Friday, November 23, 2012


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I'm reading through my Bible again. I never stop reading it straight through as part of my devotional life. Right now I'm hip deep into Numbers (chapter 20). I'm trying to make sense of all the offerings: grain, sin, burnt, fellowship, wave, guilt, etc. There are a lot of offerings to keep track of! Some are based on actions and events and others based on the calendar and celebrations. Poor Aaron and his boys have to keep track of them all.
As I read the book, I sigh a familiar sigh thinking about church budgets, year end giving, the stress of what the new year budget will be. Will we make it? Do we need to make more cuts in an already thin and lean budget? And at times leadership meetings are dominated by the financial concerns. Oh this is a part of pastoring that is not fun.
But in reading Numbers, I had the insight that God does not need the offerings. God is not in need of smoke and blood, grain and oil and wine. Israel needs to learn to give. These redeemed slaves are an ornery bunch. The start complaining and worrying before they even cross the Red Sea. They can hardly go a few days without complaining. And when God solves their need, they complain about God's solution (see Manna). They do not have, by nature, a generous heart. So God teaches them how to give through the offering system.
I think it's pretty interesting that at almost every event regarding meeting with God and worship, they are instructed to bring an offering. Bringing and offering should become built in to their rhythms and customs. It should become only natural to bring and offering. Like it should be only natural when invited to a home that guests bring a gift and send a thank you.
But our culture does not do that so much. Maybe part of our Protestant/Evangelical reaction to the legalism of both Judaism and the state churches of Europe is to lean so heavily on grace and spontaneity that we've lost the custom of giving and being generous. Maybe its part of the culture of shortage and scarcity that orients us to look at what we a re getting before ever thinking about giving. Maybe its our cashless society and credit card spending (and debt load that we carry) that squeezes generous impulses out of us.
The solution? Only one I can think of is to ask God to make our hearts and lives generous. God does not need the offerings, but we need to learn to give.

Christ the King

            When does one season end and another begin? In more temperate climates, the weather and vegetation go through significant changes and a person can see, feel and smell change. In Santa Barbara a lot of change is seen in the skylight and position of the sun in the sky. I like the fixed times that spark change like Thanksgiving. As I write this we are anticipating the arrival of our daughter-in-law, son and granddaughter Elise. There will be great smells and tastes and laughter. We will call other family members not with us. And we will recall past Thanksgivings and reminisce.
         I’m intrigued about the news of protests over opening stores on Thanksgiving to jump-start holiday shopping. I understand “black Friday” and the urge to launch Christmas shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. But moving it a day earlier, into families’ festivities is triggering a pretty strong negative response that its “the wrong time.” Many people want to keep Thanksgiving reserved for food, families and football and save the shopping till Friday.
         Sunday, November 25 marks the end of something too. It’s the end of the church year. The church year is set up to keep a calendar about how God works among his people Israel and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Sunday, December 2, we will begin Advent and the texts and stories that anticipate the coming of the Messiah. But this coming Sunday marks the end of the church year, a Sunday called Christ the King. There is no better image of ending than that of Christ on the throne, Christ ruling, Christ reigning.
         I wish for you a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow. And as you prepare for worship on Sunday, read the text for Christ the King Sunday: Revelation 1: 1-8.

                                                               Grace & Peace,


Saturday, November 17, 2012


Confidence is such a funny thing. Some of us wake up in the morning full of it and ready to go. Others of us wake up with dread, and worry, certain that we will blow it somewhere. We can move quickly from confidence to fear with a simple conversation or email. Time and experience can build confidence in certain skills and settings. Ridicule and rejection can erode confidence in places you once enjoyed.
         I still remember some of the vicious teasing I experienced in Jr. High. I went from feeling confident to foolish in the course of a few minutes. What are those factors that make you feel confident? What are the conditions and settings that make you feel incompetent?
         Our text for Sunday is from Hebrews 10:19-25 begins with “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus…” Explore confidence in your life. Where is it? What brings it? What takes it away? Where in your faith do you feel most confident? Where do you wish to grow more confident? 

