Thursday, December 21, 2006

Prayer for the day

Here is a prayer for today I found in "A Time to Pray: 365 Classic Prayers to help you through the year." This prayer is by Huub Oosterhus.

Let us pray for all those, throughout the world, who believe in the Gospel:
That they may grow in grace and humanity.
Let us also pray for all churches, that they may not lay up treasures on earth or become
monuments to a past age,
Clinging to what is already dead and remote from people of today,
But that they may be converted and receive the spirit of Jesus, our Lord,
who is the light and life, hope and peace of this world, for ever and ever.



Monday, December 11, 2006

Cultural Christmas or Christian Celebration

Yesterday while traveling along coastal Maine I passed what looked like a church building with a big sign outside proclaiming “pictures with Santa”. I was moving along and didn’t see if it was an active church or just a church like building turned into something else.

What struck me was the juxtaposition of a religious building and Santa. This symbolic joining crystallized in my mind what I’ve know for a long time; Santa and Christmas are perfect representatives of our cultural religion. If we step aside and pay attention we can see it plainly. The Holiday celebration now fully represents our cultural values and beliefs. These include the necessity to buy things, the spiritual satisfaction of gift giving and getting, the appropriateness of over-spending to name a few.

A colleague of mine shared the news story at the end of this blog. Briefly, the Hillsboro, NH, Christmas Tea was cancelled after the pastor of the church hosting the event asked to read the Christmas story from the gospels along with “The Night Before Christmas.” The quote below comes from an article published by the Concord Monitor (see the link below):

"Andrea Kaubris, administrative assistant to the Chamber of Commerce, said sponsoring a religious event would violate the Chamber's bylaws, which require it to remain nonsectarian. Even though the holiday is Christian, Kaubris said the celebration is "a commercialized treatment of Christmas just because that's what the whole Christmas season has come to. It's about the kids, and it's about the merchants in town."

Rather than bemoan the loss of Christmas to the culture, I suggest we reclaim it in our homes and churches. Let the culture have its Holiday celebration, but let us offer something different. Let us offer Christ, Emmanuel. Leave Santa and all his trappings to the culture and offer the real Hope of the World to our communities.

Let us use this time as an opening to share the good news. For many know the secular holiday does not satisfy their spiritual need. Buying lots of things does not fill the hole in our soul. Christmas parties does not quench our longing for true community. Mistletoe does not meet our needs for intimate relationships.

We are bearers of the light of Christ, heralds of Hope, voices crying out in the wilderness for the people of our community and world. There is still time in this season to find ways to share the coming of Christ to others. How will you celebrate Emanuel? Will others see the difference?

Grace & Peace,


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Secret Santa-- What about not so secret Christians?

Below is a news story in the Chicago Tribune which has me thinking. It is about Larry Stewart, secret Santa. I do not know his religious preference or if he even has any. What I do recognize is his desire to bring joy, unexpected joy, to people in the Christmas season. Take a look at the article.

While I have grave concerns about the commercialism of this time of year and about Santa, I am moved by the acts of generosity which we often witness between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This season seems to call out the best and the worst in us. We will read stories like Larry’s as well as stories of fist fights in store isles over some popular toy.

Stories like the one below are wonderful. But Jesus challenges us to live this kind of compassion and concern year round, not just for the last 6 weeks of each year.

I wonder what we as followers of Jesus have to offer to this annual event. I wonder what we will do to safeguard ourselves from turning the birth of our Savior into a orgy of shopping, buying and eating. Sometimes I want to celebrate Christmas after the hoopla is over and the sales have all come to an end. I long for a Christmas celebration of the holy moment in history, when God chose to become one with us.

I can go on and on about Christmas, but I’ll spare you. If you’d like, feel free to respond in the comments section by sharing a way you keep Christ at the center of your Christmas.

Grace & Peace,


Forget Kriss Kringle-- Santa's name is Larry

By Maria Sudekum Fisher

Associated Press

November 20, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For 26 years, a man known only as Secret Santa has roamed the

streets every December quietly giving people money.

He started with $5 and $10 bills. As his fortune grew, so did the gifts. In recent years, Secret

Santa has been handing out $100 bills to people in thrift stores, diners and parking lots.

So far he's given out about $1.3 million. It's been a long-held holiday mystery: Who is Secret Santa?

