This past weekend was our second Sunday in our new meeting space for our newly named church, 7SF. Prior to this move we were gathering in the living room of our house to do this church thing, which had it’s pros and cons. First of all the commute to church was right on target, but the moving our couch into our bedroom/storage room each week turned out to be quite the weekly workout. But as I think back to our house and it filling up with people each week one word comes to my mind: Shoes!

Now, this word may not have much if any significance to you but for us here as church planters in San Francisco it does. If you’ve spent any time in San Francisco, or any major city for that matter, you’ll know that by simply taking one step out of the front door onto the street exposes you to all sorts of nasties that land on the bottom of your shoes. I don’t care how clean you think your shoes are or how many suspicious puddles you avoid when you’re walking the streets, if you’re walking outside in SF you’ve got some germy-goodies on the soles of your shoes.

This is where my wife comes in. Knowing this fact about the city all too well, Holly has some strict rules in place that no shoes make it inside our house more than a few inches. You can ask our kids, piano students, and friends alike what the rule is in our house and they’ll all give you the same answer: When you visit the Slater’s you take your dirty shoes off.

There was one exception to this rule though and that was come Sunday the rules changed. When we opened our doors for church, people were not only welcome, but encouraged to keep their shoes on. This was not only practical so people didn’t have to step over 20 pairs of shoes at the front door to get in, but also served as a reminder to me of what the message of Jesus is all about.

Jesus never said,”Get all your junk together and taken care of before coming to me” rather, He said “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” When Jesus was in the upper room with His disciples the night He was betrayed He knelt down and washed their feet and said that it was a necessary thing for Him to do if anyone wanted to belong to Him — “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”.

That’s what made Sunday’s so special. When shoes were worn into our house it reminded me of how we are suppose to come to Jesus, dirt, crap, and all. The underlying message is that we all have sin in our hearts, no matter how clean or good we think we are, and Jesus is the only one who can take that sin away and make us clean. It is then and only then that our feet are truly clean.

Simple, profound, and amazingly true.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! - 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

Matthew 11:28 (NLT)
John 13:8 (NLT)

Piano in the Park

Last Monday my wife, boys, and I went to the Botanical Gardens here in San Fransisco for three reasons. One, it was free. Two, it was a great outdoor idea for our day off. Three, for twelve days over July they have twelve pianos scattered throughout the park open for passers-by to play.

As we casually meandered through the park we heard amazing piano playing coming from all different directions. While I listened to the music I started to have an internal struggle that reminded me of being a music student in college in my late teens/early twenties. While I loved to play and thought I was half ok at piano, maybe even gifted, I didn’t consider myself the best pianist in the program by any stretch, nor did I claim to be. As a result, I was reserved and sometimes shy about stepping up and sitting down on a piano bench to play. I just didn’t want to sound inferior to better players—pretty insecure, I know.

So, this was the same struggle that presented itself last week walking through the park hearing a twelve year-old boy play his classical tunes flawlessly under a big oak tree. In light of this I had zero desire to sit and play at a piano but then on the other hand I thought if this was something I could do, even half as good as my musical pre-teen buddy then perhaps it’s something I should consider. 

On our final corner at the back-end of the park before making our way back to the front gate to get the kids home for a nap we heard beautiful music, once again, this time from an older gentleman. He played the Charlie Brown theme song and flowed it seamlessly into What a Wonderful World. I was happy to stand and listen but all of a sudden when he finished and stood up I felt that conflict once more of should I or shouldn’t I get up there and play?

At the encouragement of my wife I went and sat down and announced to the four other people there that, that last guy was a tough act to follow, to which they smiled and said they didn’t care and that I should play anyway. My inner dialogue continued and I concluded something that I’ve been taught in the past…

God hasn’t created you to be the same as everyone else, He’s made you an individual so stop trying to be like them, be you, and play that freakin’ piano.

I did.

I started with a Dm7(9) chord in 1st inversion and proceeded to play my first song. Now a part of me as a pianist is that I am fully complete when I sing also, something seems to click when I play and sing…so I did despite the fact no one else had played and sang. I finished the song and looked around to find the four original people had now grown into a crowd of about twenty people so I thought I better come out with the big one: Piano Man. I announced I’d do one more as long as everyone would sing along. Changing the lyrics to make it a little more kid-friendly even elicited a laugh from the crowd. At the end they applauded and I thanked them. I ended up doing one more of my own tunes at their request and had a brief moment to explain what it was about.

