Category "Life With God"

Dancing In The Wind

What follows is the manuscript of my sermon – the first in a new series entitled, “Stretchy, Not Sketchy: Honest Conversations About Faith,” in which I attempt to make the case for a vibrant, living, growing faith that is flexible rather than being fundamentalist (rigid, inflexible). The video of the sermon is also available to watch online here.

Finally – after an entire Summer in the Psalms, we have arrived in a new series!

 The title of my sermon today is, “Dancing In the Wind.”

Have you been watching footage from the gulf coast of Florida?

Our family vacationed there a year ago in Saint Petersburg.

st petersburg vacay photo for post

We had a little thunder-and-lightening rain storm that lasted a couple of hours—it was beautiful and spectacular and completely innocuous—fun to watch, no harm, no foul.

But what we see from Hurricane Ian is, in many places, devastatingly destructive.

Roads and bridges destroyed, homes demolished, debris and twisted metal strewn everywhere.

Meyers Beach for post hurricane ian road destroyed for post hurricane ian destruction

Something that struck me was how often the palm trees remained in place, just looking like their hair had been tousled a bit. They had been dancing in the wind, created to withstand hurricanes and storm surge flooding.

I think this provides us with a worthy word picture of the kind of faith we truly want…

One that bends, but does not break. One that is flexible, rather than fragile. One that is planted, rooted, and established. One what can withstand the floods and winds of our time without snapping or worse, dying.

In fact, we see this word picture used in Scripture repeatedly. I think of the first chapter of the book of Psalms which says, God’s people are to be like…

They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In everything, they thrive. (Psalm 1.3)

I want to have the kind of faith that is capable of withstanding the heat and will not wither away, the kind of faith that in everything thrown its way… it thrives.

Art Clokey, the American pioneer in the popularization of stop-motion clay animation is best known as the creator of the character Gumby and… Read More

Wake Me Up When September Ends

- - Life With God, Uncategorized

The following is the manuscript of my sermon from Sunday, September 25, 2022. It was a stand-alone sermon following our series “The Songs of Summer Pt. 2″ (which worked through the Psalms and drew parallels to popular music themes). If you want to watch the message rather than read it, here’s the link:

Released in 2005, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was written by lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day.

The song is about his father, who died from esophageal cancer in the month of September when Armstrong was just 10 years old. He has called the song “the most autobiographical” he has written and he considers it both therapeutic and difficult to perform.

It’s central theme is about loss…

Question: Have you ever wanted to sleep away or hide away or just go away in times of deep sorrow and pain?

I’m a pro at this… hiding in my cave. Nose in a book. Checked out. Heck, I don’t even need deep sorrow or pain to send me into a cave. I go when I’m tired, depleted, or just want to live only inside my mind-castle.

Sure, I’m an introvert. An enneagram #5. I recharge alone and love me some solitude. But I’m hoping to speak to more than just an introvert audience here today.

This subject has less to do with personality and more to do with the uncontrollable circumstances that knock the wind out of our sails and send us into the dark safety of a cave, alone, hurting, trying to survive, not knowing if life could possibly ever be the same again.

Like the loss of a father when you’re just 10 years old.

Or the suicide of a family member.

Or being cheated on, lied to, and left.

The death of a child.

Relapse into drug addiction.

Failing in business. Experiencing a devastating bankruptcy.

Heart failure diagnosis. Cancer. Stroke.

You know what I’m talking about?

The life-altering stuff.

The “things will never be the same again” stuff.

The stuff nobody wants—but everybody gets; the stuff we spend all our best efforts defending against—only to discover it cannot be controlled.

The stuff that makes Billie Joe Armstrong wish he could sleep through September.

