Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Walk Instead of a Sermon



The "video sermon" above is 10 minutes. That's closer to what some Cedar Hills Baptist folks would like to hear on Sunday morning. But since we didn't get to worship together today I went for a walk and recorded some thoughts about the birth of Jesus and what it's all about. Or a tiny bit of what it's about.
Also, the song at the end has great lyrics that you were going to see on the screen in worship today. Instead they're here below. It's a song by RelientK which they wrote about CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.
I hope we get to worship together for Christmas Eve (6 PM)!

"In Like A Lion (Always Winter)"

It's always nice to look out the window
And see those very first few flakes of snow
And later on we can go outside
And create the impression of an angel that just fell from the sky

When February rolls around I'll roll my eyes
Turn a cold shoulder to these even colder skies
And by the fire my heart it heaves a sigh
For the green grass waiting on the other side

It's always winter but never Christmas
It seems this curse just can't be lifted
Yet in the midst of all this ice and snow
Our hearts stay warm cause they are filled with hope

It'd be so nice to look out the window
And see the leaves on the trees begin to show
The birds would congregate and sing
A song of birth a song of newer things

The wind would calm and the sun would shine
I'd go outside and I'd squint my eyes
But for now I will simply just withdraw
Sit here and wish for this world to thaw

And everything it changed overnight
This dying world you brought it back to life
And deep inside I felt things
Shifting everything was melting
Away oh away
And you gave us the most beautiful of days

Cause when it's always winter but never Christmas
Sometimes it feels like you're not with us
But deep inside our hearts we know
That you are here and we will not lose hope

Friday, December 19, 2008

Joy, Joy, Joy


Christmas Sunday
I feel terribly torn. The kids have been off of school, the snow is falling, and I've got things to do. Not too deep inside this 48 year old corpus of mine is a child raging to get out and play in the snow, sled down the hill, and probably break something. I've indulged that child a couple of times this week, but alas, my kids are now too old to think it's much fun to play with dad. Then there's the problem of what to do about all the plans for church this weekend. I know we'll get the stuff together for the 15 families we're helping through Christmas Boxes of Love. But what about the worship service, the kid's Drama ... Christmas Sunday! Will there be ice, and will the abominable snow man show up and squelch our best plans? Time will tell.

I hope you've had a good week. I doubt it's been overly productive and perhaps that's good. This week, the coldest spell we've seen here in Beaverton in 30 years, is a good time to take care of what's needed, but then to just be a kid. That's my take on it. I hope we can gather for worship this Sunday. I hope you make time to help pack Boxes of Love on Saturday morning and deliver them Saturday or Sunday (we DO still need several people who want to deliver and this is the most fun you will have this week, I guarantee you). But even if the snow and ice descend, make sure to stop, look up into the sky with flakes falling, and thank God for this life, for his goodness, for sending Jesus into our world long, long ago.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Making a Way


Isaiah 40:1-11
It's supposed to be easy for me. I'm a pastor, after all. It's what we do, right - talk to people about God; help people to discover that God is real and present for them. And sometimes it is easier.
I remember a Christmas party many years ago, that we attended for Ana's work in San Francisco. One of Ana's co-workers came up to me and said, "You're in the ministry right?" "Yes," I replied. "Well, I have a lot of questions about Jeremiah. I've never read the bible before, but I started reading Jeremiah, and I don't get it. Explain it to me." And so, right there in the middle of Christmas cheer, we had an hour long discussion about Jeremiah - not one of the simplest books to begin with, but that's where she was. If it were a scene from a movie, this story would end with a group of people gathering around while I waxed eloquently with deep wisdom from the scriptures and charming humor. No movie ending here. She asked lots of questions, some of which stumped me, and anyone that happened to listen in for a few minutes would wander quietly off. But this woman was truly hungry for God.
It doesn't often happen like that, especially at events where people don't know what I do. Normally it goes something like this...
(New acquaintance): "What do you do for a living?"
(Me): "I'm the pastor of a church."
(NA): "Oh."
Sudden awkward silence as the new acquaintance works through confusion about what "pastor" means, fear of impending spiritual attack, and sudden self-consciousness of the drink they are holding.
Such interactions used to bother me. I felt like a spiritual leper. But now I see them as an enjoyable challenge. What can I do to break through the pastor's stereotype and strike up a conversation? What I've found is that most people will bring the talk back to something about God if they find that I'm not going to pounce on them. They really do want to know about godly things, they just don't want to be assaulted.
Perhaps you experience the same sort of thing when people find out you are a Christian, or that you go to church. This week's passage in Isaiah 40 was the one that Luke interpreted as talking about John the Baptist's work to prepare people for Jesus' arrival. John the B was sent to "prepare the way" for the Messiah. This Sunday we'll look at how these old words might apply to our relationships with others - how we can level things out for people to know God. We'll talk about what Isaiah says, what John the B did, and how that might look in our lives today.
- Curtis

