Jerusalem Sabbatical

I originally created my blog to post my reflections on my sabbatical experience in Jerusalem in 2006. I have also used it to post my thoughts and ideas about being a church for the next generation. Now I hope to use it to blog about my third time in Israel, volunteering with Bridges for Peace!

Friday, June 26, 2015

I'm heading back to Jerusalem! For another volunteer experience with Bridges for Peace. During my previous times there, I blogged about everything I did and everywhere I went. But I've found that this blog site to be more difficult to navigate since blogspot "improved" their site. I'm thinking Facebook will be easier (and even more accessible) for people to see what I'm up to. I'm using this post to try out some various things and see if it's still possible to share what I hope to, with photos, links, and other resources.  Here goes:

This was me in Jerusalem in 2006. Except for the glasses, I don't think I've changed a bit!

Here is a link to the BFP website:

How many photos can be added to a post now? The limit used to be six. Maybe the improvements allow for more!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Figuring It Out

I'm trying to figure out how to use blogger with all the things that have changed since I did my postings in Israel, back in 2006 and 2007.  Why do they have to make things so confusing?!

Friday, May 24, 2013


It's been over a year since I last posted anything on my blog.  In that time, we have welcomed a new youth/worship pastor to Hilmar Covenant, a new senior pastor, have changed many things in the life of our church, and I must say that the "spirit" of things at HCC is very powerful and forward-looking.  I simply haven't had time to spend on my blog - and don't know when I will again.  But I have far less that I feel I need to pour out here anymore, and for that I am thankful.

I'm not totally finished with blogging though!  So come on back and check in from time to time.  Who knows what the Lord will put on my heart.  And after my visit to Haiti in October, I just might have a lot more to say here!

Have a restful summer...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

This year’s Pacific Southwest Conference “Celebration” was as informative and exciting as ever! Thank you for letting me represent you as a delegate. It is always a joy to meet with other Covenanters in our conference, to hear about the amazing things that are happening throughout the PSWC and the wider Covenant, to be challenged by inspirational speakers, and to worship with the broad multicultural mix of Covenant people in our conference.

The meetings began with a workshop for Covenant clergy entitled “Emotionally Healthy Leadership,” presented by Pete Scazzero, pastor of a large multiracial church in Queens, New York. The essence of Pete’s message is that emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable – and unfortunately, most people are not healthy emotionally! Which has serious implications for how pastors and leaders lead, how congregations behave, for church ministry priorities – every aspect of congregational life. All of us are like icebergs, presenting just a small part of who we are to the world around us.
The greater part of ourselves is hidden below the surface, unconscious and unknown even to ourselves, resulting in unhealthy and negative consequences in every aspect of our lives. The cost of not addressing the “iceberg” aspects of people is enormous. Until these buried parts of ourselves become conscious and healed, our spirituality will also be affected negatively, manifesting in a variety of immature ways (legalism, judgmental attitudes, anger, a critical and un-teachable spirit, stunted spirituality, and so forth).

But it’s Pete’s message on Thursday night that I want to highlight for you, because it offers an important, timely, and very serious challenge for us at Hilmar Covenant as we call a new pastor and intentionally proceed into our “preferred future” as a church.
Pete began by describing an experience he had while in Hawaii, snorkeling in the ocean and being awed by the beauty he saw in the water below him: the variety and colors of fish, the coral and rock formations, the play of sunlight in the water and on the ocean floor. He wanted to go deeper; to “get up close and personal” with all that he was seeing from the surface as he snorkeled.

However, to descend to those depths requires scuba diving! A much more demanding activity than snorkeling, needing lots of training, equipment, finances, practice, and commitment. The only way to be fully immersed and engaged in the rich diversity and beauty of the ocean depths is to commit to what it takes to “go deep” – to scuba dive.
Pete’s used his snorkeling experience as an analogy for the spiritual lives of Christians in America today. He is convinced that many of the problems facing the American Church today are the result of most American Christians settling for “snorkeling spirituality” – just skimming across the surface of faith – rather than pursuing everything that is required for a deep, transformative, life-changing and world-changing spirituality: “scuba spirituality!” The evidence is indisputable:

•the Church is almost indistinguishable from the world
•people are not experiencing deep transformation (they accept Jesus, but are not changed deeply)
•there is a disconnect between what people say they believe and how they act and live out their lives
•most people are living off of other people’s spirituality (settling for a pastor’s sermon, a small group leader’s insights, the latest book or charismatic leader)
•most people are not deeply into Scripture and prayer
•the Church is not transforming society and culture
•there is a degree of violence in congregations today that damages a leader’s soul and family
•seminaries are not succeeding in preparing leaders for the realities and challenges of ministry in the world of today
•the level of distraction, “scattered-ness,” and information overload is rapidly increasing with mobile devices, social networking, etc. with profound effects on people’s abilities to go deeper spiritually

