Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Big Storm of '08

Storms seem to take on epic proportions in people's memories. The last few days of cold and snow flurries in Enumclaw will long be remembered as the storm of 2008. After all, Sunday we woke to a blanket of 2" of the white stuff - more where it had blown into drifts. Today, they are predicting additional snow although it looks like we could scrape by with just a trace. You would have thought that it was several feet deep with temps in the low teens or lower. School is closed today and we are in a quandry as to whether things at church should be cancelled.

Growing up in Colorado, and having lived in Chicago for 5 years, I know snow storms, and this is no snow storm...that is until it is recounted and retold over the next several years. "I remember the snow storm of 08. There must have been at least 3 feet of snow on the ground and sub-zero temps. The worst storm we've had in ages." In a few years it will have reached epic proportions.

Of course, my wife accuses me of looking forward to snow and ice on the roads just so I can go out and drive on it. She's right. Once, when we lived in southern New Mexico, we had a rare snow storm that dumped 14" of wet heavy snow. All the roads - including I-25 & I-10 were closed down. Did that stop the Davis family? Ha! Not a chance. We all piled in the family 4 wheel drive (an Isuzu Trooper) and headed to El Paso to do some Christmas Shopping. Closed highway - no problem. And we had the mall virtually to ourselves.

It reminds me of the storm of 1971. "the worst blizzard in years" according to some Denverites. Actually, I think it was just my mom who said that and she tended to exaggerate storms anyway. It was January 2 and Judy and I were due back at Wheaton College after the Christmas break and a friend had offered his car if we would drive back with his wife and two kids aged 6 and 9. We said sure. It was a cool car and these were close friends. Why not? What could go wrong?

When we woke up on Saturday morning, the day of our planned departure, there was about 8" of snow and it was still coming down hard. I convinced Judy's and my folks that I was a good snow driver and that, since we were driving East, we should get ahead of the storm and be able to outrun it all the way to Chicago. Yeah, right!

We spun out on black ice near Kearney Nebraska. We got stranded outside Lincoln along with thousands of others. It was snowing so hard that at one point I was walking in front of the car trying to feel for the side of the rode so I could direct Judy who was behind the wheel. They said the wind was blowing in gusts of up to 50 mph and the wind chill factor was well under zero. There were drifts of at least 5' if not more.

Some really nice people about a quarter mile from the highway took us in - half frozen, hungry, discouraged - then began leading others to safety and shelter. By the time evening had rolled around, over 80 of us were huddled in two adjacent homes. What an experience. Next day, the roads were all closed - but guess what? That's right, we forged on and 15 hours of drift-dodging, lane-changing, slow driving, we made it back just in time to shower and head off to our first classes of the morning. Ah yes, the storm of 71. Worst storm ever!

But I digress. Sorry about that trip down memory lane. As I was thinking about how inconvenient snow, icy roads, school closures, and all are I received a letter from one of the missionaries we support in Southern Africa. It told the horrible tale of cholera, AIDS, rampant violence and incredible inflation in Zimbabwe. Sometimes, I don't realize how good I have it.

Then when I got to my office, I read a prayer/support letter from a friend in Casas Por Cristo - an organization that builds houses in Juarez, Mexico. He spoke of how increasing drug wars, escalating violence, and the crumbling American economy had deeply curtailed their mission of building houses with and for God's people in need along our southern borders.

Both these situations - Zimbabwe and Mexico - were set in perspective of God's sovereign grace as our missionary friends have had to trust solely on Christ's reigning power to meet needs protect them and accomplish God's purposes in spite of dire circumstances.

I guess a little snow on the ground and some cold weather isn't so bad. Maybe God is going to work in my life today in some unexpected, gracious way. In the meantime, I guess I will stoke up the fire in the fireplace, pour myself another cup of coffee, and enjoy the beauty and peace of falling snow....and oh, yes, spend some time praying for my brothers and sisters around the world whose lives really are difficult. I guess the storm of "08 isn't so bad after all!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crowded airline seats, luke warm coffee, and a big surprise

What's the deal with airline seats? Could they possibly cram more seats in and make them more uncomfortable? How much leg and elbow room does a full grown person really need for four hours anyway? Sounds like the opening of a bad stand-up comedy routine doesn't it?

Why is it always the case that the three largest people on the plane always seem to get shoehorned into the same crowded row?

