Saturday, May 30, 2009

Salt & Light

You are salt and light. I love that Jesus says that we "are" salt and light and are not supposed to "become" salt and light, or "try to be" salt and light or "someday might become" salt and light or "should work hard at being" salt and light. We are, right now, salt and light. So....what does that mean for you? How do you see yourself as salt and light?

Disciple-Making 101

Saturday morning. 10 adults getting coffee and cookies in the Fellowship Hall. Lights and heat on to stave off the cold and gloom of the marine layer (but no fires!!!). It looks tedious, like another committee meeting that grinds up people's time and energy. But it's not. This is the first gathering of the teaching staff and leadership for Noah's 1/2 Day Camp that this church has been running in summers for years and years and years.
At one point in MCC history over 400 kids overflowed the facility with singing, skits, crafts, games....and hearing the story of Jesus. A local emergent church pastor told me a couple years ago that he met Jesus here at Noah's Camp. Adults learn to share about Jesus and young children and their families hear about Jesus...and lives get changed forever. That's discipleship!
How does it happen? The general fund of the church covers the mortgage, utilities, insurance, custodial staff, support staff, administration, mailing and equipment needs. The boring, every Sunday offering plates and checks in the mail to "MCC" get it done along with lots of persons who have other jobs and other demands on their lives who are "called" to step in here to work and plan so that young people can come to know Jesus. Pretty cool!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Unhappy? What's Next?

There seem to be themes to my conversations. Maybe I'm just tuned into different emotions at different times of my life. But over the past weeks, I've heard about and from people who are unhappy. The reasons vary and are the same. Things are not turning out the right way, or as they expected. Things are taking twists and turns due to the economy, relationships, health, and job satisfaction. People have disappointed them. Institutions have been both overly demanding and under supportive. Leaders let them down and co-workers bailed. I've heard from single people, long married people, fairly newly married people, retired people, wealthy people and poor people.
The question I'm beginning to ask more deeply (of myself and others) is, who is responsible for your happiness? Can a spouse or job or friend or church be saddled with making a person happy? Will a sports team (Lakers for California), purchased item, anticipated trip or vacation, or anything else actually be given the power by you to make you happy or sad? Isn't that both unrealistic and dangerous?
Can anyone but me be responsible for my happiness? Can I blame Martha (my wife) if I'm unhappy? Can I actually blame the weather or geography for happiness or sadness? Isn't that relinquishing a responsibility that belongs to me and God? Years ago Martha had an older student who was wise in the ways of life. After suffering much of her own self-destructive behavior she became a believer and became wise. When anyone began to intrude into her inner life, she would hold up her hand like a policeman at a stop sign and say "I will not receive that!" and walk away. She was in charge of her happiness.

Monday, May 25, 2009

One Last Memorial Day Image

MCC really likes to eat together. Over 100 people showed up today for a BBQ complete with a string band playing old country songs.

No Longer 18

I played softball today from 9:00 am till 11:30 am. It was such fun. All ages. Men and women. No stress. Lots of laughter. I played right field with a borrowed glove. But once the ball came my way my brain turned 18. I had to get that ball at all costs. I dove, tripped and fell. But I always caught the ball. Then I had the painful realization: I was the oldest person playing! Yikes!That's never happened to me. There was always one or two older guys out on the field playing. But today I was it.
I remember a pastors' conference where a retired Covenant missionary named Harvey Widman showed up. When we went out to play volleyball, this old, bald, red faced guy played like a kid. I was afraid he would suck out a lung or have a heart attack. Today I was the older, bald, red faced guy having way too much fun. I wonder if some of the kids wonder "When's he gonna grow up?"
Tonight however, every joint is reminding me that I'm no longer 18! But I did have fun!!

$4,000 worth of desserts!

MCC adults really love the youth! I watched the bidding (even got sucked into it several times for over $100. I noticed that most of the bidders no longer had children at home going to CHIC. These adults invest in youth!

CHIC team says "thank you"

The Memorial Day dessert auction raised $4,000 for CHIC scholarships!!

