Monday, November 29, 2010

Setting up the tree

We put up the tree tonight. It was not big thing until I began reflecting on how Christmas trees reflected the stages of our lives: little Charlie Brown scraggly things when we were first married in Chicago with no space and no money, to the family search for the "perfect tree" as the kids were little, to the tradition of cutting down a tree and celebrating its setting up with a Swedish pancake dinner. As the kids got older and moved out, they came back from college anticipating going with me to find the right tree. Now Martha and I are back to finding a tree by ourselves, with a little more space and money than when we began.

The tree is now up and Martha is filling it with decorative hangings and setting up Christmassy things in the house, while I fulfill my new duty...watching Monday night football!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Divorce News?

I admit it. I go to the Drudge Report because it aggregates lots of news sites. One liberal-learmning site is the Huffington Post. It has lots of different bloggers and news articles and some videos I like viewing (and posting). But today I found that it just set up a new site devoted to divorces. What is that? It's as helpful as a site devoted to open sores! How about the latest news on amputations? I just don't get it!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Advent #1: the vision thing

On bright sunny days, the vision thing is no big deal. We all know where things are and where things are going. But when the storms hit, the fog rolls in, and the highway dividing lines are erased by snow...the vision thing really matters. Turbulent times require leaders with clear vision and not wishful fantasies.
I think these are such times. Where our economy and culture is going is a cause of serious debate. I think many of the political visions are just too narrow and too short-term. My heart yearns for a bigger and deeper vision of where we need to be moving and heading. This is the season for the church to grasp the deeper vision of God for the world.
The text for the first Sunday in Advent, Isaiah 2:1-5 captures both the ancient and the future vision God has for his people. In the provocative new book by David Platt Radical; tacking back your faith from the American dream, he launched a salvo at me with the phrase "you were meant for something bigger than this!" "This" is the shallow vision, the narrow view, the short term of maintaining equilibrium, not rocking the boat, and maintaining the status quo. God's vision is much, much bigger than this. Advent is my season for recapturing God's vision for the church and for me.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Child friendly?

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Budgets....the long season

I have a love-hate relationship with church budgets. They are absolutely necessary to chart where church priorities and ministries need to go. A budget is primarily a theological document for that most tense item: money.
Most churches I have served followed a traditional January-December fiscal calendar with a mid-January annual meeting to vote in new officers and to approve a new budget. The new budget is based on the actual receipts from the year just passed. One church voted to shift the budget year to the program year: August to July. That made things much easier for staff and officers, but it missed out on the year-end push to meet the budget that aligned with members' tax status. It also was out of sync with other not for profits that made appeals for members' dollars while the church sat quietly mid-budget.
The crunch that I see is that making budget plans during November and December is one of the most stressful times for church leaders, who have their own family priorities and work responsibilities in addition to the long meetings sorting through line items and projected income. In 30 years of pastoring, these last two years have been some of the most trying with the economy in the condition it is and the push to go leaner and leaner.
I'd be interested in hearing from others out there, lay leaders and pastors, on your perspective. Have you discovered best practices for budget building that don't sap the energy out of leaders and staff? Does any church build a multi-year budget?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Christ the King

Last words are fascinating. Ludwig van Beethoven was quoted saying, “Friends applaud, the comedy is finished” in 1827 as he died. Johannes Brahms was reported to say, “Ah, that tastes nice. Thank you” as he died in 1897. And Winston Churchill said, “I’m bored with it all” as he slipped into a coma and died 9 days later in 1965.

I measure my last words in a conversation carefully. I want the listener, whether on the phone or in person, to leave with a full understanding of the nature and depth of our relationship. I don’t think I’d ever end a conversation with “Whatever!” and then hang up. Martha and I enjoy a local newscaster who ends every newscast the same way with “Be safe!”

Sunday will be an examination of two of Jesus’ last words from the cross in Luke 23:32-43. We are ending this challenging series exploring the question What does Jesus say about……? As you prepare for worship on Sunday, reflect on the way you end a conversation. How have conversations ended well or poorly for you? How important are last words for your heart to hear?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

M-4 Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday walk with friends

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Patience clip


Luke 21:5-19

When the walls tumble and everything around you is in shambles, what do you do; panic or endure? That's the issue Jesus addressed to his disciples in the text above.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Advice to Pastors

I read an interesting quote from religion reporter Clark Morphew (1985) in Martin Marty's "Context" journal this morning:

Religion reporter Clark Morphew in 1985 wrote these words to pastors:

1. Keep one foot in your tradition and one foot in the slippery muck of life.

2. Do a careful exegesis of your text; then throw it away and write a sermon for the people.

3. Learn to laugh at yourself and give people permission to enjoy life.

4. Don’t tell stories that make you look better than you are.

5. Keep sermons short and use frequent illustrations.

6. Don’t offer advice you wouldn’t accept.

7. Tell your congregations guilt was made to be redeemed.

8. Read modern storytellers, religious magazines, and move into the congregation itself.

9. Set up clergy support groups.

10. Demand an adequate salary and generous vacations.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Each Candle A Story

It caught me off-guard this morning. I introduced All-Saints and invited anyone who wished to bring a lit votive candle to the altar around the other larger pillar candles while we sang "For All the Saints". People came, and came, and came; old and young, as families and alone. And with so many I knew their particular story of loss, separation, hope and anticipation. The stories began to overwhelm me as I tried to sing and had to stop. Then I wafted back in time to other churches and other friends, other deaths and other funerals. A lot of stories, a lot of friends, a lot of hope. Thanks be to God!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

What is it: preaching or teaching?

In the last years I have heard what I do on Sunday morning as "teaching" more often than "preaching". In fact, it seems as if the two terms are used synonymously. Are they synonymous? Is preaching actually teaching and teaching preaching? The greek distinguishes between teach (didasko) and preach (kerusso) as to impart information and to announce a fact or truth.
My take on this shift from preaching into teaching is the loss of mystery in worship. Worship is about feelings and emotion in the music and facts from the pulpit with a charge to go and do something. Mystery does not fit these neat categories. Mystery goes its own direction and is not always practically applicable. Mystery does not fit into three points, an outline or action steps. It's really hard to measure mystery.
At its best (which I seldom approach) preaching ushers worshipers into mystery by unleashing the Word of God and letting it run. It takes on a life of its own and goes to unexpected places. It brings a holy encounter with the God who cannot be touched. It creates awe and wonder.
I love to teach. I teach the Bible on Tuesday nights and Confirmation on Wednesday nights. But on Sunday, Lord help me preach.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Preparing for All Saints

All Saints Sunday became one of my favorite Sundays during my years serving Salem Covenant Church. Liturgy and lectionary were growing on me and the choir and organ heightened my sense of "holy awe" as we would process into the sanctuary seeing the names of all our friends who joined the church triumphant in the prior year. Some years we had upwards of eighteen to twenty names, which translated into two funerals per month. Some were graceful deaths of friends whose bodies wore out and we eager to be with Jesus. Others were wrenching deaths of young people who died too early and left big gaping holes in families and among friends.
But the church celebrated all the live and we read the names in a litany, punctuated by a carillon bell tolling.
But while my situation has changed from formal to informal, from robes to suit and tie, from organ to guitar and ensemble, the day of celebration remains anchored in me deeper than ever. It transcends style and technique and is now about a potent reminder; what I see is not all that is, what I have known is not all I will experience, there is more going on than my physical sense can comprehend. So on All Saints I stand and gasp in awe and hope. He died. He is risen. He is coming again!

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