Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Drought in Your Yard?

            I don’t know how long our area has been in drought, but it’s a long time with no rain. Our reservoirs are at record lows. Our community has been told (not asked) to cut back all water use by 20%. Today’s newspaper says that we are still using more water than resources can deliver.
            The impact of the drought at church and our house (the parsonage) has been the shutting off of all irrigation. No lawns are watered and not drip lines water plants. Any watering has to be done by hand before 10:00 a.m. and after 4:30 p.m. when the evaporation rate is lower.
            So Martha has a regular routine of taking care of her garden by hand watering each plant within the proscribed hours. We are fighting to keep our plants alive, but we have let the yard go brown. What was once lush, soft and green, is now brown, hard and cracking. It’s tough to walk on. The brown grass leaves crack off, exposing more and more hard soil. It’s becoming a brutal and embattled landscape…everywhere.
            How many hearts are like our drought-hardened yards? I know spiritual drought when I bump into it, because it’s hard and unyielding. I see anger-hardened hearts too often. The language is of cynicism and sarcasm. The focus is on the faults of everyone around them, especially those in leadership. I talked with a person the other day who is going through seriously tough times and asked him about his own practice of Bible reading. He looked up at me and said it’s been years and years since he read the Bible on his own, and his life showed it. Drought.
            Is the condition we face as pastors more about personal spiritual drought than anything else? We endless review and critique ministries, programs and personnel, but maybe miss the real issue; spiritual drought. Can our worshipers sustain a spiritual life nibbling on little bits of spiritual music, a Facebook quote, a once a month worship service. Don’t get me wrong. These are not bad people. These are good people who are very busy and very active and…not watering their hearts sufficiently.

            I know because I get there too often too quickly. I get busy reading the Bible to “produce” a sermon or a lesson. I neglect alone time with God for appointments with others. I allow days to stretch too long into nights and let the “to do” list grow too long. I neglect the quiet, still, “unproductive” time for agenda-driven tasks that yield quick results. A friend reminded me of the old hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour.” My heart needs the regular rain of God’s Word and Spirit into my dry heart to make it alive and fresh.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Jesus In the Garden

         My parents did not love gardening. My mother loved having a few easy to grow flowers in the front window box and my dad dutifully mowed the yard (until he could put it on my chore-list). Dad painted; oh he loved to paint! He would scrape and sand, paint primers and then paint on final coats and stand back with admiration. But he did not like gardens, weeding or watering. The only family member who loved to garden was my paternal grandfather, E.R. Johnson. He loved all things about the soil. So much so, that he drove it out of my father and uncle!
It wasn't till I married Martha that I observed and appreciated a gardener. Martha has to have dirt around her to plant in, water, fertilize, weed and protect from gophers, snails and rabbits. Martha battles for her garden. There is no way when you are around Martha that you do not know who is in charge of her garden. And when people mess with her garden (or I forget to water) she will speak up!
That's the way gardens are. Gardens are planned spaces with a plan and a purpose. They are areas of dirt that are shaped in a particular way that fulfills the intentions of the gardener. The gardener controls what is or is not planted in the garden. (Just try slipping in a foreign plant to someone else's garden!!). 
This coming Palm Sunday, the text comes from John 18:1-14 and it paints a powerful picture of Jesus in charge of his garden!


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Jesus' prayer for the church

As I write this from the calm beauty of Santa Barbara, I am aware of the deep pain and loss at Fort Hood in Texas, where another angry man with a gun killed and wounded comrades. That shouldn't be. The fort should be where it's safe, not more dangerous. Soldiering is, inherently, a dangerous occupation. They go into battle and conflict prepared and trained to defend and attack. Not being a soldier, I cannot imagine the stress of being always alert to danger.
But when they return to their base and are shipped home to a place like Fort Hood, they should be safe. It should be a secure place for them to recover, regroup, train and wait for another deployment. Instead, a gunman brought violence onto the base.
Church should be safe too. I expect junk to happen in the world outside of here. I expect to be misunderstood and even attacked for believing what I do. But here, on Sunday, at the"base" it should be safe. We should be "one" in Christ and "one" with each other. May Jesus' prayer for the church work its power here and in all churches today!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

