Monday, December 17, 2007

Tired of waiting...

It’s been rainy and miserable, as far as weather is concerned around here. You may have seen on the news the devastation the floods in Western Washington and Oregon have caused. I am a bit south of where most of the big damage took place in Washington. So I am lucky that I am just complaining about gray, rainy weather and not complaining about my home being underwater or worse yet that my house is in the street because a mudslide left it there, as others are. I am counting my blessings.

I am reminded that this season of the year is full of paradoxes. As we are preparing to celebrate the incarnation of God on Christmas there are families living in shelters flooded out of their homes. While people stand in line for 3 hours at the local Target store for a Wii, other people stand in line to claim beds at the homeless shelter. While I proclaim that Christ is born and reconciles and redeems all of creation, families are feuding in my congregation. I was listening to a radio program on the way into church on Sunday morning and an author of a book about the way Christmases are celebrated during war times was being interviewed. He had a quote form Gen. Patton, made on Christmas day during the Battle of the Bulge in which the, not particularly spiritual or religious, man said “The sun is shining, the sky is blue, it’s a beautiful day for killing Germans, which is ironic considering whose birthday it is.”

As I have written many times before, I love the seasons of the Christian calendar. I love how they remind us of the patterns and story of Scripture, and in a way allow us to relive them every year. I love the season of Advent especially. I love the excitement that grows and the sense of expectation that we are moving towards something. I love watching my kids fill in the characters every morning on their advent calendar. What troubles me about Advent is that the sense of expectation and excitement, is often replaced with a sense that we are waiting for something. We are waiting for Christmas... Waiting for God to do something miraculous... Waiting for the Prince of Peace to do something... Waiting , waiting, waiting. To be quite frank with ya’ll (as if i’m not at other times) I’m pretty tired of waiting for something that has happened already. Something that has the potential to transform the world if we would really allow it to change us. I’m pretty tired of being an Advent Christian, and of Advent Church’s that are waiting for someone to do, for something to happen.

Is it any wonder that when January rolls around, and the decorations go back in storage, the world seems pretty much the same way it did back in October or November... because we are still waiting. How about instead of waiting, we began to love God and love our neighbors, even in January and May... and August...

I wanted to share a quick little anecdote that I read on a bulletin board I frequent quite often. It seems a father and his son were walking out of the mall a couple days before Christmas. The son said to his dad as they exited the doors “Dad, do you have any money?” The dad gave a big sigh and replied “Are you kidding me? We have been shopping all day, We ate lunch at that special place you wanted to. We got cocoa 20 minutes ago. I even bought you the toy you have been asking for.... No I don’t have anymore money!” to which the son responded “Ok dad I just wanted some money to put in the Salvation Army Bucket...” The father posting this experience said “Wow, I am a Jerk! I gave the kid a $20 to put in the bucket...” I have been there too, I think we all have. I want Advent, to be different. I want to quit waiting. I want it to remind me that God’s grace is here, and that the world is different because God’s spirit resides in me.

In the spirit of Advent, do something good because Jesus lives today.

Have a great week friends!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Comfort Vs. Tazers

I was driving into a parking lot yesterday and on the bumper of the car in front of me was a sticker that read “Don’t taze me bro!”

It was obviously poking fun of the John Kerry speech in Florida, where a university student was tazed after asking a question of the former presidential candidate. The event was captured by various amateur videographers on phones and other media and quickly appeared on You Tube causing quite the stir.

I know I am several months behind the times in even commenting about this event. Most notably because while others saw it as humorous, I was horrified by it. The pleas of this student saying “don’t taze me bro!” - then hearing the zap and the screams, gives me nightmares. I have a dry, somewhat odd, sense of humor, but for me the train to humor doesn’t go through this station. It was kinda one of those events that I hope is unique and wont happen again, so i just kinda’ let my stunned horrified silence sit. Until yesterday when i saw the bumper sticker. For the record I am not a bumper sticker fan. Sticking a piece of vinyl on your car with a saying that will most likely piss someone off, or that you think is funny (I stress “you”) just makes me question someone's decision making skills.

ANYWAY, back to my thought about this event. I like millions of people watched the video. I know nothing of the student’s background or reputation, but it seemed to me that the student was asking a question of Senator Kerry that made the Senator very uneasy, and also made the audience uneasy... and wouldn’t stop asking the questions. I have been to events like this, where people hijack meetings or gatherings with questions. I’ve seen crowds boo and drown out the questioner. I must admit I have boo’d a few myself in my day, all of which is part of the free speech thing we value so much as citizens of the United States. In my mind, you have the right to ask a loaded question, I have the right to boo when you do. It seems when someone asking a question, albeit not tactfully, and confrontationally, becomes reason to be tazed, I think something is wrong, and I point you to the before mentioned train schedule to humor... it doesn’t stop at this station.

That is the first layer of grief I feel about this event. Even more troubling by this scene for me, is that we are so addicted to comfort even in public discourse. I agree that words have weight and meaning and can injure, but as i see this video that's not the case here. It was merely a matter of Senator Kerry and the audience being uncomfortable with the questions and the way they were asked. And because the student made them uncomfortable they he was arrested and tazed. Wow, I’m glad tazers weren’t around when Jon the Baptist called the Pharisees “a brood of vipers”. Imagine Jesus telling the religious and political leaders “you are not son’s of Abraham, because you don’t do what he did”... for that matter any conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees .

It seems comfort is our ultimate value today. Maybe that is why we have watered Jesus down to a pastey, white robed, whimp crying on a rock gazing at heaven in the garden. If you make me uncomfortable it’s ok to taze you, or at least pull you out of the room by force. Maybe the “don’t taze me bro!” event is a microcosm for the comfort of our churches. Maybe at the root of the soft music , soft sermons phenomena, is this love of comfort.

In my years of ministry I have heard parishioners say the words “If those welfare moms can’t find a ride this afternoon to get here, then they don’t deserve a Thanksgiving basket...” and “If you remove the pews on the front row and put chairs up there I am leaving the church,” Imagine Jesus walking into that conversation... I don’t know what to do about comfortable church or the general addiction to comfort for our whole culture, to be honest. Maybe that's why it took me several months to even address this topic. For those of you that cruise through this blog I’d love to hear your thoughts on this addiction to comfort... really i’m asking...

Finally the last most deep layer of distress over the “don’t taze me” event is that no one stood up and said “Stop”. Instead people watched with jaws dropping. It seems that the situation could have been diffused pretty easily and it would have never escalated to the scale it did, with some wise words, and actions, Again I know nothing of the background etc. of the situation. What breaks my heart is that when the words “don’t taze me” rang out through the hall no one stood up and said “ya don’t!” In fact now you can laugh about it as you glue “Don’t taze me bro!” on your car’s bumper or wear it on your t-shirt. (Wanna be disappointed with the state of our culture?? Google “don’t taze me bro!” and see what you find)

Your mileage may vary,

Looking forward to a better world, a better church, and a the kingdom of God.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Best Day Ever #4

Hi friends,

I don’t have much creative, or thought provoking to write about today, but i did want to mention that I had one of those “best days ever” yesterday. I have maybe three days that I would call my best ever. One is the day back in college when I won the conference championship in the 200m with a time that was in the top 8 in the nation at the time. Another was that day on my honeymoon with my (then new) wife Jennifer as we walked around Victoria BC being in love. Another was about 5 years ago when we took my two kids to Disney on Ice. The looks on their faces and the smiles and cheers they let out will always be etched on my heart. Last night I have another day to add. Jennifer and I took my 10 year old son to his first concert - Switchfoot and Reliant K. Seeing my son jump and sing and cheer and bump his fist complete with white man’s overbite was in a word AWESOME!

Jackson is more of a Reliant K fan than a Switchfoot fan, and I am the opposite, but both shows were great and the opening band Ruth from Battle Ground, Wa (just a few miles up the road from where I live) was surprisingly good as well.

