling – how in the world could we be united? 

       I’d like to suggest a very simple starting point.  Would you come to the communion table on Sunday and participate by taking the bread, dipping it in the cup, and eating together with your church family?  I would like to suggest that our deepest unity doesn’t rest in what we agree on, but in what has been done for us.  Our unity is not ideological - it is sacramental.  So come to the table of grace with the rest of us.  That table is set for all of us who don’t have it together, for all of us who look to the One who gave himself freely so that we could experience grace.  And I suspect we’ll find that we step towards each other by the simple fact that together we’re stepping towards Christ.

In him alone, 

Bill

Top 10 Things I've Loved about Planting City Church Long Beach
Here’s the City Church Crew on our 2015 All-Church Retreat

Here’s the City Church Crew on our 2015 All-Church Retreat

OK, before I reveal the Top 10 list, a bit of honesty.

The journey of being a pastor has been a pretty good gig for me. There are moments, though, where I have wondered if I should be doing this job.  As you can imagine, those moments coincide with difficult season of ministry and/or life – either feeling overwhelmed by the decisions that have to be made and the thought that I could make a bad choice which would negatively affect lots of people or relationships that just don’t seem to be working.

I don’t think that this is unique to being a pastor. My guess is that most of you can relate and that most of you who have been working awhile – even at jobs you really like – have considered leaving to do something else. So, just know that there have been a few of these moments over the three and half years of pastoring City Church.

With that being said, this is a blog about what I’ve loved!

The top 10 list:

  1. Planting a church with one of my best friends. Those of you who know Bill know that awkward is his middle name. But, he loves Jesus and is content to pastor with me. I know it’s cliché to say, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” But, it’s absolutely true. I never would have done it without this particular co-pastor. And, I think who Bill is has been a great complement to who I am. I hope most of the folks at City Church (and around Long Beach we’ve met) feel the same way. One of the things that has made this so great is that I’ve gotten to do it with Bill.
  2. The chance to shape a congregation around the person of Jesus. It’s strange. We didn’t set out to plant a church, so much as we set out to help people get connected to and grow with Jesus. That has made me happy.
  3. The unexpected gifts of people along the way. I didn’t know so many of the people I spend time with on a daily basis when we started City Church. It’s kind of that field-of-dreams reality of, “If you build it, they will come.” Folks just showed up at worship or at Open Houses or in coffee shops or baseball fields – and suddenly they get involved. And then a month later they’re leading something and we’re hanging out and we’re being the church together and I’m even getting my hair cut by one of them. And I think, “How did this happen?!” It’s incredible.
  4. Creating a community I was glad to invite all my non-churchy friends to be part of.
  5. I have loved the focus on baptism and communion at City Church. This has changed the way I think about what it means to be Christian. More and more, I think our unity is sacramental. By this, I mean that I view anyone who is baptized and takes communion as a brother or sister in Christ. We might see a ton of things differently, but neither one of us gets to play the bouncer in of the community. Also, I just find myself looking forward to communion every week and the concreteness of experiencing the love and grace of Jesus in the bread and the juice.
  6. The community of pastors and church-planters in Long Beach.  We are for each other.  Obviously, this is the way it should be with Christians and churches – but, sadly, it’s so often NOT the case. More often than not, churches and pastors are competing with each other. My experience in Long Beach has been so different. Bill and I have suggested to new people showing up that they check out other churches who might be closer to where they live. So many of the other pastors have done the same with City Church.  I know I’m gonna sound uber-cheesy, but there’s a lot of love between the pastors and leaders I’ve met in Long Beach. I think a ton of this is do to the work of PlantLB who brings us together every month to share a meal, listen to people who have interesting things to say and pray for each other.
  7. Beyond the community of churches are all the non-profits and community-minded folks and organizations in Long Beach. Wow. There is so much good stuff going on in Long Beach. I’ve had the privilege of getting connected to organizations like Precious Lamb and the Long Beach Rescue Mission and Northeast of the Well and We Love LB and New Hope Grief Support and His Little Feet and Beacon for Him and the amazing faculty and Principal at Lafayette Elementary. It has been my honor to get connected to these people and groups (and I apologize to those of you I’ve spent time with who I’ve failed to mention!) who are doing such a good job of loving the people in this city.
  8. The chance to try and fail. We’ve tried lots of things at City Church – some of them have worked and some of them haven’t.  So, we’ve just kept doing our best to pay attention to what the Spirit is saying and respond with courage and hope.
  9. The chance to lead a church in a way that honors my stage of life with my family. So many of our nights have been busy getting kids to and from stuff at school and sports. I’ve been able to coach baseball and soccer. And the lay leadership at City Church has not only been respectful of this but encouraging. Frankly, the baseball field and soccer pitch are pretty good spots for me to meet new friends and, just in being myself, help them take a step or two in getting connected to Jesus.
  10. The width and breadth of the people at City Church and in Long Beach. I suppose the traditional word for this is diversity. I have loved going to my “office” at Fox Coffee House and Starbucks on Willow and meeting people whose stories are so different from my own. I’ve loved watching the community at City Church grow and become a home for people of all colors and spiritual backgrounds. I can’t pinpoint all the reasons why the diversity of City Church and Long Beach is so meaningful. It just is. There’s something about it that feels right in the economy of the Kingdom of God. And, it’s something I will really miss.
Goodbye
 
