Thursday, December 25, 2003


Hey all. Well, it’s another year. School continues. Ministry continues. Life continues. Great stuff has happened and normal stuff has happened—happy stuff and hard stuff.

Schoolwise, I am finally in my third year (fourth by the calendar) in the Master of Divinity program at Talbot School of Theology. I am beginning to see the end and feel its pressures. With only three semesters to go (and a summer session or two), the next step seems extremely close and decisions need to be made—decisions about the next steps, educationally and vocationally. While the long-range goal of seminary professor remains, some of my experiences this year have brought to mind other possibilities. I have seen a great need for theological thinkers and writers, especially in the Christian response to our postmodern culture. Where this will lead, I have no idea. Hopefully, the next year will help clear up confusion.

So, anyhow, I’m finally nearing the end of my program. One benefit is finally being able to concentrate on my major: Christian Education. I knew it was a complicated subject, but the reality of this struck during the fall semester. Theology, philosophy, educational psychology, spiritual formation, social learning, experiential learning... the list goes on. There is so much to learn that it has felt overwhelming at times. But it is well worth it. Teaching is serious business.

The Christian Education classes could not have come at a better time. Not long before the fall semester started, I came to realize that my teaching skills had become stuck—boring even. The last few months of 2003 have been a time of much learning, especially learning the difference between knowing what to do and knowing how to do it. There is often a disconnect between theory and practice—a disconnect that must be remedied. So the learning continues, assisted by professors at Talbot and students at Torrance First Baptist. In all of it, I remind myself that life is a journey—a journey that can take us places we did not plan to go and can take more time than we ever expected. It is often a longer journey than others expect as well and sometimes that can be difficult.

2003 has been a great year for ministry. The TFB college group was blessed again with an amazing batch of freshmen. I thank God for the young men and women in the college group. Their passion for life and their care for one another encourage me all the time. It's been a fun year of surfing tangents in search of God's project.

I am also blessed to work at a great place: Biola University. Five years ago this past summer, God opened the door and thankfully, I entered. This year, when Biola clarified its mission, vision, and values, I was reminded again of the possibilities for impact in this place. Three key words summarize the mission-vision-values: truth, transformation, and testimony. Truth—God’s truth in scripture and God's truth in all of creation—is the content. Transformation—becoming more and more like Jesus—is the means. Testimony—a life that communicates God and God's stuff—is the intended result. To work at such a place—with such a vision—is an honor. Biola has declared it’s participation in the story of God. I am thankful to be a part of that story.

At Christmas, we celebrate part of the story of God. Often, though, our view of this story is too small, relegated to an infant in a manger. The real story is bigger. The real story of Christmas begins before there was anything—before anything at all. In the timeless, glorious, God-filled brightness of heaven, God the Son lived in loving, timeless relationship with the Father and the Spirit. God, the three-in-one, had need of nothing; he was—and is—complete and satisfied. Nevertheless, he created the everything. He created the animals and plants and stuff of earth. He created human beings to bear his image and do his work on earth. When humanity rebelled against his loving rule and separated itself from him, he put his plan into action. When the time was right the Father sent the Son; this Son who is God, became human, starting life as a zygote in the womb of a young woman named Mary. Funny place for the creator, but there he was.

This human (though still completely God)—Jesus by name—grew up just like any kid. He grew to be a man. Just like any man, he became hungry and tired, and sometimes he smelled bad. He was a guy—100%. At the same exact time, he was God—100%. Confusing, but true. Not only did Jesus become a human, he became a servant. He lived his life caring for others. He lived his life in complete, willing obedience to his Father. He obeyed even to the point of giving up his life—willingly, lovingly sacrificing his life to do for humanity what it could not do for itself and live. He gave his life as payment for humanity’s rebellion. He was killed by crucifixion—a method of death designed to cause the greatest amount of suffering possible. He did this by choice. He was buried—dead. Third day, the amazing thing happened—he raised himself—his Father raised him—from death to life.

Because of his humble obedience, because he gave himself fully, the Father raised him up—not only to life, but to the highest place, with the highest name. When time is over, every creature—heaven's creatures, earth's creatures, and hell's creatures—will admit, willingly or not, that Jesus is the One with the Name. They will bow to the ground and say, "Jesus is Lord." This story—when we really believe it—changes how we live. The only question is how much do we believe it?

