(This is a repost from a previous year; I’m sharing it tonight at the Ash Wednesday service for San Francisco New Start Ministries, but I thought it would be a good way to kick off our Lent observances.  I’m planning to post several briefer thoughts during Lent.  As Rachel Maddow likes to say, “Watch this space.”)

The Lent season is less than a day old, and I already feel like I’m starting to learn things from God.

It reminds me of an episode from Taxi, an old TV show that I’m sure was gone by the time many of you were born.  One of the characters meets a woman in the waiting room of a psychiatrist’s office.  The woman is smoking a cigarette (yeah, in the waiting room; the show is THAT old), but she looks very happy.  He asks her why she’s so happy and she says, “Oh, I just quit smoking.”

He looks at her in astonishment because, obviously, she is STILL smoking.  She realizes that he’s looking at the cigarette in her fingers and she says, “Oh, this is my last one.  After this, I’m through.”

She then gets a pensive look on her face and says, “And, I feel so much better.  In fact, I think my taste buds are already starting to return.”  All this while she continues to smoke.

I guess I’m feeling kind of the same way.  I really haven’t done anything different yet.  I finished my last game of Scrabble yesterday.  (If that requires explanation, you need to read the previous blog.)  I just removed all the bookmarks from my computer and the icons from my iPhone for the sports web sites I’m not going to read.  The truth is that I haven’t actually started to change anything, yet.

But, even this morning as I woke up about 4 AM, the usual thinking patterns about my day began and, when thoughts about some of my “small amusements” (that’s how I refer to the list of things I’ve set aside for Lent) came up, I stopped and began to pray, instead.

And, I think I began to feel the return of some of my spiritual “taste buds,” if you know what I mean.

In my experience, that’s how spiritual change begins.  It starts with our basic impulses.  Instead of moving down one thinking path, we intentionally choose another, one that may seem less natural, at first.  We kind of have to force ourselves to go that direction in our minds.

But, once we make that small directional shift, things begin to fall into place.

For our Ash Wednesday service yesterday at Journey of Faith, I was looking for a Scripture reading to share with those who came to make their Lent commitments.  I wanted to share something on the subject of fasting, because our Lent commitments are actually a form of fasting.  God directed me to a passage in Joel 2, verses 12-17.  I read it from The Message.  It’s a good Scripture on the subject of fasting, but one brief phrase really caught my eye.  Verse 13 says this:

Change your life, not just your clothes.
Come back to God, your God.

The reference here is to the ancient Jewish practice of tearing the clothes during times of mourning.  It was traditional to indicate that a person was in mourning, as after the death of a loved one, by making tears in their clothing, literally rending their garment.  The oldest version of this is what we refer to as “sackcloth and ashes.”  The modern version of it is, typically, to tear the breast pocket of a shirt or jacket.

When fasting, a devout Jew would also follow this mourning tradition, indicating that the sacrifice of their fast was akin to the feeling of the loss of someone important.  It was an outward sign that fasting was underway.

But, most of the prophetic writers who speak about fasting rail against this outward show.  Clearly, it had become fashionable to demonstrate the devoutness of fasting rather than to actually feel the process in an intimate way.  Jesus, Himself, speaks out against putting on a show of fasting in the Sermon on the Mount.

In this Joel passage, the prophet refers to this as merely changing your clothes, and offers as the better path an actual change of life.

Right now, I’m feeling the mere flutter of the possibility of change.  I can choose to look like I’m changing, a mere wardrobe shift, or I can choose to actually let God change me from the inside out.

I believe that I really am longing to “come back to God, my God,” just like the prophet said.  I don’t mean to indicate that I had ever left Him, but like all of us, the lack of intentionality of my life has allowed me to stray from best that God has for me.  And, I long to get back in balance.

That’s what Lent is all about, getting your spiritual life back in the balance God intends for you.

Where are you in all this?  Did you make a Lent commitment?  Was it really about a change of life, or was it just a change of clothes.

My prayer for you is that you will allow God to get a brand new grip on your life.  It’s what He wants to do, and not just during Lent.  He longs for you to re-center your life on Him.

Change your life, not just your clothes.
Come back to God, your God.

