Monday, January 31, 2011

Dr John Perkins preaching!

Seeing Kelly & Luke

Besides all the set-up work, a delight for us is to see Kelly and Luke here at the Hyatt. Luke is doing video work for the ECC and Kelly came out last night for dinner with us and tonight for dinner with us again before taking one of the cameras for the worship service. It's good to reconnect!

Midwinter Altarpiece

Today Martha worked all morning and afternoon to put together the Midwinter altarpiece. The basic theme is the three streams that flow from the heart of God: Justice, Evangelism and Mercy. To illumine those three themes, Martha found the liturgical colors for Justice (blue) Evangelism (Pentecost red) and Mercy (gold). Three fabrics flow out of one large pot, with the Christ candle next to it and the Bible opened beside it. To make it glisten and shine, Martha hung glass drops throughout the branches to catch the spotlights.
The big challenge for us today was to negotiate with the other interests on the "stage" being the band and its many instruments, the screens and lights and multiple speakers. It clearly is not a traditional sanctuary, but Martha helped make it visually centered with the altarpiece. It's fun being married to an artist and theologian!

Tv screens embedded in bathroom mirrors!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Back in Chicago

It's the city I was born in and spent the first months of my life. It's the city my grandparents moved to and where we stayed during Covenant Annual Meetings during my childhood. It's the city where I lived for 8 years of college and seminary. It's the city where I took my new bride for our first years together. It's the city where our eldest son was born with the attending hands of my uncle. It's the city where my son Luke went to college and seminary and is now living with our daughter-in-law Kelly. It's the city I visit regularly over the years for Covenant committee meetings and Midwinter Conferences.

And in late January/February it's a city wrapped in grey and streaked with salt. People are stern-faced against the wind and layered with coats and sweatshirts, making everyone look like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Without a worship service nearby, we took the train/bus in to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. There I watched Martha wander through rooms, making her quiet comments about artists she knows and ones who are new. It's fun to finish a room and have her ask me what stands out and then we talk about what art is and isn't. We had soup and salad and wandered home on busy streets to the subway.

This is not a new place for me, but is at the same time. The churches I have served until now were all in the midwest and driveable to Chicago. We shared the same weather and the same look. Now I am surrounded by green all the time (or draught-induced brown). I don't wear heavy coats and the wind does not make my eyes water and my face flushed. I guess it reinforces that truth I keep bumping back into that I am a resident alien wherever I live.

Friday, January 28, 2011

It's Never Enough

I just talked to a colleague today. He was emerging out of a long meeting with others in his field. When I asked him how it went, he said with a sigh "No matter what I do, it's never enough." No matter how many tasks he accomplished or good ideas he generated, at the end of the meeting the others wanted still more.
That made me reflect on the way I lead the church. Is that the signal they routinely hear from me? When is giving enough? When is serving enough? In my desire to see people become fully devoted followers of Jesus, I can sometimes (maybe always) send the signal that what you are doing is fine, but there is far more to do and it's just not enough. Can that attitude create spiritual exhaustion?
Where does generosity, gratitude, joy and grace season the signals we send to church members, volunteers, and staff? Where is our own self-worth infused with that same spirit of grace and joy? Where can I reward someone with a Thanks and not just another list?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Styling Fries!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The One Who Stops for People In Pain

On Sunday January 30 Rev. Rolf Geyling will be preaching at MCC. Why? I'm in Chicago with Martha for the Midwinter Conference and I recently heard Rolf preach. Then and there I decided that he needed to preach at MCC so we could be inspired by this guy. Rolf is the director of Santa Barbara Rescue Mission with an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary. Rolf not only preaches, but lives the message he preaches day in and day out at the Rescue Mission.
When I heard him preach to a group of us pastors, my heart swelled with pride that Rescue Mission is one of our MCC partnerships! If you are a regular attender and member, bring a friend on the 30th! Santa Barbara is privileged to have such a leader as Rolf fighting for lives of broken persons, and seeing victories like you would not believe!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


“Are you available?” is a phrase Sandi used several times this week after she knocked on my office door. Ideally, I would like to ask her, “Available for what?” But that’s really not an option. As a pastor I need to be available to members and friends who need some time to talk and process where and how God is working in their lives.