I thought I was so smart reserving a seat just behind the bulkhead but when I went to sit down between my two traveling companions, movement of any kind became almost impossible. Just to drag my computer out from beneath my seat took a contortion effort worthy of a limber, circus performer. The worst thing about my assigned seat, though, is not its cramped conditions. It is sitting here having to watch the first class passengers - just one row forward and just beyond the "wall" - luxuriate in spacious, comfortable seats, waited on hand and foot and enjoying what looks to be a pretty good breakfast of scrambled eggs, fruit, bacon and a pastry. I got a small banana nut “breakfast cookie” whatever that is.

I just finished my third cup of luke-warm coffee, having watched the attendant pour it while shakily holding the pot right over my knees. At least, if he had spilled it, it wouldn’t have been hot enough to cause more than minor discomfort. Now I am just hoping I can make it another 45 minutes and to the relative safety of O’Hare airport.

Why, you ask, am I enduring such nihilistic torture? The answer is simple. My 8 year old grandson Davis is in a program at his school and he so much as begged me to come see it. Im-pulsively, yet with Judy’s blessing, I used some accumulated air miles to buy the ticket, take the time off during a crazy, busy season, and head for the frozen climes of Chicagoland to watch a second grader perform. I can hardly wait.

Most everyone I have talked to agrees that this is a cool thing to do. Only one naysayer suggested that if I do this, I will set a precedent that I will not be able to accommodate every time he might ask. Who cares? It is worth it this one time and maybe - no, for sure - I’ll do it even more often. Life is too short.

So I guess I’ll ask for one more cup, hope it doesn’t spill on me or my seatmates, and patiently – if uncomfortably count the minutes till arrival. I wonder if Davis will be surprised.

On another note, the idea came up, more or less at the last minute, to plan a “Blue Christmas” service at Calvary. I think the leaders of our Stephen Ministry actually suggested it. That is not really what we’ll call it but it does depict what many people feel as the Christmas celebration approaches. For those who have lost a mate or a child or a parent, Christmas is different and not always a happy time. For those facing debilitating and chronic illness, the thought of merriment and joy sounds completely foreign. For people who are facing foreclosure, job losses, economic hardship or other difficult trials the joy and bright merriment that is all around them is hard to accept let alone participate in. Some people are just affected in a sad way by the short dark days and even longer nights of winter. Thus, a service just for them to put words to their feelings and to give voice to the hope that Christ’s advent promises and to feel the support and community of others who may feel much the same way. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” May it be so for those walking in darkness right now.

Post Script: I am finishing this post at 5:00 am CST Thursday morning. It is about 15 degrees outside. Today is the day of the big Christmas/Hannakuh/Kwanzaa (no - there isn't a Festivus for the rest of us a la Frank Costanza on Seinfeld) Davis was so surprised he didn’t even recognize me at first; then big smiles and hugs and a celebratory dinner at his favorite place – The Rainforest CafĂ©; and finally a late night viewing of “The Three Amigos” – Boppa’s and Davis’ favorite funny movie. (We will not die like dogs, we will fight like lions for we…are… THE THREE AMIGOS)

Three days parking at MVP parking in Seattle - $30.00; Dinner at the Rainforest Cafe - $60.00; sitting with my grandson cuddled up watching our "favorite movie" - priceless.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Coming or going?

Advent - It has come quickly this year. There are only 22 shopping days 'til Christmas (fewer than that if you shop on line and expect something to be delivered by Christmas day). But is that what Advent is really about?
I don't think so. It is about expectantly waiting for the celebration of Christ's birth for sure. It is about looking and hoping for the coming in glory of Jesus to claim and establish his eternal kingdom. It is about listening to and for God's voice in the midst of all the bustle and crazy, hectic schedules of this time of year.
At times I wonder if I am coming or going? Who's coming to the party I've planned? I've got to go this meeting and that party, and, oh yes, the concert tomorrow night. Christmas is coming so I have to get going. I of course am going to church, I wonder if anyone else will be coming. Coming and going. Going and coming. Judy and I are so busy we hardly have a chance to talk to each other.
I read a book this week called "The Circle of Seasons." The author Kimberlee Conway Ireton reflects that Advent is much like the experience of a pregnant woman awaiting the day her child will be delivered. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation - or at least it should be.
Waiting is not a passive thing - it is dynamic hope; it is staking our life on the hope of the Gospel.
It is preparing to hear God's voice in the familiar Christmas story. It is eagerly expecting the arrival of Christ in glory. I remember one person telling me that the Biblical concept of hope is much like hanging onto a safety rope for dear life as you dangle over the edge of a precipice. Am I hanging onto the Lord like that? Am I eagerly waiting for Christ to come anew?
And yet we, I guess I should say I, clutter it up with all our comng and going; so much so that it is easy to lose the true meaning of the season which is all about Jesus.
Hey, the lights are great (after all, I spent a lot of time organizing and decorating our boat). I love the music. And who can say no to all the incredible food laid out before us at party after party after party? All those things make this season wonderful too. But they can also add stress and anxiety if we're not careful and we let them take precedence.
The four main, traditional themes of the Advent season are hope (first week) peace (second week) joy (third week) and love (fourth week). This year I have been trying to slow down enough to really focus on those ideas and see how Christ wants me to live them out.
The angels said to the shepherds (and it is a good word to us as well) "Don't be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. Unto you is born this day in the city a David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Well, I better get going. I have someone coming to my office soon for an appointment.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Post Script to Church Without Walls

