We are All From Piatre


A woman who lives on a mountainside in Haiti said something two weeks ago that stopped me in my tracks.  I can’t stop thinking about it, and it makes me smile every time.

Eve Rose was working on some food with a machete when her nephew brought us into her yard so we could pray for her family.  I was on a short trip to the island on behalf of our church to explore partnerships for ministry, and we had just visited a possible location for a medical clinic not far from her house – once built, it would mean that the people of Piatre would no longer have to descend hundreds of feet to the coast on a treacherous road to get medical care. She invited us to sit for a while, and our host introduced us and spoke with her in Creole, translating for the three Americans. I am still fluent in French, and was able to pick up the gist of some of their conversation.

We learned that Eve Rose has spent her entire life, probably over 50 years, in this mountainside community north of Port-au-Prince. Our host, raised in southern Haiti, joked with her that he too was from Piatre, which she quickly denied – “No, if you were from Piatre, I would know you.” At that point, one of the Americans also joked that he was from Piatre. We all laughed – our Haitian host might have gotten away with the claim, but there was no way this white guy from Atlanta could pass for a member of her community.

That’s when it happened. As the laughter died down, Eve Rose said something that I hope I never forget. I recall it in French, though it could be that her Creole was close enough to French that I was able to understand it.  She smiled, threw her arms wide as if she were embracing all of us together, and said “Nous sommes tous de Piatre!

“We are all from Piatre.” With that generous proclamation, barriers shrunk.  The contrasting colors of our skin were set aside for the moment.  While the vast economic differences between us didn’t disappear, their significance diminished.  We had been welcomed into the community. We were from Piatre.

That gesture seemed to come naturally to her. It was hospitality in its purest form, meant to make us feel at home, part of the clan. In its own way, it was a revolutionary statement. It gently but firmly declared that, in her yard, that which unites us is far more important than that which divides us.

I learned from Eve Rose. I hope we all learn from Eve Rose. In a sharply divided American world, in a sadly and increasingly divided Christian world, her spirit is sorely needed. We quickly forget the Scriptural command to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Perched on a rickety wooden chair in the yard of a poor family in one of the poorest nations on the planet, in a group composed of blacks and whites, of rich and poor, I experienced the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. I hope I never forget it.

Because we are all from Piatre.

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A Parking Spot, a Monaco Cop, and a Plate of Macaroni and Cheese

8094309366_40fef8dd8a_b“It’s not permitted, but it is tolerated.”

That was the response I received one day from a passing policeman in Monaco when I asked if it was OK to park in the spot I had chosen.  My first reaction: “What an odd thing to say. If it isn’t permitted, why is it tolerated?”

But that phrase has stayed with me these last 20 years, and I’ve come to realize that the concept is not as foreign to me as I like to pretend. “It’s not permitted, but it is tolerated.” How many times in a week do I tolerate in myself that which I would not permit? How many prideful or angry thoughts, how many harsh words, how many lustful lingerings of the eyes, how much labeling and categorizing and stereotyping of others do I shrug at in my personal life? If you were to ask me “Are these permitted?” I would say no. Of course not. I’m a Christian, after all.

But sadly, they ARE tolerated.  I know, because I’m the one that tolerates them. If I didn’t, there wouldn’t be so many of them. That needs to change.

But how do I cultivate a new, less-tolerant mindset toward that which I do not (and my God does not) permit? What exactly needs to change?  I think the solution is found in my daughter’s reaction to a stomach-churning moment during a meal last month.

slow-cooker-mac-and-cheese-4I had brought home a take-out order from a local restaurant, and Minnie eagerly started in on her plate of hot and creamy macaroni and cheese.  Her eagerness disappeared however, along with her appetite, with the discovery of … wait for it … a HAIR in the macaroni! She held it up, with globs of cheese dangling from it, and said with a disgusted look, “Dad, it’s long, so it’s not even mine.”

I know. Gross, right?

You know what DIDN’T happen next? No one in the room said “Well, at least there’s only ONE hair.” Minnie didn’t set it aside, shrug, and say “I guess these things happen.” Who does that?  No, we called the restaurant to complain, they offered to reimburse the cost of all three meals, and they invited me to come back to get a new order of macaroni and cheese (yes, I checked before leaving the restaurant – it was hairless).

No one tolerates hair in their macaroni and cheese. No one excuses it with thoughts like “EVERYbody has a little hair in their pasta.” No one says “Well, the chef made the meal this way, so it must be OK.” We are profoundly INtolerant, and even hostile, to the very idea of hair in our food.

