Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

In the spirit of our Advent Conspiracy, my wife Jodie and I have decided to deliver our Christmas love electronically this year!! I know, I know...it's a cheap thing to use technology to fuel frugality. But I mean this sincerely, so here it goes:

This year,
I am thankful to Jesus for the life that He has given me.
I am thankful for my wife Jodie, my daughter Alex, and my son Caleb.
I am thankful for the incredible people of Overlake Christian Church, for their dedication to Jesus, for allowing me to be on the journey with them, and for the staff and leaders there who make it a truly dynamic place to serve.
And I am thankful for you.

This year, in sincere humility, I encourage you to thank Jesus for ALL of His gifts in your life. I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and an ADVENTUROUS 2009! Join us for Christmas EVE, if you are up for braving the roads!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snow Day

I spoke on Humility last week at church.

God chose to use that as a springboard to teach me humility. You see, here is a brokenness that almost all pastors have…and certainly, that I deal with from time to time, and that is the brokenness I call “Attendance Validation.” It means that, as a pastor, you are actually validated as a human being if the attendance in your church is strong and growing. If the attendance in your church has plateaued or is declining, you really have no purpose in life, and you might as well make an end of it. The Samauri call this hari-cari or seppuku, but some pastors I know perform emotional self-disembowelment every Monday morning.

The problem with serving at a church in the Northwest is this: the weather freaks people out. A lot. It rains a good amount, and rain freaks people out which makes their cars only drive as far as Starbucks. Occasionally it’s nice on a weekend, and it freaks people out and they scatter to the mountains, which they can suddenly see for a change. But it also happens, from time to time, that it snows, and when it snows here, people lose their minds.

They buy up ALL the gas at the gas station for their generators. You can’t find a BBQ lighter for sale in the state, people buy them by the gross. If we had bunkers, everyone would be hiding in them, as if was RED SNOW, with high radiation levels. Here is a true story…when it begins snowing people abandon their cars on the side of the road and walk home. I’m not making this up. It is an M. Night Shyamalan dream.

Back to my point: It snowed this weekend. It snowed last weekend. Attendance at my church was affected. (That’s the politically correct way to state things.)

I’ve been humbled. It’s a lesson I learn with some regularity…

So Jesus, I know my validation doesn’t come from attendance, but that it comes from who YOU say that I am. My value comes from the worth that YOU ascribe to me…and since worth is determined by what someone is willing to pay…and since you gave your LIFE for me on the cross…I have to conclude that my worth to you is priceless. THANK you, Jesus, for re-teaching a fundamental truth. I love the liberation that your truths bring…and…and...

I’m pretty sure I’ve been humbled enough, Lord.

So…maybe it could just be cloudy next weekend.

With a slight chance of no weather. Amen.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Come, see real
of this painful world.


Some people like Milton or Chaucer, but the poem form that speaks to me is Haiku. It might be an attention-span-thing.

Today, I walked with my 6 year old son, Caleb, through the World Vision Experience: AIDS exhibit. It was masterfully done, like you are stepping into Africa, and we both listened on the same Ipod to the story of Emmanuel, who was orphaned at age 4 by AIDS. You get to experience Emmanuel's story, which culminates in a clinic where you find out whether you test positive or negative to HIV.

Caleb was wide eyed, but not terrified. He gripped my hand firmly, but not desperately. At the end of the guided tour, the narration instructs you to pick up a photo of a child to pray for. Caleb grabbed a photo, placed it between his hands folded in prayer, and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. He prayed fiercely on behalf of this child...and suddenly I began to cry. It was my son's unbridled faith that really got to me. With the complete assurance that God loves kids, Caleb petitioned God on behalf of a little boy from Rwanda. The fragrance of a six year old, praying with determination for a 4 year old orphan, was overwhelmingly lovely.

Yes, this is a painful world.
Yes, the tragic is all around.
But that's not the story.
The story is that, for those with eyes to see, there are real flowers here as well.

Caleb, through World Vision, now sponsors Emmanuel, who shares a name with the boy whose story we heard. My daughter Alex also now sponsors a child.

Today, I simply recognize...
that God has given me two real flowers...
bringing the aroma of His love...
into this painful world.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Snapshot of AIDS

One of the nicest people I know plays percussion in our worship band at Overlake. She’s also one of the most amazing people I know. Everything that follows is her story, in her own words. It’s a bit more powerful than most of my blog-posts, but it is absolutely worth the read. -Mike

It’s not a secret that HIV is a dangerous disease, but when you hear about it, it’s through people who are mainly advocates. But you also pray to God, that it never infects anyone you know. I was one of those people who thought, it clearly would never happen to me…I was wrong, because now it’s what I have to deal with on a regular basis. At first I was in denial about it, I didn’t it want it to be a reality. So I chose never to discuss it and until this day I’ve only told five people.