Always praying for you,

Your older brother,

Pastor Joe

God and Creation


OK, let’s start here by getting something out of the way.  I believe in Theistic Evolution, sometimes called Evolutionary Creationism.  Without going into a lot of detailed explanation, this just means that I accept the scientific evidence that the earth was created via an evolutionary process that continues to occur today, AND I believe that God was the author of creation, so that whatever is observed in science, He is at the beginning of it.

I understand that not everyone reading this agrees with that position. At the same time, I didn’t just default to it in some way. I have reasons for what I believe, just as many of you do. I didn’t inherit; I sought it out for myself and, unless science drastically alters its finding in some way, I’m unlikely to change in a major way although, of course, I will continue to read, learn and discover as long as God gives the opportunity.

All that to say this, I’m not writing this to persuade anyone to agree with my position. I do not believe that your personal view of Creation is a heaven or hell issue for any believer. In fact, I’m comfortable with being in spiritual community with anyone whose creation beliefs include God, and THAT’s what I’m wanting to write about.

I just attended a conference at Point Loma Nazarene University entitled Nazarenes in Dialogue: Exploring Origins. At this conference, the subject was an examination of the variety of creation views that are held by Christians. We heard presentations by Young Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, Intelligent Design non-evolutionary view points and intelligent design pro-evolutionary viewpoints (there’s a difference; trust me on this) and Theistic Creationists, mentioned above.  There were panel discussions, table discussions, workshops and Manual input working sessions (this was a Nazarene thing, although not all participants were Nazarenes).

Here’s the part that was most enjoyable for me. This range of views includes some very different  understandings of creation.  There is a whole range of conflict points between some of them, often among all of them.  The holders of these views have held fiery debates in the past, and continue to do so.

Even within the local church, there is a diversity of views represented here.  And, at times, there have been open conflicts within these local churches, including some in which I was serving in a pastoral role.  I’ve observed some angry separations over this subject area.

None of that was present this week.  To be sure, there was disagreement.  There weren’t a lot of Young Earth Creationists present.  That’s a view held by a significant group of Nazarenes, but it’s not widely held among our leadership and certainly not in our universities.  But, that viewpoint was received respectfully and, with the exception of one video that a leader later apologized for including due to some critical remarks, there were no public expressions of condemnation.

We began our weekend with worship and gathering around the Lord’s Table. We started by affirming our unity in Christ. We intentionally stated that although many of us held our views tenaciously, we did not believe that anyone holding a differing view was excluded from the body of Christ.

The primary tenets of our discussions was that they be entered into with humility and respect for one another and for authority within the church.  I have no doubt that some of the information shared was hard for certain people to hear, but they were never challenged to accept or leave.

And that’s where we need to be within the Body of Christ. Not everyone in Fremont Journey of Faith or San Francisco New Start Ministries agrees with my viewpoint on this issue, and they don’t have to.  When I teach, I separate essentials from non-essentials. It’s only when we discuss these things from a polarized perspective in which you have to agree with me on this or we won’t be able to find common ground on anything that we fall into the loss of community.

What you believe about creation is not an essential of the faith, as long as you find God in the process.  You don’t even have to include God in your reading and research here, because his written word is not a book of science.  You DO need to recognize Him as the ultimate Creator, but you are not required to identify His specific role in the process of creation, as if you even really could.

It’s time for love to reign in the Body.  Maybe the issue of creation hasn’t even been on your mind for a while.  That’s OK. Just remember that when it does come up, it’s not a litmus test for authentic Christianity.

Love one another.

Always praying for you,

Your older brother,

Pastor. Joe

A Christian Response to the Supreme Court Decisions


It’s been a busy week for the Supreme Court of the U. S.  They’ve already rendered a couple of huge decisions, and there may be more to come.

The first was the overturning of key aspects of the Voters Rights Act.  Christians have a variety of viewpoints about this, mostly driven by our political perspectives rather than our Christian beliefs.  I’m not going to speak on this issue in this blog, since I currently don’t post on political issues, but there is one thing I’d like to say to my Christian friends.

Regardless of your viewpoint here, this was not a spiritually driven decision.  I know that some of you disagree with their decision and some agree with it.  Please do not confuse your political and cultural beliefs with your spiritual position here. God is not interested in being aligned with one or another political affiliation.  Your spiritual beliefs may have an impact on how you feel about this, but do not try to pull His church into your political camp.  It misleads people about the actual values and priorities of the faith.

