Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Tree that Wouldn't Change

It has become a fall and winter ritual for me to talk to, or more likely about, the tree that is in my front yard. You see, the tree is not an evergreen, but it wants to be -- really bad! Every year it is the same old routine. The trees on our street begin to change the colors of their leaves and then they slowly dispense them, generally into my yard. I end up raking more leaves out of my yard that come from my neighbor's trees than I do of the tree that sits squarely in the middle of my yard.

Resistant to Change

I have come to realize that my tree, like many people, doesn't like change. In fact, it is incredibly resistant to change. Some years, it does not shed its leaves at all. Even though it is surrounded by other trees that actually know what season it is, it adamantly fights to keep it's green coat.

A few mornings back, Karlene and I went out in front of the house and took pictures of our delusional tree and also our neighbor's trees (that do not seem to have the same allusions of grandeur). You can see the trees that are across the street in photos 1, 2, and 3. But take a look at our tree -- clearly it has issues.

As I am writing this, it is but a few minutes away from a new year and a new decade. Nothing that I can do will stop the inevitable march of time. Change comes whether we want it or not and whether we like it or not. In fact, change is constant. It is continual. So why is it that people (like my tree) are so resistant to change? Here are a few reasons...

1. People misunderstand why they must change.

2. People lack ownership in the changing process.

3. People don’t like to change their habit patterns.

4. People feel the new is not worth the price.

5. People resist when they are threatened with the loss of something valuable.

6. People are satisfied or comfortable with the old.

7. Tradition: we have never done it that way before.

Change is the Price All of Us Must Pay for Growth.
Growth equals change; you cannot grow unless you change. Too often, people confuse immobility with stability. Just because one remains entrenched in the status quo doesn't mean that things are stable as a result. Time keeps on ticking and change keeps on happening -- no matter what we think or do. It takes place in spite of us.

It's important to recognize that in order to go "up" we must give up. Don't fight change, curse change or fear change. Instead, remember that the author of change is the very one who, by nature, is unchangeable (Malachi 3:6). He is the one who set the "times and seasons" in order!

Don't be like the tree in my yard and fight change, but be a change agent! This new year, make those changes that you need to make in order to move forward in your faith, in your family and in life. You can do it! Start today!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Translating the Language of Church-Hoppers

I haven't posted in awhile, but this was too humorous to not re-post. So, I thought I would pass on this top ten list I saw on a blog by Josh Reich, a young pastor in Tuscon, Arizona. Below is his post on a book by Bob Franquiz entitled, Zero to Sixty. It has a chapter on Church Hoppers. Here is how to spot a church hopper and what they mean:

1. “But my old church…”
This usually means they want your church to be like their old church.

2. “I just need time to be fed.”
This means, “I don’t want to do anything. I’m here just to sit and see what I can get out of this church, so don’t expect me to serve in any way, shape, or form.

3. “I’m looking for a church that teaches the Word.”
This means, “I’m looking for a church that dispenses lots of information without challenging me to do anything.”

4. “We came here because we are looking for deep teaching.”
This usually means their last church focused too much on actually obeying the Word. They want a church that just talks about the Rapture, the Second Coming, who the Hittites were and the identity of Theophilus.

5. “I should know my pastor.”
This means, “In my last church, I got to know the pastor, but when the church grew, and the pastor couldn’t have dinner with us every Tuesday night, I left and came here.”

6. “We want a church that’s focused on discipling people.”

This means, “I want a church that’s focused on me, not people who are lost.”

7. “I wish you wouldn’t focus so much on what people need to do.”

This means they don’t like commitment, they don’t like to be told the Bible actually tells them how to live and follow Jesus. They want to come to church, live in their sin and have no one tell them this is wrong.

8. “I wish you wouldn’t talk about money.”

This is the best way to tell a pastor “I don’t give.”

9. “My old church/pastor was…”

The way people come to your church is how they will leave. If your first conversation with them is all about their last church and pastor, that is how they will leave your church and how they will go to their next church.

10. “Pastor, I’ve been talking to a lot of people and they all say…”
Translation: “Me, my spouse and my mother think…” If they start this way, 99.9% of the time they have no one else who thinks this way, it is just the best way to complain. If someone has a complaint and uses this line with me, they need to list all of the names or my best assumption is they talked to the same person 10 times.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

16 and Surgery

God has blessed me with a wonderful wife, Karlene, and two great kids, Tara and Zac. All of them are precious gifts from God – and I’m sure, better than I deserve. The youngest is my son, Zac. He was born in 1993 -- with a myriad of issues. For starters with the following: Microdeletion-22, PPD-NOS (Autism), Cleft Palate, and missing part of his abdominal muscle. There is more, but you get the picture.

A few days ago, Zachary had his 7th surgery overall and 2nd this year. I must admit that I am amazed by his incredible courage. He is quite the trooper. He seems to be able to manage the difficult hand that he has been dealt with much fortitude – it’s admirable, really.

