Thursday, March 31, 2005

Those Dudes From "The Amazing Race"

I really thought I would be rooting for Rob and Amber on "The Amazing Race." I know I'm twisted and sick, but I like Boston Rob. Maybe it's the baseball cap. But it turns out I'm really rooting for the brothers from California.

First of all, they're incredibly funny. A great deal of this show is very staged, like when they have to read their next clue aloud, so one of the brothers will always read it wrong. Instead of "Go south 30 miles until you reach the border of Botswana," he'll say, "Go home to Mom's house and have some chicken." I don't know why but this just floors me.

Secondly, they're very nice to each other and everybody else. Usually there are a lot of couples on this show and they fight and fight and fight. These guys are just having a really good time and it shows. Early in the season they were forging a friendship with a team of two girls. After just barely beating them to the finish line in one leg of the race the girls were eliminated and these guys actually, openly wept at having beat them. They're playing to win, but not at the cost of being jerks like...okay...Boston Rob.

But this past week they showed their TRUE colors and got me really rooting for them. Driving over an incredibly gravelly "road" in the desert, the brothers lost control of their jeep and rolled it. They were okay but the cameraman with them was really banged up and it looked like he was unconscious. They were really shaken up by having hurt this guy. (By the way, the ONLY team to actually get out and check on these guys was the gay couple. They stayed to make sure they were okay, even after they told them to keep going and not lose the race on account of them. Some of the other teams stopped but continued on after the brothers told them to go. Some teams -- yeah, yeah, Rob and Amber -- didn't stop at all.)

After a replacement car finally reached them and they were convinced to jump back in the race, assured that the cameraman would be okay, they drove away. Immediately the brother in back reached up to hold the arm of the brother in front...and they prayed...aloud...on a popular national TV show...for God to take care of the cameraman. I'm pretty sure this was the first time I cried while watching a reality show that didn't have "home makeover" in the title.

I was so proud of these California boys for doing that. It obviously came very naturally to them. And it made me look back and realize what a clean race they were running. This is exactly what we've been talking about at College lately...what will the world think of us if we show them Jesus? Christians are portrayed so poorly on TV (anybody see the "Christian wife" on "WifeSwap?"). I was so pleased to see these guys represent our Lord.

They came back, by the way. Overtook the incredibly obnoxious, competitive guy and his wife by just plain outrunning them to the finish line. Lisa and I were yelling like it was the Olympics.

MAN, I hope they win.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


There is no better time of the year than springtime.

God greets us each morning with something new that He's made. A budding tree, a rain shower, flowering bushes and skittering skies that were missing for months are found again. Spring gets me all poetic.

I hate being cold. Hate it. The temperature of spring is almost perfect. Even rainy days have some warmth to them. And when the sun is out it's heaven.

Easter vacation always comes at just the right time. When the school year has me worn down, there is just enough time for rejuvenation to convince me that I'll make it through the rest of the way. And the celebration of Easter itself puts my spirit right.

And then there's baseball. The promise of a new season. The expectation of watching my favorite game again and knowing--KNOWING--that the Angels will win it all. Of course, Brewers fans feel the same way this time of year. Don't let anybody fool you; the "boys of summer" are really the boys of spring.

This is from Walden: "As every season seems best to us in its turn, so the coming in of spring is like the creation of Cosmos out of Chaos and the realization of the Golden Age."

Spring is like a visit from a good friend that has been away. There's nothing better.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Celebrating the Son

Yesterday was just amazing!

Our Easter service was a powerful time of celebration of Christ and meditating on what He did and does. The songs blended with the messages which blended with the communion time. Everything meshed so well and the theme of the morning was "proclaiming the truth of Jesus." The Holy Spirit is such a good worship minister, isn't He?

Later, the whole family (minus Miss Ashley who had to miss on account of playing Carnegie Hall...sheesh...the nerve) came over for James' 4th birthday party. We all had such fun being together. I hear from my students how so many families are, thrust together by genes, spending their time together in hurtful words and awkward silence. God has blessed us with a family that just loves each other and loves being together. James had a great time and was SO good! It was a Spider-Man party and he got Spider-Man presents and Lisa made a Spider-Man cake and we all watched Spider-Man. MAN, it was cool!

I am so grateful...SO grateful...for God's Son. And for mine.

