Thursday, July 31, 2014


Last night we had dinner in a local restaurant.  I noticed that the restroom were labeled with W and M.  There is an assumption that people will get what is implied by the letters. I've seen other restaurants with restroom signs that leave some assumptions to the customer.  The image today is of a pair of restroom signs.

As I looked at those signs last night I thought about how we do that in church.  We, the insiders, know what we mean, but would an "outsider?"  At a funeral yesterday, I noticed that the church had the phrase "for God's glory" on the wall of the sanctuary.  Great - except it was in Latin.  Our church order of worship has asterisks next to a parts of the service where the congregation is asked to stand - except the order doesn't say that.  All we have are asterisks, not instructions.

Look around your church with the eyes of a stranger.  Where are these strange, insider codes to be found?  Or, where is your church facility "silent" because "everybody knows" the tradition or the location of a ministry?


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Call To Worship - Psalm 105

Leader:  Remember - we come together today to offer gratitude to God; to call on God's name.
When we leave here today, we leave as a church to make known God's work among God's people.

People:  We remember - we sing God's praises here, and we seek to live lives for God in the world.

Leader:   We come together to worship God; to lift our hearts and voices in joy.

People:  We come together today to seek God's strength for the tasks ahead.  We search for God every day.

Leader:  As we seek God, we must remember the wonderful work God has done.

People:  We praise God for sustaining miracles and grace-filled guidance.

Leader:   Alleluia.  Amen.

(Inspired by Psalm 105:1-5)

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Giving away 6 $100 bills -sermon title - why are we surprised when people believe what we say?  Do we expect them to?

The office where I work is located in a church building.  Last week, the sermon title at this church was "Giving away six $100 bills."  Each week, the sermon title is posted on a board outside the church.  On Thursday evening, while the organist was practicing in the Sanctuary, a man walked in off the street.  "Is the sign true?  Are you giving away $100 bills?"

What would happen if the people around us believed that what we are saying is true?  What if someone walked in and said, "Is it true?  God loves me and you love me?  I am saved?  I am gifted?  I am called to minister to those around me?  Is it true that I am welcome here?  Is it true that I am a part of the church?"

Do we believe it?  Do we expect other people to believe it?  Don't we believe that what God offers is more valuable that $100 bills?  Can we be as convincing as a sign on the street?

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Jethro's Advice

This morning I read Exodus 18.  In this passage, Jethro, the father of Moses' wife, meets Moses as he and the Israelites are traveling through.  Jethro watches Moses' leadership style and then gives him advice regarding how he can delegate the heavy responsibility he is under.
"What you are doing is not good.  You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you.  For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.  Now listen to me.  I will give you counsel, and God be with you!  You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; teach them the statues and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do.  You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Let them sit as judges for the people at all times, let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves.  So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.  If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace."
Moses follows Jethro's advice.  I wonder if we follow Jethro's advice; if not, why not.  What might have been Moses' alternative answers?

  • "That sounds great Jethro, but I'm the only one who can do this.  I must keep control of this."
  • "Great, except I don't want to do that.  I like what I'm doing - I find joy in all of this responsibility, and I don't want to give it up."
  • "No, thanks, Jethro.  No one else knows how to do this the right way except me."
  • "I would love to do that, Jethro, except this is a responsibility that God has laid on my shoulders.  It is my duty."
  • "Jethro, great idea, except no one would do it.  They are too busy, and if I asked them, they would say 'no.'"
  • "Jethro, who has time to do that?  I don't have time to recruit volunteers, determine their worthiness, train them correctly.  It's just easier if I do it."

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Thursday, July 24, 2014


I was reading a giving article in a magazine this morning.  The author, David Kottler, spoke about "the Hebrew concept of tzedaka.  The word is commonly used to refer to charity, but it's much more.  It also carries a sense of obligation to recognize what we have comes from God and we're merely a conduit for redistributing it."

My understanding of stewardship is much the same as this.  Stewardship isn't fund raising, as so many churches have defined it.  Stewardship is putting what we have learned as a disciple into action.  As a disciple, we learn about how to live our lives - as stewards, we live them.  As a disciple, we learn that the gifts we have come from God; as s steward, we use those gifts.  As a disciple, we learn the calling God has placed on our lives; as a steward, we act on that call, putting all we have been given to work in the mission God has given us.

As a church leader, it is important to remember, I think, that moving people to stewardship isn't about funding a budget.  It's about shepherding people from discipleship to action.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Now and not yet

Therefore you must be ready, for the son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.  Matthew 24:44

I remember, years ago, a pastor said in a class I was taking, "The kingdom of God is now."  It was a revelation to me to consider that the Kingdom of God is not (or not only) something in the future, but it is a present reality, right this minute.  The  now and the not yet.

