Waxing Nostalgic – Finale

Orthodox CrossThis post concludes a short series that includes the following posts:

Waxing Nostalgic

Waxing Nostalgic – Raising Kids

Waxing Nostalgic – An Old Friend

Waxing Nostalgic – Worship

Waxing Nostalgic – My Kids’ Baptism

Waxing Nostalgic – Our Home

Waxing Nostalgic – My Blog

The future is a scary place. Some people love the unknown. I don’t. I can admit it. It frightens me terribly.

However, the past is not a safe place either. Certainly it’s familiar. But not safe.

I’ve never seen the Mona Lisa, but I’ve heard the bulletproof glass protecting this treasure also distorts it. When you gaze upon the famous portrait with the enigmatic smile, you also see your face and everyone else’s reflected in the glass.

Nostalgia is like that glass. It distorts the past with phantom reflections of ourselves. It twists old photos and journal entries into a fake reality of the “good ole days.” And when faced with the frightening unknown future, it’s tempting to lose oneself chasing this will-o’-the-wisp.

I mentioned in a previous post about Debbie’s comment to me, “Everything’s changing.” Those two words haunt me.

So perhaps it’s serendipitous that the Dormition Fast, in which we honor Mary, the birth-giver of God, overlaps with the writing of this series on “Waxing Nostalgic.”

Imagine the moment Mary heard Gabriel’s proclamation that she would carry and give birth to the Son of God. I know this sounds melodramatic, but time must have stopped in the silent moment before Mary responds. You can almost hear creation drawing and holding a collective breath in excited anticipation. God’s entire plan from Adam onward lay on the shoulders of this young maiden.

In that silence, what was going through Mary’s head? Although only a teenager, she knows what happens to unwed mothers — the gossip, the rumors, the spurning and the potential death.

But from a young age, her parents, Joachim and Anna, told her that she was a promise from God. She had lived in the Temple most of her life, dedicated to God. But she hadn’t expected her devotion to escort her into the disgrace and stigma of an unwed mother.

Then she breaks the silence. Facing an unknown and frightening future, she whispers. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Time restarts and the angels and creation let out their breath knowing God’s mysterious plan moves forward.

Imagine how thrilled and delighted God’s heart was at that moment?

Mary said “Yes” to God and became a home for Christ. She’s not an incubator, randomly chosen from Israel’s women. No. She’s a person in whom God finds favor. She has learned to say “Yes” to God all her life.

And God finds favor in each of us. He calls us to a similar destiny in his kingdom. Saying “Yes” to God, we become a home for Christ and “birth” him into our world as we embody him, becoming like him by grace.

“Waxing nostalgic” the last several weeks has been a wonderful experience. I have a life filled with fantastic memories and precious relationships. I know I am a rich man. And I am a tremendously thankful man.

The experience has also been fruitful. I’m learning that we prepare for our future by reflecting on and learning from our past. Too often, I’ve said “No” to God. I want to understand why. I want to grow in grace so that I naturally say “Yes” to God. I want Christ to live in me and through me.

I’m choosing to end this series on my fiftieth birthday. While this series ends, the process won’t. I’m sure there will be more posts reflecting on the past to prepare for the future.

The terrifying unknown future looms before us. God is next to us encouraging us to step forward. And he’s in the midst of the unknown calling us to him. His destiny, to bear Christ in the world, awaits us.

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Waxing Nostalgic – My Blog

The Offramp Splash PageAs my time at the Vineyard and professional ministry drew to an end in 2003, I began blogging. Originally, several of us who left the Vineyard and started a faith community started blogging through our new community’s website, “The Offramp.”

Some of those blogs remain, untouched for several years. I keep them on the righthand bar and visit them occasionally. They bring memories of good times with good friends. For example, here’s a post by Debbie from June 2008. It highlights a walk she had with Chris, who was eight at the time. Reading it again reminded me of simpler times with younger kids, being part of their lives as they discovered and interacted with the world around them.

I have enjoyed my blogging experience. Back in 2010, I wrote this about my blog:

“I began this blog in March 2003 as our family left professional ministry and embarked on a journey of theological exploration. This blog has recorded our joys and struggles as we explored a different form of Christian community. It has allowed me to deconstruct and reconstruct my theology and wrestle with my new identity outside of professional ministry. It has marked special events in our family’s life. And recently, it has recorded our family’s journey into the Holy Orthodox Church.”

That post in 2010 was my last post on this blog. Or so I thought.

