Thursday, October 30, 2008

Is God In It?

The question came out of nowhere. In a weekly supervision meeting with the part-time Children's Ministry Director, Ashley Miller, I asked her what she is learning and how her job has changed since she began in September. Ashley is a church member and seminary student at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. She paused and said, "The job hasn't really changed, but I have. I'm just going around asking myself 'Is God in this?'"
We both stopped and reflected on the profundity of what she said; Is God In It? That's an un-locking key to discovering vital and vibrant ministry. Is this God's doing or mine? Who gets the credit here? Who is this program really about? God or vested interests or tradition or my pride? How do I know God is in something? How does God know he is in something in the church?
Getting ready to preach on Psalm 34 for All Saints, I could not help reflecting this morning on Psalm 34:2 "My soul makes its boast in the LORD." If I'm boasting in what a great job I'm doing leading the staff, preaching, doing this that and the other thing, the first person singular pronoun is used way too much "I, me, my, mine" If I'm boasting in the LORD, then God's name will keep coming up again and again. The energy is not about my success, achievement, worth, identity or validation. It's about God.
How would that question work in board meetings and committees? Would it cloud up the discussion or bring clarity? How would that question work in a relationship like marriage, family, dating? How would the question change what I do in my time off?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Good Music...Bad Theology

It was between the services that I entered into a lively conversation between our worship team about whether we should sing the lyrics of the new song. The song "Outside the City" by Pam and Greg Fadness has a compelling harmony as it speaks about the sacrifice Jesus made outside the walls of the city. The refrain is "Jesus I come to you, outside the walls, to the place of shame, where you paid it all. And this world means nothing to this heart of mine. Jesus, I come to you. Outside the city, outside the city."
The question is: does this world mean nothing? Is this gnostic dualism. Are we encased spirits in shells of flesh that we seek to shed and become spiritual beings? When we say that this world means nothing, does that mean we do not care about the environment, the economy, justice, racism, war, abortion, human rights, our own families?
So we had this lively discussion nuancing the words and their interpretation, wondering if we could edit and qualify the words to "the things of this world" or "the idols of this world"? Then in the evening I though; that's why I like the hymnal. The Covenant Hymnal has gone through an editing and vetting process where a team of pastors and theologians nuance what does and what does not belong in our worship vocabulary. Every denominational hymnal condenses its approved theology at the time of publication for its member congregations.
Hymnals are all but gone. With the fast rate of music production and distribution over the web, there is no vetting mechanism to approve or warn us about theological hand grenades. Keith and Krisitin Getty, marvelous hymn writers and musicians (not to mention sweet spirited persons) write music with a clearly substitutionary atonement perspective, where Jesus' death turns away God's wrath. Is that Covenant theology? I would hope the new Ministerium Facebook or someplace like the WorshipConnect site could help edit some of the music for us in the local church.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dr. Alistair Chapman, living on the fault lines

During dinner tonight, Martha asked if I wanted to go up to Westmont College to listen to a lecture on Dr. John Stott by one of the history professors. World Series and Monday Night Football were both begging for my attention, but it seemed intriguing to go to a lecture with Martha.
Dr. Alistair (sp?) Chapman gave a lecture on the impact of Dr. John Stott on the ongoing dialogue between educated intellectuals and evangelicals, drawing interesting parallels to the culture wars within the church and between the evangelical church and dominant culture. Dr. Stott's teaching and life are a model for what he called "living on the fault lines" between one's faith and one's culture. In comments from other faculty and audience, the criticism was raised about the tendency toward "binary simplification" between sides of an argument, reducing it down to two opponents, eschewing nuance and uncertainty. Who is the champion of sustained reflection in a culture and time driven by sound-bites (and blog sites?)?
Dr. Helen Rhee (sp?) championed the models of church fathers like Ambrose and Augustine who balanced their intellectual vigor with deeply committed churchmanship on the local level. Should a seminary or Christian college professor be allowed to teach a class if they are not an active member of a local church and significantly involved in the ministry of that church?

