Thursday, May 28, 2009


Twenty-five years ago this coming July 1, my wife Nancy and I moved to Santa Barbara. I had grown up on the east coast and she in the midwest. We came to the west to begin my full-time ministry. We didn't know exactly what we would find. What we found was a loving a church and ultimately two families who would become our "family." We began as a Bible study where we prayed and cared for one another. At some point we decided it would be fun to try a little vacation together. We finished the vacation still liking each other so decided this was different and good. Along the way we continued to pray for one another and study the Bible but then saw the benefit of simply "doing life" together. Little did we know how important this would be.

Fast forward to 2006 and eight children now among us. We found ourselves sitting at what would be the final earthly birthday party of Alyssa, daughter of our friends Russell and Allison. In the fall of 2005 she had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and so together as families we faced those days with little hope of recovery. Alyssa had a great 15th birthday party that day surrounded by friends and family. We did a lot of laughing and loving.

On July 4th of that same year Alyssa went to be with God.

Now it is May 28th, 2009 and a day she would have turned 18 in a year she would have been in the high school musical, sung her final high school concert with Madrigals, been awarded honors for accomplishments, graduated high school and looked forward to the dreams of college.

We will celebrate this day without her, we will laugh, we will cry, we will feel the loneliness, we will imagine her at all the great events of her senior year and we will wish it all could have been different. Though I am blessed to have three healthy children in my own immediate family, Alyssa was one of my daughters too. I feel the pain of her departure, I long to know what she would have looked like now, what her career plans might have been or if she still would eat grilled cheese for breakfast.

Even so, I cling to hope. She is in God's eternal care and I am inspired to be sure I never take for granted my life here and now and my life forever with the Lord.

Happy Birthday, Alyssa! Thanks for the happiness you brought to my life. I can only imagine how it was to experience the most amazing of graduations. Someday you will be clapping at my graduation. I'll be looking for you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Every weekday morning I get up early and take a walk with our Dachsund, Laney, in tow. Dachsunds are definitely in the hounddog family. Laney's nose never quits.

I normally go the same route but this morning I decided to follow Laney for the little bit of time she actually wanted to lead. We took off on a different route. When I reached the local park after making the mandatory stops at various bushes and pulling out the handy bag for the deposit that was laid I suddenly heard my name being called. Usually on my walks I encounter the same cast of characters all who say "good morning" but none who would use my name. I guess we're too bleary-eyed to learn names at that hour of the morning.

To actually hear my name, then, was surprising. I looked up and saw the face of a person who went to our church years ago but no longer attends. This person explained they did not normally come to the park at this hour but had experienced the untimely death of a close family member,had come this morning to see the sunrise and spend time with God. The person added that now they realized there was a deeper purpose and asked if I would pray for the situation. We prayed and then I realized they wanted to talk a little more. We looped the park, I expressed my sympathy, commited to pray and we went our separate ways.

Many years ago a magazine was published called "The Wittenburg Door." It was a magazine that challenged one's thinking and poked fun at the non-important stuff of church life. They regularly ran a cartoon called, "Dogs Who Know the Lord." It was their purpose to point out the ways we can assign too much importance to animals.

I don't know what goes through Laney's mind on a day-to-day basis but I do know this morning she led me to somebody in need. Does this mean I will always count on the dog to lead me to a person in need? Probably not, but this is not the first time I have had pastoral visits on dog walks. I guess, in some way, she does know the Lord. He created her too and through the event of early this morning, before my mind was awake, God reminded me it is important to be available and flexible when we live for Him. Walking with God will inevitably create opportunities to care for his people. Am I ready? Are you ready?

Monday, May 11, 2009



I have been blessed to grow up in a healthy family where my mom and dad’s love for each other was growing and extended unconditionally to my sister and I. My parents have been and done for me all a kid could ever want. Still that love and care continues to this day.

Even so, we become greater in our love for God, ourselves and each other through the love and investment of many people in our lives. In addition to my own wonderful mom I gained a second one halfway through my high school years.

I suppose it all began when I “fell in like” with one or more of her daughters and then became good friends with her oldest son. I worked close by and often stopped off to visit before or after work. Out of respect, I hesitantly knocked on their door in the early days but that soon changed when this family of ten didn’t seem to mind having eleven, twelve, thirteen or any number of people be in their house. It was in this house I learned much about hospitality, generosity and values with a lifetime impact.

Mrs. Shorb or “Momma,” as I often called her was always there with a warm welcome and a big hug. She told me to make myself at home and then went about with her business. When nobody else was around or others were busy I would often stand in the kitchen and talk with her. She cared about me as if I was one of her own. It took me awhile to grasp how she could do that with so many other kids and responsibilities but yet her big heart and love for God reached out to me.

One of my funny memories with her happened at a time where my own family was away for a few days and the Shorbs graciously invited me to stay at their house for a few nights. After work one night I came back to their house. Everybody else had eaten but of course she offered the opportunity to eat. I cleaned up, came back to the table and saw a steaming plate full of good food. I saw the steak and I was celebrating. What a treat! After one bite I realized this steak was actually liver! Though I was a bit disappointed it was likely the best liver I’ve tasted and that’s saying a lot because I’ve never eaten it since.

I went away to college, got married, went to seminary then moved to California. This year I will have finished my thirtieth year as a youth pastor. Though I’ve only seen “momma” on a few occasions since those early days her impact on my life has continued. Her determined spirit, her compassionate heart, her boundless generosity and her love for me were investments no recession could ever diminish. My eternal investment in hundreds, maybe thousands, of youth, including my own family, is fueled by a Godly woman who dared to love and care for yet one more person in her life.

This last week she died. She finished the race well and I plan to do the same. I’ll look forward to the hug at the finish line.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Power of Presence

I've decided some people make ministry too complicated. It wasn't meant to be. John 1 describes how God came to live among us and show His love through His presence on earth. This presence made all the difference in our world through Christ's death and resurrection. He became one of us.

I'm not against education. I have an undergraduate and graduate degree. I'm not against continuing education. I've been to a bazillion seminars, read tons of books/articles/blogs and listened to lots of podcasts. Sooner or later they all bring us back to the pastor's role in being present in someone's life as the most powerful way to share the love of Christ.

I spend a lot of time recruiting people for youth ministry and often there is a reluctance because it is assumed they must be "up front" or play a guitar or be young or be funny or they don't have time to come Wednesday night or . . . you know what I mean. Yet Christ's call is for us to be present in the lives of teenagers and walk with them. It is as simple and challenging as that.

FRONTLINE YOUTH is here to show teenagers "God is where we live." I'm looking for more youth "pastors" to join me in this walk. Who is ready to be present?