Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me

Happy Birthday to me!

39 today. Oddly enough 39 isn't as hard as 29 was. I got a bit depressed at my 29th birthday. Not so much for turning 39. No promises about next year though!

I wonder if when I'm forty my clergy colleagues will still call me "one of the young ones." Each of my paychecks for the past 18 years have been from Methodist churches. I have been in professional ministry for nearly 20 years and some people still have the nerve to say that I am one of the "young ones!" There are many 50+ year old clergy who have less than half the ministry experience that I have. Ugh.

Well that is a rant for another day.

Have a good Bruce's Birthday and say a prayer for me.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A call to ministry

This month we will be taking a quick tour through the book of Exodus. If Genesis lays the foundation for the Bible then Exodus provides the framework for the rest of the structure. Exodus is the story of oppressed minority people who discover what it means to live as God’s people. The story begins with a call from God to an unlikely leader, someone who is running away after committing a homicide. A leader who is supposed to speak for the people yet he has a speech impediment. A leader who doesn’t want the job, yet he is convinced of God’s call and reluctantly moves forward.

This is the time of year when we seek people who are willing to help lead the church in ministry. The Lay Leadership team meets to nominate people to serve on the committees of the church. Those committees are Lay Leadership, Trustees, and Staff Parish Relations (SPR). We also have teams that are vital to the function of ministry. Currently we have three teams for the ministry of LUMC those are Worship, Missions and Social Justice / Outreach. We call the first three “committees” because that is what they are called in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. We call the other three “teams” because they are created for a particular task and they are less structured as they are not bound by the Book of Discipline.

As the church there are many opportunities for ministry not only on a committee or as part of a team. God may be calling you to a ministry of service within the church or in the community. Some are called to tend to the church garden, spend time with the youth or to sing in the choir. Some are called to work in our public schools, to work in health care or to work with lumber. What if we spent our day recognizing the call that God has for us each day?

I ask that you take time this month to listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. Where do you find yourself being led into service for God’s kingdom? Do you have a passion working with children and youth? Are you being called to help others recover from an addiction? Do you know how to fix things? I encourage you to take time to thank God for the gifts you have in all your daily activities and to seek to use your gifts for God’s service.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

October 14, 2007 Sermon Notes

God's Gifts, Our Offerings
Genesis 41:14-36

Michelangelo’s painting reminds us that the people of the Genesis stories are African people. It is important for us to remember that. They are not white Europeans. So often if I am not thinking about it, I have this 1950’s Hollywood movie image of these stories.

Sometimes I have a limited vision and I don’t want to limit my vision of what God is doing or saying. Sometimes I make judgments about people’s abilities, a person’s education or income, even a person’s political or theological leanings based on surface things such as they way the dress, the car they drive or even the color of their skin or their ethnicity. I confess this so that I will be able to continue to heal from it and that I might move to see the fullness of God's gifts.

We have blinders that sometimes prevent us from seeing the full picture. This story is a story about the blinders that people put on. Early in the Joseph story we are introduced to the fact that Joseph is the father’s favored son, this is bound to make his brothers jealous. Then Joseph has a dream about the other brothers bowing down to him. Joseph is either arrogant or ignorant about his dreams. He foolishly tells his brothers about them and they react as we would expect them to, they get angry. We are told some of his brothers even want to kill him. Eventually Joe is thrown into a pit, sold as a slave and sent to Egypt. Here in Egypt, Joe’s gift will be put to use.

Each of us has gifts for the ministry. What are you going to do with yours? This is God’s gift, how are you going to offer it? Do you pay attention to the gifts that God has given you. You are gifted. We do so much to downplay our gifts.

One of my connectional responsibilities is to serve on the District Committee on Building and Location. This committee has many responsibilities regarding church property. One day we sat with a church looking to make changes to their property that they could not afford and I grew increasingly frustrated at their inability to see the great gift they had instead of focusing on what they did not have.

Some of us act like the people of that church, only seeing what we cannot do instead of noticing what God is doing in our lives. A few of us clergy were talking about worship one day and we came to an important conclusion. It wasn’t so important to us if a musician or a singer was particularly talented, it was important that the one leading worship music was praising God. It makes a difference if one is performing or if one is legitimately worshiping as they lead the music.
What if Joseph had buried his gift of dreams in that pit that he was thrown into? What if he refused to listen to dreams, to interpret Pharoh's dream or to pay attention to his own. Our Bible would end in chapter 37 of Genesis. Oh, I am sure God would speak to us in other ways, but we wouldn't have the book we have now. Everything would have turned out differently had Joseph buried his gift.