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thanks With a Purpose


Ephesians 1:15-23
Unemployment up.
Banks going down.
Fear that this is only the beginning.
At first glance this seems like a time when people don't have as much to give thanks for. I think, though, the opposite is true. When we have less stuff, our thanksgiving comes from a deeper place. We remember that stuff is worthless compared to people. A deposit of self into a true friendship is infinitely safer than a checking account. Eternal deposits are never limited to money.
Maybe Jesus was onto something when he said, "Don't store up treasures on earth where the Dow can sink 46% in eleven months, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven..." (my paraphrase). And maybe Paul was also on target by beginning almost every letter he ever wrote with a prayer of thanks - often for people, even pain in the butt people, for whom God had given him responsibility. Imagine how our relationships would change if, each time we were about to complain about someone, we first gave thanks for that person.

Hmm, I might just try that.

Well, that's not really the exact direction the sermon is heading this week, but what else is new?
My beautiful oldest daughter is coming home from college tonight for the Thanksgiving break and I'm excited to see her and find out how she's changed since going away for school. Time to make an investment. - Curtis

Friday, November 14, 2008

Those Who Have Hope


Click the "play button" for Left Behind promo...

1 Thessalonians 4

A few years back (1995), the first book in the series, Left Behind, was published. They sold about a gazillion books. I don't remember how many there were (14?), but I read two or three to see what all of the stir was about. The books focused on "the rapture." All the Christians in the world were beamed up to heaven in a flash, leaving a bunch of poor saps wandering around on earth with the Antichrist. I enjoyed the first book as titillating, if not well-written, fiction. At the end of the 2nd one I started to feel sick. I fizzled out somewhere in the third book, I think. What bugged me was that the characters were all narcissists.

You really can't blame God for leaving them behind.

Beyond that, I began to realize that I was getting sucked into the shallow theology. "Could this stuff be right?? Hmmm." It is a theology that looks joyfully forward to the evil decay of our world. Even though the books are written as fiction, they invite the reader to start viewing the world from a fatalistic place - but with a great, gleeful, "I know a secret that you don't know" perspective. As if the best way to view our world is, "Wars? Global warming? Terrorism? Hunger & hate? GREAT! Bring it on! Then Jesus will come! Niener, Neiner!" It's all very exciting and sells books.

It also teaches people bad theology.

Think I'm exaggerating? Check out the video at the top of this post, from a recent promo site for the book - (or click here - there's a second "episode" too).
The authors are also writing a new slew of books as well. I think they could accurately be labeled, "fictoprohecy."

Is this the best we Christians can do with the world in it's current shape? More importantly, is that what our Bible teaches us? Hardly. What happened to "salt & light?" Yet this very letter we are studying this week, 1 Thessalonians (4:13-5:11), is one that rapturists point to and say, "Look here - see??!"

I think we miss the point of most passages that talk about Jesus' return (and where did we ever get the phrase "2nd Coming" - he already came back a few times after the resurrection - so we have to be looking at at least his 7th coming by now). Jesus and Paul both seem to focus on how to live now, not when Christ will return or how we should be freaking out with glee when things get bad. And the Bible speaks of Jesus' return, not mainly in terms of destruction, but as a grand re-creation and restoration. Yes, evil will be wiped out at last. Justice will be done. There will be a judgment. And all things will be made right. Finally. But when it comes and what it looks like -who knows?