Driving home from the restaurant, it dawned on me that God sees sin in the same way that we see hair in macaroni, and that we need to do the same.  I need to move my sin into that category – especially the sins that have hung around a while, the ones that have been tolerated for so long that they seem to be part of me. I need a holy disgust with that which offends my holy God. And I need to remind myself regularly that His forgiveness does not equal His approval.

“You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). There are positive and negative sides to growth in personal holiness: “Do more of THIS. Do less of THAT.” I think it might help to view the negative side of holiness as “Stop throwing hair in your macaroni and cheese.”

That is sound advice that I plan to take to heart.  Feel free to join me.

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You Are … and I Am

While hiking along the base of this amazing rock formation in Sedona yesterday, my prayer time shifted in this direction.  I hope it adds to your worship on this Good Friday. There are plenty that I’ve missed – please feel free to add your favorites in the Comments section.


You are the Rock. I build my house on you. Help me to build well.

You are the Artist. I am your masterpiece. Help me to hold still while you paint.

You are the Word. I am the listener. Help me to understand.

You are the Lamb of God.  My sin is covered by your blood. Help me to sin less.

You are the Bridegroom.  I am a small part of your bride. Help me to love you faithfully.

You are the Way.  I am a pilgrim. Help me to stay on the path.

You are the Savior. I am the saved. Help me to point lost people to you.

You are Almighty God. I am a worshipper.  Help me to worship in spirit and in truth.

You are the Good Shepherd. I am a wandering sheep. Thank you for finding me.

You are the King. I am a citizen of your kingdom. May your kingdom come through me.

You are the High Priest. I am the one for whom you intercede. That amazes me.

You are the Master. I am your slave.  It is my joy to serve you.

You are the Potter. I am the clay. Shape me as you wish.

You are the Bread of Life. You satisfy my hunger. Help me to hunger for you.

You are the vine.  I am a branch. Help me to bear fruit.

You are the Crucified One. I have been crucified with you. Help me to die daily.

You are the Resurrected One. Thanks to you, I will live forever. May I never take that for granted.

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Go Ahead. Smell a Pine Tree.

IMG_1133I usually glance up and down the trail before I do it, because it looks, I don’t know, kinda weird (ya think?). But it’s rare that I take a mountain trail without at least once sticking my nose into the crevice of the bark of a pine tree in search of its unique fragrance.  It doesn’t smell like pine – that comes from the needles and the sap.  The bark fragrance smells to me like vanilla.  Others describe it as cinnamon, or fresh-baked cookies. Ever since an outdoorsy friend told me about it (thanks, Paul), it’s become a regular a part of my hikes. Yeah, it’s strange. But it’s worth it (and if you don’t believe me, here’s a link to an NPR article that vouches for me – with a picture that looks as crazy as mine).

If I hadn’t learned how to rest, I never would have discovered the vanilla fragrance of pine bark. And my life would have been poorer for it.

On a snowy mountain Sabbath Hike this afternoon (the pics are from that hike), I spent time thanking the Lord for the benefits of over 6 years of regular, intentional, contemplative, Christ-centered rest.  Included on that list was a host of experiences that I would have missed if I had never embraced this gift.  I didn’t see many of these benefits coming, because like the fragrance of bark, I didn’t even know they existed.  I had no idea what I was missing.

When I rest, I notice the fingerprints of God in my world. I take time to connect the dots of my life, to tie together the often-frazzled strings that drift in the wake of my hectic schedule. I slow down long enough to feel the breeze on the back of my neck, and to hear the music that God built into His creation. I walk with Him, enjoy Him, think big thoughts of Him, bring the tough questions to Him.

None of this happens when I’m on the hamster wheel.  You know what that wheel is like.  Lots of running, lots of energy expended, but little sense of progress. Plenty of sweat, but only occasional (and usually temporary) satisfaction.

I’m so glad that Jesus invites us to step off the hamster wheel.  After His disciples returned all excited about the great impact they had made when He sent them out two by two, Jesus didn’t send them back out right away to “seize the moment,” to leverage the earlier successes, to take things to the next level.  No, He told them to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31).

“Come with me … by yourselves … to a quiet place … and get some rest.” These are the words of Jesus.

IMG_1109Do we dare to claim them as our own?  For a long time, I didn’t.  They were for the far-distant past, or the far-distant future. They were a nice theory, something I was supposed to look forward to, some day.

