Saturday, August 28, 2010

Jesus on Table Manners

Have you watched how people eat? Have you noticed how people find tables and pick spots? Jesus did, at the sabbath banquet at the leader of the Pharisee's house. He watched how other Pharisees and Scribes (lawyers) worked their way as close as they cold to the head of the table. That's where all the action was. That's where the power and influence was. On the other end of the table, at the bottom, was the kids' table (just teasing, but it might as well have been). How many of us enjoy being assigned to the kids' table?
Jesus' instructions are about as counter-intuitive as they can be: trade downward, sit farther away, hang out with the wait-staff, that's where the kingdom action is!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Watch Out for the Angry Priest

Garrison Keillor always begins his monologue with "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon" and then goes on to narrate life in that mythic northern town. Here at MCC "It's been a wild week." What began as an intriguing proposal, to let a production company use the church parking lot for staging a filming of a TV episode up in a home above us, turned into a quagmire. Timetables changed, other equipment arrived, people arrived earlier than planned and stayed later than anticipated.
So it was my role to remind the various managers (they all have very confusing titles like "project management coordinator to location services") that they were overstepping their boundaries and needed to adhere to what was agreed upon. Several times I had to forcefully say "no" to their insistent requests and demand the relocation of several vehicles because the noise drifted toward a neighbor. It was a pure example of "mission creep" where something keeps growing and expanding on its own momentum. My role was to contain the growth (I won't call them creeps because they are good people).
One night they were late and noisy and I blew up. I called the leaders together and read them the riot act. It's not really in my nature to go "ballistic" on others. It's not very pastoral and I don't do it very well. But they got the point, moved the vehicles turned off lights and returned to the schedule.
One of our staff members became an extra in the filming and told me today that the entire crew talks about me to the effect of "don't get the priest mad!" I wince at that. I pray that my witness this week to the hollywood people is more than a "mad priest". It's going to send me into some deep reflection of where I fit and where I don't; what I do well and what I don't.
All the while I am preparing a sermon on Luke 14:7-14 where Jesus teaches about creating a welcoming table and all the Westmont students are returning. I hope the "mad priest" goes away and they can encounter someone who really loves Jesus.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On Jurying

What's your legitimate civic duty? I have not thought about that very much except in the areas of obeying laws and paying taxes (oh yeah, and voting). But yesterday and today I've been thrown into the arena of federal jury duty in LA. It means overnighting in a hotel and waiting, lots of waiting. I was called up for one trial, even put into the box, but excluded because of my relationships and pastoral orientation.

Now I'm back in the big jury room (with wifi) waiting for what comes next. What gets me is the way jurors are compelled (threatened) into service. We are herded around like elementary school students and by the time it's ready to go, many here are thoroughly irritated (not in my mind the best attitude for those judging a case).

But I'm here and willing to let the day run its course. Wait some more, we still have you, is there a better way?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Untangle This!

The text for Sunday is Luke 13: 10-17 where Jesus heals a woman bent over with a "spirit of weakness." All he does is to tell her she has already been freed. The Greek word for freed comes from the root word "lu-o" which can also mean "untie." I cannot untie my own messes, but Jesus' words can.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Duke Divinity School says about ECC

Duke Divinity School, the intellectual flag-ship of theological studies in the USA, is paying close attention to the Evangelical Covenant Church. Read what they had to say in July 2010.

Fail-faire for the church?

What a great new idea for churches, to humorously explore what's not working and why.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Missional Renaissance

Reggie McNeal both gets it and bugs me! His latest book was recommended to me by Scot McKnight. Once I began reading I could hardly put it down. My reactions throughout the book were both “aha!” and “ouch!” McNeal is the author of a previously provocative book called This Present Future; six tough questions for the church, that I bought for our entire church council to read.