Sweet Spot

I’ve been exploring healthy leadership for years. I’ve read books, journals, attended seminars and trainings. I regularly visit with an executive coach. And one concept keeps coming to the surface: the sweet spot. The sweet spot is that place, role, responsibility where you come most alive and excel. It’s where gifts and abilities coalesce and you have fun. It’s where the line between work and play disappear.
            Finding that place is no easy task. It has taken me 20 years, at least, to find where it is…and where it isn’t. And it is so precious that I don’t think I should actually talk about the specifics other than that I know when I’m in it and I know when I’m not. I have taken a lot of assessment tools and found those areas where I don’t belong (and the staff and leaders around me readily agree with where I don’t excel!).
            One of the skills I’m learning about the sweet spot is that the other areas still need attention. So I’m trying to staff my shadow-sides…those areas where I am not very strong with people who excel in those areas I don’t. Slowly I have discovered some wonderful relationships with persons who delight to step in to my weaker areas and give support (financial detail and numeric precision is one such area).
            However, staying in the sweet spot does not just happen. It requires saying “no” to other intriguing and interesting areas. It means saying “no” to the advice and suggestion from good friends to trying some new thing or expanding into a new area. What do I mean? In practical terms for me, it meant saying “no’ to joining an interesting committee. It meant saying “no” to participating in a seminar that was very good, but would take me away from what I primarily do well. It also means saying “no” to myself when I want to jump into a discussion about something for which I do not have primary responsibility…lots of ideas…but not central to my calling and giftedness. For I have found that when I weigh into an area as senior pastor, others far more qualified than I am, will be silent and defer to me positionally. But when I am silent, then they have permission to step in with their much better ideas.
            So, this morning in the rain, I am saying “no” to a bunch of swirling activities here in the church, all of which are fun and exciting, so that I might pray and spend time with the sermon for Sunday. 

Friday, November 09, 2012

Notice Anything?

Where do you most like to watch people? Do you enjoy watching people at restaurants, beaches, on State Street, or at airports? It’s kind of fun to try to read into people’s behavior in various contexts and settings. Often I surprise myself at how inaccurate I am in my assessments. My impressions are notoriously unreliable (just ask Martha!) In fact, I delight in being surprised.
            The rumpled old man in the nursing home is, in reality, a decorated war hero who saved many lives by heroic conduct. The mom in my office is an accomplished musician taking a break to raise children. The guy in the coffee shop is on the road to recovery after a long period of addiction and incarceration. I am awed by the stories of people’s lives beneath the outward impression.
            That’s why the text for Sunday is so fascinating. It’s Jesus’ last public teaching time in Mark before the Last Supper, death and resurrection. Take a look at Mark 12: 38-44 and note what Jesus sees. I am always impressed and moved by how deeply Jesus sees into the human condition. As you prepare for worship on Sunday, what will you see? What does Jesus see in you?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Sweet Spot

Something happened this weekend. It was a spiritual convergence not unlike what happens with music when harmonics sound over notes, when music builds on music. The three things that converged were the 6 Hours with God prayer retreat on Saturday with 21 attending, All Saints' Sunday this morning with a full service, new members, Hope Sunday and communion, then Taize worship tonight with 28 attending.
The 6 Hours with God was a pastoral gift of protecting people who wanted uncluttered time alone with God. As I noted in an earlier blog, it was such an honor and so inspiring to see MCC folk engaging deeply with God. I was humbled!
Worship this morning had the regular All Saints' processing of votive candles for loved ones. We worship in the mid-200's, so Martha and Jeanne put out 50 candles (more than normal). But when "For All the Saints" began, people began streaming forward to place their votives on the altar. Martha ran to the basement for more candles, I ran to my office for little votives and we used almost all of them up...over 70 filled the altar with light! Of the 25 Congo Kids assigned to us...I saw only 9 pictures of kids still up. The music and prayers, even my preaching had a hum about it.
Then tonight I returned to the sanctuary as a worshiper. I had no role whatsoever in Taize worship. Weary I sat. Then the music grabbed my heart and the deeply note driven songs in English and Latin, stirred me and swept me with grace. Here was my staff and volunteers taking me into heavenly realms of worship with the same text we used this morning Revelation 21:1-6...only this time they "preached" to me and I rested in God.
This is a good church! I'm so glad they let me preach.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Protecting the Flock

The church campus is closed today from all activities except one: prayer. About 20 adults (some from other churches) have gathered here from 9:00 a.m. till 3:00 p.m. to follow a modified prayer retreat built upon the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola (1525).
My job is to ring the bell on the hour (some gave up watches and phones) and to hand out the next exercise for the coming hour. I thought I would do my own prayer work during the periods, but I find myself wandering the campus and offering up protective prayers for these ones strewn about the property, reading, praying, writing and reflecting. I fell like a shepherd patrolling the sheep. Jon Lemmond is preparing the noon meal while Marilyn Nelson and Diana Trautwein are available (and being used) for spiritual direction conversations.
It's all so counterintutive. It's not an active program, but one based on stillness and quiet and availability for God to do his own work in these one's lives.

Friday, November 02, 2012

All Saints'

Remember the movie "The 6th Sense" where the little boy kept saying "I see dead people?" That's what comes to my mind as we approach All Saints' Sunday. When I was younger, I did not know as many "dead people" as I do now. Now the bleachers of heaven are filled with men and women I knew and loved: my dad, my mother-in-law, grandparents, colleagues, close friends in all the churches I've served, some too young to die and others who died gracefully and well. There are great teachers in college and seminary whose tone of voice and unique words still echo in my head. And they are all shouting the same thing to me like in "Forest Gump" Run, Don, Run! Keep your eyes on Jesus! Keep running! It's worth it all!

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