"Now why are you doing this?" (merchant on Cole Street after having had their sidewalk swept and powerwashed and their windows washed)

"I think that is so cool. I have never heard of a church doing this." (a barista at Starbucks)
"Sure you can have food. I know what it's like to be hungry." (neighborhood man when our young families group came to his door to collect food for the food bank)

Those are just some of the comments received from members of the community on Sunday when our church family went out to serve for our FAITH IN ACTION SUNDAY.

Some people did yard work at the Senior Center. Others wrote letters to soldiers in Iraq. Some took food to a campground where several homeless families are living. Some collected food, others bagged bulk food into smaller portions for the food bank. People wrapped presents for teen moms, some prayed in the sanctuary; one family went out and picked up trash in several of the city parks. In all over 200 people participated in this.

As we gathered for a send off service of prayer and singing, the sanctuary was alive with anticipation and excitement. One of our own members said that there was a feeling of electricity pulsing through the place. There were small children and many elderly members - all there together to affirm that we are a church without walls, a congregation that doesn't simply want to talk about serving, but wants to join in one heart to be a transformational influence on our community.

More than one of our own members was moved to tears at the thought of such a concerted effort to give up on weekend of worship services for ourselves so that we could go and serve in Jesus' name.

Despite some of the fears and apprehensions that people had, it turned out to be a great day. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 100:2 "Worship the Lord in gladness." Some of the translations have "serve the Lord in gladness." The truth is that serving is worship and worship is serving. A believer cannot worship without serving and vice versa. And that worship takes many different forms. Paul said "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the father through him." (Colossians 3:17)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Church without Walls

I've been reading a book recently. The title is UnChristian and its given me a lot to think about. It is a researched look at the views that 16 - 29 year olds who are not part of the church (called outsiders) have about Christianity and the church. It's pretty discouraging. We have not done very well - the research shows that most "outsiders" see the church as intolerant, closed, and out of touch with the real world. I don't know - maybe the outsiders are right. Maybe we in the church has spent so many years focusing on our own stuff, we have become out of touch and unconcerned about the world outside.

I've also been reading and rereading the accounts of the early church in Jerusalem in the days and months right after Pentecost. Those Christians were the outsiders; the aliens. They were the ones whose lives and faith didn't match the world in which they lived but began to transform it anyway.

Guess what? They turned their world upside down without the aid of big sanctuaries or big church campuses. Instead, they met in each others homes for meals, for worship, for prayer and fellowship. Yeah, they also met regularly in the temple courts. But the real action took place away from there. Doctor Luke tells us that these first Christians "enjoyed the favor of all the people.

Is the church a building? Is it pews, stained glass, or church organs? Or is it people; people who are so committed to Christ and each other, that not only do they like to gather together in one place to worship, they are committed to living out the faith each day in places of work, neighborhoods, schools, parks, stores - wherever they happen to be.

That conviction is what has propelled our church family - Calvary Presbyterian - to step outside its comfort zone and its sanctuary to be the church in the world. We call it Faith In Action Sunday. Over 150 people are participating by collecting food for the food bank, doing yard work and window washing for the local Senior and tutoring center, writing letters to soldiers in Iraq and serving lunch to folks living in a homeless camp.

