Friday, September 19, 2014

Envy & Generosity

         I have always enjoyed boats; both sail and power boats. During our Michigan years, I owned a little sailboat called a “Sunfish.” It was 13’ 9” long with a single sail, low to the water and easy to sail alone. I would often trailer it to Lake Michigan and sail in the waves and often tipped over.
         One Saturday there was an open house at a local yacht club prior to a big race. One of the boats was a gorgeous, 65-70’ sailboat with a tall mast and bright brass and teak decks. I gingerly walked through it, admiring the rigging, the technology and it’s craftsmanship. I bumped into the owner and expressed thanks for being allowed to tour the boat. I asked a number of sailing questions. Then he asked, “Do you sail?” I said “Oh yes!” Then he asked, “What kind of boat do you sail?” That’s where I got embarrassed and quiet. He thought I was in his category of sailing.
         So I sheepishly said “I just sail a Sunfish”. He smiled and said, “That’s the best basic sailing there is!” My sense of comparison and competition distanced me from him. His generosity included me in the community of sailors. I compared the cost of the gear and he focused on the joy of the sport. It’s so easy to compare, contrast and compete with each other, from designer labels to pedigree of degrees. We can compete about what we know and who we know, where we live and how we live.
         The two texts for Sunday highlight our comparative tendencies in Exodus 16:2-18 and Matthew 20:1-16. If you don’t already know it, ask God to show you where your envy is getting in the way of His generosity.

Friday, September 12, 2014

How Many?

         It was during my first years in Santa Barbara that I heard this phrase: My bad! What was that? It did not make grammatical sense. My bad what? Bad is an adjective. But then it was explained to me that it was a short-form apology. Oops! My bad! was another way to say I’m sorry. We all have our unique phrases to admit mistakes, errors and ask for forgiveness: sorry, my fault, excuse me, I’m so sorry, etc.
         Then we hear the many ways people respond: that’s OK, no problem, it’s all good, don’t worry about it, we’re good, etc. We hear words that sound like admission of guilt and we hear words that sound like forgiveness, but are they?
         How easy or hard is it for you to admit mistake, error or sin? For some it comes easy, and maybe even too easily. While for others, it’s almost impossible to ever admit being in the wrong.
         How easy or hard is it for you to offer forgiveness. I’m guessing the same observation holds true as above. For some of us it is easy and reflexive, while for others of us, it just does not happen. We hold on to grudges and hurts for years and years. One person told me this week that his dad held grudges forever. Once a person got on his dad’s grudge list, they never got off.

         As you prepare for worship by reading Matthew 18:21-35, take a personal audit about how forgiveness works in your life.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

M-4...the power of together

OK, the normal experience between churches in a community is competition. Who's growing and who's not? Members float between programs and personalities. And each church tries its best to provide attractive and engaging ministries that keep members happy and growing. 
But every once in a while, along comes an experience (a group) that is genuinely non-competitive, but genuinely collaborative. Such is a group called M-4. It stands for the 4 churches in our little enclave outside of Santa Barbara called Montecito. Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Covenant. 

Today the four churches gathered for a second time at a local school called Cleveland Elementary. It's a tough school with a population with great needs. We gathered in the lunchroom around 8:30 a.m. for coffee, juice and fresh burritos and a prayer. Then we headed off in groups to organize a library,

plant drought tolerant trees,

paint classroom picnic tables, and weed, dig, and mulch a student garden. It was good to be together!

Friday, September 05, 2014

Community of Reconciliation

         Martha and I watched the movie “The Butler” this week. It’s the story of one man’s life seen through the turbulent era of racism, desegregation, civil rights and the quest for human dignity. There were several moments in the movie that triggered my own memories from those years. And when I saw that conflict was imminent, I wanted to fast-forward through those scenes. My stomach knotted at white hooded Klansmen surrounding a bus or vicious racists attacking students at a lunch counter. I, like most of us, do not like conflict. I don’t like conflict in my family, among my friends, within the church staff or leadership, and particularly between Christians.
         Jesus was no stranger to conflict. Conflict followed him throughout his ministry. There was conflict among his twelve disciples. There was conflict with the religious authorities. There was even conflict in his family. In most of Paul’s letters to the churches, there are portions devoted to addressing conflict of one sort or another.
         The text for Sunday is the disciple’s road map for navigating conflict among believers. I invite you to read Matthew 18:15-20 and Galatians 6:1-10 as a guide for your relationship. What particular instruction jumps out at you as new, as one you have avoided or ignored, or one that has worked particularly well? How is Jesus Lord over your conflicts?


