Thursday, April 01, 2010

Holy Week

We have returned from Salt Lake City.

It was great to make the trip and to run down to the UMCOR depot and to see the evidence of the work of the connection of the United Methodist Church. It was a little humbling and anti-climatic to drop off our 128 kits in amongst the thousands of others. We were reminded that it is simply many small efforts that create those thousands of kits and supplies loaded in the 22,000 square feet of the facility there.

The drive down was uneventful and we arrived at the warehouse around 4:00 in the afternoon after departing from Boise around 10:00 in the morning. We had a nice walk around downtown Salt Lake City. Our hotel was across the street from the home of the NBA team and the home team was having a game that night. It was nice to see the activity of the city and it had such a calm peaceful feeling to the place even with the activity.

I don't know how God will make use of those health and layette kits. I don't know where the will end up or who will unwrap them or what difference it will make but I trust it will make a difference and that 128 lives will be a little better off because of the effort.

Today is Holy Thursday, a time to be at service because we remember the great love Jesus has for us. Go, serve, do.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lent Day 30!

Spent yesterday in multiple meetings at the Conference office in Des Moines and the blog was neglected. I am sorry about that.

Today's Lent review is on the topic of hospitality focusing on our welcoming of children. One of my joys growing up in the church was the sense of being at home in that place. At Mill Plain UMC we are continuing to find ways that we can best be in ministry with children. We continue to expand the possibilities in with our classroom space and teachers. We continue to live into the best practices of providing a safe space for our children and vulnerable adults. While this is all good and right work, it is not enough.

What completes our welcoming of children is how adults and families will relate to each other. How many adults know the names of the children in church other than the ones in their immediate families? How do the adults relate to children during fellowship times? How we receive people of all ages will show a great deal about how we are willing to show grace to all people.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lent Day 26

Micah 6:8

What does the Lord require of you? To do Justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God!

Some say today is one of the least productive days in America's offices as we begin the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. Really do I care that BYU is playing Florida right now? No but I have already checked the scores. I don't know why. The only team I care about is Gonzaga and I don't even know if they play today or tomorrow.

See, it is easy to get distracted from what the Lord requires. We have so many options. Focus. How can we bring justice and kindness. How will we intentionally walk humbly with the Lord today?

Today I will work on the sermon, I will visit the hospital, I will finish the study guide, I will pray for forgiveness and I will take a walk in the beautiful sunshine to consider what else God may bring my way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lent Day 25

"Honor the Lord . . . with the first fruits of all your substance."

Why does the "youth room" always get the left over couches? Why does the church always get the old TV? Why are so many church building projects done with the attitude of "good enough"? Why don't we give our best instead of our left overs?

I like to wear ties to church and to professional church occasions such as Annual Conference. I am in a terrible minority on these occasions. The Boomers are still rebelling against the norm of their parents and they don't like to wear ties. Most of them wear some sort of open collar shirt. A few of us "younger" clergy have come back to wearing ties. I guess we are rebelling against the Boomers.

For me it is a reminder about giving my best. The church deserves my best. When I fail at that it nags at me for a long time. What can you give the best of for God's kingdom today?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lent day 24

What gifts do I bring?

As hard as I can be on myself, you know what, I am a pretty good preacher.

I am a good listener and I have a good presence with people in difficult situations.

I have a vision and a passion for the church.

I understand concepts of strategic thinking and leadership issues and I do my best to apply them.

Am I perfect. NO! I am in constant need of grace from others and from God. Sometimes I can give a stinker of a sermon, sometimes I can fail to be present with others, sometimes I have no idea what I am doing, sometimes I can't think of any new or old ideas. But sometimes is NOT all of the time and overall I'm pretty good at my job.

What gifts do you bring to the church? Go on, brag about yourself, you deserve it!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lent day 23

Paul in this text seems to be both thanking the Corinthian church for a gift for his ministry as well as continuing to ask for support. For the pastor, I love the reality of this message. The church is dependent upon the work of some through the gifts of others.