Over the course of 15 years in pastoring this church I’ve had a few of those experiences…

My mom’s early death… Read More

Coming Home Sermon

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Some background on that song… Coming Home

It was written by J.Cole, Jay-Z, Alex da Kid, and Skylar Grey… produced by Jay-Z and performed by Sean Combs aka Puff Daddy, aka P. Diddy, aka Diddy, aka Puffy… and Skylar Grey in 2010 and by 2011 it was certified as 2x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (which means it had sold over 2 million copies in that year).

In the words of Ali G, RESPECT.

Jay-Z and Kid had gifted the song to Diddy for his album, Last Train to Paris. “Coming Home” is a biographically written hip hop and pop ballad inspired by moments in Diddy’s life—including the loss of his close friend, the Notorious B.I.G.

As it was performed today, the rap lyrics were left out…

However, here is a rather profound line in the rap lyrics…

“It’s easy to be Puff, but it’s harder to be Sean”

It’s easier to be who I’m trying to project myself as, than it is to actually be me.

Dang. There’s some truth.

Benedictine nun Joan Chittister wrote:

Better to walk through life simply and without masks, than to lose ourselves in the pursuit of identities that are purely cosmetic and commercial. Then, at least, we will be known for what we are rather than for what we are not.

Lose the mask, not your true self. Amen!

I love what Father G says… “You are exactly what God had in mind when he created you.”

Today, we’re going to be talking about coming home. Shari and I were traveling in the month of July and it was wonderful and there’s just nothing like coming HOME. That personal habitation, that familiar and familial place where we started and repeated celebrations of the milestones of our lives. Home, where you know where everything is and how everything works. Home, where you communicate in your shared primary language. Home, where comfort and help and healing is normative. Home, where we are most truly and in every way ourselves.

I’m coming home, I’m coming home

Tell the world I’m coming home
Let the rain wash away—all the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits—and they’ve forgiven my mistakes
I’m coming home, I’m coming home

Our Psalm this morning is quite unique among all the other Psalms because of its noted author… Moses.

Yes, that Moses. The one from lots of pages to the left in the Old Testament. Like 581 years worth of pages earlier. See why it’s so unique to be included in the Psalms that were written by David and the people who served and worked with him?

Unique is good, right?

OK, here we go… Read More

The Sermon That Did Not Record Which Had Katy Perry and Frederick Buechner In It

Yesterday, after our church service ended, I picked up my phone from the chair and was surprised to see I had a text message notification from my wife. She had been there with me, in that same service, up on the stage and down on the first row. My first thought was that maybe she was informing me of something embarrassing, like, “Your zipper is down!” or “You have two different shoes on!” or something like that. But when I read her text message, it made me smile and feel known and loved. Here’s a screenshot of it:

Screen Shot 2022-08-15 at 5.29.07 PM

She knows I love to include in my sermons some jarring  juxtapositions of the ancient and modern, the sacred and the secular, high art and guilty pleasures… and she was calling me out for it.

Anyway, it was one of those messages that I really felt and really believe and parts of it seemed to just flow out of me as if the words were already written and established in my heart for ages. I was gonna share the link to the video of the sermon, but we had some technical glitch that I would not understand if I tried and could not fix if my life depended on it (so, no judgment, media team!). The glitch meant no audio was recorded at all.

Oh well, I actually prefer being read than watched or listened to anyway! And, lucky for me, all of my sermons are complete manuscripts. So I’m sharing The Sermon That Did Not Record Which Had Katy Perry And Frederick Buechner In It.

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Just a little background on this song, “Love… Thy Will Be Done” —

Martika was a young new artist who began recording in the late ‘80’s. In the early ‘90’s, she really wanted to work with Prince—so she reached out and he agreed to meet her. When they met, he asked to see some of her work, some of the lyrics she’d written… and she handed him her journal. He looked through it and asked if he could take it for some time to sit with it and see what resonated with him. Martika agreed.

A week later, Prince got together with her and showed her what he’d done. He took something she wrote – something she had written as a prayer – and turned it into this song: Love… Thy Will Be Done. He’d already recorded a demo – with all the music and with his voice singing the lyrics.

