Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Musings for the days leading up to Christmas

What's most important? How do I understand the true message of Christmas. How is the way I celebrate this blessed season a reflection of my passion and commitment for my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world?

I realize that in the hectic, crazy schedules which define our lives, Judy and I have had to struggle to maintain balance. We have immersed ourselves into the wonder of some amazing lighted Christmas displays. Zoolights (in spite of a long walk from a distant parking lot) was amazing. The creativity, patience and skill of those who designed and constructed this lighting display at the Pt. Defiance Zoo stunned us with beauty, dazzling light and animated displays. I thought to myself, this can't be topped.

Thursday, I took a group out on the boat to follow the Argosy Christmas Ship in a lighted boat display. It is always one of the highlights of our boating experiences. This year was no disappointment. About an hour before we needed to leave the dock, the dense fog lifted and we were treated to a crisp clear cruise around to Dash Point where a lighted tree and giant bonfire shone brightly as we waited for the Christmas ship to arrive. It's always an adventure to travel at night by boat. But we missed any logs, other ships and docked safely in the warm glow of carols and lights and good friends.

A number of people had told us we really should go see the Holiday Lights at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens. So last Friday we jumped in the Hybrid Sleigh, set the GPS, turned the stereo up high and headed out to see another awesome display of lights - even better in my opinion than the previous week's. Wow. I came home determined to do something more creative and complex in our yard next year. Just wait. Now, we have tickets for this Friday to drive through a neighborhood in nearby Spanaway (that's right. You heard me. Tickets to drive through a neighborhood) to see an entire community decorated.

In the midst of all the happy twinkling of colored lights, elaborate displays, joyful music, and throngs of people, one thing seemed to be missing - JESUS.
Last I checked, Christmas is a time to remember and celebrate the birth of God into the world. Incarnation. The divine taking on human flesh. God in a manger; born to give his life in sacrificial love for a lost and hurting world.

And lots of people are hurting. This year more than any other Christmas in my memory, I have heard of and talked to more people who are going through rough times than ever before. Serious illnesses, deaths, loss of jobs, financial pressures, family strife, depression, worry and anxiety are as much a reality and maybe even more so as the dazzling lights and happy music; the parties, dinners, and gift exchanges.

It struck me this year then that the reason God became man was not simply to give us another holiday or reason to party and spend money. It was to bring hope and healing in those places of brokenness, hurt, and fear. That is why the angels told the shepherds not to be afraid. There had been born in the city of David a baby, who was Christ the king. Truly a reason to see glory and experience God's peace and favor.

I was emailing back and forth with one of our missionaries in South Africa and she recounted how Christmas is not really a sacred or special time there as much as it is a chance to go away on "holiday."

That got me thinking about our dear partners and friends in Zambia. They won't be sitting under a brightly decorated tree or in front of a cozy fireplace with a warm, seasonal beverage. They won't be sitting down to a big feast or dashing off to the mall the day after Christmas to return unwanted or ill-fitting gifts. For them, Jesus entry into the world means something much more organic and authentic: eternal hope and profound love - love that is stripped of all the sentimentality, glittering lights and canned music.

The love of God that brought Jesus into human life for them means taking in, feeding, and educating orphans. It means for the first time they have safe drinking water. It means that there is a unity and connection with Christians from half a world away to are inexorably tied in Christian fellowship and service with them.

That is a world and a life that is probably much more like the world into which Jesus came 2000 years ago. How easy it is for me to forget that as I get so wrapped up with all the trappings of Christmas here in my culture and my world. So as I look at brightly lit holiday displays, I also think of darkened fields and dirt paths leading among the small homes of my brothers and sisters in Zambia. As I marvel at the beauty of our statuesque tree and the decorations so lovingly placed on it by Judy, my mind's eye is etched with the picture of a tower supporting a water tank and all the people of a small community gathering underneath it to draw water from it. As I open cards and presents and overeat delicious holiday treats, I remember that the greatest gift ever given was not a present - but a presence; God making his dwelling in our midst. That reality shines through no matter where in the world we might be or what our circumstances are. And it is what unites us with God's people everywhere. I pray I won't forget them and that I can continue to share in the partnership that is ours because Jesus was born.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Water: Fresh. Sparkling. Clear. Refreshing. Healthful. Accessible. Wasted.

Water: Scarce. Stagnant. Murky. Sickening. Disease. Gerry Cans and barrels. Precious.