Pastors' Day Off...email?

As you can see from my post below, I try pretty hard to make my day off a real day off. Living in a parsonage on the church property makes boundary-keeping difficult; not for the church or staff, but for me. The church staff really respects my day off and does not call or stop by unless there is an emergency. I try not to go into the office, except with the mail or to get something I needed at home. I dress sloppily and do not shave. I seldom wear socks on my day off to physically remind me I'm not working. From the post below you can see I utilize the beach and ocean. So my day's off are pretty good, until it comes to email.
Is answering email violating one's day off? Or is answering email clearing up my return to work on Tuesday, by shooting out responses on Monday? I'd really like to hear from others of you about what you do with the digital boundary: email. Do you keep your computer off all day? Do you wait until you return to work to check email? Or can you not resist opening email, just to see what someone says? What does that do to your quiet?

Swimming with Dolphins

Today was a great day for a swim. Martha was teaching. The wind was still and the sky was clear. I got to the beach at low tide and read for a while till I got hot enough to want to swim. As I was taking my typically slow time getting in the brisk water, I saw the arching fins of a pod of dolphins straight out in front of me. I heard about swimming with dolphins before, but never was in the water close enough with them to try.
I quickly got into the water and started to swim out to where they were slowly arching and diving. They were moving slowly down the beach eastward, so I did not think I could catch up with them. Then they turned (I saw five at a time at the surface) and headed towards me. Yikes! I freaked! What should I do? Should I swim away from them or toward them. Was this smart? I was alone in the water and never did this before. So I floated on my back and watched them as they came nearer. They stopped about 20 yards away and then headed back on their easterly course. That's when the adrenalin kicked in. I was almost swimming with dolphins! It was sweet! They were big and really graceful. What a great day off!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Art Closing

Today Martha's Gallery Show closed. The gallery director invited the four area churches (M-4) to attend a closing lecture by Martha. About 25 folks (mostly MCC members and friends) showed up and Martha gave a wonderful talk about the show's theme: perspectives on paradise and on the techniques she uses for printmaking. Over lunch at an area restaurant, Martha commented on how strange it was to be given the privilege of doing a "closing" lecture. Often artists give "opening" talks to explain different aspects and dimensions of a show. Now after being hung and up for a month, the show comes apart today and tomorrow. Martha talked about the personal poignancy of being able to see all this work in one place, never to be hung together in the same room again. Some of her prints have been sold and will go to the homes and offices of the buyers. Others will go off to galleries around the country. She was not sad, but sensed the push into the next chapter of her art life, which is well underway in her studio. I think it was a brilliant idea to have a show closing as well as a show opening, bookending art's beginnings and endings.
How would I give a closing lecture/sermon if I knew this was the last time we would be all together in one place? What is the significance of these people in this place at this time? Some will move, others will die, others will come back. What is the next chapter in a church's life after a Sunday of worship together. Do we sense God's moving and developing among us? Are there new areas to pursue? Or do we just plan to do it all over again next week? The same people doing the same things saying the same words?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Color Coded Worship: Red

Bono and the GAP have hijacked red for international assistance. The church has used red for a long, long time for festal days. Reformation is a "red" day. So I'm grateful to Martha and Jeanne who designed the altar-piece with red fabric and flowers. The gospel text from Matthew focusses on the two pillars of the faith: loving God and loving our neighbors. Now the chancel presents the text...I hope I can preach it.

Abundance or Shortage?