As he was being prepped for his surgery, something out-of-the-ordinary – for us, anyway -- happened as Zac had an allergic reaction to some meds that they put in his IV. He started itching and freaking-out, which, in turn, caused Karlene and I to freak-out. Fortunately, his Anesthesiologist was right there with his two nurses and they were able to give him something that counteracted the allergic reaction and calmed Zac down. Karlene asked if they had a little of that to spare, they could also give some to us!

Dr. Pianim, (Zac's surgeon), then came in and reassured Zachary and ourselves that everything was going to be fine. We said our “good-byes” to Zac and they wheeled him down the hall and through the doors into the Operating Room. We went out to the lobby where our support team (Karlene’s parents and my mother) was waiting and gathered them to go get lunch while we waited for it to be over.

The surgery went well -- even though it ended up being more extensive than the good doctor had expected – and we were able to bring Zachary back home late that afternoon to his makeshift recovery room in the back of the house.

The surgery has left Zachary with a surgical wound that is about 3” long, 1” wide and 1” deep. That wound has to be packed and dressed a couple of times each day. I have attempted to help my wife with the process, but am almost useless when it comes down to it. She does an incredible job of cleaning, dressing and packing the wound. Zac willingly endures the painful procedure dutifully and without much complaint. I tend to get nauseous and have to leave the room.

We are blessed with family, both naturally and spiritually. For the first several days after the surgery, Karlene’s mother, (a retired nurse), stayed with us to help out with whatever was needed. We also were blessed with the expert care of Kelly, another nurse who is a member of our church, who dropped-in to provide competent help and encouragement the first few days that Zac was home from the hospital. Then there have been the meals, the calls, the cards, the prayers and well wishes from our loving family at Cornerstone and even from friends all around the world!

So far, Zachary is doing well in his recovery. We are one week out from his surgery. We will see the surgeon, Dr. Pianim, on Monday, August 3rd, to officially see where he stands. There is not a whole lot that Zachary can physically do right now. He is mobile, though and they recommend that he can be somewhat active -- he just needs to be careful. Therefore, he has to take it easy for the next several weeks’ (the healing/recovery process is about 8 weeks). So he is doing pretty much what he really likes doing… playing video games.

Zac loves the thoughts, cards, balloons and the attention that is coming his way as a result of the surgery. He can’t wait to be able to get out of the house so that he can share the latest chapter of his story with whoever will be willing to hear it.

Thanks for the prayers.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Parable of the Pencil

I am presently sharing a series at Cornerstone entitled "Under Construction." The premise is that we are all works in progress. We are not perfect, but are being changed into the image of the Lord from glory to glory. The processes of life are in place to help us progress and become what God intends us to be.

I came across the following parable while researching for the series on the Internet and found it to be a wonderful illustration to share. Therefore, I used it do drive home the 2nd message of the series and, as a result, have had many requests for a copy of it – so I am posting it here.

I would love to credit the author of this piece, but as far as I can tell, its authorship is unknown. FYI: The theme of the message (to which this parable was the main and closing illustration) was “Why Am I Here?” Before I spoke, our Usher Team passed-out brand new, unsharpened pencils to everyone in the audience. The crowd was somewhat confused by this “gift,” but it all made sense at the end of the message and drove home the point quite dramatically.

The Parable...

The Pencil Maker took the pencil aside, just before putting him into the box. There are 5 things you need to know, he told the pencil, before I send you out into the world. Always remember them and you will become the best pencil you can be.

1) You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone's hand.

2) You will experience painful sharpening from time to time, but you'll need it to remain useful and become a better pencil.

3) You will be able to correct mistakes you will make.

4) The most important part of you will always be what's inside.

5) On every surface you are used on, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write.

The pencil understood and promised to remember, and went into the box with purpose in its heart.

The Pencil is YOU. If you always remember the 5 Principles of the Pencil, you can – and will -- live a useful and fulfilled life.

1) You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in God's hand.
The pencil can be used to make works of art and tell wonderful stories, but only when placed in the right hands. By itself, it can do nothing.

2) You will experience painful sharpening from time to time, by going through various problems, difficulties and trials, but the sharpening is necessary in order to become a stronger and more useful person.

3) You will be able to correct mistakes you might make or grow through them.
You have been divinely fitted with an eraser, called “grace.” The Bible claims that "none are perfect, no not one."

4) The most important part of you will always be what's on the inside.
“Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” Jesus on the inside -- working on the outside.

5) On every surface you walk, you must leave your mark. No matter where you are or what the situation may be, you are leaving a mark. What type of mark are you leaving with your life?

God designed each of us for a purpose. The reason that we are on this earth is to fulfill the purpose for which God made us. We are fearfully and wonderfully made – and when we allow ourselves to be placed in God’s hand to be used by him, great things are – and will be - the result.

