Friday, September 15, 2017

The Way That Leads to Light {A Post by Tony}

The woman walks towards us wearing nothing but short shorts and a red bathrobe emblazoned with gold dragons. 

The bathrobe is completely open, her mouth is slack and her eyes are stagnant pools, lifeless.

I catch the eye of the two older kids sitting behind me.  My quick glance sends out the message, “Ignore it, don’t draw attention to her.” 

It’s an eleven passenger van; that leaves 9 little ones that don’t need the shock; they’ve seen enough already I’m sure.

My mind drifts back to earlier in the week; I was driving by myself.  A woman, mid-twenties, in a canary yellow jean romper, riding an old BMX bike, stops next to me. 

Her make-up is beyond done up, and her hair is in little-girl pig tails.   Tracks race up and down her emaciated arms. 

She lifts her eyebrows at me and I imperceptibly shake my head and we both pull away from the stop sign, headed in opposite directions.

While I’m getting a haircut I ask the barber, a local church attendee,  “Hey, is it just me, or are you seeing a lot more prostitutes than usual walking around?”

 He pauses, then nods, “Yeah, definitely.”

If this upsets you then ask yourself the question,  "Are you looking at pornography on your phone, or reading some mainstream erotica novel? If so, what’s the difference?"   

There isn’t one.  You’re just as chained to filthy rags as these.

I tell kids the same message - sin comes from our nature, we desire to accomplish injustice; it looks good to us.

In fact, this excuse is used throughout the Bible,

Genesis 3:6

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Judges 14:3

…But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”

Joshua 7:20

And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them.”

I don’t read Bible stories anymore and think the way I did when I was young, “What’s wrong with these people?” 

I read Bible stories now and think, “I’m what’s wrong with people.  I’m inches, seconds, whatever measurement you prefer, away from making the same mistakes.”

A kid I hired at Starbucks once asked me, “Hey Tony, my dad used to be a really strong Christian but now he’s on trial for rape. What happened?"

So I told him, “The second you put yourself outside of God's will and start to think that you know better - it might be today, or 20 years from now - the downward spiral begins.  Eventually you’re far enough outside of Jesus' will that you end up suffering consequences.  Irreversible consequences by human standards.   You hurt not only yourself, but your whole family.”

I love, as much as it breaks my heart, that Achan clearly articulates his sin. It’s not against Joshua or Isreal, or even his own family, but he says, “I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel.”

I used to run all the time in college. Mostly I was praying and sometimes I would end up doing five miles or more, simply caught up in the process of giving my thoughts over to God and I would forget about the physical pain from the exertion. 

Once in mid-run I was crying out to God about my ‘thorn in the flesh’ and the answer came to me so clearly that I stopped dead in the middle of my run. 

I had been asking God why I had to deal with this reaccuring sin, and the answer went something like this, “This ‘thorn in the flesh’ is not from Me, it’s from you. You’re intentionally sinning because you desire to do what is wrong. You want to sin and you’re making excuses to justify your sins.”

I can’t say working that out was easy, but God’s grace was sufficient.

John Milton, in Paradise Lost says, “Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell, leads up to light.”

Some sins we struggle with are like that. I have no idea how it feels to know I can’t stop stealing.  I have never stolen anything; I have no desire to take other people’s possessions.  In fact, I’m afraid I might get their germs if I do.  However, if coffee was outlawed, like it was by a Pope in Rome in the year 1600, I’d be a first class criminal!  I’d be dealing and making all kinds of excuses to my clients and cops about how, “Government can’t regulate me, man!”

This is humanity - we want our own way, and we’ll be damned if God’s love would EVER send us to hell! That’s just not right!

Look at your sins and ask, “Is this a thorn in the flesh or am I doing it to myself?”

The answer is often so bitter and self-effacing that like the rich young ruler in Luke 18, we become very sad; it’s difficult to look at a situation where we know we’ve been wronged and say, “This is my fault too.”

The only way out is humility, and I must confess that they only time I’ve ever had any, is when I asked God to give it to me.

I’ll sign off with this, my go to, super deep, theological prayer: “Dear Jesus, I am such a despicable mess, I cannot escape who I am without Your love. Please help me.”

If it works for you, feel free to use it. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

For When You are Small and in Need

I drive the roads that connect our two destinations, coffee in hand, while their voices fill the space behind my head.

Two properties wait for us, filled with animal-life that my girls get to care for while the younger two and I sit in the shade with panting dogs and tumbling kittens.