MCC Dessert Auction

Captive or Casual

Brad Boydston linked me to a great article today by Ventura resident George Barna on 7 tribes of believers and two distinct types within the Christian community: the Captive and the Casual believer. Here are Barna's words"
Barna: Casual Christians are driven by a desire for a pleasant and peaceful existence. Captive Christians are focused on upholding the absolute moral and spiritual truths they glean from the Bible.
Barna talks about the Casual Christian being the one who lives in peaceful co-existence with culture and always working on maintaining a "balance" between faith's demands and one's personal pleasures and comforts. I so identify with the balancing act; carving out my private spaces and pastoral access. Case in point is today: Memorial Day picnic. It should be my personal day off, to go decompress and refresh. But the whole congregation is gathering for softball at 9 am, a grand picnic at 11:30 and a dessert auction at 1:30. I can't miss that. I need to be where the people are. That's a pastoral mandate, an urgency.
So I got up early and spent time reading in quiet, doing emails, browsing the web and posting like this; getting "my time" in before entering the public realm. Someone I read recently (and since forgot) commented that our current preoccupation with balancing life's many demands is nowhere found in Scripture. "Take up your cross and follow me" is not about balance, but devotion (Captive). I think I need more captivity and less casualness.

A Meal with Friends

Last night we invited our small group Bible study over for dinner. It was one of those evenings that will etch into my memory of good friends, from different backgrounds and ages, coming together with great food and no agenda other than to talk and eat. The warm afternoon sun faded and the glow from the lights and candles warmed the back yard as we talked about life and challenges, fires and hope, each other's friendship and where we hope to go together as a group.
It was less being a pastor last night than being a friend among friends.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day: Thanks!

I'm not a big flag-waver, parade goer big-event kind of person. I've modeled my patriotism from both my father and grandfather; both of whom served in the Army during WW I (in France) and WW II (in Germany, liberating Dachau concentration camp). Both men grew more tender over the years, tearing up when talking about the sacrifices others made, terrible fear in battle and the deep rightness of the cause. What has impressed me over time was their obedience; to go where they were sent, into harm's way with no assurance of safety.
I sensed a similar attitude several weeks ago among the fire-fighters, who showed up from all over the state. When we were driving down the hill for evacuation safety, they were heading up the hills into the flames and smoke and danger. They were not wild-eyed risk-takers, but obedient servants being deployed by commanders to fight danger for our safety.
It's the same thing for police and highway patrol, who take great risks to keep us safe. Every Monday when our church parking lot has a number of squad cars and sheriffs' cars while the guys play basketball, I bless them for their kind of patriotism...all of which I honor on Memorial Day. Thanks!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cylcadic Gift

When Martha and I visited Athens years ago as part of an art-history tour, we stumbled upon this wonderful little museum devoted to "Cycladic Art". This is art from the Aegean Islands from 3300-2000BC. It's sweet, stylized sculpture that was discovered just about the same time as the emergence of modern art in Europe. Many art historians think cycladic art influenced the shapes and images of many modern artists and sculptors.
Thursday Martha and I needed to escape and breathe. The events of the past 6 months (2 parents' deaths, 2 major fires, 2 evacuations, 2 weddings and a screwy economy and its impact on church life) have piled up. So we drove south to the Getty Villa in Malibu and got wondrously lost in the Cycladic Art exhibit.

What does Cycladic art do? It gives me (us) deep perspective. It takes me out of the immediacy of here and now and lets me see life through the eyes of distant people. These statues seem to have similar quizzical looks on their faces as I have on mine. I have a postcard in my office of a Cycladic figure drinking from a cup (and I'm sure it's primitive coffee!!)

A mantra I have employed in my ministry is "when in doubt, go out". That means when I am spiritually stuck or stagnant, I need to get out of my office and into the lives of people. I'm beginning to think that I could also say, "when it doubt, go back" Go to another time and another place and find friends there: cycladic, early church fathers (mothers), pietists, reformers, abolitionists, immigrants. We are not alone. We have a cloud of brave witnesses who urge us along.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

End of the fire-line

A friend who owns land above the church where the Tea Fire began in November 2008 invited me on a morning hike with a botanist and some other friends, to walk the fire-line of the most recent Jesusita Fire. In the picture above, you can see the clear burn lines down into the valley where the fire crews knocked it down. This whole area was lush growth when we walked the land after the November fire, now it is rocky ash and skeletons of trees.
I felt good after so much uncertainty to see the dead fire. I cannot imagine the bravery and the courage of the fire crews and air crews who fought it for us. Thanks!!

