Saturday, October 29, 2011

Luke 18: 35-43

In Thomas Friedman’s newest book “That Used To Be Us” he analyzes what it will take for the USA to address both internal and global challenges facing us. Early in the book he described an Air Force term called OODA loop. It stands for “observe, orient, decide, act.” The Air Force determined that “when you are a fighter pilot, if your OODA loop is faster than the other guy’s, you will always win the dogfight.” Friedman translates that into the realm of politics and charges that we spend too little time and energy observing, orienting, deciding, and acting and more time “shouting, asserting, dividing, and postponing.”

When I read an author like Friedman, I translate these observations to the faith life. It is vitally critical for us to be spiritually observant, biblically oriented, spiritually decisive and obediently acting. But everything hinges on observant. What we see and don’t see makes all the difference in the world. What we pay attention to and focus on matters deeply. Who I see and don’t see is vital for my obedience as a disciple.

If you read this and are wondering, “Haven’t I heard something like this before?” You have! The last three questions Jesus has asked have focused (no pun intended) on spiritual vision: seeing specks or logs, seeing the woman, and this Sunday on healing blind Bartimaeus. Seeing matters. Last Sunday I closed worship asking you if God was doing spiritual eye surgery on you? How are you seeing others differently because of what God is doing within you?

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, reflect on Jesus’ question to blind Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41) What’s the next step you need Jesus to do in your life?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Do You See This Woman?

I was eating lunch alone today at a local restaurant. Two men across from me were engaged in a spirited conversation that occasionally drifted toward me. One man’s voice was distinctive. I “knew” that voice and slowly recognized his face from a number of older movies I’ve seen. All of a sudden he became “famous” because I linked his face to movies.
I quickly assigned him to a social and economic category. My mind plugged him into a convenient box because of that quick recognition over lunch. The problem was that I could not remember his name!
How easily we see others and rank and rate them by appearance. We can do it with car brands, watches, shoes and jewelry. In the story for Sunday’s text (Luke 7:36-50) Jesus asked a prominent Pharisee, “Do you see this woman?”
So the question I’d like you to begin asking yourself as you get ready for worship Sunday is “How do I see people?” How do you see people you know really well? How do you see newcomers? How do you see old people? How do you see young people?

Santa Barbara Century Ride....mission

In Thomas Friedman's newest book "That Used to be Us" he argues that for USA to regain a competitive edge we must "think like an artisan". That describes people "who made things or provided services with a distinctive touch and flair in which they took personal pride" (p. 137). When I read Friedman I think of his theological ramifications. Doing church the old way does not work. Just getting people into pews is not making disciples. Our busy schedules are not enhanced by more programs. The Kingdom of God is not extended by us talking to ourselves.

Two guys at MCC "get it". They love bicycle riding with a passion. They got inspired to organized a bike race through the hills of Santa Barbara and Carpinteria with proceeds going to a local bike not-for-profit that helps low wage immigrants commute to work and to Sports Outreach that does missions in Africa through sports. What began as a "small" idea blossomed to over 800 riders with two checks of $30,000 each given to the two organizations.

This year MCC became a listed rest stop for bathrooms, water, food, and repairs. All morning long groups of riders stop, rest, eat and visit. MCC members staffed the food and drink stations, welcoming neighbors and friends and offering hospitality to exhausted riders. This is fine and creative mission!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pastoral Job Description: Bearer of Hope

The news remains bleak and bleaker. The economy is not showing signs of improving. More houses have yet to be foreclosed on, dripping home values and consumer confidence. Unemployment numbers are not improving. Certainty, confidence, enthusiasm, optimism are taking a beating by so many realities on the ground. I have never been surrounded by so much unrelenting bleak news.
So what's a pastor to do? We cannot disregard the news, the economy, the environment or politics. These are the contexts in which we and our congregations live. But we cannot be driven by them either. We need to dig deeper into Scripture, prayer and devotional disciplines to be the bearers of hope to a weary and exhausted people. We do not need to echo the weary refrains of the news. We all know how bad it is "out there." The question is: where is the good news? Where is the hope? Where can I find joy and deep peace? Answer? Jesus.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Do You Want to be Made Well?

I have this bad habit of stereotyping people. When we are driving and someone takes too long on an entrance ramp, driving right to the end of the ramp, I can assume the driver’s gender…and then find out I’m wrong! I can make assumptions about a person covered with tattoos and piercings. I make assumptions about fat guys with beards riding Harley Davidson motorcycles. I make assumptions about folks pushing grocery carts down Milpas Ave. I can make an assumption about cars people drive and houses they live in. The list of my assumptions (as I write this) is scary. I am so prone to put people into boxes of my own making.