Two different perspectives on a life giving commodity. Even though the majority of the world is comprised of water, safe, drinkable water is inaccessible to a large proportion of the world's population. The human body is 98% water yet without it, our bodies weaken and die.

Generally, I don't think much about water. I let it run while I shave and while I try to adjust the shower temperature to just the right degree for my liking. I brush my teeth with it and wash my car with it. I water the grass and our flowers. I use it to make coffee, cook pasta and boil potatoes. I swim in it, bathe in it, skim across it in a boat and see it as something to take for granted.

But around the world, where poverty, disease, illiteracy, overpopulation and lack of opportunity prevail, a correlating reality is that fresh, clean, safe water to drink is not available. Often women and children have to walk miles (kilometers just to collect enough water to cook their daily food, drink and wash with. Often that water that takes so much time, energy, and so heavy a toll on health, is water we wouldn't think of using for any purpose.

When Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the well over 2,000 years ago, she was doing what is daily reality for a large percentage of the world's population; she was drawing water for her household. Then as now, the task of gathering water continues to be relegated to women and children. It would not have been uncommon for Jesus to have asked a woman for a drink from the water she was collecting.

What was uncommon and extraordinary was that this was a Samaritan Woman; a woman that it would have been scandalous to have been talking to. But that was Jesus. And as he addresses her, he tells her about a different, life-giving kind of water; the kind of water that, if a person drinks it, wells into springs of living and eternal water.

You and I have also experienced that life-giving water that is Christ's life within us. We know what it is to have been forgiven, renewed, refreshed and cleansed by the life-giving power of Jesus' death and resurrection. We have water to give...in abundance. We have both the ability to provide safe drinking water for the world's population so that a child doesn't have to die every 15 seconds from a waterborne disease. And we also have that life water welling up to eternal life within us that so many people in the world are desperately craving.

Each year Americans spend over 400 billion dollars on things like tie tacks, gag gifts, desk organizers, expensive toys, and more gifts that our loved ones may not need and, in some cases, really don't want. At the same time Americans will spend inestimable amounts of their income on parties, food, and drink. Now I don't want to sound like old Ebeneezer Scrooge here (at least the way he is portrayed at the beginning of Dickens' iconic Christmas classic). I am not saying Bah! Humbug! Don't celebrate and don't enjoy the season. Instead, I am suggesting that we consider giving gifts that really make a difference; that we emulate old Scrooge at the end of the famous tale; by blessing others who have true need like the Cratchett family.

This is the third year Calvary will have been involved in something called the Advent Conspiracy - a program in which God's people conspire to celebrate the Advent of the Savior in a different way. What does that mean? It means focusing on the true reason for this celebration - the Worship of the Christ Child; the Son of God.

It also means spending less on frivolous gift giving and self-fulfillment during the season (for example I always give up buying expensive coffee drinks at Starbucks and other establishments and use the money I save to give to AC. Judy and I also have committed to not give each other expensive gifts but to use that money to support AC as well) Conspiring to celebrate Advent and Christmas differently also means giving more - more to causes and to people whose lives will truly be changed. At Calvary we give to provide safe drinking water, sanitation facilities and warm blankets through our efforts at Advent)Finally it means loving others sacrificially by giving ourselves, our time, our creativity and our presence.

Will you join the conspiracy? Will you be part of a not-so-covert plan to reclaim the celebration of Christmas to its original intent. Mark reminds us the "The Son of Man did not come into the World to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) Join us and find some way of re-prioritizing your Christmas and be a part of this conspiracy to celebrate the Lord's Advent by serving

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jesus Food

Last week, I attended Seattle Presbytery meeting with 2 of our Elders and with Cindy, our Associate Pastor. Besides enjoying a beautiful Indian Summer day and a beautiful drive, we were welcomed warmly to the new facilities of North Point Presbyterian Church - a thriving, new Church Development in Poulsbo. They're doing great stuff in addition to their own programs of worship and nurture.

One of the programs they are involved with is serving lunches weekly on their front sidewalk for high school students attending High School across the street. This program I think is done in conjunction with Young Life. But it has become so popular that the last time it was held, a student was making announcements on the intercom and told the entire student body that particular day was "JESUS FOOD DAY."

As I begin to study and prepare sermons for our fall series on the Gospel of John I have been reminded particularly of Jesus' statement "I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE." It is a particularly relevant statement for him to make because he had just miraculously fed a crowd of 5,000 (I do not think that many Poulsbo High School kids eat "Jesus Food" at Northpoint PC on a weekly basis). Jesus then went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee for a little R & R when his sometimes pesky disciples came and found him and began peppering him with questions about how to do the works of God and what signs Jesus might give that would help them believe. One of them even brought up the miracle of the Manna in the wilderness that their forefather's had eaten everyday.