Next Sunday is opening day. Or, I should say, Opening Day. I can't wait. My goal for this baseball season is to finally brainwash my son into saying the Angels are his favorite team. This Red Sox nonsense needs to stop. Seriously.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Christ Is Risen!

He is risen indeed!

That used to be the greeting at Eastertime. You'd hear it everywhere. We are, of course, far too post-Christian, post-modern, intellectual, and politically correct to do that today. But I find myself missing something I never had. I have some errands to run today and I was just thinking about how cool it would be to go pick up the vacuum cleaner at the repair shop and have it handed over with a "Christ is risen." Imagine the swell of joy you would feel as you answered, "He is risen indeed!"

Yesterday was the first sunny day of vacation. So naturally I shoveled rock and humis all day. 3 yards of humis and a ton (I'm going to type that again now: a TON) of rock. My back hurts. really really hurts. But it was a really good day. We talked to almost every neighbor we are blessed with and James really got into shoveling that dirt. We have an incredible neighborhood. This would have been nice: "Hey, Steve. That's a lot of humis. Christ is risen."
"Yeah, it is. He is risen indeed. Grab a shovel."

Since Emmaus...since ZOE...since spending more time speaking and has been much easier to see the spiritual in the everyday. I'm seeing more zoe and less bios. I'm seeing souls more than people. It's not all the time yet, but I'm noticing it more. My eyes and mind are more on ministry--a LOT more on ministry--than ever before. It's nice to imagine a world that recognizes Christ is the risen Lord. And the fact that we're not there yet makes me yearn to do whatever I can to get it there. But we will live in such a world one day. And there, in that place, we will all surround Him and, with tears in our eyes, shout, "CHRIST IS RISEN!"

And I think He will look at all of us, smile almost humorously, raise His eyebrows and hold out His hands when He says, "I AM risen indeed."

Monday, March 21, 2005

A Pleasant Aroma

Yesterday's "Friend's Day" service had a few glitches. Okay, about 9 or 10. We started late, a video wasn't working, a baptism didn't happen, a song or two got messed up, a mike was on too loud and everyone jumped, I got up too early for the welcome, and the list goes on. I LOVED IT! Doug talked in his lesson about authenticity and we were authentic yesterday. The best part of it was that nobody reacted negatively to these things...they just happened! And God was worshipped and praised even in the imperfection.

Doug sent me a great note about two schools of thought in regards to worship. One says that it should just be us being us, authentic as can be. The other says it should be a pleasing aroma to God, perfectly planned and carried out, everybody giving their best. I know that we humans are never going to be perfect but I think both of these concepts have truth to them. Yesterday we were ALL giving our best. And I think that's what people saw. I know it's what God saw.

It got me thinking about the aroma we at College send up to God. I bought one of those vanilla car scents one time because I love the smell of vanilla. I really enjoyed it for about a week or so. And then I was pretty much done with vanilla. I think the C of C spent quite a few decades sending up a vanilla scent...many still do. I'm so glad that we mix it up more now. I know that sometimes we have a scent that is objectionable to some. I love the smell of gasoline at the pump and others hate it. But I don't think we EVER smell like fertilizer. I think we have days of cinnamon and days of cut grass. Days of baking bread and days of perfume. I think we smell like apple pie and spice and sugar cookies and rainy days. It's always different. And it's always good.

The best smell in the world to me is the inside of a brand new book. The worst thing I've ever smelled is death. College has never smelled more alive.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

4 Years Old!

James is 4 today!

Lisa and I were talking in bed last was late, around 1:15...about what we were doing exactly one year earlier. It was just about that time that she told me her back was aching and had been aching on and off for a few hours. That's right, "on and off," as in "intermittently," as in (and she will admit this and we laugh about it) "having contractions." We were scheduled to induce the next morning anyway so they already had a room ready for us when we showed up a few hours early. Lisa was amazing during 8 or so hours of labor and then we had our baby boy.