brownfamily
 

I’m headed to Iowa.

Not for vacation (Secretly, very secretly, all of you have dreamed about vacationing in Iowa), but for a new job. And, it’s really not an “I” thing. Emilie, Joe, Jack and Pearl will be going. So, we’re headed to Iowa.

The biggest reason for the move is that Em and I wanted to be a bit closer to our family. I suppose it has to do with the stage of life we’re in – wanting the kind of support/camaraderie that comes from a relatively healthy family as your kids are making their way through school.  That sounds like a nice thing to us right now. And, fortunately, we have a family that’s not only willing, but glad to be part of our lives. They’ve missed us the last 10 years.

For me, too, there’s always been this interest in business. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I grew up wrapping coins in my grandpa’s bank on Saturday mornings. Since college, I’ve been curious about the intersection between faith and business. And, having mostly pastored people who have a “normal” job, there’s this lingering question, “What’s it like to follow Jesus in their world every day?” Well, now I get the chance to explore that question.  And now I get the chance to find out who I am when I don’t wear the title, “Pastor.”

Oh, I forgot to mention I’ll be working at a wealth management firm. Believe me, you don’t want me managing any of your wealth right now! I might be kind and honest, but it’s gonna take a few years for me to learn the ins and outs of the business – and fortunately the place I’m going is A)really glad I’ve been a pastor and B)committed to developing me so that I know what the heck I’m doing.  It’s a firm that stresses generosity and that wealth is a tool, not the goal.

While there’s some hope and excitement related to the move, there’s also plenty of sadness. One way to describe what you’re doing when you plant a church is this: you create the type of church you’d like to be part of – and hope lots of other people find a home there as well. I think that’s been the case at City Church. We are leaving a place that is home . . . where we’ve been loved, where we’ve dreamed and prayed with others and where we’ve learned to follow Jesus a bit better (hopefully!).

I suppose the thing I grieve most is the loss of relationships – the sense of knowing and being known. I think most of you “know” me – at least I feel that way. I think I know many of you. And, its just so good to have that deep sense of being known.  It comes with time: meals, laughter, tears, conversations, baseball, praying, texts, coffee, singing. And in the doing of these things you create a future. You don’t know you’re creating it, you just are. And, then that future is . . . well, different. And, that’s sad.

I’m going to write another blog about the things I’ve loved about City Church and being a pastor in Long Beach. But, this one’s already getting long.

By Jason Brown

A Personal Conversation About the Supreme Court Decision

My friend Barbara and I disagree on a number of things. We see religion very differently, for example. And I suspect we’ve got a some differences about economics and politics as well. But we’re neighbors, and she matters to me. And I think I matter to her.

Barbara has been very grateful for the recent Supreme Court decision about gay marriage, in part because she’s been with her partner Maureen for 18 years. She has posted about her support of the Supreme Court decision on Facebook and has been dismayed by some of the hateful rhetoric she’s received.

Recently she mades some posts on Facebook in light of the pain she’s experienced. After reading her post below I decided to respond.   With Barbara’s permission (and Mary’s), I’d like to share the conversation.  I’m grateful for these neighbors and these conversations.

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By Bill White

I'm Going to Get in Trouble for Saying This

I met my neighbor, David, out walking one day and he and I and a few other neighbors got together recently to play A Game of Thrones board game. For Memorial Day, they brought their families over to my house for a barbeque, and then we played games afterwards.

 

As we were swapping stories over burgers, someone asked how we met, and Katy shared how I invited her to a bible study back in the day when she was a beer-drinking rugby player. After some laughter, one woman (whom I’d never met before this night) looks at me and timidly asks, “Are you a pastor or something?” Oh boy, now it’s on. “Yes, I am,” I said, and I asked if she’d had any experience with religion.