How does that work for you? How do you make yourself available to others? What are the ways you let others know you are there for them, to listen to them and to walk through situations together?

One of the things I teach to couples planning on marriage is a session on communication and listening. I try to get them to identify what things prevent them from listening to the other person. What gets in the way of your ability to listen?

It’s amazing all the things that get listed: exhaustion, stress, distractions, work, TV, computers, smart phones, being in a hurry and many others.

As you prepare for Sunday, are you expecting God to talk to you? Are you expecting God himself to say something new and important into your life? The text for Sunday, Matthew 4: 18-25, is the one where Jesus calls the first four disciples. He spoke and they heard.

How does God speak to you? How do you get ready to listen to God? What gets in your way to hearing his voice? What can you do, even now, to turn down the volume of other voices and noises to be ready to hear his voice?

Grace & Peace,


Pruned & Fruitful

Last Monday I pruned out apple tree in the back yard. The high winds blew off the remaining leaves and it is now time to prune it way back for next season's crop. This is an apple tree that produces such sweet apples, Martha just cooks them as-is into a marvelous applesauce! But the act of pruning seems so brutal as I lop back supple, straight branches back to the gnarly older branches. But grow back they do!
But if you notice what is behind the apple tree, you will see a fully loaded navel orange tree. Its branches are now heavy with fruit, some bending down to the ground. Again, nothing is so fresh as an orange right off the tree.
What caught my eye this morning was the juxtaposition between pruned and fruitful; they are simultaneous and complimentary. In my former locations in the midwest, the strong seasonal changes meant that everything was pruned at the same time and all soils went fallow together. Not here! Here in a 12 month growing cycle, some trees are dropping leaves while other are leafing out. Some need pruning and others need harvesting.
That's the church! We don't all operate on the same calendar (as much as my liturgical clock would like us to do!). On any given Sunday, when the body gather, some have been pruned way back and look pretty barren and bleak, while others are bursting with fruit and colorful with flowers. That means hope!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I live in a very cool place that regularly schedules rocket launches over our heads from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Today they launched a very large Delta IV rocket. So I went down to the beach to watch the 1:08 pm launch. At about 1:00 pm cars began to stop and park and people began to gather with me at the beach. We all faced in the same direction and talked about the same thing: the rocket, what time? where would we see it? what was it carrying? and how cool it was that we could all take some time off to watch this.
The little gathering around me was composed to two business-guys in an Escalade and nice suits, an Italian couple in a big BMW, a retired couple walking their old beagle, a young woman in a bumper-stickered VW and a middle aged woman in a very nice pants suit and white blouse.
First fingers pointed in the direction of the contrail, someone heard a sound, then we watched it gain height, and separate from the contrail leaving a bright red light of the rocket capsule. We watched as long as we could. Then it was out of sight, all talk ceased, we turned away from the sky, back to our cars and other lives.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Great Walk

There are days off and then there are DAYS OFF. Today was the latter. Martha and I had a nice walk in the town of Carpinteria, lunch at a Japanese restaurant and then a long, long walk on the beach during low tide. The wet sands reflected the sky and the hills as children dug in the sand and sea birds screeched. We walked a mile or two, talking and being silent. It was heart restoring.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


“It’s tempting, but…” is a phrase we often use when confronted with some delight we know we should not have, like a big hot fudge sundae or a second helping of delicious tri-tip. I think of it when I walk by the candy jar on the counter in the office, especially when it is filled with wrapped caramels. We employ that phrase when we consider a new purchase or a trip somewhere fun.

Temptation has been inoculated into the realm of delicacies and delightful indulgences and empty of any serious spiritual danger. That’s not the way Jesus understood temptation, nor the Bible. This coming Sunday we will be moving from the waters of baptism into the wilderness of temptation. My hope is for us to discover Jesus’ successful approach to facing temptations.

