Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Second Chances and Grace

Usually towqards the top of the list of things I care nothing about is the miss USA pageant. But in the last few days it seems that the story of Tara Conner has been in the news quite a bit. Again, usually the fact that someone who is in the public eye for something as shallow as winning the miss USA contest but then made poor decisions surrounding illegal drugs doesn’t rank high on my “ who would have thought it could happen” scale. I know that sounds pretty calloused, but stories like this tend to make me a firm believer in original sin.

But I digress.... What did catch my attention was that as I was driving to a local coffe shop to work on a sermon I was listening to the radio andthe “celebrity news” came on. I was surprised to hear Donald Trump say these words “I have always believed people deserve a second chance... I am giving Tara a second chance” I was amazed. Of the ego maniacs in the world I have always felt that “The Donald” was the “ego maniaciest” closely followed by P Diddy, and Konye West. To hear Donald say such a thing was a bit amazing to me. Then my thoughts were voiced by the radio announcer when she said “so it seems Tara owes The Donald a big favor, and don’t think he wont come looking to cash that in someday...”

I wish I wasn’t so cynical, but I find it hard to believe there was anything but personal gain at the heart of Trump’s actions. I’m a little disappointed that Tara’s second chance was hedged in the language of forgiveness, especially when Donald Trump is the one being seen as generous and magnanimous. Now that I’ve polluted this story with my own misgivings and cynicism, wouldn’t be great if the world worked like that. Imagine being forgiven for the destructive decisions and actions we make - giving us a second chance or a third or even a fourth. But imagine if that second chance was given, not with the string of “you owe me and I’m gonna come for payment” attached to it... Hmmmmm.

It’s that second chance that reminds me how amazing God is, and it’s communities that look out for one another and share that same forgiveness and love with each other that make me long for God’s kingdom to come.

What I’m afraid of is that most of us see God's forgiveness and second chances the way we see Trump’s. Loaded against us. “I’ll do this but you owe me and some day I will come looking for pay back.” My son has a game boy game that he takes with him on car trips to make the trips shorter, and to prove to his dad that he isn’t hip and cool anymore (As if the fact that I used the phrase “hip and cool” in a sentence wasn’t proof enough) Anyway while at grandma and grandpa’s during thanksgiving the game boy was lost.. because HE DOESN'T TAKE CARE OF HIS THINGS.... sorry I was channeling dad there for a sec. Needless to say he was heart broken at losing his favorite toy not to mention the pokimon game that had all his trainable pokimon on it. Now imagine if I had said “son I will get you another one but you owe me, and someday I’m gonna call in that favor...” As it turned out it was buried in the bottom of a suitcase, When I found it I immediately came out and showed him what I found. All I got was a hug, a huge grin and a thank you from my son as he wiped tears off his cheeks. As if those are small things to a dad that dearly loves his son! Is God’s love for us any different? When he sees us heart broken, sometimes from our own selfishness and actions, or tangled in traps we have laid for ourselves, do we think that he is thinking how can I cash in on this?

Maybe that's why the incarnation begins in a little town in a barn instead of a palace or in the trump plaza. Because the message of Christ isn’t about stuff, or belongings or real estate, but about life in abundance.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Welcome to the "East Pole"

This morning while driving to work I passed a house in our neighborhood that was decorated with lights and inflatable snowmen, and Santa’s etc... Smack dab in the middle of the yard next to the inflatable Santa was an arrow shapped sign that read “North Pole” What was funny was that the sign pointing to the north pole was pointin’ due East. Now I know some of us are more anal about things like this than others, but it made me laugh.

It doesn’t take much to get my mind spinning off on tangents and this morning a misplaced sign to Santa’s workshop got me thinking....

I’m generally not too upset with the non-christian images and traditions that have crept into the Christmas celebrations we enjoy. We have a Christmas tree in our home, and Santa Claus has often opened the door for me to have a conversation with someone about St. Nicholas. (My son, at the age of 4, asked the mall Santa “did you know that you were once bishop of prussia?”) But, I do find myself consistently saddened by the increased climate of consumerism and “buy, buy, buy!” at this time of year. That's a whole nother blog topic.

The arrow placed incorrectly got me thinking about how often we follow after things that really lead us nowhere, especially at Christmas time (nice segue huh? you wondered how I was gonna find my way back I know...)

Last week in Seattle, there was a complaint filed at Sea-Tac airport about the christmas trees on display by a Jewish Rabbi. They were removed. The Rabbi has since said that his intention was not to have the trees removed, but to have some Jewish symbols added. That's all well and good. I would like to see a mannorah next to the alaska airlines kiosk. But since when was a fir tree with lights and ornaments depicting penguins skiing a religious, let alone, Christian symbol?! That's like looking for “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” in the Methodist Hymnal. (I think its a direct reference to first sparticus 1:12 “thou shalt rock around the christmas tree, verily fa la la, verily la” Am I gonna have to have Windmeir bros. holiday brew Snow Plow Ale available at communion because it’s “christmassy” so there for it’s Christian? (which by the way was a bit of a disappointment - never had a milk stout before and probably wont have another for a while)

I was speaking with my friend Mike, whose child was in a preschool program that included Hanukah symbols and songs as well a Quanza themes and images. The teachers made sure that Christianity was represented by... Wait for it... a christmas tree. Mike said “Is that the best we can do for the Christian belief about Christmas?... a Christmas tree?... I mean come on!”

When I was a kid in grade school I did the dance and sang “dreidel, dreidel dreidel” at the Christmas program, but never heard a word about the miracle of the oil not running dry, nor did I hear much about the concept of God becoming human. But I sang my heart out with the rest of the 4th grade choir when we performed “Silent Night” and snickered when we had to sing “round yon virgin” --hee hee. It was never a faith/religious experience.

It just seems that there are so many things that we can chase after and call them holy, religious or Christian but in reality they don’t lead us anywhere.

So deck the halls, and make the mall Santa uncomfortable with questions of church history, but remember that Christmas isn’t about trees, or holly, candy canes or “Snow Plow Ale”. It’s about a God who loves us enough to become human, walk with us, sacrifice for us and make sure that arrow sign point to the way that leads to life.

Raise your glass- have a blessed and holy season of Advent and merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hanging the Greens

Well, Advent is here. We had a fun nite at church on Friday nite decorating the Sanctuary, while the kids were making crafts at the Advent workshop. Just in time for the "Hanging the Greens" service this Sunday morning!

How many Methodists does it take to climb a ladder and put up a wreath? Geesh!

Anyway here are a few pictures of the Flying luigi’s on the ladder and the others who helped on Friday. Also since its my blog my kids made the pics for the kids Advent workshop.

Hope ya’ll have a wonderful season of Advent!

Thursday, November 30, 2006


An anonymous donor sent me this link. - I think every youth group has this kid in it!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Who's this about??

On Monday nights I meet with a group of friends at the Horse Brass Pub on Belmont in Portland, Or. Some of us are currently pastors, some of us are former pastors, some of us are students, architects, musicians... jocks, dorks, dweebs they all love him. He’s one righteous dude... sorry I reverted to a Ferris Beuller moment there for a sec...

Anyway, I was speaking with a friend who is easing his way back into ministry after years professional ministry. As we talked he made a statement about having a sense of freedom now when he speaks knowing that its not about him or the audience but about what God is going to do. For some reason his comment stuck with me. I have always known in my head that this mission and ministry God calls me to are not about me. In fact that is my #1 frustration with church (not just the local church I serve but the church at large). Oh how easy it is for us to fall into that trap of this “institution” being about us, our wants our needs, our sanctuary and carpet and budget... Putting soap box back...sorry.

