Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thailand Mission

It was the high point of worship for me today. Lisa Holmlund interviewed nine of the youth and counselors who participated in this summer's three week mission trip to Thailand. It began with a moving slide show of their experience. Then each person responded to a question Lisa asked that took us through their three weeks. It was more than a vacation...it was a life-changer!

I have expressed my reservations over the years about the value of spending so much money and energy transporting a group of young people into a complex culture for a very short period of time. Is it worth it? Wouldn't the money be better spent directly in the hands of the missionaries over there already? Aren't we a huge interruption in the lives of already overworked missionaries?

Their witness this morning demonstrated the value of a strategically planned trip that was not just to watch and be entertained, but one in which they added value and were driven into how Christ is at work in another culture. What a joy!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Matthew 14: 13-21 "Butting or Bringing?"

Five Loaves and Two Fish? It's a story told in all four gospels. Every child and adult growing up in church is familiar with this story (miracle?). It's a story about inadequacy and insufficient resources against overwhelming needs. It's a story about trusting in Jesus to provide. It's a story about obeying Jesus' command to "bring it to me." It's about unlocking generosity in the middle of a culture of scarcity. It's about now.

When Church Converts

It's almost noon on a Saturday. The parking lot is half full of cars and people are moving about on campus purposefully. There is a lot of laughter. You can smell the charcoal grill heating up. Little clusters of people have taken over every space on the campus, converting each room, each area to a unique theme. It happens each year at MCC. It's the Noah's Half Day Camp set-up day.
The clothes line in front of the sanctuary doors says it all. This camp has been going on longer than any single pastor's tenure. It has major cache in the community as being a safe and healthy place for kids to go for a week. The music is loud. The games are wild. Each day swells with more kids. Adults who do not attend the church show up to volunteer because it is a camp their own children went to.
It's labor intensive. It consumes the entire staff. It leaves a huge mess. But it tells the story of Jesus creatively and clearly. What a fun place to pastor!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Matthew 14: 13-21

You know that sinking feeling: you invited someone for a meal and when the bill came, you had no cash or credit card. You are driving on a trip, enjoying the conversation and the scenery and the red gas light begins to flash and the nearest station isn’t for miles ahead! You had a very busy day (maybe week) and the leader of the meeting you are attending asks if everyone read and printed out the documents he sent earlier in the week?

I do not like being unprepared, ill equipped, or insufficient. I like having at least a half-tank of gas at all times, an extra tin of coffee in the cupboard, at least a $20 bill in my pocket, and time in the day for a relaxed cup of coffee. But the sad case for many of us is that we are chronically running out of time, money, energy, and hope. The swirl of events and the constant demands on our time leave many of us aware of all that we did not get done and remains on the waiting list (maybe even past due).

The Gospel is particularly good news for those of us who are overwhelmed by the needs and expectations of others and underwhelmed by our own resources and capabilities. You are invited to read Matthew 14: 13-21 to get ready for worship this Sunday. It’s a very familiar story (told in all four Gospels) of Jesus feeding the 5,000. In what ways do you identify with the disciples? Get ready for good news!



Complimentary Community?

I overheard a phrase today that caught my attention. A friend was wondering why their creativity was increasing in a new academic environment when it went nowhere in another excellent academic environment in the past. The response was: "You've got to understand that __________ was not a complimentary community." Wow! Complimentary Community creates a question: what makes a complimentary community and what prohibits it? Is the church I serve a complimentary community?
Competition can hinder the growth of a complimentary community. If I compliment you for a job well done, that means I did not compliment someone else and you win. If we notice and observe excellence we dare not compliment those with whom we are in competition. In a competitive community, any sharing is usually matched with comparison sharing and competitive sharing (e.g. You think you have it bad? Let me tell you how hard it was for me!)
Conformity can also hinder a complimentary community. If the job is to blend in, get along, don't stand out, don't be prideful, you will never hear a compliment because it recognizes the one over agains the many. In a church I was a part of a long time ago I recommended we thank someone for a service they performed. That idea was roundly defeated because then we would be obliged to thank everyone (as if that was a terrible responsibility!). But in this community even being too happy was suspect!
Fear can squelch a complimentary community. When there are rampant toxins in the environment, you dare not stand out to compliment another, just protect your turf and get the job done. The rule of thumb in the fearful community is be safe! At all costs be safe, risk nothing, cover your exposure or you'll get in trouble or be fired.
May we be communities that squander compliments and spread grace!

