Wednesday, March 31, 2010


As Easter approaches it is always important to reflect and remember the why of what Christ did. I know for me personally it is easy to react to the hype of the bigger churches with Easter and Christmas. Jesus didn’t come in some flashy way to get our attention. There weren’t any fireworks with his birth and if anything the Romans and Jews attempted to have a total cover up with his death. What stands out is that Jesus didn’t want to stand out.

I am eternally grateful for the Son of God’s choice to come, leave behind his glory and power and willfully take up himself a life of a servant that ultimately saw a cross as a door back to his father. How is it possible that the one who was sinless would come and take upon himself my sin?

As I do more work in South Phoenix the reality that most people don’t trust each other and that it doesn’t matter whether you are a Christian or not continues to hit me. What has to happen in order for a Hispanic to trust an African American or a White guy to be welcomed into either of these churches? Why can’t we work together instead of working against each other?

Easter gives me the hope that there is one who has broken the barrier between different ethnic groups. Only Jesus who has literally bled on our behalf is able to reconcile us to one another. I know that my life is broken and needs to be fixed. I know that there are many things missing in my neighborhood in order for it to work. The journey is allowing God to do his work of redemption through people that usually are forgotten is exciting. I can’t imagine the sense of hopelessness that the thief on the cross had as he was dying only to discover that the one next to him wasn’t just a man but the Son of God. As Jesus welcomed him into eternity there was hope that death was a new beginning into a better life.

Yes, the tomb was empty and the Angels proclaimed that he is risen! Yes, he is risen indeed! I know that tomorrow can and will be a better day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I always like to rethink what I take away from a conference a few weeks after the fact. I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t really ready to get up early and take a whole day to get to New City Chattanooga but after having done it have to admit it was really worth it. I continue to see the value and importance of keeping relationships alive of people who are doing urban work. Some of my heroes or mentors are those who have been doing this type of work for decades.

I appreciated being able to listen to both Barry and Aaron Henning who have been doing mercy work in St. Louis over the last 2 decades plus. What is truly amazing is that they choose to move into the neighborhood where they are serving. Most of the core of the church have transitioned into this neighborhood over the years. This act in itself is truly humbling and telling. They live in rather small old flats that have required a lot of work to transform them and also keep them up and running. I know personally that doing mercy or kingdom work from a distance isn’t as effective.

The key concept that stood out was rather simple but ultimately the essence of the kingdom. God has called us to humble ourselves and this comes into play with everything. So often the gospel is confused with middle class living and that the real goal of missions is to help people transform their lifestyles to become like ‘White, educated, middle class America’. Barry’s heart was so clear that this isn’t the gospel or kingdom intention of Jesus. We are to follow Jesus who left all behind in order that the poor might become rich spiritually.

The message which none of us what to embrace is that Christ is calling us to catch the vision that less is more. I am willing to share out of my abundance with someone who is struggling? This isn’t an easy step to take for anyone. If I do it for the wrong reasons, i.e. I want to get attention, be a crusader of the poor instead of truly loving God and then loving people then my actions aren’t going to be effective.

The adventure God calls us to pursue isn’t one with any guarantees. Aaron who is involved with doing hands on training of youth knows first hand that to run a non-profit that is building lives is always risky. Each year he trains close to 100 individuals in the summer with the craft of tuck-pointing. He has many interns that come for the summer to help work and train the youth. He has a large budget that is reflective of the extent of the work he is doing. Every year it is the same that there isn’t enough funding to begin the training in the summer but they always finish with everyone getting paid and the amazing transformation of someone going from being totally undisciplined to becoming a learner and worker is incredible.

I don’t know if I am thrilled about being humbled but when you see the ultimate perks both in helping others and just as much being helped yourself why not dive in and discover the impact that grace, mercy and humility will have in your life.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Kingdom Culture

I was pleased to have had the privilege of coming to the PCA’s Mercy Conference at New City Fellowship of Chattanooga. I have fallen in love with the CCDA group which has much more to offer when it comes to both understanding and doing urban community development work, yet I have to be honest and say God is doing some great things in the PCA in the area of mercy church. I have grown to appreciate the heart and work of both Barry and Randy who are pastors who have been doing community work for decades. They in many ways are both my mentors and encouragers. So I was excited to finally make it to Chattanooga after flying literally for all day.

I didn’t come expecting some overwhelming message or image that would be imprinted on my mind or heart, yet what I left with is something that will help me for a lifetime. I think I am learning that the Kingdom Work that God has laid before me isn’t to make poor people into middle class people but to get middle – upper middle class people to walk towards them and share their possessions and means with them. I loved hearing the simple message that Kingdom work isn’t going to necessarily win awards or get front-page headlines in newspapers or on the net.