The Santa Barbara farmers' market was teeming with life today. Crowds jammed the aisles with baskets full of produce, fruits, flowers, fresh-caught shrimp, nuts, olive oil, wine and breads. Sample trays were at almost every vendor, making it very difficult for me to both keep up with Martha's pace and nibble my way through the free foods! It was hard to feel poor amidst this much food and color.
Heading to another errand, I caught a voice-mail from a church member who has been mentoring a young pregnant woman through her pregnancy. The church is under-writing her stay in a safe-house with a mature christian couple. She gave birth last night prematurely and her pastors were not able to come to the hospital. I got the call, "Can you come and pray for this new mom and her baby?" Martha and I shot over to the hospital to pray for a miracle baby not yet 24 hours old! Then we visited an old saint who is getting out of ICU soon after 5 full weeks! After lunch and some chores, I headed to the beach to read and swim. Floating on my back, looking at the mountains and birds flying over me, there was nothing but God's abundance all around.
As the news heads our minds into shortage, panic and fear, the church has a deep responsibility to aim hearts and minds to the abundance God gives independent of the Dow Jones or our 401k's. It's not wishful thinking, optimism or denial, but it's guiding people (ourselves first) into the long view (when we've been here 10,000 years bright shining as the sun...).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bored Christians?

Young Life's founder JIm Rayburn said "It's a sin to bore a kid with the gospel." In Gary Haugen's book "Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian" he makes a compelling case that too many christians live mediocre lives because they practice a safe and boring faith. They believe that God's great strategy is to save them from their sins and promise them eternal life. But there is no serious adventure, no risk, no demanding discipleship other than controlling personal vices and behaviors.
Haugen points to three contributors to boring christian living: 1. Ignorance of the massive need in the world around us, 2. Despair at the massive need in the world around us, 3. Fear about having to leave the safety of our cul-de-sac lives where we are in control and comfortable.
As I read the book, I wondered how pastors and leaders will present ministry budgets to their churches in 2009. Will our budgets be fear-driven and safety-bounded? Will we just try to get by? Or do we have in them bold ministry/mission visions for God's bigger heart? Does boldness equate to recklessness today? Where is the line dividing the wise steward from the foolish servant who buried his treasure out of fear?
Churches might indeed need to live on fewer financial resources in 2009 as they had in 2008. But does that curtail compelling ministry? Do we always need more money and more staff to be more effective? Are there some new models for ministry that are begging for our attention?
Nothing has challenged me more in the past year than going to lead jail services twice a month. Do you know how much that costs? Not a dollar, but 2-3 hours and stepping into a very uncomfortable space. But I'm not bored!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

UFO's on a Minnesota Night

UFO's? Nah, just Isaac radio flying with lights!


Santa Barbara, and Montecito in particular is a pretty laid back and quiet area. I know friends who do not lock their doors. Routinely I see cars parked along the beach where I swim with the windows down and keys in. We are up in the hills and out of the way. So I was annoyingly surprised this morning walking from the parsonage to church to see that one hubcap was missing, no, two, no...all four were gone. During the night someone must have come on the property and removed all four hubcaps....plastic Jetta hubcaps. These hubcaps have almost 90,000 miles on them. They are scratched and stained with road wear and disc brake dust. What a dumb robbery! But now my car looks....naked!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Working on Sight Lines

We have a problem at MCC, an enviable problem of too many people coming to the 2nd service. So they go to the balcony, where the sight-lines are not very good. We met with the church architect and with some staff members and decided to pull the balcony risers forward to the pillars. Upon initial trial, it seems like a dramatic improvement to me. Our next move, if that does not help is to remove the solid pew and replace it with chairs that are more "see-through" than the wall of the pew. Kudos to Mike Prather for figuring this out and starting a solution!

What's Different?

The coffee here at Coffee Bean & Tea is excellent, as it always is. Since September I start my Monday's down here, usually with some guys from church or sometimes alone with the computer and books. The traffic outside is the same. The weather here is the same. But the moods have swung so wildly. There was the electioneering, the economic rumblings, the crashing ride on the stock markets, housing, the recovery plan, and now the ride back up. But what's changed? Mood, attitude, opinions, confidence, trust, voices?
The same can be true for church, especially on a Monday morning when I go back and relive the services play-by-play, and most critically the sermon. Was it good, mediocre, or bad? It all depends on who is doing the talking, and they all could be right at the same time. The key is who I listen to; who speaks into my life? How I evaluate and recharged for a new week.
I just bumped into a very interesting and introverted person who attends the church. From across the coffee shop, she approached me and said, "Thank you for your message yesterday, it was just what I needed. I am so worried about the election and the economy, it was a reminder I needed to hear to give to God what is God's." And with that she scurried off. Huh?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bocce Ball Tournament