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Happy Wonder"

I am reading Richard Rohr's "Falling Upwards; a spirituality for the two halves of life" right now. In the chapter I read this morning (9) he noted that in the second half of life we are privileged to experience "happy wonder" at the world around us. That phrase perfectly described the recent trip Martha and I impulsively made to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. Our motive for the trip was to get out of town, get away from work, church, parsonage...to get a chance to breathe. Not that any of the above is bad. I love my work, I love the church, and I even love living in the lovely parsonage adjacent to the church. But it all gets a bit close and we needed some distance and quiet together. So we drove 500+ miles north to Lake Tahoe; a place we had never visited before. Oh my! It was so blue, so big, and so high (6,000 feet). We did something we have not seriously done for a long time. We took a 6 mile hike along the shore of the lake at the Bliss State Park. That's where the shot below was taken.
When it was time to leave, a neighbor asked us if we were in a hurry home. We said "no" and he suggested we take an alternative route home from the eastern side of Lake Tahoe, over a pass into Nevada and up through the Tioga Pass into and through Yosemite National Park. Here too was a place we never visited and it was a trip of non-stop wonder and breath-taking awe. The picture below was just before reaching the summit on the Tioga Pass, walking in snow at almost 10,000 feet July 20! What wonder!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Church of Just Us

They area wonderful older couple, deeply committed to Christ. I had the chance to have a long conversation with them a while ago. They now live in a resort community. So I asked them where they go to church? "Oh" he said "We go to the church of just us right now." He then explained that the nearest church was too much of a drive and they did not agree with the ones closer to them. So, after years of active, local church leadership, now they worship on their own.
I have a hunch they are not unique. I had another conversation with a woman several weeks ago who is just now beginning to attend corporate worship again. As I listened to her complicated story of church involvement, she said with a sign "I am just so over church!"
What got me pondering was that these friends could be me. They were heavily involved in local church leadership for years (maybe decades). And when the leadership was done, they were done. When they were not in front and taking charge, they were out of sight.
I'm grateful I (and Martha) saw something different in the lives of our parents (both pastors). When they were not preaching, they were worshiping in the local church. When we traveled and were "off" and on vacation, we still found churches in which to worship (even of other denominations). When they retired, they still worshiped (though my dad promised and fulfilled his vow to never attend another committee meeting or congregational meeting.... maybe that's for another blog!).
What we learned was that their presence in the local church was not about a role or performance, but for God and for others. It was never the church of just-them.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Romans 8:12-27

Friday, July 15, 2011

Memorial Reflections

I went to a memorial service for a member of MCC recently. I was asked to offer the invocation and benediction. The family did the rest magnificently, with classical guitar, scripture readings, eloquent witnesses from brothers, a friend of 73 years, children and in-laws.
What emerged out of that memorial service was a real, delightful picture of a man I knew fairly well. He was bright, patriotic, brave (marine test pilot) and adventurous. His faith in God was evident in the varied stories we heard.
I needed to attend that service to listen and not lead. Leading a service often means I'm both the chief voice and the "manager" of the sequence of events, making sure things start and stop on time. That functionality often means I'm thinking about the next thing while the current thing is happening. Yesterday I just listened. And what I heard touched me.
His organizational accomplishments were eclipsed by his relationships. His character dominated is achievements and accumulations. His joy and tenderness outweighed efficiency and progress. What mattered to others was who he was and less about what he did and accomplished.
Yet, when I look at my life and my energy, I spend a lot of time on the details, the structure, and the tangibles, often to the neglect of the relationships (that sometimes demand interrupting my timelines). I think I need to listen to more memorial services.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Rescue Mission graduations rotate from church to church in Santa Barbara. Saturday was our turn. It was a 5:00 pm graduation. One of our members is on the Rescue Mission board and many members over the years support it. So I showed up at 4:30 pm to a panic. They needed sound and light and I realized the person scheduled did not show up for the soundboard. Soon the sanctuary would be filled with about 300 family and friends of graduates. They needed microphones for singers and speakers and a dvd played for processional music.

That's when I called Bob. "What are you doing right now?" I asked. "Nothing. What do you need?" he replied. I told him the situation and he said he'd be there in 5 minutes. From 4:45 pm till 6:30 pm Bob sat at the controls, playing the music, adjusting volume levels, switching batteries, and adjusting the lights.
The graduation was an emotional experience of six women and nine men giving witness to God's transforming work of releasing them from addiction into freedom in Christ. But without sound, it would have been so difficult to hear. And Bob made it happen! Thanks for his servant heart!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Cost of a Clean Desk

July Saturday mornings are opportune times for something I avoid...cleaning. After having devotions and going over the sermon and worship for Sunday, I decided to attack the stacks of papers that routinely litter my desk.
What I tend to do, is reshuffle them into new stacks with a paper clip. Then I gather those little clumps and use a larger clasp and stuff them into a folder. Today I attacked the folder and stacks, capturing important names, number and tasks, then shredding the rest, filling up an empty trash can.
The cost of a clean desk is a full trash can. Things have to be thrown out. After cleaning my physical desk, I then cleanup up my lap-top screen of all the files and folders that I allow to pile up there. They went into either designated files or...the trash. Most went into the trash.
It's both hard and liberating to throw things into the trash. When we moved to California from Minnesota six years ago, we threw away lots of things that had followed us from three churches. We were empty nesting and gave the kids what was theirs and realized we still had too much (for me it was ties and books). I got rid of half my library and 70% of my ties (and a lot of other clothing, tools and stuff). Guess what? Six years later I don't miss any of them. My life is not poorer or incomplete. But what's happened is that I'm accumulating more new stuff.
Declaring something as trash is judgmental. I no longer need that item. Someone else might, but I don't. That means I need to know what exactly I do need. And there is the rub. Throwing away also means declaring what is of value and importance. It means knowing what has worth and what really doesn't.
So, next week, my cabinets and shelves!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Matthew 11: 28-30 "Come to me and rest"

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