I encourage you today to live the life that God created you to live. Be the gift that God created you to be. Put yourself in the Master's hand and bring glory to your Creator by making your unique mark upon this world.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Ant Colony

Jude 1:12 “They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit…”

Jude’s letter to the church is the shortest, but perhaps the most potent and scathing in the entire New Testament. In it, he contends for the faith once delivered to the saints and admonishes the church in regards to certain individuals that have crept into the church unnoticed. Incredibly, his warning is just as relevant today as it was over 1900 years ago.

The Ant and the Grasshopper, is a fable attributed to Aesop, providing a moral lesson about hard work, commitment and preparation. The fable concerns an apathetic grasshopper who has spent the warm months playing and singing his time away while the committed ants worked diligently in the colony to store up food for the coming winter.

A couple of years ago, Karlene gave me a dvd collection of classic Disney animation. Included in that dvd set was the classic tale "the Grasshopper and the Ants" as re-told in 1934 by Disney. In the Bible, Solomon said that we should learn from the way of the ants and get wisdom (Proverbs 6:6). So, I thought, maybe I would learn something from this animated short – and boy, did I ever.

The ants were busy working, harvesting and storing food in their colony during the season of plenty -- preparing for the winter season ahead. The grasshopper, however, had no intention of working, helping or being a part of the colony. He was unconcerned about the colony. He was apathetic towards work, involvement or commitment. Quite unconcerned about the future -- he just wanted to play and have a good time.

Jude was writing to the “colony” of believers – the church. He was warning them about a new danger in, and to, the church: the “grasshopper” Christian (note: In this instance I use the term “Christian” in the most liberal sense). Among many other metaphors, he called them “a spot on your love feast.” They come when they want, they eat what they want and then they leave. They don’t help the colony. They don't serve the colony, because they don't really care about the colony -- they care about themselves. Though they won't serve the colony, they sure want the colony to serve them! They are "takers," not givers, sapping the resources of the colony for their own benefit.

“Grasshopper” Christian's “reject God’s authority” (verse 8). They listen, but they do not hear. They tend not to give, but are always ready to receive for themselves. When they hear something they do not like, they reject the message and/or the messenger. Either through ignorance or insolence, they are not afraid to speak against Pastors, church leaders, or other Christians. When things aren't how THEY want them, they simply fly away, leaving the colony -- with their full-bellies and empty-spirits -- loudly proclaiming to any and all who will listen, “I’ve gotta go somewhere so I can be fed!”

Jude called the grasshopper-types “waterless clouds, fruit-less trees, and wandering stars.” They have the appearance of a Christian, but don't be fooled, it is only an appearance. It is akin the back-lot at Universal Studios. It is a facade. These are persons who “cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” Jude warns the church to beware of them. They are destroyers, not builders. Beware, indeed – for their end is “the blackness of darkness forever” (verse 13).

However, the colony -- God's Church -- continues on. It repairs the breaches to the body. It soothes and bandages the wounds. It picks up the pieces and rebuilds. It knows its mission and continues once again in fulfilling its God-given purpose.

The grasshoppers come and the grasshoppers go, but the colony – just like the one who established it – lives on.

God never intended us to be like the nomadic grasshoppers. Rather, we are called by God to be like the ants in the colony. Living, working and thriving for the good of the church. Giving, serving and sharing for the glory of God and the benefit of others. We are a part of God's divine design -- created for good works in Christ. We have been placed here to help God, help the church, help others and, in doing so, help ourselves.

The wisest man who ever lived said it; "Consider the ant."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Build Yourself an Altar

Genesis 26:24-25
24) That night the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham."
25) Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord.

It was a time of great difficulty for Isaac. God had greatly blessed him in the land of the Philistines where he was living, so that the Bible says (verse 13): “(Isaac) began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous; for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. So the Philistines envied him”.

The envious Philistines filled in all his wells, and their king, Abimelech, said to Isaac: “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we”. So he began moving from place to place, encountering opposition and conflict all along the way, until he was finally pushed all the way into the desert area of Beersheba.

At Beersheba, which is located in the northern part of the Negev Desert, God reminded Isaac of his promised blessing. Immediately, Issac went into action. He began building upon that promised blessing of God by erecting an Altar and calling upon the name of the Lord! Verse 25 says, “So he built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord.” This action shows us the priority that God took in Isaac's life. His God-connection superseded everything else.


Isaac realized an important fact that many people miss even today. He understood that if he was going to be a priority for God, then God must be a priority for him. If he was to be honored by God, then he was going to have to honor God. If he was going to see the promised blessing of God become a reality for him, then he must make blessing the Lord the main goal in his life. The building of an altar symbolized that fact.

What is so important about an altar, anyway?

1) An Altar is a place of Consecration to God.
Leviticus 11:44; “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” “Consecration” means dedicating yourself to the service and worship of God. What have you given to God? What have you placed on the Altar? Is the Lord the priority in your life or is He somewhere down the list of your "top ten"?

