Tuesday, December 27, 2016

New Thoughts for a New Year

I have not written a post since 2015. The reflective words stopped finding a place here. My life has changed in some pretty big ways. I am no longer a sitting senior pastor with an open call for ministry as long as God and the church want me. I am now an Interim Pastor, serving a wonderful church in transitional need of pastoral guidance for a limited time period. I am living out of a suitcase in the lower level of a vacationing church member's home. A transient guest, though we own a home in North Carolina where Martha lives and commutes up to spend time with me.
Thought #1: tenderly holding the mystery of the church is more compelling than managing the vision and navigating the politics of the structure. The politics of the church remain very evident and visible,   but the power of the church is in the hidden mystery of prayer and personal transformations. I have battled power-interests long enough (and lost a number of those battles) to realize that there is more in life than maintaining control.
Thought #2: the future of the vital church is identifying and welcoming the transformed broken ones, not recruiting the shiny wealthy ones. Budgets are a reality of any church and finances drive what a church can and cannot afford. But the pastor is not the chief fund-raiser in the church, but the shepherd of the flock. In late December for too many years the panic in the board/council was: will there be enough money coming in by year's end to meet the budget or which staff (the largest % of most church budgets) need to be cut...and they eyes turn to the senior pastor. Either get the money or cut the staff. The reality many churches face is that staff costs have increased or remained steady while giving to the general fund has declined with the economy since 2008. More ministry with less dollars. Is there a better model?  I think there is when we can see the Gospel significantly transforming lives. And I have seen no better place than in jail. Churches need to much more intentionally link up with jail release programs to bring transformed health into congregations that can get choked by the language of constituent expectations and preferences.
Thought #3: I hope to spend my next years finding, identifying and celebrating best practices of churches partnering with jail ministries around the country.

Friday, September 18, 2015


All week I’ve been asking different people: How do you compete? The responses have been very interesting. Some told me that they are basically non-competitive; avoiding sports and win/lose games. But when I pushed them about how they measured success or expertise, I heard stories about degree achievement, software innovation, or scrabble scores. I compete in cold-weather stories and can hardly restrain myself from talking about snow and ice.
         I asked a woman how she sees women compete and the instant answer was the house. She prided herself on having a clean house. Some people compete with the latest technology or newest appliances. I think we all compete, have success measurements and desire to do well. In the text for Sunday, Mark 9:30-37, Jesus observed his disciples competing with each other, and instead of criticizing it, he redirects it.
         As you prepare for worship, take a look at your own areas of competition. If you’re open to it, send me an email about your unique competitive streak and I might share it (clearly without mentioning your name!). 


Friday, September 04, 2015

Beyond the Borders

         Between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I spent a year living in Tokyo Japan as a short-term missionary with the Evangelical Covenant Church. I lived in a seminary dormitory with Japanese men training for ministry. I ate evening meals with a missionary family, but breakfast and lunch with the students. The program immersed me in language training for the first seven weeks, six hours per day, five days a week. By the end, I had a vocabulary of a five year old boy, functional but not deep.
         Japan was a wonderful place to live. I learned to eat many new foods, handle chopsticks, take hot baths, sleep on straw mats, and wear kimonos. I could carry on simple conversations and sing songs in worship. But try as I might, I was still called gai-jin. That’s the word for “foreigner.” I was different physically and culturally. I would always be an outsider, though loved and respected.
         When have you been aware that you were the foreigner? When were those times you experienced treatment as a second-class citizen, a perpetual outsider? Most of us have had an experience like that sometime in our lives.
         In the text for Sunday, Mark 7:24-37, Jesus is approached by two distinct outsiders. Read it before you come to church and look for the ways that Jesus crosses some very distinct borders to bring good news.

                                                               Grace & Peace,


1.              The Fall Family Kick-Off happens Sunday evening from 5:00 -7:00 p.m. all over the campus. There will be bounce houses for little ones, games for older ones, food for everyone ($2 tacos from Super Cucas)! Parents will be informed about MCC ministries for children and youth. And everyone will have fun!
2.              The class Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus will begin Sunday, September 13 at 9:00 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall. Taught by Dr. Bruce Fisk, childcare will be provided for preschool-6th grade. Jr. & Sr. High students will meet in the Outback.
3.              Samarkand Summer Institute: The History of World Christianity continues on Wednesdays from 10:30-11:30 a.m. The topic Jon Lemmond will address on September 9 is “Women Mystics in the Medieval Period.”