Will anyone come to our church because of this? I don't know. I guess that's not the point. Will anyone become a Christian because they saw us serving? It would be cool. But that's up to the Lord. What is awesome is that so many of us in our family of faith see the church as not just a service we go to once a week but a way of life that exhibits itself out in the world.

St. Francis made a famous statement once. "Preach a sermon every day. If necessary use words." So I guess I won't worry about the fact that I don't get to preach to a group of congregants this weekend. Instead, they get to preach an even more powerful message to the world by modeling the faith through service.

So for tonight, I will sign off. It's time to go grab another cup of coffee and enjoy a Saturday night without a church service. Tomorrow we experience "the church without walls."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

These are a few of my least favorite things

Dark dreary days that become even darker when the sun goes down earlier and earlier;

walking into a meeting or a building feeling like you've just been hosed down because of the hard, steady rain;

having to do year-end personnel reviews for staff;

"Dancing with the Stars;"

having to head home after a relaxing, but too short, trip (especially on our boat)

being so far from grandkids (and their parents)

60 hour work weeks that still leave you with the realization you could have done more;

such busy schedules that Judy and I don't get much time together;


three putting;

rain gutters clogged with wet, soggy leaves;

stock indexes whose declines look steeper than any downhill ski course;

going to a meeting and realizing you have a greasy spot on your shirt from something you spilled at lunch;

writer's block;

These are a few of my least favorite things!

Oh, oh, wait a minute. The sun just came out and warm rays of light are streaming into my study. Maybe my list was a bit of overstatement. Maybe I am not that "down" as I thought. maybe I do have something positive to say.

Maybe those of you who don't live in the Northwest during the winter months have a hard time relating to what has been termed SAD or seasonal affective disorder. I guess I didn't realize that light and sun and warmth were so important to me.

I really have a lot to be thankful for. Last night's study and discussion at the MINT was invigorating as usual; I had a great "theological discussion/debate" with a friend in Starbucks this morning; I got to attend Rotary at lunch and hear a great program; I have a wonderful staff that are colleagues with whom I find great joy in sharing ministry; and I have scheduled a rehearsal of our Jazz septet this evening. Those are all just a few of my most favorite things and they outweigh the other list by far (not to mention the fact that Judy is really good about not ever making me sit with her to watch "Dancing with the Stars."

I still wish I had more time with her(Judy); that I could be on the water more; that I could spend alot more time with our families in Chicago and Phoenix and that there could be warm, long, summery days even in November. But on the whole, my life is really pretty good and when I think about all the good things, in the words of Lerner and Lowe in the musical "The Sound of Music," then I don't feel so bad.

I think I'll step outside for a few moments and soak some of that sun up before it disappears again for several days!

"Summing it all up friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious- the best not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse...and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies." (Philippians 4: 8,9 THE MESSAGE)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Six Degrees of Separation?

We just got back from Gig Harbor - one of our favorite, close in cruising destinations. It seems that, with our trip to Africa this summer, we really haven't gotten out on the boat much this summer. The weather wasn't supposed to be very good but we ventured out anyway. The water was calm and deserted for the 90 minute cruise. Providence ran like a champion. There were just a few sprinkles of rain and there was plenty of room to maneuver and tie up at Arabella's Landing.

It is amazing that we can be so close to home but feel like we are far away - far away from phones, from yard work, from responsibilities, from our respective jobs, from our normal routines. But that is exactly how it feels.
After getting our lines secured, power hooked up and giving the boat a quick scrub down, we began to settle in for a relaxing evening. Our tradition is to pour a glass of wine, have some chips and salsa, listen to some jazz and just let the cares of life begin to wash away. While we were settling down, a beautiful 50 ft. Symbol Pilot House pulled in next to us. We always are so grateful when someone is on the dock to grab a line and help us in. We like to "pay it forward" so we went out and met our "new neighbors for the night."

Steve and BJ Hull (yes, that is actually the last name of some avid boaters - crazy huh?) looked familiar to us when we were making introductions. They told us they were from Yakima but keep their boat on Lake Union. They were curious about good locations in the South Sound so we filled them in on some of our favorite places - Fair Harbor and Long Branch - and how to locate them on the charts. Then we headed off to dinner at the world famous (well not maybe world famous but certainly famous in these parts) TIDES TAVERN. Great meal. Great atmosphere. Great choice.

