Category Archives: Phil’s Blog

Jesus doesn’t waste anything.

About 15 minutes ago I had Jesus sing me a song.  Here is the story.

Arriving in Atlanta has been…strange.  Even though I had been to Atlanta on countless occasions and was very well acquainted with the sights and the sounds of the South, stepping off the plane on December 2nd was the beginning of a series of days I wasn’t quite ready for.  Every other time Emily and I have come to Atlanta, it has been with the eyes of tourists and the delight of rest from very busy lives in Seattle (and Los Angeles before that).

You know that feeling.  It’s that Disney Romantic Amaro Instagram Lens that you put over your eyes on the places and the memories you love.  The houses are different, the streets are different, the smells are different and on vacation they all become magical.  They become that place you can’t wait to show people and say over to your friends, “You just have to see it.”  Atlanta has been that place for me.  The home of Chick-Fil-A and Waffle House, of Sweet Tea and the craziest accents you have ever heard in your life.  The fireflies glow with this Field of Dreams manner and the crickets add a soundtrack that just lets you know you’re somewhere special.

But on December 2nd, I must have misplaced those lenses, because they were nowhere to be found.  All I had was my Seattle Hipster Mill Creek Spotted Cow Everyone I love is a Thousand Miles Away lenses.  (They are Ray-Bans for everyone who is wondering.)  And for the next several days my magical kingdom of the South has simply been everything that isn’t Seattle.  And not just in the external ways, in the deep emotional and painful ways.

I’ve stared at my phone wanting to call hundreds of people and yet at the same time stared at every phone call that’s come in and let it go to voicemail knowing the lump in my throat wouldn’t make it through a conversation.  Yesterday I went to the Starbucks in Vinings and just cried.  I remember thinking, “This is probably the worst church planting tactic ever invented.”  Could you imagine me talking with someone, “Hi, my name is Phil.  I’m currently emotionally unstable.  Can I be your pastor?”

It hasn’t all been bad, but it has all been hard.  And I’m aware enough of what’s happening to keep speaking to my heart, “It’s only a season.”  But like many of you understand, knowing that something is only a season doesn’t make the season easier.  All it does is force you to answer the question of whether Jesus is enough or not.  He isn’t enough because he always fills me the warm-fuzzy goodies…he’s good enough even in my hardest moments.  No matter what my emotions say, Jesus is enough.  He’s enough.

But getting that from my conviction to my heart takes time…and effort.

Today was a good day.  Zoo’ed it up with my stud brother-in-law Chris (whose wife’s name is Jennifer for everyone feeling ironic).  Had dinner with our family and watched Jake and his cousin Haven run around outside in the freezing Atlanta winter high 60s.  Emily and I got our kids in the car and began to the drive to our home in Smyrna.  I turned to Em and said, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell myself today that everything’s going to be OK.  Everything in my gut feels like I’m a mess.”  From there we spent the rest of the car ride home talking about hard this has been and that we were sharing a mutual pain in the gut.

Shortly before arriving home I said to Emily, “I’m just scared it’s never going to feel like home.”  A few seconds later Emily turned up the radio…and Jesus sang us a song.

You see, the night before we left Seattle we sat in a living room with a few of the people that I had the honor of discipling closely over our six years in Mill Creek.  We talked and laughed but before it was time to say goodbye a couple of my closest people played us a song.  Kat shared she had been praying for us and felt like she was supposed to sing us a song.  So right before the goodbyes, Kat and Stephen sang us Home by Phil Phillips (great name).

Link to song so you can listen while you finish this blog. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTI4ExONgFs

As I sat and listened to Kat and Stephen sing this song I was moved by two people I love who are remarkably talented and encouraged by their heart.  I valued what they had done, but not because I believed I was sitting in a divine situation, but because I believed in them.  You must understand that I’m not normally in a position of need.  Maybe it’s arrogance, maybe it’s cluelessness, but I often see the value of moments as being for the people around me.  I guess I have a hard time believing something is just for me.  And that night as they sang this song I didn’t really understand what they were about to give me.  And truthfully I don’t think they knew they were taking part in a promise that I needed to hear.  Because tonight, I felt homeless in an irrevocable way.

But a few moments from our house Emily turned up the radio in response to my statement of doubt.  And lo and behold this song was on the radio. A song wrought with understanding as if Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, like a man who doesn’t waste a thing.  As this song reverberated through the car, all I could see was Jesus hearing my doubt and instead of rebuking me or rolling his eyes…he just sang me a song.  A song that spoke to my deepest fear…can Atlanta ever really be home?  This is what Jesus said…

Settle down.  It will all be clear.