After joining the Orthodox Church, I struggled with what I should post on this blog. Entering the Orthodox Church signaled the end of our faith community and our exit from the Emergent Church/Home Church conversation. I was also experiencing difficulty with some aspects of Orthodoxy, but didn’t feel it was appropriate to openly post those struggles. As an Ortho-newbie, I became aware that I had less and less to say.

I was also struggling with depression, unable to reconcile years of calling, training and experience with no longer being in ministry.

So I sensed the need to go silent, to immerse myself in Orthodoxy and to let God bring some much-needed healing.

So after much prayer and thought, I said goodbye to my blog in May 2010.

Two years passed and I began sensing the need to write again. So in April 2012, I revived this blog. I will admit that I haven’t posted consistently the past four years. Months would pass between posts. Life had changed and its ebbs and flows would drift me back to this blog and then pull me away again.

I know my decision in 2010 was the right one. But looking at that two-year gap brings pangs of regret. There were significant moments that I wish I had processed and recorded on this blog.

There were vacations, celebrations, holidays and daily life. My firstborn, Michael, graduated high school in 2010. This was one of the proudest moments of my life. And it symbolically transitioned our family into a new phase as our first child stepped across the threshold into adulthood. Dan died in December 2010. I miss his voice and laugh. Danielle entered high school. Michael was admitted to the emergency room with a collapsed lung, which scared the hell out of me. Maribeth moved from California, and our family still misses her dearly. Chris saved and bought himself a bike. Michael, Danielle and Chris generously collected their monies and bought Cathy a bike for Christmas. And at the end of 2011, our family bought our first house, packed over 20 years of our life and moved to Pomona.

The other night, our family had a fun dinner at a local restaurant. As we were leaving, our kids walked out to the car ahead of Debbie and me. As we strolled out behind them, she leaned over and said, “Everything’s changing.”

This is something I’ve been sensing for months and has only been heightened as my fiftieth birthday draws near. I’m sensing the need to prepare for the next phase of my life and for whatever it brings. As I pray and ponder, there seem to be a couple of important facets to this preparation. First is redeveloping my intimacy with God. I mentioned in an earlier post about this urge for intimacy that occurred earlier this year during Lent and has only grown.

The second is remembering my past. I have started reading through my old journals as well as rereading my old blog posts and those of my friends. I believe I’m compelled by more than nostalgia.

White KeysThe recent activity on this blog is the expression of those two facets. I’m making room to pray and reflect. The activity and noise from daily life easily obstructs the internal currents of the soul. Writing clears the debris and increases my sensitivity to my inner life. It’s not always a pretty picture. But it is a necessary task.

I genuinely don’t know how this blog will develop in the months or years to come. Thirteen years of my thoughts, my reflections, and my life have been recorded here in over 700 posts. In some ways it has become an important part of me. And if I’m right, it will play an important part of my future. We shall see.

Waxing Nostalgic – Our Home

I’ve lived in many places. Most of them have been in southern California. But I’ve lived in different homes.

I spent my childhood in La Puente and West Covina.

After high school I lived in Irvine for my first year in college. I then moved to Hawaii for about six months when I joined YWAM for their Discipleship Training School.

When I returned to southern California, I lived with my parents in West Covina for a couple of years until I was married. During the first few years of our marriage, Debbie and I lived in two places in Azusa and two places in West Covina. Currently, my family lives in Pomona.

IMG_6513The largest amount of time I lived in one place was in Glendora. Debbie and I moved to Glendora when Michael was about a year old. We lived in the same four-unit complex for almost 20 years. We started in a two-bedroom 1-1/2 bath unit from mid-1993 until late 1999. Then we moved into a three-bedroom 2-1/2 bathroom unit until February 2012. This home and city will always hold a dear place in my heart.

It was in this home that Debbie and I raised our four young children. We made friends with wonderful neighbors. We had a caring and generous landlord. The front lawn and courtyard became the playground for our kids and their friends. We would laugh and shout and sweat through rounds of dodgeball and tag and hide-and-seek.

And like any home filled with family life, there was a mixture of memories spanning the spectrum from momentous to mundane. We have memories of first steps and first days of school. We have memories of the mundane like homework, washing dishes, watching TV, and illnesses. We have memories of joy, laughter, giving and loving. And we have memories of arguments, timeouts, tears and tragedy.

As our children grew, Glendora was a small enough and safe enough town to let our children begin walking to friends homes, to the library, and to the park. In this safe environment, our children learned to stretch their wings and venture beyond our home on their own.

Debbie and I moved into our Glendora home as a young couple with a toddler and dreams of life and ministry together. By the time we left that home, we were an older couple with four adult children and twenty years of full life and invaluable family memories.