If you are not familiar with any of these bands, they are the bands that I call Christian friendly. They have quite a bit of airplay on commercial radio stations, but definitely have a christian/spiritual message to their music. As a result there were lots of Church buses parked in the parking lot when we arrived at the venue (Which was horrible- I’ll say more in a minute) and lots of church youth groups in attendance, which was not horrible. I’m 39 years old and my wife is 37 but we don’t normally hang out with people our age, typically our friends are about 10 years younger than us. But I am too old to be spending much time on the floor of a rock concert pogo-ing for three hours, so Jennifer and I and my 10 year old son stayed up in our seats. Anyway, the friends who we went with all headed down to the floor and we stayed in the stands to hold our spot with the chaperones and “adults” from the youth groups that had traveled to the show. The reliant K and Ruth concerts were fun and pretty non-threatening to the people sitting around us, but I have enough of a prophet in me, to absolutely love the facial expression change when Switchfoot took the stage. Their sound is much harder, their message is much more counter cultural and I relished in the fact that my son was pumping his fist in the air as they sang. The older folks around us were not quite “hip” with the lyrics to “My American Dream” or statements by Jon Foreman (lead singer) like “thrift stores redeem American commerce” or songs like “Dirty Second Hand”. I had dreams of my son pumping his fist being the revolutionary calling the church to account for its greed and support of things that grieve the heart of God. I know I am reading way too much into a ten year old’s first concert... but let me dream! Like I said it was a good night!

The only harsh on my awesome night was the venue of the concert! Wow the Pavilion at the Oregon State Fairgrounds sucks, at least for concerts. It's a big ol’ metal rodeo barn so the acoustics are terrible (although the bands did great with what they had to work with). The Concessions workers were terrible and acted like charging $3.50 for as cup of ice with 5 oz of soda in it was an inconvenience to them. Parking is horrific with one gate allowing all the cars in or out. We ended up parking outside on residential streets after spending 30 minutes waiting to move about 1/2 block in the car to get into the one gate. And security was the worst I have seen at a concert. The floor of the stadium was PACKED and all night long we saw young kids getting passed up to the front and escorted out by paramedics because they were being smashed in the crowd. I understand that those things happen and have been to several concerts where crowds get like, that but as soon as it happens security typically gets a hold of the crowd and starts working to get the situation under control. Not last night. For three hours there was a steady stream of kids being passed up and escorted/carried out by paramedics. Even my 10 year old said there is no way he wanted to go down there. If you are considering attending a concert at the Pavilion I would suggest you wait till the concert is at a better/safer venue.

So anyway I’m adding day # 4 to my best days ever list. Rock on friends, and fight the power.... :::pumping fist while i do the white man’s overbite::

Monday, November 26, 2007

Things I learn at the airport

On occasion I like to spend my lunch hours over at the Portland International Airport and watch planes land and take off. There is a little parking lot along marine drive right by the runway where I can sit and watch planes come and go. My dad and I used to go out to the airport and watch planes land and take off. I think that was the foundation for my love of airplanes. Every now and then I take my two kids with me and we drink hot chocolate or a coke and watch the planes too.

It's a good place for me to unwind and just think. There are a few lessons I’ve learned sitting there by the runway and I thought I’d post a couple of them here.

As many of you know birds around airports are a particular hazard. I assume seagulls and jet turbine engines don’t get along. PDX, like most airports I assume, has a system for keeping the birds off the grass around the runway. It seems to me as I sit and watch, seagulls are a particular problem, since the north edge of the Airport is about 100 yards from the Columbia river. Seagulls tend to wonder over the fence and land on the grass and access roads around the runway. About every 15 minutes or so a truck drives by on the access road and scares them off. Once in a while the driver will put it in 4 wheel drive and drive out on the grass and scare a flock away as well. The most dramatic way they politely ask birds to leave is by firing a series of air cannons. I don’t know if they are set to timers or if they fire them when the number of birds gets to a certain level. You can hear the first loud BANG at one end of the runway and the cannons will begin to fire in line down the length of the air field. BANG!.....BANG!.....BANG!....

Needless to say it scares the birds and they all take off in a group usually flying over us parked by the runway watching planes. For those of you that live near a river or lake or ocean you know what scared seagulls do when they fly over shiny parked cars.... they crap all over them! Especially scared birds.

Ok here is my lesson I've learned. When something scares me I tend to crap on people (figuratively of course) I think all of us do. When we feel like we are losing control or we are threatened by something we crap on people... We treat them badly. Churches do it a lot. When congregations find themselves in strange situations or facing uncomfortable changes they start to crap on each other. There are few places that I see people treat each other as badly as they do inside the walls of the church. I don’t know why that is. It's like we are scared seagulls!

It reminds me of King David. If you are familiar with David’s story there was a brief time in his reign when he was run out of town by an uprising lead by his son. As he and his little band of followers are leaving town a peasant on the side of the road, named Shimei begins to insult and chastise David. One of his generals says “should we kill him for cursing God’s anointed?” and David says in a sense “no, I deserve to be chastised a bit” and they move on. In my mind even though David is temporarily put off his throne he still knows he is king. Ultimately he regains his throne and rules over the united kingdoms of Israel for a number of years. Finally when he is old and about to die, he calls his son Solomon to his side and offers him some advise on being king, but he adds a bit about who he should trust and who he shouldn’t and says “There is also with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a terrible curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” (1Kgs. 2:8-9) David swore he wouldn’t kill Shimei, so he tells his son to do it! What is different? David is in his chambers surrounded by wealth and all, but I think he is scared. He’s survived wars and battles and uprisings but he knows he is not going to survive much longer so he starts to crap on people, and he orders the death of a man he has held a grudge against for decades.

When we are scared we crap on people. As I contemplate changes in my life and ministry I know that there will be times when I feel like I have no control and I am a seagull flying with cannons blaring behind me. I pray that I wont resort to crapping on people when I’m scared. I pray that for the rest of us who find ourselves as ministers of Gods grace we wont act like scared seagulls either. That we can model a faith for those whom we serve that relies on God’s Spirit, not merely our abilities.

Have a great week friends.... BANG!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Buy a net . Save a life!

This summer I was made aware of a problem that effects millions in the world. To call it a “problem” is an understatement.

1,000,000 people, most of whom live in the Sahara region of Africa will die this year of Malaria - a preventable disease, just as 1,000,000 died last year. 20% of the population under the age of 5 in that area of the world will die due to malaria. 12 Billion ( yes- with a “B”) will be lost to African countries directly related to this disease. these numbers are staggering - that's 1 person literally every 30 seconds dying due to a preventable disease, 3000 people a day. That's the same number of people that died in the Sept. 11th attacks... everyday.

The United Nations Foundation, The NBA, Sports Illustrated, The United Methodist Church and now other partners, banded together to put an end to this carnage. One of the most effective ways of stopping the spread of this mosquito borne illness is to provide nets for people, especially children to sleep under. For as little as $10 you can purchase a net that will literally save a life, at $10! That's it! I am sitting in my usual coffee shop having a latte’ as i write this. I spent about $3 on it. for the cost of less than four of these i can save a kids life. How many times can we say that.

In the future I want to tell you the story of a Pastor who is helping serve the United Methodist congregation in Coeur D Alene, Id with my friend Heather. He is there as part of a peace studies program in hopes of changing the climate in his native African country. He is also a father who has lost a dear child to Malaria. I want you to hear his story.

The congregation I serve is working hard to raise money for nets as well as my family personally. My son has decided to give a percentage of any money he gets for Christmas to buy nets (Not all of it... I mean come on he is 10!) My family and I have set a goal of raising at least $500 dollars for Friends who usually get our lame gag gifts at Christmas are getting NothingButNets T-shirts. to advertise the campaign, which you can get at NothingButNets T-shirts for $20. ($10 goes to a net $10 goes to a shirt) and an invitation to make a donation to buy a net.

If you would like to help put an end to the deaths in Africa, or get more information and statistics please got to and look it up. If you would like to help my family raise the $500 follow this link to our NET-RAISING team we have created and make a contribution, or click the “click here to buy a mosquito net and save a life” link on the right side bar of this blog, which will take you to our netraising page.

Thanks friends

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

#10 on my list

Well I guess I should finish up my list of things I have/am learning in ministry. You can check out my list BY CLICKING HERE.