It is in this context that Jesus tells his disciples (followers, believers, insiders) that He is "THE BREAD OF LIFE" - the true "Jesus food." Anyone who comes to him will never go hungry and whoever believes will never again thirst."

Bread - what a powerful image that is. Yes, it seems like a bare subsistence food for those of us in the affluent West. Yet how many people would give anything just for a piece of stale bread to fill their distended stomachs? But Jesus repeated that imagery over and over (Give us this day our daily bread... & this bread is my body broken for you...do this in remembrance of me). Physical bread - metaphorically and literally - is so vital to life. Without food on a regular basis the body withers and dies.

Jesus' point is not to dismiss that reality. In fact I believe those who follow the "Bread of Life" are called to offer food and sustenance to the hungry of the world in his name. So it is never all right to say if we just tell people about Jesus then all their problems like hunger or homelessness, or injustice or poverty, will go away.

He fills us with spiritual nourishment that satisfies completely. In his name we are to offer our loaves and/or fishes to feed the hungry masses. In doing that we meet their real and present needs and we show the reality of our relationship to Jesus.

Symbolically we come to him and fill ourselves on that bread of life whenever we observe the Lord's Supper. I don't know about you, those little cubes of bread would never be enough to satisfy my physical hunger. However, Jesus the bread of life does satisfy my spiritual hungering for meaning, for purpose, for identity and for acceptance. In him my life is nourished. In turn, I am empowered to go out in service to others.

Have you had JESUS FOOD lately?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Christ in the Ale House

The Huffington Post - a rather cheeky, tongue in cheek pseudo-newspaper carried the following headline on December 10, "LATEST JESUS SIGHTING OUTSIDE AN IRISH PUB IN AUSTRALIA." Contributing correspondent Marc Hartzman noted that "Jesus' first recorded miracle was turning water into wine. But now, it seems, he may be more in the mood for a beer."

It seems that when the Seanchai Tavern began a project of repainting, the pattern of remaining paint on the stripped away door bore a remarkable resemblance to Jesus standing as if to greet customers with outstretched arms. The owners of the tavern have no intention of repainting or covering up the image as it has brought in lots of business and has attracted curiosity seekers and religious iconoclasts alike.

Reading this made me think about the life and ministry of Jesus who was equally comfortable teaching in the synagogue as he was eating in the home of a tax publican or visiting with a Samaritan woman at a public well - a scandalous thought for most good religious Jews of his day.

Throughout history, theologians like Martin Luther didn't mind discussing the finer points of dogma over a pint of their favorite brew. And somehow, I agree with the preacher at our Presbytery meeting last night who said, "If Jesus were alive today, we undoubtedly would find him at the local pub hanging out with those who weren't really the religious."

That is different than saying some vague image in chipped paint is a sign from God or that one establishment - be it a pub or a grocery store - is more favored by the Lord by showing his face on the door.

I am just about ready to walk out my office door and head to downtown Enumclaw to the friendly confines of the MINT - Enumclaw's own Ale House. It has been the home to a Wednesday night group of Christians and seekers alike who gather to enjoy some good pub food (love the Pizza Bread, the Rueben and the Border Burger) and a glass of wine or a pint of their favorite sudsy libation. For nearly five years now, this group has gathered to discuss a variety of different topics, Bible Passages, thought provoking books or the previous week's sermon.

I'd like to think that Jesus was spotted in the tavern as we gather there. We've prayed for members of the staff, thrown a going away party for one of our favorite waiters/bartenders as he headed off to culinary school. We washed the bathrooms, mopped their floors and pressure washed their sidewalks one FAITH IN ACTION SUNDAY. And most of all, we have been a regular presence filling the round tables in the fireplace corner. I hope our lives, our words and our actions have been representative of the Lord. I would hope that in some small way, when we leave, it could be said that "Jesus was in the house in the form of those 15 people who meet there every week."

It may not be a tavern but I wonder if people see Jesus in the other places I go - Rotary, the Grocery Store, the marina where we moor our boat, at the traffic light and the Starbucks window? Does my life reflect the love and grace of the Lord or am I just kind of an abstract amalgam of chipped paint?

