Saturday, April 30, 2011

Getting Ready for One 10 am Worship Service

Is graduation good news or bad news? Is graduation the beginning of a new adventure or the ending of a dream? This year Martha and I get to celebrate Luke’s graduation from North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. For us it’s all celebration. But for Luke and Kelly, it means moving out of seminary housing and finding a new place to live. It means a changing routine and the loss of old friends and finding new ones. The same is true for college and high school graduates.
Graduation is a transition, and transitions can be tough. Good things we are used to come to an end, and new things, patterns, people and responsibilities we don’t know about loom ahead of us. When we think about transitions, all of us are included, not just graduates. We all have faced and are facing transitions and changes. Some of those transitions are voluntary and others are imposed.
The disciples of Jesus faced one of the biggest transitions a human being could ever face: death to resurrection. What does that mean? How are relationships changed? What’s next? Read Matthew 28:16-20 and discover a great word for transitions.

1. One 10:00 a.m. service begins Sunday, May 1. This will be a fun Sunday as we receive seven new friends into membership, hear a great witness for Christ and celebrate Holy Communion together.

2. “Women of Faith” is a women’s conference MCC women are attending Sept. 9-10 in Anaheim. See information and sign up at the table on the patio Sunday or contact Sandi Prather at church or visit www.womenoffaith.com

3. Parents’ Night Out is Friday May 6, 6:00-8:00 p.m. RSVP to Ashley Miller by Wed., May 4.

4. Budget Update as of April 28, 2011

a. Income Needed YTD $231,923

b. Income Received (%YTD needed) $177,226 (76.4%)

c. Expenses YTD (deficit) $198,026 ($20,800)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Living in Montecito means knowing and abiding by very strict parking regulations, especially if you are a school or a church. Westmont College and MCC live under the guidelines of something called a "conditional use permit" CUP that guides everything from traffic flow, hours of operation, lumens of light we generate, sound control, and other uses of the space.
The upside of these stringent guidelines is real cooperation between the two institutions and a genuine desire to practice good neighborliness. So when it comes to parking, Westmont tells neighbors it controls which students get parking permits and which ones don't. Our church lot cannot be used for student parking for students living off campus or who did not register their cars.
So today a young woman drove to the far end of the lot in front of me and the office administrator (who was waving her hands in a "no" sort of way). After parking the car, she waved to a friend in another vehicle to pick her up, and they drove off to campus. Of course I had to call campus security who will come and issue a fairly costly ticket to the offender.
What's the deal? Both cars had overt stickers on them proclaiming a mission's organization! Would Jesus park illegally? Maybe it doesn't apply.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Monday: get out and find beauty!

The dilemma of Easter Monday for me has always been a let-down after so much energy going into Holy Week. Today Martha's wisdom was to suggest a picnic to a local water fall.
And then a trip into the Figuroa (sp?) Mountains where we found hillside after hillside of poppies

And lupines!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Eve

It's quiet here; really quiet. It hasn't been this quiet for a long time. The church has been in a Holy Week buzz for a long time. We hosted an M-4 supper and lecture by Dr. Richard Mouw in addition to all the other events.

But today the sanctuary was full and the music bright and excellent! Families gathered and a number of old (missing) friends returned. After the moving and intimate Maundy Thursday communion and foot washing service (where two friends gently washed my feet at the end of the evening, both blessing me and praying for me as they washed and dried) and the stark and powerful Good Friday tenebrae where the Christ candle was walked out of a totally dark sanctuary, today was high octane celebration. Lots of conversations, introductions, coffee, more conversations, more coffee, singing, preaching, more conversations, and even more coffee.

.......it's all good. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Glory....what do you see?

What do you see during Easter? Bunnies and candies cluttering shelves and aisles? Guest lists and menus for a grand meal? Family and friends coming together to worship and celebrate? A sanctuary decked out with flowers and great music?

I have seen three distinct sanctuaries for the past four days. On Thursday I saw a kneeling rail, foot washing basins, and communion supplies. I saw Jesus’ love for his disciples in the washing of their feet

I have seen the gory image of a shrouded cross, a stripped sanctuary and seven stark candles. I have reluctantly seen the cost of my sin and the price Jesus paid to restore me.

I have seen (and smelled) the wonderful lilies and other bright flowers that will fill the sanctuary. The colors will change from black to gold! And hopefully I will see you worshiping with us in a full sanctuary with family and friends.

What we see powerfully affects what we feel, do, and believe. The text for Easter Sunday is one of my favorites: Matthew 18:1-10. As you get ready for worship, read this familiar text over several times, lingering on all the words for “seeing”. What do you see?