2) An Altar is a place of Connection with God.
1 Chronicles 21:26 tells us that; “David built an altar to the Lord there… He called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him.”
We personally connect with God at the altar. It is our point of connection. It is where we commune with Him and He with us! God is a personal God. He wants to connect and commune with His Son's and Daughter's. He wants to spend time with his favorite people -- His family!

3) An Altar is a place of Commission from God.
A “Commission” is an authoritative order, charge, or direction. We read in Psalms 37:23 that “The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives.” God is a personal God that will direct your steps, direct your future -- direct your life. We simply need to hear and heed His voice.

CONCLUSION: The Altar is about: Consecration, Connection, & Commission.

But most Importantly, that Altar is NOT optional. In Exodus 20:24, God said; “An altar… you shall make for me.” This is not something that you can choose to take or leave. This is a necessity. We must have a personal relationship with the Lord.
So the question begs to be asked... Do You Have an Altar? If not, build one today. It can be your couch, your bed, your chair or even just your own personal space. Turn it into a place where you can Call on God, Connect with God, and Commit to God and His direction for your life. Like Isaac, it can be the difference-maker in your life.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thriving in the Desert

The desert can be a harsh and even deadly place to be. However, in several places the desert has been made not just habitable, but thriving! Cities like Palm Springs, Las Vegas and others have turned harsh wilderness environments into oasis-like destinations. Places that, at one time, were endured, now can be enjoyed.

In the Bible, Abrahams' son, Isaac, settled in a desert area. It was called Beersheba in the northern part of the Negev desert. What caused Issac to thrive in the desert? Was it because of his father, Abraham, or his son,Jacob? No. Issac thrived in spite of his surroundings because of three things that he did.

In Genesis 26:25, we read ”So (Isaac) built AN ALTAR there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and he pitched HIS TENT there: and there Isaac’s servants dug A WELL”. There you go. The three things Issac did are quite significant for us today and are symbolic of spiritual necessities for anyone who desires to live a victorious life of faith. If you examine the life of any man or woman who is experiencing real spiritual victory, you will discover these three characteristics... An Altar, A Tent and A Well.

I will be back to share in-depth about how these three precepts took Issac from simply surviving to really thriving! Also, how that these precepts actually apply to the lives of Christians today. It is God's will for you to thrive, not just survive! This special series is beginning tomorrow at Cornerstone.

Good news... You CAN thrive, even in the desert-times of your life!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Yes, He Still Does Move Stones!

I am excitedly looking forward to tomorrow. I believe that it is going to be a great day at Cornerstone! It will be the "Grand Finale" of the Series that we are currently in entitled; "He Still Moves Stones."

We are going to have a Victory Celebration featuring many incredible "Cardboard" testimonies of how God has "moved stones" in the lives of different people at Cornerstone Christian Center. We are made overcomers "by the word of our testimony."
Expect great things! Prepare to be moved!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Zac's Surgery - 48 Hours Later

After the events of Monday, Karlene and I were exhausted – physically and mentally. It was a grueling, 12-hour roller-coaster ride that left us spent. Karlene turned in at 8:30pm and her parents soon followed. I volunteered to take the first shift of watching and taking care of Zachary.

Zac was excited about being back home after the surgery. He was also still under the influence of some pretty heavy meds and therefore not exactly in his right mind. We had a cane waiting for him and for the first several hours after arriving back home, he was hobbling around jabbering about this and about that. We actually had to get on to him about his excessive talking – that he needed to take it easy because of all the facial work and that the stitches needed to heal.

Zac’s aunt, Rebecca came over to the house bringing a great dinner with her and a cool balloon bouquet for Zac featuring a giant “Get well soon” balloon that actually sings (“Don’t worry, be happy”). Unfortunately, “Aunt Becky” dropping by also meant a fresh set of ears for a re-run of Zac’s stories from the surgical front.

By 7:00pm, we finally got him quieted down and onto his temporary “bed” in the downstairs living room, reclining on the couch. I would be sleeping downstairs, also – around the corner on an inflatable bed that we had temporarily set up for Zac in the back room. However, when the doctors told us that he needed to sleep in a propped-up position, we realized that the inflatable was not going to work for him. At around 7:30pm, Zac finally succumbed to the siren’s song of the meds in his system, as they ever-strongly urged him to follow their beckoning call to La-La Land.

After Zac was in place, everyone else drifted off to their rooms to drift off to a much-anticipated night of sleep. That is, with the exception of our resident night owl, Tara and myself. I sat down at the computer and blogged about Zac’s big day. After that, I went and tried to sleep on the inflatable bed and, as tired as I was, had a hard time joining everyone else in the household in that blissful place called dreamland. I tossed and turned and prayed. I put on a B movie and tossed and turned and prayed some more. Finally, after two straight nights with very little sleep, I dosed off. It was around midnight.

Something went “bang” in the night and I sat straight up in bed. There was nothing but silence. Thinking, it was another dream, I laid back down. Then I heard some noise again. It was coming from the bathroom upstairs. It was still dark so I looked at the clock and it was about 5:30am. I heard the bathroom door open and the floor creak as my father-in-law made his way back to bed. I guess he wasn’t ready to “get-up,” either. I rolled over and closed my eyes and then heard Zac stirring.