I was fortunate to listen to what I have come to view as my personal heroes of community development. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Maria who has raised her 5 kids in the urban area of Baltimore. She was great on being transparent and honest about the difficulty of making boundaries to both protect her family and also allow special friends to be part of her life and help them grow and develop. Her oasis seemed to be experienced through her writing simple poems that expressed the heart ache of watching the impact of poverty, being fatherless and the war over a person’s soul. She gave hope that there is a reason not to quit or walk out of the hood or ghetto.

I at first wasn’t really impressed with Barry from NCF in St. Louis as a dynamic speaker but have grown to see him as one who understands the ‘lay of the land’ for doing community work. I so much resonate with his heart to see the kingdom as being called to live humbly through the gospel. Expectations take on a different look when you leave behind your ‘white’ guy culture of bigger is better, play toys are everything and realize that people or kids are what is truly important. I had an opportunity to connect with Barry and especially his son, Aaron who is into his 15th year of doing youth mentoring through doing construction work. It would be easy to look down at Aaron as just being a kid when he is truly a seasoned veteran of doing community development work. I continue to see a common theme – God’s calls for the long haul, there are no simple easy answers to life’s trouble.

I know that I have blessed to see God work so quickly through what has and will happen at New City in Phoenix. God has given me a passion and heart for these neighborhoods that have people with real names and faces. I am truly blessed to have many new friends who are willing to help with tutoring our kids and helping paint houses of low-income seniors. I am amazed at how many have helped over the last couple of years in impacting our neighborhoods where God has placed New City or Barrio Nuevo. As I sit in the last session of the conference I am skeptical of whether Thurman, the Black Brother, will just turn out to be another middle class guy that is more interested in looks and style. The Lord truly blows me away as he preaches a great sermon on the Good Samaritan. Yes, he looks good and has an amazing delivery as a Black Brother, which he should. The important point is that his message just reinforces what has already been said over the last 24 hours. Don’t walk away from anything without giving out grace and mercy. Yes, you can make a difference and no you are not going to be a world changer but a life changer. The message still comes out loud and clear the kingdom is a mustard seed that has small beginnings and should never be forced into the secular mindset of bigger is better or you have to make someone into you for them to succeed in life.

As I stepped back to assess what is it I am suppose to talk home it was simple as Thurman finished – do likewise – be like the good Samaritan, don’t walk away expend your resources, learn to trust God more and be willing to step out and do foolish things for the kingdom. Yes, I am learning that God only promises to take care of today and I am suppose to trust him for tomorrow and future needs. I know there are no guarantees in life and that God’s faithfulness doesn’t include getting an ipad or the next generation of macbook pro laptop. I may have to walk away from my present house and move into either my painting or habitat neighborhood in the next year.

God thanks for all you have been teaching me through my new friends both kids and adults over the last year or so. You have brought me many great partners to help and then some incredibly people to walk with us on this urban journey that is for a lifetime.

Friday, March 12, 2010

It is finished!

I really didn’t know what to expect with moving everything out of my dad and mom’s house. I knew that dad had lived for over 6 years without much help from mom because of her cancer and now it has been 2.5 years since her death. My dad had kept his house totally under wraps, which meant that all windows, doors or any light source was covered. We at times attempted to get dad to open doors or windows only to have him shut them. I know that over the last 6 months that eventually he would move in with us and we would have the daunting task of emptying everything out.

I drove out late after church on a Sunday night. It was raining which didn’t make it any easier but I made it to my brother’s around 4 AM in the morning. I had made prior arrangements to rent a u-haul truck to assist in taking the furniture to the Salvation Army. I do have a pennant for wanting to get things done and not sit around and discuss philosophical issues. Don’t get me wrong I love to talk philosophy or theology but the purpose of this visit from my perspective was to have everything cleaned out of the house and the storage shed before I left. I didn’t want my younger brother and wife to have to fuss any more with the mess and the memories.

I knew that this was going to be a ‘dirty’ job that could be on the History Channel. I also thought that the Horder Show might be interested in how many trash bags, paper towels and cases of toilet paper dad had stashed in the garage. I didn't know what to expect when I would walk into the house which my brother and sister in-law had already spent a couple of weeks going through draws, closets, etc… to search for any important papers, jewelry or stashed cash.I knew we had lots to do so I had to kick my brother Mark in the morning to get him out of bed and ready to get the u-haul. I decided there wasn’t any mysterious way to do this so we started taking out the furniture and then discovered that my younger brother’s neighbor, a fellow professor, needed furniture and a bed. So we did a run to the condo complex and then came back to hit it hard and get rid of bookcases, dressers and just throw all of the books and garbage on the floor. It looked like a hurricane had struck the inside of the house. It was also like a dust storm had errupted as we picked everything up.