Where was I ??? oh, anyway... I realized that as a pastor, especially a pastor that feels called by God to be an instrument of transformation for individuals I connect to, as well as this institution of the church, I can easily fall into the trap of assuming it’s about me. Not in the sense that I have a big head, with certificates and trophies; More in the sense of if this ministry doesn’t connect with people ...its my fault; If people don’t participate ...its my fault; If someone says “I’m not being fed...” Its my fault. Living in that trap as a minister is hard on your heart. I guess the reason those words rang so true for me is that I find myself there a lot these days as the congregation I serve wrestles with ministry and mission, being disciples or consumers. I hear a lot of “that thing Pastor Mark started...” or “Pastor Mark’s...” and it’s draining.

As if that wasn’t enough of a reminder for me, as the evening went on and most of the others had gone home, there were just a few of us left sitting around the table talking. A friend who is a local musician in town, began talking with me about some of the incredible things God was teaching him about himself and about God.

As we talked he said “I don’t know how you guy’s (Pastors) do it man....” I responded “Well, we have our moments I guess.” We talked a little more and he said “I’m serious... you guys put up with so much, I used to go to a churches just like yours, just to discredit the pastor and the congregation. I dress different and talk different and had a chip on my shoulder, and leave cursing you all because you didn’t care and I wasn’t being fed, saying all the while they aren’t Christian... How dare I make you responsible for my Spiritual growth! How can I expect you to do something for me that I wasn’t willing to do myself and then walk out cursing you because of it. I mean I have a Bible... I can read... I never participated in anything other than the 20 minute sermon and that was just to get ammo to use against you... I’m sorry”

Now this friend has never been to a church I have served, and I only know him through the Horse Brass. But I know there have been plenty of people who have made me responsible for their spiritual growth and their relationship with God, either sub consciously, or intentionally. What's worse is I have bought it too. In fact if my friend had attended a congregation I served and left cursing us, I would have added to the wounds by assuming his lack of spiritual growth was my fault.

In fact it’s that trap that adds to the whole consumer nature of the church that breaks my heart. It’s so easy to say “if we just find out what someone wants... transformation will happen” so we chase this and that and church turns into institution. Programs become our core rather than discipleship.

There has been some freedom in all this for me this week and I mention it here because I know there are lots of you who read my musings on this page, who are giving yourselves to God in ministry and mission, and I hope you find some freedom in this as well.

God Bless you friends!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hash browns and Halloween

I’m in Seattle again for some meetings at our conference office, It also happens to be halloween. I stopped off at a little restaurant to grab an egg and toast for breakfast on my way to the meeting. the restaurant was mostly empty except for a me and an older couple at a table across the room and a few others enjoying the artery clogging meals that are the true greasy spoon experience.

The waitress came up up to the couple eating breakfast to give them their check and laid it on the table with “thanks for coming in have a happy halloween”. The woman at the table answered back “oh we don’t do halloween - I think it’s terrible” I don’t think the waitress was really expecting a point counter point discussion so she kinda had that “well ok then...” attitude. The problem was that the restaurant was small enough that she couldn’t get away from the “conversation” (and I use the word conversation more in the monologue sense of the word)

As the woman launched into the evils of Halloween and how the fact that “these kids” are celebrating an evil holiday more than Christmas is a sign the world is going to hell in a hand basket. I felt more and more un easy, and more than a little dissapointed, that as a woman of Christian faith and conviction this was the avenue she was taking to speak out.

Now, I can see the terribleness in Halloween, especially the terribleness in our waitress wearing a kitty costume made for a 12 year old who weighed 98 lbs and she was neither 12 nor 98 lbs. Every year we have a “harvest party” at church as a gift to the kids of our community, cause we are uncomfortable associating with Halloween, which is fine. Every year I have to explain to the youth group why we don’t do a haunted house at the harvest party. We work hard at making this place, and this group of people, a safe place and community where people feel loved, and can explore the life giving grace of God. Does having a gool chase you with a knife down the back hallway of the church promote that spiritual life of hope we are about?... not so much. So I can see some of the woman’s point.

What bugged me about the one-sided conversation was the fact that it so quickly turned form “oh we don’t do the holiday of halloween” to “those kids...” In my mind I pictured her at the mall while my wife and I take my two kids (Adeline 6 years old will be a china girl thanks to mom’s trip to China town in San Francisco this summer, and Jackson 9 years old will be Ash Catchum (sp?) of pokemon fame) trick or treating. It was the same feeling I had when I heard someone tell me that “the pastor’s son shouldn’t be reading Harry Potter books”. Is there a better way to make people, especially kids, feel like they are evil and unloved, than by saying such things?

I don’t want to imply that we as people of faith shouldn’t stand up for what we believe is right, or stand against those things we feel are wrong. In fact I think we people of faith have lost that desire to love justice do mercy and walk humbly with God in most arena’s of our lives, both personal and private. But in doing so we can never forget that there are people involved. When I hear “those kids” are so bad - I hear “my kids”. I also see cranky old woman with a heart of coal... It reminded me that the way we live our faith affects people, and not just on a grand society level, but on a very personal level (that is if we are even living our faith at all) I’m challenged by the fact that when I make those stands, or act on my beliefs they have to come from a place of love and compassion and life, not from meanness or revenge or dislike.

So if you celebrate Halloween make sure you costume is age and weight appropriate, brush your teeth well after sweets, and have fun.

For the rest of you have a happy Harvest party, or All Saints day or Day of the Dead, or whatever, or just a happy Tuesday.

God Bless

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

There's always a chance!

I was watching the Monday Night Football game this last week between the Arizona Cardinals and the Chicago Bears. As the pre game show started the Bears were a HUGE favorite. As the pre game show announcers were talking about the teams; giving us injury reports and statistics and another thing they could think of to fill the remaining half hour till kickoff, Tom Jackson made this statement about the Cardinals; “They don’t have a chance”. The other three announcers looked a bit stunned, and in fact he said it a second time “They don’t have a chance” to emphasize his point. Finally former 49er's QB Steve Young replied to the comment “What do you mean they don’t have a chance? There’s always a chance! Sheesh! That’s why they play the game. There’s always a chance!” As the game was played the Bears ended up winning the game by one point after coming from behind in the fourth quarter to beat the team that supposedly “didn’t have a chance”(Field goal kickers have to have the highest stress levels known to humanity.)

Although the team I was rooting for was the underdog, and it was wonderful to see the team that that didn’t have a chance almost shock the world and win the game. (it would have been a better story if they won the game but ya' take what you can get)

That phrase has been rolling around in my head all week “There’s always a chance!” I don’t want to be a pie in the sky type person but I think it's true of football and in life - “There is always a chance!” Every Sunday we pray the “lord’s prayer” and say “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”. No matter how screwed up things seem politically or socially or personally we pray that God’s kingdom would break into this world, and our systems and God’s will would be done. When the Israelites were crying out in their misery under Pharoe’s slave masters there was always a chance. That chance became reality when Moses answered God’s call at that burning bush. When the paralytic had been confined to a mat for years there was always a chance. It became a reality when his friends tore a hole in the roof to lower that mat down to Jesus and he was healed.

It seems to me that when our faith becomes about the work of God’s Holy Spirit in us to see our world changed and lives made new, we find hope. It’s in that hope that we can say “there’s always a chance”. The cool thing about it is that in this situation the underdog does win. The servant who is beaten and bruised breaks free from the tomb, conquers the sins of the world that were so heavily favored to destroy us, and all of creation is redeemed - and we get the joy of being partners with God in that recreation of the world. Never forget - “THERE IS ALWAYS A CHANCE!”

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I have to admit it. I’m a Van Halen fan. In fact I’m one of the few people that liked “Van Hagar” as much as the original line up with Diamond Dave. Anyway through the miracle of iTunes I recently purchased “Best of Both Worlds” to listen to during my morning workouts. The premise of the song, as Sammy so eloquently wails it, is that he has met a girl who looks like an angel come from heaven and he wants the best of heaven and earth. I’m sure his intentions were nobel.