I think I am going to bring this idea up for discussion tonight. Gotta go meet Jesus at the Tavern.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The View From a Hospital Bed

It had been just a little over 14 years ago since I was wheeled out of Rio Vista Rehabilitation Center in El Paso. After over 14 weeks of being in a hospital in one shape or another, I was finally free. It was exhilarating even if my body was still feeling the effects of the traumas I had incurred. But I will never forget that day. We stopped and got a Coffee Frappuccino at the Sunland Park Barnes and Noble. It was cold, sweet, ambrosia in my mouth. About 30 minutes later, Judy wheeled the car into the Mesilla Valley Mall in Las Cruces so I could wheel my chair into the Dillards Store to see my daughter Melissa - a joyfully tearful renunion.

Then it was home to the comfortable and familiar surroundings of our beautiful home and my favorite Erkones Stressless recliner. I felt reborn and in many ways, I had been. At least I felt as if I had been given a second chance at living. Still not sure of the outcome of whether I would walk again, it seemed that day like all things were once again possible.

Judy had set up a hospital bed downstairs in the front bedroom. I remember the sweet moments of conversation we had that night. The windows were open and a gentle desert breeze enveloped the room. Even if we would not share a bed that night, it was enough to be home, in the same house, just relishing in each other's presence.

But putting hospital memories behind is not easy. Ever since the accident happened on May 8th, I had been reflecting on the words of Paul to the Philippians. One passage haunted me: "Forgetting what lays behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:14)That being said, I knew God had plans for me and that my injuries were behind (kind of). But memories of the hospital ICU, the endless, pain-wrought nights, the fear of the unknown, the dependence on others for my every need, the loss of dignity and modesty, the hard work of rehab, the almost insurmountable tiredness took a long time to die out.

After I resumed my ministry as pastor, I found it hard to even go visit a parishoner in the hospital; particularly if they were in an ER trauma bay or an ICU wing. The smells, the beeping monitors, the business of nurses and doctors, all resurrected strange, ominous feelings from the past.

It's taken about 14 years for me to be able to walk confidently into a hospital room. While identifying with the pain, fear or frustration of the patient I was visiting, my compassion was mixed with personal feelings of dread and negative memories. I guess some people may call it Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. I don't know if that is accurate. I do know that those memories and feelings have never left and it has just been recently that I have been able to really suppress them.

So last weekend proved to be a battle of common sense versus those memories. I had come home early from Men's Bible Study. I had gone out at 5:45 am to play golf with two other guys and by the time I had finished the 7th hole, I was aching, tired, and feeling miserable. I went into Bible Study and couldn't stop shivering. So, with a little encouragement from the "guys," I went home early and went to bed. Through the day my fever climbed proportionately to the growing redness on my lower right leg. By later that evening, my fever had spiked and I was miserable. So I just took more Ibuprofen and bundled up, trying to shake off what I thought was a case of the common flu.

By Sunday night, the redness and swelling had continued to spread upward and my fever had spiked again. So, against my dread and discomfort, I agreed to go the hospital ER.

The short story is that I had cellulitis - a bacterial infection of the tissue beneath the skin. It can be dangerous if left untreated and I was grateful to get on some potent IV antibiotics right away and then to be admitted to Enumclaw's gorgeous new, state-of-the-art hospital; St Elizabeths.

Though the experience brought up lots of past and painful memories, I was overwhelmed by the tender, skilled care of the nursing staff; the knowledge and wisdom of the Drs. on duty and by the overwhelming outpouring of love, support, friendship in the form of visits, cards, calls, flowers, and even Starbuck's Coffee. It is humbling to be bed-ridden and sick; dependent on the ministrations of others. That is where the past memories lie.

But it is humbling also, in another, more positive way, to be on the receiving end of people's compassion, love and care. I think that in the 14 years since my last hospitalization, this short stay pointed out that I had anesthetized myself to what it feels like to be a patient in a hospital bed.

So even though it brought back some difficult painful memories, it also reminded me that it is an amazing, humbling, gratifying thing to be part of the family of Christ and to receive such attention, love and care.

This line of closing comes from a prayer, delivered over the public intercom at the hospital by Glori Schneider, the chaplain at St. Elizabeths.

"You see the messiness of our lives and You desire to lift us above it. You see our woundedness and long to love us into wholeness. Lord, just for today may we be aware that it is possible to heal our world by caring about the one next to us. That our hands can be your hands and our words can be your words if our hearts are willing to be use by You to bring love and healing into this world. You, Holy God, 'love each of us as if there were only one of us.' Lord help us do the same."