In my first years of ministry in England I didn't pay much attention to the church finances. I knew there was a collection each week. I knew that sometimes it seemed like hardly enough to pay the bills. I knew that the circuit somehow was able to pay the pastors and that once a quarter I would get a check. It was at my first appointment back in the Pacific Northwest that I realized just the depth of generosity that I was dependent upon. As we struggled to understand the budget and giving in the church I realized that I was about 75% of the church budget! Through my salary, health care, pension, liability insurance and housing 75 cents of every dollar someone gave to the church went to me. I was overwhelmed. I was also on minimum salary and still trying to figure out how to pay all my bills.

It is humbling to consider the gifts people are willing to give to the ministry of the church so that a pastor might preach a sermon tend to those who are struggling and to lead a congregation.

So today I am humbled. I am mindful of all the difficult choices I have to make about what not to tend to while being busy with so much else. There simply is not enough time to do all that I could. Thank you to all the people who have supported me over the years and thank you today for the people of Mill Plain UMC.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lent Day 20

Luke 4: 16-20

What is your hurry? Jesus had a sense of urgency in his ministry. His mission was clear "to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind."

What is your mission? According to Pew research released recently only 64% of people 29 years old or younger believe in God. For people over 30 that number is 73%. We know fewer young people are attending church. It is time for us to make the church relevant in a new way.

The 20th century say the great movement known as Methodism lose its momentum. By 1970 the movement would be at its peak with numbers declining ever since. It is my believe that one part of our problem is that the church lost its urgency. As we moved through the great movements of social change working for equal rights of women and people of all races and ethnicity the church somehow lost the sense of urgency to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive, and recovery of sight to the blind. Perhaps we grew tired of the battles and social strife. Perhaps the affluence of our society distracted people from their spiritual needs. Perhaps our acceptance of diversity diluted loyalty to any one particular religious message or institution. Perhaps we became stuck believing that church was at its best in 1970 therefore we should keep doing it the way we did back then.

I think there is some truth to all of those possibilities. The question before us know is how will the church be relevant in the 21st century? Must we keep doing church 1970 style? Does church mean that we have to gather at 11:00 on Sunday morning? How will we share the Good News that is as needed in this century as it has been for the last 20?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lent Day 19

Mathew 20:20 ff

I had lunch with my mom today. I had a meeting in Centralia to plan some work around a conference event I am in leadership with and so I called mom to see if she had time for lunch. Mom's are great. They see us with a unique point of view. And so I read this passage in Matthew about James and John's mom with great sympathy. She is looking out for her sons in the best way she knows how. Yet, Jesus has even a better way, that those who participate in his kingdom work must be at service for others.

Mom and I talked about the church and what has changed over the years. I reminded her and myself that we have shifted from when she was in her 20's with a presumption that most people go to church to a situation now where most people in their 20's presume that no one goes to church anymore. So the church finds itself in a situation wondering why there are so few young people. Of course there are some places 20 somethings are going to church but in general it isn't at your neighborhood UMC. This is not to say that the UMC no longer has anything to offer 20 somethings. However, those grandparents in the pews need to start asking questions and really listening for how the church can be relevant to the new generation of young families. What if Sunday at 11:00 isn't the only time we can be the church? What if the grandparents started to find new ways to talk about the gospel? How can those of us in the church at 11:00 on Sunday morning be at service for those who are not? It seems to me this is Jesus' question of James, John and us.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Lent Day 18

Micah 6:8

It was a vacation Bible school that finally taught me to memorize this verse. "What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God."

What justice can I do today, for whom shall an act of kindness make any difference, how can I walk humbly with God today? Sometimes the answers are not self evident. Sometimes it isn't apparent in our average day how we will live into acts of justice. Sometimes we aren't sure our everyday actions display any extra ordinary kindness. Sometimes our days pass without the appropriate time of prayer and humility.

Yesterday, I met with people and planned some mission work to bring a little more justice to our world. Yesterday, I was able to meet with a family and share some kindness. Yesterday, I took time to pray. May today be a bit like yesterday.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Lent Day 17

Psalm 99

This is a royal Psalm. Sometimes I wonder in reading these sort of Psalms if they declare a reality of what the king is like or if they are hoped for attributes that the psalmist puts upon the king. "Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity . . ."

