Saturday, December 5, 2009


Tuesday was a good day. I started Tuesday at about 6:30 at Starbucks, writing and having coffee with a warm cinnamon roll. Starbucks now has ovens that make the cinnamon roll soft and tasty. Warm cinnamon rolls with coffee make me feel good – real good. My friend Tom happened to stop in and sat down to say hi. Having a warm cinnamon roll and coffee with a friend is even better. But I didn’t offer to share my cinnamon roll with Tom, but I think it was ok, he’s one of those guys that only eats really healthy things, like apples.

When I drove up to The Grove I stopped to watch Butch pour the footings for our new sign. This made me very happy. I’ve wished for a front entrance sign for three years! Plus I love construction, maybe because it means something new is happening. I could tell Tuesday was going to be a very good day.

Somewhere around nine Colby and Matt came in my office to tell me about the Christmas songs
they wanted to sing this Sunday. I like Christmas songs, they make me think about Christmas, and Christmas always makes me feel warm and good. My favorite memories as a kid all seem to have something to do with Christmas.

At noon my very attractive wife stopped by with a turkey and cranberry sandwich. I love turkey and cranberry sandwiches but I only get to eat them around Thanksgiving. Fortunately, after Thanksgiving, we get to eat the stuff for about a month.

Our staff meeting started at one. I like our staff. They are all gifted… and cool. I secretly believe The Grove has the best staff in America. On Tuesday I felt very fortunate to be a part of leading The Grove.

Later that afternoon I left the office in a hurry because my freshman son took the wrong color jersey to his Perry High basketball game at Corona. I took him the blue one. We made it before tip-off. Watching my sons play sports is one of my favorite things I get to do as a dad.

At halftime my 11 year-old son and I got hot dogs, chips, and a Dr. Pepper. Eating junk food while you heckle the referees and watch your son play basketball makes the game even sweeter.

As soon as the Freshman game was over, the JV game started. My 16 year-old son plays on the Perry JV basketball team. It was a two-fer Tuesday!

I really wanted them to beat Corona because my friends Gary and Tim always talk about the state championships they won at Corona and how Corona is Arizona’s basketball powerhouse. After trailing the entire game Perry took the lead with two minutes to play… and won!

It may have been just another Tuesday, but this was a Tuesday that God filled with so much good. I think he does that more often than we realize, we just don’t bother to notice.

Friday, November 27, 2009

How To Write a Bestseller

On my 13 hour plane ride to and from Beijing last month I read Don Miller’s new book,  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  Quirky, different… and very compelling. It has to be on your reading list this year.

Miller’s theme is story.  We are all living a story.  But some are living better stories than others. God gives you liberty to live a great story or a pretty sorry story. 

But here’s what hit me when I finished the book, God gives you a co-author to help you write the very best story. We could even call him a ghostwriter… the Holy Spirit. 

How to Write a Tragedy

The problem is, all too often we want to write the story on our own.  We refuse to listen to the whispers and proddings of the One who writes with us, and we end up writing a tragedy. 

It’s pretty obvious when someone is in the middle of writing a bad story.  Their lives fill with anger, deceit, jealously, conflict, bitterness… you’ve seen it before.

A few years ago I returned to the LA area where I used to be a youth pastor and walked into a restaurant and saw the mother of a couple of my former students.  So I walked over to her with a big smile to say hi… but then slowed down.  Because the man she was sitting with was not her husband.  “Oh, Palmer, great to see you.  Let me introduce you to my friend Bob.”  I didn’t want to meet Bob. 

I must have had some odd look on my face because the next thing she blurted was, “The boys are fine Palmer.”  She had five. “They’re big now, you know.”  The youngest was five. 

You see what I mean, she was in the middle of writing a very tragic story.  A story filled with brokenness, sorrow, aloneness, and nauseating regret. 

Even the Bible is filled with stories like that.  Cain wrote a story that was about jealousy.  Boaz wrote a story about loneliness.  Gomer’s story was about shame.  David wrote a story about unfaithfulness.  They were all writing tragedies. 


Maybe you are not writing a tragedy but maybe your life is just drivel. It’s not that our stories are bad stories, it’s just that sometimes there’s not much of a story.