Thanks to all who prayed, visited, called or sent cards. May we be to each other the hands and words of Jesus to the ones next to us.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tweets, YoVille and BFFs and other signs of the End

I watched my ten year old grandson texting on his smart phone the other day. It was amazing. His fingers and thumbs were flying across the keypad on his smart phone typing in messages to his parents, updating them on all the great stuff he was experiencing while with Judy and I on our boats. We had flown him up to spend the week with us and with his cousin Davis, also 10, who had come for a 2 week visit with his parents. Between Sam texting and Davis breaking all my high score records on Angry Birds, I was beginning to feel pretty much like the old fogey I actually am becoming.

But I am not going to succumb. I want to stay right up there with the latest techno-trends and information devices. But it is tough. It took Judy and I 5 days just to figure out how to properly program the points of interest we wanted into the GPS on her new car. Uploading profile pictures to FACEBOOK can be an all evening project. Figuring out all the possible cool things I can do with my 3G phone and my new XOOM tablet takes 10 times longer for me than for most people I am sure.

To top it all off, I decided I would open a TWITTER account this week. Like I need one more obsessive thing to occupy my free time. So far I have posted 7 tweets. As I have posted each one, my thought has been, does anyone really care what random thought is going through my head or what mundane activity I am engaged in at any given moment. Probably not. So far only two people I know are following my tweets and I have gotten no comments back. But, as George Costanza said in one SEINFELD episode "I'm Out There Baby!"

In 1943, Bill Watson, the then chairman of IBM said that he could only imagine a world market for 5 computers. Guys like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Paul Allen obviously saw something much different. Not counting our phones (Judy has a Blackberry and I have an Adroid 3G)we have 4 operational computers just in our household.

Author Walter Percy (quoted in Dick Staub’s book “THE CULTURALLY SAVVY CHRISTIAN) says, “You live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advance, humanity has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.” Staub goes on to say, “All humans share a common need and desire for a creative, spiritual, intellectual, moral and relational renaissance, and yet, in today’s polarized culture war, we are not talking to each other.”

Instead, we are posting on each others wall, tweeting, following one anothers blogs and emailing. But are we really connecting? Are we sharing at a deep, intellectual, spiritual and relational level?

We were on vacation on our boat the last two weeks and one would think that the main benefit of such a vacation would be serenity, solitude and freedom from technology and phones. Not true! Cell phones were vibrating and beeping, and now, almost every marina - even those in more remote places - have WiFi available. We were plugged in the entire time. One thing I noticed then (and whenever a group of people have phones or computers with them) is that personal interaction and meaningful verbal conversation was at a minimum because everyone was looking at a screen or typing on their keyboard.

Technology and Social Networking are great. But they also have a downside. On the one hand, we can share information and retrieve information instantaneously. We can carry on business without meeting in person. We can order books, clothes, cars, music and medicine without leaving our home. We can share pictures, videos, and recordings without being there, going to a theater or listening live. Students can gather research (not necessarily accurate)by doing a GOOGLE search or going to Wikipedia.

The downsides however can be pretty scary. Identity theft, unwanted spam emails (some
graphically violent or sexual), depersonalization and social isolation are just a few of the potential negatives.

Of course one of the recent scandals with TWITTER has been the one surrounding Congressman Anthony Weiner and his self-revalatory x-rated pictures he admitted to sending to a Washington State woman.

In our series of sermons this summer on Christ and Culture, we are reminded that Jesus prayed that his followers would not be taken out of the world but be protected from the evil one. In fact, he says, "even as you (God the Father) have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world."

It is true that Christians are to be salt and light in the world. Our lives are to be redemptive and are to reflect the "imago dei" in our spirituality, our relationships and in our creativity and work. Some might suggest that it is wrong for Christians to be so engaged in the world of technology and especially the aspects of it that relate to social networking. "It is too dangerous or there are too many bad things" associated with it. Of course that is not true. Technology and communication are amoral. That is to say, in and of themselves, there is no evil or inherently bad values attached to the technology.

But as with all things, moral value comes from how we use technology. Christ calls us to redeem the world and to bring all things under his Lordship. We are also called to be discerning and wise.

A couple of verses from the Bible have struck me as I have thought about this subject:
2 Corinthians 10:5 - with respect to the Christian's relation to the world Paul says,
"Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does....we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Philippians 1:10 - "...that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ."

