Family, on Retreat – Bill White

I’ve been on all kinds of retreats – men’s retreats, couples retreats, youth retreats, pastor retreats, etc. – and all of them have real value. But there’s just something about going on retreat as a family that makes it different. 3 kids with kidsFor one, family retreats are messy. There are screaming kids at meal time (and lots of other times), you’ve got to figure out how to bunk whole families together when there’s only a Men’s Cabin and a Women’s Cabin, and it can feel a bit daunting to have 13 year olds and grandmas in the same small group. And yet the beauty outweighs the chaos for me. Having a group of tweens, locked shoulder-to-shoulder, swaying to the music while teens are raising their hands in praise and a couple of adults are crying, all in the same worship service – that’s a rare sight. Letting the young people see healthy marriages modeled out in front of them, and seeing moms and dads picking up parenting skills from each other, and everyone just enjoying the enthusiasm and wonder of the 4 year olds – what gifts!

Kids in worship (left) and small group time (right)

Kids in worship (left) and small group time (right)

This weekend I found myself thinking often about how messy it must have been around Jesus twenty centuries ago.   People were bringing him babies to bless, and all kinds of folks were gathered around, including the sick and broken and possessed. No doubt, it was a bit like a family retreat.

Family Hike

Family Hike

Would Jesus Play Beer Pong? – Bill White

Take a close look at the picture. I thought of posting it on my FaceBook page and asking for captions, but then thought better of pong

Maria is a fun-loving, big-personality gal who lives next door to a family from City Church, just a few blocks from me. I had met her once before she texted me last week, saying that her neighbor thought I might have an extra table and some chairs she could use for her birthday party. It was an easy swap to make – church tables for an invite to dinner.

So Sunday night I show up at her house looking forward to the Taco Man, meeting a bunch of strangers, and a quick return home for the evening. So the birthday girl meets me at the side gate and just about falls over herself apologizing.

“O my God, O my God, the pastor is here!” is her opening line, her face a mixture of laughter and horror. “I’m so sorry – we’re using your table for Beer Pong!”

I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I heard the term “Beer Pong.” My seminary education didn’t help me at that moment. Fortunately, my college education did.

I immediately assessed the situation, gazing across the backyard to where the City Church table was in full use, and I told Maria that our table and chairs are meant to be used by our neighbors and I was thrilled she had them.

As relief washed over her face, she introduced me to a bunch of folks and I was off towards the Taco Man and to eat with Nadia, Lenny, Minerva, Brian, and Astin. I had really interesting conversations, ranging from welding to real estate, from parenting to premarital counseling, from how Buddhist monk’s levitate to why Catholics feel guilty, from the meaning of baptism to whether Jesus would play Beer Pong.

Two hours later I’m headed home, stuffed with tacos and with gratitude for the great people I’ve just met and for a savior who loves parties and is not afraid to turn water into wine.

Do We Want to Be Predictable? – Bill White

In a passage that I’ve always been suspicious about, Paul says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Doesn’t it seem a bit arrogant to say, “imitate me”? After all, aren’t we supposed to be humble and not think too much of ourselves?

url-1Now as I think back on my life, virtually every healthy habit I now have is something that I saw in someone else and then I imitated it. I learned how to welcome people into my home from my mom, I learned how to take a weekly date night from a missionary in Mexico City, I learned how to speak a daily blessing over our kids from the pastor at my previous church, and I learned about scheduling one-on-one time with my kids from a friend with older children.

Each of those practices deeply marks who I am today and the kind of family I have, and I’m so grateful for them. All I did was imitate others – I didn’t come up with any of those practices myself. So whether they had the clarity to say it out loud or not, each of these mentors implicitly said to me, “Imitate the good you see in me.”

And the other thing about those practices is that they are indeed practices. We learn them by imitating others, but then we have to make them into patterns if they are really going to shape our lives. That’s why I found the above practices (amongst others)so easy to imitate – I witnessed them consistently in those mentors’ lives. They did them all the time. As a surprising study by Google points out, one of the greatest attributes of leadership is predictability. Good leaders have predictable patterns of life.

Good leaders also have lives worth imitating. Do you?