Here, there are no sirens filling the air.

Here, I can close my eyes and breathe deep.

Here, I take advantage of these quiet spaces while my girls walk with purpose to carry out their responsibilities.

Here, I cling to Peace.

I glance over and watch his profile. He is telling me some story while his eyes are on the road.

His hand reaches over occasionally to brush my own, his eyes beckoning me to run my fingers across his sun-kissed neck.

We leave the crush, the heat, of the inner city and wind through mountain roads to beat the bus behind us.

It is filled with children.

I imagine their loud voices filling the air behind the one driving. After meeting him briefly, I can only imagine he is smiling.

There are no sirens out here.

There is Peace.

And we become surrounded by the grins of our campers as they come tumbling out of the bus.

The inner city has the tendency to harden the old, yes, but also the young.

I watch that hardness begin to fall away from some...

The nurse leaves Thursday night, and I take over, her phone number in hand.

I didn't think I would need it,

but I did.

Two girls, so quiet, come to me with their troubles, and I place the call asking what I should do.

I step back into the room and as I kneel down, tears begin to fall down the face of the older one.

We leave for home the next morning and all day the symptoms have been flaring.

They are preparing for the environments they have left and any hardness that was stripped away is being flung back on.

It turns into rebellion, talking back,

sore tummies and hurting heads.

This gift of time is running out and they begin to fight against it.

A counselor comes down and whispers to us:

A small boy in his cabin refuses to come in, curled up on a couch and grabbed onto the  arm rest, burying his face in the cushions. He won't let go.

"He's safe where he is", Tony says, after a moment, "Let him fall asleep there. Let him grieve."

Sometime during the long night, he is covered with a blanket and he rests.

Working here, alongside staff and counselors, has stripped away preconceived notions and ideas of what camp "should" be.

We are a small group, desperately asking for help from those outside of us, praying for each volunteer who would say *yes* to giving of their time to serve those in our community.

The mountains gave way to hills, the forests to sage brush as we turned the van back towards home just before lunch last Friday. I voiced the question I had been mulling over all week,

How are we going to do this?

And Tony, the one who wrestles with God and who has been wounded. Who voices the hard questions and trusts that God will supply every answer, reached over and took my hand.

This morning, I kept thinking of Gideon.

And then he smiled at me.

He knows, I know.

Jesus, He is gracious. He speaks the words we most need to hear, because He is the Word.

He knows that we are in need to order to make the Senior Kids Camp run.

He knows that we are understaffed and tempted to be overwhelmed.

He knows that nearly every phone call has been met with an apologetic, "I'm sorry. We can't".

He knows.

Then the Lord said to Gideon, "There are still too many troops..."

Taking Gideon from twenty-two thousand men, to just three hundred, God defeated the enemy hell-bent on destroying His people.

The enemy looks different here, but it is just as real. There is a war going on around us, our eyes just don't always see it. Drugs, gangs, prostitution, trafficking - these are the weapons that Satan is using to destroy the children we are here to serve.

At times, it all feels too big and we feel too small.

And we are.

However, our God is unfathomably large.

Our last camp of the summer is happening July 31st-August 4th. The group of us feel our smallness. We are praying that the Lord supplies just a few more. Our greatest need is for female counselors, aged 16 & up with a relationship with Jesus, who are fully aware that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces of heaven, willing to stand with us, pray with us, fight along with us knowing that our Jesus will strengthen and equip us for every good work.

Our prayer is that God would be glorified in this camp. That He would move and that these days away from broken environments would cause His Light to be brought back into our communities - both in the areas viewed as good and in the ones that are viewed as beyond repair.

That our eyes would be opened to the truth that we all are in desperate need of Jesus and only He can bring the peace we long for.

Please call Bob Whitney at 509.594.9185 or Tony Baker at 509.480.2102 for more information.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

For When Sorrow Settles

She started hearing voices across the property line just after the chill of Spring lifted and the evenings turned warm enough to open up the windows.

Two voices wafting out from behind boarded up windows and then the sound of muted music coming from some device...

She mentioned it to me at breakfast one morning a couple of days later.

This house that has stood empty for two decades has stood for over a century beside my own, silent and dark and ugly.

While other homes on our street have stood filled with life, this one was grey with rot and age and dirt while rumors swirled of all the evil that happened inside.

Hope feels fleeting and it seems to have flown away. The lift that met me when I woke on my birthday is gone and a heaviness has reappeared.

