Friday, July 18, 2014

California Drought?

            The drought has my full attention. The drought has MCC’s full attention as well. We have drained the fountain to be compliant with the request to not use potable water in outdoor fountains that can be lost due to evaporation and wind. We have cut back watering our lawns and are getting used to the brown-look.
            I even heard of a new term this week called trunking. Evidently when avocado farmers go through a drought, they cut back some of their trees to the trunk and paint them white. That action puts them into a dormant condition and they need/use less water.
            But today I read in the Santa Barbara News-Press that the area vineyards are having an early harvest with “higher yields expected despite the drought!” Imagine that; fruitfulness in a drought! What will survive and even thrive in this drought, and what will shrivel and die? It will all be evident in the fruit.
            The same process works in the spiritual life. Jesus uses agricultural imagery many times in his parables and teachings. He is the vine and we are the branches  (John 15: 1-17). In that passage he instructs us to abide in him so that we continue to bear fruit. What does a fruit-bearing Christian look like? How do we bear fruit in times of drought and stress?

            I John 3:16-18 gives us a road-map and guide of what kinds of fruit God looks for in our lives, whether in rainy seasons or in drought. It’s all good news!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Are You Important?

I post a picture of myself to let you know what I looked like as Martha and I took a walk today through Westmont campus to mail a letter. The campus is virtually deserted this time of the summer. Camps come and go during the week, abandoning the campus on Sunday. So as Martha and I walked through, we spotted an SUV with a mother taking a photo of her daughter near the administration building. We both said "Hi" to the women. The mother then asked me/us "Are you someone important?"
I immediately said "No, we are not part of Westmont, but I'm the pastor down the hill at Montecito Covenant Church." We laughed and walked on, but began to discuss both the question and my answer.
The question was nakedly honest. We ask it all the time with our eyes and ears, listening for the hints if the person we are with is important. We drop the names of important people we know, because our proximity to important people makes us kind of important. It happens all the time in our area where celebrities live and are sighted. We find out the important people around us by what they can do for us: teachers and coaches for our kids, politicians for our causes, insiders for friendships.
But answering the question is also kind of curious. Of course none of us admits to being important, that would be arrogant and catty. Not even the president of the college (who I know quite well, making me kind of important) would say he is important.
The better followup question back would be: important to whom? I think I'm pretty important  to Martha, my kids and grandkids. I'm important to the people who depend on me (couples getting married, people coming to hear a sermon).
Today I preached from I John 3:1-10....I'm a child of God. I'm probably important  to God if I'm called his child.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Got the Right Name?

         I went to visit a member of MCC at Cottage Hospital a while ago. She was going in for surgery and I offered to come by the hospital for prayer and to give her one of MCC’s wonderful prayer shawls to remind her of this community’s prayer and love for her.
         So, with my Bible and prayer shawl in hand, I went up to the reception desk at the hospital entrance and asked for her room number. The receptionist looked at her computer and told me that they did not have a patient by that name. I begged to differ and told her about our scheduled appointment for prayer before surgery and probably knew the room where she would be. Again, she told me that there was no patient by that name in the hospital.
         Because of HIPAA regulations, I have to have the exact name correct before they can provide me room information. They cannot help me, if the last name is correct but the first name is wrong. Gratefully, I had a relative’s phone number and called with my dilemma. “Oh, he said, the name she uses at church is not her legal first name, it’s really __________.”
         With the correct name I re-approached the receptionist and requested the room. Immediately I received both the room number and an entrance badge. Having the right name matters!
         What are the names we use for each other in the church? Pastor? Staff? Member? Non-member? Visitor? Westmont? Student? Faculty? Newcomer? Old-timer? All these are accurate and even descriptive. But the writer of the text for Sunday offers us something more, something better in   I John 3:1-10. Come and find out what your name really is.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

What Lasts?

         Happy July 4th! I have many fond memories of celebrating the 4th of July as a little boy with my family on vacation in Upper Michigan. We would drive down to the beach in our station wagon with blankets and hot chocolate to watch the fireworks over Lake Michigan. When I got older, I remember staying at the cabin and launching our own fireworks display from fireworks bought legally in Wisconsin. I remember taking our kids to various parks to watch fireworks and then, as they grew, to watch them launch their own displays.
         Tomorrow night, our eldest son will be taking his daughter Elise to her first fireworks in San Diego. Another tradition will be passed along. And I hope to go with Martha to the wonderful 4th of July parade in Montecito. And I’ll wave a flag and enjoy the floats and kids on scooters, and maybe even see our own members marching, riding or driving. These are wonderful traditions that last.