After being at the AIDS forum at Overlake a couple weeks ago. I immediately knew that God wanted me to share my story. My first reaction was, why Lord? Why would you want all those people to know something that sensitive about me? Deep down I knew it was His will, but I still was hesitant. After lots of praying, crying & clinging to His words, I knew that God would never give a situation I couldn’t handle. HIV has been like a raw wound that I didn’t want to open. It’s so real, it just brings back bad memories, I had chosen to bury & nightmares that I don’t want to re-live. I have seen it affect my family and friends. It wasn’t until four years ago that I found out that they were all diagnosed with same disease, AIDS. So for the years before that, I wasn’t given an accurate explanation as to what seemed to kill some of the closest people in my life due to culture. In Uganda, when you have HIV, it’s such a disgrace and the most shameful thing you could ever bring to people who know you. You get shunned, disrespected and everyone considers you as a dead person walking. You’re feelings, actions even presence don’t matter anymore and I know exactly how that feels like.

My world came to a screeching halt when I received a phone call from my mom. She said, she needed to tell me, some not to so good news before I found out from anyone else. When she told me that she would have preferred telling me in person, then I knew it was serious. And those two hours were most excruciating pain I’ve ever endured. I found out that my mom and my youngest sister were infected with the HIV. She told me, she found out before my dad passed away and that my dad had had it as well. Here I thought he had passed away from complications due to pneumonia. Which was technically true, he had had a stroke a couple of months before. They both found out, through routine tests that were done before he got discharged from the hospital. After they came back home, the mood was different. My mom cried a lot, I thought she was worried about him and I clearly remember trying to comfort her and tell her that he was going to be fine. I missed talking to my dad, due to his speech being slurred, but every time we came in the room, his face brightened and he used his good arm to stroke us. Then one night, he got pneumonia & by the next afternoon we had lost him. After that, everything turned upside down, the only thing that calmed me was that he was with God. My mom assured my sister & I that God always takes care of all widows & orphans and not to worry at all. To be honest, I was relieved that Papa wasn’t in pain anymore, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t angry because he went too soon. I didn’t think it was fair, that I would never have him carry me on his shoulders, take me for walks in the neighborhood, while we chased each other’s shadows. I would never make breakfast with him. I would never have him pick me up from school to go & have ice-cream which happened twice a week without my mother’s knowledge. But of all the above, the most thing I was going to miss, was when he came back from work, he always called out excitedly, “Abaishikyi bagye.” Which meant,” My girls, where are my girls?” We would all literally scrabble from different corners of the house screaming, “Papa yigya” which meant, “Papa’s home!” And we just fought for all his attention. Overall I was going to miss being a typical Daddy’s girl!

After that phone call, so many things began to make sense. I found out he got infected through a blood transfusion, he had to get after we were all involved in a car accident. A drunk driver hit us and while we escaped with bumps & scrapes, my dad wasn’t that lucky, the broken windscreen glass had cut his head, neck & one of his wrists. By the time he got to the hospital he was in & out of conscious ness because he had lost a lot of blood. Back in the late 80’s hospitals at home just checked to see if the blood matched your blood group and they never tested it for any other diseases. As soon as he passed away, so many changes happened, traditionally my dad’s side of the family is entitled to take anything. So they wiped out my dad’s accounts, took some and sold some of our property. I guess to them, they thought it was only a matter of time before we died as well. My mom had finally had enough when someone suggested, that she should send Maureen (my sister) and I to the village to live with grandparents until we were old enough to get married & then she would receive half of our dowry (a groom’s payment to the bride’s relatives for their daughter). My mom had finally had enough after that statement, she became like a mother-bear guarding her cubs & she didn’t really care for what tradition & culture called for anymore. She put us up in Catholic boarding school when we about six & five. And made sure the headmistress knew that nobody was supposed to take us unless they had contacted her first. It wasn’t easy for her not to see us every other 3 months. But at least she had a little peace knowing that we had a safe place to stay, 3 meals a day & most importantly having an education. She also made sure that Maureen and I were tested for HIV as a precaution, every other semester for the first year. And by God’s amazing grace, we tested negative every time.

