Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Missional Church

I am about 97.3% of the way through a paper I am working on for my Doctor of Ministry project.  It is an aspirational piece on how we move to a more missional model of ministry. 

It has been hard. 

The author of one of the books we read, Alan Roxburgh, suggests that we get ourselves into a zone where things are going well, and you want to stay there. 

Amen to that. 

I have been preaching about getting outside of our walls for several years now, but I think now we are at a place where with the right kind of "oomph" we can make that jump. 

I talked with elementary and middle school principals and guidance counselors the last two days.  At least at one site, I was welcome like I was the answer to a prayer.  We sometimes ask the question, how do you know you have been visited or guided by the Holy Spirit.  This morning between 8 and 9, I wonder if I wasn't being given operational guidance on how to measure the presence of the Holy Spirit.

My Holy Spirit Dashboard was all flashing in excitement and enthusiasm. 

If this were a car, I guess that would be "bad" but this wasn't a car.  I WANTED to see the lights go red and the temperature gauge go up and the battery charge numbers go positive. 

It was nice. 

Really nice.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


First Sunday of Lent and after a careful review of the lectionary texts, I decided to preach on temptation. 

The text for the day was Luke 4: 1-13 (NIV).  Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit, is tempted three times by Satan and Jesus wins.  Luke tells us that Satan will return at a time more opportune. (Fans of "Dragnet" can hear the music:  dum-de-dum-dum).

I started with remembering how we used to have those things called "Service Stations" and how when your car pulled up in one of them, a bevy of attendants fell out of their office and washed our windows, checked our air and oil, as well as filled up the car with gas.  People under 30 were excused for not knowing what I was talking about ...

Would it be so simple to get a fill up of the Holy Spirit. 

Can you visualize it?  You pull into the local Holy Spirit Service Station and tell the attendant "fill 'er up, I'll be back in a second". 

Jesus was "full of the Spirit" and arguably, that helped him in his temptation in the desert.

Satan tempts Jesus three times and twice Jesus responds with scripture.  The tempter is one cunning dude, so on the third try, he uses scripture on Jesus.  Jesus, full of the Spirit, rebuffs the gestures and Satan, momentarily defeated rides off to tempt another day. 

We are told quite clearly that Arnold-Like in Terminator"I'll be back" (click to left to see). 

This is the first Sunday of Lent and the passage is the Gospel lesson every three years on that first Sunday, but it is about the beginning of Jesus' ministry, not the end.  What is going on here?

It is part of the Lenten story ... the Journey to Jerusalem with Jesus because at its core, it is about purpose.

Satan is trying in this story to divert Jesus from his purpose.  All three temptations are relevant, but the third one, being saved from death, strikes at overturning the very core of the Jesus Project.  Jesus is here in order to die to free us from our sins.  Jesus is to be the perfect Passover Lamb.  But to be that Lamb, he must consent to his own death.  This passage is about an abortive attempt to divert Jesus from that objective.

Satan:  "I can save you from your divine purpose." 

The reality is that each of us has a project, a purpose, an objective to accomplish on behalf of God, and what are the temptations that lead us astray? 

During the sermon I read from Jonathan Goldstein's midrash-like Ladies and Gentlemen:  The Bible where Eve is tempted by the Serpent.  The serpent is very cunning and Eve is spiritually seduced by making the sinfulness of disobedience seem like "no big deal".  Goldstein is quite clever in his approach.  That is the way we are indeed tempted:  sinfulness is no big deal, right?  In addition, we often aren't tempted by getting these clear on/off, one/zero, black/white choices.  It is rather, by subtle, slow manipulation of the story so that our sinfulness in assenting to the temptation seems like "no big deal."  But all of them divert us from our purpose, our divine purpose. 

In Luke:  Jesus wins. 

But at the end of the Lucan pasage, we are told that Terminator Arnold-Like, Satan could almost say "I'll be back". 

The core Lenten Question is:  when Satan comes back, will we be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Prayer, devotional time, conversation with Christian friends, bible study and mission moments are all ways to pull into that Holy Spirit Service Station and say "fill 'er up". 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Projecting God's Radiance

A few years ago I saw, yes, SAW, Dick Celeste give a speech. Celeste is a former Democrat governor of Ohio, ambassador to India, and currently president of Colorado College. And he spoke in such a way that he quite literally lit up the room. I say saw because of the effect he had on the room. He was a bright light shining in our midst.

Friends of mine were present and said “gee, Dennis, what did you expect, he is after all a politician?”

Well, I didn’t expect the nearly overpowering light he projected into that room, that day.

Celeste was Moses-like in his radiance.

My sermon yesterday was from Exodus 34: 29-35. It is the passage where Moses comes down from his second gifting of the Commandments to discover he is putting out radiance from his exposure to God.

Some things seem to come speak to me in this passage.

• Moses wasn’t aware that his face was radiant. And when he became aware, he tried to shield it from those around him.

• The radiance made the Israelites afraid.

• After he finished delivering the new commandments, he put a veil over his face.

The ideas for how to unpack this with the congregation came to me pretty early in the week, and it came so quickly, so easily, I kept wondering was I being too shallow? Was this too obvious?