Our immediate neighbors to the north, the Sheltons, host an annual Boccee Ball tournament for just about everyone; East Mountain Road friends, some Westmont faculty and staff, areas artists, musicians, friends of friends of friends. Music played and food and beverages were abundant. We were graciously invited as neighbors and were introduced to a number of new folk.
It's really fun (deep fun) to be invited and welcomed in to a community outside of the church. So many of my relationships are with friends in the church and wider church. This was good for me to just to hang out.

What Image Do You See? What Inscriptions Do You Read?

What images shape you? Images of declining stock values do anything to you? Do images of political candidates evoke responses? Do you respond to images of fashion and style? The "Apple" logo or clothing brands? Do the inscriptions of position title or faculty rank make a difference to you? What are the words that describe and shape you?
Matthew 22:15-22 is the text for tomorrow. When asked about paying taxes, Jesus asked his adversaries to tell him what image they saw and what inscription they read on the coin. Then Jesus said "Give back to (apodidomi) to Caesar what is Caesar's stuff and give back to God what is God's stuff.)
I know I get confused about images and inscriptions. I mistake what belongs to this realm as my entitlement and I somehow think that God want me to have all these things. The altar-piece has two centers; the tipped basket of coins on the bottom right and the mirrors reflecting the jar of oil and towel on the upper left. The mirror we look into should reflect the towel and oil of love and service. That's God's stuff. That's what he wants us to give back.

Friday, October 17, 2008

When In Doubt...Go Out!

I got stuck; stuck in my own inefficiencies and the endless organizational lists that need to get done and aren't. The trash cans did not get picked up yesterday, and they need to get off the streets by tomorrow and no staff is around. Oh, well, I guess I need to unload some trash. The balcony needs some work to make it more worshiper friendly, but our water pipes blew this week reallocating staff time to plumbing needs. The prayer rails are still in the sanctuary and need to be moved back into the offices by Sunday. Working on a 2009 budget is a major project for a numerically challenged person like me. My organizational disorganization caught up with me and left me feeling pretty distracted. So I took my own advice: when in doubt go out.
I got the sermon roughed out in the morning, walked up to Westmont for chapel service with Mark Kirschgartner from International Justice Ministry. Did you know that today there are 27 million people caught in slavery world-wide right now? Then I went to the hospital to see a big guy who is starting his 6th week in intensive care. Then Mark Kirschgartner came by the office and we visited for an hour or so about IJM and possible partnerships with MCC or M-4. Then I got my manuscript application for the book I've been writing on for 8 years off to a publisher. Then I went to jail tonight and I'm remembering what I'm supposed to be doing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Encouragement of Practice

The worship team for this Sunday was practicing tonight with unusual enthusiasm. It drew me into the sanctuary to just sit and absorb their energy and delight in God. Their practice time, while very loud and rigorous is filled with creative joy. In a day filled with bad news and political acrimony, I really needed to be in the sanctuary with them to be reminded of who it is we worship and who it is we praise!

The Disinfectant of Sunshine

On a talk radio show today, two economists were discussing our state of affairs. One said that ultimately the market needs the "disinfectant of sunshine" to clean things up. Transparency and visibility. Not secrecy and obfuscation. Sounds like Ed Freidman to me.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Great Place to Read