Everybody talks about how fast time flies with your kids. I agree, but I've always been more of one to dwell on how precious they are at each fleeting moment. Lisa is that way too. Every age that James has been has been our favorite. 4 is the best age yet. He is such an awesome kid. Sometimes when we get after him about something, he'll laugh and say, "Oh. Sorry." He is so playful and God has given him tremendous health. I can count on one hand the number of times he's been sick and he gets over it so fast. He's polite to everyone, including other kids. I once saw a kid push James out of the way so he could get to a toy and James smiled and said, "Excuse me," before going to find a different toy. He's become more of a snuggler lately and says "I love you" without provocation. He's working on his patience but show me a 4-year-old who isn't. Today at lunch he was making funny faces for us and just killing. He likes to blow kisses and give "fall down hugs." He loves the Teen Titans and the Justice League...he also SAYS he loves the Red Sox, but we're working on that.

I just can't tell you how much I love this kid and how proud I am of him. I can't wait to see what kind of man he's going to grow up into...but I am so happy for every second I get to spend with the 4-year-old.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Spring Break

...or, as it used to be called, Easter Vacation.

The internet has been down all over Fresno Unified this week and it has severely messed up my routine. For one thing, I seldom have enough peace and quiet to post at home. So that explains the lack of blogging this week. But it's Saturday morning...James is at Cody's house watching the Bionicles...Lisa is proctoring at Fresno State...Bach is playing in the background...and I can actually think. Ahhhh.

Tomorrow is Friend's Day at College Church. Maybe I'll be disappointed but I really expect a large crowd tomorrow. Doug and Steve will be the main speakers and it looks like the Praise Team is pulling out all the stops. I know it seems as though we are trying to impress our guests but I think a better way of looking at it is that we are introducing ourselves. Of course we want to put our best foot forward when we are meeting people for the first time. What's wonderful is knowing that we have such a great group of believers assembled in that place and the people that stick around and get to know us will really like what they see. I think there are many people looking for a place like College, a place where the emphasis is on loving God and loving each other. That gets lost sometimes on those of us who see more of the inner workings, but the bottom line is that those two commandments dictate who we are and how we act towards others. It's a Spirit-filled group and my prayer this week is that people see that and want it for themselves.

I don't think I'll go to work this week. I think I'll...oh...celebrate James' 4th birthday tomorrow (!) some golf when it's not some work around the some spring training some time with Lisa...and do as little Calculus as humanly possible. At least I THINK that's what I'll do. Let's see.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Why only 3?

The older I get, the easier it is for me to say, "I don't know." My literal mind used to struggle with the concept of the Trinity. I fully accept the existence of God, Christ, and Spirit. And I suppose I accept the necessity of them all being One. But I have learned to answer the "how" of all that with a great big "I don't know."

Recently, while writing about a completely different topic, the question came to mind of whether God was limited to being 3-in-one. I don't like to put limits of any kind on God so my mind wandered. Why not 4? Why not 100? Just because the Bible talks about only 3 aspects, does that mean there aren't more? Maybe these 3 are the only ones that truly matter to us, the only ones we need to know about. Maybe God is infinite in every way but, even though we can only speculate about a Trinity, our minds would absolutely snap at the concept of a Quadrinity or more. I can imagine 3 dimensions just fine, but the thought of 4 twists me up in knots.

I thought today how perfect an example prayer is of why we need all 3 aspects of God. We pray to God. Why? Because we think of it, or need to, or more likely because the Spirit urges us to. God urging us to talk to God. And how do we say what we need to say? The Spirit speaks for us, hearing our groaning and making it clear. The pathway of prayer? The bridge? The Interceder? Jesus, of course, the reason we so often pray in His Name. God prompts us to talk TO God...THROUGH God. I can just almost understand that.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Glimpses of ZOE

C.S. Lewis defines Zoe as "the Spiritual life that is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe." He compares the difference between the natural life we all know (Bios) and the Spiritual life we know about (Zoe) to the difference between a man and the statue of a man. God begat Jesus and thus Jesus is God. But God made man and thus man is of a different nature. But someday, we look forward to becoming new creations. "Made" becomes "begat." Children of men become children of God. The statue comes to life.

This resonates with me today because I feel that I caught some glimpses of Zoe this weekend. I believe that if we are in tune with the Spirit, we will occasionally see things with the eye of the new creation. I got to step around in heaven the last couple of days. That may explain why I'm in such a good mood.