Zachary had awakened with a considerable amount of pain – plus a considerable thirst – and was attempting to get out of the reclined sofa (a task for most people, even in the best of circumstances). I jumped up and went to assist him. I helped pull him to an upright position and stabilized him so he could begin to walk. As he went to the bathroom, (with no assistance from me – thank you very much), I went and got his meds and mixed him a drink. Zac’s drink of choice: Orange Gatorade mixed with Orange Juice. So Zac was up and I was tired.

Karlene’s mom and dad got up a while later. Big daddy joined Zac and I at around 7:00am, while mom came down around 7:30am. Karlene, the early bird in the family, was nowhere to be seen. She came back to the land of the living at around 8:30am – a 12-hour snooze. Understandable, seeing that she got almost no sleep at all the night before Zac’s surgery.

Karlene’s parent’s pulled a fast one and decided to head home early. We said our “thank-you’s,” and “good-bye’s” and they were on the road before 9:30am. I guess they felt that Zachary was in capable hands and that their work here was done. We appreciated their support.

I got cleaned-up and then headed-out to run some errands, pick-up some groceries and get Zachary a game that he wanted for his Xbox360. When I returned home several hours later, Zachary looked bad. His face had become very swollen and he was in a lot of pain – everywhere. When Zac’s in pain, we all are in pain. The game had cheered him up a bit, but Karlene and I prayed for him and tried to get him to rest.

The difficult day turned into a difficult night. I am the night watchman. Karlene volunteered to stay with Zac during the night, but I wouldn’t allow her to. I told her “one of us needs to get a good night’s sleep and it might as well be you.” So I sent her off to bed and stayed downstairs again with Zac – this time sleeping near him on the loveseat (yes, friends, me sleeping on a loveseat). It wasn’t a good sleep (some surprise, eh) and Zac was up before dawn, again today. The routine continued with a big exception, thankfully – Karlene, back on schedule, got up and took over and I went looking for my lost sleep. I haven’t found it all, but I guarantee you I’m working at it.

Thanks for the prayers, cards, meals, calls, etc. We appreciate them, and each of you, immensely.

Tomorrow is Zachary’s surgery follow-up exam back up in West LA.

The saga continues.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Zachary Has Surgery

It was an early wake-up call this morning, as we wanted to be on our way to the hospital in West Los Angeles by 5:00am to beat the Monday morning traffic. Karlene and I were joined by Karlene’s parents,’ and my mother, as we rolled in the darkness toward Zachary’s big surgery day at the west LA Kaiser Medical Center – the home of Zachary’s cranio-facial team of doctors and two of his prior surgeries.

Zachary has actually been looking forward to this surgery. An opportunity to make some improvements in the looks of a teenager is generally a well-received proposition and with Zachary it is no different. However, as we arrived at the hospital at about 5:40 in the morning, his excitement and anticipation turned into nervousness and a bit of anxiousness as he was called into the pre-surgery prep room.

It had been eight years since Zachary had experienced his last surgery -- which meant that this time around, he was mature enough to realize the seriousness of having major surgery. He was especially concerned about the breathing tube they were to put down his throat during the surgery. Karlene stayed with him throughout the pre-op preparations as they would only allow one parent in with him until he was all prepped and ready to go – then I was able to join them.

The nurses, anesthesiologists, doctors and surgeons all filed through asking the same questions, getting the same answers and, of course, talking to Zachary. They started Zac on intravenous drugs and hooked him up to monitor his vital signs. The surgery resident, (Doctor Reiss) that would be assisting the surgical team (Doctors Turan and Wexler), came in and drew “X’s” on Zac’s left hip and the tip of his nose with a black marker --pinpointing the areas that he would be having work on.

For the uninitiated, Zachary was born with a cleft palate. He had two previous surgeries to repair the defect – one when he was only 5 months old and another when he was 7 years of age. The third surgery couldn’t (and wouldn’t) be done until his face had structurally matured in his mid-to-late teenage years. This third surgery was actually prompted by Zac’s orthodontist who wanted him to get a bone grafted into the cleft so that he can put a dental tooth implant into the area in the near future.

So, since he was going to have to do a bone-graft surgery on Zac, his Cranio-facial doctor (Doctor Turan -- pictured above) decided it would be wise to also surgically repair his nose and lip at the same time. The rhinoplasty would consist of removing cartilage from his left ear and rebuilding/repairing his nose with it. Since the nose would be reshaped, the upper lip would also need to be re-aligned. For the facial graft, bone was to be harvested from his left hip and implanted into the cleft area of his gums. I know, I know -- it hurts just to think about it!

They prepped Zac for over an hour and a half and then finally carted him off to surgery at around 8:00am. The team said that they should be done in a few hours with Zachary repaired, renewed and into the recovery room by 11:00am. It turned out that they were optimistic -- the best laid plans of docs and men.

