Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Take the Quiz!

Jake Tapper from ABC news shared the news of a religious knowledge test they conducted on Americans. Yikes!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

This will be a rough ride

Samuel Freedman wrote a chilling article today about what's happening with church finances across the board. What he discovered was research by 3 professors at the University of Indiana and Purdue that found that Baby Boomers contribute 10% less to religious bodies than their parents did. They track it back to a cohort skepticism about institutional religion and a self-constructed personal sense of spirituality. "Because people aren't as involved, the giving pattern traces it." It's more than about money, but money will dictate a lot of what the church can and cannot do. I'd like to see more writing on this for us pastors in the trenches.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Freedom" by Franzen

It is touted as the "must-read" book for our times. I heard a fascinating interview on NPR, saw images on the cover of "Time" magazine and went out and purchased the book. It's set in my old neighborhood of St. Paul along Summit Ave. I know the houses, the feel, the neighbors. This is "my" story of Boomer adulthood in the liberal Twin Cities of articulate niceness that must adjust to the harsh realities of 2010. I was looking for the new "Great Gatsby" for our times and found drivel, page after page of drivel.
The characters start out interesting but have no depth, no soul, nothing compelling about them. They are beyond ordinary, they are boring. The language has some bursts of creativity but then come the long deserts of banality. These are empty people who need something compelling from their souls that have been too long neglected. For the first time in a long time I was eager to finish the book so I could give it away.

Missions Weekend

Rev. Curt Peterson, Executive Minister for World Missions for the Evangelical Covenant Church along with Carl & Karen Groot, missionaries to Thailand are the guests for this Missions Weekend at MCC.
The worship theme on Sunday comes from Romans 12:1-16 that urges us to live in our essential unity in Christ while celebrating the diverse richness around us. The altar piece features an Ethiopian cross standing on Congolese fabric surrounded by Mexican iron work and overshadowed by a native California wooden cross.
Consider joining in a rich conversation about emerging trends, challenges and issues facing missions today during a Saturday evening discussion at 7:00 pm in the Fellowship Hall at MCC led by Curt Peterson with the Groots participating. Curt will be preaching at both services Sunday morning.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Getting Above the Clouds

On Martha's birthday, we both took a day off and played. It's very hard to play at home because there is so much to do in the house, garden, and general interruptions around church stuff. So when we need to play, we get away and go off-site somewhere. Tuesday was a marine-layer morning with drizzling fog. It's common this time of year to have fog all morning and then have it burn away in the early afternoon. Martha chose to drive over the mountains into the Santa Ynez Valley and explore the area around Solvang, Los Olivos and Santa Ynez.
Once we crossed the mountains, we were in clear blue sky weather. It was fabulously sunny and warm all day. On the way home in the late afternoon, we decided to drive along the ride of the mountains that form the boundary of Santa Barbara on a road called El Cielito. When we headed off going East, the skies were blue and the sun was shining brightly. Then we saw the heavy marine layer of clouds ahead of us. They were impenetrable, forming a thick cotton-like covering over the land and water.
As we descended through the clouds, it was like driving through pea-soup fog, lights on, mist gathering, cautiously driving. Then, to my surprise, we emerged at maybe 1,000 feet to see the land, water, even the oil rigs 26 miles out in the channel. All tinted with grey. To someone on the ground, it would just be a cloudy day. At 1,000 feet up it was thick mist, and at 3,000 feet the sun was shining.
I need to live at a higher level than the clouds.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Martha getting birthday calls

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Let's Take a Look!

There is no more terrifying phrase than “Let’s take a look” when it comes from a dentist or doctor. You know what’s going to happen. That discomfort you’ve been avoiding dealing with will now be looked at, scrutinized, diagnosed and addressed. And when it’s all over and the tests come back with good results, we feel so relieved. But it’s that moment of vulnerability and discovery that makes us nervous.

I suppose this image could be transferred to an accounting audit, a performance review, a solo recital, a house inspection, or any time we bring a professional in to help us with a problem. They always want to take a look.

In the text for Sunday, Luke 16:1-13 we hear the parable of the dishonest steward (or manager) whose master wants to take a look at the accounts he has neglected and squandered over a long period. I’ll be exploring how this is not a parable endorsing unethical conduct but it is a story of Jesus wanting to take a look at our lives. The question you can be thinking about as you prepare for worship is: What exactly is Jesus looking at when he looks at us?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ministry Faire & Ohana Beach Day!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Gospel of One

I hate losing things. I have my morning routine of gathering my glasses, watch, wallet and money-clip, keys, cell phone and computer before heading to church. Once in a while I get to church missing one of those items. If it is the keys, I can't get in. If it's my cell phone, I can't make or receive calls. I know what I need and I know what belongs to me. If one of those items are missing, I have to find them and am frustrated until I get the lost item.
The text for Sunday is Luke 15:1-10, the parable of the lost sheep and lost coin. Both the shepherd and the woman knew what was missing and diligently searched until they found what was theirs and what was lost. And the parable is not about stuff, but about people who belong to God and are currently lost, missing, gone.
Who do you know who's not there any more? Who did you worship with in the past who no longer attends...anywhere? Who will go find him/her if not you?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A New Pastoral Challenge!

In 30 years of pastoral life, it’s never been as weird and stressful as this. I am clearly not an accountant or economist, just ask any of the Treasurers who have had to deal with my “floating decimal points” and inability to add simple columns of numbers. I am a preacher, teacher and leader. I enjoy prayerfully discovering the unique vision God gives his gathered people called churches.

But what was consistently present all these years was a growing economy, a rising stock market, growing house values, increasing salaries and benefits. Cost of living adjustments were part of everyone’s conversations. I assumed things would grow themselves healthy and strong again. And, by and large they did. Church giving grew, church budgets grew, church attendance grew, church staffs grew.