The other decision was the two part (especially if you, like me, live in California) rulings around same sex marriage.  For Californians, the ruling on Prop 8, a former ballot measure denying civil marriage to same sex partners, was effectually overturned by the Court’s decision not to address the issue, which has been formerly overturned in lower court rulings.  The impact of this decision, which will surely continue to be adjudicated in yet more litigation actions, is to allow the legality of same sex marriages in California.

The broader ruling that the Court actually did make was to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that effectually denied the legitimacy of same sex marriages on an interstate basis, essentially saying that if your state allows such marriages, they do not have to be recognized by other states.  The decision to overturn the Act essentially places states in the position of having to recognize such unions solemnized in other states, even if the recognizing state does not allow these marriages to be performed.  The short term impact of this will be to allow persons who were married in a same sex union in one state and since, or now, have moved to another state to retain their married status.

It also enables persons married in same sex unions to obtain social security benefits earned by their spouse and to be notified in the event of the death of said spouse if they are deceased in military combat as a member of the U. S. military services, as well as other federally related issues impacted by the previous refusal to recognize these unions.  The bottom line is that such persons are now entitled to be treated as married in the eyes of the federal government.

Again, there will be more action around this issue as states struggle to define their individual positions on the matter of same sex unions.

Having identified ALL THAT, here’s what I want to address.  As with the Voters Rights Act decision, there are Christians who have a variety of feelings and beliefs about these decisions.  I have no intention of attempting to influence those feelings, though there are those on both sides who’d like me to do so.  I seriously doubt that I’d change any minds if I did; I’d probably only inflame the people on one side or the other, and most likely on both sides.

I DO have every intention of addressing one issue here, and that’s the issue of what a Christian’s response ought to be toward the reactions of others to these decisions.

How are people of the Kingdom of God supposed to respond when there are people on the one side of us who are rejoicing in what they see as a blow struck for individual freedom and the liberty to be happy and fulfilled in their lives or in the lives of others precious to them and, on the other side, people who are despairing of the very moral future of our nation due to what they see as a decision to give in to sinful acts? 

OK, that turned out to be a much longer question than when I first envisioned in inside my head.

First, a word about why we see such a diverse response.  It begins with how you envision the reality of homosexuality in our world.  Certainly, there are people who simply say that acting on such “impulses” (please bear with me here and don’t pigeon hole me over semantics; I’m simply reflecting the way this issue is born out for each side) is sin, hated by God and subject to eternal punishment. Without regard to your position of this issue, any person of basic intellect can see how an individual holding such a view might move to a stern negative response to these decisions.

There are also people who believe that the individual should be able to express their sexuality in whatever way they wish, without regard to religious views or even issues like whether you were “born heterosexual or homosexual.”  Obviously, such folks are unlikely to be adherents of traditional Christian religions, and in this issue at least, would be the diametric opposites of the first group.

But, bear with me here, because one size, or even these two, do not fit all.  There’s a whole spectrum of viewpoints that fit between these two, and we interact with folks that fit in these other, nearly unlimited, points of view every day.

There is a large contingent of people who believe that are sexual orientation is a matter of our DNA, that the so-called “choice” (remember, we’re allowing for each viewpoint to be expressed in terms identified by the holders of those viewpoints, not your or my version of them) of sexual orientation is not a choice at all, but a matter of birth.  If these folks are believers in God, they would go further to contend that since they were born with that orientation, how could it be an offense to the God who is as much their Creator as yours or mine, assuming we are not part of this group.  Please believe me (some of you may be inclined not to do so, but I ask you to accept on my word that this is true, if only for a moment); many people in this belief group are followers of Jesus Christ.  They genuinely believe that the same sex orientation, even if acted upon, is not a sin before God.  You don’t have to agree with them , but it would be a terrible mistake to pretend that they don’t exist, or that anyone who says this is just a liar pretending to be a Believer to cover up for the sin they accept.