The bulky frame of that house cast a shadow over my own and I became used to the shadowy dark and this sadness is no different. A noticeable pall over a life surrounded by life.

No one warned me that ministry would be lonely.

So brutally lonely.

There are days I feel as though I can hardly breathe and I sometimes wonder what Jesus is doing.

What we are doing.

Because all I  seem to be doing is flailing and failing.

The house beside mine was boarded up 15 years before we came to Madison House. And I think back to where I was 15 years ago. Married for almost a year and turning to my husband and whispering, We need to go. We can't stay. And the process of slowly beginning to end my time as a citizen of my own country and becoming a stranger in the one of my husband.

The thing is, with that house, with all that was wrong with it and within it, life still grew around it. It wasn't beautiful, it wasn't pretty, but still, life couldn't be stopped.

When we first moved in and I began putting our belongings away, a landscaping company came in and cleared out all the underbrush around that house, anything that could catch fire was carried away and the grass left behind scorched yellow in the heat of the August sun.

But that following Spring, shoots began appearing all up and down the property line and 24 months later, the tallest of the trees reaches past our first story and brushes against the second when the wind blows just right.

Life can't be stopped.

Neither can change.

Late last week, I was called outside onto the front steps of Madison House by the words I received in a text. I stood there and watched as the bucket from a large yellow digger tore into the roof of the house that has stood watch beside my own for over 100 years, and I couldn't keep the tears from coming.

There was joy, because that meant the danger that the house represented would soon be gone.

But there was a deep grief that caught hold and I ran down the street because I didn't want to ever forget what was there before it wasn't anymore.

I don't know when this season of sorrow will be over. I don't know if there will ever come a point again where I think, Here. We all belong.  All six of us belong here.

Because, if I am to be honest, it is easy to focus on times that it is obvious that we don't, and when it begins to affect my little ones, that's when I dare to question the plan and intention of my Heavenly Father.

Why would He call us here to die?

But there is this thought that wraps around my heart and won't let go,

But why wouldn't He?

Didn't Jesus Himself say ( And didn't I even quote this when I stood in front of a church to share about this ministry given to us?),

The one who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;
the one who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And
whoever doesn't take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone
who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life because
of Me will find it.  Matthew 10:37-39

There is a saying that has become popular in Christian circles, especially in women's ministry that has never sat quite right; it feels more than a tad off. It is this mantra that is repeated in conferences and bible studies and best selling books, as though whispering it enough will convince me it is true:

I am enough.

And I have failed enough in these last few years to know that this is a lie. I am not enough. I will never be enough. 

On my own, I stand broken and rotten and decaying like that house that stands on my street no longer.

On my own, death is not defeated, but it grows in reach and stench and decay.

On my own, I am easily torn down, broken, defeated and completely ruined.

We are never enough.

Only Jesus.

Only Jesus.

The One Who spoke to Moses out of a burning bush, the One who declared His Name to the broken, sandal-less man bowed low before Him, He alone has the authority to say,

I AM enough.

He alone is enough in the season of sorrow,

in the barren desert of loneliness.

He alone is enough when I walk up our front steps feeling defeated and broken.

He alone is enough when He brings me to the end of myself so that I see clearly that He alone brings life in the dead places.

He alone is enough to lead me to 1 Peter 2 when the pain of rejection stings:

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and
all slander. Like new born infants, desire the pure milk of the word,
so that you may grow up into your salvation, if you have tasted that the Lord
is good. As you come to Him, a living stone - rejected by people but
chosen and honored by God - you yourselves, as living stones,
a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual
sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ...
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises
of the one who called you out of darkness into His marvelous Light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; you had not
received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The house that stood beside my own, long before I was born now lays in a heap outside my kitchen window, the shadow it cast no longer there.

I walk into my kitchen to pour myself a mug of coffee and I stand completely bathed in light.

I don't know when this season of sadness will end, but I choose to trust in the goodness of my Savior. What weighs heavily on my heart can never separate me from His love.

So I will wait and in the waiting I will fight to proclaim His praise.

For He is good. And His mercy is never ending.

And life continues to grow...

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

She Left Me One

It was the chaos of the noise outside that grabbed my attention.

The barking of our dog that lasted too was too shrill. I could hear his body hitting against the chain link, trying to bust out of the run that contains him.

The afternoon sun tilted down and the clouds had begun to gather and I stood there unsure of what I was seeing.