About six years later, my mom started to date again and when she got pregnant, things didn’t work out between her and the guy she was seeing. When she found out she was having twins, she was excited. In a way, she was lonely when we left for school and now she was going to have babies to fuss over, which would occupy her thoughts & free time. I now know she was scared of the possibility that the twins could be infected. Since she was already on medication, she looked fine & healthy and had unwavering hope that God’s will would be fulfilled. Unfortunately the babies were born premature, Robert my brother couldn’t make it and Melanie tested positive for HIV. My mom was so devastated she had just lost a son and she didn’t know if Melanie was even going to make it. I look up to Melanie in so many ways, she’s one strong fighter. She started the medication early which was a little strong for her already frail & weak body. Her baby teeth were so charred & black. We were always in hospitals when she couldn’t breathe on her own. And yet she never complained about taking her medicine everyday, she couldn’t play much but she didn’t sulk about staying indoors all the time. She just looked forward to much better days. She and my mom never let bad situations get to them. And we went through some bad experiences with relatives. I never could figure out why they treated us in a distant manner. They wiped down everything we touched or sat on. We were given special plates, cups even bed sheets & they would discard all these items immediately. It was so obvious that they want not going to be used again. When we questioned our mom about it, she calmly said, “Yes it was interesting, but don’t dwell on it, its snake-like behavior and I have taught you to be gentle like doves and to be like miracles to all you meet & know.”

I have another whole new appreciation for my mom, sisters & friends. I talk to my mom every week and am rejuvenated every time. My sisters are just incredible best friends to me and I continue to praise & glorify God for the time I have with them. I know that when that day comes when the tissue that makes white blood cells can’t produce anymore and their days are numbered, it will be scary and I don’t look forward to it. I worry for them, but then at the same time I know that God would never let me carry that burden, He simply asks that I play a role in handling it, it’s not my task, it’s His.

So join me in playing a role this advent, let’s give hope to others who are in my position, if not even worse. Let’s give them a good reason to wake up in the morning. Let’s educate more people both here & all over the world on how to prevent & control HIV. People in there 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s are all dying, which leaves seniors or grandparents to take care of the multiplying numbers of orphans. Instead of spoiling their grandchildren, they are working to put food on the table. Let’s give the orphans some dreams back. Dreams to go to school, to be ambitious, to get careers and be better examples for their communities, hence creating a better tomorrow.

I want to end with this quote from Fredrick Wood, “The only life that counts is the life that costs.” It reminds me that true discipleship means true sacrifice and yes there is some element of cost as always. But as living sacrifices, we should remember that resources are not insufficient when God is involved. Let’s give thanks to the Almighty, for all he has provided and to show more gratitude especially in this time of Advent.

Thank You for hearing my story.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ferris Bueller

Because someone dropped a Ben Stein video on my desk, and because of a recent frustrating discussion the details of which I shall spare us all, (imagine my teeth clenched as I type) I am reminded of a noteworthy line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's in the scene where Bueller pretends to be the Sausage King of Chicago, at Chez Quis. After receiving a half-hearted apology from a snooty (snotty) host, who thanks Bueller for his "understanding." Bueller replies:

"It's understanding that makes it possible for person like me to tolerate a person such as yourself."

I'm just guessing here...but I'm pretty sure Jesus himself might feel this way. About some of his more obstinate children. From time to time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

AIDS: Powerful Exhibit

Today’s blog is a newspaper article. About something that's happening at my church. It is a good article. This will be a great exhibit. I’m truly excited for what God is up to in all of this…

Redmond Reporter Reporter
Dec 05 2008, 1:18 PM
Redmond's Overlake Christian Church, 9900 Willows Rd. NE, is hosting the free exhibit "World Vision Experience: AIDS" from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14; and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 15.

This 3,000 square foot, interactive exhibit recreates an African village where children are gripped by poverty and life-threatening disease. Through powerful photography and audio presentations, visitors gain a new understanding of the AIDS epidemic. "This is the first time it's been at Overlake. Since the prototype was first on display in 2005, more than 150,000 people in 80-plus cities throughout North America have walked through the exhibit," noted Josh McQueen, Serve the World pastor at the non-denominational church.

We asked about the incentive to bring this program to Overlake. McQueen explained, "The heart of Overlake is to simply love God, love people, and serve the world. Overlake has partnered with World Vision on other humanitarian projects in the past and this seemed like the perfect fit, given the church's 'Advent Conspiracy' initiative for the 2008 holiday season — where the church is encouraging people to purchase one less gift this year and give what they would have spent to help others. In this case, HIV/AIDS relief."