Everybody wants to write beautiful prose with their life.  We want dramatic moments, we want to make the audience to gasp and applaud… but then we settle for drivel. 

But here’s the truth, life doesn’t just happen to you, you are the screenwriter. The story that will be written is up to you… but then we let ourselves live in writers block – and nothing happens.

While in China we traveled the Great Wall outside Beijing.  On the way, our overly talkative tour guide, Adam, began to tell us about Marco Polo.  Among too many lines, this one stuck with me. Adam explained that Marco Polo once said, “Everyone’s life is a book, but for those who never travel their book has only one page.”   

Because of this thought I’ve begun inviting the people of The Grove to travel to Africa with me and ride dirt bikes in Liberia.  Here’s why.  We have about 2,000 pairs of shoes in a shipping container in our parking lot headed to Liberia, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to distribute them.  Then this exhilarating thought hit me. How about when our team travels to Africa next June I put about half a dozen people on dirt bikes everyday and send them into the Liberian jungle; down bush trails, deep into the rainforest with big boxes of shoes strapped to the back of a dirt bike, to give to pastors and village leaders. 

I have 123 people signed up now for the trip.  I think they all want to ride dirt bikes down jungle trails.  We may need to hold tryouts. 

Your life doesn’t have to be drivel, your story can become riveting if you’re just willing to take a few risks. 

If you are content with a weak relationship with God, then don’t listen to his spirit.

If you are content with a some-what-moral life, then don’t listen to his spirit.

If you are content to daydream and just not do much with you life, then don’t listen to his spirit

If you have little ambition of doing much to change what is broken in this world, then don’t listen to his spirit.

A Better Story Starts Now

This story the Holy Spirit is whispering on your heart requires action.  You must move.  You must respond.  You must do something good.  And it all starts now.  Right now. 

While riding a bullet train heading north to the gritty Chinese city of Siping I was reading the China Times, when this article grabbed my attention.  “Foreign Hero Saves Six.”  The article explained that in the Guizhou Province, construction scaffolding collapsed with hundreds of bags of concrete, trapping six people beneath the pile.  But then I read these words, “A muscular African-American man in a white t-shirt and blue jeans ran to their rescue and began throwing bags off concrete off the suffocating people.”  Singlehandedly he saved all six… then walked away into the night.  The Governor of the province is searching for this hero to honor him.

By the time I finished reading the article, I wanted to be that muscular, African-American man in a white t-shirt and blue jeans tossing fifty pound bags of concrete like they were pillows. 

That’s the kind of story I want to live.

Do you see how the very best stories require action on your part. 

How to Write a Best Seller

Writing a great story starts with this simple idea, listen more for the leading of the Holy Spirit.  God has put his spirit in your life for that very reason.  Pay more attention on this day, today.

Today the page is blank.

Today the story starts fresh -- if that’s what you need.

Today you can begin a new story, a better story.

Your story is not written yet… you write it right now. 


Monday, September 7, 2009


My twin brother and I were crammed in the far back a Peugot 505 taxi making our way back to ACS (the American high school in Monrovia, Liberia) from our home in Yekepa, when the taxi stopped at a check point. A soldier meandered up, looked inside, and his eyes stopped on us, “You white boys, get outside!”

“My man, I’m not getting out just because I’m white,” I retorted. Yes, I was a bit of a punk in high school.

“I say, get outside now!” He demanded. “You are an alien.”

Now things got really confusing, because I had never heard the term
alien used as an immigration status, I only knew of aliens from movies like Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. But he had a gun, so I capitulated and climbed out. All the while complaining and mumbling, “I’m not an alien, I’m not an alien.”

But I was.

I grew up in Africa as a minority. And so maybe I’ve felt, in just a small way, what it feels like to be biased against, singled out, treated differently. It never feels good. But it still happens now, in this country, in this city, and that’s not good.

So I say this, of all the places in the world where people gather, the church has to be the place were ethnic diversity is celebrated and promoted. The church is meant to be filled with people from every background. The church (Christians) reflects God best when we follow Him with people of other ethnicities, race, gender, nationality, and color. I fully believe the more ethnically diverse a church, the more it reflects God’s intention for his people.

Sometimes we give a lot of attention to getting doctrine right—when how we live every day is not right.