Whatever the case the psalm calls for us to remember those who have brought forth justice.

I watched the last few awards being handed out at the Oscars last night. While I am not sure the Sandra Bullock is the best actress of the five nominees, I was touched by her speech where she recognized that all people deserve to be loved. She said, "there is no race, no religion, no class systems, no colors, no sexual orientation that makes us better than anyone else, we are all deserving of love."

We are all deserving of love, may we this day have an opportunity to extend that love into God's world.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Lent Day 14

This is one of my favorite texts in all of Scripture, Philippians 2.

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . ."

The joy of the disciplines I have taken up during this Lent is that it affirms that in order to make changes in our life we need to know what our goals are. I want to run the Portland Marathon this year. It will take a lot of dedication but I know that I can achieve the goal. My life has already changed in my efforts to reach that goal. I have lost 15 pounds since last September. I feel better.

Christ had a goal in mind . . . that was to bring forth the Kingdom of God here on Earth. I believe he knew that the authorities would try to stop him. I believe he knew this ministry would lead to his death. And I believe he knew that his death was not the end of his ministry.

In my ministry I too want to participate in God's Kingdom here on Earth right now. To participate in bringing peace and justice. To participate in making this world more loving and accepting.

So today in the midst of my meetings and sermon prep I will also encourage someone on the phone struggling to pay their bills, I will envision how the church can step forward in addressing issues of justice, I will extend the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ as well as I can.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Lent Day 13

Fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control.

These are the character traits of discipleship. Sometimes I am able to live into each of these. Yet, I am often challenged to live with the Spirit of these fruits.

When there is an injustice, I am challenged to be loving. When a friend of mine is hurting I think unkind thoughts. When I see changes that can improve the church I become impatient. Sometimes, when I am afraid, I can lose my self control.

So I pray this day, O Lord, let me live into the fruits of the Spirit and to have discernment how I can be at my best.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Lent Day 12

I am a new creation in Christ Jesus.

Paul is reminding the community that our declaration of faith in Jesus transforms us. The acceptance of God's love in our life reforms how we see ourselves and our neighbors. In our Methodist tradition we understand our growth in the knowledge of God's grace as a means of "going on to perfection."

During this season of lent, the discipline of this blog and a phrase on twitter has held me to a time of devotion. I am growing simply by pausing in the morning, reading some scripture and praying for the day. I am also feeling good about the devotion of my exercise program (You can follow that on the Portland 2010 or bust blog.)

I hope that you are experiencing renewal in your life during this season!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Lent Day 11

Acts 2

The apostles become teachers of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Many of my teachers have been clergy who have influenced my life. Some were the pastor's of my local church when I was younger. Some were camp deans when I was a volunteer for summer camp. Some were campus pastors during my college years. Some are now my colleagues. Many of these folks were not necessarily intentionally teaching me. We weren't in a classroom with our Bibles open. Most of the time I was simply observing of how they lived, how did they respond to a particular situation, how did they take notice of others?

As I remember this I am humbled and a little unsure of how my life might affect someone else. Each of us are responsible to remember that we are examples of what it means to live a Christian life. May we endeavor to remember we set an example for living a Christian life even in the most mundane situations.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lent day 10

Matthew 6:6 instructs us to pray in secret. This is in touch with the idea that holiness is not for our social advancement. Yesterday's Luke passage also reminded us of the necessary element of humilty in our pursuit of holiness. There is much to learn about the humility and privacy of our relationship with God.

I am writing this morning while we await the possibility of a Tsunami coming to Hawaii and other Pacific Islands. Praying not so much in secret.

Sometimes we do need to pray publicly and noticeably. Not for the appearance of holiness but for the unique support that comes from knowing that we are connected together. I do not know personally anyone living in Hawaii. Yet, I can connect in some way as I pray for them. And, in doing so publicly I can connect not only with the people of the Pacific, but also with people I am with in this community.

We need to strike the right balance with our private prayers and our public prayers. Today let us pray publicly for the people of the Pacific as they await the unkown.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lent Day 8

Love the Lord your God.