Then it all began to unravel, as Wall Street collapsed, the housing market imploded and good friends who faithfully paid their mortgages turned upside down, owing more than their houses would ever be worth. And the ripple effect has touched absolutely everyone.

Now, once untouchable churches and centers of spiritual vitality have to lay off staff and curtail ministries because their donor base has been decimated by the economy. If you are a pastor you know what leadership meetings are like these days; finances and how we can cut back. And what makes it even tougher is that lean budgets formed in good faith between staff and leadership are returned to each quarter, with a scalpel in hand. Where can we cut and economize in order to stay fiscally sound? No one looks forward to conversations with the pastoral staff on what positions should be cut back, furloughed, or eliminated.

The on-the-ground challenge for pastors today is to retool their leadership skills to be more appropriate to the new and lean economy. This is not unlike what Joseph did for the Pharaoh facing the upcoming “lean years in Egypt.” One mandate is to remain the leader and not retreat to a victim position, blaming others or pitying ourselves. We worship and serve a great God. God is not surprised or shocked by what is going on. We have the full compliment of spiritual gifts to be his church in plenty and in want. How bold is our faith when it affects our salary and benefits package? We need to be the realistic voice of hope in solidarity with our struggling congregants.

But we do need to review our assumptions and entitlements. This is hard to do after several generations of steady growth. What is it we need to be the church today? What needs paying for and what needs to be done by members with their spiritual gifts? This needs to be a long and deep conversation with no protected positions and persons. This process will require senior/lead pastors to make some hard decisions among those we love and consider as colleagues and friends.

Where are the resources for this process? What are some of the best practices out there to guide the church during these uncertain times? How can we model light in the darkness and hope to the hopeless? “For I am sure that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

Monday, September 06, 2010

Pastor as Thug or Monk?

When my kids went to college, I made it a practice to get a sweatshirt from all of the schools: Michigan Tech, North Park, Hope, University of St. Thomas. These, I thought, are very expensive sweat-shirts, thinking of the tuition, time and energy it takes to send children to college. And I have worn them proudly and equally over the years.
This past weekend, Liz wanted to buy me a sweatshirt from the school where she is enrolled in a Master's program; the University of St Thomas. So we shopped yesterday for a nice zippered "hoodie" to complement the other St. Thomas sweatshirt I have. But I did not try on the hood until this morning on the plane and discovered that the hood was really a "cowl" that covered almost my whole face. And when I pulled the drawstring, I shut out almost all available light enabling me to sleep sweetly. But I'm not sure if it looks like a monk's hood (makes sense from St. Thomas) or a thug's?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

On being a son

I spent time with my mom twice this weekend. She lives in the Covenant Retirement Community in Minneapolis where she receives great care. Her memory is declining but not her spirit. She recalls only pleasant memories and loves having her family around her, constantly asking for updates on careers, events and my happiness with the church. She will not necessarily remember the details of my visit, or even my visit. But I was told that each visit, each call is like a deposit in an emotional memory bank that she draws on, not with accurate details, but with the feeling that God is good and life is the way it should be.

My Nephew's Wedding

Isaac did a video with his new iPhone and then, on the way home through Wisconsin he edited the video on his phone, adding a sound track! Amazing!

Saturday, September 04, 2010


Wisconsin gas/bait

Wedding on Fox River Il

Isaac at work

Friday, September 03, 2010

Great Prayer for Children

Two weeks ago, Dr. Jon Lemmond, Pastor for Gospel Action at Montecito Covenant Church prayed the congregational prayer that day and focussed in on children. Below is a transcript of that prayer.

Prayer for Children

Below is a prayer that I cobbled together and offered for our Noah's Sunday following our week long Vacation Bible school which focused on introducing our kids to the issues surrounding our friends on the streets

A Prayer for Children

Lord of Life,
We pray for scampy children
who sneak popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.

God of Compassion,
We pray for children
who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who never play tag or go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.

Loving Father,
We thank you for the children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.

And we hurt for those
who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who don't have rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
whose monsters are real.

Gracious God, help us be gracious to children
who spend their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed,
who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and
whose smiles can make us cry.

Almighty God, help us bring justice for those children
Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
Who will eat anything
Who have never seen dentist,
Who aren't spoiled by anybody,
Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
Who live and move, but have no being

Lord Jesus, we thank you that you are the One who welcomes children, may we do so as well
We pray for all children
Who want to be carried, who don’t want to be carried and for those who must,
We pray that we would never give up on any of them
And that you would gather them up,
Cuddle them like lost sheep
And release them to be your love, light, and salt in the world.
For we believe Lord in your kingdom – your playground
Where goodness is stronger than evil
Love is stronger than hate
Light is stronger than darkness
Truth is stronger than lies
We need not be afraid.

Is This New for You?

These are strange times to be a pastor. That might not be either unique or profound, but I feel it nonetheless. What makes it strange is the constant pressure to adjust ministry to the economy and keep the budget always in mind. I don't recall ministry life in the past being this budget-centric as it is today. Budgets were formed, lived within, usually exceeded or made, and then re-formed for the next budget cycle with inflation and/or cost of living adjustments.
Not today. Giving fluctuates against expectations because of wild swings in the stock market, housing values, unemployment and a stagnant economy. What were thought to be conservative estimations about church income are regularly not met, requiring a continual return to the operating budget to find cost reductions. There are no bad-guys out there withholding funds or pinching pennies. It seems to be everywhere from large corporations to the self-employed. Everyone feels the squeeze.
I'd be interested to know if this is the case with other pastors out there, especially senior pastors. What are you finding that is helpful? What are some emerging best practices to keep yourself spiritually fresh and fiscally responsible? I'd love to see some forums devoted to this. What's out there?

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