I think heaven is going to look a lot like Havana.

I say this because on my first visit to Havana, what struck me most was that people of all background mixed as though they saw no race or color. People of every ethnicity walked together, laughed together, sat in outdoor cafes together, and worshiped together.

On one trip to Cuba, I took a basketball team to play five games against the Cuban Olympic team. One of their players, over dinner, asked one of our players, “Why do you have so much racial tension in America?”

How do you answer that?

If I were to answer him today I might simply say, “It’s not supposed to be that way. But I will tell you this, Heaven is going to be a lot like Havana.”

One of the reasons I say Heaven will be a lot like Havana is because I read that in the New Testament. John writes, “They sang a new song with these words... ‘Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’”

And so I tell the people of The Grove, if heaven is going to be a lot like Havana then so must this church.

PUZZLE PIECES IN HEAVEN  written by Palmer Chinchen

Monday, August 24, 2009


Some have asked why I’ve named this blog Xpatriate.  Maybe this will help explain why…

A word is used to describe the life of people who leave their country to make home a far and away place.  This one word describes an extraordinary life, a life of adventure, a life of uncertainty, a life of exhilaration, a life worth living. That word is expatriate.

Expatriates live differently.  The expat (as the expatriate is referred to in international circles) soaks up the world in which they land.  They don’t try to take home with them.  They absorb the smells. They soak up the uniqueness of the culture.

Expatriates are resilient. They have resolve and learn to adapt and improvise.  They expect little.  They find guilty pleaser in luxuries as simple as an air-conditioned restaurant, a hammock by the beach, an ice cold Coca-cola… in a glass bottle. 

The Sandals all-inclusive frequenter is not the expatriate.  The get out of the tour bus and take pictures crowd is not the expatriate.  The loud, obnoxious guy in the hotel swimming pool is not the expatriate. Becoming the expatriate involves is a new way of living, a new way of thinking, a new way of believing, a new way of dreaming. 

I’ve observed something true in practically all expats, once they have tasted the haphazard -- horn-honking -- chickens everywhere -- annoying venders -- pungent odor -- soggy air -- crazed taxi drivers -- drunk policemen – disorientating -- take life as it comes world away from home… they want more.

When the expatriate returns “home” their soul shrivels. They cringe at chain anything. The suburbs and mini vans and strip malls and fast food suck their spirit dry.  They can’t wait to board the next plane to somewhere far and away.

And maybe life is better like that.  The Christ said, this world is not for making home, so live on the go – go and live; really, really live. 

It’s time to live differently.

It’s time to really live.

It’s time to become the expatriate.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Not long ago I visited a church that had just completed a 50+ million dollar campus: elevators, rows and rows of cubicles, four stories, parking garages, and mega everything. But don’t judge too quickly because this church also gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to missions every year. 

And maybe that says it right there, having a missions department does not make a church missional.

The Medium is the Message

Over lunch with Shane Hipps (Flickering Pixels) last week we talked about the architectural design of church buildings and worship auditoriums. He reminded me that the medium is the message.

If a church builds a Taj Mahal of a building then regardless of what you say verbally about your church’s values, the message is, this church building is what matters most.  This street corner is the end… rather than a means to an end.

The local church is not the end, it’s only the beginning. 

Defining Missional

Many churches and leaders are latching on to the term missional without really understanding what the movement is all about. Some have hijacked the term and use it to describe their church, while they have no real missional impetus at all. 

At the heart of the missional movement is the idea of the Missio Dei – the Mission of God.  Pioneers in the missional movement, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, describe it like this, “The missional church is a sent church. It is a going church; a movement of God through his people; sent to bring healing to a broken world.”

Several ideals stand out as defining features of the missional church:


In many ways the missional church is a counter-cultural movement.  For centuries the Western church has been most about getting people to come into their churches, but the missional church is more about going.

The missional church is first about sending people out, rather that bringing people in.  I’m not saying to invite people in is wrong. But if church aspires to be missional, then it will focus the bulk of its energy and resources on sending people out.

The missional church does not exist to serve itself, it exists to serve the world.


As unintentional as it may be, many times the church does not feel very welcoming. The language we use, our over familiarity with one another, forms of worship from ages past -- all combine to make the newcomer feel like an outlier.