She talked some about growing up in Southeast Asia and then mentioned that she knew some Christians.

“Oh,” I said, “Is that good or bad?”

She asked what I meant, and here’s my honest reply: “Well, it seems like a lot of Christians are assholes.”

A couple of the guys set down their beers to laugh out loud and comment, and one of the wives gave a mischievous look at her husband, who threw up his hands saying, “I didn’t say ‘asshole’ – he did!” His look at me suggested he was quite glad I had.

“Yeah but you were thinking it!” his wife said. “I know you’re thinking of my mother!” At which point he freely confessed that yes, her mother came to mind.

“Well,” she paused, “she IS an asshole. And the biggest hypocrite I know. I can’t believe she says she follows God but has so much hate in her. She’s told me three times I’m going to hell.”

Thus began a fabulous conversation with lots of honest sharing about people’s experiences with religion and about how radically different Jesus is.

I suppose I shouldn’t have said the “a——” word (especially since my mother reads these blogs), but it’s the honest truth. The more we admit that Christians are messed up, too, the more real our conversations will be about the spiritual journey.

By Bill White

Would Jesus Play Beer Pong?
beerpong

Take a close look at the picture. I thought of posting it on my FaceBook page and asking for captions, but then thought better of it.

Maria is a fun-loving, big-personality gal who lives next door to a family from City Church, just a few blocks from me. I had met her once before she texted me last week, saying that her neighbor thought I might have an extra table and some chairs she could use for her birthday party. It was an easy swap to make – church tables for an invite to dinner.

So Sunday night I show up at her house looking forward to the Taco Man, meeting a bunch of strangers, and a quick return home for the evening. So the birthday girl meets me at the side gate and just about falls over herself apologizing.

“O my God, O my God, the pastor is here!” is her opening line, her face a mixture of laughter and horror. “I’m so sorry – we’re using your table for Beer Pong!”

I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I heard the term “Beer Pong.” My seminary education didn’t help me at that moment. Fortunately, my college education did.

I immediately assessed the situation, gazing across the backyard to where the City Church table was in full use, and I told Maria that our table and chairs are meant to be used by our neighbors and I was thrilled she had them.

As relief washed over her face, she introduced me to a bunch of folks and I was off towards the Taco Man and to eat with Nadia, Lenny, Minerva, Brian, and Astin. I had really interesting conversations, ranging from welding to real estate, from parenting to premarital counseling, from how Buddhist monk’s levitate to why Catholics feel guilty, from the meaning of baptism to whether Jesus would play Beer Pong.

Two hours later I’m headed home, stuffed with tacos and with gratitude for the great people I’ve just met and for a savior who loves parties and is not afraid to turn water into wine.

By Bill White

Why God Gave Me Teenagers
My son's first driving lesson. He's loving it.

My son's first driving lesson. He's loving it.

Right now my wife and I have the, um, privilege, of parenting a 14 year old girl and a 15 year-old boy. It’s been quite the journey (and really a ton of fun). Recently I’ve suspected God did this to us because he wanted to teach me how to pastor. Sure, there may be more reasons than that why God gave me teenagers, but I think learning how to pastor is a big one.

A few years ago, knowing we were on the cusp of having a teenager, our wise friend Audra, who is a physician, sent us along some parenting advice. I’ve reread it any number of times. I just want to highlight two of the lines in it.

Key advice #1:“The ultimate goal of parenting the adolescent is to work yourself out of a job.”

There are a lot of other things I tend to think are my ultimate goal when it comes to raising teenagers. They mostly center around my kids agreeing with everything I say and doing everything I say. (Can I get an “Amen!” somebody?)

But as my friend’s advice went on to say next, “When parenting young children, the parent is in control.” And you can do the math on what’s next. I’m not solely in control anymore. And that’s actually a good thing, because how can my kids ten years from now know how to handle money responsibly and make good moral decisions if I never give them any space to do so now? I won’t be hovering over them then – so I’ve got to start figuring out how to stop hovering so much now and instead to train them to do things themselves. As the parenting advice said, I need to work myself out of a job, which is really hard.