He Calls Us Friends

        It was going to be a big funeral! John K. was a multimillionaire from old money in Ohio. He parlayed automobile parts industries into mining and resources. He did not attend the church I served. In fact, he and his wife attended no church at the time of his illness. A small group of men in our church welcomed John into their weekly Bible study and loved him. So, when he went into the hospital for the last time, he asked the men if I, as their pastor, would visit him. I visited him and prayed with him in the hospital for about 3 weeks before he died.
         At his funeral, powerful people gathered who knew John, had business dealings with John, and lived in the same circles as John and his wife. The person chosen to bring the eulogy for John was former Minnesota Governor from 1979-83, Hon. Al Quie. When he walked into my study, I was immediately impressed. He stood 6’5” and wore cowboy boots with his black suit. I had never met a governor before, so I wanted to be sure to be properly respectful when I introduced him. So I asked him how I should introduce him to the audience. He smiled at me with his weathered face and said, “Just call me Al!”
         Not long after the funeral, my secretary buzzed my phone saying “Someone named Al wants to talk with you.” It was Governor Quie with an invitation to join him in his prison ministry in Minnesota. When I walked with Governor Quie through all the security into the big room full of inmates waiting for him, a big man came forward to hug the Governor and I heard “Charlie!” then “Al!” as they embraced. Al Quie is the reason I began going to jail and the one who planted the importance of jail ministry in my life. And it all started when he told me to call him Al.

         The text for Sunday is John 15:1-17. What does Jesus call us? What do we call him?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Not Orphaned---Comforted

Can you see the change from last week's altar-piece? The theme last week was Jesus' double command: don't let your heart be troubled, and believe in God and Jesus. The spray of branches looked eloquently like trouble.
This week's text is John 14:15-31 with the promised gift of the para-clete also called Advocate or Counselor. This promise is so that we are not left as orphans. I love how the dove "invades" the branches and brings hope and order to chaos.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Don't & Do

The text for Sunday is John 14:1-7 which Martin Luther called Jesus' best sermon! I have used it for many funerals over the years or in times of crisis when believers faced uncertainty. But I've never noticed it in context: following Chapter 13 and the dismal response of the disciples (Judas betraying and Peter objecting and boasting). Yikes that's discouraging. Jesus' "A" team does not look so promising.
So the words "Do not let your heart be troubled" is an amazing response...or maybe decision on Jesus' part to not let the circumstances divert his heart from where it needed to be. A "troubled heart" is, in many ways, my choice. I choose what to let in or not to my heart. I choose to allow stuff to trouble me or not. The second command is crucial for me: "Believe in God, believe in me."
Choosing to not do something rarely lasts for me unless I substitute doing something else, like believing in Jesus.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Transfiguration Sunday

I’m writing this in the rain. I’m not in the rain, but I’m in my office looking out at the gray skies and wonderful, wonderful rain. After our long drought, this is so welcome by all of us; even with the inconvenience rains bring to hillside communities like ours.
         Curiously, when I visited Santa Barbara before becoming your pastor, I only saw gray skies and rain. We flew in and flew out in stormy, rainy conditions, never seeing the mountains or the Channel Islands. All we saw were twisting roads and low-lying clouds. Committee members would tell us about the gorgeous mountains and scenic views; and we believed them, but did not see them until the weekend I officially met you all. Then the sun shined brightly and the view from the park on the Mesa gave us a clear view of the Channel Islands and the mountains that frame Santa Barbara. The difference? Light.
         Weather is not something we can choose. We cannot choose the weather around us (unless we choose to fly or drive to another climate) only adapt to it. We can’t always choose our spiritual weather either. There are times of struggle and pain and times of joy and peace. But we do have a choice about the spiritual light around us. We can choose to live in light or darkness. We can choose to surround ourselves with the words and spirit of Jesus or ignore him. The text for Sunday (John 12:34-50) is Jesus’ invitation to step into the light he alone brings and leave the darkness of spiritual lies.
Sunday also happens to be Transfiguration Sunday, the event when Jesus was surrounded by Moses and Elijah in bright radiance. Transfiguration is the Sunday immediately before the beginning of Lent, which is the 40 day period of preparation for Easter.

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