Questions vs. Creed

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on April 12, 2015)

Whenever I consciously think about it, the huge variety of ways that the bible talks about God overwhelms me.

The spectrum goes from huge, cosmic God on one end…the God who creates everything, who parts seas, who comes in fire and earthquake, whom Isaiah sees “high and lifted up, with his train filling the temple”…huge and cosmic on one end, to close, personal and intimate on the other end of the spectrum: the God who walks with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening in the garden, who gives Moses his personal name, who sends an angel to feed Elijah in his depression and tell him to take a nap.

Psalm 139 is one place that holds the ends of the spectrum together in one place. Continue reading

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A Wide Open Table

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on April 5, 2015)

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that there is always a deeper layer of meaning to discover in these huge moments in Jesus’ life, these holidays that truly celebrate holy days.

I used to think that all these big events were just sort of self-evident, just obvious. Sometimes that made me feel like I was missing something, because I couldn’t really articulate exactly why Easter or Christmas were such a big deal. Other times it made me feel sort of superior, like I was in the “in” crowd, I understood this, and all these other people are just missing out on something so obvious.

But I see it differently now. Things like Jesus’ resurrection are so monumental, so outside the norm of the rest of life, that they aren’t self-evident at all. From the first sight of the empty tomb long ago, followers of Jesus have had to work to unpack the meaning of Easter. It’s challenging! It took awhile for the disciples to really grasp what was happening, to begin to grapple with the implications.

So if you feel like you are missing something in this faith journey…or if you are feeling sort of smug, like you’ve explored all there is to understand about the meaning of Easter…I want to invite you and challenge you to dive in today. Wrestle! Think! Look to unpack a new layer of meaning to Easter for you, and let that journey and exploration be a step of faith toward God today. Continue reading

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Courage and Confidence

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on March 29, 2015)

For those of you who’ve given up chocolate, or coffee, or Diet Coke for Lent…your long suffering is almost at an end!

Today is Palm Sunday, when we remember the celebration as Jesus entered Jerusalem, before being killed on what we now call Good Friday. Next Sunday, we celebrate Easter, the resurrection-the ending of Lent, and the beginning of new life for all of us.

Palm Sunday is doubly ironic…ironic first, in that the very crowds shouting “Hosanna!” and honoring Jesus as King will be calling for his death before the week is out. And ironic second, because although the crowd celebrated for the wrong reason, the truth is Jesus should  be celebrated and honored by all!

How does our theme through Lent, this theme of suffering and sacrifice, this theme of taking up the cross…how does it fit with Palm Sunday? That’s the journey we will explore today. We’ll begin by looking at Isaiah 50, before moving to Matthew’s account of Palm Sunday. Continue reading

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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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