But now, weak from chemotherapy and armed with a desire to pass on his belief in random

kindness, Secret Santa has decided it's time to reveal his identity.

He is Larry Stewart, a 58-year-old businessman from the Kansas City suburb of Lee's

Summit, Mo., who made his millions in cable television and long-distance telephone service.

His holiday giving started in December 1979, when he was nursing his wounds at a drive-in

restaurant after getting fired.

"It was cold and this carhop didn't have on a very big jacket, and I thought to myself, `I think

I got it bad. She's out there in this cold making nickels and dimes,"' he said.

He gave her $20 and told her to keep the change.

"And suddenly I saw her lips begin to tremble and tears begin to flow down her cheeks. She

said, `Sir, you have no idea what this means to me."'

Stewart went to the bank that day and took out $200. He's hit the streets each December


He allowed the news media to tag along. Reporters had to agree to guard his identity and not name his company.

NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus will join Stewart this year in Chicago when Stewart hands out $100s in honor of Buck

O'Neil, the first African-American coach in the major league baseball.

Doctors told Stewart in April that he had cancer of the esophagus and it had spread to his liver.

Now Stewart wants to inspire others to be generous. "That's what we're here for," he says, "to help other people out."

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


As I travel around to local churches I am often struck by the difference I find in congregations. It has little to do with the order of worship, the condition of the church building, the size of the congregation or the geographic location.

When I enter a church and watch the interaction of its participants I look for signs of joy.

Is there laughter in the air? Do they seem to have fun? Do they take themselves too seriously? Do I find JOY breaking out among them.

Such a simple thing, yet so telling. John Wesley once said “Sour godliness is the devil’s religion.” I think he was right. We are people of the resurrection. What greater joy is there!

Joy is not flippant, unspiritual or disrespectful. It is a sign of the Spirit at work in our midst. God brings joy to our lives. God invites us to bring joy to others. One sign of someone who is deeply in love with Christ is the presence of joy in their lives. They bring it with them. It seeps out of them where ever they go.

Sometime, when you are in the midst of your congregation, close your eyes and listen. Do you detect signs of joy? If not, it is time to have some fun together, to laugh together, celebrate together, give thanks together. Often little children can help us because joy comes so naturally to them. Include them in your worship, in your gathering times, in your conversations and let them lead you into joy.

May the joy of the Lord be upon you!

Grace & Peace,


Sunday, September 17, 2006

What If?

The scene is repeated in some form across many of our churches. Groups of teens and young adults congregate, in parking lots, on church lawns or front steps. Sometimes they are noisy. Sometimes they are skateboarding. Sometimes they are smoking. They talk, they joke around, they run around, they listen to loud music.Some where unusual clothing, sport physics defying hairdos,

Adults are often intimidated by them. Usually someone tries to run them off. We talk about them in negative ways We strategize how to get them to change or adapt to us or to leave. .

I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

What if we saw those kids not as a nuisance, but as an opportunity? What if we thought of them as the most important people in our community?
What if? What if we saw them as Jesus waiting outside our doors?

So many churches bemoan that there are no kids in their church. What if we saw that as our fault rather than the fault of parents, children or society? I do not know of a single church in our district who have no children or youth in their community. Even if the “kids” are not gathered on our lawns, but in a local park, at the strip mall parking lot or some local hangout, they still represent a mission opportunity.

What if we made it our mission to reach those precious children of God? Why, we might just change our communities. I know it would change us and our congregations.

What if you decided today to make it your mission?

Grace & Peace,


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tipping Point— More Ruminations at School of Congregational Development


Yesterday I attended worship at First UMC, Chula Vista, CA. Following worship, we learned about the church, their history and the ministry.

First impression was their welcome. Greeters met us outside the sanctuary, inside the vestibule, at the door. They were there to answer questions, direct us to important places like the sanctuary and rest rooms. Printed information was everywhere. Their men’s ministry even had a poster in the men’s bathroom. (I don’t know what was in the women’s restroom.) Many of the regular worshipers went out of their way to welcome us as well.

Worship was celebratory and upbeat. The hymns, some traditional and some more contemporary, we sung at a tempo quicker than I was accustomed. It contributed to the feeling of life and vitality. (Just a thought to us at home.)