We always sleep well on the boat. The gentle rocking caused by incoming tide and gentle breezes lulls a person to sleep - sound, deep sleep. I slept in til 8:00 which is a real odd thing for me. Judy slept til 9:00. We always feel like time moves in slow motion when you're on a boat.

This morning, we re-connected with Steve and BJ and found out they are active in their Presbyterian Church in Yakima. Westminster Presbyterian is a church that I once had been asked to interview for. It is also a church where a friend has been the Associate Pastor for several years. We compared notes on churches - theirs also is struggling to reach generation next. Their church also is active in sending its members on Mission Trips. They told us of their experiences in Haiti and we got to share some of our memories of Zambia. Great fellowship and an even greater surprise to meet people who know people you know (if that makes sense).

Some people say that there is a factor called "six degrees of separation." That is, you only have to go six levels of relationships before you realize that there are common acquaintances among you. My experience is that, because of being a Christian, you don't even have to go that far. What a privilege it is to be a part of the Body of Christ and to know that wherever you go, there are Christians who share your faith and passion for Christ. And, they most likely know someone you know or at least someone who knows someone you know.

Well, we had a great cruise. We were just gone for one night but we came back feeling like we had been away from it all for much much longer than that. Tomorrow, Judy has the day off for Veteran's Day but has to work on report cards. I will be back to my normal Tuesday duties - early Bible Study, staff meeting, annual year-end personnel reviews. But in the short period between the close of worship yesterday and now (8:00 pm Monday) we have been physically refreshed and spiritually blessed by the fellowship of God's people in an unexpected place. We are undeservedly blessed.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sheep and Goats

How often have I walked past that homeless man panhandling? How often have I driven by the person sitting on the curb at the busy intersection? How often have I automatically dismissed the person calling the church asking for help with rent or overnight lodging? Too often I must confess.

And the times when I have tried to help, it seems, I feel like I have been conned - taken advantage of.

So I read passages like Matthew 25 where Jesus speaks about judgment when he returns in glory and I am reminded that the response I make to the poor, the hungry, the weak, the lonely and homeless, the sick and the imprisioned are more important to the Son of Man than the number of times I have attended church. The Lord is more aware of the help I give in his name to those who really need it than he is of how much I give to the church.

I don't like passages like this. They slap me in the face like icy, cold water; they shake me from my complacency and self-righteousness...especially when I have to preach them to others. One thing I have learned in my years of ministry is that the Lord never lets me preach a lesson he has not given me clear opportunity to learn for myself.

Once again this week, as I prepared a message about serving others in Jesus' name, I re-luctantly answered a phone call from someone calling, asking for help with housing, and mainly, to express frustration with all the avenues of help they had tried and been denied or passed on to another agency. All the regular excuses went through my mind: "I'm too busy. After all I am preparing a sermon exhorting my congregation to serve sacrificially" or the ever popular, "I am being conned. This couple just wants help to support a bad habit or to bail them out from the bad choices they have made."

But I listened anyway. And the longer I listened, the more my heart was softened to the frustrating plight of those - especially in our difficult economy and crumbling mortgage/foreclosure atmosphere - who are struggling to keep their families just one step ahead of homelessness or hunger.

As it turned out, this couple mainly wanted someone to listen; someone to care. I am not sure our conversation helped. I know my attitude was less than Christ-like as the conversation began. Hopefully, as we talked, my skepticism loosened and the strategies we discussed will be helpful to their getting real, systemic help - the help that they need.

Last night at church, I was humbled as I listened to the stories that cascaded forth from congregation members who wanted to share stories of how they had reached out to others in need. Two common threads were clear. 1)There is more blessing received when we help than that which we give, and 2) one of the most important things we can give is ourselves. A listening ear, a personal contact, a relationship - no matter how cursory - are the ways God uses his people to bless others.

Another thing became clear. Not only are we Christians the hands and feet of Christ in the world, the Lord shows himself to us through the faces, names and needs of "the least of these his brothers and sisters. When we feed the hungry, or welcome the stranger, or look after the sick and imprisoned, it as though we are really doing these things for Christ. The "least" become Christ to us, to stretch, challenge, and soften us.

Am I a sheep, one of Christ's flock who follow him unconditionally? I'm working on it. How about you?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thursday Blues

Well, here it is: Another Thursday and its time once again to wrestle with a text to create a message for the weekend that will be witty, relevant, comforting, challenging, Biblically accurate, no more than 20 minutes long, effectively speak to Gen-Xers, Baby Boomers, GI generation and people of every imaginable situations in life. Not an easy task.