It is vital for the ministry of LUMC that you know what your spiritual gifts are and have a way to discern the use of those gifts.

In my experience discernment rarely happens alone. There are some things that I enjoy doing but I don’t really understand or know that they are meaningful until someone shares with me that they are. You have the opportunity to encourage the gifts of another. Share what you appreciate about another’s gift. Let people around know how you appreciate them. Take notice of what your neighbors are doing by the Grace of God.

We need you to share your gifts in your personal relationships, in small groups, Bible studies, and in worship. The future of the ministry of LUMC and the future of our community depend on the gifts that you share.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Family Picture

I have posted this so that I can get a picture onto my profile. This was taken during our family vacation this past summer. We had a great time in Yellowstone. God's creative power is on display in such fantastic fashion in this beautiful place!

October 7, 2007 Sermon Notes

Jacob struggles with the angel, by Rembrandt

Read Genesis 32:22 - 33:11

Truth be told, sometimes I can be a heel. I know, it’s shocking for you to hear because most of the time I’m a pretty nice guy. I like to think of myself as a people person who gets along with all sorts of folks. But you know sometimes I get grumpy and sometimes I am a bit of a heel. This past week was an annual gather of our conference clergy. Primarily at this last gathering we worshiped together and spent time in fellowship (usually around a meal.) Unfortunately, I found myself at times, in a negative frame of mind. I made judgments about the most petty silly things. I am so ashamed of this as I think back upon it. Why am I so often critical of others like me who are simply doing what they can for the greater good?

Luckily for me, I am not the only one. There are others in this world who can be a heel. Some of you can even be a heel sometimes and today’s story is about one of the greatest heels of them all. Jacob is a scoundrel and his name in Hebrew is literally, “ the heel.” Yet, Jacob is also the one who is the one who inherits the covenant handed down from Abraham. Jacob’s children will be the ancestors of the tribes of Israel. How did this happen?

What does it say about the people of Israel that they recount these scandalous stories of Jacob? The heel who stole his brother’s inheritance and blessing, the scoundrel who lost a battle of wits with his father in law for the woman of his dreams, the coward who sent his women and children to face potential death without him.

Finally, this coward, this rouge, this scoundrel seeks forgiveness and reconciliation. Here we have this account of Jacob wrestling with God and seeking a blessing. Not one that he steals, one that is freely given. In Rembrandt's painting of this scene it almost appears as if Jacob is dancing with the angle instead of wrestling. God's messenger is clearly dominate yet graceful. Jacob seems weary and full of grief as if all his past struggles have come down upon him at this moment. It is a scene of mercy and grace not one of a violent struggle.
Then another extraordinary thing happens, Esau, the rightful heir to his father’s fortune and blessing grants another blessing to Jacob, one that is not deserved or earned, yet freely given. Esau forgives Jacob.

Israel, is a nation formed by an act of free grace.

Longview United Methodist Church is a church that has been blessed by many examples of free grace. Freely you have invited one another into your homes, your lives, and your spiritual journeys. You have received grace in worship, you have received grace in prayer, you have received grace in study, and you have received grace in fellowship. These are acts of blessing, free of judgment, free from prejudice, free to love.

You know sometimes we can be heels. Sometimes we are too judgmental. Sometimes we fail to forgive. Sometimes we too easily share our dissatisfaction with the way things are. What if we turned from the heel and toward grace? What if we gave thanks to God for those people with whom we have a difficult relationship? What if we gave thanks to God for the stuff we have instead of prayers for stuff we do not have?

May I suggest a meal. It isn’t very much, a little bread, a little cup of juice but it is a free meal. It is the only free lunch. Given simply so that you might know that you are loved.

May you be a blessing for others as God has freely blessed you.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

PNW General Conference Delegation Meeting

And so it begins.

Friday evening was the first meeting of the delegation from the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

We received words of encouragement and support from Bishop Paup and a report regarding a study of the Episcopacy from Rachel Lieder Simeon the Alaska Missionary Conference Superintendent.

Following dinner we received news that the connectional table of the Annual Conference has elected to fund the travel for all of the General Conference reserves! So as the second reserve my basic expenses will be paid for! This enables us to have an observer at all but one of the General Conference committees. I will be the observer of the Committee on Discipleship. The reports should be available sometime in January so I can begin studying all the legislative proposals. (I understand that there will be a great deal of reading to do.)