In the afternoon, I learned about their history. About 12 years ago, the congregation reached a crossroads. They were in a slow & steady decline. The neighborhood around their location had changed dramatically. They had few children or youth present. (Does any of this sound familiar?)

The congregation began visioning for the future. A realtor reminded them of the significant equity they had in their property. On the east side of town significant growth was projected. After a process that was less than perfect, but well intentioned they came to a time of vote to stay or not. The vote to move passed by 2 votes! They decided to move forward with the move and when they did, a third of the congregation stayed behind.

Now, I would not move forward on such a critical decision with such a close vote. I would have required a much larger majority. In talking with the folks from the church, it was not clear they believed they could have reached consensus in a short period of time. It is clear if they had waited till now, their congregation would have lost the chance to move to their present location because of the cost of land.

I think about how slow we in the church make decisions. Sometimes I fear we use our indecisiveness as a way to maintain the status quo. What opportunities have your congregation missed to be in ministry because they waited too long?

There has to be ways for congregations to make quicker decisions, while allowing time to discern and build consensus. Do you have ideas about this? How has it worked in your experience?

Ultimately, it is about taking risks. And our fear of risks taking is a reflection on our faith. Do we believe all things are possible with God? Do we believe God is faith, whether we succeed or fail?

I do not have any simple answers. But just wanted to share my ruminations.

What do you think?

Grace & peace,


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ruminations from San Diego

Ruminations from the School of Congregational Development

Friday, August 4, 2006

I’m currently attending the School of Congregational Development of the United Methodist Church in San Diego, California. This 6 day gathering of over 600 United Methodists features speakers and workshops designed to help revitalize churches. There is a special series of workshops for District Superintendents. I’m hoping to come back with new ideas to help me be more effective in my ministry with congregations and pastors I serve.

I have no intention to even try to summarize or capture all that is happening. Rather, here are some random thoughts and musings.

First, what good planning, to come to San Diego, where there are gentle breezes and balmy days, just as a serious wave of heat and humidity hit New England.

Last night, during supper we were entertained by Tongan dancers, demonstrating dance styles from many different South Pacific cultures. What a treat and a reminder of the broadness of the UMC. In fact, this entire event reminds me how much larger the United Methodist Church is than our little churches.

Today, in morning worship, we prayed in a way different to me. We sang a simple song, then during singing interludes let projected news clips call us to prayer. It was a powerful way to pray.

What are we so afraid of? Really, what are we so afraid in our churches that we will not take risks, risks to minister in new ways, to try new styles of worship, to try something different. We are so timid. It causes me to pause. Dare I suggest for us all, me included, it is really an issue of faith. I am reminded that when faith is called for in the Bible, when messengers from God arrive on the seen, the message often begins; “Do not be afraid.”

Perhaps we need to hear that for ourselves; Do not be afraid.

From San Diego,


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Engagement Announced -Life Changes

Blog 8-3-06

My oldest son, Ben, announced his engagement to his long time best friend, Melissa, last weekend. Jan and I are very excited. Melissa is a wonderful woman. We’ve come to know her over the last few years and welcome her into our family. Their plans call for an August 2007 wedding.

Ben & Melissa’s announcement has given me pause about phases in life. Their impending wedding brings changes in our lives as well. Our time of active parenting is coming to an end with Ben. He is ready to step out an be an independent adult. We, while always parents, will serve in a more consulting/support role. Not that we haven’t functioned that way before now, but the emphasis is different.

Parenting has been for me an incredible challenge and a wonderful gift. As a parent I’ve helped shape two wonderful children into exceptional adults. (Hey, parents are not required to be unbiased!) In the process, Ben and Matt have helped shape me. They’ve helped me be more compassionate, open, joyful, disciplined, and humble. They showed me the wonder and mystery of our world, helped me heal from old childhood hurts, challenged my long held prejudices, and even taught me how to whistle. While parenting them I’ve seen my best side and my worst side. I’ve learned what is to be loved and forgiven even when I didn’t deserve it.

I’ve not been a perfect parent. None of us are. But I hope I’ve learned to be a good parent. I’ve also come to appreciated, even more fully, those who parent under difficult situations.

Parenting is not for everyone. That is not a judgmental statement, but just the way it is. Parenting is not intended to be a solitary occupation. Along the way, our parenting has been supported and supplemented by many caring adults; family members and church community members.