Prince was the producer for Martika’s recording of the song – and in July of 1991 it was her first single released… it reached the top 10 on the charts of seven countries, including Australia, where it peaked at number one in October 1991.

Since that time, it’s been covered by multiple artists.

And after Prince’s death, his original recording that he brought to Martika – with him singing, was released on the album Originals in June of 2019. It’s an album of songs that Prince wrote and gave to other artists to record and perform and it contains his demos.

“Love… Thy Will Be Done” is a two-time Song of Summer… 1991 and 2019.

And I love it.

Especially these lines:… Read More

Qualities of a Safe Church

These are the notes from a sermon I preached on the first Sunday of Summer – on June 26, 2022…

Summer has officially arrived! Feels good, doesn’t it?

It seems like the most difficult and life-altering days of pandemic life are behind us now, I hope, and we can once again enjoy meals together and taking actual vacations and stuff. Hallelujah.

Next week, our Songs of Summer series begins as we look to the poetry of the Psalms and draw some connections to popular music that we know. For that first Sunday in July, we’ll be outdoors, on the lawn, for church.

Yes, it finally feels like summertime!

Psalm 18.2

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. God is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.


Psalm 61.4

Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings! Selah


Selah… A break in the music—a pause for dramatic effect. A chance to sit and let it soak in.

Safe beneath the shelter of your wings. 

I like it. I need it. Amen.


My name is Brian and I’ve been in the church nearly every Sunday since… Read More

Church Without All The BS

These are the notes from my sermon preached on 11.21.21 at NWLife Church – the 9th in a series of 10 sermons based on the book of Nehemiah called “When Everything’s On Fire.”

The title of my sermon today is: “Church Without All The BS.”

Up to this point, Nehemiah has had quite the journey… A prayer, a plan, and the gracious hand of God. The favor of the king, permission to go, resources sent along for the work. And the support of the people—so the good work begins. Rebuilding.

And of course there are problems encountered along the way. But Nehemiah is not derailed. He continues. He prevails. The enemy does not succeed. And there are some conflicts among the people, some abusive practices that come to the surface. So Nehemiah has to deal with that too. But even still, the work continues. Restoration. Approaching wholeness…

Glimmers of the Beloved Community, God’s dream for us all.

And it appears that although the work was not easy, it is, in fact, worth it. Better days ahead, for all. Maybe there is life after the fire. Perhaps we can emerge from the ashes and thrive. So, let us believe. … Read More

Religion and Religious People I Like and Want to be Like

- - Life With God, Uncategorized

It’s got to have good humor, readily able to laugh at itself and its own goofs and quirks and gaffes and screw ups and oddities. And it must not take itself too seriously—that’s far too wearying of an existence for someone who has come to Jesus and discovered the easiness of yoke and lightness of burden and wonderful rest freely given to those with weary souls because of religion-gone-bad.

It must be quick to admit it does not have all the answers—never did and probably never will—on this side of eternity. It believes saying “I don’t know” is always better than pretending and preaching something not even fully believed by the pretender, the preacher. It knows there’s humility and strength in being honest about what it cannot be sure of. It has realized trust is given to someone who does not lie when they don’t have a full answer.

It keeps a balance of prophetic fire and gentleness. All fire all the time will burn everything down and leave nothing behind. The fire comes in letting that which is real and alive and resident in one’s own life and experience flow freely. This is not bluster or salesmanship. It’s like the forager talking about mushrooms, the woodworker talking about his favorite type of wood, the chef talking about his best knife. This passion is obvious and yet it is never aggressive or belittling or damaging.

It is playful and creative in its approach to Scripture, its storytelling, its messaging, its music, its teaching, its programming, and its way of interacting with the community outside its doors. It has good art and believes aesthetics matter. It is not pretentious or stuffy, it is a greenhouse for good ideas and songs and artistic expression to flourish.