I chose to take the gift that had been given to me and used it as my three points. I really try to resist the idea of "Three Points" because in the history of preaching, a style called "Three Points and a Poem" was normative for years. Every time I get "Three Points" I wonder if I have found them because there ARE three points, or because of the old format.

My key ideas were:

• Like Moses, we often don't realize that we reflect God's glory.

• That reflection of God's glory can make those around us nervous and frightened.

• It isn't clear what Moses was trying to do by putting a veil over his face, but Paul in 2nd Corinthians felt that he wanted to be sure that the nascent church in Corinth understood unlike Moses, reflecting God's glory was a 24/7/365 responsibility.

I did come back to the idea that Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount reminds us we are called to be “The Light of the World” and prepared to light up that world, and not allow ourselves to attempt to cover up that light. How is that for a challenge? Go out and light up the world. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t give us a timeline for mission accomplishment. Two Thousand Years and we are still working on it.

I do find it interesting that as I quasi Journal this, at neither service did I come back to a lingering thought I had when the message came to me: Gee Dennis, what do you expect, he (Celeste) is after all a politician. It seemed like a logical observation was if a politician was capable of being expected to light up a room, isn’t lighting up a room with God's radiance part of what we should expect for ourselves?

Gee Dennis, what do you expect, he/she (insert name) is after all a Christian? I don’t know: what do I expect?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Joy and Renewal at Stratmoor

In 2008, we had one Sunday where we had 100 or more worshippers.  That was Easter.

Last year, we had fifteen Sundays where we had 100 or more worshippers.  That included Easter.

We didn't get a count on the Sunday I was gone to DC, but of the five Sundays in 2010 where we have gotten a count, we have been at or over 100.  That is five out of five.  We haven't gotten to Easter. 

Last week, we had over 120, and yesterday, we had 109.  That was without a lot of the usual and customary crowd.  A number of people were gone to visit family around the country. 

We are at one and the same time in awe, and humbled by what seems to be happening.

I commented to the church leaders yesterday, that we were getting a lot of return visitors in part because of things we had done to make our little church be what we said we wanted to be.  Child care is an excellent example.  We provide quality child care from about 8:45 AM to 12:15 PM every Sunday.  We say we are child friendly and that is one "system" set up where our rhetoric and our execution are in synchronization.  The same is true with providing Children's Church and Sunday School for those twelve and under.  That is not to say that at times getting it all pulled together is easy, it isn't. 

Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to make something look effortless.

The key to this is that God is doing something at our little church.  God's something is taking us to a new, and yes exciting, place.  (I might say:  Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.)  Clearly we need to stay humble about what is happening.  A lot of people deserve a lot of credit, but at the end of the day, God is sending us people who have both gifts as well as crosses that they bear.  We need to be able to receive, and recognize, both.  

The Sermon was drawn from 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11.  Part of the Paul's theme was that after Jesus had been raised, he sought out a series of people to have a sacred encounter with them, the least of which by his own testimony, was Paul himself.  I wonder if that isn't a message for all of us:  We have experienced this Easter moment, and as a result we want to see others to share with them that God is still involved in our lives, faith in God does make a difference, and that God can rescue all of us from a place of darkness and death. 

We can all be raised from a metaphorical as well as a real place of darkness and death.    

God is blessing us with a dramatic change in the life of our little church.  It is a blessing that calls us to be sure and seek out new and exciting ways to involve others in this life of this community ... 

Jesus like, that is the Sharing of the Joy and Renewal of Easter with others around us ... a Sacred Call.  


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Today at CoFA

I know.  If you are looking at the title to this post you are wondering "what the heck is 'CoFA' "?

The Council of Finance and Administration.

In other words, time in Denver talking about money.  Talking about United Methodist Money. 

The good news.  We had hoped (prayed?) for a revenue for 2009 of about $5.2M for the operation of the HQ for all the United Methodist Churches in Utah and Colorado, and most of them in Wyoming.  The better news.  We got in over $5.6M and close to being able to round up to $5.7M.  AND maybe even better news, we only spent $5.0M instead of $5.2M. 

So what can the bad news be?  I am actually not sure. 

We had dug ourselves a $1M (that is M for MILLION) hole over the last five to six years with spending more than we took in.  Nod if you think that sounds like the Federal Government since say, 1933 or so?  We had lost our line of credit (long story) and we had no where else to go but a more responsible fiscal policy:  cut spending and raise revenue

We did both in 2009. 

We targeted spending to be cut from $6.05M to $5.25M and we spent even less than that.  Wow.

We attempted to raise revenue from a previous year of $4.5M to $5.2 and we got even more than that.  Dare I say wow again? 

Wow, wow. 

And we did this in an economic downturn. 

Wow, wow, wow! 

I think part of what happened is that people listened to us in June when we talked, and they said "that makes sense, we can abide by what they are doing" e.g, lowering spending, raising revenue. 

I think another part of it is they, the 270 local United Methodist Churches in Utah, Colorado and most of Wyoming, have trust and faith in our Bishop ... Bishop Elaine.  If optimism is infectious, we catch it from her.  I know I do ...

Is there a third part? 

I don't know .....