Bricks

Today I put my hands on these old bricks, bricks surrounding a place full of memories that stretch decades into my past. My past, but not my present.

I put my hands on these old bricks, asking blessing for those who do still have a “present” inside this building. I asked for healing of wounds, for encouragement.

I put my hands on these old bricks, my mind pushing back into the past. I joined the Spirit to ask blessing and presence, healing and hope, for all who once were part of the community inside.  I asked God, in the present, to search out everyone from the past and break the pain from hurt. I asked God, in the present, to be living, vibrant, real, and honest with each one, wherever they are. I asked for God, in the present, to be a real presence for each one, beyond past experience (good and bad).

I put my hands on these old bricks, opening my past and my present to the Spirit’s searching and conviction and healing and guidance. Submitting. Pleading. Wondering. Longing.

I put my hands on these old bricks, thinking of the future. Asking God to work what I can’t imagine. Asking for healing and growth to spread even further than the pain and wounding and breaking. Asking that I, that we, not be dead to, not be defined by this past as we walk into the future.

Lent: Choosing Sacrifice

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on March 1, 2015)

Mark 8:31-38.

I’ve often thought of Peter rebuking Jesus as a great reminder that everyone makes mistakes.

Peter has just had such a high point, being the one person who correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah, and not just like Elijah or John the Baptist or some other prophet. And yet here in the section today, he totally blows it and gets a stinging rebuke from Jesus.

And what I mean by a great reminder that everyone makes mistakes is actually: this makes me feel really good because I know my mistakes are nowhere near as bad as Peter’s stupidity here. That’s sarcasm, of course, but the reality is there’s a good bit of truth in it. I’ve often thought that Peter’s mistake of correcting Jesus, of acting like he knew better than Jesus did, is one that I don’t make.

The annoying part of looking at this passage again has been the realization that actually, I do sometimes make the exact same mistake that Peter does. I think many of us do. I actually think American Christianity as a whole often makes Peter’s mistake. So let’s dive in and see what the mistake was, see how we do it too, and then look at Jesus’ words to find a way to correct the mistake and live as we are called to live. Continue reading

Lent: Facing Sin

(Message given February 22, 2015 at Newberg Friends Church)

Psalm 25: 1-11

I love the fact that I’ve lived 23 out of the last 29 years in Newberg.

There’s something beautiful about getting to be a part of a smaller community for that long, to build relationships, to pastor with people that I’ve gotten to know over a lot of years. There are some difficulties to it, though, and one of the biggest is in regard to speaking regularly.

I always want to be able to share things that will be practical and not just theoretical. I want to share in a way that makes it easy to grasp how the part of the bible we are looking at could be applied to your life this week. The best way to do that is to share examples and stories, to see the ways these things are lived out. But…most of my life is lived with YOU. Or with people you know.

Today one of the things we are tackling is how to deal with sin. It’s tricky finding practical examples that are ok to share. I see people dealing with stuff in healthy and some unhealthy ways; but I don’t think people would appreciate it if I made their challenging moments as sermon illustrations.  Continue reading

Christ’s Life

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on February 15, 2015)

Last Sunday after the service, I had a great and very honest conversation with someone.

Talking with him cemented something in my own mind, and that’s what I want to share with you today, my own thoughts as a result of that conversation.

I’m really glad that we spent months carefully looking at what Jesus actually taught in the sermon on the mount. I’m glad we challenged ourselves last week to put Jesus’ teachings into practice. I think it’s the kind of corrective that we on the Evangelical church side of things need to have. Wisdom, building on the rock and not sand, involves our actions. It involves us doing what Jesus teaches. It isn’t just about what we believe. I’m glad we emphasize the importance of trying to do what Jesus teaches.

For me, that goes hand in hand with something else, another aspect of life with God that is also in the “essential” camp. I’ve lived long enough and watched my own successes and failures enough to realize that if life with God is only about obeying and doing what Jesus said, there is going to be a problem. I don’t seem to have it in me to do it all the time.

That conversation last week after service reminded me how important it is to hold two things together: yes, Jesus taught us how to live, and there are many ways throughout history that the church has failed to call us to those difficult things. And yes, it is also true that Jesus offers more than just teaching. The faith that we share as a community here at Newberg Friends also believes that Jesus has broken the power of sin by dying and being raised from the dead. The life and death of Jesus give a power to our lives that I have not found elsewhere, the power to actually live as we were born to live.

Our community stands on those two things: Jesus as teacher, and Jesus as resurrected Savior who transforms us. For me, for us, to leave out the transforming power of the death and resurrection of Jesus is to miss something essential. Teaching and the cross go hand in hand. Continue reading

Put Them Into Practice

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on February 8, 2015)

‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:24-28, TNIV)

Jesus, skilled teacher that he is, brings the Sermon on the Mount to a close with a powerful image.

Building on the rock, building on sand…this is a picture that worked in the arid desert of first century Israel, and it works in our world of today. We get the power of ocean and wind and storm. More importantly, we have Google images, and can subject ourselves to increasingly ridiculous images of what it means to build on a rock.

1 2 3 4 Continue reading

Integrity and Wholeness

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on February 1, 2015)

Do you ever look at a word, and stare at it, and then all of a sudden the letters just make no sense any more? It just looks weird and wrong?

Pageant. Pageant did that to me recently. Page ant. An ant that’s a page? Like a medieval knight attendant ant who gets stuff for you? Or origami, like an ant made out of a page from a book? Pay-gent. P-agent. Like an agent who gets paid? Look at it too long, and eventually all meaning just flies out the window.

Honestly, this is the perfect analogy for what seems to be happening to me at the end of the sermon on the mount. The harder I look at Jesus’ words, the weirder it gets and the more confused I am. This can cause problems, say, when you come home on a Friday night and try to talk about your day with your wife, while in the kitchen, say, and everything she might hypothetically say to try and help you out, you might hypothetically argue with Every. Single. Thing. she says.

“Pageant.” “BUT IT COULD BE PAGE-ANT!” “Pageant, a show, a gala, an extravaganza.” “IT COULD BE PAY-GENT!!!”

Hypothetically, this could be symbolic and illustrative. Continue reading

Trees and Fruit

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on January 25, 2015)

Play a little game with me–one of these things is not like the other. Can you find the unique one?

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Some of those were subtle, some really obvious. For me, after all these months we’ve spent in the Sermon on the Mount, and after reading today’s section many times in the past two weeks, these verses have felt like that red apple among the green ones. These verses have just screamed at me: we are different than the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Continue reading

Who Makes it Narrow?

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on January 18, 2015)

The two things Jesus teaches in today’s section of the sermon on the mount are pretty much at the core of the things I most often speak or write about. 

One is to reclaim an accurate view of God, countering years of church history which have led so many to think that God is only harsh, angry, and disappointed with us. And the second is to call us to what few people choose, the hard road of discipleship to Jesus. Continue reading

Shared in Our Humanity

(Message given at NFC on December 28, 2014)

I’m always in awe of two things about Christmas in our society.

One, I’m always amazed to see Christmas decorations in stores before Halloween. It seems like it gets earlier and earlier by the year. And then two, I’m always amazed at how quickly all things Christmas disappear. K103 stops playing 24 hour Christmas music almost immediately. Stores put all the Christmas stuff at 75% off and it goes quickly.

We start so early, we’re almost sick of it before it arrives. And now many are on to the next thing, wondering what will be the next thing to give a jolt to our lives.

But on this last Sunday of 2014, and just 3 days after Christmas, believe it or not, I’d like us to reflect a bit on why Christmas matters. Why is God becoming a human being in Jesus Christ so significant? What does it matter? Continue reading