Some might question the timing of the exhibit, shortly before Christmas. On one hand, Christmas is a time when Christians are called to think about the less fortunate. However, it's also a joyous season and some might see this exhibit as depressing or disturbing. McQueen responded, "Overlake and World Vision truly believe the exhibit will bring HOPE to visitors — hope that even individuals can make a difference in the lives of children and adults touched by HIV/AIDS around the world. This exhibit helps people learn more, in a very heartfelt way, about the human side of HIV/AIDS and also shows what can be done by individuals to help change a life — in essence, to give a gift of life during a season that's all about giving."
He added, "As we celebrate the birth of Jesus and his mission in the world, that was in a large part to care for and heal the sick, we think Christmas is the perfect time to remind ourselves about the needs of the afflicted in our world and of Christ's love for them. Just as an interesting side note, a recent survey by World Vision found that seven in 10 adults plan to spend less money on holiday presents this year, but about half say they are more likely to give a charitable gift than a traditional gift. Americans care ... and we, as a church, want to help people channel their goodwill toward a cause that has touched, in some way, the entire world."

More than 1,000 people have already reserved their free tour times for "World Vision Experience: AIDS" at Overlake Christian Church. McQueen expects that this number could more than double, or potentially triple, as we draw closer to the dates of the event and through word-of-mouth promotion from people taking the tour early. Although not required, tickets are recommended. The self-guided tour takes 20-30 minutes. To reserve your tickets for a specific time, visit www.worldvisionexperience.org.

Also, please note that parental discretion is advised. Some portions of the exhibit may be frightening or inappropriate for younger children. The World Vision Web site includes a page explaining the content and why kids under 13 might not be candidates to tour the exhibit. For additional information, contact Josh McQueen at (425) 702-0303 or joshm@occ.org.
Redmond Reporter Reporter Mary Stevens Decker can be reached at mdecker@redmond-reporter.com or (425) 867-0353, ext. 5052.

p.s. This is Mike again: I did want you to know that I edited a few things: Josh is one of our Serve the World pastors, called Reach ministries in the original article. OCC pursues three purposes: to Love God, Love People, and Serve the World, reported originally as two. And the number of 1000 signed up has increased significantly, and is creeping towards 2000 as I write this. Jodie walked through the same exhibit in a neighboring city two months ago, and so we’ve decided to take our kids through this one. I’ll walk Caleb through it (with a splitter so we can share the Ipod) so if there is audio that’s too intense, I’ll just FF.

p.p.s. I’m praying that hearts are broken this Christmas…broken for the things that break God’s heart. If you can make it, I bet this is one experience that you’ll never forget.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Last night, after the single-parent craziness of my week (my wife is in South Africa volunteering two weeks with AIDS babies at an orphanage and comprehensive elementary HIV prevention program called iThembaLetu), I felt shaky, like I was just emerging from the depths of the flu.

My kids have been phenomenal, but what is amazing to me is the amount of human resource management that is required, even as I’m trying to keep my own ducks in a row. Without a partner in the fight to stay sane, to laugh with, to double-team kid-tasks…I don’t know how it’s to be done…AND I’m amazed that single parents actually pull it off. I consider this a Herculean feat.

Jodie and I SKYPE-d this morning (Luddite Note: Skype is this Jestsons-esque kind of video phone you can download for free). She cried when she saw our frowsy-headed kiddos, and they made her laugh by doing goofy faces into the camera. She told us about how the camps have been going that her team has pulled off…the amazing work with elementary school kids teaching them their value in God’s eyes, that Jesus loves them, and to embrace healthy behavior because of that value. She told us how their team took the whole house of AIDS babies to the beach yesterday…splashing and playing with these toddlers and just loving them like crazy. It’s hot in South Africa right now, so even as she was relating these stories, she was sweltering.

After we hung up the phone, I spent a moment sitting at my desk in silence.

I love her so much, and I miss her desperately. But what I felt more than anything was peace. Overwhelming peace. Peace that she is exactly where Jesus wants her right now. Peace that she is caring for those who are close to Jesus’ heart right now. Peace that she is once more modeling for our kids God-values right now. And a peace that, right now, no matter where she is, no matter what frenzy of pace and exhaustion consume us, Jesus is with her, Jesus is with us, Jesus is HERE, and He is the Prince of Peace.

I sat quiet for a moment thankful for His peace.

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27,28

My prayer for you is that you are able to sit quiet for a moment today.
My prayer for you is peace.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The “F” Word

Disclaimer: sorry to be so potty mouth in such a short span of time. It won’t happen again.

