Steps to the Cross

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on April 13, 2014)

Psalm 31:9-16 (TNIV)

Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors;
I am a dread to my friends–
those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear many whispering,
‘Terror on every side!’
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, LORD;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.

I know what some of you are thinking.

Way to go, such an uplifting way to start the service! Especially on Palm Sunday! Come on! Continue reading

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Cloud of Witnesses: Thomas the Disciple

Vincent Kaminski now teaches business at Rice University, but he once served as managing director of research for Enron…the Enron that spectacularly crashed in bankruptcy in 2001.

Before the crash, Enron had grown exceedingly quickly. They got to that place with smoke and mirrors, using reckless and aggressive business practices. Kaminski was one of the few brave and quiet souls within the organization who had repeatedly tried to sound the alarm. When senior management didn’t listen to his concerns, he refused to sign off on dangerous transactions and ordered those under his authority not to work on them. He was stripped of any power to review company-wide deals.

“We don’t need cops, Vince,” Enron’s president told him. The optimistic leaders of a famously growing company like Enron didn’t want to be policed by pessimistic middle managers. Continue reading

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Cloud of Witnesses: Elizabeth Gurney Fry

Picture a young woman, filling her diary with her angst.

She slowly slumps against the wall and a sorrowful sigh escapes from her mouth. The journal opens, and the desperate words quickly fall from her pen: “I am now seventeen, and if some kind and great circumstance does not happen to me, I shall have my talents devoured by moth and rust.”

It could very easily be today. The emotions of youth often push us to feel that we will never amount to anything, never get the chance to use our talents and gifts.

Yet the words in that journal were penned more than two hundred years ago by the woman Elton Trueblood said “…became the most famous of all Quaker heroines.” [The People Called Quakers, p. 168] Where did she find meaning? How did she defeat the devouring moths and rust? Elizabeth Gurney Fry’s life as prison reformer, minister, and philanthropist demonstrates to men and women today the wonderful blend of faith and social action that arises out of a love for Jesus Christ.  Continue reading

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Cloud of Witnesses: Billy Graham

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church, March 9, 2014)

Today’s person in the Cloud of Witnesses series is Billy Graham.

In this series, we are looking at people who help us to fix our eyes on Jesus; people who encourage and challenge us to, as Hebrews 12 says, “run the race marked out for us.” For so many people, Billy Graham has been the person who first led them to make a decision to follow Jesus Christ. For decades, he has been a person of personal integrity, standing out in a positive way when other famous preachers have trainwrecked into scandal.

Those of you who are younger may not know much about Billy Graham other than the name; others of you have been deeply impacted by his ministry, and some of you have probably volunteered at one of his crusades or met him. Some people estimate that Billy Graham has spoken to 210 million people; there is wide agreement that he has preached to more people than anyone in the history of the world. Several million people have decided to follow Jesus after hearing Billy Graham speak.

What I think Billy Graham has best offered the world is the clear and consistent reminder that new life with God through Jesus Christ is possible, and it is there for us to receive. If we are willing to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness, God can give us a new heart, a power to live differently. Continue reading

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Cloud of Witnesses: Daniel

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on Feb. 23, 2014)

Today I would like to give you the Sparknotes version, the Reader’s Digest version of my spiritual journey from birth to age 30.

Ready? Born. Rapidly conclude that if I do anything anyone thinks is wrong, the utter destruction of the world will happen. (Therefore live in anxiety.) Ask Jesus to forgive my sins at age 6. (Therefore don’t think about God very often afterward.) In high school, learn that Jesus wants me to live every moment in obedience to him. (Therefore back to anxiety.) Separate from “worldly” things in college and condescendingly pray for those other “worldly” people.

Ignore, hide, and keep secret my own “issues”. (Therefore increase anxiety living this double life.) Try to manage my “issues” with more rules. Epiphany of honesty and confession. Freedom from rules as I pursue experiencing God. (Therefore peace and joy for the first time.)

Marry, have children, grow up. Busyness, lack of structure and rules, and lack of experience with God leads to crisis. Go to Tilikum to try and figure out what went wrong. Continue reading

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Millennials leaving the church is not the problem

Few things bring a bigger smile to my face than someone experiencing the rush of a surprise encounter with the Divine…when out of the mundane monotony of spiritual striving, someone drinks and breathes and comes alive, swallowed by the uncontainable power of God’s living presence.

Most recently it happened reading this beautiful post, written by our daughter’s friend Melanie. She writes of “the profound hunger, which I find more prominent every day that I am here, to deeper understand and engage with the God of the universe.” Like oh-so-many, though, she finds that hunger met not in church, but in the creativity on display in the Los Angeles Art Museum, in the alive chaos of the streets of South Central, in dialogue, and on a quiet coastal mountain trail outside Malibu.

Yet I smile, pastor though I am, church-lover though I be. I refuse to wring my hands, to pen yet another “millenials leaving the church” lament. I smile and my heart rejoices, because she, like many, is launching herself into the joyful abandon of seeking her heart’s cry, seeking a tangible and touchable and life-giving connection with the One who created us all.

I stand proudly with those in my faith tradition who believe that every relationship, experience, and moment drips with the life changing presence of God. With every fiber of my being, I too say that God cannot be contained in our safe pews or crafted sermons. God is not segmented and segregated to people and places labelled “Christian”, but pulsates and pounds through every person, plant, and planet in all of creation.

There is Life, the Life, calling to us, beckoning us to give into our curiosity and our yearnings and throw off the familiarity and the sameness that deaden our souls. Our cry to the world is not “show up at church meetings.” It is to abandon your life to the Life who makes our lives vibrantly, beautifully, radically whole.

Recently I was given a book that I have little desire to read. The cover says it’s about “the problem of Millennials leaving” the church, and it promises to help me as a pastor to get them to stay.

It’s aimed at the wrong problem.

The real problem is that we in the church have not demonstrated the power of being consumed by the living God…at least not often enough. We haven’t modeled or given permission often enough for the restless curiosity and the questions and the yearning which leads to the search, the search to know and be known by Christ, the great Revealer.

We’ve created the lie that Sunday morning is the pinnacle, that speakers dispense God from a platform. We’re audacious enough to act as if we hold the Eternal One captive and then parse out the pieces only to those faithful enough to sit in a pew.

We can do better.

At our best, we as a community witness to the One who inhabits and gives meaning to each thing and place and person and moment. We gather to share and celebrate how God has been moving in us, and we push and prod each other to go out and discover more…more of God’s love and life. There is a rightful place for gathered, regular community to which we commit ourselves in this faith journey. We need community which recognizes that the Living Presence who speaks everywhere is also who we allow to speak and lead in our Sunday gatherings.

Jesus is the one who created everything.

Who breathes in everything.

Who speaks through everything.

And Jesus is the one who invites us into community.

Who constitutes the church.

And who unifies all things.

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Cloud of Witnesses: Gregory of Nazianzus

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on January 26, 2014)

As I was thinking about this cloud of witnesses series, I wondered if some of the famous Gregorys in church history might be good ones to explore. 


This is me in St. Peter’s at the Vatican, in front of a statue of the 16th and last Pope Gregory. I thought of maybe including one of these in the series, but these Popes named Gregory weren’t exactly the cream of the crop when it came to people you’d want to model your life after.

But then I remembered my discovery from five years ago! Continue reading

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