One day, a long time ago, I heard a voice - not an audible voice, but a voice nonetheless - and it was God calling me to ministry. At the time, I didn't realize exactly what that might mean. Had I been able to foresee the challenges and struggles of being a pastor, perhaps I would have ignored that voice. But God was gentle and helped me ease into my calling much the same way a person wades into a cold lake for a swim. It was step by step; inch by reluctant inch; part by part until now, I feel fully immersed. And, I might add, like I am barely able to tread water at times.

This week, I want to preach on what it means to serve others in Jesus' name. My text is from Matthew 20 where James' and John's mother comes and asks that her sons be given the places of highest honor in Jesus' coming kingdom. Isn't that just like a mother? Always looking out for ways to protect and elevate her children.

Jesus reply was not to her but to her sons. "Can you (not will you) can you drink the cup from which I am about to drink?" They not knowing, like I didn't know, said yes, we can drink from that cup. I don't think they really knew what they were signing on for. Acts 12 tells us James was beheaded or run through by the sword at Herod's command. John, we know was exiled to the isle of Patmos and church tradition tells us that he too was martyred.

Jesus' point was not about honor, ambition or doing good enough to ascend to a place of honor. It was about accepting the fact that anyone desiring greatness in God's kingdom has to, first, become a servant (or as Dale Brunner puts it, 'a table waiter) for the others. Greatness in Jesus' view comes not from self-advancement or vain ambition. It comes from selfless, humble service to others. "Can you drink from this cup?"

Can I drink this cup? Am I really ever ready to accept the responsibility and obedience of service that Jesus calls me to? I think I am today. I hope I did yesterday! I am not sure about tomorrow. I will have to commit to that tomorrow. I pray I will not just hold the cup at a distance. I ask that I will not just give lip service to my devotion and sip from His cup as though it were some bitter, foul-tasting brew that's too hot, too cold, too awful to ingest.
I gulp from cups of joy and blessing when they come. I take mighty swigs from the cup of self. If my own interests were cups of Starbuck's Coffee, Starbucks stock would be much higher than it is today. But drinking from the cup of Christ ---that's tough!

But I know I want to serve. I want to give the best sermons possible. I want to be available to any and every person who asks for my time and energy. I want to be less self-serving and egotistic. I want to be more like Jesus but it is hard.

So here I sit, wondering what I can say to people this weekend about drinking from Jesus' cup and being servants. Hmmmm, maybe I have just said it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Making a difference

Great story today at the Rainier Hills Young Life Banquet. The speaker Ted Johnson told about a taxi cab trip he had recently taken from his daughters house in Wheaton, Il to O Hare Airport. When he got in the cab, he noticed that there was nothing in the front seat next to the driver but a well worn Bible. About halfway to the airport, his curiosity got the better of him...he just had to ask: "What's with the Bible."

The driver began telling him how important it was to him and it was a great conversation starter. The driver then asked Johnson what he did for a living. When Johnson told him he worked for an organization that helped High School kids. It was called Young Life.

The cabbie exclaimed, "That's remarkable. Young Life is the reason this Bible is here. When I was in high school, I was a tough kid but a Young Life leader at my school on the South Side asked if I would like to go to camp for a week at a place called Windy Gap. He told me that it was paid for - all I needed to do was show up and go. I did. And that week I met Jesus Christ and gave my life to him. Since then I have been telling others about him."

Believe it or not, Ted Johnson and his wife had made a big contribution toward the construction of that camp. In a sense, he was the one who had paid the way for that cabbie and others to go to camp and meet Jesus. He reminded us that this was an investment that made a real difference; an investment in a stock that just kept splitting and splitting and splitting.

How we spend our lives makes a difference. Who knows, the people in whom we invest our lives and faith may very likely turn out to pass that faith along to countless others. Whose life have I touched today? What kind of difference have I made in someone's life?

On a side note, the new area director for Young Life here on the Plateau is Mike Iverson and his most recent position was in Las Cruces, NM, running a program that Judy and I were privileged to be a part of as committee members and where our daughter Melissa was part of a group of college students that started their program as volunteers. Small world - or is it really?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Back to Buck Creek

For the past 10 years, the Elders of Calvary have gone away on retreat to pray together, laugh together, seek the Lord's leading for the church together, and set in motion specific plans or goals which would move us forward in reaching our community for Christ.