I’m not sure that I want the best of both worlds in the same way that Sammy wants his (my wife is better looking than his angel anyway!) I was thinking that every Sunday the congregation says the “Lord’s Prayer” during our worship service. We like most congregations, struggle with those words being a mindless ritual and truly being a prayer from our hearts. The line that always challenges me is “thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. What does it mean for me to truly ask that God’s will would be done in earth? I used to say it with the image of a super hero shouting “SHAZAM!” and miraculously God would just make things the way he wanted. What I have found is that transformation of the world includes transformation of me. If I really...earnestly want to see god’s kingdom here on earth, it means that I have a roleas a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. It means that I have to wrestle with loving God and loving my neighbor - struggling with forgiveness that extends beyond 70 X 7 - standing up for what I believe God would call me to.

When I start to see my role in God’s kingdom I actually see more of it coming into being. I hear peoples struggles with those same things. I see how their relationships are different because of God’s grace. I ‘m finding more and more that asking for the best of both worlds is less about SHAZAM and more about my willingness to be a disciple.

Rock on!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pop quiz!!

Hi friends,

I don't usually put things like these up on my blog but this one was a bit interesting. I saw it first on a friends Blog. I know nothing of the creator of the quiz or hows questions were chosen but the results seemed pretty close - At least for me...Surprise I was a "Wesleyan" (scored 86 in the "Wesleyan" catagory and 79 in the "Emergant/Post Modern". Anyone who knows me could have told you that.

If you wanna take the quiz it is HERE

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"step away from the hobo"

I've been sitting on some thoughts that I havenÂ't put down in any written form - mostly because my head has been a little cluttered with schedules and with break-ins and insurance claims and blah blah blah...

As many of you know we at Orchards UMC run a sufficiently HUGE fireworks stand here in Vancouver. It helps us give a salary to our Youth Director and also helps us do some wonderful things above and beyond the normal ministries we do as a church. It's a big undertaking that requires at least a few people to manage it full time during the week of sales. I and another guy from our church managed the tent this year (THANKS KEVIN YOU ROCK!) We were typically out at the tent everyday from 8:30 am to about 11:30pm. A couple of night I spent the night out there as well, as night security. Needless to say I was pretty scruffy looking come the end of the week.

Since the tent was in the Vancouver Mall parking lot, from time to time I would call my wife and kids and have them meet me at the food court for lunch when I could get away. On one of the last days of the sale, I met my family at the food court for lunch. I hadn'’t shaved in a week, I was hot and sweaty (we had several days above 100 degrees while working in a tent on a big black asphalt parking lot.) I smelled like gun powder and sweat and was pretty grimy in general. I got there a few minutes before my family, so I got in line at McD'’s. There was a little kid in line in front of me that smiled at me and said "hi". I asked him if he was gonna shoot off fireworks on the 4th and was just being generally friendly to him. I tried to be equally as friendly with his (I assume) mother, but she just gave me a patronizing smile and tugged her son closer. A few other people treated me in a similar way and it dawned on me that they thought I was homeless. In fact when my family joined me my son greeted me with this phrase to his sister Adeline; "“step away from the hobo!"

I've never experienced people looking "“through me"” or clutching their kids close when I stood behind them in line. It was an odd feeling. When I sat with my family the experience kind of stopped (and turned to "why is that beautiful woman with that guy?")

I was able to go home and take a shower and shave and change clothes, I can only imagine what it would be like to have that reaction everyday without break.

Some friends and I have been discussing what are the causes of homelessnes. Is it rampant consumerism? Is it a choice for some? Is it a "have's" vs. "have not's" thing? It seems that over and over as I interact with people who find themselves living on the street I hear stories of broken and destroyed relationships. Either fights with people, abuse by someone in authority, or someone significant. Somewhere along the line they have either lost the ability to have and maintain relationships or chucked it all together . It comes as no surprise to me that a homeless man we helped last year would break into our church and do thousands of dollars worth of damage, we are just another relationship in a long line that he has destroyed.

So if at the heart of sin is a severed relationship - what is the connection between homelessness relationships and sin? I haven't put all these pieces together in such a way that it fits yet but I think there is an important connection there. The fact that so many broken and destroyed relationship litter the trail to homelessness, and that we as a society can't even have the most superficial relationship with these folks by even merely acknowledging their presence and looking through them.

Your milage may vary.

Have a great week friends

Friday, August 04, 2006

WWJD....Splash #2

Well as you may have read back on Jully 11th the church that I serve was broken into. Our “friends” came back and broke into the church a second time on August 1st, and did considerably more damage this time, ripping speakers out of the sanctuary walls kicking in doors and frames and stealing sound equipment. I got a call from the 911 operator at 4am on the 1st asking if I was the pastor of the church and that there had been a burglery reported. The police dog was indicating that there was still someone in the building and they wanted my authorization to enter the building (at least thats what I think they waned, while I was trying to gather my thoughts and witts at 4am after being awoke by the phone) By the time I got to the church they already had the “suspect” (and i use the word loosly, since he was arrested walking out of the building with $900 worth of microphones and sound equipment in his back pack) anyway his accomplises seemed to have gotten away.

To make a long story short I identified the equipment layed out across the trunk of the squad care and side walk that they retrieved from the back pack and then walked to the side of the car to get a look at the fellow who blessed us in such a mannor. He looked a little familiar but didn’t ring a bell with me. As i walked through the building with the deputy examining the damage it dawned on me who the person was. I was a homeless man that we had helped for about 4 months last summer and fall until he dissapeared named Ted. I asked the deputy if the Guy in the car’s name was ted and he said yes. I’ll just say it was a good thing he was in the back of a locked squad car at that point.

This is a guy whom I brought blankets to at 11pm and checked on every night to make sure he was safe and warm. I helped him look for jobs got him food, and gave him my lunch. When members of the congregation were uneasy about a homeless guy being around church that long I and a few other fought the battle to continue to help him. This was the thanks we got. Thanks Ted for the damge to the building. For the frantic day of trying to get things repaired so that we wouldn’t have to turn 50 kids away when they came for the second nite of Vacation Bible school. Thanks for making it all the more dificult to help people who find themselves on the street. Thanks for making me not want to help them much anymore. Thanks for making my birthday so special by spending the morning speaking with the insurance adjuster (who by the way is an incredibly nice woman and a huge help, thanks Mary!).... Ok I think thats enough venting for one day.

Ok here is the kicker, the scripture the kids memorized tonite for VBS was ... (your already ahead of me I know.. ) 1 Corinthians 13: 5-6 “love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs...” I wholeheartedly admit I’m not to 1 cor 13 yet in fact it might be a while, I’m still kinda in Amos looking through those “woe to you evildoers” passages. I’m really having a difficult time with this whole thing to tell you the truth. In fact I’m feeling the exact opposite of Love and commpasion and I don’t like it. In fact writing it out here is good for me, but I really need some peace at this point

Thursday, August 03, 2006

OOOO numbers

Ok for those of you that are into the whole number thing and patterns, I have a few for you. Today is my birthday and I am turning 38, so I am turning 38 on 8-3 or 3-8-8-3. ok Second one my daughter turned 6 on July 6th of 06, an the third one, my son turns 8 on August 8th. I wont tell you my wifes age and dates cause she punches really hard.

Ok you numeralogists(sp?) let me know what wonders await me in the future.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Best workmanship around

One of my good friends, Tom, is turning a hobby into a little bit more of a business. He is a woodworker by trade but has started making top quality tabacco pipes. They are some of the best quality I have ever seen, and very reasonably priced. Hand made pipes of this quality sell for hundreds of dollars. Check out Tom's web page if you are interested in such things http://thomasjlipspipeworks.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Hi friends,

Well I’m kinda back to normal. It’s been wacko crazy here for me this last month. Where do I start. was in Tacoma for my Annual Conference meeting. Then was out at the fireworks stand that our congregation runs from 9am-11:30pm every nite of the 28th thru the 5th. Then I spent a couple days down on the Rogue River in S. Oregon camping with family. This week I am Mr Mom while Jennifer is in San Francisco with the youth group chaperoning a mission trip.