When I look at photos of our apartment, I can’t believe we fit six of us in that space for so long. It must explain why we love being together so much.

IMG_9374I remember our moving day on January 28, 2012. It had been difficult packing twenty-plus years of life into boxes and then a truck. It was simultaneously exciting and sad.

We visited the apartment in the following week to clean the unit and hopefully receive our security deposit from twenty years prior. Our landlord was visibly saddened to see us go and promised the full deposit. When the cleaning was finished, we visited each room and said good-bye to our home. Chris even said good-bye to the timeout corner. And then we stepped out and shut the door on twenty years of a blessed and fantastic life.

Four years later, we have transformed our Pomona house into a home. It doesn’t have the same kind of memories. It never will. And that’s okay. The new memories are a continuation of our full family life. We now have memories of sitting around our dining room table for dinners, laughing to the point of falling out of our chairs. We have memories of the two rescue dogs that have joined our family. We have memories of deep conversations about relationship, church, God and life. And most likely, we will eventually have memories of saying good-bye to our kids as they continue to grow and venture into a new life in the world beyond the safe haven of our home.

God, thank you for our homes. Thank you for the safety of four walls and a roof. And thank you for the life, love, and joy that continually spills out of those four walls.

Waxing Nostalgic – My Kids’ Baptism

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 9.01.22 AMThis October marks the ten-year anniversary of one of the most remarkable moments of my life — the day I baptized my kids.

I posted my thoughts about the event HERE a few days after it happened. You can also watch the short video HERE. On that day I offered my children to God and to his family. And while it was a dream come true for me as their dad, it was also a frightening moment.

During the worship that morning, I realized that my children would face a painful world without me. I couldn’t be with them during most of the moments of their daily lives. And as they matured, they would face a harsh and painful world without their daddy’s protection. But God cut through all of this by reminding me that my children were his. And then I heard his voice whispering “I will be there.”

Ten years later, as I reflect on God’s faithfulness to that promise, my heart wells with incredible gratitude. Thank you, God, for being there with them.

God has both protected them and formed, for which I am deeply thankful.

Ten years ago, my children’s ages ranged from 7 to 14. I understood each was making a commitment to Jesus at their personal level and that their commitment to him that would continue to grow and take new expression as they matured.

I don’t come from a Christian family. My parents became Christians after me, so I don’t have the personal experience of a faith handed down through generations. Passing down my faith to my kids has been a learn “by the seat of my pants” endeavor. But one thing I know from watching the Faith passed down in other families, it looks different in each generation. One generation’s values and preferences differ from the prior’s. But at its core, the faith in Jesus, the loyal commitment to him and his cause, is the same.

It’s fascinating to see how each my kids’ personal relationships with God have developed. It’s also a little unsetting. Their faith development doesn’t parallel mine or Debbie’s. So they don’t hold all of the values we hold. I’m learning how to coach and advise them from the resources of my personal faith. But most importantly, I’m learning to be content with that.

The important thing is that they belong to God and to his family that stretches time and space.

From personal experience, I know God will continue to speak to them and work through every part of their lives. Their faith will continue to change and develop, influenced by God’s Spirit, people’s influences and life circumstances.

As I look out upon the unknown of the next ten years and beyond, God’s promise to me for my children still rings true, “I will be there.”

Waxing Nostalgic – Worship

Pink Rose copyBut may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” -Psalm 40.16

During Lent this year, I sensed an inner urging to draw closer to God. While I prayed and read Scripture virtually every day, I have become less intimate with God over the past years.

So during Lent, I decided to listen to my old worship music.

Hold on… a little context. Throughout my entire Christian formation, worship was a constant and dominant aspect of my life. Early in my Christian formation, I was taught that worship was far more than singing songs to God. Rather, it was a deeply intimate interaction with a loving and mighty God.

I loved worship! I loved worshipping at church. I loved worshipping personally using CDs. I collected virtually every worship CD I could. I owned every single Hosanna! Music and Vineyard release. I bought a wide-range of CDs by Delirious, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Lincoln Brewster, The Passion Band, Darrell Evans, and Kent Henry. By the time I was in the Vineyard, I attended worship conferences and participated in the congregation for a few live recording of worship albums.

I had tried futilely to learn guitar several times in my youth prior to becoming a Christian. As a young youth pastor, I remember asking God to let me easily learn the guitar so I could glorify him through worship and by leading others in worship. Coincidentally or miraculously, I quickly learned guitar soon after that prayer and vowed only to play guitar in worship to God.