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Jesus' Imperative Verbs

I really don't like imperative verbs. I like subjunctive verbs, the what if, maybe, you might consider sort of verbs that give me wiggle room. I don't think it's my age or gender that does not like imperative verbs, it's my condition as a human. I like to control my life on my terms. That's one reason I could never play in a marching band or big team sport. I was (am) too independent.
So, in the text for this Sunday from Matthew 16:21-28, where Jesus tells Peter and the disciples that they mud deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him I buck! I don't do self-denial well. I'm much better at denying you at saying no to you and setting boundaries on you. I like being the one in charge, the one making choices, and being right. I like having the last word on a topic and letting my feelings and preferences be known.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Pastoral Temptation: to Poach

Last night the temptation came on strong. The gym (above) was filled with kids and their parents who came to MCC's week-long children's camp called Noah's Half-Day Camp. It was a great week with over 130 kids K-8th grade participating every day from 8:45-noon. Last night we celebrated the week with the great, high energy band led by Bob Gross and a video produced by Sid Beck, and then an ice-cream social on the patio till dark.
Many of the parents approached me thanking me and the church for providing this excellent children's ministry. Some of them commented how dissatisfied they were with the children's program at their church and maybe they would come and check us out. These people are "catches" in any pastor's vocabulary. Intact families who have been active in other churches. They know how to do church and are familiar with what a church needs. Several of them were very successful professionals who could really add to our church budget needs. They bring to us skills and resources in all sorts of areas. And when they voice dissatisfaction with what's going on in their local church, it's an easy next step to poach and agree with their complaint and offer them something better (us).
But I fought the urge last night, not because I'm so righteous, but because I have been a witness to the poaching that goes on in churches. When former members tell me that pastor _________ invited them to help at this new church (sometimes a church plant) it feels like poaching, especially when these members are well-matured believers with great gifts.
New believers are so much messier! They don't know the rules and the culture of the church. They aren't familiar with our words (narthex, chancel, invocation, intercession, eucharist, etc.) They require so much more hand-holding and up-front work. They often have never read the Bible and need help finding the texts. Some come in deeply wounded and full of needs (versus resources). New believers don't know about tithing. They expect themselves and us to behave differently than the world because of knowing Jesus. They are quickly hurt by other believers' behavior ( poached believers know how church really operates).
But poached believers usually get poached again and again. They are good people who circulated among churches with some degree of regularity. "Before here, we went ______ for _____ years, and before that we went ________." Poached believers expect to be courted like sport free agents. But the kingdom of God does not grow by poaching, just recirculates and juggles the numbers between columns of churches.
Not poaching can cause a backlash too. Some years ago a good friend experienced a wound in his church and sought my advice. We like each other and he and his wife were considering attending the church I served. I told him that he should not consider attending here because his wounded church really needed him and his wife. They needed to serve and bring health to that congregation in need. He agreed with my logic, but the word got back to me that I had rebuffed him from coming to our church! Now they were going to ____________ church. The person who told me this was disappointed in my behavior because "they were leaving anyway, why couldn't they come here?"
What's the proper response to poaching? In our little community there are only four churches (Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and Covenant). We call ourselves the M-4 and meet monthly for lunch and plan group events together (in September we are working on a local low-income school). In the past we would bring up who is visiting from other congregations. We tacitly refused to participate in church-bashing because we loved and trusted each other. So, if a family from All-Saints visited MCC, at the next lunch I would talk to the rector and tell him that one of his families visited our church so he heard it first from me.
I'd love to hear your take on church-poaching. Is it a problem?

Friday, August 01, 2014

Vacation Bible School Santa Barbara Style: Noah's

Vacation Bible Schools have been a part of my life since childhood, since I'm the child of a pastor whose churches had Vacation Bible Schools (VBS). They were week-long events, usually in the mornings (though in some churches I pastored we tried evenings and even weekends). They were part child-evangelism, neighborhood outreach, summer day-care, and legacy programs (we do it because we have always done it). Usually all other church programs stop as the themed program occupies every classroom and open space with music, puppets, crafts, mission, sports, food and small group discussions.
When examined by its outcomes it often falls short of expectations. Not that many (if any) new families come to the church through it. Rather, families from other churches attend and thank us then go back to their home churches. And I have been a part of many many church council debates on the worth of continuing VBS programs that are so labor-intensive.
But now in my 34th year of ministry, I love VBS (at Santa Barbara it's called Noah's Half-Day Camp) more than ever! I think it's primary value is to bless children, wherever they come from. It's a chance to provide children a royal welcome every morning and create a safe space for them to play, sing, create and learn a bit more about the person and work of Jesus.
So tomorrow (Saturday) the campus will be converted into unique rooms for children K-6th grade and on Monday, off we go!

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