The Gift of Jail

I went to jail again last night. 6:00 pm on a Sunday night is not my point of highest energy. In fact, I almost always resist having to go, wondering why in the world I accepted this responsibility to lead a Bible study in the county jail? The air defines the word fetid, with overcrowded conditions and men shuffling around in their orange socks and flip-flops, wearing various uniforms to describe their situation (pre-trial or serving time). But soon their faces light up as they line up in front of us to be counted and herded into an outside portable classroom (outside, but still within the walls, fence and razor-wire). They set up the plastic chairs in a circle and we hand out the song sheets. They love having the choice of selecting the songs to sing. Again last night they chose "Amazing Grace" knowing we would need to sing it acapella. I got another lump in my throat as I saw one tattooed young man wipe away tears from his eyes as he sang another praise chorus.
The text was the same as at church in the morning: Exodus 32:1-14 on idolatry. They eagerly got into helping me set up the story by retelling their versions of the Exodus account and the implications of life under God and not under Pharaoh. We had 10 minutes before the guards came for us, so my partner and I split up and offered individual prayer for the guys. They absolutely line up to be prayed for. Wrapping my arms over their shoulders, we stand huddled together as I hear their prayer request and then pray. Some are prayers of praise for God's many blessings in jail, for freedom from addiction and a desire to stay focussed on Christ. Others pray for their families, girl friends or wives and children. Others pray for God's will as they go to court this week.
When we leave through the multiple gates, both my partner and I talk about what a privilege this is and how grateful we got to share in these men's lives once again.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Jeff and Liz

We got the invitation picture for our daughter Liz and her fiance Jeff's upcoming wedding in December. I'm happy and excited for them. Plus, I get to officiate at my daughter's wedding!!

Skin in the game

What a ride this past week! In other times of market turmoil, I was several steps removed. I did not own big investment portfolios or have big risk exposure. When storms came through our community (snow, ice and tornadoes in Minnesota and fire in California) the victims were selective. Katrina was far away from California, and Iraq affected friends of friends, my cousin a surgeon and the fiance of a prospective bride.
As a pastor I try to speak into situations that confront us as a whole; sometimes directly and other times obliquely. Whether it's addictions of the various forms or infidelity, whether it's the devaluation of life (from abortion to abuse, to enslavement of women or trafficking of blood diamonds) or the creeping idolatry of affluence. Sometimes I "hit the mark" and other times I miss it by a mile.
But this week, we all have skin in the game. No sector of the community is immune. College students worry about getting student loans for next semester or parents' ability to pay tuition out of investment funds. Senior citizens in Covenant Retirement Communities worry about the health of their portfolios that fund the monthly fees. The Covenant (and I'm sure other denominations) worry about how many people will outlive their finances and need to go on free care. We sold our home at the high season moving here and invested the funds in a conservative and balanced bunch of funds. My advisor told me that if I'm not in need of the money right now, don't open the mail and be still.
As church budgets near year-end, often we anticipate year-end gifts out of stock or bonuses to fill out the gap between income and expenses. As churches build budgets for 2009, what assumptions do leaders bring to the table this year? What is the line between holy boldness and fiscal foolishness?
And as I read from Eugene Cho's blog about "Q" Church in Seattle, where we will step in alongside those who are really hurting, on the street and busted? Is this a time for us as churches to be far less concerned about our own financial survival but turn our eyes and checkbooks outward?
This time we are all in the storm together. But that is a great place to be spiritually, one with the community. We are going to do theology together. Will we do it well?

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Worship Tutorial: Exodus 32

Never have I felt such a kinship with the people of Israel wandering in the desert. I am both attracted to and repulsed by my need (urge) to be updated on the latest bad news from Wall Street or Washington DC. The once familiar landscape of investments and economic growth have dissolved before our eyes. The size of numbers makes me dizzy. When the people of Israel begin to grumble at Moses' absence in 32:1, it sounds familiar to the various campaign slogans about the need for "real" leadership.
And like the Israelites, I am so prone to make my own golden calf, something "I feel I need right now that I can control, manipulate and handle". All the while, God shakes his head again asking us; so when did I retire?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Prayer for Brokers

