Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Oh, the Dignity!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Santa Barbara Mission

The Language of Greatness

Several years ago we visited Martha’s maid of honor who now lives outside of Heidelberg, Germany with her Italian husband and four children. Their daughter showed great interest in our coming from the intriguing state of California. She asked me if we spoke a different language in California. I immediately lied to her and said that we get by with one word here, the word “Dude”. I then went on to inflect the word as a question, greeting, approval, disapproval, exhaustion and I forget what all.
Years later the father, a strict lover of Italian, still holds it against me that I corrupted his daughter with the word “Dude.” But in a humorous way, it is a language spoken by a few beach people we all know.
Churches speak languages also. Some church languages are very ancient and classical, filled with poetry and response. Other churches speak the language of praise and high emotion. Still others use the words of prophets addressing the sins of the world and God’s kingdom demands. All of these “languages” have their appropriate time and use. But the mother-tongue for the Christian church is the language of forgiveness.
Sunday’s text (Matthew 18:21-35) completes Jesus’ discourse on community in Matthew 18. Jesus both describes and prescribes forgiveness. So in anticipation of worship Sunday, reflect on your own language of forgiveness. Who have you forgiven recently? Who has forgiven you? Where has it been both hardest and easiest to forgive? How frequent or rare is the language of forgiveness in your life?
See you Sunday!


1. MCC Memorial Day BBQ is Monday May 30. Fun begins at 9:30 at Cold Spring School for softball for all ages. At 11:30 the coals will be hot and ready for whatever you bring to grill (and a side dish to share for approximately 8). After eating, there will be the famous dessert auction with proceeds going to support youth trips and ministries.

2. MCC Solvang Theater Trip, June 25th to see Alfred Hitchcock’s “39 Steps” can still be signed up for ($26 adult, $18 child). Payment needs to be in by June 9th.

3. Inquirer’s Class is Sunday June 5 from 3:00 p.m.- 5:00 p.m. This is an opportunity to learn about life and ministry at MCC and our beliefs, values and direction. See Don Johnson for more information.

4. Budget Update as of May 25, 2011

a. Income Needed YTD: $283,462

b. Income Received (% of YTD needed): $227,517 (80.3%)

c. Expenses YTD (deficit): $243,044 ($15,527)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Blessing Bikes

"Would you be willing to join some other local clergy in the blessing of the bikes?" an email asked me a month ago. I said "yes" not knowing what all was involved until I arrived last night on State Street, downtown Santa Barbara. The street was blocked off, with the Farmers' Market south of us and bicycles of all sorts parked in a corral in front of a stage. A local band played with energy and then we were invited up on stage: a Roman Catholic priest, a Chumash Indian sage (holy woman), a young woman rabbi and me. Each of us was invited to offer a blessing from our own traditions. The rabbi read a traveling prayer in Hebrew. The Chumash sage lit incense in a shell and waved an eagle feather through the smoke chanting a prayer to "grandfather" in her unique language. I prayed referencing God leading and guiding his people through the wilderness into safety of the promised land. And the priest referenced holy gestures (sign of the cross, touching medallions and the sprinkling of holy water). When it was done (15 minutes) the crowd clapped and the host thanked us for making him feel calmer and safer. And I went home.
I am a bit perplexed about what happened and what I did and did not do. We were clearly a mixed group. Was I co-opted by the culture or was I engaging the culture to consider God's presence in the most normal act of riding bicycles? That's why being a pastor is so much fun...and so perplexing!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Picnic

Martha is a picnic queen! We have always liked to picnic. But after our summers in France, Martha ramped up picnicking to another level. She brings plates, silverware, glasses and a full meal: sandwich, olives, hummus, crackers, and cheese!
Today we went below the Mesa and found a rock "table" in the sun and ate together quietly and then strolled the beach back to the car. Mmmmm!

Morning clouds

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Matthew 18:1-20

This is not the type of "chair" one would think of as depicting "greatness." This would not be the type of chair for a CEO, President or Senior Pastor. It's not a prominent chair. It is sturdy and can easily hold my weight (I've tried). But it means sitting low to the ground with my knees bunched up high. We all know just what kind of chair this is...it's a child's chair. It probably came from an old elementary school. It's a chair for "little ones". And it's the "little ones" who Jesus calls GREAT in the kingdom of heaven.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Proud parents

Back Home?