Now, I look forward to them next week. And every week after that one. Because I’ve recognized that He created us for a healthy cycle of work and rest. I finally learned that rest is a gift, not an obligation, and that good things happen when I embrace it.

So go ahead.  Go with Him to a quiet place. Get some rest. Connect the dots. Think big thoughts.

And while you’re at it, stick your nose into the bark of a tree.  You never know what you’ll find.

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When You Won’t be Home for Christmas


I was in denial.  And it was time to do something about it.

We had moved to France just four months earlier, and were facing our first Christmas overseas.  We had put up the few decorations that we had brought with us to our apartment south of Paris, but I knew that I hadn’t really embraced Christmas yet, because I wasn’t playing music. I always loved Christmas music, and eagerly awaited Thanksgiving evening when my wife was finally OK with starting the Christmas season.  But that year, by mid-December I had yet to play a single tune.

I remember the day when I finally scolded myself. “This is silly.  Sure, you’re far from family and friends, dreading the holiday for the first time in your life. But you can do this.  Snap out of it.  Play some Christmas tunes.” I grabbed the first cassette that I saw (remember those?), thrust it confidently into the Boom Box (remember those?), and hit Play.  The opening chords of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” began to fill the room.

I hit the Stop button so hard that I almost broke the unit.

Christmas without family is tough, and there are all kinds of circumstances that can create a lonely holiday. Some, like me back in the day, are serving as missionaries in a culture that is not their own.  Some are serving their country, preparing for Christmas on military bases that try to look festive, maybe dreading the few minutes with loved ones on FaceTime or Skype that, while better than nothing, aren’t near enough. Some are traveling for business, others are in a hospital. Some are preparing for their first Christmas since the separation.  Many know that they will have to work while their family gathers and enjoys all of the traditions that they will miss this year.

If that describes you, can I pass on a couple of things that I learned over the course of 15 years of international living?  These two thoughts helped me, and maybe they will help you.

  • Home is portable

If you are facing the first of what will be many family-free Christmases, I hope you will learn what I learned.  Home can travel with you.  That first Christmas was rough – we hadn’t made many friends yet, we didn’t speak the language, we hadn’t yet become part of the culture.  But it was our last Christmas without kids – our first daughter was born the following September, which changed everything, including our holidays.  We made friends, got comfortable with the language, and learned to embrace the Christmas traditions of our new home.  Yeah, it became home. We are allowed to have more than one of those.  That surprised me.

  • Jesus gets you

In his book Because of Bethlehem, Max Lucado puts it well: “(Mary) and Joseph were far from home on the night of Jesus’ birth; that was all right. Jesus was even farther from his.” The One whose birth we celebrate knows exactly what it is like to be far from home on Christmas. Hebrews 2 tells us that the humanity of Christ assures us that He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He understands the loneliness that we feel in moments like these.  That matters to me.

So if you are planning for a lonely Christmas in a few days, I hope it helps that you are not alone.  And know that, even if this one is rough, there are more ways than you realize to be home for Christmas.  By next year, I hope you will discover some of them.

And remember, Jesus gets you. You can go to Him with your loneliness, confident that he knows exactly how you feel. That probably won’t replace your family, but it matters.

Merry Christmas.

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A 20-Year Dream

It’s been over 20 years since we first considered this idea, 20 years of wondering when and whether the opportunity would come, 20 years of leaning in a direction that felt right, but for which we had no guarantee.

What do you do when a desire of 20 years begins to come true? First, you work through all the details. You dot some i’s, and you cross some t’s.

And then, in my case, you write a blog post.

converge_header-1In the early 90’s, while we were serving in France, our mission agency (now called Converge) established a new position called Pastor to Missionaries. It was the first (and only) role in the Stateside office that ever caught my eye, and I asked our Director to keep me in mind for the future. But I later realized that the travel requirements would be stressful for a family with young children, so I withdrew my request. “Some day,” I thought.

My role in our two American churches since we left France has included many opportunities to care for missionaries, and we have been glad for that. But we always wondered about serving in an agency, hoping that the opportunity would come around again.

A couple of months ago, it came around again. I got a call from my friend Steve Rowe, the current Director of Member Care with Converge, inviting us to join a team of three couples to provide pastoral care to the global family of Converge missionaries. I explained that I love my current role at Heights Church, and it was only worth exploring if I could serve Converge as a volunteer while remaining a pastor at Heights. He was open to that, so we began exploring.

The exploring phase is over, and this week we have been welcomed back into Converge.  It feels like coming home.

Our ministry will have three parts, each one significant in its own right.