O God, you who own the cattle on a thousand hills, we lift up those who manage other people's money. Give them wisdom and grace to make right decisions during these scary times. Give them the words to comfort and guide their clients. Give them strength to withstand harsh words of criticism and cries of pain. Disentangle them from the clutches of mammon and direct their hearts and eyes to you. Guide them into a new level of stewardship and servanthood. Keep their bodies healthy and their families whole. Bring calm to their troubled waters in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Confirmation Class Field Trip

My Confirmation Class experience was one of endurance. My father taught the class of 40 of us on Saturday mornings. I'm sure there was good material, but there were too many of us there too unwillingly and I recall little of the content. That style of command and control was part of my confirmation teaching repertoire during my first years of ministry until we had a class that was so rude and unruly, the Martha (with whom I co-taught for many years in Minneapolis) went home in tears and would not teach confirmation again. That's when I brought in a team of teachers to divide and conquer the class, and to give the students a variety of teaching styles and perspectives. Confirmation became more and more fun for me, the teachers, and the students. By the time I left Minneapolis for California, Confirmation was the third most enjoyable thing I did, ranking after preaching and Bible teaching.
So now in California our class size is 12 student with four teachers, which breaks down to a 3 to 1 ratio. We rotate responsibilities and insert a snack break into the middle of the class. The hour-and-a-half time from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm on Tuesdays roars by. Last night we were teaching about Creation, spending the first 30 minutes in the classroom on a seven day project and then we took a "field trip" all of 10 minutes of driving to the beach where we broke up into clusters to ponder the sky, the water, the plant life and the sand and soil. We gathered into a circle to share and pray. Every student prayed a prayer of praise for God's good gifts all around us. Then, as the photo shows, they began to jump into the sun. That's my job!!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

How Calm Are You?

Do the cascading markets make your stomach tight? Do you find yourself opening up various news web-sites to see the latest bad news? Are you constantly monitoring your portfolio or retirement 401K? Are you lingering longer on MSNBC finance shows and rolling up your sleeves with Jim Cramer?
Two smart people came along side me in the last week and asked me: do you need the money right now? If not, stay calm and ride it out. One assured me that this was going to shake out well in the long run as a painful, but much-needed correction. The other assured me that the historic performance of a good and balanced portfolio improves over the long haul. But you know me! I know NOTHING about finance and the markets, yet here I am commenting upon that which I am close to totally ignorant.
What I know are God's promises to us. I know that God asks his people to trust in him in the bleakest of times, to turn to him. This is the time for God's people to quietly and confidently demonstrate to the watching world where our real kingdom is. What is of ultimate value? How does that work out in these times of panic?
Last night my son Luke sent me this photo of the American Cemetery in Verdun France, where thousands of young Americans willingly died for the sake of a principle. They truly put their money where their mouths were. They paid the price for a free world.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The power of friends

Today in worship I had a friend visit. Ed Anderson is a member from Salem days. He's a deep well of a man, with talents, insights and a gift for blues guitar. He was in California with Margaret doing business and stopped by church. I asked him to bring his guitar. Before he sang I told the church that what makes us rich are the friends that people our lives. Ed is one of those friends who always showed up with a deep bucket of truth, usually in form of an original blues composition.
I know nobody expected me to have such a blues guitarist friend bring a gift like he did to worship. His song was a rendition on "Nobody Knows the Troubles I've See. Nobody Knows But Jesus" He ripped and cut his guitar with his gravelly voice and left us all in an awed silence. A number of my friends came up and said that he gave them the gift hey needed for worship today.
Thanks Ed!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Quiet Glory