At 11:00am, we got a call from the Operating Room apprising us that the surgery was going well, but (don't you just hate those "buts?") it was a bit more involved than they had anticipated and they wanted to let us know that they would be going into extra innings. Shortly after noon, they called us again and said that the surgery was finished. Zachary was heading to the recovery room and we would be able to come in and see him in a short while.

Because of a couple of small complications, (difficulties with the lip repair and his breaking out with a rash), we were unsure if Zac would be released to go home or if they would retain him and we spend the night in the hospital. God answered our prayers and Zachary was finally released at 3:00pm and we were able to bring him home. (Special thanks to Jay Garzon for coming by the hospital and assisting Zac when released.)

On the lighter side, back here at home, Zac is walking with a cane and acting quite funny (due to the effects of being drugged-up). He told his cousin, Bobby, that he is walking around with a cane just like "Dr. House" (from the TV show). Although he is in a fairly large amount of pain, he is resting comfortably at this writing – with the considerable assistance of a bottle of Vicodin.

Thank you for all of your prayers and kind thoughts for Zachary and our entire family. We are believing God for Zac’s speedy recovery.

We are also believing for a full-nights rest!

We all need it.

My Brothers' Photographs

Just before my brother Michael's untimely passing, he had put together a brand new website to showcase his photos. Photography was the one thing that Mike really and truly enjoyed. I thought that I would share a few of his photos here on my blog and also post his website for anyone who might be interested in taking a look at the world through my brother's eyes. The website is

Michael had a special affinity for lighthouses. He even had a collection of miniature lighthouses in his home. So I included one of his photos of the Point Vincente Lighthouse that sits on the Palos Verdes peninsula.

The photo of the cactus flower just happened to be one of my favorites and I told him so as he showed me his big portfolio the last time we were together. He took a lot of photos at the LA Arboretum and South Coast Botanical Garden and was working on a deal with both of them to sell his prints in their gift shops. His desire was to actually be able to make a living from what he really loved doing.

The final photo is one of nature in action. A Blue Heron preparing to finish-off his catch -- a sunfish. Michael entered this wonderful photo in a nature photo contest last Summer and was a finalist.

These are a few of his works. I'm proud to be able to share them. I do not know how long the website will remain up, but as of now it is functional. Thanks for looking and I hope you enjoy them as much as my brother did.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Final Farewell

We headed out of Torrance in my freshly washed PT Cruiser through the gloomy and rainy first Monday in March toward our destination some 45 miles to the north – the Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Newhall. Karlene, Tara, Zachary and I made good time getting there, especially in lieu of the rain. One thing you can be sure of -- L.A., freeways, and rain are always a bad combination.

We were heading to the funeral memorial service for my brother, Mike. Along for the ride was a larger-than-life framed portrait of my brother that we had made to display during the service. We were also toting a box full of memorial programs filled with a pictorial chronology of Mike’s life. I was concerned that the programs might be overkill, but was thankful that we had created them when we arrived and found out that the funeral home did not make their program after all.

The family was there and we hugged and sobbed and smiled and laughed all at the same time. One thing that I have found in my years of pastoring, funerals tend to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. Fortunately, in this instance, the worst wasn’t very bad and it really turned out to be a wonderful memorial for Michael.

I did the service and found that it was more difficult for me to do than I had even anticipated. As a pastor, I have officiated funerals of various individuals including my Grandparents, uncles, and cousins. However, this was different – this was my brother – and it was certainly more challenging than I thought it would be. Thankfully, my wife Karlene stepped-up and read a letter from Mike’s friend in Canada that lightened the moment and rescued me from my temporary melancholy.

She then opened the microphone for thoughts to be shared from friends and family members. A few of Mike’s associates, whom had worked with him at Panavision, came forward and shared glimpses of him in the workplace and beyond. Then some of the family came forward and shared some of their own memories – most of them humorous and some of them bittersweet. It was a time filled with a mixture of tears and laughter in a combination that is really unique to a good memorial service.My mother closed out the “friends & family” sharing session with her favorite story about her first-born son. I will try to do the story the justice that it deserves.

It was sometime around 1953-1954, which meant my brother was about 3 or 4 years old. My mother had come to pick Michael up from Grandma’s house and she told him to get in the car so they could leave. The family lived in suburban Los Angeles, but back then it wasn’t the sprawl that it would later become (and is today). For whatever reason, (mostly talking with her mother, I believe), Mom took her time getting to the car – a habit that she has faithfully maintained to this day.

When she finally got into the car to leave, she looked in the back seat and there was no Michael. She looked down in the floorboards, but still no Michael. She got out of the car and hollered for him, but still no Michael. Her mother said that there was a house a couple of blocks away that had some ducklings and Michael liked going over there to look at them so she would head off that way to try and find him.