Yesterday was a day-long worship experience. I was so pleased with the conclusion of our series on sharing our faith. Sandra and the worship team did an incredible job. I get excited by being in tune with people and seeing the Spirit at work. She and I are often on that wavelength. 3 different elders at 3 different times lifted me up to that place as well. Arthur Wint (prayer time and comments), Steve Foster (communion that was PERFECT and conversation), and Aaron Watson (class and a discussion later that day) all showed me a bright future here on earth and beyond. I'm excited about where the church is heading, and I mean that locally and globally. God is at work and the Spirit is alive.

If that wasn't enough, James and I had such a great father-and-son weekend. The pinnacle came on Friday afternoon when he hit the first whiffle ball his dad pitched to him right back up the middle. He'll be 4 on Sunday, but he's got all the makings of a Darin Erstad right in his sweet little body. Can ya tell? Life is good.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Busy-ness of the Kingdom

I hope that it will be rare to have weeks when I only make a couple of blog entries. This week has been the very definition of BUSY. That's only funny because Lisa and I spent so much time talking about how busy LAST week was. Easter Vacation is coming up quick and so the end of the third quarter. I've had tons of papers to grade and many many meetings with the new "Benchmark Team" at Sunnyside. The AP test is approaching far too quickly and I'm trying my best to figure out how to find the volume of solids of revolution. Meanwhile, our "Going Public With Your Faith" series wraps up on Sunday and I'm trying to plan a meaningful lesson and tie a bow on the whole thing at the same time. I'm really excited about Sunday and hopeful that we embrace the concept of making evangelism a part of our regular Christian thought process. Lisa is out of town for the weekend and I'm taking care of an incredibly active "almost 4 year old" and, well, quite frankly, I'm beat.

Through it all, as Sandra said in her blog, I am in constant prayer for the Backowski's. I can't imagine what they are going through having Eli in the hospital after falling out of a 2nd story window. But it makes the busy days absolutely pale in comparison.

James and I bought a whiffle ball and bat today and he hit the first pitch I tossed him. We had a lot of fun playing outside and taking some long walks today in the warm March weather. But I just can't help but think about Eli when I see how energetic James is. My prayer is that he will be little worse for the wear after all is said and done. And it reinforces what I've been feeling about this blog world becoming more public. If we had everybody praying the way that Brandon does for his friend Jonathan and others, how would that help Eli? I know that it certainly couldn't hurt.

82 degrees in Fresno today. Tossing a ball to my son. An actual Angels game (albeit spring training) on TV tomorrow. Life is good. But God, oh God, please be with Eli.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Type A Christian

If you had to identify me as a Type A or Type B kinda guy, you probably wouldn't have to spend too much time with me to decide on the former. I get teased about things very neat desk at work, my alphabetized CD collection, the knee-jerk way I straighten pictures, and so on. I'm actually a lot less Type A than I used to be, but parts of it (the parts I embrace) will never go away.

I think I bring my Type A-ness into my walk with God too. I have finally given up my pursuit of knowing and understanding everything about the Bible and God. But I still find myself trying to make sense of everything. One of the reasons I started this blog was to help me work things out in my own head. I have LOTS of questions...questions about faith, prayer, morality, relationship between man and God. From time to time these questions get answered. Sometimes the answers change. More often I learn to be okay with not knowing.

I'll never stop searching after these answers and I don't think God wants me to. He wants us to earnestly seek Him. But He also wants us to accept His perfect power and control. I don't think there's anything wrong with being a Type A Christian, or a Type B or C for that matter. He accepts us--and uses us--just as we are.

As I get older and fewer things are actually under my control, it gets pretty easy to not care as much about the little things. I set out to do a 3 paragraph blog 5 times a week. Well, that's not going to happen. I'm learning that it's helpful to write about the spiritual stuff...and it's fun to write about baseball and life. But (putting thumb to thumb with forefingers extended) whatever. If this whole blog idea ever expands to a local community, as I'm starting to hope it does, I'll actually get some input on what works. I'm seeing a real value in keeping in touch and floating ideas through this little venue. We'll see.

Friday, March 04, 2005


I just wrote a long blog entry on the subject of "forgiveness." Sadly, when I clicked "Publish", the site crashed and it was lost forever. Too bad too. It was probably the best blog entry ever written. In all the history of blogdom, there has been no greater writing, no more insightful comments, no more outstanding message than this. You would have laughed, cried, spent hours thinking about the sheer depth of meaning. But I don't remember what I said so now you won't. So sad.