Our gate stood open, unlatched by a woman who had wandered in. Bright pink hair sticking out every which way, her body bent over, almost falling over, into the daffodils planted years before we moved in. Her movements were erratic, grabbing and yanking at the tender plants that had recently broke through.

Barney's barking mixed in with her shouting and I kept standing at the window.

They were just flowers. Flowers I look for at the end of a long winter - their cheery yellow faces brazenly blooming while there is still a chill in the air. They were flowers I couldn't kill even if I tried - evidence of our Good Creator and His faithfulness each day.

They were all gone.

Her head, crowned with pink, was bent over her arms and spilling out of them were all of the daffodils that grace the front yard. She danced and spun across the patch of grass, twirled out the gate all the while looking down at her bounty, gently crooning to the petals that were already beginning to droop.

"Hey Kimberley, a lady just took all your flowers!", one of the kids across the street yelled at me when I finally came out to assess the loss.

"Yeah...I know, Alex",  I called back.

"She took ALL of them!!", came his aggravated response.

"It's okay, Alex. They'll grow again next Spring."

His sweet face showed that he didn't agree with me at all.

We wake up to voices in the street.

Voices I don't recognize and I lay there frustrated.

Who needs to be yelling at another person before 6 in the morning? I roll over and pull the blanket up over my ears.

I'm awoken again to more voices and this time I recognize the names they are calling and I fly up and out of the bed.

Police cars are everywhere, doors open and flak jackets and helmets on, rifles trained on the house 2 doors down from us.

I race down the stairs and stand at the window.

Tony's hand on the small of my back.

I can't keep back the tears.

They come out backwards, one by one, hands raised and kneel down onto the grass. I understand the need for caution, but the faces I see, the names I hear...we love them. Our own children pray for them. I've washed clothes for some of the them. I'm terrified that one wrong move and I'll watch one of them die.

We move out onto the porch slowly, and I can't stop the tears. They need to know that they are seen and loved.

10 minutes stretch into 30 and suddenly everyone is released. Tony leans over and suggests that we head inside the house.

I stand in the kitchen and I hear his voice calling my name,

"Kimberley, we are going to have a few extra for breakfast. Can you get the waffle maker out?"

My table fills up with gang members and we work quickly to get them fed. All I can think is how I want them to know they are loved, not just by us, but by Jesus. As I set the table for them, all I can do is pray, not just that they would be surrounded by Peace, but that this wouldn't be our last opportunity to serve them.

I wandered through Costco later on shaky legs.

Alex was wrong about one thing, and I didn't see it right away.

My pink haired visitor didn't take all of the daffodils.

She left me one, whether she meant to or not.

When she first took my daffodils, it felt like she ushered in a season of darkness...or hopelessness. Joy seemed nowhere to be found.

She came into my yard broken, with a mind that was altered by whatever drug she was on, but she knew she needed beauty. She needed to gather it up and touch it in her hands. It couldn't be abstract for needed to be tangible.

But when she left with my flowers, she seemed to take my hope with her...

I turned 38 yesterday, a new year dawning fresh. I opened my eyes and for the first time in months I felt the faint stirring of hope. It has been a season of questioning, of feeling like a failing, unable to even utter a fully formed prayer.

I pressed in next to the warmth of my husband on the couch in the late quiet after all the small ones were in bed. Laughing at some silly show we were watching online when a knock came at our front door.

I glanced at the time, 11:38pm.

That can't mean anything good.

It's a mama from down the street with her daughter, terrified because the other daughter is missing. Have we seen her, do we know where she went, did we hear anything?

We sit on the front porch with her trying to help in any way we can.

I give her my number and she takes mine, tells me she will let me know when she hears anything.

12:20am, I get a text that the police have been called.

I crawl into bed praying, imagining the worst.

1:30am and my phone lights up.

I glance down,

"We've found her", and I take a deep breath.

I live in a neighborhood with a culture that isn't my own in a country that I wasn't born in. I've made mistakes and messed up and blundered more times than I'm sure I've gotten anything right. The joy that I felt in the beginning of our ministry has turned bleak with the despair I've wrestled with.

But last night after knowing she was found,

Hope found me.

Jesus said that His people were "the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden." Through Paul's hand, Jesus reminds that we are His workmanship, created in Him to do the good works He has prepared for us beforehand.

It's His will that has been placed there on the corner of 4th Street...not mine. It is Jesus Christ who wondrously chose me when I was so unworthy of Him and placed me where He has so that His light can be seen through all my imperfection.

Grace upon grace upon grace.