Above the Marine Layer

Monday, May 18, 2009

Applause For My Dad

Last night I went to jail for the monthly Bible study I teach. 17 inmates gathered in a classroom from their crowded bunking area pictured above (I didn't take the picture but found it on the web). We began with prayer and singing from a song-sheet and cd that my friend Ricky Ryan from Calvary Chapel gave me. Several of the guys were crying as we sang. After four songs, I told them about how this Sunday was unique. Over the past two years of doing Bible studies, I would call my dad on Sundays going to the jail and talk in the car. He was intrigued by this new ministry I was doing, telling me that he never got involved in jail ministry and wished that he did. So he was curious about what I did and how the guys responded. So often Monday mornings were times I would call and tell him about jail services, about responses and decisions to accept Christ.
Last night I told the guys that story and about my dad's death on May 6th. I said, "Tonight my dad got the first chance to watch us worship and I'm sure he thinks you all did a great job worshiping God." With that, all of them immediately applauded my dad. I couldn't talk.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Where's Home?

"It's so good to have you home!" an old family friend said to me as he hugged me at my father's funeral. He said it tenderly, but poignantly, like I have been tardy and missed; like I'm somewhere where I do not belong and am only serving temporarily. We stayed in Isaac and Anna's home. Luke and Kelly joined us for one night and we hung out together warmly. It was like home. So many places in the Twin Cities evoke deep memories; like when Martha and I visited United Hospital in search of a sick friend. Memories gushed up about our daughter's battle with cancer as a 12 year-old. Whew!
Being with my brother and his family after the committal service, with all the grandchildren gathered around eating and watching a video of my dad...felt like home. But I was anxious and eager to get back to Santa Barbara, where we own no house or property, but it's home. I'm not always sure of California ways, but it's home. When the plane we took from Las Vegas made its landing late Friday night through the marine layer fog, I knew I was home. It's where I belong. It's where I have a task and a calling. It's where I have purpose and passion.
I loved growing up in St. Paul and then returning to Minneapolis. I have only fond memories of 1st Covenant Church and Salem Covenant Church. But neither place is home any more. They once were, but not now.
I envy those who never leave. I envy those of my friends who still live in the neighborhoods and cities in which they were born and grew up. I envy their stability and certainty. They know their area and their neighbors. But I wouldn't (or maybe couldn't) trade situations for the homes I've been privileged to have: St. Paul, Chicago, Northbrook, Lafayette, Indiana, Muskegon, Michigan, New Brighton, Minnesota and now Santa Barbara, California.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Abiding in the Vine


In the morning quiet on my second cup of coffee I am deeply grateful. Martha and I got into Santa Barbara last night about 10:30 pm. I am grateful to have a home to come home to. During the burial service at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery yesterday, a member of the color-guard presented a flag to my mother with the words "a grateful country" in reference to my dad's military service. Seeing those thousands of uniform marble headstones made me grateful for their sacrifice and the privilege of living in this country.
I am grateful for...
...a wife who loves me
...adult children who, at significant sacrifice joined me in saying goodbye to my dad (their grandfather)
...for a son-in-law and daughter-in-law who stepped into our family with grace during the chaos of grief
...for a brother and sister who stood by my dad and mother for significantly longer periods of time than I did at the end
...for Anne Vining, pastor of 1st Covenant Church, who led and preached and cared for my who family
...for Dave Kerstens and Gary Walter who drove from Chicago to St. Paul to sit with our family and honor my dad
...for 27+ Covenant pastors who came to the funeral and stood together singing "Children of the Heavenly Father"
...for the many friends from Salem Covenant who came to the funeral because they knew and loved my dad, and me
...for my mother's simple but basic faith that trusts God "Day By Day"
...for the high privilege of being a pastor and having a church to serve
Gratitude does not make one soft of mushy. It does not prevent me from being observant and even critical. But it does qualify my view of life with grace. God is good.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Noisy Las Vegas

We are enroute from Minneapolis to Santa Barbara via Las Vegas. I am
sure there are many wonderful people here. But the gambling noises are
obnoxious. Can't wait for quiet.

