Friday, October 24, 2014

It's About Time

There is no greater challenge for me at this point in my life than time: how to use it, how to roll with it, and how to keep up with it. Unfortunately, our culture wreaks havoc on time. The nostalgic days of all TV programming going off the air at midnight and vacations without any electronics are gone. Culture used to cooperate with another pattern of time by stores closing all day on Sundays and Wednesday evening left open for church programming. Phone calls were expensive and letters were read slowly.
         But that is not our current reality. So, even Moses’ prayer (at least attributed to Moses) in Psalm 90:12 is very appropriate, timely, for me: Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

         There is an interesting, and maybe accidental convergence on this coming Sunday: it is Reformation Sunday. The big deal about Reformation Sunday is not a celebration that we are Protestants and not Catholics, but rather that the church continues to need reformation, renewal and change. And those things take great leadership, not unlike the leadership Moses provided to the people of Israel. As you read all of Psalm 90 in preparation for worship, read it as a leader’s prayer, and consider yourself a leader when you pray this.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cleaning Messes

         I worked at an animal hospital during high school for a wonderful Christian man who belonged to our church. In fact, I went to college with the intention of becoming a veterinarian, but that’s another longer story! My job title was “Kennel Boy”. It was my job to keep the basement area clean where all the cages were. There was one room for dogs and one room for cats with stainless steel cages lining both walls. My two tools were newspapers and Pine Sol. Newspapers lined the cages and Pine Sol cleaned the cages and the outside exercise pens. For the rest of my life, Pine Sol brings happy memories of cleaning messes and making cages and rooms smell good! 
What are the messes you encounter daily? How do you define what is and isn’t a mess? A mess for one person can be delightful variety for another. Some professions specialize in cleaning up messes, like Servicemaster or RotoRooter. If you consider the word “mess” and look at the world around you, you can apply it in many ways. There are environmental messes, organizational messes, political messes, and financial messes. There are simple messes and complicated messes. Some of us avoid messes and others of us experience nothing but messes!

         The text for Sunday is about a major spiritual mess between Israel and God in Exodus 33:12-23. I invite you to read this passage carefully and look for the cleaning solution for this mess. It still works!

Saturday, October 11, 2014


         Martha’s dad died this week, Monday morning to be exact. I was relaxing, reading the newspaper and drinking my second cup of coffee when the phone rang. It was her sister calling to tell us her dad died. John Ensign was 91 years old and outlived his doctors’ expectations. He died at home, where he wanted to be. John and I talked almost daily right up till last week. He remained alert and actively conversational to his last days. He lived long and well. He loved his family and his family loved him. From my perspective as a pastor, his was a good death. Once his health began to fail, he did not suffer. He believed in Jesus and carried a strong hope of heaven.
         But with all that being said, I’m still sad. I loved my father-in-law and he loved me. I’m sad because my children and grandchildren did not get the chance to say their goodbye’s as they wanted to. I’m sad because his death means Martha needs to stay in Richmond, VA with her brother to clean the house and settle affairs. Death, no matter how good, is always complicated, sad and messy.
         So I was kind of resistant when I read the first words of our text for Sunday from Philippians 4:4-9 “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” How do I rejoice when I don’t feel like rejoicing? My situation of grieving pushed me deeper into this familiar and favorite text like never before. What is the connection between rejoicing and patience? How does prayer address those things that cause us anxiety? I invite you into a very meaty text for Sunday. Read it several times, each one more slowly. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Generation to Generation