But the Christ said the church is like a wedding reception to which the entire world is invited, “Open the doors. Welcome in anyone and everyone off the street. They’re all wanted. This place is for the hurting, the dirty, the dejected, the wanderer, the messed up, the lost, the confused, the broken, the scared and the scarred.” (my paraphrase)  That’s the church Christ wanted. 


I went to college in the 80’s with the Yuppie, Beemer-driving, Member’s Only-wearing, mega-consumer generation.  The emerging generation, however, is refreshingly simple. And when it comes to church they still want simple. They are not very interested in performance, dogmatism, personalities, judgmental attitudes, opulence, or mega-anything.

And here’s why it makes sense, following Jesus was simple. Sleep in what you wear. Eat whatever people set in front of you. Live on the go.  He said it like this, "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know.”   Somewhere along the line we have made following Jesus very complicated.

Missional churches are again valuing simplicity and creating a culture of austerity.


Hyperopia is the limitation of only being able to focus on objects that are near (the opposite of myopia).  The missional church’s focus is hyperoptic, it looks out. It is more farsighted than near-sighted.

A church in Simi Valley, California has been out-growing its worship auditorium.  So they talked about buildings and capital campaigns and expanding their campus.  Finally, after hearing the monumental amount of the final budget the pastor said, “Forget it, we’ll meet outside.  We’ll take the money we were going to raise for a new building and put it into missions and give it away.”  And they did, and they are.

Not every church sits in the utopian, year-round perfect climate of Simi Valley, but you get my point.  If we spend less on the machine in here we can give more to others out there. 


A distinct feature of being missional is that it is more a movement than an institution.  Movements demand participation, and that’s what it means to be missional. You don’t fill out an application to be part of a movement, you simply dive in and participate.  Movements grow by popular demand. They are dynamic and fluid. You can’t really plan a movement, but you can help start a movement.

Make Jesus Famous

The missional church is first and foremost committed to making the name of Jesus Christ famous.  There’s a simple but profound return to Jesus.  The message is most about Jesus. Pastors and personalities are not what matter most.  Church buildings and programs are not why the church exists.  Jesus Christ is the roaring center of everything missional.

Beginning with the idea of the incarnation, the missional church models its function after the life and ministry of Christ.  In the New Testament Jesus’ close friend John said it like this, “He made his dwelling among us.”  Jesus poured himself into the world he lived in and into the lives of those he lived among – this is the incarnation.  In the same way the church today must give all it’s worth to the world out there – locally and globally.


Between bites of Nello’s pizza Shane Hipps went on to talk about speaking at Rob Bell’s Mars Hill.  When he stood in the middle the large auditorium the first thing he said was, “Whether you know it or not, the chairs you sit on are part of your message at Mars Hill.” Every one literally squirmed to take a peek at the chair under them, molded grey plastic.  “The chairs are inexpensive, hard, and rather uncomfortable. The chairs are quietly saying to you, ‘Don’t get too comfortable, don’t stay too long.  Your place in this world is out there, not in here.’” 

The medium is the message.





Wednesday, May 13, 2009


The front of the auditorium was crowed, lines of people backed down every aisle. They waited in anxious anticipation to write their names with colored chalk on a black wall. Some held hands, some had quivering hands… because this act was a life-altering commitment. They waited to write their names as a vow to God that they would leave this country to give their life away for the cause of Christ.

I was floored. I had no idea we would see this kind of response to my challenge: Give your life away to change this world and God will change you.

On one Sunday 240 people at The Grove signed their names to say, I will go and give my life away.


My challenge that day was simple, Respond.  Respond to the desperate.

Jesus illustrated this by telling of a man who was beaten down, robed, and left in a ditch to die. His challenge to Christ-followers was to stop -- stop and love as he loved.

Today a man lies on the side of the road, his name is Africa. He is a continent beaten down by poverty, disease, and injustice.  And if Christ-followers have any ambition of honoring God with our lives, then we must respond. This is true religion.

In my opinion, this generation must respond to three great plights in Africa: (1) Extreme Poverty, (2) Disease (particularly malaria and HIV), (3) Injustice (specifically the injust treatment of women.)

And responding to the pain and problems in Africa begins one person at a time.

