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.