The last thing on my list was that I’m not responsible for someone else's spiritual life or relationship with God. It may be #10 on my list but in the last year this new realization has become more important for me to remember. I want to “re-post” a blog I wrote back in November of 2006 that deals with this topic... Rerun Warning!

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!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Be Excellent To Each Other!

Hi friends,

I’m up to #9 on my list of things I have learned/am learning in the last 15 plus years in “ministry” you can check out my list BY CLICKING HERE.

Back in 1989 I met a beautiful woman who later became my wife. Our first date was to a movie called Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. (it was really our second date I later found out, She invited me to a concert with some other friends of her’s and I failed to realize it was a date... Its a miracle I have two children...) Anyway, in the course of the movie George Carlin who plays “Rufus” a sage from the future gives our heroes some words of wisdom to live by, “Be excellent to each other” Later in the movie Abraham Lincoln adds to the idea by stating,“seven minutes ago... we, your forefathers, were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure conceived by our new friends, Bill... and Ted. These two great gentlemen are dedicated to proposition which was true in my time, just as it's true today. Be excellent to each other. And... PARTY ON, DUDES! (Its amazing what sticks in my brain... let me again refer to the miracle and children statement above...)

Now I’m not sure Bill and Ted’s movie was Cinema masterpiece, But it is one of my favorites. And i’m not sure that Bill & Ted would stack up against the theological heavyweights of any of our traditions great mystics or thinkers, But there is a simple truth that in the line “Be excellent to each other”

It seems Jesus gets at the idea when he tells us the story of a Samaritan man who takes care of an injured Jew on the side of the road. Again the concept surfaces for me in Jesus image of the sheep and goats when he says “when you have done this for the least of these you have done it for me...”. I hear it in Zacheus words when he commits to repay all he has stolen and give what he has to the poor. I think the idea is something we as disciples need to embrace more fully.

Literally not a week goes by that i don’t hear from someone who confesses to be a christian, that someone has wronged them in some way. Whether it be family members, “friends” fellow parishioners, or just the generic “them” or “they”. And more often then not I’m sad to say the response is to answer wrong with wrong, or to retaliate with words or actions. I so often want to say “Dude! be excellent to each other” (My Keanu Reeves impression sucks). I’m so thankful God doesn’t treat us the way we treat each other!

I also have to admit i get a little sick enjoyment from being excellent to people and just giving them the benefit of the doubt. There have been a few times in my career where someone intentionally said something mean to hurt my feelings or impugn my motives. But I responded by being excellent to them. My personality is such that generally i figure people don’t mean to be asses. so i give people the benefit of the doubt. BUT when someone is being an ass, and they are responded to with grace and a smile... it PISSES THEM OFF! I kinda like that. There is nothing more satisfying that to see someone's ill motives kick back and cover themselves. At the same time there are few things as heartbreaking to see as someone who has lost their direction and is covered in their own venom.

So remember Bill and Ted's words:
Missy: Hi, Bill. Want a ride?
Bill: Sure, Missy.
[She draws a blank stare at Bill]
Bill: I mean, mom.
[She smiles and puts on her Ray-Bans]
Ted: [Whispering to Bill] Your step mom is cute.
Bill: Shut up, Ted.
Ted: Remember when she was a senior and we were freshmen?
Bill: Shut up, Ted!

oops wrong quote:

Ted: Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.

Sorry there are just so many good ones!

“Be excellent to each other!”

Have a great week friends.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Asbestos Home

Hi friends,

It's Friday morning and I am exhausted. I have had one of those stretches where I am on the road a lot doing conference work and other things. I've been writing sermons in hotel rooms and behind the wheel of my car as I travel up and down I-5. (I’m a much better preacher in my car than behind a pulpit... Plus my sermons are often interrupted with music intermissions, this week it was Mat Kearney and the Police.. the band not the highway patrol...mostly)

Anyway, I have been working through my list of ten things I have learned or am learning in this life and call to ministry. You can see my list here. #8 on my list was “if you're involved in “ministry” don’t let it destroy your family”. I am friends with several adult children of pastors, I have many friends who are spouses of pastors. I have a few friends who are ex-spouses of pastors. There are few careers that are like being in "professional" ministry. Unless you are in a very unique situation, or have sold your soul to the prince of darkness to be on TBN, you typically work long hours with little pay. But we pastors are a noble bunch, we justify the hard work because we are doing “God’s work” so we pour our energy and life into projects and other people, we proclaim life and joy when secretly many of us are having a hard time talking ourselves into that same life and joy.

There are some people who love us in the midst of this joyful/depressing journey... our families. If you are as lucky as I am, you have a spouse who is as called to be a minister of God’s Gospel of life through Jesus Christ as mine is. Our bishop may have put his hands on my head at a service of ordination and said “Take though the authority...” but my wife is every bit as ordained of God to deliver this message as I am. She has been my partner in this journey and I am a better pastor, a better disciple, a better dad, quite frankly a better man because of her. (Plus she is beautiful, not “pastor’s wife beautiful” but “songs of solomon hot”!)Yet she is also the one who gets the short end of my frustrations with the church in all its facets. She is the one who sees me at my worst and in times when I am on looking for jobs at radio stations and newspapers again. If you are lucky enough to have a spouse an awesome as mine, you would be pressing the envelope to have two kids as smart and above average as mine. I have missed significant days in their lives because of trustees meetings, or Ad Council meetings or other “church stuff” (Which by the way, is not the same as “God stuff” in case you were wondering). That mostly came to an end when one evening I came home from a meeting about a half hour after my kid’s bed time. I went in to daughter's room and she was out like a light, so I let her sleep. I went into my son’s room and he was still awake. I went in and sat on the side of his bed and checked in with him about his day and told him I loved him. I got up to head out and he says these words that are still smoking on my heart, “Dad, when you were a little boy, I wish you hadn’t decided to be a pastor”. Needless to say, some things in my life changed the next day. Now I help coach my son’s sports teams, and make sure I’m at events and just plain home more often. My daughter is in ballet and I am cutting a meeting short... or I should say I am leaving early, they can keep meeting if they like... to head home from Seattle back to Portland/Vancouver to watch my daughters practice (parents only get to come and watch a couple of them)

As I think about the 3 people who I would call mentors for me as a pastor, two of them had ministry destroy their marriages (one of which amid rumors of sexual misconduct). I had the experience I hope none of you have, of helping to officiate the funeral of a friend and colleague in ministry, who jumped from a bridge. I have sat across pizza shop tables and barstools with friends as they said “I need out” when talking about the ministries and churches they serve. I have always admired the theology and practical nature of John Wesley’s ministry and example, but I have to say that for those of us who call ourselves Methodist, he gives us a dangerous, unhealthy and backass example of what it means to be a minister. (Geesh! did that guy ever have a remotely healthy relationship with a woman?)

As important as this call to ministry is. As important as transforming the world through God’s Holy Spirit working in us is, if it isolates us from our spouses and our children rather than reconcile us to them and heal relationships, I think we are are doing something wrong. John Wesley once said "I set myself on FIRE, they come to watch me burn" There is something wonderful about a passion that burns like a flame, but it can also consume and destroy things of great value if we are not careful. Make your home out of asbestos and protect your family.

Have a great week friends

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wresteling at the Concert

Hi friends,

I had one of those paradoxical experiences last weekend, that you only get when you are involved in the Christian Church.

We went to the Casting Crowns concert here in Portland, with some friends from our congregation. Now just to start off, Casting Crowns is not really my style of music. I don’t mean that in a snobbery kind of way, so please don’t interpret it that way. I actually love the lyrics of many of their songs, and in fact we use quite a few of their songs in our worship services at Orchards. But they kinda have that “Big Church - Worship service “ feel that doesn’t really connect with me.

The concert, for the most, part was really geared towards a typical church worship service, so it definitely had that Big Church worship feel.