  • We will provide care for the Converge Diaspora workers, who serve in the United States among immigrant communities. It will include a good amount of Skyping and FaceTiming with these folks, and occasional domestic travel during my days off at Heights.
  • When my Heights-related international travel takes me to places where Converge has workers, I may be able to extend my stay to be with them. I’m preparing a trip to Japan this December to visit Heights missionaries, and have been invited to also spend an afternoon with the Converge Japan team, talking about Sabbath.
  • Murf and I will offer our home as a place of rest and refreshment for Converge workers when they return to the States. This element of the ministry allows us to work together to encourage missionaries, something that we thought was impossible since her accident in 2002 limited her ability to travel. I can’t tell you how excited we are about the hospitality side of this ministry. In fact, we’re beginning to look for a new house that has more room for guests, in order to make our home comfortable for larger families.

We intend to make Sabbath a significant part of our member care. As we began exploring the benefits of Sabbath in 2011, I found myself wondering what our cross-cultural life would have been like if we knew then how to embrace the rest that Jesus promises. We’re eager to encourage our new colleagues to consider that question for themselves, and to provide guidance as the opportunity arises.

The logistics are relatively simple. We will continue to live off my Heights salary, so we don’t need to raise a lot of financial support. We do need to raise funds to cover our travel and hospitality expenses, possibly as much as $20,000 per year. If you’d like to join us in that, please let me know, and I’ll give you the details.

It’s an exciting season! Please celebrate with us as we move forward. And pray that we would qualify for what I think is the greatest compliment in the entire New Testament.  Paul said to Philemon, in verse 7 of that short letter, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”

That is our goal.  We’d be glad for you to join us.

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Some Trees Fell, but Some Trees Stood


There is a sad side to one of the aspen groves on my favorite Sabbath hiking trail. I’m not sure when it happened, or why it happened here and not at the other groves on the gentle slopes of this Flagstaff mountain. But something knocked down a bunch of the trees. They lie scattered everywhere, some flat on the ground, some leaning against other trees. The storm, or avalanche, must have been terrible to cause all that damage.

I hike here several times a year, and I’ve always been curious about this grove. What happened? When did it happen? And why did some trees fall, while others stood?

I was praying my way through this grove last week, and I’m not sure why my mind went here, but it did.

These trees are spiritual leaders. Some have fallen. But some are still standing, despite the pressures that they experienced. And I desperately – desperately – want to be among those who stand.

Leaders fall with depressing regularity, so frequently that it has almost become a cliché. Moral failure seems to be the most common cause, and I’ve grown sadly accustomed to the internal cringe upon hearing the news of one more fallen leader. One more conference speaker whose personal life revealed the hollowness of the principles he taught. One more pastor who tried to take care of the bride of Christ while failing to be true to the vows he had made to his own. And the same sad word comes to mind each time: “Again?”

I was near a falling tree on a hike several years ago. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it, and it was terrifying. I’ve been close enough to a couple of falling leaders to feel a similar sense of dread, to see the damage they cause as they go down.

I never, EVER, want to cause that kind of pain. I don’t want to fall.

But not all trees go down, and not all leaders fall. I’ll be driving to Los Angeles today to be part of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the church where I met Jesus when I was 11 years old. It was my church for over 30 years. Those people taught me how to pastor, sent us out as missionaries, supported us through good and bad days, and welcomed us home 15 years later.

The room will be full of my heroes, and as the MC I get to talk about some of them. I will tell the story of the pastor who baptized me in 1970, present a video message from my Junior High Youth Director, and introduce the pastor who ordained me to ministry and sent us out to Africa and France. Some of the faithful church members who will be in the room tonight were there for all of those moments, and made indelible impacts on my life. I went to seminary with the current Lead Pastor of the church, and served for over 10 years with the Worship Pastor.

These people are standing. They aren’t perfect, and I’m sure they have bent under the pressure of a storm or two over the years. But they are standing.

I desperately want to stand with them.

Can I be bold enough to ask you to pray, right now, for whomever you see as your spiritual leader? Pray that he or she would stand tall in the storm. Pray that their roots would be deep, and that they would know what the Lord means when He says “In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). Pray that they would take Jesus at His word, and would come to Him to find rest for their souls (Matthew 11:29).

You’d be wise to add yourself to that prayer. It’s almost certain that someone sees you as a spiritual leader, looks to your example and depends on your advice. They would be hurt if you fell, and they will be helped when you stand.

And yeah, pray for me as well. By the grace of God, I want to be a standing tree. Let me know if I can pray the same for you.

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