Luke uses the commandment to introduce the parable of the Good Samaritan. Showing the distinction between knowing the right answer and living the right answer. Knowing we are to love the Lord is one thing, acting upon that knowledge is sometimes another.

This has been a fruitful week of sharing ideas, making plans and setting up possibilities for some exciting new ministries at Mill Plain UMC. Yet, I also know that the talking about ideas is not the same as acting them out. At one point in my church life attending meetings felt like I was working, that something was getting done. While meetings are often necessary, I do worry that sometimes we would rather meet than to do. Some of my doing today will be to prepare for worship on Sunday. Some of my doing will be to answer e-mail and to make some phone calls. And I will do work of preparing for the doing action of another day.

What will we DO today to be disciples of Jesus Christ?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lent Day 7

Frogs. Really a plague of frogs? OK.

What got my attention initially about this passage is that Moses and his people expressed their desire for freedom as a means to worship.

When I was in my final year at WSU my senior thesis was a study of the original state constitutions and what they stated about freedom of religion. Each of the original 13 colonies had some statement to the effect that people were free to worship. It is a freedom that we assume in our culture.

I suppose if our religion became illegal we would still find ways to worship. We might have secret signs, we might move our meeting place around, but we would find ways to worship together. I wonder if we would value that time more if it was difficult to arrange and a bit dangerous. Do we take our Sunday mornings for granted? Hmmmm.

Here is to efforts this week to not take the opportunity we have for worship for granted.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lent Day 6

Jesus takes time to bless the bread before the miracle of the feeding of the multitude.

Do you pray before meals at home? Do you pray when you go out to eat? It is amazing to me the power of creating habits or spiritual disciplines. Even if it is to simply pause to say thank you. Your public prayers do not need to be demonstrative but I believe it is valuable to say a word of thanks.

Sometimes when eating with folks at a restaurant I will offer to pray in a traditional way with head bowed and eyes closed. Sometimes I will simply take a morsel of the food hold it up and say, "Thank You God" and begin to eat.

My father used to joke that he could tell how hungry his dad was by how fast he said grace. May we be less worried about the words or the form of the prayers, and may we concern ourselves with the opportunities we have to stop and say thanks this day and every day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lent Day 5

Psalm 84

I love this Psalm. I get absorbed in the writer's enthusiasm for the place of worship and the feeling of joy just to be able to be present in that place.

This past Saturday I drove out to Ocean Park for a meeting. It was a beautiful day. Driving out I had hopes that I would have the opportunity to walk to the beach and to enjoy some time in that holy place. Instead, as soon as I arrived I entered a tense meeting where I was working as the chair of a conference committee. From where we sat I could see the ocean waves and yet by the time the meeting was finished I had to immediately drive home. Sigh.

I regret the missed opportunities to stop and appreciate God's presence in a particular place. I am a bit saddened when work sometimes takes away opportunities to worship.

So . . . I remember the opportunities that come where I can worship. Yesterday's run on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, taking time today to pray with the ladies of the PLANT group, and even sharing some thoughts on a blog.

May God Bless you as you find the opportunities to worship today!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lent Day 3

The text today from Deuteronomy reminds the people to welcome the stranger because they were once strangers in a strange land.

Kendra took me to her exercise class today. It was "bring a friend day." She has just started and so I got to be the friend. Of course I was the only man in the room besides the young man who was the instructor.

It isn't easy to be a stranger. One falls so easily into the "what if they don't like me" feelings. Its not as if in this class I expected to meet people, I was there to support Kendra in this new effort of hers. Its hard to be new.

I try to remember that when new people visit the church as well. Its hard when you don't know what is going to happen, if the people will accept you, are you wearing the right clothes. There are a number of social pressures to being the stranger. I suppose the best way to welcome the stranger in our midst is to remember what it has been like to be the stranger.

Today was supposed to be an easy workout day. OUCH, I hurt in place where I forgot I had muscles.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lent Day 2

In Romans 15 Paul is working to the close of this letter. Verse 7 simply states "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."

As an extrovert it is generally easy for me to welcome people. At church I am very much at home as the Pastor welcoming people. Of course, sometimes I am distracted with the many things going on during a Sunday morning and I am not always at my best for everyone, but for the most part I enjoy being with the gathered people. I also know how important it can be for the people that when they gather there is someone to welcome them and greet them by name if possible.

