Monday, December 1, 2014

“Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:3-7)

We began the season of Advent yesterday; four Sundays used to prepare for celebrating the birth of the Christ-child. And while maybe it’s just me, I’m inclined to believe that in our accomplishment-driven Western culture, the idea of preparing includes knowing about a specific event at a particular time which is known to those making the preparations.

We need to remember that those who lived before Jesus’ birth did not know the time and day of His arrival; for those alive on that first Christmas Day it was more of a surprise party. So their Spiritual life was filled with waiting – and this theme of waiting is another way to prepare for Advent.

During Advent we want to put ourselves in that same mindset as those who lived before Jesus’ birth…knowing he would appear but not know when He would appear. In that space between the knowing and not-yet-known, while they whisper among themselves about their hopes in the coming of the Savior, they have their realities around them in “the bread of tears” and the “tears to drink in full measure.”                                        

Their whispers of hope are being drowned out by the noise of reality.

While the realities of the violence in Ferguson Missouri certainly drowns out the whispers of hope that we might talk about the racial divide across our country, in our own community these whispers of hope were heard by the 237 employees of Woodgrain Millwork. They were hoping to be back at work following a roof collapse a couple of weeks ago. Instead, Advent came with the reality of a layoff notice. This is the 3rd largest employer in the county.

In the above Psalm there is no searching of the heart, no probing discussions seeking to unearth the reason that God might be withdrawn, nor is there any understanding of humanity being at-fault.

What we hear is simply the need for God when the whispers of our hope have been drowned out by the reality of circumstances.

So hope changes as we wait for God’s presence to be made known. Throughout Advent may we be extra-sensitive and very intentional about the waiting that is a part of our preparations for the surprise party that we know is coming.

Karl Barth is one of the ‘big thinkers’ when it comes to thinking about God and he writes: “There is no good reason we should forbid ourselves, or be forbidden, openness to the possibility that in the reality of God in man and Jesus Christ there is contained much more than we might expect…that in the truth of this reality there might be contained the superabundant promise of the final deliverance of all.”

May God’s whispers of hope become an uproar that shouts over the noise of the world’s reality.

Join us for the uproar Sundays at 10AM.

Together We Serve,
Pastor Mike

p.s. Prineville Presbyterian is looking at how to help those laid off and we welcome your help to do this. Please call: 541-447-1017; or email: with ideas or energies to share.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It’s an odd sounding little line seemingly tacked on to the end of Exodus chapter 16: “An omer is a tenth of an ephah.” By itself it doesn’t do very much until we read the story leading up to this.

Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness. No longer are they slaves to the Egyptians and no longer are they forced to make bricks.

And no longer do they know what each new day brings them.

While they’re physically hungry; they’re also hungry for some sense of certainty. God knows this and tells Moses “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” Sure enough, the quail come in the evening and the bread is there when they wake up.

This bread is the manna, and they keep an omer of it (about a half-gallon) as a reminder of how God constantly cares for them. Old bread stuck away someplace might not seem like much until we remember this is the same “daily bread” we ask for in the Lord’s Prayer: “give us this day our daily bread.” This is the verse I often land on in my daily prayer: “God…I’m turning to You to get me through this day.”

In Crook County more than 36 hundred people – 1 out of 6 – struggle to make it through each day.

THANK YOU to all who supported this Friday’s Autumnfest and the follow-up Soroptomist bazaar on Saturday. A little bit here and little bit there all came together to raise $2,024 – all to help people get their “daily bread” in the form of food, or help with rent or power…and know a little bit more about our God who really and truly does care for them.

We hope to see you Sunday at 10AM – let’s share this “daily bread.

Together We Serve,                                                                                Pastor Mike

Thursday, October 2, 2014

27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
     We’ve been working our way through a 5 week long Season of Peace, being more intentional about looking at the need for peace in different areas of our lives as well as different ways to understand peace in a variety of circumstances outside our lives.
     This included the story of Jesus storming into the Temple and overturning the money changers tables. The money changers were running a scam that required people to buy sacrifices for Temple worship and it ripped them off in the process; the victims knew it but there wasn’t anything they could do about it. It was done with cooperation of the Temple leaders, and these leaders thought they held the monopoly on being holy. However the popularity of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ would suggest the masses did not agree .
     A Pew Research survey released last week reflects a similar sentiment, it says “nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life." That’s grown by about 5% over the past four years...”And most people who say religion's influence is waning see this as a bad thing."

     Certainly this is interesting by itself, but what really got my attention though came in the survey results that show “that most Americans do not agree that religion has a positive impact on society.” Much like during the time of Jesus, people are not at peace with holiness as they know it; the holiness they see does not reflect the goodness of God they desire.

     We’ve got work to do.

     As we step forward into this work, and as odd as it sounds, perhaps it’s best if our prayers seek the foolishness that St. Francis of Assisi sought rather than holiness:
“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.                                                                   May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.”
     Come be part of the foolishness. We meet at 10AM on Sundays.

Together We Serve,                                                                                                         Pastor Mike

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A few months ago I was working on my sermon while eating lunch at a local burger place when a person approached my booth and began talking with me. They had seen my Bible on the table and used that to start conversation. Upon learning I was a pastor their comments went “gloomy.” I was really saddened by their sour tone which centered on the church needing younger families (agreed), and today’s youth are worthless (whoa!!!). It was the 2nd comment that really got me. Sadly, I hear this refrain much more than I like.