This was a fun time for both me, the crowd, and the couple who did an interpretive dance routine to every song in front of the piano (#onlyinsanfrancisco), but as I walked away I thought how this opportunity could have been lost. I could have totally missed out on doing what God has gifted me to do because I was more focused on what everyone else could do instead of looking at how God has wired and gifted me.

This isn’t just about playing piano and it’s not just a struggle that I have alone, this is something everyone wrestles with at some point in their life. As a pastor of a church startup in San Francisco I can find myself doing the same thing by comparing myself to other successful pastors and church’s and thinking that I could never preach like them or lead a church as well as them. This is wrong. God has wired me in a specific way for a specific purpose here in this specific place just as He has you and this is not by accident. My job, and yours, is not to recreate someone else’s music, but to perform the music that He’s created you to play.

Hope in Death

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 64 years-old, but unfortunately he passed away at the age of 49. Over the past 16 years I’ve spent considerable amounts of time remembering what my life was like while he was alive, how I miss him now as I hit different milestones (getting married, having kids, pastoring in San Francisco, etc.), and one day what it’ll be like when we’re together again in heaven. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the last decade and a half.

Never play the “What-if” game

This is a dangerous game to play when someone has passed away because you can’t resolve issues with someone who has died and because, well, what’s done is done. Of course hindsight is 20/20 and it’s important to know what we’d do differently in a similar situation or relationship as this is learning, but we simply can’t stay in this state of mind for too long. Why? The longer we replay regrets in our minds beyond simply recognizing them, learning from them, and perhaps asking God for forgiveness from them we’re hindering our effectiveness for the future.

I’ve replayed the moment when my dad was sitting next to me in our home office and then fell off his chair, unconscious due to a heart attack. Why didn’t I respond quicker, why didn’t I think to call an ambulance 30 seconds before I did, why was I frustrated at him in our final moments as we were setting up our new computer. These questions and more plagued my mind for a long time till I realized that they weren’t doing me any good rehashing those questions…they won’t do you any good either. Learn from them, if there’s something to learn, and move on!

Value the relationships you have today

This is a big one. If I’ve learned anything it’s that you can be here one minute and gone the next, time is short so make it count. I FaceTime my mum at least once a week to see how she’s doing because I care about her, but also when she passes (if things play out that way) then I don’t want to have any regrets to have to work through. This goes beyond just family members into friendships with others, interacting with neighbors, and even strangers. Value your relationships today as if it were their last day on earth.

Lean on Hope

When my dad died I was struck with grief and admittedly I am still at various times throughout the years when I do something I think my dad would enjoy like throwing my kids in the air and hearing them giggle. But more than grief as I think about my dad now days I get excited because time is ever moving and each day is a day closer to when I’ll see him again. How can I have such hope? Because the Bible speaks of hope in death…

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.” - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NLT)

Just as Jesus lay in the grave for three days and as the sun was about to rise on that Sunday morning so is my anticipation when it comes to seeing my dad again soon. A time is coming when our tears will be wiped away and this life will be a distant memory. A time when death will be dead and our hope will come into full bloom. 

Happy Birthday Dad!

One Year Later

Time flies! One year ago today me and my wife and 3 boys headed west from Fairfax Virginia with our sights set on San Francisco to relocate and start a church from scratch…crazy, right? We had no home lined up, and we daily faced nagging doubts that we would even be able to afford a home, let alone be chosen amongst throngs of aggressive house-hunters. That was just the beginning of a long list of unknowns: how do we bring our boys up in a city environment; how do we start a church, anyway; and will their be a place to park our car? Regardless, we knew strongly that God was calling us to step out in faith and trust Him despite our fears and the doubts being reflected in 3 out of 5 conversations, readily reinforcing everything I’ve mentioned above.

The next month from June 29th, 2015 went from high to low as we got closer to our final destination. Despite seeing wonderful sights along our journey there was a sick feeling in my gut and the question that replayed in my head; “What in the crap am I doing?” Despite this we couldn’t turn back because of a flickering hope that God was going to show up and He was going to do something through us because of our small faith.

When we arrived in the Bay Area we were received by friends that we had only met once or twice before. A fellow church planter in San Jose looked after our kids while we embarked on the task of house-hunting! We were delighted to end our first day with a solid prospect! We just had to wait out the next week for the owner to return from a business trip. 