Colossians 3;17 - "Whatever you do in word or deed, do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Ephesians 5:15ff - "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

Its probably impossible to say for a fact - its a moot point. But I have wondered if Jesus would have used - or encouraged his disciples to use Facebook or Twitter as means of spreading the good news. I think so. At any rate, I think that with discernment as to the amount of time spent, the content and words we use, we can, and should use the tools available for building up the kingdom and the body of Christ.

So what do I do with this? What is my response? Maybe I should get an armband that says WWJT (What would Jesus Tweet) so that I think about the ways I use the internet and social networking in a way that is redemptive, creative, and helpful. I cam up with these questions. Maybe they'd be helpful for you too.

* How much time do I spend in comparison to the amount of time I spend with God?
* Am I using technology and networking to build my faith, relationships, encourage others?
* Am I making the most of my time or redeeming the time?
* Am I being discerning?
* Do people see the light of Christ in my online activity?

I'd like to hear your responses so I'll tell you what. Why not post something on my Facebook Wall or send me a Tweet this week (RevFred3). Or if you are still living in the 2005s, call or text me on my cell. I'll be logging in to check.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


What do you know about Lent? No, its not the fuzzy remains of laundry that you clean out of your dryer’s filter noR is it the little scraps of fuzz from a wool sweater or from your shedding cat. That’s lint. Lent is a word that in its original Anglo-Saxon origins denoted the onset of spring and the signs of new life beginning to show through the ground. Since the mid-fourth century Lent has come to mean a time of preparation and prayer prior to Easter and the church’s celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

Depending on which source you trust most, there are numerous sites online that talk about Lent and all have helpful information, even if slightly different variations on its theme. They all seem to agree that, by and large, the season of Lent corresponds to the forty days of fasting and temptation that Jesus underwent before beginning his public ministry – a ministry that culminated in his crucifixion and resurrection – the stunning highpoint of the Christian faith. Almost every modern Christian tradition celebrates Lent in some way. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding on Holy Saturday ( the day before Easter Sunday) Lent has popularly been recognized as a time of sacrifice and of giving up things.

As a young boy growing up in a fairly non-liturgical Presbyterian Church, we never really observed Lent in great detail. I remember hearing my friends talking about the things they were giving up for Lent – eating meat, spending money on candy, watching TV, etc. On Ash Wednesday, they sported a strange smudge of ashes on their foreheads. To me, the connotation was always more negative, and frankly, it seemed a little artificial. My friends, for all their sacrifices, never really changed in character. Giving up stuff at Lent always seemed to me to be motivated more out of tradition, guilt or duty. I didn’t see much of the heart devotion or spirituality I associated with the holiness of the Easter season. I confess, I just didn’t get it.

That became even more of a puzzle to me when I began to realize that the partying and drunkenness of Mardis Gras (ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) seemed like people were just trying to get in their last licks at having a good time before having to be stoic and “spiritual” for 40 days. I guessed that inside the same temptations, desires and sinfulness still was present in their lives in spite of their sacrifice. I knew that was (and is) true in my life.

As a Pastor for the past 35 years, I have begun to understand the need for this season in a different light. Instead of seeing it as merely a season of deprivation and sacrifice, it has become a season for me to seek a closer devotion and identification with Jesus in his journey toward the cross. At Lent, I struggle, not just with what I will give up, but with how I may better walk in the footsteps of Jesus by serving others and using my resources differently.

Originally Lent was set aside by the church to be a time of penance, preparation and almsgiving (or helping those in need). This year I am not going to be a slave to sacrifice, but I do want to make this time count. I want to draw closer to Jesus. And I want to minister to those in need. I challenge you to join me in that journey toward the cross. Give some of your time to help those in need. Use some of your resources to help a hungry child. Offer yourself as a volunteer tutor. Become aware of needs in your community and in the world. Sponsor a orphan or spend some time with a lonely shut-in. There are so many ways to live positively as you follow Jesus in obedience. Remember, he said, “Those who lose their life for my sake will surely find it.” Maybe this Lent will be a true time of renewal in your life and not just a time of artificial sacrifice. God Bless you in your journey toward Easter.

Friday, January 21, 2011

"Who Is Really at the Helm?"

Several weeks ago, I changed the name of my monthly article in our church newsletter THE CALLER. I don't know why really. I do know that the title FRED'S FORUM sounded pretty outdated...kind of 70s-ish. I have been using that moniker since a youth director at Corona Presbyterian in Denver back in the 70s. They say change comes slow to Presbyterians. If that isn't proof then I don't know what is.