Mom jumped in the car and headed over to Redondo Beach Blvd. There was a Lucky Supermarket down the boulevard where they got their groceries from time to time and she decided to head toward it. Looking intensely for little Michael as she drove, all of a sudden she spotted him walking up the street. Relieved and terrified at the same time, she noticed that there was an old wino following him a short distance back.

Frightened by the man following close behind her son, Mom quickly flipped a u-turn and pulled-up next to the sidewalk and yelled at Michael to get in the car. He didn’t want to get in and looked back at the old bum and motioned for him to come-on. She noticed that the man was carrying something in his arms. Fearing the worst, Mom reached out and grabbed Michael as the old guy approached the car.

said the old wino that looked about like Otis from the Andy Griffith show. “Is that your kid?” he asked in an exasperated voice. “Yes” Mom told him. The wino replied, “Well, he needs a whippin’… You know he made me carry this 6-pack of Pepsi all the way up here from down at the store!”

Mike had gotten tired of the wait and decided to go down to the store by himself. He promptly walked in and picked-up a pack of Pepsi-Cola and walked out of the store. The Pepsi’s were too heavy for him to carry all the way home, so he enlisted the bum that sat out by the market to carry them home for him. That was my brother.

Similar stories were shared by others, memories relived and retold, and the tears and laughter continued. Then I concluded the memorial speaking of the comfort that knowing Jesus provides even in the worst of times and situations. Dad gave the benediction. The memorial service concluded with the Navy Ceremonial Guard who honored Mike’s 10 years of service to the country by presenting the flag to his son, Michael. Ironically, in all those 10 years with the Navy, my brother never was on a boat or ship. The day turned out to be a nice and fitting memorial for my brother.Afterwards, we spent time talking and catching-up with family and friends and then went to dinner with the entire family at the Mimi’s CafĂ© in Santa Clarita. It was good to get together. It was good to laugh. It was good to cry. It was good to share. It was good to sigh. It was good just to be there.

The long winter Monday drawing to a close, we said our good-byes, embraced again and then headed each of us toward our homes. It was a long day, indeed. An exhausting day, an emotional day, a challenging day, but it was a good day. It was a day that I shall remember – the day we said good-bye to my brother.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Brother, My Friend

To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other's hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time. ~Clara Ortega

The dynamics of family are certainly interesting, to put it mildly. The dynamics of my relationship with my brother and his relationship with me were, at least to my thinking, unique. My brother and I were both close and far apart. A strange dichotomy, to be sure – distant, yet somehow near. Now, as the distance lengthens, so does the nearness of the memories that we shared.

Gone are the days of wild adventures while being babysat by my big brother (I could write a book on his babysitting alone). Gone are the days of cruising with him and his girlfriends (as a pint-sized chaperone) to the A & W Drive-in for a frosty mug of root beer. Gone are the days of Snakes and Sea Creatures getting loose in the backyard much to the horror of our Mom. Gone are the days of building foxholes and booby traps for War games in the field behind the church on 237th Street. Gone are the days of playing Monopoly, Mastermind and Trivial Pursuit together. Yes, those days are gone forever, but they are not forgotten. They have been relived again and again in my mind for the past week.

I can still hear Mike’s voice. I can still hear Mike’s laugh, also. I can’t even imitate it, (I’ve tried), but I can definitely hear it. It was a part sardonic, part amusement, low-pitched, semi-growled and semi-grunted, bawdily-tinged laugh that was uniquely all his own. It almost always caused me to laugh. In fact, when we were together, I think he liked to "crack-wise," (real old-school term!), just to try and make me laugh. I’m smiling now as I think about it.

I appreciate the smiles and the laughter that Mike brought to me. It just all ended too soon. Unfortunately for me, the time has come that I have to say farewell. I will always love him. He remains embedded in my heart, my mind and my memories. He truly was his own person. He was smart, interesting, and one-of-a-kind.

He was my brother. He was my friend.

Blessed is the servant who loves his brother as much when he is sick and useless as when he is well and can be of service to him. And blessed is he who loves his brother as well when he is afar off as when he is by his side, and who would say nothing behind his back he might not, in love, say before his face.
~St Francis of Assisi

Monday, February 23, 2009

Winds of Wonder

After a challenging several days, I felt zapped and sapped entering into our monthly iPray prayer meeting at Cornerstone on Sunday evening. I preached Sunday morning to the surprise of just about everyone. Though I feel that the content was good and needed, hindsight being 20/20, I should have taken a “day-off” from that part of ministry. It’s quite difficult to deliver the positive life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ when you are in the midst of dealing with tragedy.

Last night, Karlene and I came to the church early before the prayer service where I made my way to the altar and fell on my knees feeling as though a 10-ton weight was on my shoulders. The combination of personal, professional, and spiritual issues all seemed to be crashing upon my life – all at once. Actually, I seemed to be crashing under the heaviness of so many internal and external circumstances converging like the perfect storm.