Guess what? Jesus does not make assumptions like I do (or maybe you do). If an assumption could be made about someone, it would be about the person in the text for Sunday: the man sitting by the pool of Bethesda in John 5:6. He had been there for 38 years with no success! What does that tell you about him? But Jesus comes to him with one question: “Do you wish to be made well?”

As you prepare for worship this coming Sunday, review some of your assumptions about people, about what to expect in worship, and about your own life. Then allow Jesus’ question to speak to your assumptions.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


My 5th grade teacher in St. Paul was Japanese-American. He moved to Minnesota from California. He told us about growing up in a camp, which sounded really cool to all of us who were living in homes and neighborhoods. This camp, he told us, was filled with other people of Japanese heritage and they were forced to live together way out in the country because the United States was afraid some of them might be terrorists (that's not the term he used, but it would be the word he'd use today). The camp was named "Manzanar".

This week when Martha and I were driving to Mammoth Lakes for a long weekend away, we were driving north on California Highway 395 when the little sign said "Manzanar" ahead on the left. We pulled in and quietly drove through the now barren landscape. This was one of ten US locations in the west that housed Japanese-Americans. Manzanar held 110,000 people! Such pain in the midst of such beauty.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Come Away

The offer was made about three years ago. I officiated at a wedding and the family thanked me by offering me the use of their condominium in Mammoth Lakes CA anytime I wanted. Years passed and I did not use the gift. The mother asked me if we were ever going to visit their condo? When I looked at the map, Mammoth Lakes was a good 6 hours away! When could I find that sort of time? What would I do? Martha is not a skier and I'm not a fisherman. So, we procrastinated until this summer.
This summer Martha and I took a two day escape to Lake Tahoe to visit a former student of Martha's. That brief getaway fueled my heart like little else (other than our travels to France). We saw new and spectacular beauty. We connected with old friends (the Halvorsens) and came back fresh. We knew we had to do this again, especially living on campus. So with the Columbus Day holiday giving Martha a Monday off, we asked to use the condo and I asked Jon Lemmond to preach for me and we took off Thursday morning until today (Tuesday). What happened? Refreshment!!
Each morning I woke before light and sat out in the living room (where I am now) with candles lit and coffee on. I have been reading long stretches of the Bible (Jeremiah, Lamentations, and now Ezekiel), aKempis, and Edwin Friedman's "A Failure of Nerve". And I have had long stretches to think, contemplate and pray.
Then, after breakfast, we set out each day to explore and hike. Hiking is something we do well together. Long stretches of silent stepping along trails that open up into spectacular vistas. The colors have been high-contrast stark: deep blues, brilliant whites, bold greens.
It was as if God was saying to me, "See, you need to come away with me so I can remind you that this is MY world. I own the beauty and the glory. Lighten up. Enjoy. Rest in me."

Friday, October 07, 2011

Mammoth Mtns

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Amazon.com has been a great gift to me. When someone recommends a must-read book, I can immediately go on-line, find the book, order it and know it will be in my mailbox in a couple of days.

In Santa Barbara, both Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores have packed up and moved away. Those were easy drop-in bookstores downtown. Now there are none. But yesterday Martha and I visited Chaucer's Bookstore (an old, well-established, independent bookstore) and browsed shelves for over an hour! What great fun to look for one book or topic, and then browse those next to it, above it and beneath it. I found all sorts of interesting books, topics and authors I do not find when I order specifically on line.

Browsing bookstores might be a new discipline I need to practice!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Matthew 6:27 "Why worry?"

How many times have I preached on "worry" in thirty years? A whole lot of times. It's a favorite topic of pietists I think. We are relationally driven out of our relationship with Christ and then our relationships with each other. Fellowship, community, trust and love are big deals in our tribe in the family of God. Worry? It messes things up a lot. Worry sets us not trusting each other, God and the community (or read organization, institution, denomination).
What's new to say on it? Is it fixable? Are worriers just worriers the rest of their life? Is worry a neutral psychological orientation that we should leave well enough alone? Is a propensity to worry like left-handedness? Aren't optimists smilers and worries frowners? On the human plane I'm so tempted to not try to preach this because I see so little change. Yet on the other hand, the good news from Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34 demands another go at it.

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