I don’t want this to sound like a “ream on Casting Crowns” rant. I know that they connect with lots of people, and their music has very missional themes that I think churches (especially big churches) need to hear. They, like a lot of Christian bands, were partnering with World Vision to help sponsor kids and give money to clean water projects. At one point Mark Hall said, “Don’t buy a t-shirt, sponsor a kid” WAY COOL in my opinion. I wasn’t too into having the band pray for all of us that we would be “Men who reclaim our faith” and for the “Mommies” to raise good christian men at one point in the concert. During the “prayer time” my wife leaned over and said “I’m starting to feel like chopped liver here...” I think Jennifer and I have a different idea of a christian home and Christian parenting and gender roles than Casting Crowns but , hey get in line... We have different views than a lot of our evangelical friends.

I guess what I need to process in the whole experience, is not the concert in and of itself, but the culture or sub culture we get sucked into as people of faith. It’s not much different than a ghetto, but with bigger houses and nicer cars.

The band I think (or I hope) wrestles with it as well. Mark Hall addressed it from the stage. I’ll sum up his comments. I guess their new album (I almost typed “record” there - remember those?) is called “The Altar and the Door”. The reasonbehind the name lies in the phenomena, that we can have these miraculous “altar moments” (like at a concert) and feel like all the world is right, and feel God’s presence so profoundly - yet somewhere between the altar and the door we loose the meaning of it all. On the other side of the door we live no differently.

I was struck by the sight (that included me) of a couple thousand people, most of whom confess to being christians, leaving memorial coliseum with t-shirts and CD’s and newly acquired World vision sponsorship info, stepping over homeless people on the way back to their lexus (or Ford Taurus in my case) or to the 35K youth van with “Big Church Youth” painted on the side. I want you to know that I am in the middle of that group stepping over people on my way back home from the downtown venue.

I’m not against concerts or gatherings of people of faith or Casting Crowns. It was at one of those type gatherings that i first started to hear a call to ministry. It’s not Casting Crowns fault (or in my case as a young man it was Mylon LeFever and Broken Heart). It’s just the conflict between wanting to be a disciple that follows Jesus, and the comfort and convenience of a culture our church’s perpetuate, that makes me feel disappointed in my self. Events like the concert last Friday just put it in my face more than usual.

I’m still wrestling with it.

Have a great week friends!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Something bigger than yourself

I’ve been in a mood where I need to count my blessings this last week. The congregation I serve was broken into last week AGAIN. We installed an alarm system that did its job and scared the intruders away and the sheriff’s dept. soon arrived. Even though they didn’t get anything from the building, they did break a window and kick in a door and bust out the frame, the usual stuff that jerk wads do when trying to steal things. I know God loves jerk wads too, but lest you were mistaken I’m not God and I’m having a hard time being loving and/or pastoral about the whole thing. On top of that news, I have had several conversations with parishioners and friends this week, and it seems that quite a few people I know are in the midst of personal conflicts with other people over business deals, or with family members who are spreading rumors and such in their extended families ... yuck yuck yuck.

I kinda found myself in a funk this week. There was a point after the people who broke in to the church returned a second time when the alarm was disarmed during the day and kicked in yet another door, that I was asking “what the hell am I doing here?” I was feeling as though the 7 years I had spent in this community was making no difference at all. About the time we make some headway at really helping people, or building a faith community, or being disciples in general, something like this happens and we stop helping, cause every time we do someone kicks the doors in, or the community falls apart amidst comments like “those people can’t call themselves Christian...” On top of that, the lectionary passage I had chosen to preach on this week was from Jeremiah where he is witnessing the destruction that has happened because of the Israelites unfaithfulness and is weeping for them. I really didn’t want to be the weeping prophet. In fact I wanted to be the “open the can of whoopass” prophet. (Anyone know where I can buy those cans in bulk?)

Anyway, I went for a motorcycle ride on Saturday and stopped at a boat launch and smoked my pipe and prayed for a while. I read from my little green new testament that the Gideons gave me 20 years ago at college. After a while, especially after reading how Paul would talk to his friends at the end of his letters and say things like “ I give thanks for you everyday,” or “Say hi to so and so, I remember them fondly” My mood changed a bit.

I realized that although there is so much screwed up in the world, and quite frankly there is so much screwed up in our own hearts, It is important for me to be part of something bigger than just me. Even though people do terrible things to one another working for good in the midst of a community is always worth it. I started to remember moments in my time with this congregation and faces and friends. I recalled staying up late with my friend Mick repairing/rebuilding a “frankenstien sound system” as we called it, after a previous break in tore speakers from the walls and and ripped out sound boards, so that 70 kids could have a vacation bible school the following day. I remembered the friends we have made at a Winter over flow shelter, who were at one of the lowest points in their lives, and now have things put back together and worship with us every week and we celebrate what God is doing in their lives and love them. I remembered people who shouted “we will!” when my daughter was baptized here and one of my best friends asked the congregation "will you surround this child here before you with a community of love and forgiveness, and be examples to her, that she may walk that road that leads to life?”

Even in the frustrating times, it's always better to be part of the grander, bigger, grace-filled work of God’s kingdom. Otherwise your just stuck with the stuff you create and it's never as good, and it wears out fast.

Have a great week friends.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Doing good and motorcycle mechanics

One of my hobbies is working on old motorcycles. I recently sold a 1982 Suzuki GS 650G that I had done a lot of work on. I had done about all the work that I could do on it with my abilities and check book. Someone in Portland is driving it around now . So I purchased a new project - a 1993 Kawasaki ZX600R Ninja. It was pretty rough when I first got it (complete with decals of flaming skulls, snakes wrapped around swords and the grim reaper making an appearance several places) but, it was mechanically sound and at a good price.

One thing I have noticed with my old bike, and with this new bike is that people stop and like to look at them - mostly men, and especially boys under the age of 6ish. I can’t tell you how many times moms with their sons in tow have been stopped dead in their tracks when little Johnny yanks her backwards to stop and look at the motorcycle. There is a lake not too far away from me near Camas Wa, that has a nice little road that goes around it that I like to ride on every now and then to just get away from “stuff”. I typically stop at either the boat launch or at the a little sitting area on the other side of the lake and watch the people in their boats or the birds and mostly pray. The sitting area is right along a jogging/walking path and usually there is some traffic from people walking with strollers or running or whatever. Two weeks ago it was a beautiful sunny day so went for a ride and stopped to watch and pray and say hi to the people passing by. One woman was briskly walking with , who I assume was her pre teen son. I said hi to them as they came around the corner and she said “Hi beautiful day for a ride isn’t it” I replied “ya’ its perfect”. Before I finished my words, her son said “wow! I want a motorcycle like that!” “Well you’re a bit young for a motorcycle like that.” She smiled at me and rolled her eyes. As they made there way down around the corner I yelled “Sorry about that.” I’m glad I still had my riding jacket on and my tattoo on my shoulder was covered up.

I’ve talked to other guys that like and work and restore motorcycles and we all have experienced the phenomena of sitting in a garage and just looking at our motorcycles. I mean not just for a minute, but for like 30 minutes or an hour. I can waste a good hour sitting on the stool at my work bench and looking at my motorcycle. I’ll think of projects i can start on it or how this can be improved or that can be done...

I’m not a mechanic, there are somethings I just don’t have the tools or knowledge or money to do. But there are considerable things that I have learned how to do as far as motorcycle mechanics and body work. usually it takes time (which I am stingy with) and some money (which I am learning to be less stingy with) and it is never convenient. But there is something great about tearing something apart fixing it and putting it back together so that it works right (sometimes that tearing down reassembling thing is multiplied several times. My personal record is performing the same repair 4 times because i screwed it up three times)

Isn’t it weird how some things are like that and we are willing to do them and other things aren’t. I have been meditating a lot this wee on what it means to “do good” especially in the scriptural/ disciple sense. God gives Jeremiah a message to give to the Israelites that they are skilled at doing evil but don’t know how to do good. Paul urges us to never grow weary of doing good. Jesus tells us to love god and love our neighbor as our self. He describes the sheep at his right hand as those who fed the hungry visited the prisoner clothed the naked. I find for my self that i don’t often spend hours thinking of ways to “do good”. I’m not usually willing to give my time or my money or redo something 4 times for the sake of doing good. But I am learning how to do good much more. And I find that I am more and more frustrated when that selfish streak rears its head. Maybe God is leading me down that road to perfection? Hmmmmm

Have a great week friends.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Maybe Jesus would drive an El Camino

Well it’s Saturday morning and I just finished having breakfast with some friends. Since I’m up (usually Saturday mornings and I are not close friends) I figured I’d put down a few thoughts for the day.