I have a few things I wanted to comment about but I’ll break them up so you wont doze off and get that slobber drool thing going on your keyboard.

Last Tuesday, while I was camping, I drove up the road a ways to where I could get a cell phone signal just to check any messages I may have ( going up to the bars as it were, cell phone signal strength bars... get it...) When I listened to my voice mail there was a message from my secretary Sue saying that the church had been broke into again. We had a break in 3 weeks ago but not a whole lot was stolen. This time quite a bit was stolen, not to mention the back door that was kicked in or crow bar-ed or something.

Anyway, not the message I was expecting to get. So I drove a few more miles into Merlin, Ore. and got a Coke at the little general store, let my blood pressure go down and then called Sue back to get the rest of the info.

When we United Methodist Ministers are Ordained we are asked a few questions, and one of those is about Wesley’s idea of entire sanctification. We are asked if we believe it and if we will achieve it in this life. I do believe it, and I pray that I will reach it. But I’m not there. I spent the next two days imagining what I would do to these SOB’s that broke into the church and stole thousands of dollars worth of equipment. We work so hard at helping people and making the world better through Christ's presence with us and then these dumb craps break in and do stuff like this! My blood was boiling. I wanted to hit them spit in their face... I was furious. I knew that wouldn’t be what Jesus would do (if I wore one of those WWJD bracelets I would have chucked it in the Rogue) For those of you that know me I don’t get angry easily and its usually not often, but this had me going.

I had a friend back in college that went down to LA to take a couple classes at a seminary there. While he was there, his car was stolen and stripped,. They took his Bible, notes from the classes and all his tapes along with the stereo ( that shows you how long ago it was ...yes I said tapes...) People would try to console him by saying things like “Well maybe they will read your Bible and God will do something miraculous and they will ‘get saved’ “ My friends reply was “Don’t tell me that! I don’t want them to get saved... I want then to burn in hell. I was stranded in LA for three days while they were stripping my car.” I kinda feel the same way. Luckily no one has given me the “look on the bright side...” speech yet.

It’s been a week since the break in and my blood is down from 100 degrees C to about 97 degrees. But all this does remind me that there is a pretty screwed up world that needs Jesus, and I need him too.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Comming soon

Hi friends, I apologize that I haven't put much up on this page lately. My schedule is a bit wacko at the moment so I haven't had much time to write down anything earth shattering (or even lame for that matter). I've been out at our Fireworks tent on the surface of the sun (translated Vancouver Mall parking lot in 103 degree heat!) So once things slow down a bit I'll try to get some more thoughts on here. Have a wonderful independance day celebration if you celebrate such things!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It didn't suck too bad!

Well its Father’s day and I am in Seattle, in a parking lot outside Quest church waiting for the gathering to start. I have been in Tacoma for the last 4 days attending the Annual Conference of the Pac NW United Methodist Church.

For those of you who know me other than from this blog, you know that Annual Conference is my least favorite time of the year. First of all, it is always the week that ends in Father’s day, Second, it’s always the same week of my wedding anniversary. (oops maybe I better switch that to #1 , sorry Jennifer I love you where did the last 15 years go!) Third, our conference doesn’t always play well together. I have seen delegates throw papers in the air and storm off the conference floor. I’ve seen people belittled in official statements and many unofficial ones. One year I had a lay woman sit across a table and cry as she said, “I didn’t know the church was like this!” Not our finest moments. I’ve seen our pastors remain firmly seated arms crossed and scowls on their face while a colleague received awards for their work for the kingdom of God because they were either “conservative” or “liberal”, again not our finest moments.

It saddens me that my qualifications for a successful Annual Conference is to be able to say at the end “well, that didn’t suck too bad”

I probably should have prefaced all of this by saying even if we all got along well, and played nicely, I would not like annual conference. Administration and “holy conferencing” are not my gifts for ministry. My image of Hell is spending eternity in a small room with clergy who have Robert's rules of order memorized, eternity would be spent debating if a motion is debatable because the motion is for non-concurrence. (my blood pressure went up just typing that )

Well, I can whole heartedly say “It didn’t suck that bad”. As a relative newbie to our conference (11 years), which is an issue unto itself, I have noticed a change in the tone and climate in our conference meetings. I was surprised to see us spontaneously offer prayer for our bishop and his wife as she faces major surgery in the coming months. We laid hands on each of our clergy as their appointments were read and prayed for God’s work to be done through them in the places they serve. We spoke as we do every year about the problems we face and the statistics that show measurable decline in many areas, BUT our board of congregational development (of which I am secretary) presented the Conference with a new policy we will be operating under in an effort to help developing congregations and move forward in starting new congregations within our conference. It was well received by the delegates, although I must admit somewhat guardedly, due to some history many delegates have with congregational development and redevelopment.

For a Pastor who is far to young to be a cynical as I am, it was good to see us begin to turn a corner in our life together and our service to God. Please pray for us as we live out this call together.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Love God, love everyone else...

We are in the process of nominating people to fill positions at the church such as trustees and SPR committee members etc... I have recently vented on this page about the frustration surrounding the fact that there are about 50 positions within our church that meet on a monthly basis yet little has happened to transform the culture we are in, or make personal transformations within the people who “serve” on these committees.

Each fall and spring I offer a “class” for people who would like to be more than just regular attenders of our church and become members. The last class I offered had a rather large group attend. So we met at a coffee shop in town and talked about the history of our denomination, how our church got to the place it is now, and what it is we feel God calling our church to do and be. It was a great time and as we spent the month together it was wonderful to hear these new members talk about their faith and gifts that they bring to this community of faith....

Sooo, I am faced with a dilemma.. I have these 13 people who have found a community they love and have wonderful gifts and passion... do i plug them into a system that seems to be mostly selfish and introverted at its core hoping they will find the avenue to serve or do I quit propping up a flawed system (in my opinion) with wonderful people?

The even more frustrating thing is that as I discussed these new members most of whom have been with us for over a year, the vast majority of the old leadership folks had no idea who they were other than “they are that new couple that sits where so-and-so used to”

So, that brings me to my point, (I think I have one) I’m really tired of programs. I’m weary of the “purpose driven 40 days of growth plus alive in 75 decade of harvest”. I’m tired of people giving me a book and telling me here is the key to “successful ministry” or the new structure or program...that someone will be blogging their frustrations over. So far the best I have seen, or at least seems to strike a chord with my heart, and where I feel God calling us, is ironically John Wesley’s class meetings. Groups who care about each other, look out for each other and help each other be faithful christians in the midst of their world and community. I’m tired of hoping the program will lead us to life in Christ and thus transformed communities.

In the next year I am praying that the congregation I serve will begin to see their lives as followers of Jesus as something way beyond church and committee attendance.

I think we (and I always include myself in all these posts) need to work on Jesus words in Mark 12:28-31 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

I hate to be so simplistic because I know that living lives of faith is difficult, and complicated at times, but I really think unless we get a real, tangible grasp on what it means to love God and love everyone else, no program is going to transform us, or our world and culture. Having a community that helps us learn how to do both those things is the best program I can imagine.

Friday, May 26, 2006

11 years behind the moustache

Well believe it or not I'm not too into change. On a whim, last Saturday I decided to modify the facial hair experience that is my face.

For over 11 years Hi have been sporting a Goatee:

The new and improved facial hair experience:

These are the "thoughtful" ones I'll use on my book jacket :-)

Crap! Now I have to write a book! Have a great day !