The words of all the OT prophets, of Jesus, Paul and John all point in one direction: Turn to God now while there is time; live justly; be ready; forgive; remember God is in control; share the Gospel; love God and one another.
We are to be a people who live with hope in a physical resurrection. - Curtis

Friday, November 7, 2008

American Idols


What would it be like if we really handled things the way the Old Testament tells us to? Take idols for instance - anything that becomes a god for us instead of The God. We live in a pluralistic society where people worship all sorts of things and come from all kinds of faith traditions. Most of us have family members, perhaps under our own roof, who don't share our Christian faith. Should we follow the Old Testament law about how to deal with them? Deuteronomy 13:6-11 gives this guidance:

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

Ouch! Today that would mean 25 million teens and tweens who watch a tired American Idol would be stoned in ways they aren't already!
Most of us prefer, "Love your neighbor" and we hope people from other faiths do too.
The truth is, there's a lot of historical and cultural context that must be understood when reading passages like that. But perhaps the core truth we can still take away is that God takes our worship, love and service of him VERY seriously. Nothing else is to get in the way. And yet, all too often, everything else gets in the way. Idols abound, especially in the land of plenty. In times of economic trouble, one of the big blessings that might come is a return to God as God. Having the plenty stripped away, even in part, leads to a potential revelation of what idols we have been serving - and who God really is. - Curtis

Friday, October 31, 2008

Simple Greatness


Matthew 23

If anyone ever tells you that the Jesus of the Bible is too mamby-pamby for their liking, have them read Matthew 23. There Jesus lays into the Pharisees, a very pious and dedicated religious group, more than he ever nailed any other group. He calls them "white-washed tombs...hyprocrites (6 times)...blind guides...a brood of vipers." This isn't the same guy who's having PBJ's with little American kids on my children's bible, is it? It's revealing that Jesus saved his harshest words, not for those who were far from God, but those who seemed to be the closest - religious people.

What might that say to us? What do you suppose Jesus would say about the ways we seek to follow God? What sorts of holy habits do we have that would irk him? We'll discuss how Jesus' warnings to the Pharisees can help us to have a more genuine faith that impacts our community and world.
Remember to VOTE!
- Curtis

Friday, October 24, 2008

Deposits Insured


Psalm 90
You remember Chicken Little. Stupid chicken. She thought the sky was falling because an acorn fell on her head. She convinces every other critter she knows that the sky is falling and they all go to tell the King who, apparently, they think is too dumb to notice the imminent end of the world himself. Foxy Woxy (or Loxy, depending on the version of the story) comes along and nearly eats all of them (a metaphor for corporate takeover?). I sort of wish he had eaten CL. A tasty little fried chicken nugget. Is that wrong?

Well, anyway... it's more than an acorn that's been falling lately in the world economy. It has hit everyone and there is a sense that this might just be the beginning. A family member lost their home in California already. I have a friend who is on the verge of losing his formerly very successful business. He's laid off all of his employees, cut his own pay to bare-bones, and brought his daughter home from OSU to attend PSU and work to contribute to the family. In our neighborhood we've seen the calls for help with utility bills and rent go from one every couple of weeks to almost daily now.

Is the sky falling? Who knows. But a bit of perspective is in order. Most of us still have jobs, homes, cars, toasters and pop-tarts. Maybe even 401Ks and nest-eggs, though they've become significantly smaller. The truth is, we've lost some our abundance, while others are losing much more. [How rich are you? Find out here] We don't yet have a clear idea of how a global downturn will impact poor nations who rely on the American economic engine, money sent back to home countries, and richer governments who cease to provide aid and debt forgiveness.

So what's our response as Christians? Do we hunker down and protect? Do we look for ways to help? Do we temper our generosity with caution? I assume we help those who need help. Responsibly, of course. But what I've noticed just this month is that people who are hurting are not only looking for tangible help, they're looking for someone who will simply listen to them. I confess I don't always want to listen; I grow callous and suspicious; I wonder if I'm being manipulated; I ... have to stop and pray. Pray for wisdom, for the mind of Christ, and the compassion of Jesus. Then I can start to respond constructively.
How about it? What can we do for each other, for those who need our support and help? I don't think the sky is falling, but there aren't as many acorns on the tree as there used to be. That might be a good thing in the long run.
Check out this site - Mustard Seed Associates - for some creative ideas others have come up with.
- Curtis

Friday, October 17, 2008

Faith in Action Sunday!


What are you doing here?
Get on over to the Faith in Action blog (click here) for the news!
See you here next week - Curtis

Friday, October 10, 2008

Seeds



As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother's womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.