As I was looking through some past entries on this blog I noticed that I was only about half way through my ten lessons ideas that I posted a while back. I also noticed that I stopped right before the one that dealt with Wesley’s idea of Entire Sanctification - which I know some of you are not entirely sanctified on (Ya I’m lookin' at you Bob!) so anyway here are some thoughts on it.... BTW if you want to see my entire “10 lessons I’ve learned/am learning Click here .

So in the church we have a few things that I think say we believe, but we don’t really believe in such away that it makes our behavior any different. Such as we like to throw around the phrase “Unconditional love” a lot inside our sanctuaries, but in reality there are few places that I’ve experienced more “conditional love” than in churches. The reality is that unless someone conforms to the behaviors, doctrines, and what we consider to be right belief we with hold our love from them. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen church’s destroy themselves because so and so doesn’t believe in the virgin birth or that Job might not have been an actual person, or so on and so forth. I spoke with a woman this summer who doesn’t attend a church community anymore because she saw her congregation refuse to throw a baby shower for a young woman who was pregnant but un married, while throwing three other showers for women who were pregnant and married. Anyway, this is a topic for another blog. But I think there are some things we say we believe but don’t really.

For those of us that call ourselves Methodist, Wesley's ideas about Entire Sanctification is one of those things. I might add I know some non-methodists who have been told not to believe this by their traditions but in reality do believe it and live lives that are examples of it.

So some of you are asking what is this Entire Sanctification deelybob (I bet my spell checker doesn’t know deelybob). Well let me quote Mr. Wesley to start with: It is thus that we wait for entire sanctification; for a full salvation from all our sins, from pride, self-will, anger, unbelief; or, as the Apostle expresses it, "go on unto perfection." But what is perfection? The word has various senses: Here it means perfect love. It is love excluding sin; love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the soul. It is love "rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, in every thing giving thanks." [Sermon 43--The Scripture Way of Salvation]

To carry this idea even further it's the notion that loving God and loving your neighbor encompass the entire soul. John Wesley would say (and I would as well) that one's heart and soul can’t be transformed in such away without faith in Jesus Christ and the work of God’s grace. Unfortunately we throw our notions of perfection into the fray. Many have said that Methodist who believe in entire sanctification don’t believe in sin (usually the phrase “liberal bastards” is thrown in there as well just for effect) because they assume that perfect in love means without mistake or limits. I have a friend that talked about perfection in terms of restoring cars. He had a “perfect” 72 el camino. It was fast but he couldn’t take it to Daytona and challenge Greg Biffle for the checkered flag. He could use the little truck bed in it to occasionally move a couch or pick up a big box of something at the store, (and I stress occasionally, actually rarely... really he never did that cause his truck was “perfect” but he liked to say he could anyway) There was no way he could pull up next to a United Van lines truck and haul more materials, or move a family across country. But his truck was still "perfect". It still had to be be resupplied with fuel, still has to have fluids changed, but it was still “perfect”. The reason it was perfect even though there were certain limitations was because someone spent a lot of time restoring that el camino to be and do exactly what it was designed to do.

As I live my life and make this journey of faith I find that things that I once thought were so important to my Christianity, have been slowly replaced with things that are important to my ability to be a disciple of Jesus. I am hesitant to say I have reached that total transformation of my heart and soul to focus on loving God and others, But my life is miles away from where it was in terms of love and faith. God is doing that work of restoring me to what he had designed me to be - a child of God who loves him and loves others.

One last thought - when I was in seminary there was a debate scheduled between a top gun Calvinist from another seminary down the road and one of our Weslyian theology professor. The debate was very civil and informative, and to tell you the truth I don’t even remember the name of the Calvinist professor, but I do remember vividly one exchange between the two. The Calvinist said “Sir, I think you underestimate the power of sin, and don’t take it seriously enough” to which the Weslyian professor replied, "Sir, I think you underestimate the power of God’s grace and spirit, and don’t take it seriously enough”.

I believe our lives can be restored to the point where love for God and love for our neighbors consumes us and transforms us completely and I have seen many display that type of transformation (some of you are reading this blog right now).

So here’s to being perfect in love, here's to transformed lives, and community and the world!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What I did on my summer vacation

Well I have taken the summer months off from writing on my blog. I spent more time reading blogs then writing them.

Figured now that the kids are back at school and things are getting back to normal I would get back into my routine of trying to write something once a week.

So anyway, just to get you up to speed on what my summer was like I figured I’d jot down a few highlights.

Church stuff - Most churches get kinda slow and sleepy during the summer months. At Orchards UMC we kinda jump into hyper speed. Our congregation runs a HUGE fireworks tent every year. It is a great fund raiser for us that allows us to do some wonderful things in the Vancouver community. Although it is a great fundraiser, and it is a lot of fun, it is hard work. We run over $130,000 worth of fireworks through the tent in 7 days. It takes an incredible amount of volunteer help from the congregation to pull it off. The folks at Orchards are great, and really rose to the occasion this year in making the tent a success. The money from our percentage of the profits funds our youth ministry, helps our general budget as well as allows us to give financial support to ministries in the community. Last year we gave a gift to Friends of the Carpenter, as well as helped to purchase some much needed supplies for the Winter Hospitality Overflow. It helps fund some special projects our congregation does as well. (Thanks Kevin for being an awesome manager of the tent for us you rock!) We also run a great Vacation Bible School at the church for a week. I just sent off thank you letters to all the people that volunteered to help show our kids and kids from our neighborhood that they are important and that we care about them. It was over 35 letters (My printer ran out of ink!). Our church also puts on a community picnic at Orchards Park just down the street from our church building. The idea behind it has always been that we would spend some time at the park meeting people and getting to know them. In past years we have set up a stage and had musicians play and cloggers dance and thrown water balloons at each other and played picnic game and had inflatable jumpers. This year we went on the low key side and just took a BBQ grill and made hamburgers and hot dogs and handed them out to anyone that wanted one. My favorite part of the whole thing is when you offer someone a free meal and they respond with “why?” and we say just “cause we want to”. I think most people aren’t used to someone offering things with out wanting something in return.

Weddings - Some people I love very much gathered with friends and family during the summer to make life long commitments to each other. I’ll try to go in order of their weddings so I don’t forget anyone. My friends Dusty and Mikaela had a wonderful ceremony at the beach at Long Beach. It was a cool ceremony. A light fog/mist kind of enveloped us as we gathered to witness it. I called it the wedding in the clouds. a few weeks later my friends Tim and Kimmy Tim & Kimmy exchanged vows at a ballroom in Portland it was a wonderful service and reception and Tim made us all cry. On 07/07/07 Dustin & Deidra were married at a farm outside Battle Ground Wa. It was a great day under a huge oak tree, then we danced in the barn till late. A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of officiating at my sister’s wedding as Nancy and Eric were married. It was a great day. Lots of friends and family from all over gathering to witness their vows and support them with our love presence there. This winter two more friends Russell and Tamara will exchange vows as well.