As a pastor, that’s the story of my life. A part of me just wants to go around playing God and telling people what to do all the time, with my ultimate goal being to have my congregation agree with everything I say and do everything I say.  Fortunately most of the time I suppress this side of me (I worry sometimes about how it seems like this really is the goal of some pastors). But my real goal is actually to work myself out of a job. My goal is to see people at City Church learn how to feed themselves spiritually, how to lead others, and how to engage the world without me holding their hand. The first century Christian, Paul, puts it this way: to present everyone mature in Christ.

Teaching my son to drive is a living hell parable for me these days. I could only tell him so much before I actually had to surrender the driver’s seat to him. One of the things we’ve discovered is that screaming at him from the passenger’s seat is ineffective both at insuring safety as well as at building closeness. Talking with him from the seat next to his seems far more helpful, with perhaps the occasional shriek allowed for emergencies. And that’s about the same balance in pastoring – mostly talking, with the occasional, more directive and strongly worded challenge. Because ultimately, I’m not trying to make ‘little Bills’ but instead ‘little Christs’, which is whatChristian originally meant in the first century. And that’s just not possible if I always occupy the driver’s seat.

Key advice #2: “Time Out is now for the parent – practice walking away.”

It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit how badly I need this advice as a parent, but it’s so true. How many times have I had to excuse myself from the table or the room and walk away in order to control my anger? Sure, my 15 year-old may have rolled his eyes one too many times or my 14 year-old may have complained about my dinner selection yet again, but the key is watching what goes on inside of me in those moments. The biggest clue is when I want to kill them. That usually means that I’m due for a time out. Sure, they may push me, but ultimately my response is my responsibility and no one else ‘makes’ me do certain things (like screaming at breakfast or slamming on the brakes on the way to school drop off, for example). I actually need some space to see the anger, insecurity, fear, and anxiety in my heart and deal with those, instead of just dumping all of them on my kids.

Fortunately, God gave me a teenager just before I started planting a church. The timing couldn’t have been any better.

Virtually every day I find myself needing to take a time out because of some situation at church that frustrates me, stresses me out, or angers me. Actually, it’s more like three times every day.   The reason that I need so many time outs is two-fold: firstly, I work with sinners and secondly, I’m one too. As a marriage starts to blow up or someone criticizes my preaching or an adolescent gets pregnant – all of the sudden there’s all of this goo in my heart that churns like quicksand sucking down a wildebeest. And if I don’t walk away for a bit and take some deep breaths and talk to Jesus, all my struggling just accelerates my demise. Trust me, I know this from experience.

That’s why God gave me teenagers – to train me to become a pastor. Obviously, the mere fact that I have 5 more years of teenagers left, God’s not done training me yet.

By Bill White

What Kind of People are Welcome Here?

At 7:04 am this morning a text message showed up from Maria. Maria is one of the new leaders at City Church, and she’s coming from a world where a lot of her  friends have suffered at the hands of Christians. Maria sent along the end of the conversation she’d just had with a friend after inviting her to church and to meet me and Jason:

Friend: what if I meet your pastor and I like him but I don’t trust him?

Maria: Well that’s probably gonna happen. How can you expect to trust anybody especially a pastor after what you have been through?

Friend: Hmmm… I guess you are right.

Maria: you absolutely have every right to be unsure. But I am glad you are thinking about it. That’s extremely courageous. My pastors are not assholes.

There are a few things that made me glad when I read this text:

  1. That God is still at work in this woman whose been hurt by the church, that she’s still asking spiritual questions and is still seeking something more.
  2. That there’s a Christian out there who is sensitive to the pain of others, who can affirm that they aren’t crazy for distrusting the church, and who sees the courage it takes to step into a spiritual community.
  3. That at least one person doesn’t think I’m an asshole

I’m reminded of how gentle Jesus was with those like this woman.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Jesus, from Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message

By Bill White

Unity versus Holiness

I was listening to a podcast of N.T. Wright this past year. He said something along these lines, “It’s very difficult for a community to be holy and unified at the same time.” At least that’s the way I heard it.

Regardless of precisely what he said, this is the thing I continued to think about. Yep. It’s hard to have holiness and unity at the same time. I’m sure the force of the quote could be diminished by deconstructing the words or playing with their definition – figuring out a way to make them work together seamlessly.

When I talk with younger folks in the church (I’m 43), I get the feeling their primary value is unity. It makes sense to me. You can make a reasonably strong Biblical case for the primacy of unity (Jesus’s prayer at the end that we would be one, and the Hebrew vision of Shalom, for example). But, I think it’s also a response to something they feel: everyone is always fighting, everyone is just so angry with each other.