So let the flowers be taken, the quiet that I long for, all the outward things I cling to that are not Christ.

Let it all be taken so that others can draw to the beauty and grace and mercy of Jesus.

I keep thinking of her, dancing away from our house, arms filled with flowers, yellow daffodils bouncing in the late spring sun...

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Lighter Side of Darkness {A Post by Tony}

“How was your weekend?”

It’s a question we ask each other and the normative response is generally, 


Follow up. 

“What did you do?” 

And you find yourself going down a list of things you did that weekend.

People ask me this question and I’m always ready with a response based off who they are and what I really think they are asking.

There are people just asking in general how it’s going but they really don’t want to know.  

Let’s use this weekend as an example. 

So on the follow up question, “What did you do?”, to that person, I would say, 

"On Friday night we hung out with our kids, played games and watched movies.  Saturday we cleaned the house, and went shopping at Costco.  That evening, Kimberley took our three girls, along with Gane, to the Davis High school production of Beauty and the Beast and I stayed home with my son and watched Monster Trucks, a movie about a family of Friendly Octopus Sharks, or whatever they were, that help kids overcome the evil environment ruining oil company by becoming the engine in their trucks.  It was your basic E.T. rip off and my son was none the wiser and loved the whole thing.  We went to church, took three Madison House kids with us, took everyone to Starbucks afterwards and then that afternoon had a family of Madison House volunteers over to the house for dinner, just so they knew how thankful we are and how much their help and more importantly friendship means to us."  

That’s so happy! 

Here’s what I left out of that story. 

Friday night there was a prevailing feeling of spiritual darkness over the area.  

At 10pm someone stood in front of our house and unloaded a .45 revolver into the house next door.  

Six police cruisers, all with their lights off, pulled up within a matter of minutes. There was no ambulance so we had to assume no one was hit.  With no shell casings, no witnesses and no bodies, the police left within the half hour. 

Saturday morning one of the kids that lives in that house, a Madison House regular, came out on the porch to let me know that even though the bullets went through 3 of his walls, he was alright!


Sunday afternoon the family of volunteers we had over decided they wanted to end the evening playing on the Madison House playground.  We headed over but in a matter of minutes we had to leave because an MH kid warned us that, “There’s a guy driving around with guns in his car and my brother said you guys should all get off the street and into your homes.”

As the family got into their car and left I walked back to the house and Kimberley and I could hear gunfire break out from the next street over.

Both those stories are true, I simply tailor them for who happens to be asking and what state of mind I’m in when asked.

Yesterday, Tuesday morning, our daughter Lyla was awakened by a crack addict screaming profanity and pounding on the dumpster in the alley behind our house as he came down off his high.  Someone called the police and a cruiser came down and slowly escorted him out of the neighborhood. 

Kimberley made mention later that she was feeling anxious that day and I began to pray.

That evening it was nice out and my family, along with Gane' and a couple of the MH kids that live next door all sat out on the front porch drinking Starbucks and talking while we watched Lyla practice with her soccer team across the street.  During practice I walked over to the house next door.  Gang members were all over the porch as though they were expecting a war and I greeted the ones I know by name and made sure the ones that didn’t know my name now did.  I reiterated to them as I have many times that should anything go wrong they can come over to my house and we’ll help them out.  

Jesus did not come to heal those who are not sick. 

10 minutes later Lyla came home from soccer practice and 5 minutes later a silver Honda pulled up in front of our house and shot eight times into the house next door (there’s one house between my house and their house, who is my neighbor?), hit the gas and disappeared. 

My wife, Gane, our kids and the MH kids all did as we’ve instructed and practiced many times, they hit the ground or piled into the house. 

Police showed up and cordoned off the area, tagging shells and taking witness statements.  Again, no one was hit and some of the gang members across the street lamented their disappointment that, “They didn’t have a chance to fire back.”  

I silently thanked God they didn’t because it would have meant they were firing in my direction.

I spent the next half hour walking home scared kids that lived close enough and driving home the ones that didn’t. 

We have so much to be thankful for and this is where my mind always settles.


My wife and children, though a little shell shocked are fine.  

This will mark our fourth summer living living on Fourth Street and it’s becoming old hat.  That’s not callous, it’s simply true. You live a certain way long enough and what may have seemed crazy or difficult at one time, now seems normal.

Lyla, didn’t seem overly concerned and when I asked her how she was doing she said, “I’m fine. It’s like you always say dad, Jesus is going to take care of us; whether it’s keeping us safe on earth or taking us to be with him in heaven, either way he has our back.”  