But long overdue change wasn't really the reason. I just kind of got stuck on a new name "THE VIEW FROM THE HELM." That title and its accompanying article was turned in December 18th in time for publication in the January edition of THE CALLER. The article talked about change and the need for clear direction in steering through the stormy seas of change. Little did I know what changes were just around the next turn. Little did I know that there would be a need for our congregation to have someone "at the helm" prayerfully and carefully guiding them through the storm that was to come.

In the February issue of SEA magazine, one boating couple from San Diego related a story that was pretty scary when it happened. However, the way it was told was actually pretty humorous as it related to similar experiences Judy and I have had in our novice boating years. The author and his wife had to make a short run to Dana Point in their new boat. They weren't fully familiar with its systems. As they prepared to leave their slip, the weather reports had told of possible dense fog. But they were in the clear so they headed out. "What could happen - right?"

Less than half a mile out from the safety of their own marina they unexpectedly ran into a very dense fog bank, visibility less than 200 yards. Watching the chart plotter (GPS) and radar carefully, the husband slowed his speed while his wife watched for fishing boats and other craft that seemed oblivious to the conditions as they sped by. Halfway into the fogbank, they found themselves face to face with a navy gun boat and a 50 mm. machine gun pointed at the bridge. The voice on the loudspeaker commanded they move to starboard far enough to keep safe, legal distance from a nuclear submarine that was being escorted out of the harbor. Then, they wer to put the boat in neutral until the sub safely passed. Somehow, in the midst of all their care and attention, the potentially biggest danger of all had eluded them. Now they had new problems to deal with - ones they never thought they'd have to face.

I tell that story simply to illustrate the fact that, even in churches, unexpected dangers and problems suddenly appear. In spite of our best efforts, attention to details and proper planning, not every "danger, toil or snare" can be avoided. When they do arise, it takes a careful hand at the wheel and a readiness to change course - all the while staring down the proverbial barrel of a 50mm machine gun.

So, the new name of my article became "THE VIEW FROM THE HELM." The possibility of any real crisis or change occurring was minimal. The sky looked clear and the waters calm for us to venture out into a new year.

The new year arrived. I got to watch lots of great football. We held one, joint, blended Sunday service in celebration of the church's unity despite our two separate congregations (Saturday contemporary and Sunday traditional). All seemed smooth sailing. Smooth, that is until about 9:30 pm that same evening.

A dense cloud of fog settled in. The temperature dropped. Peril loomed. There we were in the midst of the biggest crisis a church can ever face - the dismissal of a beloved associate pastor, the sudden departure of friends; the bitter hurt of betrayal and deceit; and the urgent need to change course or be sunk.

Somehow, at that moment, it became all too clear why I had felt compelled to change the name of that article and why the first one had to do with steering through stormy seas. God had been preparing me - us - to face the crisis and not only survive it, somehow to grow and learn and thrive through it.

I also became clearly aware that the view from the helm, while holding certain advantage of vision and information, is only one part of a ship's safe passage. An able, prepared crew is also an absolute must. The Elders at Calvary - 4 of whom were so new they had not even been ordained and installed - rose to the challenge, manned their stations and not only saw to the necessary tasks of avoiding sinking, they gave incredible confidence and calm to troubled passengers.

And there was a life boat with rescue personnel on the scene right away as well. Somehow all part of God's providential care for Calvary, the Presbytery of Seattle dove in with incredible help and support to guide, counsel, reassure and help us through the crisis.

God could not have prepared us any better for the storm we couldn't have seen coming. So while I continue to hold an illusion that my view and steering at the helm was and is so important, I am too painfully aware that ignored the possibility of danger and had to react with the help of the crew and the rescuers. But then that's what the church is like - or at least supposed to be like.

Jesus never promised that there would be no troubles of tribulation - only that he had overcome them so we could trust him completely. If anyone is truly at the helm, it is the Lord and I, if I have any responsibility at all, is simply to follow his orders and stay the course he has set, all the while relying on the able crew that has, by grace been assembled, to lead us through any storm. And though none of us knew of the impending events that lay ahead and beyond our sight, a gracious, all-knowing, and loving God did. The Lord was preparing us for these changes even when we didn't expect them.

Who is really at the helm? I think we all know that answer to that question. I guess I'll go below and get a cup of coffee for my next watch.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


It was a beautiful, warm, Indian Summer day in the Puget Sound Region. Judy and I - novice boaters to say the least - decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather. We hopped in the car and drove down to the Des Moines marina where we kept our first boat. We named her the DAWN TREADER from the children's books by CS Lewis. We loved that little 25 foot Bayliner Cierra. Like the Dawn Treader she was not as big as other ships but she was well cared for and every "spar and mast" lovingly preserved.