Vacation - My family and I got away for a week down on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. the first night we were there the Perseids meteor shower was going on so we laid out on blankets and had a great view of the shower. Some of the meteors were so bright it lit up the ground around us. It was a good time (after I convinced my daughter that the meteors weren’t going to land on us)

So that's what I did in a nutshell for my summer vacation, so now you’re up to speed. Hope you all a great summer as well.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Life with your shirt untucked

First of all, no that picture is not me...As I write this I am at the University of Puget Sound attending the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. There is lots of business stuff going on this week. Lots of procedural motions. Lots of discussion on “Robert's Rules of Order”. Lots of speeches lots of stuff. As I have stated on this blog before, and for those of you who know me, Annual Conference is one of my least favorite things. I am not a parliamentarian, nor am I a big arguer, and sitting in chairs for way long periods of time just ain’t my thing. I do love seeing friends from congregations that I have served in the past and also colleagues that i love dearly though.
In this last year, I was informed that some members of my congregation, didn’t like the the way i dressed, and that one of our worship services had become “too casual”. At first I laughed about it and my comment to my Staff Parish Relations Committee was “if the fact that my shirt isn’t tucked( Click here for a fashon lesson ) in is our biggest problem, then things are going pretty well, but on the same note if my shirt not being tucked in is our biggest problem? Things are pretty screwed up.” I explained, that for me dressing like a typical 30 something person in Vancouver Washington dresses, is a way of being welcoming. I have been in positions where people felt that they didn’t have the “right clothes” to attend church I’ve seen people made to feel as though they don’t belong due to the style of there dress or the make of their jacket. I’ve seen people who barely had food to eat go to good will and spend money on dresses and jackets so that they wouod feel welcomed at church. That hurts my heart. Secondly, If i am going to be genuine with who I am, and if I am going to truly be a minister of this Gospel, then I am going to be who I am. That means not dressing like a 60 year old man. I have volumes I could right about this topic but I’ll save that for another blog. Anyway over the course of the year as I met with friends who serve in ministry, I would discuss this event with them and we would laugh for a minute... and then be upset for a minute... then we would move on to a new topic.
I tell you all that, to tell you this - No less than 4 times in the first 4 hours of conference I had someone come to me and say. “you opened my eyes to something” or “you know what you were saying about the untucked shirt...” One told me of a young man who stood up in the congregation she serves asking for a prayer request and noticing that he dressed differently then everyone else in the service, because he was younger by several years than almost anyone else in the room. Another told me of walking through a mall and for the first time really paying attention to people who dressed differently than he did. One came and said. “you opened my eyes to something, and last week I wore something different to our worship service ...”
I felt kinda proud to tell you the truth. It’s important to me that we, within the church, realize that being a disciple of Jesus isn’t defined by the clothes we wear, or a prescribed set of behaviors, but by a transformation that brews in our hearts. Furthermore, if we a ministers, especially ordained ministers, continue to supportthe mind set that you dress like us and act like us, it will become increasingly difficult to to foster disciples of Jesus Christ who washed feet, ate with sinners, and said love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
So untuck your shirt, roll up your sleeves, build community, work for peace and justice and pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Addicted to self

Hi friends, sorry I have been away from the blog for so long, I haven’t had much energy for writing the last few months. I was at a seminar a couple months ago where Scot McKnight was one of the speakers, and he made the comment. “you either have time to read good blogs, or write good blogs, but usually not time to do both”. I’m not sure I’ve had the time to do even one.

So anyway... I undertook writing about some of the lessons I have learned or still am learning over the last 18 or so years of being in “ministry” ( Click here to see my list) one of the things that I can count on, on a nearly daily basis is evidence that the concept of original sin is pretty accurate.

Let me back up a little bit. When I was younger I thought that the idea of original sin was that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit off of the tree that God told them not to, and screwed it up for all of us. I kinda had this attitude of “thanks Adam and Eve for condemning us to hell... jerks” There is always that kid that wrecks it for everyone... we are all playing on the playground, and one kid decides to jump off the swings and breaks his leg and now none of us get to use the swings... jerk! Or one idiot burns his crotch with McDonald's coffee in his car, and drives into a light pole. My taxes have to pay for the new light pole and the lawsuit he files against the city, and I have to pay an extra 10 cents for my coffee so McDonald's can print a warning that says ‘WARNING HOT COFFEE - DON'T POUR ON YOUR CROTCH” (actually I rarely buy coffee at McDonald's). In a sense I could kinda transfer my guilt about my spiritual attitudes and short comings onto those jerks Adam and Eve who screwed it up for the rest of us.

I did a simple google search for “Original Sin” (I was a little scared what might come up) and of the “Christian” sites that I came up, the majority of them defined original sin the way I did in the previous paragraph = Adam and Eve screwed it up for us.

I’m not convinced that is the meaning of original sin. In fact I’m positive it is not. If we ad the definite article “the” to the front of it , we could say that Adam and Eve committed “THE original sin” but that's not what original sin is about.

In my readings of historical church writers and thinkers (especially before Augustine - the more I read Augustine the less I value his writings, - I think he got “just war” wrong, and lending money with interest wrong - and his thoughts on original sin in regards to baptized infants WAY wrong ... your milage may vary) the idea of original sin was, that all humans have a basic willingness to do what we want and prioritize our lives around that selfish nature instead of what Gods will is for our actions and lives. If we believe that Adam and Eve were literally the first humans (which is a topic for another blog entry) then they just got to be the first to display their own selfish desires and choose to act on it by doing what God said not to do.

Damnit! Now I can’t transfer my selfishness and lack concern for what God is doing in the world on Adam and Eve! Like many of you I connected with a a book called “Blue Like Jazz” written by fellow Horse Brass Pub patron, Don Miller. Don talks about this idea of original sin in terms of be hopelessly addicted to ourselves. I like using addiction language for original sin. Many of us who have friends and family members who struggle with addictions to substances or behaviors know how powerful the pull and hold on someone can be. Is sin - our willingness to always think in our self interest, our willingness to be anything but last, any different. Without some intervention,an addict will return to the same old playgrounds and continue in destructive cycles. Without Jesus, and without taking him seriously when he talks of sacrifice and servant hood, will we ever break this addiction to ourselves?

The way society looks as sex is affected by it - “they will do it anyway” . I have people who are living on the streets come into my office weekly and sometimes more frequently looking for help. As I hear their stories 99.9% of them find them selves in their situation because of destroyed relationship - with family, with friends ..with everyone and almost every time it is a result of selfishness greed or not being able to see anyone other than themselves. The language of convenience so often dominates our church’s rather than discipleship.

Believe it or not even I have a hard time seeing anything other than my own interests. (I know you are shocked). There are a few people who always seem to get under my skin. Whether it be putting road blocks up to something God is calling our congregation to, or making comments about me personally hedged in jokes or hypothetical situations. I think we all have those kind of people in our lives (Please say you have those people in your lives! I can’t be the only one) I noticed something about my frustration with these people. I often find myself saying it is about the church, or our congregation’s ability to follow God’s call, but really I consider them personal attackers who want to make me less (for lack of a better word). In that attitude my addiction to self grows into full bloom. I have started calling these people to myself “God’s gift to me”. That simple action reminds me of my place and how Gods sees people. I admit sometimes it feels like they are ‘God’s #*^!ing gift to me” but I'm hoping to break the addiction.

Imagine if we could break this addiction to ourselves and and really hear Jesus when he says that the greatest of all the commandments is to love God and the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. What would the world look like? What would our neighborhoods look like? Sheesh! What would our churches look like?

My prayer for all of us is that we would, by God’s grace , break this addiction to ourselves that so consumes us all, and truly follow Jesus as disciples!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Confessions of a grumpy old man

So here are some thoughts on #4 of my ten life lessons I’ve learned/am learning. Click here to see my list

#4 Never underestimate the power of the negative voice - There is an old preachers saying that goes “ any old jackass can kick down a barn it took 15 good carpenters to build” I think my favorite quote regarding negative voices is Lyndon Johnson who said in his own unique way, “id rather have someone inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in”

I took a stab at something a couple years ago when I listened to some sermons I had recorded. I felt they were coming from a negative perspective. I had got into a mind set of proclaiming the effects of missing out on God’s love or if we refused to live out this miraculous gift of God, rather than proclaim the hope and joy and transformation when we experience God’s love through Jesus. It may sound subtle but the focus is very different. Proclaiming transformation through God’s spirit is about hope and a longing for something better, proclaiming the consequences of living away from that spirit brings a longing to escape the consequences of living in that place, which may or may not involve God. Anyway, I’m gonna start preaching so I better get back on track... So after hearing myself I made a conscious effort not to say anything negative for a month. And to add another negative statement... I suck at being positive all the time. I had the same experience when I tried to take Jesus words seriously in Matthew’s Gospel when he said love your neighbor as yourself... I picked the wrong week to drive in heavy traffic to Seattle for conference meetings.. there is a reason I don’t have a fish on my car!