No Madison House kids or gang members were killed. Praise Jesus. We still have an opportunity to reach them before they stand before God.

I had an opportunity to talk more about Jesus to the kids I was walking or driving home.

If you would like to pray for us, please pray not only for us but that "Jesus' love would continue to be acted out through our lives, and the kids will see our good works and glorify God, accepting him as their Lord and Savior.”

Pray that no one who doesn’t have Christ is killed. 

Pray that the community will start to see and act - Nothing changes when you do nothing. 

Thank you for all your prayers, volunteering and financial support, but most importantly, your  prayers.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dear Miriam

I stood in the back of the room looking for a seat,

looking for someone I knew in the sea of women seated facing forwards.

I saw her near the front and I headed in her direction.

Only, by the time I got there, she had leaned forward.

I could hear her sobbing.

Women jumped up before I got there and surrounded her with arms and tissues and the quiet murmurings of voices slipping underneath unspeakable pain to help bear the weight.

I slid into the end of the pew feeling helpless and small, unable to reach through to join in. Feeling foolish for not having seen the pain before.

We stood to sing together, the tune of the hymn familiar and strong. I opened my mouth and joined my voice to the hundred or so other voices around me.

What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer...

I have sung these words since I was small, learned to play them on the piano and know the feel of the chords beneath my fingers.

I have known the truth of them and they became my prayer for my friend bowed over in grief.

There was a book wrapped up and placed under our Christmas tree about 3 years ago now and I eagerly devoured the pages.

I remember falling asleep in evening services to strong voices around me lifted up in the rich and ancient truths found in the hymnals tucked into the front of the pew near my knees.

I remember that Sunday the projector made its way on to the stage at the front of the sanctuary, the words and chords laid down on transparent paper and songs like Majesty and Faithful One and guitars and drums joining in with the piano and organ.

I remember my first worship service that felt nothing like the quiet sanctuary of the small church I had been born into. The rush that I was somewhere modern, somewhere new.

I remember the joy I felt the first time I heard the beginning chords of a hymn after years of the absence of one. Oh, it had been reworked, yes, but it was beautiful.

This book I had read, it talked of the importance of the "why" of what we sing.

We sing during worship, not for our emotional filling or really for anything about us - we sing during worship for each other. As we sing, we are singing praise to Jesus, yes, but more importantly, we sing to encourage the brothers and sisters around us. We sing to strengthen broken hearts and point them back to the tender and holy mercy of our amazing God.

We sing to hold the gospel out to those around us who don't know Jesus. To surround them with the beautiful truth of a compassionate and loving God who sent His Son to die for the sins of the world and draw us to Himself.

Every Sunday at the end of the service, our pastor, without fail, closes with an opportunity to know Jesus. With all our heads bowed, he extends the invitation for anyone to raise their hand, to receive the gift of eternal life.

And then, without fail, he asks us to all join our voices together and lift them in who have already prayed and received. Us who have already walked with Jesus for years. I lift my voice and it joins in with the many and brothers and sisters lift up the voice of one who is receiving Jesus for the first time and I am reminded that we are not meant to walk through this life with Jesus alone.

On the edge of the Red Sea in the book of Exodus the Israelites are found standing. They are facing a charging, angry Egyptian army who are hell-bent on taking the people back who they believed were rightfully theirs. They stood there full of doubt and fear. But God, faithful and steadfast in His love and mercy proved in a mighty way that these weary and broken people were His.

Moses breaks into a song of praise that wraps around each Hebrew heart and draws their eyes up to the Most High God who had set His love on them and rescued them, first through the marking of blood and now in the parting of water.

As his song fades away, his sister, Miriam, takes on the song and I wonder if she isn't an example to us as sisters in Christ:

Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;

the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”  

Exodus 15:20-21

It doesn't say that she led some women, or a few women...

it says that all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.

And in this beautiful picture of celebration, Miriam sings to them:

Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously...

The Creator of the world around us, the One Who set the sun and moon and stars in place - Who upholds the hugeness of the universe by the very power of His word,

He created you.

And not just created, as amazingly beautiful and tender as that is,

but our God who creates and is sovereign over all things, He bent low and He became man, He died for you and for me and He really did triumph gloriously.

Where can you be a Miriam? Where can I? Where can we pick up our voices in praise and lead all the ones God has purposely placed around us to see the beauty and grace of our Savior...and not just to see, but to know the One who became the Way, the Truth, and the Life for us.