Perhaps you could call it a hunger. Their experience of so many loud voices, with so many resources to do their campaigning, so angry with everyone else, always dramatically slamming their fist on the table moments before leaving it – well, it leaves one hungry for something different.

I think this hunger for something different is a hunger for unity. If they were forced to choose between unity and holiness, they’d pick unity. Immediately. Why? To my younger friends, all these competing views of holiness – both secular and sacred – just create anger, hatred, tribalism, judgment, and ultimately, separation.

And, right or wrong, their understanding of Jesus is that if he were forced to choose, he’d pick unity over holiness as well.

The more thoughtful ones admit the need for holiness, which might be defined as a commitment to a set of values. But, the only models they have for working out a commitment to holiness lead to division. The sense I get is that they want to call a timeout – could we all just agree to hold our definition of holiness loosely for a day, a week, heck maybe even a year. Long enough to catch our breath, pray, talk when the stakes aren’t so high.

Perhaps spend some time at the table together, eating bread and drinking wine alongside the guy who, as unfathomable as it is, invited all of us there.

By Jason Brown

Thinking About Sex

It’s been one of those weeks.  I’ve been talking to couples.  I’ve been talking to singles.  And it’s on everyone’s mind.

There are the couples who aren’t married who can’t figure out how to stop having sex.  There are the couples who are married who can’t figure out how to actually have sex.  And then there are the zillion of folks who get by with that cheap, plastic imitation of sex called pornography.

Finally, one more “I-can’t-believe-my-boyfriend-fiance-husband-does-porn” conversation broke the camel’s back.  I got mad and decided not to take it any more.

So I assigned my discipleship group to watch a TED talk on sustaining desire in long term relationships and then gave them a few key passages to study (1 Cor 7:1-7Prov 5:15-23Song of Solomon 7:1-14)… and we had some great conversations. 

Eliseo suggested that we rename our group “The Sexual Disciples.”  Paul suggested we make t-shirts.  I suppose that would make for an interesting conversation starter.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve talked a lot about what it means to follow Jesus in the bedroom – and about how that’s usually a microcosm of how we follow Jesus in the rest of our lives.  As we processed our key learnings, in particular we asked what the next steps are for each of us to grow in our intimate life with our spouse and what it would look like for us to grow in our openness to walking with others towards a healthier and holier sexuality.

So would you like one of the t-shirts?

By Bill White

George, Frank, and a Computer

So, I was at the office (Starbucks on Willow and Long Beach Blvd.) yesterday.

Next to me was George. He was having trouble with his computer. I’m no computer expert, but maybe I give the vibe I am. Sidebar: To all my friends, if I have given any of you the sense at any point – perhaps by my dress or behavior – that I actually am a computer expert, please, PLEASE let me know so I can have more honest conversations with my therapist.

Anyway, George asked if I could help get all the “cookies” off his computer. If you don’t know what “cookies” are, well, I’m not the guy to tell you, but I know it has something to do with visiting websites and accumulating residue on your computer as a result. So, I was spending time doing the little I knew in order to help George. I asked him where he was from and what he was up to. He returned the favor, “So, what do you do?” I answered, “I’m a pastor.”

This caught the attention of the couple on the other side of George. I glanced over and saw a Bible open on their table. Sadly, I wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad thing. I wish I could say I was immediately encouraged, but the truth is that my first thought was, “Uh oh.”

The man at the table, Frank, asked suspiciously, “What do you think it means to be a Christian?” Here we go...

“Well, right now, I think part of it has to do with me helping George with his computer.”

Frank pounced, “That’s what anyone would say. They could be a Muslim or a Buddhist and they’d say that. Helping George with his computer is just about being a good neighbor. That’s not what it means to be a Christian.”

I timidly offered, “Didn’t Jesus talk about loving your neighbors?” Frank lectured me for the next five minutes, pausing twice to ask questions I answered incorrectly. Just then, I wanted to do some un-pastorly things.

For all I know, Frank could be a decent human being, but that experience was terrible. So, why am I blogging about it?

Part of it is to process my anger at the fact that Frank is my brother in Christ. I want to distance myself from him – write him off – but somehow we’re on the same team. This is just confusing to me. I also know that I need as much mercy and grace as Frank does.

I suppose the other thing is that I want to say, “I’m sorry,” to anyone who has felt what I felt yesterday. I’m sorry that we Christians have done stuff like this to you. I’m sorry we haven’t bothered to get to know you, we’ve utterly failed at loving you and we’ve told you how wrong you are. I’m so sorry.

By Jason Brown