Good Friday Light-Burst

All was ready. It was about 6:50 on Good Friday evening. Musicians were warmed up. I just clipped on my wireless microphone and we were reviewing the lighting instructions for the service, dimming the lights in seven stages after each section of scripture was read, down to total darkness. Outside we were experiencing a brief but intense rain shower. When the shower abruptly ended, the brick patio, shiny with rainwater, acted as a mirror reflecting the sun horizontally into the sanctuary right on to the draped cross. What looks like a crown of thorns is the overhead chandeliers caught in the light.
It was a visual moment!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: waiting

Today is the waiting day; waiting for the tenebrae service tonight, waiting for the long narrative and to extinguishing of the candles one by one, waiting through the excruciating story of betrayal, denial, abandonment, torture and death.
I don't like waiting. I need to wait.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Church Time

Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota meant that Good Friday was a total holiday (schools, banks, many stores). As late as 1992 in Michigan we hosted community-wide Good Friday services from noon till 3:00 pm, with invited pastors, choirs and musicians doing marathon worship.
Liturgical churches kept track of time by colors of vestments and stoles and by the music sung. Today I notice an erasure of both Lent and Advent and a substitution for Lent as pre-Easter and Advent as pre-Christmas. Like my reflections below, we jump from holiday to holiday with little stringing time together than preaching/teaching series. Is that OK? Have we lost something as a church by not tying time together better. If regular worship attenders (according to Barna are in church 3 out of 8 Sundays), we have pretty big Sunday-gaps in our believing culture.
While I loved the "smells & bells" of my pastoral life in Minnesota, there is no going back and I wouldn't want to. But a clock would help.

Holy Week roller coaster

You cannot fast-forward a roller coaster to get the the portions of the track you enjoy. No, you must experience a roller coaster sequentially, all the parts, as a whole. You cannot jump ahead.
That's the dilemma of Holy Week for pastors. Maundy Thursday must be prepared and experienced before Good Friday. And you can't really get in the spiritual space for Easter until Good Friday is done.
I know where all the services are going. All the music has been chosen and rehearsed. The bulletins and the graphics are all in place. Martha and Jeanne have the sanctuary set up beautifully for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the lilies are in another part of the church waiting to be turned loose to scent the sanctuary on Saturday morning.
So, while I'd love to get scrambling deeper into the Easter sermon right now, I need to wait and lead and preach through Maundy Thursday in a couple of hours. So I wait, and that's probably a good thing in and of itself.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is a service devoted to the table, the last supper Jesus had with his disciples. On this Maundy Thursday we will gather in the sanctuary for singing, prayer, reading the story and coming forward for communion at the kneeler. The kneeling benches are not MCC's normal mode of receiving communion. Kneeling is the ancient posture of humility, subservience, prayer, and receptivity. In our self-run, self-controlled world, this night is not about us being in charge, but Jesus.
On either side of the sanctuary there will be stations set up for foot washing (one for women and one for men). For those wishing to experience something akin to what the disciples experienced, you may have you feet washed either before or after coming forward for communion.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Palm Sunday

Friday, April 15, 2011

Defense or Offense?

It was over a lunch with a friend when the gift came. For me, the best gifts are words and phrases that capture and clarify truth. He was coming out of a long season of discouragement and challenge. He said, “I finally turned the corner and went from being on the defense to offense.”

I stopped him and asked him for more and we rambled about that notion for a long time. Being on the defense is no fun. It is a position of reception; receiving attacks and defending challenges. Defensive play tries to keep the line stable and not lose ground. Defensive posture anticipates attacks and charges. Defenders take hits. Defense is always about asking, “what’s coming at us next?”

When I translate that from sports to the spiritual realm, it’s a provocative thought. Is my life as a pastor “holding ground” against the next challenge, or “going on offense” and heading to a goal? For most of us it is some of both. Things happen that need response. Interruptions are a life-reality. Criticisms must be addressed and crises need attention.

What intrigued me about these two terms, defense and offense is the source. What is the source for most of your defensiveness? Where do your biggest challenges come from; within the church or from outside of the church? How much of your energy and day are devoted to intentional, offensive maneuvers to gain spiritual yardage?

When I am tired and worn down, all I see are the challenges, the assaults and the criticisms. If I’m not careful I can become defensive without thinking about it, like a conditioned flinch response.

What gets me on the offensive is relatively simple, but easily ignored: time with the Bible and time with hungry people. In this tough economy for churches around the country (world) we can get consumed living on the defense and neglect the joys of offense. As we talked together, a phrase my dad shared with me popped into my head (and our conversation). My dad (a Covenant pastor) once told me, “When in doubt, go out.” By that he meant, get out of your office, out of your defensive zone and go visit someone. Go out to lunch and ask questions. Meet someone new. Connect with someone missing. That’s when the fun starts again!