When things went terribly wrong at the Vineyard where I was the Associate Pastor, I left professional ministry. The wounds were so painful that I could not listen to worship music without feeling betrayed and depressed. That dark season lasted several years, until this past Lent.

The urge for deeper intimacy with God carried with it a need to reconnect to intimate worship again. So I began listening to my worship CDs during my commutes to work and home. The first couple of days were emotionally difficult. But then something happened. The negative feelings evaporated and were replaced with a newfound intimacy. But the intimacy was much different from what I previously experienced in worship.

The familiar songs brought to mind memories of past worship experiences. I recalled moments during worship conferences when thousands of worshippers sang their hearts to God in deep unity. I recalled worship team practices at the Vineyard with my friends. I recalled times of worship in children’s ministry, youth group, and home group settings. I recalled shouting and singing at the top of my lungs. I recalled moments of holy silence as God’s presence filled the room. I recalled recording worship songs that I had written at my friend’s home. I recalled God’s intimate and healing presence in worship during the darkest days of my burnout in professional ministry. I recalled promises he whispered, sins he convicted, wounds he comforted, delusions he lifted, and resolve he strengthened during countless moments of worship.

The familiar songs and fond memories brought a different kind of intimacy with God. The songs had become stones that fashioned a memorial like the ones ancient Israelites would erect to remind them of important events with God. This “memorial” of worship songs compelled me to remember those intimate moments with God experienced alone and with others. By doing so, it renewed my thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness through the difficult years; for God’s beauty in the midst of ugliness caused by others and myself; for God’s majesty transcending and transforming my personal pain. In all of it God is AWESOME.

I’m so thankful that God has allowed me to experience the joy of worship again. And the fond memories accompanying this renewal are some of the dearest to me. Now that I’m part of a Christian tradition that doesn’t practice that particular style of worship, I am even more mindful of how special and precious those moments were and will carry them reverently the rest of my life.

Waxing Nostalgic – An Old Friend

IMG_6490This is another post in a short series that began HERE and continues HERE.

The other day, I reconnected with an old friend. We haven’t seen each other for about 10 years. But like any good friendship, when we reconnected it was like no time had passed.

Ok. I’m kind of misleading you in that my “old friend” isn’t a person. It’s my preaching Bible. It’s the Bible I used especially when I delivered my sermons. I loved this Bible because the text was in a one-column format and didn’t contain any study notes that would clutter or distract me when I was reading Scripture during a sermon.

When I pulled my preaching Bible off the shelf and opened it up, I was thrilled to find my last two sermons tucked into the cover. That’s when the memories flooded back.

I loved telling stories, showing videos, and using object lessons in my sermons. One of my fondest “preaching” memories is when I brought Michael up during a sermon to help with an object lesson. It took only a couple of moments, but has remained one of those cherished memories for both of us.

When I prepared for a sermon, I would always use a digital Bible. I would then type up my sermon outline with Scripture references. But the final and most critical phase of my workflow was to allow a “simmer time.” This was when I would pray, reflect and let the Scriptures and main points “seep deep” into me. I would read the Scriptures in my preaching Bible during this essential phase.

You see a sermon wasn’t authentic to me if it wasn’t a part of me. I never wanted a sermon to simply be a speech or a study. It was a time when the family of God gathered to hear and obey God’s Word. So I believed it was my greatest responsibility to give a part of myself as the messenger. I was always exhausted and drained when I was done preaching.

Having found my preaching Bible, I’ve been enjoying times of reading Scripture from the page rather than the screen. I love and rely on my digital resources. But there’s something special about unplugging and reading Scripture from a book.

I’ve heard that we read differently from paper than from a screen. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it feels true. Reading Scripture from a book seems simultaneously more leisurely and less distracting. I feel more focused and can stop to reflect without sensing my mind being pulled in different directions.

I remember another object lesson I used in a sermon. I wrote out some  Scripture on a transparency. I then held it up before me to demonstrate that as we read Scripture, it should pull our focus through the text and onto the One standing behind the text.

That’s what I feel has happened since finding my preaching Bible. Reading Scripture from a book actually seems more intimate and relational. Reconnecting with my “old friend” seems to have added a missing dimension of intimacy with my True Friend.

Waxing Nostalgic – Raising Kids

Zahariades Family (1)This the second post that began HERE.

As I prepare to turn fifty, my four kids span from 16 to 24 years old. And I want to say upfront that I absolutely love and adore them. To borrow from someone’s Facebook post, they’re the reason I have gray hairs and the reason I have laugh lines.

I think every loving parent makes incredible sacrifices for their children. Some of those sacrifices are huge, momentous occasions. And most are those daily “putting their needs before ours” kind of decisions.