There is another pretty big group of people, MANY of them Christians, who still believe that homosexual behavior is sin before God, but are hesitant to place that presumed sin in a singular category of sinfulness when they view a church world filled, at times, with people who are actively involved in other sinful behaviors that are not viewed as being “as bad,” including acts of prejudice and racism, gluttony, and a whole realm of sexual improprieties that we don’t exactly wink at, but consider to be lesser sins that God is somehow more inclined to forgive.  For these folks, often still struggling with a “hate the sin; love the sinner” belief system that frequently makes them wince at themselves because it feels a little inadequate to the issue, there is a lack of complete decisiveness around the issue.

So, let me just say that we, even Christians, are actually all over the place on this issue, and are struggling to come to the right, God inspired, conclusion.  And, RIGHT NOW, this week, we are having to decide how to respond to the MANY expressions of rejoicing and disgust confronting us, and we just don’t have time to resolve all these conflicting viewpoints while we’re feeling a need to respond.

One young friend of mine went on Facebook and admitted that he had friends on both sides and was unsure how he should respond.  His decision was that he was going to take a nap and get off Facebook, where the juxtaposition of these conflicting emotions was most apparent to him.

Another friend, also on Facebook and, while a Believer, one that has a very pronounced point of view and was rejoicing, stopped for a moment and was wondering in a post how the “other side” was responding.  Once she found some strong anti-gay responses, she re-posted them in disgust.  I have to admit, some of them were very disappointing, as they were put out in the open by self proclaimed Christians behaving in a very UN-Christian manner.

So, how do we respond?

I believe that we begin by remembering who we are and how we became who we are.  None of us has ever been worthy of the grace given to us, and yet here are, members and proclaimers of the already here/still coming Kingdom of God.  We carry within us the image of the Divine, and when we speak, we become the voice of God in this world.  If we fail to accurately represent Him, we destroy the Kingdom impact around us, but if we do represent His heart, we BRING the Kingdom to others.

Here’s my recommendation to those who wish to bring the Kingdom this week around this issue.

Rejoice today with those who are rejoicing.  Throwing a wet blanket over their celebration does not speak God to anyone.  You’re not going to change anybody’s mind over this issue.  The only people with whom you would be rejoicing would be people you already know and love.  And, you should love them the way He loved you, when you were totally unworthy of being loved.

My friend David is in a committed same sex marriage, and he and his partner are rejoicing today, along with the beautiful children they have adopted, a beautiful loving family.  My friend Molly is in a long term committed marriage with her somewhat older partner.  Her partner is suffering from early stages of an age related infirmity, and Molly is acting both as spouse and care giver in a beautiful example of committed love and care, and they are rejoicing in their new found liberty.  They are committed Believers, by the way. I’m not asking you to accept that, but I do. What we think is immaterial, by the way; their relationships with God are with Him.  He will decide, and that’s OK with me.

I have other friends who are rejoicing.  Some are gay; some are not.  Some have family members who are gay.  Some simply believe that this is the right thing.

So, when I am with them, I rejoice with them.  They know who I am, and they know WHOSE I am. My witness around them is a matter of unfettered grace, because that’s the way it came to me.  That’s the way I pass it on.

I also recommend that you comfort those who are mourning today.  You don’t have to agree with everything they say to comfort them, but you can certainly remind them that we serve a sovereign God.  He is not affected by Supreme Court rulings, and His desires for His creation are neither enhanced nor diminished by the actions of mere men.  For those who somehow feel that their marriages have been diminished by this “inclusion,” remind them that their vows were not made as a comparison to the world around them, but between one another and before God.

I have some very conservative friends.  A lot of them don’t discuss politics with me because they’ve grown tired of me deflecting those conversations and choosing to focus instead on my advocacy for the Great Commission and the things of the Spirit.  Because I’m an ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene, admittedly a pretty conservative group of folks, overall, they often assume that I agree with them, or at least should, on everything they believe.

But, unless they take off in an extreme rant this week, I’m not planning to condemn or confront them.  I’m going to extend grace, the same way it was extended to me. If I feel they’re acting in an UN-Christian way on anything, I’m simply going to act with grace toward them and steer them by my actions, not my words, back to the Heavenly Father.