Pete also offered a number of reasons why the Church is in this unhealthy place:

•congregations tend to live the gospel intellectually, but emotionally live out their families’ habits, patterns, and unconscious “iceberg” realities
•there is over-shepherding of people by leaders (which facilitates “snorkeling spirituality”)
•self-care is seen as selfish – we need to “work for Jesus!” (pastors available 24/7)
•there is a tendency to “preach grace,” but many actually “live law”
•identity is found more in doing and producing, not in just “being”
•people are unchanged because there is not strong, deep discipleship occurring in churches
•churches are focused more on activity, busy-ness, and outer marks of “success” (size, numbers, programs, style, etc.) than about developing spiritual maturity in people
•churches rely on the corporate model and cause-driven ministry rather than helping people simply love Jesus (that life is first about passionately loving, serving, and seeking Jesus)
So what are some remedies and ways to help people become “spiritual scuba divers?”

•remind congregations that the image of the church in the New Testament is one of family – and our first loyalty as believers is to the family of Jesus (our “biological blood” is not as important as the “blood of Jesus” that binds us together)
•”re-parent” our people to the family of Jesus
•help people open up and allow Jesus to transform their “icebergs” (all of the stuff below the surface of their lives)
•bring emotional health into our churches so spiritual maturity can develop (we can’t do transformation at church without healthy marriages, singleness, and sexuality)
•rediscover the riches of monastic practices in the local church; things like the daily office of Scripture reading and prayer, communing with Jesus while active, balancing activity and contemplation, spiritual direction, practicing Sabbath – especially to slow the church down

Pete’s bottom line is that for churches to be healthy missional families of faith, it is imperative that there be deep transformation in people’s lives, spiritually and emotionally – for indeed, emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable! Congregational health is not just about more Bible study and lots of programs for every age and interest either. It is about giving time and attention to self-care, loving relationships, communing with God and with each other, so that leadership and ministry result from the overflow of a vibrant, intimate life with Jesus.

Spiritual formation is an area that I am now helping to oversee here at Hilmar Covenant. I desperately want to see our congregation plumb the depths of “scuba spirituality!” It is clear that this will mean the re-ordering of some of the habits, priorities, patterns, and rhythms of life that currently characterize HCC – and the personal lives of us, the congregation. Though we have made good strides forward in the past few years, and are definitely in a better place than we were, if we simply pursue “business as usual” – if most of us are content with “snorkeling” across the surface of church life and spiritual growth – then we will not experience the profound and meaningful changes that I know all of us are anticipating as we welcome a new pastor into our midst.

Together, let us seek God passionately and purposefully, give more attention to one another in fellowship, care, and love, and pursue deeply transformed lives - individually and corporately - so we will become a more healthy, vibrant, spiritually mature church unlike any other! May we be a people of God whose effect on our community will be that of Acts 4:13: “They were astonished and they recognized that (we!) have been with Jesus.”

Friday, February 24, 2012


Because my ministry responsibilities shifted on January 1, I had "Feed My Starving Children" to coordinate on January 20 and 21, I was off to Chicago for two weeks for the Covenant Midwinter Conference and vacation, and I was away for the staff/council annual retreat last weekend, I have not had time to put anything together for a blog post. I do want to update my blog though, so let me offer this very interesting "take" on the subject of worship, written by a Covenant worship leader colleague. I'm linking you to the Covenant website, where Chris posted his article on the "WorshipConnect" page.

Enjoy! And stay tuned for something new soon...


Saturday, December 31, 2011


A new year is just around the corner. What will it bring your way? What do you hope and dream will happen in your life in the coming year? What concerns do you have? In what ways would you like to grow, improve, and end next year significantly better/stronger/richer (and I don’t mean monetarily!) than you are right now, on December 31, 2011?

A recent writing in my daily devotional, “Magnificent Prayer,” cut me to the heart and challenged me to consider how I’ve been, how I’ve compromised my life, my faith, my values, etc. and how much I want to be significantly better/stronger/richer (and also deeper in my relationship with the Lord) than I am today when December 31, 2012 rolls around.

Here’s what I read. The author is Vance Havner, a popular preacher and conference speaker from earlier in the past century. I’m going to separate the various thoughts that he has for us, to create space for you to think and ponder what he has to say.