The verse above is part of an apocalyptic passage in Matthew.  I don't like those kind of passages, because I feel helpless in the light of the them.  God is coming; something will happen.  We don't know when or where or what, but we need to be prepared.  And I always feel woefully unprepared, and it makes me anxious.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book The Seeds of Heaven, says:
The truth is that Christ comes again and again and again - that God has placed no limit on coming to the world, but is always on the way to us here and now. The only thing we are required to do is to notice - to watch, to keep our eyes peeled.
God is here now.  He is coming, but he is also here now.  Right now.  In my office.  What difference does that make in the way I live my life?

Taylor says that the passage in Matthew (24:29-44) speaks of three virtues - enduring love, discernment, and alertness.  We are called to keep watch - God is here now and God is coming.  Be aware and notice.  And while you are doing that, remember enduring love.  Remember the mission we have been given, which is to reach out to the lost, the hungry, the homeless and to act with enduring love.  We don't know when God may come, but we do know that God is here. (I love that idea.)  And if God is here, then we had better be about God's work.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Workers in the Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16.  

The day had been a long one.
The sun had pounded heat into his skin,
burning with its impact.
Sweat had tracked into his eyes
and down his back.
He could feel the stab of blisters
on his hands and feet
as his heart forced blood
to his aching muscles.
The exhaustion of working
from sun up to sun down
was melting his bones.
He stood worn down
waiting in the field
for the pay that had been promised him.

He watched as the vineyard owner
paid the man who had worked only for an hour.
Jealousy and hatred
hotter than the sun at midday,
filled him.
How dare the vineyard owner pay this worthless impostor
the same pay
that he had earned?

The other man stood
holding the coin in his hand,
feeling its surface through the grime
straining his skin.
The long day had begun
with the worry that he would earn nothing.
He had stood in the sun
praying for some kind of salvation
for the family he was unable to feed.
When the vineyard owner had hired him
at the very end of the day,
he had been grateful.

With the coin in his hand
he knew what real gratitude was
he knew what grace really meant.
He stood with what he had not earned.
He stared at what he hadn't ever imagined
would be his.
Tears mixed with the sweat on his face.

Who are we?
Are we the man who stands in the stink
of hatred and jealousy,
claiming that the reward is not fair?
Or are we the man who knows salvation
is not earned,
it is given.
A gift of grace that brings us life.
When will we come to see our own unworthiness
for the amazing gift we have been given?
When will we allow the beauty of that gift
to change us?
When will we realize that we are the one
who come late to the field,
and who has not earned what we have been given?

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Voice and Image

Sorry for my absence.  We were on vacation and for some reason, the internet and the cellular signal were not very good.

I'll be posting beachy pictures soon, though.

For today:
In the beginning God spoke all things into being -- and for the rest of time all things are speaking of God. This is a sacramental vision of the world: God comes to us in and through the very stuff of the earth.
-- On Our Way: Christian Practices for Living a Whole Life, edited by Dorothy C. Bass and Susan R. Briehl
We make Christ real for people.  If you focus on being transformed by God - to being confirmed into God's likeness, then you will become a transforming power (thoughts from Joe Hill's sermon in April, 2014).

Think about those two thoughts for a moment.

  • God spoke us into being, and we are created in the image of God.  
  • As we are transformed into the image of God (through God's sanctifying grace), we become the way in which God speaks into the world.

If you find that Christ is not visible in the world around you, then what change can you allow God to make in you so that Christ is seen?

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014


I have heard more than one person - especially those in ordained ministry - speak about their calls to ministry.  Often they regret that they waited so long to act on the call.  This always disturbs me.

There is a scene in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Picard explains that life is a tapestry.  Pull at one thread and the entire picture is changed.

It could be that I am wrong, but I want to say the following to these who voice regrets concerning the timing of answering God's call.  Nothing is wasted.  God has been involved in your life from the beginning.  A call is not like a telephone ringing that you have refused to answer.  A call is a transformative action in your life.  God has been at work, preparing you for when you were ready to say yes.  Don't be so arrogant as to assume that if you had said yes when you first started hearing the call that you would have ready.  How has God used your life to equip you for where you are now?  Could it be that part of that was the work of your call?  Could it be that your "no" was indicative of the state of your readiness to answer?  Be grateful that God has brought you to where you are, and don't regret the time of preparation.

Don't pull at the threads with regret.  The picture in the tapestry will change, and probably not how you would predict.

And most importantly, you cannot change the past.  It's done.  So be in the now and be grateful.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Not right now

I was reading the blog An Unfinished Symphony, and was stopped by this post.    It's about Jason Gray's song called Not Right Now.  The first link it to the blog post, and there you can read the lyrics.  The second link is to a YouTube video of the Jason singing the song, if you would like to listen to it (go listen to it).