We are part of the Kingdom of God.  It exists right here on this earth.  It’s not subject to or dependent on the actions or beliefs of any government or court.  We voluntarily submit ourselves to those earthly institutions because this is the mission field to which He has assigned us.  We pray for the welfare of the cities, states, countries, world in which we live, because we find our earthly welfare in their welfare.

We are the Body of Christ.  We should try to act like it.

Always Praying For You,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe




It happens every spring.  A long winter of cold dark days finally lifts.  Birds sing clearly.  Flowers bloom.  The sun seems brighter.  Finally, we all begin to feel like it’s time for some sunlight.

Of course, I actually live in the Bay Area.  We don’t really have long dark winters.  This year, we didn’t even get very much rain.  The flowers have actually been blooming for a while, judging from the allergies people have been complaining about. Continue reading “IT’S TIME FOR SOME SUNLIGHT”



It happens every spring.  A long winter of cold dark days finally lifts.  Birds sing clearly.  Flowers bloom.  The sun seems brighter.  Finally, we all begin to feel like it’s time for some sunlight.

Of course, I actually live in the Bay Area.  We don’t really have long dark winters.  This year, we didn’t even get very much rain.  The flowers have actually been blooming for a while, judging from the allergies people have been complaining about. Continue reading “IT’S TIME FOR SOME SUNLIGHT”



It happens every spring.  A long winter of cold dark days finally lifts.  Birds sing clearly.  Flowers bloom.  The sun seems brighter.  Finally, we all begin to feel like it’s time for some sunlight.

Of course, I actually live in the Bay Area.  We don’t really have long dark winters.  This year, we didn’t even get very much rain.  The flowers have actually been blooming for a while, judging from the allergies people have been complaining about.

But, I’ve been under a cloud for a while and, really, it’s my own fault.  A little story here.

It all started between Christmas and New Years.  We were at Mt. Hermon Retreat Center here in Northern California enjoying our annual Winter Retreat with our San Francisco New Start Ministries congregation.  It’s a very enjoyable time for all of us.

Part of the retreat this year was a free time period in which we offered a Q&A with the pastors in which Pastor Robbie and I sat down with whomever wanted to join us and answered all the questions they had for us.  It’s really a good time.

One of the questions was from our friend, Jenny Chang.  She asked me what I felt was my favorite part of being a pastor.  I gave her an unusual answer.  I told her that I thought my favorite part was actually performing funerals.  There was a kind of pause as the young people who make up this congregation looked at me like I was some kind of morbid ghoul, but I asked them to let me explain.

Every pastor has their own feel or sense of what God has called them to be.  Some are pure evangelists, some are great charismatic preachers, and others display a variety of individual gifting for ministry.  For me, the call to ministry is a call to be a simple parish priest; to simply do life with a group of people among whom God has placed me in order to share His voice to that community.  The best parts are when you touch the lives of those people in a personal way.  That certainly includes the moments of celebration like weddings, births, anniversaries, baptisms, baby dedications, new membership receptions and, yes, those moments of conversion when people give their lives to Him.  Those are all times of rejoicing, and I like to rejoice as much as anyone.  But, really, everyone likes to rejoice, and it’s never hard to find someone to celebrate with you in the good times.  Even those outside the Body of Christ are willing to do that.

But there are also times when people cannot rejoice, when the circumstances of their lives cause them to stumble and look for answers to sometimes unanswerable questions.  Relationship failures, divorce, problems with children or, increasingly these days, elderly parents; all these things are not times of rejoicing.  And, often, the worst is when they are dealing with the death and loss of a loved one, especially when it’s unexpected or untimely in terms of age.  In death, people need answers that only God can give, and the parish priest is called on to bring comfort where there is no earthly comfort.

It’s in those times that I experience God working through me the most, doing through me things I know I am not capable of accomplishing.  He is strength in our weakness, and I have come to learn that those are the times when I feel closest to Him and also to the people to whom He has called me to shepherd.  So, all things considered, funerals actually represent the pinnacle of my calling in a way.  When I explained that to Jenny and the others gathered there, they seemed to really understand.

The next day, I got a call from my sister-in-law, Denise, telling me that Margie’s mother had died unexpectedly.  Within days, we were in Oklahoma for that funeral and to help comfort her dad.

Two weeks later, her dad also died, also unexpectedly, and we were there once again with the family mourning a loss.