Friday, August 28, 2015

Rabbi Jesus, In the Temple, With the Ropes

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ambassador in Chains

         During college, I was a union laborer with a large construction company in Minneapolis. The job fully paid for all four years of college and introduced me to what it takes to build buildings. Since then I’ve been fascinated with construction and beg my way onto various sites to get tours.
         Recently I was invited to tour a local site but it required wearing a hard-hat. The only guy I knew in church with a hard-hat is Byron Beck from “Solid Rock Construction Company.” Byron agreed to lend me one of his blue, labeled hard-hats for the tour. As I walked through the building, I noticed other carpenters and workers looking at my hat with genuine curiosity. Was I there representing “Solid Rock?” Were their jobs in jeopardy? Clearly, it was not just a hard-hat, but represented a whole company in a competitive industry.
         When you walk into a situation; a job site, a store, a restaurant, whom do people see you representing? Who knows you are a follower of Jesus? In the text for Sunday, Ephesians 6:18-20, the Apostle Paul calls himself an ambassador.  He understands his identity and role to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ in every and all situations. As you prepare for Sunday worship, take your own inventory of the times and places you represented Jesus.

                                                               Grace & Peace,


1.              If you are willing to either read scripture on a Sunday morning or pray the prayer of dedication and intercession, I would really like to hear from you. The staff looks for pray-ers and readers for each Sunday and would like to have a wider pool of volunteers.
2.               Jon Lemmond continues teaching The History of World Christianity on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in the Mountain Room of the Samarkand. The topic next week is “Why did Christians start killing Jews in the 12th century?”
3.              Connection Team members (and interested members) are invited to a breakfast on Sunday August 30 at 8:30 a.m.in Fellowship Hall.
4.              A College Lunch will be provided for incoming Westmont students. Alumni, faculty, staff and anyone interested in welcoming new students is invited to participate immediately following worship.
5.              Ginny Murray update. As I was preparing this email, John Murray called the church Friday morning with an update on Ginny. She has successfully gone through two procedures to remove abscess material from her pancreas. John asks for continued prayer for improved respiration, for her body to be strong for another abscess procedure, and the next steps of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy.
6.              Budget Update as of August 20, 2015
Income Needed YTD:                             $474,749
Income Received (%YTD needed):         $350,553 (73.8%)

Expenses YTD (Deficit):                         $430,161 (-$79,608)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Rested Enough?

         A friend of mine just returned from a three-week trip in England, Germany, France and Italy. As he told me about his adventure, he said, “The French and Italian cultures do time differently than we do.” We talked for a while about the different ways different cultures practice time, from hyper punctuality to chronically late. Different cultures practice meal times differently, from long, slow meals, to hurriedly inhaled energy bars and power drinks.
         Different areas and cultures in the United States have different rhythms and time practices. Some of those practices are climate driven, by either extreme heat or cold. Other practices are light driven by long periods of daylight or darkness. Business cycles with crucial deadlines or production schedules determine where we spend our waking hours. And those who travel for work must budget airport lines and delays.
         The questions you can ponder in preparing for worship this Sunday are: How do you spend your time? What are your healthy rhythms and when do your rhythms and patterns get thrown out of sync? Who or what governs your time? How does God figure in to the way you spend your time?


Friday, July 10, 2015

Not Far

         “Old” has changed for me. Old used to be my father. But now I’m over his age when I thought he was old! An old building when I was growing up in Minnesota was something built in the early 1900’s or late 1800’s, until our family moved to Virginia where we saw buildings and sites from the 1700’s and earlier. That was old.
         When Martha and I took our first trip to Europe, and I had the chance to visit churches built in the 1100’s and some as old as 900 AD, I had a new appreciation for old. The stone floors of these sanctuaries were polished by centuries of different feet.
         Then I was able to take my first trip to Israel, and my clock of old moved back into the BC era and beyond Jesus into the Old Testament. Sites and geography dated thousands of years old. When we visited Jericho, the guide told us that it was probably the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, with evidence of human occupation back 10,000 years! Yikes! That’s old!
         But then I spent some time with our own David Martin, who is a geologist. He began to tell me about the formation of the Channel Islands and the up-surging hills and fossils in our rock strata. Oh my! And I haven’t talked with astronomers!!
         We are measurers. We measure dollars, pounds, miles, and inches. We establish goals and measure our progress formally and informally. A word used often in the realm of measuring is “metrics.” What are the metrics we use to measure….?
         In the text for Sunday worship (Mark 12:28-34) Jesus used very intriguing words for a teacher of the law’s response to him: “You are not far.” As you prepare for worship on Sunday, what do you measure spiritually?

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