I did mention something about getting to see Leonard Nimoy tomorrow night, I remember that. He'll be reading at the Philharmonic performance. Yesterday, in Mike Cope's blog, he asked if James Earl Jones had the greatest speaking voice. I think so, with Patrick Stewart a close second. Nimoy's voice is amazing though and I can't wait to hear him in person. I'll be the guy in the fourth row grinning foolishly and making the Vulcan "live long and prosper" sign at him.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Indulge me!

I just read the two following bits of C.S. Lewis within a half hour of each other:

"Everyone knows that the sexual appetite, like our other appetites, grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations." (From "Mere Christianity")

"At last the Turkish Delight was all finished and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more. Probably the Queen knew quite well what he was thinking; for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves." (From "The Chronicles of Narnia")

First of all, yes, I AM reading "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" again. I think this is the 6th or 7th time. Partly I want to have the story fresh in my mind when the movie comes out this year, but mostly I just love the book. I get more out of Lewis' imagery each time I read it.

I think this is such a wonderful point about the influence sin has in our lives. The devil is like that drug pusher offering free samples. A little Turkish Delight is good. But sin doesn't satisfy. It always leaves us wanting more. The analogy made me think of how "full" I feel after a good worship service. Or how much I need to digest the thoughts of a good teacher like John York. The really good things fill me up just right. But the things that take me away from God just leave a hole. And the more I chase after what I want, the further away I get from what I need. I know that Paul said it better, but it's true.

I watched a little baseball yesterday (which also satisfies). It was so nice to see that green grass and hear the crack of the bat. I love the acrobatic second baseman, the pitcher that buckles the batter's knees on a break-back slider, the manager arguing the call on the infield fly. Today, Lisa and James and I are going to drive to Selma to watch John Hollett's team play Sunnyside. It's an ugly, foggy morning but I'm sure the sun will be out in time to "Play ball!"

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I'm At Work!

For some reason, I feel it necessary to point out that I actually came to work today. Didn't wanna. But I knew some kids wanted to come in after school for some tutoring today and I didn't want to let them down. I've been trying desperately to bemoan our financial situation. My next-door-neighbor at work (our classrooms share a wall) just got back from a week and a half in France. I don't begrudge her the time there, but it's hard to listen to all of the wonderful stories when we are having to cancel planned trips to the beach and Disneyland. Yesterday I found myself thinking, "Sheesh, she's been to Lyon and we can't afford Pismo!" Fortunately, God got a hold of my brain right away and gave it a good shaking. It's a wonderful thing when you can't count your blessings because they are countless! So today I'm just grateful for a job I love, students that are great, two people in a beautiful home that I love beyond words, family, friends, a maturing church, nice weather, and baseball games to watch on tape later. God is good!!!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Who is My Brother?

Alternate title: "Who is My Sister?"

I've been thinking about the Samaritans in my life. Sunday's lesson really brought home to me my tendency to pick and choose who I share my faith with. Am I acting as though some people are not worthy of God's greatest gift? Or am I simply saying that there are those who wouldn't accept it no matter what so why waste the time? I have been very bad about avoiding "sinners," in other words doing the exact opposite of what Jesus did. I have had a knee-jerk reaction to homosexuals, pedophiles, have a lot of people. The problem, I think, comes when we identify them as homosexuals, pedophiles, and rapists rather than flawed children of the Maker. The former identification sets them clearly apart from me; the latter makes us brothers and sisters. When I remember that we are ALL flawed and that God's grace abounds to all, it gets really hard to feel superior to anyone. "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (I Sam. 16: 7)

So, I guess I'm going to work tomorrow. I'll tape the game and watch it when I get home. It's just spring training anyway and I need to be here for tutorial after school. And there will be other games too. Spring games are getting more popular to broadcast. The Angels have at least two games coming up soon on WGN and on ESPN. Lisa is threatening to put her sign up early this year. You know, the one that usually goes up on opening day. The one that says, "We interrupt this marriage to bring you baseball season."

I was thinking this morning about how genuinely nice my students are this year. Without exception, every single class is filled with good, good kids. They make me want to come to work even when I'm just dog-tired. We joke around more than I remember being able to do any other year. They're just the best of the best. Salary, conflicts over benefits, overwork, and underappreciation aside...I truly have the best job in the world.

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