His latest book, Missional Renaissance: changing the scorecard for the church takes his leanings from This Present Future and gives it concrete shape for today. The book revolves around three necessary shifts for the church to remain vital: 1. from an internal focus to an external focus, 2. From program development to people development. 3. From church-based to kingdom-based leadership.

The attractional model of church that many of us grew up with (if we build it they will come) has failed for a number of reasons. It encouraged a culture of passivity and spiritual consumption rather than production. It created a climate of competition between churches for an ever-shifting audience. If we are honest, most churches that experience growth experience it as people transfer from one church to another. It creates administrative complexity and huge costs of operation.

The problem, according to McNeal, is that what gets measured gets rewarded and what gets rewarded gets done. When we limit our metrics to people in buildings at one time and money collected and programs offered, success is more of the above. The deeper question that McNeal probes is; have we made deeper followers of Jesus? Have we made disciples that have transformed the world? By and large the answer is “no”. Our attractional model of church has not yielded the fruits of the spirit that pastors and believers would hope for.

McNeal is insightful in his analysis and description of what it looks like to change “scorecards” and get new metrics for evaluating effectiveness. Expect resistance and denial that the old scorecard is faulty. Get ready to be surprised in discovering new ways in which God is leading his church out to touch the world with Good News.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Outside Trader Joe's

Musical Instruments

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

VBS Missions....a new approach

I am privileged to work with a very cool and creative staff. I've been involved in summer-time VBS (vacation Bible school) for over 30 years. They follow a basic pattern: kids, music, games, crafts, snacks and a missionary project. Usually we draw from Covenant missionaries or projects. Sometimes we have brought in independent missionaries that our church supported. But I do not recall ever going local.
This year the leadership team and pastoral staff worked with a local ministry called Ufizzi Project headed by a former Covenant pastor, Jeff Schaeffer who is a champion for "friends without homes." This is a mission's project right here on our front door...and something most of us avoid facing other than complaining that they are a nuisance. Today Jeff brought a guy with him who told his story to the kids.
From the southeast USA, he moved to CA to find work and his car broke down with his fiance in Santa Barbara six months ago. He's been living in a tent, now house-sitting and soon enrolling in community college. He opened himself up to the kids' questions and they came fast and furiously, but honestly and eagerly. The missionary drive and offering this year is for socks for our friends without homes. I know one thing....I'm learning!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Jon Lemmond in the New York Times....a good thing!

One of the Sunday sections of the New York Times I regularly scan is the Style Section where this week Jon Lemmond is featured officiating at a marriage at the Firestone Vineyard today. New York Times!!!! Go Jon!

LEMON BOY....Charlie Beck

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

e-Sabbath reflections

This has been my third e-Sabbath since returning from France. I was delighted to read an article by Paul Vitelo in the NYT's yesterday on the demonstrated need for a break. The article states that "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at higher rates than most Americans." Taking a full day off from the phone, email, and internet has accomplished one immediate consequence: my chest is less tight. I breathe easier, read longer and sleep better.
The down-side? 63 emails in my inbox this morning, some of which assumed a response on Monday. The other down-side is the 4:30 pm twitch. Late afternoon I "crave" going on facebook, catching emails, surfing the web on my favorite sites. It's almost as bad as coffee (well, not really that bad!).

Sunday, August 01, 2010

All-Church Work Day

I know it's an old-fashioned concept, of having a work-day with lots of people showing up to do manual work at a church. We have professionalized much of physical plant care, and for many good reasons: cost-effectiveness and liability. We hire staff with skill-sets to take care of maintenance and repairs.
But on Saturday July 31 we held a work-day from 9-noon, expecting maybe a dozen people, and about twenty showed up. They washed and cleaned the vans, washed exterior windows, spread mulch, and painted sidewalks (among other things). What was great was how much got done by that many in a few hours. They campus noticeably shines! But an even better by-product was the number of conversations I overheard between strangers who were now working together and becoming friends.
It took a lot of organizing work on Mike Prather's (MCC's Sexton) part, but it was great!

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