I'm sitting alone in the lobby of the hotel. Martha and I flew across country yesterday, back to Chicago to celebrate the graduation of our son Luke from North Park Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity. It's a cool, blowing, grey day here with threats of rain all day.
When we picked up our rental car, the man at the desk, Lynn asked if we'd been to Chicago before. I told him I was born here. My grandparents and uncle and aunt lived here. My wife and I lived here for the first years of our marriage. Our eldest son was born here. Luke went to school here for undergraduate and graduate school. Our denominational headquarters is here, so I've traveled here continually over my years as a pastor.
But then we moved on to Lafayette, Indiana for five and a half wonderful years and the births of Luke and Elizabeth. Then we moved to Muskegon, Michigan for seven and a half years where we bought our first home, lived along Lake Michigan and came into our own as a young pastor and family. Then we moved to Minneapolis for thirteen and a half years. That was a return to the metropolitan area in which I grew up, familiar geography, sociology and theology. It was the place where our daughter was saved from cancer, where I was saved from a head-on car crash, where we were saved from a house fire. It was where my parents retired, where our daughter and son-in-law still live and where my brother and his wife live.
But now we live in Santa Barbara, on that beautiful shelf of land facing south, where things bloom and grow all year, where I can ocean swim all year, where ties only work on Sunday mornings and everything is pretty casual. It's where we live in a parsonage again after "owning" homes for twenty years. And it's where I curiously fit and feel home.
The word? Resident Alien keeps cropping up in my mind. As a servant of God, I'm called to be mobile, travel lightly, love all people in all places, be ready to move, be ready to stay put. Hold all things lightly in my hand and speak truth lovingly to those around me.
So, Chicago was home, but no longer. But it's really fun to visit!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Kingdom Worship

It was a Sunday unlike any before. One young woman was being confirmed. The Conference Superintendent was scheduled to preach six months earlier. Visiting pastors from Cairo, Egypt were available to give a witness. A local musical celebrity wrote original music she wanted to sing. How would this all come together?

We made a decision as a church to return to a single, longer service to allow for more creativity and story-telling. So we shortened the confirmation service just a little bit in the litany portion, but had the confirmand read her paper on "Who Is God?" It was one of those excellent and deep papers that shows a young person stepping into mature faith.

The songs composed for today were on two themes: Upside-down Kingdom and Heaven is for You and For Me.

The interview with the Egyptian pastor (on the left of the picture) was deeply moving about how the church situated on Tahir Square has opened doors of witness and service to Egyptians who never thought Christians cared about the country. It was a moment when you realized this guy (and his brother on my left) stepped out of the chaos of Egypt for a moment to thank us for prayer and are heading right back into the battle for their country and for faith.

Then Efrem unwound on us with a sermon on living as Kingdom People: with a Kingdom Awareness and Urgency, strategically spending/investing our Kingdom Talents for multiplication and then living out lives of Kingdom Performance, demonstrating how it's done. The congregation laughed, shouted out "Amen" and even broke into applause.

And then, at the end, the brother of the pastor who witnessed, gave us all a benediction in Arabic!

What will be the result? It all depends on how we as staff, leadership and laity take the next steps. We can focus on the faults or ask God for kingdom urgency. I hope for the latter.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

National Day of Prayer

I'm not a large-group gathering kind of guy. I tried Promise Keepers in Minnesota twice, but 62,000 guys distracted me rather than encouraged me. My introverted side gravitates to smaller groups of people I trust. So while I promote and support things like prayer gatherings, prayer summits, and days of prayer, it's not where I naturally want to go.

This year I received a plea to come down and lead a portion of the prayer time at the Santa Barbara Courthouse sunken gardens. You can see the group gathered in clusters, broken up by pastors who read scripture and defined the topic.

In my group, composed of all guys, the last topic was the church. We were praying for the unity of the church and I voiced a prayer as a pastor for other pastors. Before I knew it, these strangers came forward in our standing circle and laid their hands on my shoulders and prayed fervently for me, asking for protection, encouragement, insight, joy, and courage. Before I knew it, tears were trickling down my cheek. I got hijacked by a totally unexpected blessing! How cool is that?

Confirmation Final Exam

I delight in teaching confirmation more and more each year. Part of it is the simple joy of teaching with Martha. Part of it is my embracing of small classes, that were initially disappointing after years in Minnesota with classes as large as 30 per group. This year was totally unique with four girls. I was the lone male! At times the class got so giggly, I had to step back in bewilderment. In addition, all four girls really loved each other and embraced a new girl to the group and community.

So instead of a formal final exam and presentation at church, one family hosted a meal for the other three (and Martha and me) and the girls recited the books of the Bible and recounted the entire story of the Old Testament using the pictures they created after each class.

We began at 6:00 p.m. and laughed and giggled and even teared up until about 9:00 p.m. What a privilege!

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