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pastors burned out

I saw this on a friend's blog. Bob.blog

It's some thoughts by Mark Driscoll on stress on pastor's and its effects. I typically don't find my self agreeing with Mark Driscoll much - let me preface that. He is one of those guys that I may agree with from time to time, but his style and personality bugs me, so on occasion its not so much dissagreement as much as it is my hang up - but I think he is right on, on this subject.

Check it out HERE

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sandwiches in the park

I wanted to share with you, an experience I had with a few folks from our congregation. As many of you know, on the third Saturday of each month, two women from or congregation, Macia G. and Leila A. have spearheaded a project in which members of our congregation head down to Orchards Park and hand out sandwiches to any one who wants one. (If you didn’t know about it... now ya’ do).

I went with them last month. Jennifer, Jackson, Adeline and myself (my family) met with Leila in the church kitchen and made about 20 sandwiches. We loaded up signs and sandwiches, a thermos of coffee, some cookies (Of which I had to test one... maybe two... just to make sure they were ok. Food tester is a very important job!). We set up our table and sat on a bench and pretty soon someone came by. We asked if he would like a sandwich and he said “ya’ talked me into it”. As we handed him a sandwich and some coffee, his reply was, “Why are you doing this?” and Leila's answer was wonderful: “We go to a church up the road, and we just felt like the good Lord told us to give people something to eat.” I followed up with “So have cookie,” and put a bag with some peanut butter cookies in his hands. I think he was a little thrown off that we didn’t want anything from him, or maybe it was because we welcomed him to stay and eat with us, but there was a smile on his face. Although he didn’t stay and eat with us he gave us a very heart felt “thank you” as he hurried off to get to a job.

Another gentleman rode up on a bike with all his belongings in a carrier behind it. His name was Homer. Homer stayed to eat with us, Marcia and I shared a conversation with him that ranged from Bible names to the DiVinci code movie. (He told us that his mother had named him after Gomer in the bible. I didn't want to ask how "Gomer" turned to "Homer", nor did I want to elaborate too much on the fact that Gomer was Hosea’s unfaithful/prostitute wife... That's kinda’ a second conversation with someone topic.) After he ate with us he thanked us and hopped on his bike and rode off.

A county work van pulled up, and Leila and Marcia waved as it parked. Seems that a couple of months ago a work crew was at the park and Marcia and Leila gave them sandwich’s and struck up a friendship with the supervisor. So he was back and we gave the work crew some sandwiches and heard their stories about what they had done in order to be serving this community service. Again, I think they were a bit thrown off because we didn’t want anything from them, or that we weren’t there to scold them for the things they had done. In fact I was surprised at how long these relatively young men and women wanted to stay and chat with us. I wasn’t expecting that, nor was I expecting to get driving tips for driving a car 95 mph. (The tips didn’t include how not to be arrested for reckless driving though... so I took them with a grain of salt)

In the hour and a half we spent at the park we fed about 20 people, but beyond that I heard people’s stories, learned their names and offered kindness, which was returned to me with hand shakes and thank you’s. Over and over they wanted to know where was this church that does this for free.

It was a great time, that reminded me that so much of what Jesus spoke to us about happens beyond the walls of our church building, and at times other than Sunday mornings. I am amazed at how much people are surprised when someone just wants to sit down and meet them, without an ulterior motive or judgment, especially if they find themselves living on the streets, or are in a position of having to do something to atone for some action they have done. I pray that we will learn more about what it means to be a gathering of people, who share a common faith, that allows us to be Christ’s presence in the world - not just in our building.

Ready at a moments notice to test cookies,


Monday, May 08, 2006

A Toast!

Well, today has been a strange day. As I write this it is about 10:30 pm and I have just come back from a Monday Night Group of guys that I hang out with. As we gathered we drank a toast to the brand new baby daughter that was born to one of the guys this week. We lifted our glasses and toasted the wonderful new life of Jane Elizabeth Hyatt.

Earlier in the day I sat in a hospital room with seven other friends as a dear friend passed away. His wife held his hand as we prayed and cried and shared stories.

It has been one of those days where I am struck by the nature of the friends God has put in our paths. One is grieving the passing of a spouse for 50 years and I’m trying to be a Pastor to her and also deal with my own emotions and feeling of loss over a dear friend that I joked with and teased. Someone who shared my sense of humor and a faith that made us both weep at Easter when we sang “Hallelujah He Is Coming”

The other friend left early so he could go home and be with his wife, son and brand new daughter.

Last week I performed another funeral for a friend and parishioner who ultimately died of issues surrounding his fight with Alzheimers.

In seminary, as I was training for ministry, I was taught the theological framework for both the situations. But the reality of celebrating with friends and grieving with them, sometimes at the same time, is something that those of us who answered a call to be pastors know as one of the oddities of this unique relationship we share with people.

So here is a toast to Jane, I pray God’s blessings for her new life and the family that loves her dearly, and a toast to Don Hall a friend that is resting in the arms of a God who loves him.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Only drink milk from a Christian cow

For those of you who read my occasional brain barfs here on this Blog, you know that in the past year or so I have really been rethinking what Church is, and should be, and what community really means.

I meet every Monday night at a pub on Belmont in Portland called the Horse Brass (try the Fish and chips!) with some guys. Last Monday I was there till about 11pm talking with two friends, Charlie and Aaron, about this whole idea of community. Particularly, we were talking about when a community turns into a closed bubble that isolates us from the rest of the world. All of us had experienced such communities in our lives.

I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with the church’s ability to become a meeting of individuals who don’t particularly care for one another beyond the superficial “passing of the peace” and occasional potluck supper. The middle sized church’s I have served in my career have often felt like anonymous places of worship.

I am amazed that in the 11 years I have been an ordained minister, I have met on an average three nights a week committees on top of weekly worship services and classes and retreats...and...and...and... Yet the largest numerical growth I have witnessed in a congregation I’ve served is 10% (we used to call it death plus 10% since the average age of most Methodist churches is usually more conducive to funerals rather than weddings and baptism... That's a thought for another blog)

I don’t want to get hung up on numbers and fall into a trap of saying a church of 500 or 1000 is better than a church of 100 or 200 (because I don’t believe that to be true) What is frustrating, is that after 11 years (in my case) of meeting 3 or 4 times a week we still don’t see the communities we live in changed much by our presence there.

So when did we get to the place where we spend 4 nights a week to work out what the church is, yet become so closed that we have little or no contact with anyone who doesn’t go to our church?

Maybe I’m just struggling with the fact that I feel like I need to spend more time with “sinners” (That was a loaded phrase wasn’t it?) So how do we kick the bureaucracy that keeps us gathered in basements, passing motions like the Judean Liberation Front (Or was it the Liberation Front of Judea??) in the movie “Life of Brian” that never did anything, but voted on statements of support... “let it be known that we support Brian’s martyrdom...”

I guess I have been feeling God’s call to foster a christian community that genuinely loves and cares and supports one another by sharing their lives together. A community that would be a touch stone and body that sends us out to coach little league, and volunteer at hospitals, and what ever else way we can interact with the world. I am tired of being such a closed community that we think we can only drink milk from a Christian cow (That is my most favorite song lyric ever written, “Guilty by Association” thank you Steve Taylor!) So what would it be like to be a community of faith that God uses to transform our world??

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sister update

Just a quick update on my sister, for you all that stop by here on occasion. The Dr said the surgery went well. He commented that things were not in the places they normally are (which in my mind is a confirmation that this surgery was the correct diagnosis and treatment) They didn't have to sever the nerve, so Nancy will just have to recover from surgery and wait and see if this takes care of the pain.

Thanks you all for praying for her during this time!