Off we went. Our departures and landings during those early days of boating were never things of beauty. If you've never run a power boat, they don't handle like cars. The steering is not as responsive and there are no brakes. There were times when we felt we should have called her the "STEER CLEAR" or, at least, have posted a sign like the ones on driving school cars: CAUTION! STUDENT BOATER.

But we made it safely out the fairway separating the docks, past the rock-walled jetty and public dock and out toward the buoy marking the shipping channel. Carefree, wind blowing through our hair, amazed to see seals, dahl's porpoises and all manner of birds. The calming effect of the gentle waves, the relative sparsity of any other boats, and the quiet soothing sounds of smooth jazz playing over our stereo system made it a morning to remember. We headed south west toward Pt. Defiance and the Clay banks. Then, turning south we went underneath the Tacoma Narrows bridge for the very first time, further south past Fox and McNeil Islands and finally west and south past Anderson Island and around the southern point of the Key Peninsula. We were exploring yet undiscovered sights (at least for us)and we couldn't have been happier or more at peace.

Once we rounded the point, we headed north to JOEMMA STATE PARK where we docked our boat, walked up the dock to use the public facilities, hike around a little and enjoy the view from a different perspective. Then we returned to the boat for a simple meal of fruit, crackers, cheese and sausage (I think there may have been a glass of wine involved as well).

It had been a glorious day. We were absolutely floating with a sense of unbridled amazement, wonder and joy. We hated to head back to home port but we both had things to do the next day so off we went - retracing the dotted path indicated by our GPS.
All was serene. All was calm. Weather continued to be great....great that is, until we rounded the point at the Clay Banks - leaving the Tacoma Narrows and heading back NE to Des Moines. Without warning (at least to novices like us) a strong wind of 25 - 30 kts had begun to blow out of the Northeast. Combined with the changing tide, the waves were beginning to pile up in short distances and some of them were at least 20 feet high ----ummmm, maybe 2 - 3 feet high.

We were being bounced around like a cork in our little boat but we pressed onward. As the boat crested each oncoming wave, then smacked bow first into the next, chilling sprays of foam and sea water cascaded over the deck, and, some even splashed up over the flying helm.

Well, we got back in safely but we were tense, probably a little irritable, and certainly glad to be back in our own slip, in a protected marina, and making preparations to head back to Enumclaw.

A few days later, our back sides (you know what I mean) were stiff and sore as though we had been through a rigorous workout. We couldn't understand that until we realized we had been so tense on the way in that day, we had clenched those gluteous maximus muscles so tightly and for so long, we were paying the consequences.

Sometimes in life, we sail along in calm waters, enjoying life and all the things along the way each day. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, we turn a corner, begin a new day, hear some bit of news, and we are tossed in the maelstrom of s storm. All we can do is hang on tight. And trust that the boat will get us safely through.

Such a storm has hit once again in our lives and the life of our church and the fear is that it could threaten to undo us. My advice is, hang on tight, but trust your charts, your GPS and the ship you are sailing in.

When I was a kid our church used to sing a little chorus called "Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me." I never much liked it. I did, however, find myself drawn to a painting that hung in the church parlor. Unlike many paintings of Jesus that depict him as ashy-faced, silky-haired, blue-eyed, and rather weak, almost effeminate features, this one showed a rugged Jesus. He stood firmly and strongly behind a young man whose eyes depicted fear and uncertainty. The man was standing at the wheel of a boat obviously trying to steer through a gale. That picture has stayed with me - not just because of some of our boating experiences but because everytime I have needed to depend on the Lord's strength in life's storms, he has been there - calmly and surely holding me up and guiding the way.

That is also why one of my favorite stories in the Gospels is of Jesus out on the Sea of Galilee, asleep in the bow when the disciples fishing boat begins to toss violently in a sudden storm. Afraid, they cry out to Jesus and ask, "Don't you care that we are about to die?" Calmly Jesus simply speaks to the wind and the waves and says "PEACE! BE STILL!" Immediately the wind and the waves and even the disciple's anxious hearts are stilled. They are amazed. They are filled with wonder. They are stunned. But they are reassured.

Be assured that in this storm, Jesus is in the boat with us. The wind and the waves that threaten to sink us are under his control. He lovingly, calmly and strongly will stand with us and guide us - all of us - every single one of us - through this storm.