This road winds and twists and is marked by death and fear and so many unknowns, but this road is one, when we believe in Jesus is one that rings with the song of hope.

So let your life be one that fearlessly goes out into the broken spaces around you with praise and joy, even through tears of sorrow, because our trust in the last words that Jesus spoke here on earth are the ones that fuel our faith.

Sing loud, dear Miriam - we all long to hear you.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Oscar Wilde and Me {A Post by Tony}

The great playwright Oscar Wilde once said there was only one thing he couldn’t resist …


“Do you want to come over this weekend? My roommate is away and I don’t have plans...”

I’m 20 years old and this isn’t the first time a woman has acted interested but it’s the first time they’ve put it so bluntly. 

“Oh,” I mumble, “That’s okay, I have plans with family this weekend but thank you for asking, that’s very nice of you.” 

 I don’t want her to feel bad, but I’m not coming over, and since we’re in the middle of our shift at the restaurant I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable at work.  

Too late, now it’s out there and we have to face it. 

If I’m honest I have to say I see the reason: generational sexual sin has been an issue in my bloodline for, well...generations.  Like the circular marks from a hot stove, I see the scars at family reunions, birthday parties, and weddings.  Satan sees this too; I should be an easy mark, but my stubbornness makes me resist this idea even more, the idea that I can be easily duped, manipulated, pulled under.

There’s this reminder too:
A couple years before that when I was 18, a girl that I worked with at camp got me alone under false pretext and when she suddenly realized I wasn’t going to take advantage of her she started to cry and admitted that before becoming a Christian she had let men take advantage of her and that she was thankful I didn’t. 

We talked and she left feeling better, instead of used.

The opposite sex will often get emotional or angry when you refuse their advances, they take it personally at a very deep level, but later, if you continue to show you care about them they come around to the idea that you’re not hating or judging them. Instead you are loving them in the way God intended, as a brother or sister in Christ.  The love you’re giving them is the one they really need.  A love that doesn’t selfishly drink stolen waters for the benefit of themselves but keeps those waters safe for the one God intended for them to share it with - their future spouse, or in volatile cases, their current one.

I can honestly say my wife Is the only woman I’ve ever been with and that not until we were married. I am so thankful to God for this piece of grace in my turbulent life. It can be done but not under your own power. Jesus Christ alone carries you through.   

It’s New Year’s Eve and my father is hanging dead from a tree. (Don’t turn away, get in front of it.) I can wrap my arms around my wife and mother while they weep but apart from that there’s nothing else I can do.

In the next year I spend nearly every moment of every hour going over the day he killed himself and the time we spent talking, where I desperately tried to convince him that we needed him. I could feel him fading away and knew the end was near but there was nothing I could do. He slipped out of the house and never came home. 

“Papa go to heaven?" My 3 year old daughter asks.

“Yes,” I choke out.

Her big brown earnest eyes bore into mine, “But why?”

My voice is a hoarse whisper, and I shake my head, “I don’t know...I simply don’t know.”

She starts to cry.

That year was hell and every night after we put the kids to bed I would turn up the music, the football game, the movie, whatever and wrap my hand around a cold glass of scotch and just fade away into evening, never getting drunk but close enough to the rusty razors edge where I could fall asleep as quickly as possible.  Anything, anything at all to dull the pain. 

But something woke me up.

I was working at a job where I was the Director of Operations and answered to the president as head of a large number of departments.  At 34 it was a promising future; 60k a year, free health care, new car and only 400 dollars a month in housing payments. I couldn’t lose on that career path and I was proud of that position.  

But something was wrong with every financial report that came across my desk.  

Money was missing but It wasn’t from my end of things.  

As I dug deeper I found that 250,000 dollars was missing, on top of that another 15 grand, and so on and so forth.  It went right to the top and as it turned out the president, the CEO and the chairman of the board had been approving large increases for themselves and then paying off their houses, buying new cars and wardrobes and whatever else they needed for a more than comfortable life, while disguising the loses in the mountains of financial shifting and slick accounting. 

The worst part of it was that they were firing long time employees left and right and telling them with tear filled eyes as they wrung their hands, “We’re  experiencing financial trouble and we can no longer keep your position open.” 

They displaced one family after another, families that had trusted them.  I confronted the president and was told, in a round-about way that I could quit or get fired if I didn’t keep my mouth shut.  I chose to quit AND not keep my mouth shut.  Calling my former boss at Starbucks in Seattle I was immediately rehired and given the option of moving to Yakima or Eugene.  