It is not concerned with creating a whole separate Christian ecosystem to live safe and apart from the rest of the world, but rather, it plants itself within the community as a valuable resource to serve anyone who comes. In this way, it’s like a library… changing and evolving as culture and technology and demographics do, in order to best meet the needs of the community. The never-ending love of the God who created us is what it shares in many different ways and creative expressions.

As it is planted in the community, it is unique and local rather than being a franchise or a knock-off of some other “successful” church.

It views success, not in terms of numbers of attenders or dollars coming in or buildings being built, but in light of loving and serving people to the best of its ability.

It values real life connection over hits or views or likes or follows. It never aspires to famous or mega or televised or viral.

It goes with grace every time. In every situation. Mercy triumphs over judgement. Always. Its role in people’s lives is to bless and not curse. It remembers that it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. It chooses to not coerce, manipulate, police, or guilt its people into conformity. And it knows that all the law and prophets are summed up in these two great commands: love the Lord your God… and love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s the big deal and everything else is just human meddling, morality policing, and varying attempts to control people (which is bad religion).

It looks like its community in demographics and diversity… it is rich and poor, black and white and latinx and pacific islander and east Asian and south Asian. It’s never a social club for one type of person at the exclusion of others. It celebrates culture.

It sees the gifts of women and empowers them to lead, teach, preach, have authority and agency. It is egalitarian and believes in equality and works for justice. It rejects power trips and authoritarianism and patriarchy and violence.

It is careful and diligent in untangling itself from bad religion – religion used as a cloak for a political party, religious nationalism, religion entrenched in -isms (liberalism, conservativism, Calvinism, fundamentalism, racism, legalism, etc.).

It has only one hero, Jesus Christ. It has clergy, but they are not celebrities or heroes. The clergy preach Good News: all is forgiven, Jesus said “It is finished” and it really is… no more shame, no more condemnation, no more sacrifices, no more separation from God, it’s done, it has been done for you, this is God’s gift to you, so please take it! Receive it. Believe it. Walk in it. It’s yours.



church fantasies I have

note: picture above is from our last community outreach event just before the pandemic hit—our annual Toy Give

the other day in a staff meeting, a question came up about whether or not we should do more explaining to the church about why we are currently not having normal worship (congregational singing) in our services.

I think we probably could do a better job of communicating what we are doing and why

I also feel torn over raising the subject.

there are people who would be happy to gather for church and break all the COVID guidelines with maskless singing and the return of kids classes and big hugs with germs all around

and there are people who are still not comfortable coming to church until COVID is under control and 80% of the population has been vaccinated

so, reminding everyone why we are doing what we are doing probably won’t make anyone happier or change their view on things

the ones who want to break free from all the regulations will be unsatisfied with our explanation

and the ones who aren’t comfortable coming to church will still be watching from home, if and when they think of it

I wish…

I mean…

I have this church fantasy

that everyone would applaud our careful following of the rules

that everyone would see that our caution is out of concern for the vulnerable

that everyone would be proud of our church for doing the right thing

that everyone would thank the pastors for leading well

but I know it’s a fantasy

I wish it would happen

but I know it won’t likely

and that got me on a wave of thinking about my fantasies (I have more)…

I fantasize that our church would be:

wildly diverse yet unified in purpose

completely over and done with judgment

quick to embrace the arts and celebrate beauty

resolute with Jesus at the center of our identity and practice

worshiping like the black church – all-in body, soul, spirit engagement

moving with ease between charismatic expression and quiet contemplation

deeply committed to caring for our local community through service and generosity

in our feels – quick to laughter and easily moved to tears

informed by the Sermon on the Mount in our politics

a storehouse of good food to share

really gifted at throwing parties

safe, humble, and gentle

working for justice

*   *   *

I know fantasy isn’t a Bible word. Maybe I’m talking about dreaming of the impossible. That might sound a bit more biblical…

There’s a verse in the Bible (Romans 4.18) about Abraham—and it says he, “against all hope, believed.” This has become an expression in the English language, to “hope against all hope.” It means to continue to hope for something even though it seems unlikely to happen.