I thank God for what he taught me this year. It hasn't always been comfortable or easy. In fact, it's been tough. I’m learning how to become what he has called me to be. I'm learning that wisdom is slippery stuff—the moment you think you've got it handled, it slips between your fingers like lime jello. I'm learning that holiness is more about direction than it is about destination. I'm learning that we can only be the church together; there is no church without "us" because we are the church. Finally, I'm learning more than ever that life is a journey. It's a journey where knowing where you're going—Jesus—leaves you free to travel no matter how long it takes or where the path leads. It does matter that at every step you live the journey; that at every step to live where you are. Life is about the already and not yet—heaven as our direction and as our destination. Lots of lessons. Lots more to learn.

I also thank God for the challenges. Some of the things I thought were so secure were snatched out from under me. It was no fun, but it was necessary. Growth doesn't happen when we think everything is OK.

For 2004, I pray that God gives me the grace to develop wisdom, to think reflectively about what I believe and figure out how I should live and make wise choices. One important choice is what to do next in my education. I pray that God helps me continue to develop diligence—diligence in both doing and resting. Finally, I pray that God continues to teach me to be creative and to learn the skills to share this creativity with others.

I pray your 2004 be filled with God, relationship, and learning.

Sunday, December 21, 2003


Admittedly, 6 am was too early to start out. I mean, the work didn’t begin until 9. But is was my first time and I was unsure of distances. So, there I was, 6 am, waiting for a bus. By 6:30, I was ordering my morning vente blackeye, handing the Starbucks card over with one hand, while holding a jalapeno bagel (toasted with butter) in the other hand. It was an odd way to start the day, given the task. Around 7:30 I headed for the Douglas Greenline station. Just twenty minutes later, I was tramping down the steps at Rosa Parks station. The Blueline train was packed, but I lucked out and found a seat. Glancing up at the map, I saw Slauson was the stop before Vernon. I’d be there early, but I figured they could put me to work.

When the train arrived at Vernon station, I headed north up Long Beach Ave toward 41st. Just a few feet into the trek I realized my destination was on the opposite side of the tracks. Bummer. No problem. I kept walking. The building was a warehouse in a low to lower-middle income neighborhood—a mixed bag, for sure. The warehouse was the smaller than I thought, but the two semis parked out front told me that they meant business. On the front was the logo-style name: Los Angeles Food Bank . As I approached the Food Bank, I saw the security guard in the small parking lot. She greeted me cheerfully and led me up the stairs to the work area. We entered a large room, filled with pallets of canned and boxed food. Ten people were already at work preparing the packs for the volunteers that would arrive at 9. They put a box of Corn Flakes in a large plastic handle bag, then placed two bags in each red bin. The bins were labeled "#6"--this is the packet we were preparing today. #6 includes stuff like canned meat, cereal, canned vegetables, dry milk, canned milk, dry beans, and peanut butter. I was put to work unstacking the empty bins so the others could place the cereal in them. We worked furiously for about 30 minutes, prepping 673 bins.

When the others arrived at 9 am, Tony came and gave us our instructions. Teams of four to five people were assigned to each product. Some unsealed the boxes, others placed the cans or boxes into the bags in the red bins. An additional four were assigned to the cleanup team. This was my team. Out tasks were to breakdown the corrugated boxes and place them in a large box and to pick up any trash. The basic task was to keep the place safe and clean in order to prevent injury. Once the assembly line got going, it was a sight to see. In two hours we had packed and palleted all 673 red bins. Tony then had a group of people prep 152 more bins--this time canned peas instead of canned corn. We started up the line again around 10:40 and finished all the bins by 11:30.

These 825 food packs are delivered to 35 senior citizen homes throughout Los Angeles, providing basic nutrition to seniors on fixed incomes. What amazed me most is how such a small effort (we were only there about four hours) could do so much. Each pack supplies a month of basic food. Pretty amazing.

After taking a few pictures (to be uploaded later at Laurasmind: The Fotolog), I headed for Vernon station and lunch. I realized a few things at the LA Food Bank. First, it doesn't actually take that much time and effort to make a difference. It was only four hours. Second, it wasn't the "life-changing event" I expected. It was basic. It was good, but not some panacea--not some instant cure-all. It was good, basic physical labor aimed at a good cause--feeding people. Third, I can do this--even when I have homework to do. I was back near home by 12:30. The excuses are gone, and I gave myself a fairly cool Christmas present. Not bad for a half days work.

I'll definitely go again. You can join me. Sign up online at Volunteermatch. By the way, Volunteermatch has information on volunteer opportunities in many cities. Decide to do something, and then do it. If you're doing something already, share a story.