Karlene began the prayer service with me still praying at the altar. I arose and made my way to my office where I washed my face, attached my microphone and headed back to the sanctuary for the prayer service.
As soon as I walked through the door, tears began to well up in me again and I headed to the front row. Karlene was leading worship and there was a powerful sense of the Spirit of God present in the house. I just stood there with my hands over my face overwhelmed by the enormity of everything. I knew I couldn’t lead the service. I knew I couldn’t speak. I was totally wrung-out. So I just stood there.

Thank God for a wife who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit. In the middle of my “meltdown,” (for lack of a better term), Karlene went Old-school and started pulling songs out of the past. She started singing “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name.” I couldn’t even sing, but with a lump in my throat and heaviness in my heart, I contemplated the words to that old chorus. My eyes were closed in worshipful prayer or prayerful worship – I’m not quite sure what you would call it – and as we came to the final stanza of that song, something happened. A cool breeze blew across my person, as if someone had just walked in front of me. Surprised by the closeness of it, I opened my eyes to see who had come up to me, but nobody was there. At least nobody I could see with my natural eyes.

There is a scripture in Jeremiah (51:16) that says “When (God) utters his voice… he sends the wind from His storehouses.” I realized, right then and there, that God had sent his wind from his storehouses to me. That wind brought strength. That wind brought grace. That wind brought peace – and so much more. All of the things that I was running short on, God sent me from His vast supply in the heavens -- riding on a gentle breeze of the divine kind. I discovered once again last evening, how incredibly great God truly is. I discovered once again last evening, how true God’s word is. I discovered once again last evening, that there is no shortage in him.

Everything that we need can be found in Jesus. Last night, in my hour of need, I experienced it for myself -- a fresh breeze, God-sent, from heaven’s unlimited supply.

Thankfully, the wind is blowing again.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Life from Death

It is Saturday morning – 48 hours removed from the news of my brother’s unexpected death. I would like to begin by saying thank-you to all who have offered, and continue to offer, prayers and condolences to both myself, and the entire family. Your kindness and support has been both encouraging and strengthening for all of us. When I get the opportunity, I will attempt to call each of you and personally thank you for your many kindnesses. Please know that you are loved and much appreciated.

A Long Day

Yesterday was another long and grueling day. I drove my wife and parent’s up to my brother’s Condo in Chatsworth. We arrived there at around noon where we met up with my nephew, Michael, his wife, Heather, and my great-nephew, Albert (who is the spitting-image of my brother – his grandpa). Tears flowed as Michael and I held each other in a long embrace. So much was said though nothing was spoken during that lengthy hug.

It’s hard to believe that my nephew – my brother’s youngest -- is 33 years old. Understandably, he is taking the death of his father extremely hard. As we were talking, he stated that down deep in his heart, he always knew that one day he would be the one to find his father dead. That inner thought that he carried became an unfortunate reality that has left him – and the family – shaken.

We believe that Mike had a heart attack and died instantly as he was on his computer. After all our calls and attempts to locate Mike, my nephew drove down to his home. He said he was crying as he drove, knowing on the inside that it would not be good. He found his father on the floor in the computer room. Sadly, he had been there for several days. It was a horrible scene for my nephew –or anyone, for that matter -- to have to experience.

Nearly five years ago, my brother went into the hospital for open-heart surgery. The only reason the family found out about it was that the hospital called his closest relatives to make post-surgery arrangements. He hadn’t let anyone know that he was going to have heart surgery. That was typical Mike. He was a character. He did his own thing and marched to the beat of a different drummer. He was a bit of a social misfit, independent and reclusive. So not having any contact with him for an extended period of time was not out of the norm, it was actually par for the course.

I think that Mike didn't quite know where he fit at times -- especially when it came to our family. He enjoyed open space, whether it was the wide expanse of the ocean, the bigness of the desert wilderness, the grandeur of the mountains, or even the openness of the internet -- it was open space and he fit there.

Needles in a Haystack

We assisted my nephew going through my brother’s house to find financial documents, insurance papers, and personal effects that he needs for legal purposes being the next of kin. We also wanted to assist him with any funeral arrangements, etc. As you can imagine, it was quite difficult just to go into his house, even with odor neutralizer. Yet, with tears in our eyes and sadness in our hearts, we spent hours going through his house sifting through cabinets, drawers, closets, boxes, papers, junk and a whole lot of memories.

A Bigger Picture

Upon returning home last night, we all were exhausted. Not physically, for that was the easiest part. The day left us mentally and emotionally spent. Throughout the day, we had experienced highs and lows, tears and laughter. Yet out of the bad and ugly came something good. It was a silver lining. A positive opportunity arrived in the midst of a negative scenario. We were able to reconnect with family that had previously been disconnected – family that is wanted, family that is needed and family that is loved.

Last weekend, Tara had the Disney animated movie “Lilo & Stitch” playing on the big screen for my great-niece, Bella. I walked in on the ending in which Lilo says, "Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind." That line has been reverberating in me ever since. That is what this is all about. That is the bigger picture. Bigger than me, my siblings, or my parents. It truly is all about family... and no one should get left behind -- in any sense of the word.