 Our first Sunday we went to a church in Tracy, CA and afterward were invited to lunch by the youth pastor, John MacTaggart (whom we’d met once before). He asked if we needed anything. After a month of camping, laundry seemed like the most obvious need, so we all headed back to his house. We had no intention of staying at their house longer than the afternoon but with our lack of an immediate destination in mind, our new friends invited us to stay for the night—which turned into an entire week :-) 

With the start of school looming, and our “solid housing prospect” vanishing before our eyes we migrated closer to the city to work on getting Finn enrolled in school. Pastor Bernard Emerson invited us to stay at his home in Oakland. He finally told me to shut up after thanking him every night for a week for allowing us to stay with him and his family! It was during this 3-week period that God enabled us to enroll Finn in school and spend each day in the city while we continued to search for a home. Finally, in the amazing way that only God works, we were approved to rent a beautiful home in Potrero Hill—-just one mile from Mission Bay!

God grew me in my trust of Him to provide for our every need (Matthew 6) especially financially when I tried to start my piano teaching biz with a bang and only got one student out of a whole lotta effort. I spent 4 weeks praying and weeping, asking God to provide for us, and God told me to trust in Him and Him alone and not in anything else—like my likeable personality :) 

I learned that we can’t guarantee our next breath or heartbeat and that our very existence depends solely on Him, whether big or small…so I simply trusted. In another effort 4 weeks later to gain students now knowing I had nothing to bring to the table I made another effort to gain students and within an hour had all my available slots filled, 10 in all, and a waiting list should a space become available. God showed up in a big way, but it was in His timing and in a way that I could never take the credit for myself.

We are not rich but when you put God first and trust Him He shows up. We’re tithing more than ever before, saving more than ever before, we have paid off a student loan since living in San Francisco with the last one in sight, and were blessed to be able to take our kids to Disneyland last week. I can’t explain things in any other way than simply “God!” When people (and sometimes myself) said it’d be impossible God showed up and said, “Not Impossible for Me.” God owns the cattle on a thousands hills and the hills in San Francisco are not exempt!

Holly and I are just a couple of kids who said yes to God no matter what and God has never left our side. We have no amazing talent or abilities, just a desire to follow Jesus here in this beautiful city among these beautiful people we call friends and tell them what Jesus has done for us.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. - Ephesians 3:20-21 (NLT)

Thanks to Pastor Stokes, his staff, and Expectation Church, Eric & Asher Schultz & family, Anna Cantor & the rest of our Mission Bay Church family, Paul Root, John Markum and the rest of my Converge Pacwest peeps, my Grafted crew here in SF, and everyone else who continues to support our church startup practically, prayerfully and financially…Thanks!

Moving Boxes

When we arrived in SF and God provided for us an amazing house we were so overjoyed that the God who called us to plant a church in this city would provide for us in an amazing way. Once we landed the house and moved in my fear of “Will we ever be able to find a house in SF” shifted to “Will we ever be able to continue to afford this house in SF”. My reaction to this fear as we unpacked our house was to keep all of the moving boxes we used to move in a neat stack in the garage. These boxes were out of sight, nonetheless, I knew in the back of my mind that if the God who brought us here failed to come through I had an exit strategy.

I tried to justify my actions by saying “We’ll save money by not having to buy boxes next time we move” and “We have the space, why not keep them?”

I realized that fear and faith can't dwell in the same space and that as long as the boxes were there I wasn’t walking in faith. Really, I was standing still in fear. I remember before moving to SF boldly declaring that I wanted to be in a place where God was my only option…I found it so easy to say this from a place of comfort but a harder thing to live out in a place of discomfort when God is calling me to trust Him wholeheartedly.

We all have moving boxes in our lives. Things that allow us to “remain” in control and not trust in God fully. Yours, like mine, might be out of sight. But deep down you know they are readily accessible just in case God does not come through on His promise. I felt very convicted in my spirit that I needed to get rid of the moving boxes that were hindering my faith. 

These boxes stayed in my garage for about four months until I finally decided put them on under Free Items. When someone showed up to collect them I snapped a photo of the boxes and I realized that had to explain to them why I took the picture and that I wasn’t a crazy man who went around taking photos of flattened cardboard boxes. This picture serves as a reminder to always choose faith in God over fear of my circumstances.