With 13 years of youth work, seven youth mission trips to Mexico, and currently as the guardian parent of a 15 year old, I did my pastoral best to keep my tongue in check. Instead I countered by sharing some of my delight-filled youth stories. (Toward the end of his semi-rant I did want to ask this person: How do you think youth might view you?)
Presbyterians Today has a great article Faith Formation Starts During High School which includes the following:
“When asked what led the survey participants to develop relationships with particular adults, several characteristics emerged as important: The adults were kind, caring, friendly, and interested in conversation and dialogue. As youth, the survey participants appreciated when they could bring questions to the adults and when adults brought questions of their own. They desired to feel as though they were not being judged, and appreciated being treated as equals. Trust was important, in two senses: trusting the adult but also feeling that the adult had trust in them.”

The 3 biggest factors cited by youth for their “home-grown” faith formation: going to church with parents (92%), eating meals regularly as a family (87%), and praying/saying grace as a family (63%).

As this guest left, I had a couple of questions dancing around my mind: what kind of  family life and church life did they experience as a teen; and where they might see themself in relation to the above survey results...or the following from Luke:
Jesus called them [people with babies] back. "Let these children alone. Don't get between them and me. These children are the kingdom's pride and joy” (The Message Bible).

The article is an easy read and you can find it here:

Together We Serve,
Pastor Mike

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

“All goes well when God is so to speak both the author and the object of our faith, the one complementing and augmenting the other. It is like the right side of a beautiful tapestry being worked stitch by stitch on the reverse side. Neither the stitches nor the needle are visible, but, one by one, those stitches make a beautiful pattern that only becomes apparent when the work is completed and the right side exposed to the light of day; although while it is in progress there is no sign of its beauty and wonder...And yet it is with these stitches that God performs wonders.” ~ Jean-Pierre de Caussade

   Perhaps it’s a reflection of influence from our western culture, or maybe it’s simply a matter of my own particular personality, but it seems that we don’t often stop to look behind us; we (or again maybe just me) are overly forward focused on bigger things. What’s next? How much more? Is there a way to get more from this project? How can we take this task up a notch?
   These are worthwhile questions, yet, there is also a beauty in the minutiae but to see that splendor means that you got to stop. Walking into the sanctuary and being delightfully surprised by the beautiful quilt lovingly handcrafted by our Squares and Prayers quilting group brought me to this splendorous stop. It’s being raffled off to raise funds for one of our ministries. As I stopped, I went back to the office and counted – we’ve helped 32 families so far this year. And our monthly canned food collection has already provided 2085 servings which is about 600 meals.
   Yes, there is more to do...but I like to imagine that each of these meals, and each offering of aid, is one “stitch on the reverse side.” We’re a part of this bigger tapestry, working so that others will at least catch a glimpse of the beauty that God desires for all.  

Together We Serve,                                                                                                            Pastor Mike

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sense and Avoid

At What’s Brewing recently the guest speakers were talking about unmanned aircraft. These aircraft are a couple of feet in diameter with arms coming out from the center. At the end of each arm is a small motor and rotor blade. They look like a flying crab with a helicopter blade at the end of their arms.

Companies are trying to figure out how to use them for making deliveries. (I’ll admit, I think this would be an awesome way to bring communion to our church members who are homebound). The challenge for these aircraft lies with the engineering; how to keep them from crashing into other things. It’s creating a market for “sense and avoid” technology.

This “sense and avoid” lies behind Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...20 (Matthew 28:19).

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is also known as the Trinity; it’s a tough subject to tackle. Often the best way to understand something comes by taking it apart. Let’s begin by looking at what might happen if we baptized people only in the name of the Father. That denies the work of Jesus Christ reconciling us with God, and also the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit. God is powerful, but it also makes God detached. With too much distance between us and God, then God is reduced to an intellectual exercise or a contemplative pursuit.

If we baptized only in the name of Jesus, then that shortchanges God as Almighty, the maker heaven and earth; that part of God that is bigger than anything we can see or understand and is beyond our logic and reason. And again, it also denies the ongoing presence of God with us today in Holy Spirit.

What if we only said “I baptize you in the name of the Holy Spirit?” Well, we miss the awesomeness and creativity of God. We also miss God-in-human-flesh in the person of Jesus. We miss that part of God who rose from the dead to make us right with God in spite of our brokenness and sin – those times we did not “sense” God’s righteousness and we crashed into things that we didn’t “avoid.”

One out of three may be good for a baseball batting average, and two out of three good for voting, but when it comes to us as disciples imitating Jesus in order to shape the character of the world it requires the fullness of God we know through the Trinity.

Imagine Jesus standing before us, and preparing to send us out with these instructions: ”Go throughout Prineville and all of Crook County. One out of 6 families lives below poverty – make sure they have enough to eat. Guarantee your 27 hundred veterans are properly provided for. And you’ve got a lot of older folks living alone which makes them vulnerable...keep an close eye on them. Then in your spare time we still need a cure for cancer and there’s climate change and affordable housing and human trafficking and...”

It’s more than a monumental task, it is impossible for us to shape the character of this area and this world using only our own resources and abilities. The work of the church can come only from God’s outlandish investment of God in Jesus the Son and the willingness of the Son to be present always to the church in the Holy Spirit.

May we – as individuals, and as a church family, and as the Christian Church – “sense” the fullness of the Trinity so we “avoid” adding to the struggles we already face.
Together We Serve,
Pastor Mike