So while parenting is not for everyone, everyone can be a friend to a child and support for a for a frazzled parent. We all know a child who needs an adopted aunt or uncle. We know a teenager who needs someone who will offer a listening ear and unconditional acceptance. We know a parent who needs a break for a little while or a word of encouragement when things are going hard.

(If no one comes to mind for you, then I challenge you to begin looking in your neighborhood, in your church, at work, at school, wherever you spend time. They are out there.)

As I look back over this blog, I could have talked about the joys and challenges of marriage. Oh well, maybe another time.

Wishing God’s richest blessings on Ben and Melissa, and all who are entering married life together,


Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Week at Camp

I recently spent a week with 9, 10, and 11 year olds at Camp Mechuwana, a United Methodist camp in central Maine. I’ve wanted to be a counselor at the camp for years, but never quite worked it out. So this summer, I found myself, responsible for 6 boys in my cabin. Our cabin held the distinction at one point of the lowest score in the “cleanest cabin” daily contest. I believe I can say, without a doubt, I had the dirtiest, loudest and smelliest cabin. We scored a whopping 5 points out of a possible 17.

The week was tiring and rewarding. We were on the go much of the day. Each adult counselor shared responsibility for the safety and nurture of each camper. My most commonly used phrases included:


“It is time to quiet down.”

“Put down that stick.”

“Wow that looks great!”

“Nice job.”

“Please pass the______.” ,

“You guys were great!”

I think you get the idea. Camp counseling for me is an exercise of offering nurture and grace while keeping the campers safe. Sometimes a difficult task. It seemed the kids that were the most challenging were often the kids who needed love, acceptance and grace the most.

I want to tell you about one camper. I’ll call him Tim (not his real name). Tim lives in foster care. I do not know his circumstances, but could tell right off he would be a challenge. Tim loves creepy crawling things. He spent hours hunting for moths, slugs, beetles, crawfish, and frogs. His single-mindedness enabled him to be quite successful in his hunting. It also led him to wander off, to not relate well to other children and to keep his counselors always on guard.

He had a hard time staying with the group. More than once we were dispatched to find him, after he had disappeared. It is not that he sought to be difficult, but rather he marched to a different drummer than the rest of us.

A couple of times, I had to speak with him about staying with the group. I explained that he was important and special to us. We didn’t want to lose him or have him become injured. His reply each time was “I’m not important.” “No one thinks I’m special.” I assured him that we did. But he did not believe me.

Much happened during the week for Tim. A particularly heart wrenching episode involved forcing him to give up the live frog someone discovered in his pocket. You see, Tim considered his captured creatures his only friends. Tim was heartbroken and furious at the loss of his friend. Once again, in our conversation, he stated that no one thought he was important.

Saturday morning the parents began to arrive. Some couldn’t wait to get out of their cars and run up to their kids. I watched several big hugs and remembered the times we had done the same with our sons.

When Tim’s foster parents arrived it was a different story. Neither got out of the car to give Tim a hug and ask him about his week. In fact, it was only after his counselor had trouble opening the van door that any attempt was made to get out. Before Tim left, I got down and hugged him. I said, “Tim, I am so glad you came to camp. You always remember you are a special boy.” I think he said yes. But that may be wishful thinking altering a painful memory. As he rode off, to my surprise tears blurred my vision.

I do not know what will happen to Tim. I’d like to hope he’ll remember my words, the fun at camp, and that at least for a week a bunch of adults thought he was special.

Tim reminded me why camp is such a vital ministry of the church. A week at camp, for some of campers, is the best week of their year. That alone makes it all worthwhile. Camps like Mechuwana are only possible because adults choose to share a week of the summer as a volunteer counselor. I thank all of you who have ever been a camp counselor. You have touched my life, and the lives of kids like Tim.

Maybe you have a story of a church camp experience, as a camper or a counselor. I invite you to share it with us as a response to this blog.

Friday, June 16, 2006

New Wine Skins

Hi everyone. I keep talking to the churches I serve about the changing world and our need to adapt and change. So this is an experiment in new technology. I'll use this blog to share musings and invite your comment. My hope is we will engage in a fun and fruitful dialog. Remember in blogs, spelling doesn't count!