Between those funerals, I performed the memorial for the oldest member of my local congregation in Fremont, the widow of a Nazarene pastor I had known.  And, within a few weeks, we were gathered again to bury the last charter member of our congregation there who still attended the church.  And, we weren’t through.

Since that day at Mt. Hermon, I have performed or been a part of 7 funerals this year.  Last week, there were two of them.  2013 has been a time of loss.

And, I finally looked up to God and pleaded, “No more!”  I have been emotionally drained for nearly four months, even as we dealt with some of the most challenging issues of ministries in my years as a pastor.

There have been bright spots.  The unsolicited prayers of people who have lifted me up have been a great solace to me during this time.  There have been people who have come alongside us and offered financial assistance at times when we were uncertain that we’d be able to continue in our ministry track.  God has been there in so many ways, especially through the words and actions of brothers and sisters in Christ, that we are unable to recount them all.

And now, we are beginning to see the sunlight.

On Sunday, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of New Start Ministries.  God has blessed us and there is a remarkable vision for the future and it’s still there.

Fremont Journey of Faith has begun to turn the corner, both in ministry and financially.  It does not appear that I’ll have to return to bi-vocational status any time soon.

Difficult times will always come, but God is always able to deliver us.  In the moment of our greatest distress, He reveals Himself not only to be there with us, but also to have with him the uncounted multitudes of others who are following Him.  He has the resources we need, if we will simply and faithfully follow Him.

Maybe you’re in a dark place right now.  Don’t give up!

Maybe things are going your way right now.  Keep following Him!

Greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world!

Always praying for you,

Your older brother,

Pastor Joe



The last month or so has been among the busiest of my life.  In the midst of all kinds of trials, there hasn’t been much time to write much of anything.

At the end of December, Miss Margie’s step mother, Carole Johnson, suddenly passed away from heart failure.  Her health was never perfect, but no one saw this coming.  We were at our New Start Ministries Winter Retreat when it happened, and we came back at the end of the retreat to make arrangements for Margie and I to go to Oklahoma City to attend the funeral, along with Margie’s 10 sisters and brothers, most of the 32 grandchildren and 46 great grandchildren.  It was a sudden and unexpected family reunion. Continue reading “JUST IN TIME”



When I first started writing this blog, the idea was to allow others to look over my shoulder and see what God is doing in my life.  Right now, I have a ton of work to do and don’t really have time to be writing this, but I owe this to every thoughtful reader.

This is a difficult time for me in a lot of ways.  I’m not feeling really successful in ministry these days.  Oh, I see God doing some awesome things, but I don’t see myself being particularly effective.  One reason for this is that I’ve found myself under a lot of financial pressure. Continue reading “A MOMENT OF HONESTY”



All through Advent, we’ve been talking about hope here at Journey of Faith.  That’s a basic tenant of Advent, hope for the future.

Some days, though, seem almost without hope to the world around us.  As I write this, I’m watching one of those days unfold.

Friday, December 14, 2012 is always going to be remembered by some as a day without hope.  At least 20 children were murdered today in Connecticut, along with at least 6 adults, at a rural elementary school.  Gunmen with an as yet unknown motive simply came in and ended these precious lives in a hail of gunfire.

All day long, people have been expressing their heartsickness over this episode.  Despair is a common element for many.

What about followers of Jesus Christ?  How should they be responding?  When all the world around us is mired in hopelessness, where do we turn?

Romans 15 is all this. Read these words from v.4:

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

It’s our turn now.  Let’s deliver the hope God has entrusted to us for this time

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe


I’ve been looking around at people rushing everywhere as part of the Christmas season. We were in the mall a couple of times this past week, and it’s interesting how different that place is this time of year.

There are crowds everywhere. It’s hard to find a place to park that isn’t a long way from the entrance. There are lines at cash registers where, any other time of year, you’d be looking around for someone to ring up your purchase. The wide corridors that usually are relatively lightly populated, except for folks who use it as a place to do their exercise walks, now have people walking in every direction, as if there were no possible way to maintain an orderly pattern. Yes, there are people everywhere you look. There would be absolutely no reason for anyone to feel lonely at this time of year. Continue reading “FEELING ALL ALONE?”