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Spaghetti or Koinonia

I have been thinking quite a bit about what “community” means. Partially because we have successfully navigated through the season of Lent and are now in the Easter Season. Like most churches we have the spike in attendance on Easter Sunday. (One congregation that sends me their newsletter has a “low Sunday potluck” on the Sunday after easter since there is such an attendance drop)

This year was no different for us. Typically we have about 150 adults on a Sunday and about 45 kids in Sunday School. On Easter we had 283 (But whose counting?? :-) As I looked out over the congregation I noticed that we didn’t have a whole lot of visitors. We have found ourselves in this strange area where we have quite a few families that come one sunday a month or maybe two. When we all show up at the same time there is around 250 of us.

So as we as a congregation are taking steps to build a “community” (see “So how’d we get here?” post) What is it that seems to keep these folks from connecting more fully but not willing to leave all together?

As I think about it (and most of this post is just my processing, please post any comments you have!) I think there are some principles of church growth that apply. We see ourselves as a much more friendly place than we are in reality (reality seems to be a tough place for us to live) We do a great job of welcoming and making those who wander in feel at home. 4 weeks later - not so much. We’ve been trained to be friendly to visitors just like the books say, but after your not “new” say 4-6 visits we tend to ignore you and a year later I hear lots of “what happened to that couple.... what's their name?.... you know the woman with the thing and her husband... with the kids... you know .... what happened to them?” I assume that's part of it. Is it just that the demographic that we are seeing come are just more sporadic? Could be...

For 20-30 something year old parents with small kids and who have little Church back ground or are trying to rediscover something of a faith they value, one Sunday a month might be pretty good. ... I don’t think I buy that one.

I guess I’m continually challenged by the fact that I don’t believe a life of faith in Jesus Christ can be lived in isolation or anonymously. I’ve always been troubled by what a lot of congregations call “koinonia groups” (If your congregation has them I apologize) They trouble me because in my experience with them, they have little to do with “koinonia” in my opinion. Usually they have more to do with superficial spaghetti dinners and photocopied fill-in-the-blanks Bible studies. Not the groups that share their lives and build communities of support and growth. When crisis of faith or the dark night of the soul closes in, I don’t feel like its those superficial groups that provide an anchor or link back to Christ’s body.

My fear is that as I see these people tentatively connected to us, they are on there way to disappearing rather than testing the waters to join us in a deeper way. I may be wrong.

I hope God reveals to us more what it means to genuinely care for each other, and that we would be a community that embodies Christ to one another and our world.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Prayers for my sister

Some of you know the problems my sister has been having over the last few years with nerve damage in her head and face.For those of you that don't know, my sister Nancy, has had severe pain on the side of her face and temple for a few years. At first the pain was spuratic, but has increasingly become chronic. Even her hair hurt. After several specialists and chasing down any diagnosis that might bring some relief, she was accepted into the Mayo Clinic last month. PRAISE GOD they seem to have come up with a diagnosis and treatment. The scary part is that it involves brain surgery to move an artery that is pressing against the trigeminal (sp?) nerve at the base of her brain. Nancy has been in such pain for so long I pray that this gives her relief and her life back! She will be flying back to AZ to undergo the surgery on the 28th.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

So, how'd we get here?

A few of you have been asking how life at Orchards UMC is going since the change in our Worship format, and a few of you have been asking how we got to the point in making the change so I thought I'd offer this:

Back in September of last year the Administrative Council members, and some of our congregation members who have held offices for some time in the past gathered to discuss what the future of our congregation looked like.

Part of the motivation for the meeting was give us some information I had learned while at an Alice Mann seminar regarding her book Raising the Roof, I had been invited to attend by our conference. As part of that discussion we looked at the statistics from our church over the last 20 years. We noticed that there was a trend that had developed roughly every 5 years or so. The congregation would have periods of growth and reach a “glass ceiling” in terms of attendance at around 190. We would hold that # for 6 months to a year, then slowly decline over the next two years back to between 150-160. There would be a change in Pastors or some other event, that would generate some momentum and we would start the cycle over again. We noticed that we had just come through a year and a half with attendance average of 180 and were beginning to see the decline.

There were quite a few possible reasons for the cycle ranging from pastoral leadership styles, to facility limitations, to the state of the economy and neighborhoods we serve and our structure, all of which play a role. Much of the day was centered on breaking this cycle we found our selves in. A huge part of the process is defining who we are, and who we want to be.

It seemed that breaking that cycle left us two viable options. The first was be a church of around 150 people... not just a church of 150 but a healthy church of around 150 people. Instead of ramping our resources and energy into increasing attendance, what would a healthy congregation of 150 look like. We talked about becoming a church that was spiritually mature, involved in the social holiness that is the bench mark of our tradition, and equipping individual members to be ministers with OUMC as their home base. The second alternative was to shift the structure of our church to move towards growth. Those conversations revolved around breaking our group of 150+ people that seemed to be too big to have meaningful relationships with each other and grow, into several smaller groups (or cells as some consultants refer to them). The idea was that three groups of 50 people have a better chance of building genuine relationships with each other and more potential for growth. This second option had a lot more emotional implications to it. It meant having to give up the notion of “knowing everyone in the church” (which we were already too big to do) It meant smaller groups that shared their lives and spiritual journeys together, instead of the anonymity in worship with a larger group. Some of us loved the feeling of being part of that larger group, and even had a very deeply held belief that a worship service with an attendance of 160 was “better” than a service of 50. The hardest part was that this shift meant that our church would need to be defined by something other than our Sunday Morning Worship Service, which had been our identity for about 125 years. Our identity would have to refocus to our relationships with each other outside the worship service. That meant building a community of spiritual friends that met in each others homes and shared their lives. As we talked we realized that that refocusing and creation of smaller groups also allowed us to do the things we thought a healthy smaller congregation would do.

So the gathered group decided to pursue the more difficult and emotionally charged path of breaking our single cell up in the hopes of building genuine community with potential for growth, rather than remain the smaller congregation. We asked our Administrative Council to adopt a three service format that allows us to give our kids an entire hour together for Sunday School (Extreme Faith Explorers as we call it) and allow us to create some Adult Education classes. Now instead of a single group, we have three made up of about 50 people each beginning to build relationships with each other (actually its about 70, 40, 40) We are embarking on more gatherings in our homes, worship services that not only foster meaningful worship times, but facilitate building a community of spiritual friends. Our prayer is that we wouldn’t be identified by the building we use, or the time that we worship, but by the spirit of God that draws us together and out into our world. It is a big step for us and in some ways a bit painful as well... Change always is.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Lent, Coca-cola and Hope