Calvary has had, over the years a warm and close relationship with Buck Creek Camp, just 30 miles up the road toward Mt. Rainier. Previously owned by the Presbytery of Seattle, people from Calvary have attended winter retreats, summer camps, leadership retreats and all-church retreats there. We have helped with major construction and clean up at the camp over the years so in many ways it is an extension of us.

Judy and I also have had a warm spot in our hearts for Buck Creek. Our daughters attended their first summer camps there. I served on the Camps and Conferences Committee for Seattle Presbtytery for over 5 years. I led High School Summer Camps there. Our family has stayed many a night in the rustic, beautiful retreat house.

We all were saddened when the Presbytery decided to sell the camp several years ago. Was this the end of an era? Would Buck Creek close permanently? Or would some other Christian Camping organization pick it up, refurbish its aging facilities and use it effectively for camping? Our quesstions were answered when Camp Berachah, a local Christian Camp and Conference Center between Auburn and Enumclaw purchased it and began using again last year.

After several years of having our retreat at Camp Ghormley or Cascades Camp and Conference Center, it was really great to be back at Buck Creek. Fortunately we didn't have snow like the picture shows but we were cozy and warm before the fire in the large stone fireplace in the Retreat House.

It was great. Pracitcal jokes like remote controlled mice, fake legs sticking out of pillows brought the house down. Rousing games of Pictionaryman and Cranium really brought us together. We ate too much and slept too little. Most of all, we felt the Lord's presence as we knelt in prayer, studied God's Word and discussed what it means to be "a church without walls."

I am reminded that Jesus often felt the need to withdraw with his disciples to a quiet place where they could pray and rest. We don't get enough of that in our busy lives. With all the grim news of war and falling stock prices, it was especially nice to be away with the Lord and renew our faith and confidence in the Lord's ability to sustain his people through these trying times.

As we read Scriptures depicting the life of the early church, we sensed the still small voice of God calling us to not just go to church but to be the church in the world. Coming down off the mountain to our community, to our families, to our jobs and our church and our responsibilities became an opportunity to be reminded how much we needed that time away.

I am grateful for God's design of the church - that its true foundation is His Word, its cornerstone Jesus and his people the living stones that are being built up into a holy temple to the Lord. Once again I was impressed at the insight, wisdom and sensitivity of those God has called to serve as Elders. They keep me from running too far ahead of myself or of the Holy Spirit but they listen and trust and move forward in faith as they lead God's people.

So, it was good to be back at Buck Creek - not just for the place it is and the memories it holds - but because this was a time when God was at work. What a thrill to be a part of that calling.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What do computers and stock markets have in commmon?

I woke up this morning and went into the den to check email, play a game of Sudoku, read the news and check scores, stock market, and weather forecasts. I know, its not very exciting or spiritual - it's just my routine.

The monitor in front of me was blinking a yellow warning telling me there was no signal from the computer. I looked over at the tower and the green power light was on, the fan was running and the hard drive was spinning. So, I shut down and tried a restart. No luck. The message told me the configsys. file was missing and that I would have to reboot with the original startup CD.

Strangely, this was the second computer to go down this week. One of the church office's computers went to computer heaven as well. What is going on?
As if the continuing depressing news from Wall Street was not bad enough, the market is obviously not the only thing susceptible to crashing this week. I even went to get my car washed today and the automated brushless carwash was out of order. Is there some sort of conspiracy?

Depressing news all around it seems. Then I began thinking about friends in Africa that we met this summer. I guess when you are wondering if you will have food to eat today, computer crashes, clean cars and 401Ks are not even on the radar screen for them.

So, all this "bad luck" really isn't all that bad. That's a relative term based on the incredible amount of material stuff I have to take care of. As I write about all this, it caused me to stop and pray for the children and teachers/staff at the Balm of Gilead School. I prayed for Joy and Rachel. I also prayed for the Teicherts and Witherows in South Africa - and for Pastor Adam in Nelspruit.

I guess sometimes, it takes a "baseball bat" rather than a gentle tap to remind me of what's truly important in life.