Exactly. That’s what I’m talking about.

This is my fantasy and you can’t talk me out of it.


Joyful In Hope

NOTE: I was really excited to preach this sermon today… but when I arrived early this morning at the church to begin prepping for our Drive-Thru Food Bank, I heard a distinct dripping sound and noticed significant water damage in our auditorium. We’re assessing it now, but it’s obviously not safe to hold a service indoors today so we had to cancel. Anyway, here’s my sermon:

Romans 12.12

Be joyful in hope, patient in trouble, and faithful in prayer.

Romans 15.13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.

Author Karl Ove Knausgård said,

“There is only one thing children find harder to hold back than tears, and that is joy.”

Last week I talked about the faithfulness of God.

God is faithful. Always and forever.

After the service, a confident little girl (around 9 years old) holding a german shepherd stuffed animal under her arm came up to me and said, “I’d like to talk to you.”

It’s funny how my first reaction was to be kinda scared because, well… church PTSD (I’ve had some bad experiences that started out with those words, “I’d like to talk to you.”

Anyway, this girl was wonderful—she wanted me to know that they’d just moved into their new neighborhood and when they left for church this morning, their car didn’t work.

Their old neighborhood had a neighbor who helped them with their car before.

But today in their new neighborhood, a very kind new neighbor came to their rescue… and they made it to church, just a few minutes late.

She concluded her story by saying, “So, I think we agree. God is faithful.”

There was a pause, and then she asked, “Um, what is faithful?”

I love it. I think she knew in her heart that God can always be trusted because God is always good.

But big words can be tricky.

I stumbled around for a few seconds offering other big and tricky words:

“Reliable. Trustworthy. Constant. Dependable.”

I could see that no light bulb was going off.

So then I said, “God always keeps his promises. He’s always good and we can trust him.

That’s what faithful means.”

She nodded and agreed with me. “Yeah, God always keeps his promises. That’s right.”

“And the devil tried to keep us from getting to church this morning, but God is faithful.”

I laughed and said,… Read More

My Favorite Imperfect Cookies

Each week, I write two little family devotions that are printed as mini-booklets and added to the Kid’s Activity Pack that we hand out at our Drive-Thru Food Bank and our Sunday service. We’ve given out over 5,000 of these Kid’s Activity Packs now. Last week, I wrote about a happy family memory… my favorite imperfect cookies:

There is a fortune cookie factory here in Seattle’s Chinatown that sells bags of “un-fortunate” cookies. They’re the cookies that were somehow damaged, flattened, or just didn’t turn out perfect in the fortune cookie folding process. They are sold in a large plastic bag about the size of a beach ball (and they are much cheaper than the perfect ones).

bags of unfortune cookies for post

My parents loved going to dinner in Chinatown and they would always stop at the fortune cookie factory so they could buy a big bag of “un-fortunate” cookies. Sometimes, they would even buy an extra bag and give it to me.

I didn’t mind that these cookies weren’t perfect. Actually, the flat ones are easier to eat than the perfectly folded ones. Sometimes the folded ones hurt the roof of your mouth.

fortune cookies for post

The “un-fortunate” cookies tasted the same as the perfect ones. They came from the same factory. They had the same recipe. They just looked different.

I’m glad the fortune cookie factory doesn’t throw away these flat “un-fortunate” cookies.

Sometimes, when things don’t go the way we planned, or when everything isn’t as perfect as we’d like, we might not want to accept it.

But, have you ever had a warm chocolate cookie fresh out of the oven that broke when it was taken off the cookie sheet? Those broken cookies are delicious!

Maybe we should accept things, or situations, or people… that aren’t perfect.

After all, neither are we!

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” —Romans 15.7