Eliminating Extreme Poverty Begins with One Person

The world bank defines extreme poverty as those who live on less than one dollar a day. For the extreme poor every day is a fight for survival.  1.1 billion people live this way, about a fifth of the world’s population.

But here’s the hope, extreme poverty can be ended. Global economic experts like Jeffery Saches says by the year 2025 we can end extreme poverty. Saches, a Harvard Economist and who some have named “The Smartest Man in the Word,” has used his “shock economics” to turn fledging economies around.  He is firmly convinced that if affluent nations and people pool their resources, (and it only takes one percent of our wealth) we can end the plight of the poorest of the poor.3  (Saches 2006)

And we don’t have to give or do enough to make poor countries or poor people rich, we simply have to do enough to help them get their foot on the first rung of the economic ladder. When countries get their foot on the ladder of development they generally are able to climb upwards. But if a country / person is trapped below the ladder, with the first rung too high off the ground, they cant even get started.

And here’s where it begins -- with you and me. It starts with one person putting shoes on one man’s feet.  It starts with one church digging one well in one village.

Eradicating Malaria Begins with One Person

Every thirty seconds a child looses their life to malaria in Africa.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Up until the 1950’s malaria was a problem in Florida, and we eradicated it. Because of US interest in Panama, we eradicated it there. And if we concentrate our efforts and resources we can accomplish the same in Africa. Malaria is preventable and malaria is utterly treatable. You and I can be a part of turning the tide in Africa.

Eradicating malaria starts like this: one person going to one village and hanging one bed net in one dwelling at a time.

Ending Injustice Starts with One Person

An overwhelming mountain of scripture commands God's people to care for the oppressed. Justice is in the heart of God.

Just weeks ago a mob of men stoned a young woman to death in Kismayo, Somalia for the crime of adultery.  The stoning was the true crime.  In my opinion, this was the greatest act of injustice I’ve witnessed in my lifetime – yet the world was silent.  CNN was silent. America was silent. It’s not supposed to be this way.

Can I just say this, We can’t be silent anymore. Ending injustice begins with one person speaking up for those who have no voice; one person defending the weak. 


Some moments last a lifetime. For 240 people who wrote their names on a black wall with colored chalk, that one moment, that one act, that one Sunday will forever change the way they live. 

Changing this world for good starts on one day – that day is today.

Changing this world for good starts one person – that one person is you. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Why is it that on some days my heart feels like it’s a hundred miles from heaven? 

The Bible has a lot to say about the heart, and uses it as a metaphor of the seat of our soul and our spiritual being.  The poet-king David often spoke of his heart for God, “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart.” (Psalm 9:1)  And God said of David, “He is a man after my own heart.”  My great hope is that one day God will say this of me, but on some days my heart feels like it’s a hundred miles from heaven.

If there is a way to a stronger heart for God, what is it?  How do I have it?

The way to a strong physical heart is not to rest it.  Sitting on the couch watching too many episodes of Dancing with the Stars will only atrophy your heart.  Your heart is a giant muscle, the only way to a ferociously strong heart is to work it out, exhaust it, make it beat hard, climb a mountain.  Do something so difficult your heart feels like it’s going to beat right out of your chest.

I think it works the same spiritually.  When you get up and get out and live your life for Christ your spiritual heart beats stronger.  I know this has been true in my life.  The most difficult moments are the moments that have shaped my heart for God.  They are heart aching, heart breaking moments I wish I could take back, but they are the moments that have grown my heart and brought me closer to heaven.

This past week I’ve thought much about what has shaped my heart, a few moments stand out:

-Sitting with a man named Moses when his baby twin daughters died of Malaria – shaped my heart.

-Watching young men play basketball in one shoe, because they only had one shoe – shaped my heart.

-Giving baths to children who’s home is a city dump – shaped my heart.

-Having to tell a beautiful young woman she is HIV positive – shaped my heart.

-Seeing women chained together at the ankles on Arizona Avenue – shaped my heart.

-Watching my closest friend in Malawi die of AIDS – shaped my heart.

-Having people who have less than me share their food and possessions with me – has shaped my heart. 

So when your heart begins to feel like it’s a hundred miles from heaven, give your life away; mentor, serve, give, share, hold, encourage, love… and let God grow your heart.