Sow your seed in the morning,
and at evening let not your hands be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that,
or whether both will do equally well.

- Ecclesiastes 11:5-7

I never knew my grandfather on my mom's side. He died of a massive stroke several years before I was born. But I secretly think there is a part of him that lives inside me. He was a farmer his whole life. When he married my grandmother, he drove her home in a horse-pulled buggy to a farm he purchased for them to tend. Over the years, through the Great Depression, he slowly added acres and acres of land to his farm. I believe he had over 1000 acres near Archie Missouri, just South of Kansas City. The farm stayed in the family until just a few years ago when my aunts were forced to sell it. But I have warm memories of Christmas at the farm. My mom's childhood was filled with summers working in the fields of corn and watermelons. "On a hot, still day, you could hear the corn crackle as it grew" she'll tell. "We would sneak into the watermelon field and break them open, just eating the sweet 'hearts' because there were so many growing."

When I was young and growing up in California, mom would plant the biggest garden most city-folk had ever seen - about 1/4 acre of flowers and strawberries, and another 1/4 acre of all sorts of vegetables (we lived in a very rural area south of San Francisco). I had to do my part to weed and water each day before I could do anything else. I hated it, but now I find myself wishing I could start such a mini-farm. Perhaps it is in our blood somehow. There's something inside me too, that wants to connect with my Grandfather; I sense I know something about him when I smell a tomato leaf or pick a squash I've grown. The smell of a tomato plant after it has been watered is the aroma of creation. How can it be? -- watch a plant pop up, soak up sun and water and nutrients and grow. We do so little, and God does so much with those tiny efforts. Wow.

Generous Houston gave me a couple of cucumber seedlings earlier this Summer. I built a garden box, about 8' X 6' and planted the cukes. One died quickly. The other didn't grow huge vines for some reason, but it started to crank out cucumbers anyway, and just recently quit. I think we enjoyed about 10 or more big, fresh cucumbers from this one, somewhat stunted, plant. Cucumbers or zucchini are spectacular because you can look at them in the morning and yet by evening they will have grown a couple of inches. Miraculous!
Root, leaf, vine, fruit - gifts . . . from tiny seeds.
"Praise God from whom all things flow."

It's no wonder Jesus used such inexplicable, miraculous kinds of events to describe his Kingdom. "The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed..." He told parables about seeds, cursed a fig tree that failed to produce fruit, and taught from God's word as he strolled through grain fields. There is a profound lesson that comes from seemingly dead seeds and the startling potential that lies within each one. Each seed seems to whisper, "Don't you understand? If God can do this with me, what could he do with a grand creation like you?"
- Curtis

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Lens Crafter


Luke 4:14-21
About 3 months ago, we were fortunate enough to be able buy a new Honda Civic. A 5-speed, which I really enjoy driving, much to my middle daughter Becca 's dismay (she just turned 16 and hasn't quite mastered a manual transmission). It's sort of a charcoal grey and is a lot of fun.
Almost immediately, however, I noticed that the number of charcoal grey Honda Civics just like mine exploded. Whereas before, I almost never saw these Civics, now they were in parking lots, on highways, even in my neighborhood. How could this be? I pondered: Am I a trendsetter who could change the buying habits of an entire metropolitan area almost overnight?
If my hunch was correct, people need to know.
So I called Honda headquarters telling them, "I, Curtis Buthe, am a one-man marketing machine. Because of my Civic purchase, there are now dozens, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of grey charcoal Honda Civics on the road." I could tell by the silence on the other end that the guy was intrigued. I suggested that perhaps they could test my marketing-engine horsepower by presenting me with a blue convertible Honda S2000 (MSRP $37,000), for advertising research purposes only, of course . At that point, we were somehow disconnected. I called back and got voice-mail.

Since then, a few people have told me about similar experiences. Not with Honda, but with the sense of suddenly noticing that everyone seems to have whatever new thing they acquire. One friend said that when they wore a Duck's hat, they suddenly noticed a lot of other Duck's hats. He went so far as to suggest that my perception is what changed, not the fact that more people actually have Honda Civics. In other words these friends don't actually believe that I am a trendsetter, but (get this) they simply think that I've started to notice more charcoal grey Honda Civics on the road because I purchased one. Ha!

Idiots.