It's a quiet Saturday morning and it's raining (something unique for Santa Barbara). I'm gathering the threads that will be Sunday in the stillness of the day before. The week behind was tumultuous; with the swinging stock market, bailout numbers the numbed my mind, the anticipated VP debate (and follow-up spin), my first 360 performance review by the staff and leadership, and then there is Sunday. Sermon, Communion, Community Outreach Committee, 50th Anniversary Committee, Inquirers' Class and an out of town guest staying the night with us. Nothing big, nothing traumatic , all good, but very busy from one thing to the next. So, where's the glory?
I am so hungry for glory because I've been starving on hype. The media I allow into my mind has so distracted me that I feel like I'm googling my way through life, one quick screen after another, with little sustained thought and reflection. Then on Thursday morning I read Ben Patterson's great article in the current "Christianity Today" on the Psalms. The point he drove home to me was that in our praying, we should not try to "pray" the Psalms as much as let the Psalms "pray" us. Psalm 19 began to "pray" me, letting the heavens tell me of God's glory and the firmament proclaiming his handiwork. The ode to the word in verses 7-9 remind me of what revives me, rejoices me, enlightens me and helps me endure. It's all in the book, all the glory I hunger for, all the glory we need.
If yours is a community that celebrates Holy Communion tomorrow, may you find God's glory in the world, the Word and at the Table.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Best Candidate Won!

When my dad was still preaching and teaching, we would make Sunday afternoon phone calls, to see how each other did. When my mom answered the phone, I'd ask how Dad did that day. Her response was uniform and predictable: "Your dad did such a fine job preaching today. He had so many affirmations!" For years I thought I was the only one who preached "dud" sermons. So one Sunday, after they retired and were living in Minnesota, and Dad preached somewhere, I called and asked the same question. My mom responded in the same way; "Your dad did such a fine job today. He had so many affirmations."
Then followed up and asked my mom if my dad ever preached a bad sermon in all her years of listening to him. There was quite a long pause on the phone and then she said honestly "No, I don't think he ever did preach a bad sermon." Then, going a step deeper I asked: "If he did preach a bad sermon and I asked, would you tell me?" She paused again, never having been asked that question and said: "No, I don't think I would." When I laughed she was surprised and asked why that was so funny. My mom has been so unquestioningly loyal to my dad over the years it would never cross her mind to say a critical thing.
I watched the debates tonight and enjoyed the interchange. But as I listened to the follow-up spin I wondered if we were watching and listening to the same debate. Then I remembered my mom and her deep loyalty to her candidate.

Wednesday Afternoon Epiphany

Wednesday afternoons are not the holiest of times for me; midweek, mid-project, production deadlines looming, not sure where the sermon will be going and if the music will match the theme, too much list and too little time. The worship team for this Sunday was practicing in the sanctuary at 5:00 pm and the church secretary (Sandi) was getting bulletin material ready when she heard a cry: "Sandi, do you have a camera nearby? Come quickly!" Sandi was sure something was wrong, broken, leaking or on fire that needed insurance documentation. She ran to the sanctuary with the church digital camera to find the worship team standing in awe of what the setting sun was doing all on its own to the altar-piece from last Sunday. The light came in like a spot-light and lit the top of the pile of rocks, spilling glory all over the room.
I think this coming Sunday is going to be a pretty good day!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The New Dollar Bill!

Fighting Distractions?

I confess to being uncommonly distracted: by the economy, by not having a working cell-phone, by upcoming events, by the national election, by conflict among friends, by illness in our parents, expectations from members, by voices of critics, needs within the church staff, by finances and building a church budget for 2009, ....by noise.
Craig Groeschel's book "IT" is a wonderful antidote to the spiritually distracted life. His breezy style of writing can make the reader assume this is shallow stuff until he "nails you" with a deep insight about the nature of "it" in vital and vibrant churches. During distracted times I need to do less rather than more, go deeper rather than faster, get stiller rather than louder, listen much more than speak, pray more than argue.
The challenge for pastors and spiritual leaders in the upcoming years is if we are deep enough to weather the turbulence. Are we focussed enough on what God calls, demands, expects from us to keep from being distracted by all the noise around us. Groeschel, at the end of his book, speaks about a time when he "fasted" from professional and church literature and feasted on only the Bible. That's what happened to me in France this past summer and where I need to go again here, to disentangle myself from too many competing expectations and focus on God's call to me. Maybe it's best that I remove DrudgeReport, CNN, and ABCnews.com from my bookmarks.

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