My middle brother could only stay to the evening of the first real day of moving so we get the house emptied with most of the furniture that was worthy of being given away. We had to be done by an early time to get my brother home to shower, pack and get to the airport. I was rather tired after getting only a couple hours of sleep. So I was thrilled that dinner was done by the time I returned from the airport.

The next day I got up early and got boxes to start the process of packing up books and trash. There wasn’t any obvious place to start so we landed in the office. We shorted trash in one box and then books in another box. As we began to do this my dad’s life began to flash before my eyes. He had studied many things in college and life so there were a wide assortment of books that were packed up. This isn’t to mention my dad’s career in the Air Force who flew in B-52’s and dropped bombs in the Vietnam War. My dad had a thing for 3x5 cards and taking notes about everything. We found a few treasures between dad’s stuff, i.e. medals, pictures and then family keepsakes. We slowly made progress and could see the bottom of the floor, which was a welcomed sight until you could see all of the dirt and realize that nothing had been cleaned in 5 years.

My wife’s cousin’s son came out to help and was super with boxing up the kitchen and also sorting through lots of little treasures. I started to take the boxes into the spare garage, which became the easy out to get everything out of sight and out of mind for a season. I was smart in getting 20 book boxes and 10 large boxes. It didn’t take too long to fill all of these and see the extra garage start to look full. I had tried hard to keep my emotions in check but as we sorted through all of dad’s worldly belongings I sensed my dad’s different phases in life. There were pictures everywhere of me when I was little with a mom that I didn’t recognize, then a picture of either my kids or my brother’s kids. There were letters from all of us at different times writing back to the parents. I found one that I had written from San Diego before getting married. I gasped to see what I wrote and how I wrote. I hope I have improved some over the years. My heart for my parents did come through.

I almost forgot to talk about my dad’s thing for trash bags. Once I started to bag up trash I decided to just throw them into the front yard. The pile at first wasn’t that amazing but as the day wore on it grew. So I did a quick Craigslist search for trash haulers. I made about 7 calls and only Joe answered. Again, this wasn’t necessarily a good sign because the other guys were probably busy. I had no clue that it would take 4 loads to clear out the front yard. So Joe came by on Tuesday night and did one load and then promised to be back in the morning. We were fortunate to find the key for the storage unit, which hadn’t been touched in 10-12 years. Scott had the magic touch and was able to open the unit to discover about 15 boxes, an old stereo cabinet, a bookcase and an ancient steam bath spa. We had Joe just meet us at the storage place and began hauling it all out. I totally underestimated how much was in the unit. It totally filled up the truck. So we sent off Joe with load 3 and headed back to the house.

The real job which I had no clue would be accomplished was having someone take my dad’s gym. This wasn’t just any set of weights and bars but really a high-end home gym. I truly wish that I had gotten into weight lifting so I could have brought all of this home and set it up in my garage. I put an ad on Craigslist and got a few e-mails but only one call that was serious. The goal wasn’t making money but getting everything out of the garage. So Brian, who is from LA, after looking at the pictures decided he had to have them. The only catch was that he was in New York for business. He made a few calls and got two good friends to drive from LA with a truck to pick them up.

So just as we snag some lunch from El Pollo we get a call from the guys to get the gym equipment. As I pulled up I expected to see a couple of real buff gym types. Instead these guys were scrawny Asians. I had my doubts about them getting all of the weights and especially the squat rack onto the truck. I did have to intervene when the younger guy attempted to back the truck into the driveway. After a few minutes of no progress I stepped in to save my truck and speed up the process. Just as these guys are finishing Joe is back from the dump for his last load. The garage is now empty and you can see the floor along with a few glued on rugs.

Joe takes his time to find any treasures from the junk boxes. We make a pile for him to retrieve his treasures the following day. I sweep out the garage and cough a little or actually a lot. I continue to go through the house and get all of the bathroom stuff and do a last minute double check. We are almost done and there is time to do a Flippi’s dinner – YEAH! I am tired, sore and sad. I really don’t want my mom’s life to come to an end with boxing everything up. I know that my dad is presently clueless about what we had just spent 3 days doing. We set aside a few of his special memory pieces to use when we get him his own studio in a senior center.