All of those sacrifices are made with the intention of giving our children a better chance than we ever had — to create wonderful memories, to provide for their needs, to bring them joy and happiness, and to shape them into men and women with good character.

In the Orthodox Church, there’s a daily prayer that has taught me a few lessons:

“O God, our heavenly Father, who loves mankind, and are most merciful and compassionate, have mercy upon our children, your servants, for whom I humbly pray you, and commend them to your gracious protection. O God, be their guide and guardian in all their endeavors; lead them in the path of your truth, and draw them near to you, that they may lead a godly and righteous life in your love and fear, doing your will in all matters.”

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Lesson #1. God loves my kids more than I love them. I don’t think I need to say much more on that one.

Lesson #2. Because he loves them more than I do, I have a constant decision to make in regards to their care. I can either worry about them or actively commend them into God’s care. As a young parent, I used to be plagued with graphic visions of my firstborn’s death. I used to worry for him constantly and lived in a low-level state of panic. He’s now 24 years old. I had to learn that I can’t be with him nor protect him constantly. So I had to choose either to worry about him and my other kids or actively commend them into God’s loving care.

Lesson #3. Just because God loves them and cares for them, doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to them. Part of learning to commend them into God’s care was praying the aforementioned daily prayer only to learn hours later that something terrible had actually happened to one of my children. But the ultimate “goal” of the prayer is for children who have learned to lead godly and righteous lives. That sometimes requires painful lessons. Fortunately, lesson #1 encompasses lesson #3.

It’s can be heartbreaking being a parent of adult children. Sometimes I hear my kids share memories of their childhood. Some are good memories. But occasionally they will share an incident which I had intended to be a good experience. But because of a word or an action, what I planned to be a positive memory is actually a painful one that they have carried for years.

That’s a difficult thing to bear. It’s easy to become despondent and believe the inner voices that accuse me of being a bad parent. Believe me, there’s plenty of evidence to substantiate such claims.

As I attempt to parent adult children, I find that I don’t always have the words or advice they need. Their lives are taking a completely different trajectory than mine. I’m crushed by their experiences of stress and pain. My heart breaks when they share their doubts, fears and anxiety about relationships, education, career and life purpose. And I feel helpless and impotent, unable to give them what they need.

Michael & Cathy Playing 2 100_0210.JPG

These feelings are easily compounded when look through old photographs of my children smiling and playing. It’s easy to wish that I could have frozen time when they were young, innocent and fairly happy. Life seemed simpler then. But I know it wasn’t.

Then my mind drifts back to the prayer. And I’m learning a fourth lesson:

Lesson #4. God answers prayer. God has been and still is their guide and guardian. He has and still is leading them in the path of his truth. He has and still is drawing them near to him. And they are learning to lead godly and righteous lives.

Debbie and I are ultra-blessed with four great adult kids. They love God, each other, us and other people. They are truly great friends with each other. And they are friends with Debbie and me. And they are good friends with those in their lives.

When Debbie and I brought each child home from the hospital after their births, a huge unknown future loomed before us. We didn’t know what awaited our kids. But we knew we wanted them to grow into men and women of character who loved God, loved each other, loved us and loved people.

And all I can say is, “God, thank you so much for graciously answering our prayers.”

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Waxing Nostalgic

50th-birthday-fifty-years-the-first-50-years-of-childhood-child-at-heart-t-shirt-b7247e72edfafcafce0798069270bec5In exactly one month I turn 50 years old. Good God, that’s a half century. Although Scripture says that a thousand years is like a day to God. So that’s only about one hour and 12 minutes for God.

I realize that many before me have crossed this line and would probably think, “Been there, done that.” But this is my first time and last time.

Anyways, this impending milestone has caused me to wax nostalgic as of late. So I thought I would blow off the dust on this blog and share my thoughts as I look back on important aspects of my life.

I’m not promising much as time and energy will dictate the number of posts. Nor am I promising anything deep. Since this blog is pretty obscure, I see it more as a “message in the bottle” scenario; tossing thoughts into the ocean to see who might find them. Over the years, I’m amazed at who actually stumbles across this blog.

I’m sure anyone who reflects on their life is filled with an unique mixture of regret and satisfaction. Needless to say, all of it shapes who we are. So while some of what I reflect upon might seem trivial, God has used all of it to shape who I am. So I believe it’s important to record some of the main stuff as I quickly approach the “Big Five-Oh”.

See, I told you it wouldn’t be very deep. Tossing the first bottle… <kersplash!>