The choice was clear to Kimberley and I.

Yakima had a much higher crime rate.

I’ve presented before you the three basic ideas from 1 John 2:16,

 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

Three temptations we all face: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life. 

Sex, power, wealth.  

Do not be deceived.  

I am not racing ahead of you.  I am not falling behind you, I am not better than you.  I am not worse than you, I’m nothing more than a sinner saved by grace that is clinging to this promise from 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 

God provides a way out of all temptation, and I’m acting out in faith on that promise.  In the iconic movie Jurassic Park, when the T-Rex attacks the children the lawyer runs away and hides; the little girl is left alone to defend her younger brother. Deep in shock, she repeats over and over again, “He left us, he left us.”  The protagonist calmly puts his arm around her, looks her in the eye and says, “But that’s not what I’m going to do!”  

Many people in your life will allow themselves to slip into sin and betray or leave you but that’s not what Jesus is going to do. He’s there with you every step of the way, praying for you, holding you up and fighting every battle for you. The way of escape.

A final story

Gane and I make another attempt at getting her to play.  

She's only been at Madison House for a couple of weeks.  

She disappeared for a week, but she's back now.

"Come play with the rest of the kids, there's nothing to be afraid of."

We smile and encourage but her eyes drop down and she quietly shakes her head.  Gane looks at me and I shrug.  

Nothing we can do.  

She's the second oldest with a few younger siblings. 

They have all joined in the game. 

One younger brother, about 6 years old didn't show up,  

he normally does. 

I start to walk away because we've reached the point where I will just annoy her. 

Later Gane tells me the girl took her aside and partially pulled up her shirt exposing a swath of bandages around her abdomen. 

Bullets started flying through their house a week ago and she flung her younger brother to the ground. She was only grazed but as we find out later her 6 year old brother got the worst of it.

He had to be flown emergency style to Harbor View.  

The surgery was successful but they are not sure if he'll ever be able to use his hand properly again.  

The bullet entered at the elbow, traveled up his arm, and came out his palm.  

Another week goes by and I'm standing on the front steps greeting children when I see him coming toward Madison House.

"Hey" I ask with utmost concern, "How are you?

His young face flushes with happiness.  "I GOT SHOT!"

"Oh, okay," I'm not sure what to say next, so I say, 

"Well, are you going to be okay?"

He is hopping up and down with excitement.

"It was awesome!"

"Why was it awesome?"

"I got to fly in a helicopter to Seattle!" 

His feet dance and his smile never fades, he has a monstrous cast that covers his arm from mid bicep to the tips of his fingers, he waves it like a flag an exclamation point to his every word.

"And do you know what Tony?!" 


"At the hospital in Seattle you can order whatever you want to eat and they have to bring it to you! It was amazing!"

He pushes past me into Madison House, running up the steps and out of site. 

For the rest of the day I can hear him from different points on the playground yelling excitedly, "HEY GUYS, I GOT SHOT, AND IT WAS AWESOME! "

He is the star of Madison House for the day and he deserves to be.

That family is with us for another week and then they move away to a safer town.
Not because of gang violence, drugs, or poor housing.  I quickly learn from the neighborhood rumor mill that there is more than one father involved in creating this particular family.  

Before you judge that too harshly, read Genesis.

One of the fathers didn't appreciate being cut out of the picture and came back with a gun. 
How does it feel to be betrayed by your own father? How does it feel to hit the floor as a bullet ruins your arm, knowing that a man you call ‘father’ is the cause of your wounds instead of the healing balm, the protector they were created to be? I can tell you from first hand experience it doesn’t feel great. 

I was either going to break or fight back. 

Nothing could have been easier for me at the loss of my father to give up; to float away, to slowly weaken myself to the point where even the most innocuous seeming temptation would have broken me.

But that's just not me. How WE feel, or what WE want is immaterial to the mission of Christ and the Cross.

I encouraged one of my brothers by telling him that, "With dad gone, we're already a man down.  If you drop your weapon and flee that's exactly what the enemy wants, to pick us off one by one, until we give in to subtle attrition and fade away into the night.”   

Once you present yourself before God as an act of service, the enemy, Satan, our real adversary, takes immediate umbrage and starts shooting and he doesn’t stop until he kills your ministry or you go home to be with Jesus.  When I finally die and lay on my face before God, he’s going to ask me, “How did it go?”

 I’m going to answer in praise, 

“I got shot and it was awesome!”