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.