Lent: Christ Crucified

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on March 22, 2015)

For those of us who have been in the church and around Christians for a long time, I think we tend to forget how strange and foolish the central part of our faith sounds.

This season of Lent, leading up to Easter, reminds us of the submission and suffering at the heart of Christianity…it really seems like a failure, the death of the one we put our entire trust in.

True, we believe and teach that it didn’t end there. Easter did come, resurrection conquered the power of death. But Paul and the gospels refuse to gloss over or throw away the suffering of the cross. We can say it even stronger than that: even with the truth of resurrection, we still put our eggs in the crucifixion basket.

Is it ok to use an Easter basket metaphor about faith? Or do I just confuse everything that way?

There’s something scandalous and strange and frankly offensive and unattractive at the heart of our faith. This is Paul’s message, and I think after 2000 years of Christian culture, we can forget how strange it is. Continue reading

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Wearing the right clothes

I ran out of gas last week.

As these things usually go, it was a series of wrong choices. The warning light went off on the way to the hospital, but I wanted to get there ASAP for the visit. I forgot about getting gas leaving the parking lot, and then I was on the freeway, and then there was traffic, and if I pulled off it would take forever and then the traffic would be worse, and of course there would be a gas station on Scholls Ferry Road, only of course there wasn’t, and then there I am stalled on the side of the road a mile and a half from the next gas station.

It started raining.

I considered who I might call, but realized it probably wouldn’t be any faster than dealing with it on my own. So I started walking, thumb out, hoping (assuming?) I could get a ride to the gas station. I got picked up within 200 yards of my car, and despite some awkward silence in some really bad traffic, had an easy time of it. Bought a gas can, filled it with gas, and started walking back to my car, thumb out again.

This time, I had to walk considerably longer, getting wetter and wetter, left thumb out, right hand holding six pounds of gasoline, brain wondering if a protruding rear view mirror was going to give me a concussion. But sure enough, another guy pulled over and let me in.

“Thanks, I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. I was taking my kid to practice and saw you, and was like if he’s still there after I drop off my kid I’m picking him up.” I was impressed. He’d come out of his way back this direction because he saw me, just to be nice. Humans aren’t so bad after all.

“Wow, that’s above and beyond. Thanks a lot!”

“No problem! I mean, you were wearing the right clothes. It wasn’t like you were all homeless looking or had a sign saying you were a veteran or something…” He chuckled.

Jeans and a plaid, collared shirt. That’s what I was wearing.

This is what privilege looks like.

Jeans and a plaid shirt meant I had a better view of humanity.

Made me think about what it must do to your view of humanity when you live a lifetime walking, without having anyone stop.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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