Kids Camp Reflections

Weird Animal Kids Camp was a BLAST.  We had a dozen kids from City Church and 59 others from Lafayette Elementary School (where we worship).  We laughed and played and danced and ate and petted weird animals (including the 12 foot python below).  It was a picture of God’s kingdom coming here on earth – with tons of love and healing and new friendships and connection with our heavenly Father.  The pictures tell the story well…
Python Picture IMG_1901 IMG_0294

Why We Do Kids Camp – Bill White

A dozen of us from City Church got to volunteer at our local school (Lafayette Elementary) on Tuesday for their end of session carnival, along with some city personnel.

I was struck by how freely these kids interacted the adults. Fifth grade girls squealed with excitement as two Long Beach Firemen raced through the obstacle course that the kids had set up. Kids shared “What’s up?” jokes with Jason Brown and gave high fives to Greg Suzuki and chatted it up with Rick Macias.

Carnival time: Jason Brown vs. one of the teachers

Carnival time: Jason Brown vs. one of the teachers

But there was another side to it also. There was the girl who shared with me that her grandma is going deaf, and the boy who said he watches TV all day, and the little girl who started shaking and broke down in tears when she saw that police officers were there volunteering – who knows what had happened in her family the last time she’d seen the police.

In Jesus’s world, where no one gave any attention to kids, he said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.” They mattered to him. So we’re trying to let them matter to us, too. Our Kids Camp won’t be particularly fancy, but there are 25 volunteers who are going to pour themselves into serving, loving, laughing with and teaching the kids of our community.

Why I Like Ant Attacks in My Home – Bill White

Spoiler alert – I actually don’t like ant attacks. I wish I didn’t live on a giant anthill.  They make me squeamish, and I’m embarrassed to post this blog because I worry you won’t want to come into my home.

But I’m going share anyway because ant attacks have come to represent something that I appreciate.  Here are the last three ant attacks.

The Friday Attack – Location: behind the chair in the big room, by the power strip.  Number: Less than 500.  Target: who knows, but probably some food item that fell off of one of the teenagers’ plates at our Open House the night before.  Ant attacks are one of the costs of having 36 people at your house for dinner. (Hmm… seven of them had never been in our home – maybe it was their fault)  I wish I didn’t have to pay that cost, but oh well.

The Monday Attack – Location: the kitchen counter. Number: 2,500 for sure.  Target: See’s Candy peanut brittle.  The peanut brittle came from a friend, Michael as a thank you to me and folks at City Church.  I’d been at his final presentation for his graduate level class at Pepperdine when he choked up as told his professor and other students that at as an irreligious person he was shocked to come to City Church and to be so welcomed.  His group had studied the inner workings of City Church to recommend some much needed strategies to help us run better, but he spoke most eloquently about how he’d had a spiritual experience unlike anything in his life the night he’d come to our home.  I don’t think that’s usual for graduate student business presentations.  We loved the peanut brittle he gave us.  So did the ants.

The Tuesday Attack – Location: the dreaded kitchen counter again.  Number: less than 300 (early detection at 6am this morning).  Target: Persian dessert pastries.  I love Persian dessert pastries.  Just because they were in a closed container, that doesn’t stop ants.  I need to remember that. They were left over after last night’s discipleship huddle.  People don’t sign up for food, they just bring it.  We talked last night about grief, and where is God in the midst of grieving.  We spent a long time praying for ourselves and friends who are grieving. And we ate yummy things.  I awoke and grieved the ants.

This morning, after carrying my beloved Persian pastries out to the trash, Caris walked by and said, “When are you going to get a professional to do this? It’s not going to stop because we always have people in our home.”


This Blog Doesn’t Have a Naughty Word in It – Jason Brown

Last week, Bill blogged about a conversation he had with a neighbor. In that conversation, he said that all-too-often Christians are No Bad Words___________ (you can read last week’s blog to find out the answer since this week’s blog doesn’t have a naughty word in it).

For the record, I fully endorse the post. And, here’s something interesting. More people read that post than any other post we’ve written – by far. I suppose some of that could be attributed to the scandal of a pastor using a naughty word publicly. But, I don’t think that’s the main reason. I think it’s because it resonated with lots of people.

Here’s something Jesus said to religious folks like me:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land  and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

I think the descriptive word Bill used last week is roughly equivalent to the phrase Jesus used two thousand years ago.

At the individual level, the goal of Christianity cannot be to make someone more spiritual, more devout, more holy, more religious or more likely to go to heaven (unless we’re willing to redefine these words). The goal must be to make someone a better human being.