Welcome to decreased blood pressure day as I like to refer to it. It’s the first day back in the office after Holy Week and Easter. One of the things that they don’t tell you in training for the ministry, is that in most ministry structures the pastor is going to be doing so much stuff that the sacredness or specialness of some of the seasons we celebrate are going to be somewhat muted, and in some cases set aside all together.
Colleges who have larger staffs than I, or many more volunteers than I , and more organic “loosy goosy” structures seem to note the same experience. I have the same problem with the sabbath. Sunday’s are not the relaxing day devoted to God and health that they should be, for obvious reasons. So for me my sabbath is Monday. (and please don’t make comments about Sabbath being saturday and that I’m a Bible perverter because I don’t keep “the Sabbath” as God commanded, unless you are blind and handless because they caused you to sin and you removed them, or celebrated the year of jubilee anytime recently... I’m still working on my bank on that one)
I need to turn a corner here quickly, I didn’t mean for this to be a rant about the business of clergy during holy seasons, I wanted to reflect a little on my experience of Lent this year. (and by the way Easter worship services were AMAZING at Orchards UMC this year!)
As before mentioned, Lent was wacko crazy for me this year. I serve on the board of Ordained Ministry for the conference I am a part of, so as Lent began I was spending considerable time reading volumes of written materials, watching video recorded worship services, and reading bible studies prepared by our candidates for ordination, not to mention several days of travel to interview those candidates with the board. I also serve on the board of congregational development for the conference I belong to and we re in the midst of some rather milestone marking refocusing for our conference, that I believe, if our church’s and clergy take it seriously, could make a major impact on the way we “do ministry” in the Pacific Northwest Conference of United Methodism. Also my local congregation is in the midst of redefining itself and part of that redefinition is the way we respond to God’s call through our stewardship, and specifically our financial stewardship, so working with some wonderful and incredibly bright and caring people from my local congregation on this issue was another set of responsibilities on my plate. So Lent was for me a bundle of meetings, and scheduling calendars, doing the pastoral work my church needs from me and squishing in some personal time to keep my own soul and family healthy. Grace abounded for me this Lent, because I sure wasn’t adding anything to my life and routines that I could in anyway be mistaken that I was some how earning God’s grace (hmmm avoiding heresy by apathy and diversion... I think I see a book in the future, now if I can work revelation and demons into it I’d have a hit!)
So with all that being said there was one discipline that I was being faithful to during this lent; “self denial” - not through anything monumental but simply by giving up Coca-Cola. I admit it is small, and for the most part I give up coke for lent as something I can joke around with the kids of my congregation about. I have been greeted by cases of coke on my door step, or passenger seat of my car or piled on my desk on Easter morning by wonderful parishioners. This year in the midst of the business and hustle and bustle of life and work, that simple act of self denial reminded me that there was something bigger going on in the world. On those evenings when I had to run through the drive through at McD’s and I would order Ice Tea or water instead of a coke , it reminded me that it was Lent and that there was something at work in the world that is so easily missed. In that very simple reminder of “oh ya... Its Lent ..I’ll have Water thank you” God’s spirit touched my heart, and the assurance that God’s grace through Jesus works in my life even on those busiest of days was incredibly real.

I hope your Lent was eye opening and renewing, and I hope your Easter was filled by the spirit of the God who loved us enough to come get us.

:::lifting a Coca-cola glass::: SALUTE

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Buiding Vs community

I have been thinking a lot lately about new church starts ( read that as about 6 years of thinking). I have seen a lot of theories come and go in that time. I’ve seen what constitutes success in a new church, change and evolve (in good and bad ways).

for a long time now one of the success markers has been a congregation that is able to purchase property and build a building. That's something I’d like to see evolve and change.

It’s funny the more I serve long standing existing congregations the more I hate buildings. But the more I talk to friends and colleagues in new church settings the more I hear them say “if we could just have a place we call our own, we could....” I guess everyone else's problems and issues look better when you are neck deep in your own huh??

Now don’t get me wrong there are some great things about owning your own place. In my present situation I love that we have a sanctuary that is specifically set aside for worship, not hot dog suppers, or youth dances, or basketball tournaments... just worship. There is something sacred about that place. When you walk through the doors it feels different. (maybe that's just me I’m one of those pastors that likes mystics and untouchable things so take anything I say through that filter) I love that we have a place where if we want to have a Tuesday night Bible study all we have to do is unlock the door and walla! we have a space to do that. Or if we want to have a Seder Dinner on Holy Thursday (which we are) We can have a 100 or so people gather in the fellowship hall with little problem. I like that everyday several thousand people drive by our building and read our bill board and know we are here every Sunday.

Now for the other side of the coin - I hate that it costs us a butt load of $ to heat that same sanctuary, keep the toilets working, keep an insurance policy active just in case...
I hate that if I want to use a small wooden lectern to hold my notes instead of the big ol’ pulpit someone will be pissed because so and so made that pulpit or it was gift from... I hate that I have heard the statement “if this church uses chairs instead of pews We will leave”. I hate that Orchards United Methodist Church is commonly knows as the building on 4th Plain across the street from Burgerville instead of a spiritual Christian community of people that care about one another and the community we are a part of.

In our little part of the Christian community stewardship is a big issue and quite frankly our congregation is learning what it means to be faithful in the area of finances. Corporately we do incredible things with the meager amount that we receive as tithes and offerings from our members. Individually as members of this community is our faith reflected in our finances?... Not so much. part of the reason why I’m frustrated that by far the largest amount of finances we spend as a congregation go to maintenance and insurance and utilities for a building, that has become somewhat an identity for us, rather than the community. Imagine the service we could be providing in our community with those funds. Imagine the staff and support we could be providing the members of the church to be in ministry. Imagine, instead of unlocking a class room for a gathering, welcoming someone into your house or apartment. Imagine, if instead of worrying if the homeless person stole the lawn mower or left his sleeping bag on the porch we brought him lunch and learned his name...

I know all these things could be, and can be, done with a building and a generous community of faith. But, as a friend of mine said this week as we were talking about new churches, “What you gather people with, is what you gather people to” If it’s the flashy shinny multiplex, with million dollar sound and lights, why are we surprised when the next meglo-church down the street gets better sound and lights our members go there. Why shouldn’t members go there? After all that's the value we built the congregation on.

In a consumer society where churches produce a product to be consumed, I wonder if our worship of buildings and flash helps us to be the body of Christ in our communities or are a hindrance to it.

I think you know which way I’m leaning.... Your milage may vary

First Robin of the season

No Big Whup - But just thought I’d let you know I saw my first robin of the season on Friday. All be it he was a bit haggard, windblown and puffed up but I guess being the first of anything takes its toll.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Christendom and its dimming light

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about being a “Missional Church”. The problem with any phrase that people rally around is that it can be interpreted in various ways. The term “Missional Church” for many of our churches was interpreted to mean that they had a missions committee or supported missionaries. For other congregations it may have meant more than just supporting missions but actively participating in them. The problem is that both those views of the “Missional Church” I think miss the mark of what the phrase really means to those of us that are striving to be Missional in our faith.

At the heart of the communication gap is the cultural gap that we are experiencing as Christians in the Western world. For centuries the prominent world view of our culture was the Christian world view. It had its benefits because it gave us a common language and platform to talk about moral issues and “good vs bad”. This Christendom was also a problem, because one could share the world view and not have it rooted in the relationship of a loving God. As a result Christendom also gave us examples of society treating the less fortunate or outsider in terrible ways because they were “bad”. How many of us have heard the terrible stories of the unwed mothers and their treatment in earlier times, or the physically abusive husband who was never confronted because he was the “man of the house”.

In Christendom we could be missional by just saying “do what you know is right”. But in a culture that was increasingly rejecting that same world view, doing the right thing meant something very different to various audiences. So “Missions” in may of our Christendom churches amounted to “christianizing” people by having them subscribe to a set of beliefs and behaviors that will hopefully lead to a deeper understanding of Christ, and a vital, personal intimate relationship with Him.

So if being Missional isn’t about convincing some one of a set of beliefs or behavior to lead them to a spiritual awakening, what is it? Well let me give it a shot.

Being Missional is not about supporting missions in the traditional sense. It is about being the mission in a new sense. That means refusing to see our churches as a place where we serve each other, and reinforce our world view and inward focused society. It means seeing our churches as a community that serves the world. Instead of targeting the sinner and presenting a “gospel” and demanding a response, the Missional church sees itself as part of the world, proclaiming Christ by way of service and, as Brian McClaren calls it “building spiritual friendships”, thus relying on community and Spirit to speak to lives - rather than intellect and arguments.

It’s a fine line I know, but as our cultures and communities move further way from Christendom, will we still be viewing mission in its dimming light? Or will we be the mission reading Christ’s story into the culture that surrounds us, sharing our stories, making friends and being instruments used by the Spirit to reveal truth and Life.

Friday, March 17, 2006

It’s been a busy few weeks. I was hoping to be able to put a few more thoughts on this blog about my thoughts on Lent, but my schedule with travel and stuff hasn’t allowed me to give much attention to this venue.