I know this has especially been tough on my younger brother and his family. They have been grandpa’s caretakers for the last 3 years. It is a real job and requires lots of patience and a thick hide to love on grandpa. We were able to talk to his neighbors and his mail lady. Everyone was pleased that he was no longer living alone but would miss his constant care for the yard, the street, the trashcans and the gutters. I don’t think the area will ever look as clean then it did with dad’s supervising and work.

I love my dad and hurt on the inside as I think of his life transitioning to something totally different. I know that change is good but hard for any of us to accept regardless of age and means. My hope is that I can keep my dad’s legacy alive and help him see my love for him in how I care for him in his golden years as he cared for my mom as she journeyed through her battle with cancer over a decade.

Thanks dad - I love you!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


As I begin to study and preach through the gospel of Mark it strikes me that Jesus was someone who was great at networking before the term or concept was birthed. Jesus was a mastered at both intersecting people’s lives and understanding their circumstances in life. Why in the world would a group of successful fishermen leave their nets, hired help and follow a poor carpenter. As I have began a journey with understanding life in the hood I am seeing the utmost importance to stay in touch with the right people. This requires me to be open and willing to listen and then pursue those God puts across my path.

I am typing this blog while sitting in the parking lot of Matt’s Big Breakfast. I am going to meet with Ernie, a she, who is the brainchild of this amazing little restaurant that has captured the hearts of many who are willing to wait in line on a Saturday for an hour plus. I am not sure how I ended up making Matt’s my main place to meet but it happened. It is a small restaurant that seats at max 30 people. The food is considered to be organic and tastes great. I had never heard of organic bacon but they have it. As I have met with many here over the last 2 years I have become good friends with the owner Ernie.

She is a master at building community through her little breakfast place. It has become known as Phoenix’s best breakfast hangout. She has a heart for people, culture and the city. This is wait drew me to her and the way she chooses to make her breakfast and lunches attract people from all over Phoenix. Slowly over the last year I have shared with her what I am doing with New City and my heart for the city, inner city kids and the poor. She echoes many of the same passions as she gets involved with her son’s school and wants to make a difference through connecting others with those in need.

My purpose in writing this is to say that every relationship that comes across your path you should view as important. Little did I know that choosing to do Matt’s once a week or more would birth a friendship that would teach me about doing business from a small perspective and help grow an appreciation for loving the city. Again, understand that Phoenix still lags behind a San Diego, San Francisco or Austin when it comes to the cool factor for the downtown or hood. Yet, in spite of this God has given me a passion for living and loving on Phoenix. The key sign of this is that my wife is starting to ‘acquire the fire’ for Phoenix.

My simple lesson which is fun but a constant is keeping my eyes open to see those around me that God will use to teach me about the City and His love for the lost, the least and the last.

D_____ Toilet!

I tend to have a controlled temper most of the time. I am trying to take a day off that isn’t focused on New City/Barrio Nuevo stuff. Yesterday I met with Ernie a good friend to talk about doing urban work. I came home after doing a Lowe’s stop to get the new insides for our master bath toilet. I thought to myself this will be a slam-dunk and I’ll be finished in 30 minutes. Wow, like 5 hours later after dinner I do my 3rd Lowe’s run. It reminded me about Saturday when I helped a friend do a yard of concrete and it took not fours to finish but almost 8 for the last little patch to get hard.

As I stepped back and looked at a slow leak on my toilet after the 3rd time of changing out the inside I was ready to scream but something inside said NO don’t STOP try once more. I can see now how easy it is to quit on people because you can’t fix them after the 3rd try. Trust me I was almost ready to call a plumber and spend $$$ to get this thing fixed. I am learning my lesson that I can’t always rush to get something done. Some things, including my toilet, take lots of time to fix or be transformed.

The bigger issue which I should be screaming about to God is that my Anne got some strange type of infection in her finger that caused it to swell up and look like it was going to fall off. I was totally sympathetic, I got her flowers, a card and candy but really can’t relate because my finger isn’t throbbing with pain. At times I picture God looking at me and laughing because he doesn’t have to mess with infected fingers or leaky toilets or people that don’t listen. Yet, He is teaching me to be patient, persistent and stick with the plan that is His plan.

I know that I have one other toilet that I will have to attack in the next 6 months and most likely I have learned my lesson about what kit to by and how to reassemble it after I take it apart. As to whether I have learned the lessons of life for myself totally – no and definitely not for others. I had an early call from one of my mom’s who did a thank you I need help type of calls. She has 2 kids who have been part of our tutoring for the last 1.5 years and also has a son who has 2 little kids who all live with her. Some times I think that she doesn’t really care but this early call was a great reminder that what we are doing is important and does make a difference.

God thanks for leaky toilets that force me to me to be humbled and remember that I am dependent upon my Father and my wife for way more than I want to admit.