My sense of humor is a bit dry and very sarcastic and I use that as a cover to mask my negativity. I can always say “I was just joking”. I notice when I am in a negative place and the comments and actions i make are negative the people around me become more negative. It’s kinda’ like the blob that consumes as it goes. It’s hard to experience joy in that climate and around some people (including me at times)

I have been in more than one situation where a body of disciples had a decision to make or had taken a step in faith to follow what they truly believed to be God’s leading, only to have one or two negative voices destroy it, and drag the group back to a placid existence together.

As I am writing this i realize that it is beginning to sound like any dissenting voice is negative. I don’t believe that at all. In fact I am a firm believer that the loyal opposition is sometimes the most profound voice of God in a community. And I am on occasion fulfilling the role of that loyal opposition, as a response to my faith.

The negativity that is driven by fear and inconvenience can be a passion killer and can be a genuine obstacle to what the Spirit is doing in the midst of the world and our lives together.

Secondly, negativity towards the world around us is killing the church. Sooner or later we have to realize that we are ambassadors of love rather than the moral police. Our scriptures begin at Gen ch 1 with the creation as an expression and image of God, not Gen Ch 3 with the fall. And believe it or not there is a whole lot of stuff that goes on between Gen ch 3 and Romans ch 3 where Paul explains the remedy for the fall.

Friends be good to each other, proclaim love and the Gospel of Jesus not the Gospel about Jesus. Love your neighbor, rather than tell them how bad they are. Change the course of the grumpy old man!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Don't look back Brad!

The fist song I ever learned on my guitar was "More Than A Feeling" by Boston. I have played it so many times that my fingers just do it by muscle memory. I don't think i could slow the finger picking down to see the pattern anymore. I can't tell you how many hours I spent in my bedroom as a kid pretending to be Brad Delp the singer of Boston. Later when I got my first guitar I pretended to be Tom Schultz the lead guitarist. I think I wore out the grooves on my Boston LP (Remember LP's???) and then the Don't Look Back LP.

A couple of days ago while listening to the "entertainment news" on the morning news show I watch while getting ready for the day here in the Portland area, they said Brad had died. I never met Brad, I have never even seen him in concert, but I had pretended to be him hundreds of times in my mind. I was surprised to feel a twinge in my heart at hearing the news, and a real sense of sorrow.

Today when I turned on the computer to start the work day, my ISP home page had as one of their headlines "family says singers death was a suicide". I quickly hit the link, and sure enough it seems that Brad had indeed committed suicide leaving notes for his family and fiancé'

As one blog I read today on this topic put it; "It sucks when your heroes die!" Any suicide is especially tragic. It always makes my heart hurt to hear of someone who somehow found themselves in a place where they felt the best option was to die. I must admit I'm in a bit of a funk this afternoon about the whole thing... I'm sad cause one of my heroes has died, .... I'm sad because I wonder if he knew there were people like me who loved his art, and even pretended to be him in front of mirrors singing into hair brushes and screwdrivers...

I picked up my guitar today and played "More Than A Feeling" again, and there was no way I could hit the "She slipped awayyyyyyy....yyyyyaaaaa.....yyaaaaaaa!" line like Brad did.

Even though I never met you I hope you found some peace friend.

Rock on!

Monday, March 05, 2007

My kids can do anything!

HI friends,

I thought I’d add to my thoughts on my ten life lessons I’ve learned/am learning. Click here to see my list The picture is of my two kids and me, (i'm the one with the guitar) on our yearly camping trip to the Rogue River, who are the most above average, wonderful kids I have ever met. (no bias of course)

A few years back while I was volunteering with a local church in Medford Or. The church had a guest speaker come and talk about parenting skills at a Sunday evening program. I don’t remember hardly anything about the program, Mostly cause at the time my wife and I weren't parents. I was only there because I was volunteering with the Church’s youth group and thought it might be a good Idea to support the kids parents. The speaker, in her opening statements, asked us to think about our own parents and their parenting skills. She then followed up the phrase with “ don’t do it like they did” At that point I was kinda done with what she had to say.

I’ll be the first to say there are millions of children who have experienced how not to be a parent... I’ve sat in CPS hearings with some of them, and am continually amazed at how families can treat each other. But I’m not one of them. My parents did a wonderful job of raising my brother sister and I. I don’t want to speak for my siblings, but our home was always a place where I knew I was loved and encouraged. I, of course, thought my parents were idiots when I was 15, I had the car packed two days before I left for college when I was 18, but secretly cried when It hit me that I was really going to live somewhere else.

Of the things my parents gave me, a feeling that I was smart, and that I could work out any problem I faced, or set my sights on something and have if become reality, was by far their best gift. My dad taught me how to throw a football and encouraged me when I felt too small. He drove me to track practices every afternoon until Jr. High and rarely missed a chance to see me run, and talk about the race with me after. (he is a large part of the reason I went to college on a track scholarship and was ranked 8th in the nation at one point) My mom and her best friend used to lead an after school program for several of us in third grade. (she was the one who taught me and my friends to sing “The B-I-B-L-E yes that the book for me”

I vividly remember in kindergarten, my parents bought something that came in a big box (at least the size of a kindergarten aged kid) I took a pair of scissors and several rolls of scotch tape and turned the box into a 747 complete with 7 40 7 written on the tail in red crayon. Instead of getting in trouble for using up three rolls of Scotch tape, I heard how creative I was and how wonderful my creation was.

When I think of my own kids, I hope I give them that same feeling. My son is seriously the smartest 4th grader I know. That doesn’t mean he always picks up his dirty clothes, or that there isn’t the moments of frustration (I’m sure my parents never had those moments with me)

We were following behind a car on the freeway and my son asked what does Hemi mean? I told him it was a type of engine in some cars... “especially in MOPAR cars” I said. He replied “oh Chryslers are MOPAR cars?” I said “ya’” and he added “I bet MOPAR means Motor Parts.” (When my son wins the Daytona 500 remember this Blog!) “So why is it called Hemi?” he asked “Well, remember how we talked about how engines work, and that they burn gas to make pistons go up and down?” “ya’” came from the back seat. “We’ll some cars, at the top of the piston are flat , and some are curved to make the piston move with more power, That curve is called a Hemisphere.” “Oh, like the Northern Hemisphere on the earth! - oh I get it, so Hemi is short for Hemisphere in the engine?” My son can do anything!

My daughter creates (notice she is using the pop corn bowl as a drum in the picture). She saves, what the rest of us call garbage but uses them for projects she makes. She dances, and dances.... and did I mention she dances? Whether its during worship, or in her car seat to the radio, or in the front room listening to a flock of seagulls with dad, or at a wedding reception. Two years ago at a family retreat our church hosts every year at the beach, she made up her own ballet dance at the age of five to dance while dad played the guitar, during the talent/no talent show. She got a standing ovation, and they made her do it again as an encore. When she was asked “did you learn that in dance class?” She would just smile and say” nope, just made it up.” My daughter can do anything!

I hope my kids never loose those feelings, I know the world can beat us down and make us feel stupid, and even the people we love can do it to us sometimes. I hope my kids hear from me how much I love them, and that they can do anything, because the world will be better if my kids hear it, and if yours hear it too!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Who's in the box?

I've a friend who is a former seminary professor of mine, whose blog I have linked to in the past. He is one of those people I call "stupid smart"... even when he is stupid he is still way smarter than me. Anyway, there is a lot of fuss going on about the soon to air "documentary" on the discovery channel regarding the possible discovery of Jesus bones.

Ben actually knows the people who dig up such artifacts and catalogue them. (the rest of us just read about them) Anyway he has some helpful and interesting posts on his blog about the whole affair ... I warn you it is a bit long and you need to turn off the TV and radio and concentrate as you read through them.

Ben Witherington's Blog

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Two friends whom I love

It has been a stressful week with lots of work, and late nites, as happens from time to time when you are in full time ministry. Occasionally the stress backs up and I realize my wife and kids get the tired, used up, worst part of their husband and dad.