Yesterday, Scout, our 9 month old puppy, was being walked by Alex (age 8), Caleb (6) and I after school. As we walked the trails near our home, some dogs started barking. Scout is a bit skiddish (the folks at the shelter guessed that he might have been beaten as a young pup), so he lowered his ears and slinked as far from the barking as possible. The kids commented that the dogs seemed to be yelling at Scout. Here was their conversation:

“It's like the dogs are shouting bad words in dog language.”
“Maybe they’re saying the ‘F’ Word,” Caleb says, matter of fact.
“The ‘F’ Word is so bad adults go to jail for saying it,” Alex adds, solemn.
“Do you know what the ‘F’ Word is?” I ask my first grade son.
“Did Alex teach you?”
Instantly Alex looks up at me, with both giggle and fear behind her oh-so-busted blue eyes. Her face reads: passing knowledge along to my younger sibling really IS my job…I’m just fulfilling my duty.
“What is the ‘F’ Word?” I ask Caleb, gently.
He whispers like we’re in a museum…“Fub.”

We walk along in silence, with leaves crunching under our feet, but the laughter inside me was bubbling up like a torrent of joy. Innocence truly is a lovely, and fleeting, commodity. Today, I simply cherish it for the gift that it is. Because, yes, someday there will be a day when even the pastor's kids will have a grasp of all sorts of colorful language. But today I simply thank Jesus for the innocence of my angels. And I pray to God for wisdom to be a good dad.

And mostly I pray that I don't fub things up.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"F@#K Africa!"

At church last Sunday, we had a very agitated man berate Pastor Josh for the message that he gave to kick off our Advent Conspiracy series. To see the message, click occ.org. To see the video that explains Advent Conspiracy, hit occ.org. It’s that easy.

Anyway, the man didn’t make a ton of biblical sense, (he was trying to argue that Jesus didn’t care about Africa because America has problems of its own) and since he opened with, “F@#K Africa,” it did make it a bit hard to take him seriously. Hard to imagine Jesus opening up a conversation with that line. I believe Jesus loves Africa. It's one of his favorite continents (top 6, anyway).

I spoke with him, (I stepped in to protect Josh’s heart) and he ended up leaving feeling heard, and, I believe, loved; but knowing that he was not going to change our direction this month. I let him know that this is a safe church, and that you don’t have to agree with everything I teach in order to come to our church. I’m not interested in Stalin-Church where we go after Thought Control. In retrospect, however, I probably should have told him that just about every conversation I have is blog-fodder.

But it made me think about why I’ve been charging this Advent Conspiracy direction. I consider it a personal challenge from Jesus to get Matthew 25:31-46 in front of as many people as I possibly can, starting with my Overlake Christian Church friends, my Blog friends, and my Facebook Friends…you get the picture. I consider it a personal challenge to invite as many people as I possibly can to our World Vision Experience:AIDS tour here from December 12-15th. I consider it a personal challenge to encourage as many people as I can to buy two less gifts this Christmas, and for Christ’s sake, to give the money that would have been spent on those gifts to AIDS relief.

That’s where I’m landing.
You sure don’t have to land in the same place.
I’m not Stalin.

But if you disagree loudly enough, I’ll probably blog about it.

P.S. I should note that MOST of our church is thrilled about the direction of this Advent Conspiracy Series, and that we already have well over 1000 people signed up to the World Vision Experience:AIDS tour. We’d love to have you join us!

P.P.S. It goes without saying that the title of this blog was a quote, and a hook to get you reading it, and as a sentiment, couldn't be furthur from my heart.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I am so desperate to write something beautiful and moving, something pithy and uproarious, but today I feel like my brain is full of sawdust, and the words in my head sound like the parents on the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

So instead I would point you places where interesting things are already being said. Here are some books that give art and soul a swift kick in the shorts, and you might like them this holiday season:

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Miles to Cross by Mike Howerton (shameless, I know!)
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
Why Guys Need God by Mike Erre

Take them all with a grain of salt, learn, apply, discard, soar.

Here’s a Lamott quote that for some reason got me today:

What did it mean to be saved, I asked, although I knew the word smacked of Elmer Gantry for both of us.
“You don’t need to think about this,” he said.
“Just tell me.”
“I guess it’s like discovering you’re on the shelf of a pawnshop, dusty and forgotten and maybe not worth very much. But Jesus comes in and tells the pawnbroker, ‘I’ll take her place on the shelf. Let her go outside again.”