I just happened along this blog posting that rephrases this concern very creatively for pastors.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

M-4 Soup Supper with Richard Mouw

Who comes out to soup suppers any more? All M-4 churches asked for rsvp's and by Sunday afternoon we had 47 with a supper planned for 200?!?! But come out they did. I counted about 155 (Martha says it was more). The four gourmet soups were delicious (prepared by a caterer from All-Saints) and people filled the gym with the noise of neighbors meeting neighbors.
We adjourned to the sanctuary and sat in rapt attention as Rich Mouw spoke on "convicted civility" from the family table to street behavior, from politics local to politics global and then into the arenas of faith. He had the words and voice I needed to hear both this morning and this evening.
Seeing the sanctuary filled with members from all four churches is inherently a good thing, to listen together, the learn together, to laugh together and to pray together. God is good!

Sporadic Disciples

"Where is _____________? I haven't seen them in church for a while. " That's a conversation we have on staff more regularly now than in years past. We see a person or couple for several Sundays, then they are absent for several weeks (or months) then they are back in church again for another couple of weeks.
What's with this? Is it a broader societal issue than that of one congregation? Does the ease and expectation for travel mean we don't take long vacations but many long weekends? Does our lack of denominational connectedness added to the excellence of many para-church ministries mean that we have not cultivated the need for regular participation or leadership? Do we promote a climate of spiritual "grazing" where we consider ourselves part of a number of local congregations? Is the upcoming generation watching their parents' sporadic participation plant sporadic as the norm for church involvement? Is this the new normal? Is it necessarily bad?
The bottom line question for me these days is what does or does not help make disciples who make disciples? Where's the fruit?

Saturday, April 09, 2011

MCC crew cleaning Santa Barbara

Dr. Richard Mouw, preaching

When I’m preaching, I have a pretty good idea how to help you prepare for worship. I have a sense of where the sermon is going. But today is different. On Sunday Dr. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary will be preaching from Hebrews 4:12-16 with the title “The Longest Journey.” That alone is intriguing! Read the text and look for the journey. I can only guess where he’s going to go with it.

Why is Dr. Mouw at MCC Sunday? Because I have the highest regard for him as a leading voice in the church today and because our own Mary Given works with him at Fuller and agreed to find a time (last Fall) when he could come and speak.

I first heard Dr. Mouw on a cold Saturday morning in St. Paul, MN in 2003 or 2004. 9/11 created a polarizing situation in the Twin Cities where there is a very large Muslim community. We feared each other. Dr. Mouw was invited to speak on a National Public Radio show called “Speaking of Faith” with Krista Tippett. It was the show’s first broadcast and I was in the audience. The driving question for the day was “How do we talk with each other when we so disagree?” Dr. Mouw’s response held me on the edge of my seat with both its simplicity and profundity.

That’s also why the four churches of Montecito (M-4) invited him to speak to all of us Sunday night after a 6:00 p.m. shared soup supper. He will begin speaking around 7:00 p.m. in the sanctuary on “Convicted Civility: how to speak the truth in love.” This is a Sunday, both morning and evening, where you should consider inviting a friend (of faith, no faith, or anti-faith).

Grace and Peace,


Visit our website: mcchurch.org

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Fire Department & General Fund

It's a bit unnerving to step out of the office and see three fire trucks in the lot. At least their lights were not flashing. As I walked over to the trucks, I heard noise from the open gym doors. Inside the gym were a bunch of guys playing a pick-up game with guys from another station. They know we support them and love coming here to play basketball and (as a prior blog showed) demonstrate hosing techniques and run practices.

Ministry? Yes. It's a ministry of presence and availability and friendship. It's a ministry of being a good neighbor on their terms for what they need. Who pays? It takes staff time to open, set up and clean up. It takes light and water and paper goods. It's ministry from the General Fund.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Matthew 16:13-20, some thoughts

I preached from Matthew 16:13-20 today and discovered something new (for me) from the text: the "rockness" of Peter might be due less to him as a person than to the clarity of his confession of "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" which was his answer for all his fellow disciples since Jesus asked the question in the plural form of "you".
It's interesting how a sermon I work on, study, prepare and preach twice, then rumbles through me afterwards like aftershocks. The aftershock is "confessional clarity" (I know I stole that word from someone but can't recall from whom). Is my life confessionally clear? Do others know who Jesus is for me by the way I live, speak and invest my energy? Do those closest to me (Martha, family and co-workers) have a sense of my confessional clarity or does it happen mostly on Sundays, up front? This is not an exercise in self-flagellation but rather God's invitation to me to "be clear" and he will take care of the rest.

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