Early Morning

We are staying at Isaac and Anna's house with Luke and his girlfriend Kelly. The memorial service last night was huge. From 4-6 pm several hundred people came to the church to pay their respects to my mom and the family. Friends from 40 years ago came up to catch up with me and tell how much my dad influenced their lives. Some of my peers are now retired! Yikes! What's with that?
The church provided us with dinner for the family and then we processed in to the sanctuary. The sanctuary was totally filled including the balcony. I'm guessing nearly 500+ people. Liz, who flew in from Atlanta with Jeff, played a beautiful arrangement of "Thy Holy Wings Dear Savior)
" on the piano. 27 area Covenant pastors sat as a group and then sang "Children of the Heavenly Father" to us as their tribute to dad. The grandchildren acted as pallbearers and carried their grandpa to the funeral coach. That was very moving to see the ones dad once held in his hands now carrying his body. Again we had refreshments and conversations and did not get out of the church till almost 10:30 pm.
Isaac & Anna, Luke & Kelly and Martha & I then sat around for a couple hours unwinding. What a joy to have adult children who are my friends. We talked till after midnight.
Like usual, I woke at 6:00 am and sat with my coffee, the only one awake and reflected on being a blessed person. Now everyone is awake and moving.
Now at 11:30 today we gather at Ft. Snelling cemetery for his military burial.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I just got back from visiting with some of the firefighters stationed in our parking lot tonight. I asked them how long they thought they would be in the area protecting us. One senior firefighter said; "Until the hot-spots have been wind-tested." He told me that they were almost all contained and controlled. But the fire areas had not been wind-tested yet. Santa Barbara has a wind phenomena called "sun downers" which is a complicated event. Hot winds from the inland arid regions get pushed south into and over the mountains (4,000 feet) just north of us. When they hit the mountains they speed up and gust up to 40-50-60 mph at night. These winds carry almost no humidity and dry everything out and make vegetation much more likely to catch fire.
So the fire crews are waiting for the wind to do its number up in the hills and see if any fires re-ignite or if they are put down for good. Only the wind-test does that to their satisfaction.
That made me wonder about the life of being a disciple and wind-testing. I guess it's when the winds blow through your life that you know if the fires are there or not.


I delayed heading back to Minneapolis for my dad's funeral by one day due to the threat of high winds and a possible evacuation (again!). All day long there was the constant sound of helicopter wings thumping through the air, delivering water bags to the far canyons where fire crews were trying to knock down the remaining hot spots of the Jesusista fire.
The thump, thump, thump of helicopters is taking a toll on me. It reminds me of this imminent threat of another fire outbreak and possible evacuation. So I left the campus and headed to the beach with my ipod playing Knutt Rieserud's guitar/organ duets and my journal, to remember my dad.
I found a rock with an indented "seat" where I perched for a long time. What came out were sentences that my dad either said or implied. Here is some of the essential Norbert-isms we who knew him understood:
"Let's agree to disagree"
"Know who you are....and whose you are"
"Loving is better than winning. Never burn your end of the bridge"
"As a pastor you can go anywhere to anyone. But always remember that you belong to no one place"
"Hug the fat persons as well as the pretty persons"
"The good music will always last"
"Candles, coffee and water"
"Spitting well and throwing stones far is ultimately manly"
"Always read, always grow"

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lot Full-O-Trucks

The fire is now 70% contained. But trucks are on our lot on case of
high winds tonight.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Worship in Exile

Today we gathered at the Fess Parker Doubletree Inn for worship. It was marvelous! We sang, prayed, gave witness to God's faithfulness and partook of the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Evacuation order Lifted

At the 8am news conference authorities lifted the mandatory evacuation
for all of Montecito as of 10am today....after worship is over.
Hooray !!!

Hotel Worship

The challenge and opportunity for us today is to gather for worship off-site, since our area is still under mandatory evacuation. The staff found a ball room at a local hotel and put the word out that we are gathering there today (Fess Parker Doubletree) for a service of Hope, Sharing and Healing.
What's weird is that this is the second time in less that 12 months that MCC has had to worship in evacuation due to fire. Our staff, in planning this service, referred to their old evacuation order of worship. How many evacuation services should a church be able to refer to, especially in one year.
But it's not just about us. Westmont College had to evacuate right on the weekend of baccalaureate and commencement. Many of the administration and faculty are members of MCC. They are both evacuated and exhausted. As I looked at the current evacuation map this morning, I mentally counted the families who are not able to return to their homes this morning, but do have homes to return to.
My prayer for us is that we catch the gospel opportunity this situation allows us. My prayer is that we, as leaders, are less concerned about narrating our own discomfort and more about mining what the Holy Spirit is saying. My prayer is that I do not revert into "pastor talk mode" and skim over the ragged edges that the fires of this week have exposed. My prayer is that some who come and attend, will find Jesus waiting for them, and not just a service. Come Lord Jesus come!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Evacuation Map