         The text for this Sunday is about a faith that lasts. I John 2:15-29 contains old John’s reminder about what does not and what does last spiritually. As you prepare for worship, conduct your own personal spiritual inventory about what has worn out for you and what lasts. What practices or routines have worn out over the years and what have endured?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Interesting Worship

Yesterday I had an interesting worship experience at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA. After five weeks in France, worshiping every Sunday in a language I'm not fluent in and singing songs I'm unfamiliar with, we walked into a stately Presbyterian Church (one I attended in High School during our family's year in Richmond). They just spent over $300,000 refurbishing an organ and hired an organist with a degree from Yale! The bulletin was five pages long filled with liturgical innovations I found intriguing. It was responsorial, confessional, hymnic, fully robed, and quite beautiful. They had a cantor, employed African drums and used many women and persons of color.
The title of the sermon was "Shame-Free Gospel" based on Romans 1. I was ready for worship I understood and would be challenged by.
The preacher of the day (a guest professor at Union Theological Seminary) began with a story of growing up as a preacher's kid (I identified) who loved the church (I identified) but who was uncomfortable with other believers who identified themselves with capital "E" evangelical. Then she began to "punch" a stereotyped cartoon of all the worst of the church world: arrogance, foolishness, simpleminded theology, racial insensitivity, warmongering, and a pie-in-the-sky understanding of evangelism as fire insurance from the threat of Hell.
The congregation chuckled along with her politely as she skewered her straw dog of "E" evangelicals. I have not been so pilloried and punched in worship in a long time...I can't even remember. Her politically correct identity defined negatively by what she "we" all did not believe in was so strong, I could barely hear the rest of her sermon.
I compared and contrasted: everything was there that I normally champion as being parts of a great church...and I left cold as stone. In France I did not understand the language and so, so much, yet I felt a warm embrace from other worshipers in every setting and felt...loved.
It will make me think hard about how we sculpt and lead worship. Is it loving? To whom?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Charged? Rested?

Where is the most frequently claimed space in an airport? A charging station or wall outlet. There you will see all sorts of devices plugged in to get or keep their charge for their next flight. Some airlines now have plugs beneath the seats so you can plug in any device to keep the charge up.
            We (read I) are so addicted to our devices, that the thought of a device running out of juice is terrifying. We must keep a charge in our phones, tablets or laptops so that we can stay in touch, surf and download. So, when I enter a hotel room or a place where I will be staying, I find the plugs and establish my domain. When I travel to other parts of the world, I carry a bag of plug adaptors so that my devices stay charged.
            There is a whole sub-industry of charging systems and battery backups for all of our devices…because we must stay charged.
            This vacation for me was like a long, slow recharging of my mental and spiritual batteries. I have spoken on the phone only once and have received face-time calls only from family. I go to sleep when I’m tired and wake up when I’m awake and take naps in the afternoon, never checking what time it is. I know I’m charged (and charging) because I’m listening and hearing God’s word to me in fresh and clear ways.
            What is it about our culture that perpetuates chronic exhaustion and tiredness? Too many young adults (and young parents) I know respond to my question of “how are you?” with “I’m so tired!” It’s not just a couple, but a cadre, a cohort of always-tired people. Why are they so tired all the time? Is it that they have bad sleeping hygiene and can’t shut down because of addiction to their devices and backlogged shows and games? Is it because they do not practice spiritual listening and don’t have a source of good news and hope funneling into their lives?

            I’m impressed by the number of times the Bible connects “Sabbath” with “rest”. God instructs us to practice and honor Sabbath and, in return, promises to give us deep and genuine rest. Where are the rested Christians? Where are the rested pastors? Where are the rested churches? It’s time.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

We Need Missionaries Because....

I believe in missions and missionaries. I was a short-term missionary for a year in Japan. I have served on and chaired the ECC Board of World Mission. I was part of the pool of candidates for the position of Executive Director of World Missions. I have traveled to a bunch of countries and supported, taught and preached to and for missionaries.
But today, Martha and I were invited to worship with the combined churches of Ales, France at the Ales Arena (built in 1896 for bull-fighting). Under the collaborative leadership of 6 or seven Protestant churches, about 1,000 christians gathered to celebrate God. All the pastors of the area participated in reading Scripture, the Apostles' Creed, prayers and benedictions. Combined choirs, hip-hop artists and youth, dancers and drama were all part of the two-hour festival.
This was healthy and indigenously driven. I asked the question to our hosts, "Why are missionaries needed here when there is such deep health?" That is NOT an evangelical question, but a "third-rail" topic. There was a long pause. Then my friend said "We need missionaries to help us where we have difficulty, like with youth ministry. We do not need missionaries to work alone, buy themselves, outside the church in their own silo."
So, I wonder if a question going forward for places like France, where there are strong and healthy churches, is this: where are you working with, supporting and participating with a local church? That question clearly carries over to the USA with all the great para-church ministries, who sometimes seem to stand alone as their own silos as a substitute for the local church. We pastors and mission committees should be asking the same question: where are you working with, supporting, worshiping with and belonging to local congregations?

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