Don’t pay no mind to the demons that fill you with fear.

The trouble it might drag you down.

If you get lost you can always be found.

Just know you’re not alone.

Cause I’m going to make this place your home.

What came rushing back wasn’t just Kat and Stephen sitting among some of the closest people I’ve ever had in my life.  It wasn’t just the emotion of the moment or the meaning of the song.  It was the immense love of God that in the most insignificant of moments he cares for everything about me.  It was the overwhelming presence of God that was inside and outside of me.  It was that the Jesus I serve isn’t simply concerned with the crises facing Atlanta; he’s deeply concerned with me.  He isn’t just the Savior of the world, he’s mine too.  He’s mine.

And even though this has been the strangest, weirdest, hardest month of my life that included everything from a hospital scare with my Dad, the death of an close friend’s father and personal hero to the leaving of the greatest home Emily and I have every known…Jesus is with us.  He’s here and listening to whispers of my heart.  He loves me, and I know that tonight as much as I ever have.

So tonight the pit in my stomach is still there.  Atlanta streets still look weird.  This house still feels foreign.  Every cup of coffee I hold isn’t spotted enough.  And a lot of people I love are a long ways away, but I have a promise from Jesus.  A promise from a God who doesn’t waste an opportunity and makes every single moment count.  A promise that Jesus is going to make this place home.  And tonight…that’s enough.

The Sacred Nature of Leaving (Part 2)

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18, Mark 10, Matthew 19)

The real promise of Jesus isn’t stuff.  If you know this passage you understand that it follows the story of a rich young man who couldn’t give up his wealth to follow Jesus.  In the wake of this moment Jesus speaks to the wiles of wealth and the breaking of theology that associated God’s favor and money.  His disciples are left astonished, shocked, concerned.  It is in this moment that Jesus begins to speak of a rhythm of a new Kingdom, where the first are last and the last are first.  Where favor is not dispensed in possessions, but in presence.  Where the eternal storyline is much more important than the immediate desire.  It is in this place…in the conversations of sacred things that he speaks of leaving.

I’m convinced that leaving is so painful because most of us have only known the corrupt versions of it.  We assume people leave because they don’t love us anymore, don’t value us anymore, don’t want us anymore.  We’re left to think people leave because the other places have amazing grass and the allure is intoxicating.  Leaving makes us think of when Mom and Dad got divorced or our spouse served papers.  Leaving makes us think about when friendships have fallen apart and people stop caring.  Leaving forces us to the conclusions that we weren’t as valuable as we thought we were and speaks damage over our own identity.  Because after all, if we were good enough why would anyone leave?

But I believe that there is a different kind of leaving.  A leaving that isn’t really leaving at all, but rather a sending.  A sending that Jesus counted among the sacred and dared to invite his people into.  A sending that actually seemed worth the cost because in the midst of it a storyline was being woven that those who had eyes to see it could understand what was really happening.  That at the other end of this sacred leaving was life…unending life…eternal life.

Jesus’ promise for those who would be willing to leave for the sake of the gospel is a beautiful exchange.  Life for life.  Material Life for eternal life.  He would take what we gave Him and give us back something beyond our wildest dreams.  His promise is not simply that you would get back what you’ve put in, but that he would do His Jesus math on it and multiply it beyond our greatest imaginations.  For those willing to leave one family, he would give them hundreds.  For those willing to leave one home, he would give them hundreds.  In the midst of loss, somehow Jesus makes it blessed.

Blessed are those who leave the safety of home for the sake of Jesus because in its place He is going to make hundreds of new homes safe.

Blessed are those who leave the covering of their parents for the sake of Jesus because in their place the uncovered will find shelter.

Blessed are those who leave the strength of brothers and sisters for the sake of Jesus because in their place hundreds will be made strong who knew no family.

Blessed are those who leave the security of jobs for the sake of Jesus because in their wake they will bring true security to those who have falsely put their hope in wealth.

Blessed are those who understand that being sent isn’t really about leaving, but knowing we sit at a family table that has people missing…and the time has come to help them come home.  You see the promise of Jesus’ in the midst of those who would be willing to leave is that the very family they are leaving is the very family they are leaving for.

You must understand that I have come a conclusion about life.  I sit at a family table, but there are people missing.  My family table has open seats where prodigals are supposed to be sitting.  My family table has open seats that are reserved for prostitutes, thieves and lepers.  My family table has open seats that can only be filled by the homosexual community.  My family table has a seat missing for the atheist and con-artist, for the addict and the confused.  My family table has seats for the religious that have never known Jesus’ love and for the Jesus lovers that have never known His name.  We don’t leave because we want to leave our family, we leave because we have family that must come home.