On the bright side, our jazz group - BY COMMITTEE - has grown from a quintet to a septet. We have a guitar now and we will be rehearsing later on this morning. Then, tonight, our ministry staff and Elders are going away on a weekend retreat to pray and plan. Our main topic is "being the church without walls." We are talking about how we live out our faith and commitment to our common life in ways other than weekend worship events. I am "jazzed" about both these things. (Pardon the pun)

Hey, the sun just came out and is highlighting the golden leaves of the birch tree just outside my study window. I guess, I'll pour another cup, get ready for the retreat and enjoy what God has in store for me today.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Jury Duty and the faith

The French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre wrote a play entitled “No Exit” in which he depicted the hopelessness and despair of humanity as he saw it. Garcin, the main character, is ushered into a room where there are no windows, only one door and it is locked, no windows and grim stark walls – no windows, no decorations, nothing of beauty. The reader soon realizes that this “Hotel room” is actually hell. Garcin is joined by three others in this room where they expect they will be punished for their past sins. However, no torturer arrives and the only torture is that which the room’s occupants inflict on each other as they point out the others’ sins and misdeeds. At the end of the play, the door finally opens but Garcin and the others choose to stay.
Why do I bring up such a serious, depressing thought, you ask? I do so because for the last three days, I sat in a similar room with about three hundred others. This room, like Sartre’s Hell, had no windows and only one door which could only be exited at certain times. Some of you may have had the experience of sitting in that same room. It was the Jury Assembly Room at the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. After 40+ years of voting, adult maturity, this was the first time I had ever been summoned for jury duty. What an experience this was.
If you have ever served in this capacity, you know about the interminable waits, the crowded conditions, the terrible coffee, and the very diverse group of human beings that gather there. Each person has been randomly selected from records at the DMV or from voting registration lists. No one I talked to wanted to be there but they were doing their civic duty. And so we waited…and waited….and waited.
The one redeeming factor – and one that Sartre could never have envisioned in his despairing play about hell and judgment – was that we had a strong Wi-Fi signal so I could stay in touch with my office, with friends, and with others via email and Face Book. I was also able to get some planning and preparation done for an upcoming leadership retreat for our church’s elders. So it was not all bad. But the waiting, oh the waiting. For someone who admittedly is attention deficit disordered, there were times when the place and the waiting conjured up images of hell.
Having said all that, as I sat waiting and wondering if I would actually be called to serve in judgment on another person, I was reminded of a key bit of Gospel grace: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.”
That, my friends is good news. God, the supreme judge is not willing that any should perish under the rigorous demands of God’s own holy and just nature. Instead, God is abounding in steadfast love and full of mercy. God does not treat us as our sins deserve but instead forgives the sins of the contrite who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, and restores the broken to a right relationship with God’s self.
There is no one else who can judge us because all humanity has fallen under the brokenness of selfish rebellion against God, and therefore has no right to condemn. Only God does, and God declares those that come to him through Christ, as not guilty; forgiven.
Back to my court experience. After two full days of waiting, I was given a number and assigned to a criminal trial. We were told to come back Wednesday morning to be interviewed by both attorneys so that a jury of 15 could be seated (12 regulars and 3 alternates). So, for a third day, I travelled downtown and entered “hell” one more time. This time, though, I was sure we would at least be moved to a courtroom for jury selection. But no, we sat and waited some more. Finally, at the end of the morning, just when I was beginning to despair that I would ever exit this room with no windows, mirrors or doors, the announcement came over the intercom: “All prospective jurors in Judge so-and-so’s trial are dismissed. A plea bargain has been agreed upon.”
Jubilant that I no longer faced the specter of waiting – or worse – sitting in on a trial that could last several days or even weeks, I practically skipped out of the courthouse. Then, as I rode a crowded Metro – Transit bus back to Federal Way, stopping at no less than 45 stops – I did another reflecting exercise, realizing that in my case, a guilty sinner, a plea bargain had also been arranged. Though guilty of sinful, willful rebellion against God, a different sentence was handed out. The very one I had offended, God incarnate, had taken my place and born my guilt as he hung on the instrument of capital punishment of his day – the cross.
I may have to wait in a crowded jury room, airline terminal, or Department of Motor Vehicles line again in my lifetime. But thanks be to God, I need not fear God’s judgment not the room that has no windows or doors. Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, has redeemed me and released me and provided a door – not just an exit from the trials of hell or for that matter life on earth, but a door toward renewed, full fellowship between me and the loving God who created me.
Unfortunately, many like Garcin in “No Exit,” choose to stay in the barren room of condemnation and wait. How about you? Jesus is the door. You can exit from a life of despair and futility into a new life of freedom and hope.