“And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down.” (I Kings 18:30)

“We read that Elijah began the demonstration of the true God by repairing the altar of the Lord that was broken down. Never was there a revival that did not so begin.

And if today God answers from heaven we must begin to repair His broken altars:

•Altars of consecration, where once we gave ourselves to God and promised to do His will alone; where we offered Him our talents and time and possessions, ourselves…but with the years we have kept back part of the price and lied unto God until it is a wonder we do not drop dead like Ananias and Sapphira;

•Altars of dedication, where we gave our children to God…but later chose our way for them and denied God;

•Family altars, where once we gathered to read the Word and commit our way unto the Lord…but now abandon with the silly excuse that since times have changed, it is no longer practical;

•Altars of praise and testimony, where once the redeemed of the Lord said so…but sin and worldliness and neglect have closed our lips and stolen our song;

•Altars of service, where once we lived only, always, for the King…but have now deserted because we live for self and none beside, just as if Jesus had never lived, just as if He had never died.

Here is our task: to repair these broken altars. All our pious dodges and clever substitutes to avoid repentance will never avail. Stained glass windows and robed choirs and anthems and banquets and dramas and eloquence in the pulpit and elegance in the pew have never fooled God. He demands truth in the inward parts, and heaven will keep silent and no fire will ever fall until we approach Him with rebuilt altars in the name of the Lord.” (Vance Havner)

I think this devotional also struck my heart because of the situation here at Hilmar Covenant. For many years, people have prayed for revival. People have wanted the congregation to grow. People have wanted the church to be alive. We have tried new programs, new activities, new fads, new facilities, new staff...but to what end?

Through the Veritas evaluation process, we were shocked to discover that the health of our congregation was not real good. Instead of revival and growth, we had plateaued – and were even declining! We were a “critical moment” church. Deeper study showed some of the reasons for this.

Why the discrepancies between what we as a congregation desired and the reality that we were faced with?

I think it was because of “broken altars.” Some of the things mentioned in Havner’s comments. Some of the peripheral issues and concerns that we as a congregation got caught up in, expending our energy and emotion on secondary matters instead of focusing on our primary calling as a church: pursuing Christ and Christ’s priorities in the world. Things like worship style, music style, preaching style, length of worship, staff personalities, habits/traditions vs. change/new relevancies, people's fears, etc. became priorities and took our attention and energy away from the central, essential elements of being the church, like our relationship with the Lord, Bible study, prayer, worship, community/fellowship, acts of service, concern for those who do not yet know and follow Christ, forgiveness, grace, trust, and so forth. Being human got the best of us! American individualism triumphed over how we are to live together, serve God and others, and “be” the Church. Our culture’s insatiable thirst for personal satisfaction, comfort, security, and pleasure triumphed over putting other’s interests first, sacrifice, embracing the unfamiliar, and generously deferring to others.

There is only one way for revival to occur – in one’s personal life and in the community life of a church: PRAYER. Focused, committed, communal prayer. Tinkering with the outer things (worship, programs, stylistic choices, fun activities, minimal commitment, new staff, etc.) will never bring revival and true spiritual growth. Appealing to people’s preferences will never bring a church alive either, because the focus is 180° in the wrong direction: on people, and not on God! Prayer brings the necessary change of heart, known as repentance, and that brings a deep desire to repair broken altars in one’s life. The result will be revival.

I believe we at Hilmar Covenant have made good progress forward in becoming a more healthy congregation. We have addressed some of the issues that made us a “critical moment” church. For those of us who continue to be committed and active here, there is a sense of expectancy and hope for better days ahead.

However, the truth of the matter is that we have declined. The only way to reverse this process is through revival – which is the work of the Holy Spirit, not human efforts. And the only way to unleash the Spirit and bring revival to us is through PRAYER.

As the New Year begins, I want to call us as a congregation once again to prayer. For us to be a praying congregation – not just a couple dozen of us, but everyone; 100%! If you have an asterisk by your name in the church directory, you are a member of Hilmar Covenant. When you joined this congregation, you made a number of promises before God as well as before the rest of your brothers and sisters in Christ, and one of these was to pray for the ongoing life of Hilmar Covenant. Are you faithfully doing so? Or is this a “broken altar” in your own life?

If we want to see our church thrive and grow and erupt in excellent health, it is our responsibility, individually and corporately, to seek an active, alive, vibrant relationship with God. This is what it means to repair broken altars, personally and together as a church. If we get our priorities straight, if we will forgive and seek unity, make the Lord first in our lives, and PRAY, “we can approach Him with rebuilt altars” and the Lord will pour out revival in ways we have never seen before.