I now understand that I am the older brother in the story of the prodigal son.  But I get to retell the story.  Today I have made a new choice; I must go after my younger brother.  I must go to the street corners and the dark alleys.  I must go to the slops of the pigpen and find Him.  I have brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and children that must come home.  This is why I leave, because I have family missing.  It isn’t only right, but it truly is worth the cost.

But the one being sent isn’t the only recipient of the promise.  The multiplication of life in Jesus isn’t merely for the one going, but for those staying.  Because inherently in the promise is that in the wake of one being sent is unending life for all.

Blessed are the Moms who watch their sons go to the ends of the earth for their inheritance will be thousands of sons in the life to come.

Blessed are the Dads who watch their daughters make a home for many for their reward will be a heavenly name that stands with Abraham the father of many.

Blessed are the those who are left for theirs is an ache that Jesus promised to fill and now they may finally see that Jesus trusts them to lead in the empty spaces.

Leaving is sacred.  And the beauty of this truth is that when it is done right it isn’t really leaving at all.  It is a long goodbye knowing that one day we will all sit back down at our family table and have to add chairs.  We will have to wait a while to eat because introductions are going to take a while.  You may not know this yet, but I have Fathers and Mothers and Brothers and Sisters and Children to introduce you to.  I have homes to give you.  I have fields that belong to you.  I just need a little bit of time to go get them.

The Sacred Nature of Leaving (Part 1)

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18, Mark 10, Matthew 19)

I’ve come to discover that leaving is a sacred thing.  It has an inherent power to it, which is what makes it so awful most of the time.  It is the sacred things in life that seem to radiate with their own power and influence as if they were created with a sense of life within themselves.  This is what makes them so glorious when handled in purity and so damning when pursued in selfishness.  We understand this with the common norms that we hold sacred: faith, marriage, children, sexuality, influence, resources, citizenship, justice, etc.  I’ve come to the conclusion that leaving belongs on this list.

When Emily and I made the decision to plant a church in Atlanta we really had no clue what we were really getting ourselves into.  I mean, we still don’t, but we definitely didn’t know the magnitude of our own decisions.  We had left places before; we weren’t expecting this to be wildly different.  I remember being a Senior in High School dreaming of the day I finally left Idaho Falls for Los Angeles.  I remember leaving LIFE to go into YWAM.  I remember leaving Thailand to come back to the United States.  I remember leaving YWAM to get married.  I remember leaving both of our families to go back to Los Angeles to graduate from LIFE.  I remember leaving LIFE to go to Taiwan.  I remember leaving Taiwan to move to Mill Creek.  There were hard moments in all of these decisions, but the vivid excitement of our new home washed over the hurt.  There were people we loved and didn’t want to leave, but the call of a new people filled our hearts.

So why would this be different?  We weren’t totally naïve. Mill Creek has been the longest home we have ever had.  Six years does something to a heart that six months can’t touch.  This is the first time I’ve lived by my brother since I was 11.  This is the culmination of years of dreams of pastoring a people.  This is the birthplace of our children, which is an experience that can’t be understood prior to its existence in your life.  This is the place where for the first time I’ve given my life to love like Jesus without thinking about the inevidable next.  We loved without the thought of leaving, and as I type that I realize that really was the difference.  Because this has been different.  It’s been at times like a gunshot right in the heart.

So in the midst of the pain created in our decision to answer our spiritual ache, I’ve turned my heart to Jesus.  Sometimes my heart is just silent before Him and sometimes it’s asking Him to be close.  Sometimes I’m looking for Him to tell me that I didn’t make a mistake and sometimes I’m wishing I did even though we both know I haven’t.  And as I’m with Him I’ve been drawn to this promise that there is something sacred that happens for those who leave for the sake of the Gospel.  As if there are things alive in this decision that are beyond the control of the one deciding.  There are times I’ve read this promise over my life and felt selfish, wondering if I’m reading it just to believe I’m part of an elite promise reserved for the better.  But as I’ve asked that honest question of my heart the answer keeps coming back as no.  I’m reading it because in the midst of leaving I’m begging Jesus that something is going to happen that is going to make the pain worth it.  My pain.  My friends’ pain.  Please Jesus tell me that it isn’t just right, but it’s worth it.

And I can’t escape that in the presence of Jesus’ words it is.

Part 2 Coming Tomorrow…

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

About a year ago all I had was an ache.  Little did I know that this ache would lead to us planting a church in Atlanta.  If you haven’t seen the video watch it knowing this was the birthplace of everything that is to come.