Sometimes, I think, when a friend is hurting, we don't know what to say.  Sometimes, I think, when  friend is hurting, we just want to FIX it.  This song reminds us that there are times - perhaps more often than we know - that the best thing to do is to be present and just listen.  Offer no judgement or answers or reasons - just listen.

Think about Job and the visit of his friends.  At first, before they started talking, they just listened.  They were quiet.  They were present.  It can be a reminder to us of the necessity and possibilities of just listening.

From Jason's song:
While I wait for the smoke to clear
 You don’t even have to speak
 Just sit with me in the ashes here
 And together we can pray for peace
 To the one acquainted with our grief

I know someday
 I know somehow
 I’ll be okay
 But not right now

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Monday, July 07, 2014

What do you believe?

A question inspired by Barbara Brown Taylor's book The Seeds of Heaven:

Imagine for a moment that it is Sunday morning, and you have just walked outside through the doorway of your church.  A stranger is standing there, looking at your church.  He stops you, and you take the time to have a short conversation with him.

He asks, "What is it that you believe in there?"

How do you answer?

Don't answer me right away.  Give this question some thought.  Be prepared.  The time may come when God sends someone to you to be a witness.  You may not anticipate it ahead of time.

And don't you think that all of us should know the answer to that question, if only for ourselves?

What do you believe?

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Fear and Faith

Think about the story in Matthew of Peter walking on water.  He steps out of the boat, willing to follow Jesus, even to do this thing which is impossible because Jesus calls him to do it.  In his fear and doubt, he sinks.  Jesus rescues him and then rebukes him.  I identify so much with Peter that sometimes I feel the sting of that rebuke and count it as failure.

We are so much like Peter.  We are not without faith, but with our faith lives our fear.  Barbara Brown Taylor talks about this in a sermon in the book The Seeds of Heaven.  Read this:
Why do we doubt?  Because we are afraid, because the sea is so vast and we are so small, because the storm is so powerful and we are so easily sunk, because life is so beyond our control and we are so helpless in its grip.  Why do we doubt? Because we are afraid, even when we do have faith." 
It isn't a lack of faith that causes Peter to sink; it's the presence of fear.

Paul, in the second letter to the Corinthians, spoke of his desire for a "thorn in his flesh" to be removed.  He writes that God said to him, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." (2 Corinthians 9)

It's a hard verse to understand for me, but it came  to mind as I read the Taylor sermon.  If Peter had walked across the water in confidence, with no fear, then Christ would not have had to pull him out of the water.  In his fear, he needed Christ.  In our fear, we come to realize the necessity of salvation.  In our strength, we do not always see it.  God is always powerful, but in our weakness, we rely on his power instead of our own.

That doesn't mean that Christ caused Peter to sink so that Peter would come to realize the necessity of Christ, and it doesn't mean that God causes fearful things to happen to us so that our faith will be strengthened.  Really, we have enough fear on our own with God needing in any way to add to it.  It does mean that when we sink, God is there, and we come to understand that.  God offers grace - the hand that lifts Peter out of the water.  God offers accountability - the rebuke Christ spoke to him.  And God offers salvation - Christ returns Peter to the boat.  In none of that does God offer rejection.

And what do the disciples do?  They worship Christ in the boat.  As should we.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

An Abundance of God

...but what Jesus knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was that wherever there was plenty of God there would be plenty of everything else. (Barbara Brown Taylor)
This quote is from the book The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew.  Taylor is exploring the feeding of the 5000 in Matthew 14. Jesus looks at the crowd -- this is just after John the Baptist has been beheaded -- and he seemed "to know that what the crowd needed more than a hot meal was to stay together, seeming to know that there was more nourishment for them in each other's company than in some neighboring farmer's goat cheese or boiled rice."

So, Jesus, knowing this, looks out at the crowd and tells the disciples to feed them.  He doesn't see five loaves and two fish, and how little that is compared to 5000 people.  Jesus sees the need and knows the abundance of God.  "There is plenty of God, there will be plenty of everything else."

Do we see with eyes that see the abundance of God?  Do we believe what Jesus knew?  If we did, what difference would it make in our ministry, in our churches, in our lives?

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Claiming who we are

By claiming whet we already are, we best prepare ourselves for what shall be.  (Henri Nouwen)
Who are we?  John in 1 John 3:1 says, "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are."

We are children of God, blessed and beloved. What does that mean in our lives?  It means we are forgiven.  No matter what.  It means we have been given grace, and that grace (the love of God) transforms us.  It means that we have been given spiritual gifts to discover and utilize.

Claiming all of that prepares us for what God wants us to do, where God wants us to go, and how God is calling us to serve.

Today, how can you claim who you already are?

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