As you prepare for worship, I invite you to read the three passages of scripture we will use in worship: Matthew 4: 1-11, Genesis 2:15-17 and I Corinthians 10:1-13. Reflect on your unique temptations. If that is an odd thought, identify those things that bend you away from God. What have you discovered that works to keep you close to God? I am both sobered by the seriousness of temptation today and also excited about the resource and power we have available to us in God’s word.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Your church might be redneck if...

Friday, January 07, 2011

Jr High Winter Camp

It's always fun to see them circle up in the parking lot for prayer before a trip. Lisa, her counselors and six Jr. High schoolers headed off a little while ago for a winter camp at Alpine Conference Center. Bless them all!

Owning Our Baptisms

The trees (home and church) are un-decorated, taken down and dragged to the recycling pile. Martha has carefully put away the Christmas decorations and crèche. All the Christmas foods and candies are long-since gone. Most of the thank-you notes have been written (Martha is great at that) and sent. Wonderful guests are gone and bedding has been washed and changed. Life is returning to “normal.”

In the church year we mark that as Epiphany, January 6 when churches around the world celebrate the wise men bringing their gifts at the guidance of the star. Epiphany (meaning to shine-out) also speaks about the shining out of the life and ministry of Jesus. Epiphany is about the “normal” life of Jesus, what it looks like day-in and day-out.

Starting Sunday, worship and sermons will focus on what it means to live out our baptismal vows like Jesus did? What should we expect in our discipleship? What should Jesus expect from us? What does a modern-day disciple, following Jesus, look like.

The texts I have chosen from the Gospel of Matthew are pretty powerful. They address baptism, temptation, being called, how to be salt & light and more. I encourage you (if you are attending MCC) to read the text before coming to worship and bring your own Bible with you.

The text for this Sunday is Matthew 3: 13-17, the story of Jesus’ baptism. What do you recall about your baptism? What does it mean to you now? What has baptism done to you and for you? What are the questions you still have about baptism? What is the lingering effect of your baptism on you? As the criminal said to George Cluny in “O Brother Where Art Thou”: Come on in boys, the water’s fine!”

Grace & Peace,


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Compassion Funds at Work

On the first Sunday of each month, we take a door offering after worship that goes into MCC's Compassion Fund. This is a special fund accessed by the pastoral staff for emergency needs outside of the budget. Usually they are very confidential and personal (e.g. marital counseling or medical help). So we are not able to share the good news of how MCC Compassion Fund dollars are spent....until yesterday.
Compassion Funds helped buy the man to the right (Dr. Wayne Mellinger) a computer. Why? Wayne is a social worker who works on the street with Santa Barbara's homeless community, linking them to medical help, jobs and housing. Wayne has no office but his back-pack and bike. He is known and respected by most of the agencies and ministries working with the homeless in Santa Barbara.
Then his computer crashed. My son Isaac examined both the computer and hard drive and said he had never seen something so hard-used. Of course Wayne rides in all weather on his bike and the computer paid the price.
So Isaac went on the web and found this Panasonic "tough-book" that is made for punishment like Wayne gives his computer, loaded it with applicable software and got it up and running. Yesterday I met Wayne at Peet's Coffee across from the Art Museum and gave him this computer from you.....MCC members and friends.
No sooner than he opened it and got it running, than a friend of his came in. He grabbed her by the arm and said, "Do you know what Montecito Covenant Church just did for me? I don't even go there!" and on he went to talk about his work with Jon Lemmond and Bread of Life and others of you he knows.
So, thanks for being so generous!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Coronado Island

We had a picture-perfect, sunny day walking around Coronado Island; the first time for us.

Thought Beginning 2011

1. Worship is the center

2. Love is the rule

3. Honesty and transparency work

4. Avoid all triangles

5. Anger is over-rated

6. A good idea will always be a target for skeptics…stick with good ideas

7. Quiet moments need protection

8. When in doubt, go out and visit

9. Jesus is always right

10. The local church is the plan

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