A very helpful evacuation map was posted in the L A Times either late yesterday or early this morning. MCC is part of the lower right portion of the mandatory evacuation area.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Fire Facts Tonight

Watching the TV news tonight, highlighted the dimensions of the current fire:

Jesusita Fire facts:
8,600 acres burned
30,500 evacuated
80 homes destroyed or damaged
14 fixed wing and helicopter + 1 DC-10
10 % contained
3.455 personells428 engines 76 hand-crews, 26 dozers
$3.2 million

MCC South

The staff met this afternoon in "exile" at the Prather home in
Carpinteria to plan Sunday worship.

MCC Sunday Plans

Due to the mandatory evacuation of Montecito Covenant Church, we will gather at Fess Parker's Doubletree Hotel on Cabrillo Blvd. to celebrate a service of sharing, hope and communion in the Santa Barbara Ballroom. Please come early for a 10:00 a.m. service this Sunday, May 10, 2009. Please bring your parking ticket with you for validation. Address and phone number for the Doubletree: 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara. 805.564.4333

MCC South

Staff is slowly gathering at the Prather home, to watch fire updates and to plan for contingencies for worship and congregational care. Just now the news said there are over 10 fixed wing planes, helicopters and now a big DC-10 is coming in to blast this thing.

Mandatory Evacuation

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Fires Keep Burning

The sound of helicopters flying and the wind picking up keep my
attention high. Winds are blowing North to South and great smoky
clouds filter the setting sun. Pray for still winds.

Front Seat for a Fire Battle

The smoke behind the mountains looks like a volcano right now. The winds have been calmer than predicted (thanks for all the prayers!). And now the "big boys" are out: huge lumbering tankers that spiral in, three and four at a time, to drop their loads. Then big grasshopper like helicopters with their long hoses suck up water from lakes and reservoirs and hit hot spots.
It's not over, but it's nice to see the weapons hitting back!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Night Lights

We are sitting at home, watching the non-stop news about fire progress, with vehicles parked facing out and bags packed. The night-lights of the fire are eerily spectacular. Give me a kicking snow-storm any time!!

More Fire Pictures from Church

Wacky Fire keeps burning

We are watchingthe fire push south into SB. 100 trucks + 400
firefighters. Pray for the winds to die down.

Fire keeps burning

Norbert Johnson: 1925-2009

My dad died this morning in his sleep at Covenant Village, Golden Valley Minnesota. His death came as relief and release from a body that was no longer his friend. Parkinson's disease robbed him of the ability to walk and eat and drink. So today I am working on writing an obituary for my father. As I scanned my photos of him this morning, it was this one above, of him in his study in their apartment in Golden Valley, surrounded by his books, candle, stacks of pens and papers. His was a life of books and authors, ideas and insights. He shaped me and my brother as pastors and gave me an appreciation for beauty and humor, music and the outdoors.
Plans are still be discussed about the funeral service and I will post them when it's official. Peace to his memory!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Fire Grows

Another Fire

Another fire is rearing up now in the hills west of Santa Barbara. Pray for the fire fighters and good wind!

Monday, May 04, 2009

You-Tubed Children's SErmon

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Johnson Family Portrait

Confirmation & Baptism

Eight young people confirmed their faith today in the second worship service. They did something more by eagerly participating in worship, singing, playing the drums, taking the offering, reading scripture and offering the congregational prayer. This was one of those exceptional classes that "gets it. They are still squirrely 7th and 8th graders, always hungry and ready to throw things. But there was a spiritual eagerness about them that made me pause and thank God for the privilege of teaching confirmation.
Then in the afternoon one confirmand requested baptism. When I asked him during out interview if he wished to be baptized during worship, in a pool or the ocean, he rolled his eyes and said "The ocean, of course!". So Lisa, the young man and I went out into the water for baptism. But it was getting wavy and we got knocked over almost. It reminded me that baptism is not safe. It almost tore Lisa away from us. We had to hang on to each other. I guess that's what pastors do with their people; hang on to each other when successive waves roll us around. And when we get through, we whoop it up like Lisa is doing! It was a very good day!

eXTReMe Tracker