During the last two weeks I have been interviewing candidates for elders orders and full membership in the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church. (if your not a United Methodist and you have no idea what that means basically I have been examining candidates who hope to be ordained clergy members in our denomination) The process involves the candidates answering theological and professional development questions as well as sermons and bible studies. Needless to say I have been involved in a quite a bit of theological discussions over the last two weeks. Hearing others formulate and defend (for lack of a better word) their theological thoughts always helps me formulate my thoughts on theology and doctrine. As look back on my own journey of theological thought it seems that my thinking is becoming more and more broad rather than more and more narrow.

I’m finding that more and more the church has had a tradition of doing the opposite. I spent a lot of my life trying to figure out the systems and formula that God had put in place to either grant me salvation or at least offer me some life benefits. The problem with that was that I found myself in a position of earning the free gift of Grace by right belief or correct behavior. the more specifically I could define the belief and adhere to the correct behavior the more faithful i felt I was.

My thinking has changed from God simply revealing himself to us through formulas and exclusive means that our Modern Philosophical view has ingrained in us to a revelation happening in a broad way that includes communities of faith, scripture, poetry, story, beauty, science, mysticism and ways that I probably never assumed God would use.

It seems that the history of our church has been moving further away from the Canon that the first Christians used as their spiritual core. The earliest Christians relied on not only the written text and the scriptures they had compiled but the communities of faith they lived in, the clergy and apostles, their histories and traditions. In Billy Abraham’s book Canon and Criterion In Christian Theology he states that there are ten spokes in the wheel that all made up the canon for the earliest christians.

Then all the other parts were made subject to the apostolic office of the Bishop in Rome. So the Pope effectively told us what was important at the expense of the others. What traditions were valid, what teachings, what the scriptures said were all subject to the pope. Then Luther took us a step further and it was solely scripture. Then the Princeton scholars that gave us the fundamentalists, narrowed it further to be not just scripture but the “inerrant verbal plenary inspiration” - that every jot and tittle of the “original text” was the inspired truth of God. Not as a theological decision but mostly as reactions to the growing liberal theology of the day.

I think our modern Protestant expression of faith and revelation is a mere shadow of the richness God has intended for us

Monday, February 20, 2006

When Jesus doesn't fit my head

This last week at the Young Adult Bible Study that meets at my house on Friday evenings, we were reading in the book of John as Jesus tells his disciples that he now considers them friends. I have always loved that passage and felt a closer connection to a savior that was willing to “lay his life down for Friends” rather than begrudgingly doing his duty. But as we read the passages in context we were all struck by the repeated passages that state “If you love me you will do what I say” and “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
It seemed so formula driven to us and uncharacteristic of Jesus who has been the image of forgiveness through out John’s gospel. It smacked of being merely a system of rules. As we talked about the idea’s of grace and accountability I found myself trying to make Jesus what I wanted him to be. I would head down a road of thought that I liked trying to make Jesus’ words fit a structure or belief I liked. But it didn’t fit, so frustrated we would “try something else” and see if we could fit Jesus into our thought process or philosophical structurein another direction. After sharing thoughts and ideas for about an hour, our stomachs were all grumbling so we decided we should stop and get dinner. We would just have to wrestle with the idea of free grace, merited grace and accountability on our own for a week.
There have been plenty of times in our gatherings where we have stopped and asked “wha????” as we read the scriptures together. We have often had to cross reference scriptures, and pull into the discussion other theologian’s ideas, but usually we would leave at least mostly satisfied that we had found something we connected with. This evening was different - I think we all felt a little frustrated - not because this was so earth shattering, or that we couldn’t reconcile Jesus words with the over all theme of the Gospel as John records it. What I think was frustrating for us, was that unwittingly we spent an hour trying to make Jesus something we wanted him to be, (Something we are usually very careful to avoid.) Part of our time together is to specifically hear what God is saying to us through scripture, not apply our thoughts and comforts onto the scriptures we read. Sometimes the things God reveals to us in scripture, in fact shine a very unflattering light on us and our world views, and can be a bit uncomfortable, but that is a good thing for us I think.
As the frustration of that evening wore away I found myself asking how many other times to I try to make Jesus into what I want him to be, to justify my behavior or world view. Not only in the academic setting, or in study groups, but in the coffee shop, or in the line at the DMV (The 4th level of hell as I lovingly refer to it) or with friends, or with those that are not so friendly.
I don’t want my life to be a series of second guesses, but I also want to take Jesus more seriously than bumper stickers and t-shirts. There are parts of Jesus message that I readily jump on and wave like a banner and others that I tend to ignore because they don’t fit well into my check book, or gas tank, or dinner plate. I hope we are challenged to consider what discipleship means and reminded that we are disciples of the one true christ - Jesus, the incarnate God, the word made flesh, the savior of the world - not people who merely use Jesus as supporting arguments.

Always challenged by a life in Christ

Pastor Mark

Bread and Grape Juice

A friend of mine and I were having one of those conversations in a pub over a plate of cajun tater tots that unpacks a whole can of worms metaphorically speaking not to eat with the tots. (I assume the tots taste better than worms... but then again I've never tried worms)

The conversation began around the fact that the congregation I serve (www.OrchardsUMCVancouver.org) would be taking communion that Sunday. We talked a little about the method by which we distribute the elements, whether we use wine or grape juice. We discussed the big ol' italian loaves in DaVinci's last supper painting as contrasted with the unleavened bread they really ate and how My favorite communion bread all-be-it historically inaccurate is the Hawaiian sweet bread we used in the little church I attended while in Seminary in KY. All those incredibly meaningless things that Pastor's find them selves spending a lot of time dealing with, and congregations get their shorts in a bind over.

At one point in the conversation, it struck me as odd this ritual we share and participate in. What if James and John and Peter walked into the sanctuary at 11000 NE 4th Plain Rd in Vancouver , Washington that Sunday, just as we were all forming two lines to get a chunk of bread and dip it in the cup. Would they immediately recall Jesus' words of "do this in remembrance of me.." and know exactly what we were doing or would that look at us and say "What the hell ??......" After we made them feel appropriately uncomfortable for coming to church and being dressed far to casually and being unfamiliar with our liturgy (Just kidding - we're kinda a jeans, guitar and jimbay drum congregation) we would explain the principle of this liturgy of holy communion and its symbolism, and for those of us in the Wesleyan tradition we would throw the whole "means of grace" statements in that we carefully crafted for our ordination papers in the mix as well.

Would they then say "oh I get it!" or would we be met with statements like "how did the seder meal and the cup of Elijah turn into Hawaiian sweet bread and Welches grape juice?"

Not that I have anything against communion. I really believed the stuff about "means of Grace" that I put in my ordination papers (as well as the other stuff i said "yes" to when asked by the Bishop on behalf of our Conference) In fact it reassures me that God is able to use the Holy Spirit to impart grace and hope to us even if we maybe lost some of the original "flavor" of the celebration and tradition Jesus was building on with his friends in that upper room. Who would have thunk it???!!! God's grace and spirit could reach us even in the midst of our traditions and culture (Even the culture our church has created!).

I was at a seminar once where the presenter a very well respected theologian in our tradition spoke up because the liturgist leading communion at one of the worship services mis spoke the words and skipped a part of the liturgy and suggested we should do it again - kinda a do over so that God got a fair chance to bless the elements and impart grace (The irony isn't lost on me by the way). I was tempted to insist that we should also share the seder together if we were gonna' get nit picky (but I'm a scardy cat wuss so I didn't)

Although I have a very high view of communion and its place and meaning, I'm afraid I'm not ready to say that its sacredness is some how compromised by the liturgy or lack of it. In the same way I'm not ready to say that God's presence in our lives or gatherings is dependent on the correct ritual or liturgy. In fact the Hawaiian sweet bread and welches reminds me that God is at work today in my life and I believe even in our culture and communities, maybe in a whole new way to impart ageless truth, grace and hope. Maybe James John and Peter would lift a glass to that too


Saturday, February 18, 2006

New Digs

Well for those of you that found your way to my new place, I hope to have some posts up soon