         My dad taught me how to swim, ride a bike, shoot a gun, and drive a car. He took those roles seriously because they had about them a life and death component. Do any of these poorly, someone could get seriously hurt or die. He impressed upon me both the seriousness about water, bikes, guns and cars and the good time one could have in the water, riding, shooting at targets and taking long drives. In fact, up to his death, he kept giving me driving tips as I drove him to appointments or to see the sights. He was always a teacher, though I was not always a learner.
         Who taught you valuable life skills? Who was it you looked up to in order to learn how to operate equipment, cook a meal, raise a child, or write a research paper? There are those wonderful mentors in our lives we turned to, asked questions of, and watched closely, observing how they practiced their particular skill. And what is interesting is that these mentors were not always blood relatives.
         The text for Sunday (Psalm 78:4) contains a phrase that has grabbed my heart and will not let go: “we will tell the next generation.” Who is that next generation for you? Who has God laid on your heart to see step into faithful discipleship? Beyond your immediate family, who are those in the next generation who need to hear from you? God has given faith tools and skills to every believer not only to use now, but also to pass on to others. Where is that happening in your life?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Envy & Generosity

         I have always enjoyed boats; both sail and power boats. During our Michigan years, I owned a little sailboat called a “Sunfish.” It was 13’ 9” long with a single sail, low to the water and easy to sail alone. I would often trailer it to Lake Michigan and sail in the waves and often tipped over.
         One Saturday there was an open house at a local yacht club prior to a big race. One of the boats was a gorgeous, 65-70’ sailboat with a tall mast and bright brass and teak decks. I gingerly walked through it, admiring the rigging, the technology and it’s craftsmanship. I bumped into the owner and expressed thanks for being allowed to tour the boat. I asked a number of sailing questions. Then he asked, “Do you sail?” I said “Oh yes!” Then he asked, “What kind of boat do you sail?” That’s where I got embarrassed and quiet. He thought I was in his category of sailing.
         So I sheepishly said “I just sail a Sunfish”. He smiled and said, “That’s the best basic sailing there is!” My sense of comparison and competition distanced me from him. His generosity included me in the community of sailors. I compared the cost of the gear and he focused on the joy of the sport. It’s so easy to compare, contrast and compete with each other, from designer labels to pedigree of degrees. We can compete about what we know and who we know, where we live and how we live.
         The two texts for Sunday highlight our comparative tendencies in Exodus 16:2-18 and Matthew 20:1-16. If you don’t already know it, ask God to show you where your envy is getting in the way of His generosity.

Friday, September 12, 2014

How Many?

         It was during my first years in Santa Barbara that I heard this phrase: My bad! What was that? It did not make grammatical sense. My bad what? Bad is an adjective. But then it was explained to me that it was a short-form apology. Oops! My bad! was another way to say I’m sorry. We all have our unique phrases to admit mistakes, errors and ask for forgiveness: sorry, my fault, excuse me, I’m so sorry, etc.
         Then we hear the many ways people respond: that’s OK, no problem, it’s all good, don’t worry about it, we’re good, etc. We hear words that sound like admission of guilt and we hear words that sound like forgiveness, but are they?
         How easy or hard is it for you to admit mistake, error or sin? For some it comes easy, and maybe even too easily. While for others, it’s almost impossible to ever admit being in the wrong.
         How easy or hard is it for you to offer forgiveness. I’m guessing the same observation holds true as above. For some of us it is easy and reflexive, while for others of us, it just does not happen. We hold on to grudges and hurts for years and years. One person told me this week that his dad held grudges forever. Once a person got on his dad’s grudge list, they never got off.

         As you prepare for worship by reading Matthew 18:21-35, take a personal audit about how forgiveness works in your life.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

M-4...the power of together

OK, the normal experience between churches in a community is competition. Who's growing and who's not? Members float between programs and personalities. And each church tries its best to provide attractive and engaging ministries that keep members happy and growing. 
But every once in a while, along comes an experience (a group) that is genuinely non-competitive, but genuinely collaborative. Such is a group called M-4. It stands for the 4 churches in our little enclave outside of Santa Barbara called Montecito. Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Covenant. 

Today the four churches gathered for a second time at a local school called Cleveland Elementary. It's a tough school with a population with great needs. We gathered in the lunchroom around 8:30 a.m. for coffee, juice and fresh burritos and a prayer. Then we headed off in groups to organize a library,

plant drought tolerant trees,

paint classroom picnic tables, and weed, dig, and mulch a student garden. It was good to be together!

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