I close with another selection from “Magnificent Prayer:”

“Brethren, we must fight for the prayer time! We must have time to pray. If we wait until we have some leisure moments to pray, we will never have the chance to pray. We should set apart some definite time for prayer. ‘Those who have no set time for prayer,’ warns Andrew Murray, ‘do not pray.’ For this reason, we need to watch that we may get time to pray. We must also use prayer to protect this prayer time from being snatched away through the wiles of the devil.” (Watchman Nee)


Thursday, December 08, 2011


I hardly know where to begin…

I first became acquainted with this organization when FMSC was at CHIC in 2006 and 2009 and students and leaders packed hundreds of thousands of meals for hungry children around the world.

Over a year ago, Hilmar Covenant committed to hosting a “Feed My Starving Children” food packing event, after I learned that another Covenant church in New England had raised the money necessary to do such an event. Each meal now costs 24 cents, and to make the event cost effective, we had to commit to packing a minimum of 100,000 meals – which meant raising $24,000! I was apprehensive about this; with the economy the way it is (especially here in Merced County), the number of organizations and groups seeking financial support these days, and the many other ministry responsibilities that are on my plate, I saw a long hard road ahead, trying to make our FMSC food packing event a reality. We had a big publicity kick-off for our congregation in March.

Our food packing event takes place on January 20 and 21, 2012. Volunteers sign up for two hour shifts, and work in cells of 20 people, to assemble as many packets of food as possible. Children as young as 5 years old can participate, making this a tremendous intergenerational and family event. Students receive two hours of community service credit for their involvement. Businesses, schools, churches, clubs, and other organizations receive excellent publicity for helping to sponsor the event. Best of all, a food packing event is both FUN and meaningful, knowing that you are doing a very practical, hands-on activity locally and, at the same time, doing something to make a huge difference globally: feeding hungry kids.

Fast forward to today: Not only did we meet our minimum goal before the end of October, we are currently at about $40,000 – and 166,666 meals! Through matching grants, generous donations, advertising spots, an ingenious M&M tube program (fill the tube with quarters – that’s $14, and 58 meals!), and many solicitations, we have been stunned at the tremendous response to our FMSC event.

Last week, it was time for two of us on our FMSC committee to get trained in how to sign up volunteers for the food packing shifts in January. This took about 45 minutes. At the end of our training, the woman at FMSC headquarters in the Twin Cities encouraged us to consider going ahead and committing to our “God-sized miracle goal” of $72,000, 300,000 meals, and nearly 1500 volunteers! These numbers had been thrown out in one of our early committee meetings, and we have continued to keep them before us as a goal that was FAR beyond what our human abilities would ever be able to achieve. Our trainer kept offering us positive information and encouragement and…(gulp)…well…WE SAID YES!

It’s still rather unbelievable to me that these are the new numbers we are now working with, leading up to our January event. Yes, it does seem totally insane – impossible – irresponsible, even! But somehow, we are convinced that we’re being called to take this huge leap of faith and give God space “to do immeasurably more than all we could ever ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Also last week, I was interviewed by the biggest newspaper in our area, the Modesto Bee, about our FMSC food packing event. It made the front page of the Sunday “Lifestyle” section of the paper...

And since then, it’s been all I can do to keep up with the interest, the inquiries, talking with people, making connections, discovering new funding sources, registering volunteers, etc. all week long! New signs of support are popping up all over the place, including our local Hilmar public schools (which is very cool)! It’s almost like God is saying to us: “You did the right thing. You tested me in this, so now “see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it!” (Malachi 3:10b)

That’s why I have not had time to even think about writing another provocative blog post. Instead, I’m sharing my current, incredible experience with any of you who are now reading this so you will know what’s going on in my life right now. Click ModBeeArticle to read the Modesto Bee article, which is super! And if you would like to donate to this food packing event and be part of the miracle that God is doing in our midst, you can end your contribution to: Hilmar Covenant Church, PO Box 340, Hilmar CA 95324 (with “FMSC” on the memo line). We only need 288,000 quarters to reach our goal! And if you live close to us, why not sign up for a food packing shift and be part of this fantastic opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children around the world? Go to for loads of information about Feed My Starving Children, and to volunteer.

Finally, PRAY for us! The semi truck arrives on Thursday, January 19, full of everything we’re going to need to fill 300,000 bags with rice, dehydrated vegetables, vitamins and minerals (with chicken flavor), and soy protein. In the meantime, we have a huge financial commitment to reach and hundreds of people to organize for the food packing event. The whole thing is going to takes supernatural strength and action.

And I can’t wait to see what God is going to do as we keep stepping out in faith!