Essentially this meeting was an opportunity for the veterans of General Conference and for us rookies to become acquainted with one another and our task at hand. We set a schedule for our future meetings and discussed some possible agenda items for our future meetings.

We received our first reality check of the United Methodist Church in the Western U.S.. The Western Jurisdiction is by far the smallest in the denomination. The seven Annual Conferences of the Western Jurisdiction will be sending 40 delegates to General Conference. The other delegations are as follows:
North Central 138
Northeastern 126
South Central 148
Southeastern 252
Central Conferences 268

The two Annual Conferences in Georgia will be sending 40 delegates equalling the whole of the Western Jurisdiction delegation.

There was some discussion about the difficulties of balancing Spiritual Health in the midst of a very political process. Stories of past hurts from those who had attended before were shared. There was also a sharing of some hoped for guidelines of behavior for those participating in the conference. These guidelines are essentially those used this past summer by an international gathering of youth and young adult United Methodists in South Africa. You can find an article about them here: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.3082929/apps/nl/content3.asp?content_id={2B1F5695-20AD-47C1-BAC7-18E6878B6063}&notoc=1

I hope that the various delegations and interest groups can follow these basic ideas. If followed equally I believe that there can be a great opportunity for some relationship building during the General Conference session.
I am concerned primarily about the relationships within the church. Unfortunately, I do not go expecting dramatic change for the full inclusion of homosexual people in the life of the church. However, I deeply pray that there will be an opportunity for relationship building so that some who disagree with me regarding the full inclusion of homosexual people will hear the story of the people of Longview United Methodist Church and how being an open and inclusive church has saved the church and saved lives of people who have come into contact with the ministry of LUMC. If our evangelical goal is to save people for Jesus Christ I welcome the opportunity to share the evangelical work of a small town church that is active in the work of making Disciples for Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sunday September 30th Sermon Notes

Promises, Promises

Do you make promises very easily? Sometimes in our efforts to make others happy we make promises that we can’t follow through with. We often complain about promises our leaders make that they can’t follow through with. Politicians get hammered from both sides, they get hammered when they fail to make a promise to fix things, then they get hammered for not fixing things when they “promised” that they would.

Parents know the dilemma of making promises. Our children ever so hopeful that we might concede to their demands will sometimes take a “maybe” as a signed contract, a done deal, “You Promised!”

Sometimes I have made promises that could not be kept. I am guilty of saying that I would call, and then forget to call. I am sure some of you are aware of other promises I have failed to keep. I humbly ask for your grace. If I have failed to fulfill a promise I pray you may find a way to gracefully remind me of that promise so that I might not continue to stumble and sin.

In Genesis we are introduced to the significance of covenant relationships. God makes covenants with Noah and Abraham. Each of these covenants change our understanding of God, ourselves and our relationship with God.
· In each case the one who receives the promise has taken an action to obey God. Noah built a boat, Abraham went on a long journey.
· Each of these promises are a blessing for people. God promises not to flood the earth again, and that Abraham’s descendents will be as numerous as the stars.
· Each of these promises have a sign, a rainbow for Noah and circumcision for Abraham.

These early covenants create a foundation for the people of God. They begin to create some order in the world for God’s people. That’s what fulfilled promises do, they create order out of chaos. We depend upon promises each day, we don’t always express them verbally but we live by all sorts of promises. When I drive on the street I promise to follow the basic rules of the road. When I go to a restaurant and I order some food I am making a promise to pay for that food. In marriage I promise to love, honor and keep in sickness and in health. When the vows of our covenant relationships are broken, chaos happens.

We know that our life partner covenants are complex. I am still learning how to keep the vows I made to Kendra 11 ½ years ago. I haven’t been very good at taking care of her in sickness. I am getting better. I have learned to make the right comfort foods, to create a comfortable space and sometimes I have even learned when just to stay away.

Keeping those promises of our most intimate relationships is complex and we all need help. Each of us struggle between meeting our own needs and the needs of those we love. Each of us have moments when we succeed brilliantly and when we fail miserably.

As complex as those relationships are, our relationship with God is no different. Living in our covenant with God is a complex matter.
We are asked to obey some basic rules.
We have received blessing from our relationship with God.
We have signs of that blessing.

The Good News is that Jesus Christ gave us a new covenant. We are directed according to the Gospel of John to simply, “love one another.” Through the grace we are promised eternal life with God. Our sign of this covenant is the communion meal, the sharing of the bread and the cup to remember the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May we continue to live in the grace of the one who is able to keep the best promise of all.