Saying that, I am still learning names. Sometimes a name will just fall out of my head, sometimes I mix names up, sometimes I am just a blank. The problem is now I have been around too long to claim that I'm still new. I want to know those names! Older people, children, regular attenders and irregular attenders. In general the hardest names to know are the people who only attend on Sunday mornings. Especially if they don't ever wear their name tags.

So, I will pull out the picture directory again. Try again to remember a few more names before Sunday. And if I am lucky I will be able to welcome a few more folks with their name this Sunday.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

I love the readings for this day. "do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do . . . do not look dismal like the hypocrites . . ."

Sometimes for lent I give something up. Sometimes I tell others about my intentions. Often during Lent in order to set an example I will talk about what I intend to do not as a way to sound a trumpet but more in an effort to set an example AND to have others to hold myself accountable.

This year I am primarily focusing on doing rather than giving something up. I intend to write on twitter and this blog during the 40 days of lent. (note that during lent Sunday's aren't counted in the 40.) I also intend to exercise even more. The plan is to run 5 days a week. Giving myself the day before and after the weekly long run a day off. Up to now I have been doing about 3 days a week sometimes 4. In order to do these things essentially what I have to give up is about an hour of junk TV time in the evening and get to bed earlier so I can get up at 6 rather than 7:30.

So one day in and so far so good. I have done all three of those goals; run, twitter and blog. One day down, 39 to go.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Time for Pancakes

Hey its "shrove" Tuesday, AKA Mardi Gras, AKA the day before Ash Wednesday.

I had an interesting phone call yesterday. Apparently one of the elderly couples of the church was having an argument and they wanted to know what Ash Wednesday was. I didn't know what I might be settling but he asked, "So what is Ash Wednesday?" I explained simply that it was the first day of Lent. "So why 40 days?" I began to explain it represented a long time with God such as the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. Then came the interesting bit, "so how did they know when Jesus was going to be crucified?" I can only presume know that they were having an argument about the origin of Lent and if it was in the Bible or not. I explained that it was a tradition of the church it happened years after the Crucifixion. "So it was an afterthought." Well . . . it was a tradition that developed later. "OK, thank you pastor." And that seemed to be the end of the phone call.

For many protestants this is just another day although mainline churches have taken up the traditions of Lent and many are now holding Ash Wednesday services. So it is understandable that a faithful older member might be a bit confused about this. There may have even been Methodist preachers in the past who would refuse to have an Ash Wednesday service based primarily on the idea that it was, "too Catholic."

My first Ash Wednesday service was during my second year at WSU. The mainline churches held a combined service and a few of us from the campus ministry went to find out what this was all about. Of course all I remember about the service was the imposition of the ashes and the great internal debate I had about should I wash this stuff off of my forehead or not? I don't actually remember the decision I made but I remember the debate I had about it in front of the mirror in the dorm.

Today is in some traditions a day for pancakes in order to use up the last of the fat and oil from the household. Of course now most homes don't bother. At one time though this was a season to make sacrifices and the pancakes represented one sort of sacrifice to be made the following 40 days.

So party on, its Mardi Gras! Tomorrow the 40 days begin.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Getting Ready

I am sitting here in my office on another mild February day in the PNW while the organizers for the Winter Olympics fret about the lack of snow and people on the East Coast continue to shovel their way out of a week of heavy snowfall. I am trying to collect my seemingly random thoughts for the Sunday sermon.

What changes do we as individuals need to make to be better stewards of this gift of life that God has blessed us with?

Do the people of New Orleans really feel better about the damage from Hurricane Katrina because a football team won a championship? Should the NFL expand to Haiti so then maybe the people there could feel better about the earthquake?

How will we continue to make a difference for others during Lent this year?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Lent 2010


This blog has been basically down since moving to Mill Plain UMC. Primarily I just didn't know what to do with it in my new ministry.

So let's get this restarted with a Lent 2010 kickoff. 40 days of updates? I have a week to get ready for Lent . . . can we do it? Yes we can! (thanks Bob the builder.)