I have some friends whom I love, and who are far away in dangerous places. I realized this week, as one of them was injured, that some of the things I stress about, really don't amount to much, and people need to have a reality check, and be good to one another.

Anyway, I'd like to point you towards the blogs of my two friends, so you can read what their lives are like, and be praying for them both. I do everyday!

Aaron Stewart - Southern Sudan

LTC Rich Phillips - Salerno Hospital, Afghanistan

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ash Wednesday Pics

Hi there, thought I'd put up a few pictures from our Ash Wednesday Service. We had a pretty large turn out this year. It's been fascinating to see how this service has grown in importance to people in our congregation. Five years ago it was just a handful of people, and most wouldn't rearrange plans to be in attendance. Now this service, as well as the whole season of Lent, have a wonderful sense of meaning for us.

I hope you had a great Ash Wednesday no matter what your traditions are, and hope that if you are one who makes this journey through Lent it is a wonderful one.

More than ashes in your face, Happiness & Joy

Well, to further elaborate on the 10 lessons I have and am learning Click here to see my list I’ll look a little closer at this notion that Joy and Happiness are not the same thing.

To start with I wanna’ go on the record as having said that I am a big fan of both joy and happiness, and I am “for” both of them (as opposed to being “agin em’” as my friends in Kentucky would say). But I also think that of the two if I had to choose one to experience it would be Joy.

Scripture speaks quite a lot about joy - A quick word search of the Old and New Testaments show 164 references to the word.

Other than in the book of Job and the Psalms, "joy" is used very conditionally. Usually people sang with joy when something good happened, or had their joy taken away when something bad happened. In the prophets there is an image of joy when God does something wonderful , but an absence of joy in the troubles of the present.

In Job there is a sense that this Joy God speaks of isn’t conditional on your situation. “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy. “ Even in the midst of the terrible conditions Joy finds himself in the word “joy” is used.

In the New Testament "joy" seems to have a grander connection. As if it is connected with something bigger than just the fleeting situation we find ourselves in. Phrases like the Angels greeting to the shepherds “Do not be afraid; for see —I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” Or in Jesus words in John’s Gospel “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Or Paul's words to the Romans “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” or listed as one of the “fruits of the spirit - “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness...”

It seems to me that there are plenty of times when my situation makes me happy. I find a $5 bill in my coat pocket from last winter (or I put on someone else’s coat) Or my wife surprises me by making Jambalya for dinner, And there are plenty of times that my situation makes me sad or unhappy. Mornings when my motorcycle wont start or my child is sick or a friend is ill. It seems my happiness is very conditional, and I can spend an awful lot of time trying to avoid situations or conditions that will may me unhappy for a while.

But joy is connected to a bigger overriding feeling, and peace that comes not from my situation, but as a gift. I believe it is a gift from God. Joy is in the feeling that even though my child is sick I know God is good, and in control. Joy is in experiencing God’s creation as I ride around Lacamas lake on my motorcycle on a spring morning. Joy lets me know that no matter the condition or situation I am in, there is a God who loves me and I am in his hands. It can be a strange paradox. I have officiated more than one funeral where I have wept in sorrow but also experienced joy.

It seems to me that the life that is ruled my the joy that is given to us as a gift from God is infinitely better than just being happy in my situation. It's not by any stretch of the imagination easier, in fact sometimes it is more difficult, but it is good!

I have found that when I was merely living life looking for happiness, I often avoided difficult situations because I wasn’t happy in them at the moment. In avoiding those difficulties I was in reality missing out on the greater Joy that is accomplished when we spend times in those difficult places, and see the grander nature of our lives.

It reminds me of a friend who used to run with a group of us every afternoon when I was a sprinter in college. He would complain about how all this running just made him tired and hurt his lungs (not to mention he couldn’t smoke while he did it.... the ashes would blow in his face) But some of us knew that hard work and difficulty in the moment meant something bigger in the long run (no punn intended)

I think I’m mostly done chasing after happiness and am experiencing a peace and life that comes from God’s gift of Joy.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Hi friends sorry to take a break from my 10 lessons theme but today is Ash Wednesday. Its one of the holy days our congregation as well as millions of others around the world celebrate (if that is the right word??) and marks for us the beginning of the season of Lent.

The reason I'm a little leery of using the word celebrate is that Ash Wednesday and Lent in general are a time of self inspection and deep reflection that brings us to the wonderful celebration of Easter. Typically (at least for me) that time of introspection usually illuminates things in my life physically, spiritually and otherwise that I know are a hindrance to my faith and relationship with Jesus, and it doesn't feel like a celebration at times.

BUT having said all that I'm always up for a good laugh. Some may feel this link is irreverent ... and it is... but it made me laugh.

Ash Wednesday Joke

I hope your season of Lent is wonderful and challenging and that the God of Love, Grace and Forgiveness meets you on this journey!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Starting with #1...

I’ve been doing some thinking about lessons Ihave learned in life . Like many of you I have several hats I wear - Pastor, Husband, Dad, Old Man, Young Whippersnapper, and the list goes on. In the complexities that are me, I have found a few things that I think are incredibly important lessons I’ve learned (or am learning) so I thought I would jot them down. I’ll try to expound a little on each one in the weeks ahead. I’ll give you the whole list and then give you some more insights into #1 to begin with. (#1 is always a good place to start, even though Three Dog Night taught us all that “1 is the loneliest number”... ok I saw those words come across my computer screen too, and I’m as troubled by the reference as you are... let it go... somewhere along the way I turned old)

Here is my list (at this point in history)

1. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is always better than being a Christian.

2. Joy and happiness are not the same thing

3. Tell your kids they can be and do anything they dream of.

4. Never underestimate the power of the negative voice.

5. Original sin is alive and well

6. Wesley’s entire sanctification isn’t just a theory

7. Being involved in something bigger than yourself is important.

8. if your involved in “ministry” don’t let it destroy your family

9. ”Be excellent to each other”

10. I’m not responsible for someone else's spiritual life or relationship with God

1. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is always better than being a Christian.

In resent years this has become an important part of my call as an ordained minister. I find myself talking more and more about being a disciple of Jesus, or a follower of Christ, rather than being a “Christian”. I also must admit that the amount of strange and confused looks i get has increased since coming to this belief.

In my mind there is a difference between the two: the main difference is see is that one can be a “Christian” w/o being a disciple. I’m finding that an increasing number of us in the “Christian church” are finding our identity in a belief system and a prescribed set of behaviors rather than being disciples of Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us and the world. I’m not convinced that what Jesus meant when he was talking to Nicodemus in John Ch 3 about belief meant that we we merely check a box at the end of the apostles creed that says “agree” like we are loading Mac OS10.4 on our iBook, and therefore get a reward. We can rejoice in John 3;16 but forget to read vs 21 when Jesus gives Nichodemus some insight into what “belief” really means - “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” The word “Phaneros” that is translated “clearly seen” in the NIV and “made manifest” in KJV has a sense of being real, provable, - not just a check in a box. When Jesus is asked about the kingdom of God he responds with stories like the good Samaritan, or an image of sheep and goats - (Matt 25;34-40 - “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ ) Jesus repeatedly gives us stories and images that model for us tangible actions that flow from a changed heart.

Believers who merely subscribe to a belief system, or a set of behaviors are more prevalent than germs on my son’s shirt sleeve during cold and flu season (and have roughly the same effect.... oops was that in my outside voice??) What I’m convinced God is calling us to, is to be people so transformed by God’s grace and hope that we can’t be satisfied with anything less than being tools in the hands of the holy spirit to transform our world and see God’s kingdom come. That requires us to be disciples of Jesus, to take seriously what scripture tells us about love and justice and mercy, to question our ideas about power and wealth, to ask the question “what would Jesus do” rather than make it a bracelet or a bumper sticker.

My call as a man set apart as an ordained minister, and even more importantly as a man transformed by God’s grace, is to be about the work of being a disciple of Jesus, and that road is always better than checking the “I agree” box.