If this lame idea were true - that what I see and notice around me changes depending on what I have or what I value - then that could have huge ramifications for how I see the world around me, and even impact how I live. Sort of like putting on a different pair of glasses with which to view the world. For instance, if I were to ask God to help me see the world through compassionate lenses, then I would notice ways to care for people.
If I ask God to help me see the world through a lens of those in poverty, I might use my resources differently.
If I ask God to help me see people as he sees them, then . . .
Hmm.
Naa . . . can't be.
I'm going for a drive.
- Curtis

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Passages

This week I don't have anything to write about the sermon because I'm on road to California. As many of you know our oldest daughter, Amanda, is starting college at Santa Clara University. Amanda and I are driving my quite-stuffed Civic, and Ana will fly down this evening after she gets off work. I'm grateful to Gavin Silaski for preaching this Sunday!
Well, I thought I'd write just a bit about this very odd experience of taking my first child off to college. It is proving to be much more difficult than I ever thought it would be. It's an exciting time for Amanda and for us as well. But she's really leaving and that's hitting home like an arrow in my heart. I'm not ready for this passage, but here it is.
The drive down was not what I expected. I anticipated some chit-chat but also a lot of just driving and listening to music. Earlier in the week I informed Amanda that the 11 hour drive would be my last chance to deliver an 11 hour sermon of fatherly wisdom to her. Instead, after we packed (and I mean packed) the car, we started talking about all sorts of things. About an hour into the drive, near Salem, she pulled out a book by Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What, and started to read. If you're not familiar with Miller, read something of his for find one of his podcasts on iTunes. He's a gifted rambling writer and speaker from Portland. His books aren't technically theology, but in fact, they are filled with profound theologicial insights as Miller writes about his life and relationship with God.
As Amanda read, she would laugh about something Miller said and then read that paragraph or so to me. We'd talk about it, and then she'd read some more silently. About a half an hour of such good exchanges passed, when she announced, "I'm just going to read it out loud." And so, for the next 4 hours or so, she read a chapter and then we'd talk about it together; and she'd read another. We talked about God and friends and faith and El Salvador and how she wants to go back to stay and work with Alex there for a summer.
As we passed over the Siskiyou summit into California, it became clearer than ever to me that my little girl was not a little girl at all anymore - that this drive is my last chance to ferry her somewhere as a child and the first time I accompany her as an adult. Her thoughts, her ideas, her dreams and her faith are now fully hers. It is a wonderful passage and a terribly painful one as well.

We stayed in a little town aptly named "Weed" last night and we'll finish the drive today, staying at my mom's in Mountain View tonight. Amanda moves into the dorm at 8:30 AM tomorrow and they have a program for the parents that continues through 1 PM Sunday. The conclusion is a Mass for departing parents that Ana has dubbed "The Crying Mass." Ana and I will visit her family near Sacramento Sunday afternoon and return home on Monday.
- Curtis

Friday, September 5, 2008

Life Together


It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian. If any member refuses to bear that burden, he denies the law of Christ. - said by the guy to the left, in his book, Life Together.

Back when I laid the initial pipes for this message I picked up a copy of Dietrich Bonhoefferr's book, Life Together. It seemed to me that Romans 12 is about how Christians are to live this new life in Christ, with each other. Paul's words aren't full of a lot of mystery, just clear instruction about how to treat each other now that our lives are "living sacrifices." The foundation of life together is put simply by Paul, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" - vs 2. The rest of the chapter suggests what this transformed life looks like - together.
So I've been reading Life Together for the first time since seminary days. It's like reading something from another planet. What Bonhoeffer talks about is so unfamiliar to me and American Christianity (for the most part) that I don't even know how to go about doing what he says. He says that a believer's focus should be so fully on Christ alone that nothing else really can move us or shake us up at all. He writes that most of our desires regarding what Church should be like are poisonous "wish-dreams" that destroy fellowship and the Church. He talks about reading the Bible together as a family every morning before the day gets moving. Lots of the Bible - chapters of it together. Then, sing a few hymns with your kids around the corn flakes. On pg 60 he rips into bad singing in church. I liked that part, though I'm not a good singer. He advocates lots of alone time for prayer, meditation, and being with God. And finally he talks about ministry, not in terms of "success" and "goals" being accomplished, but in terms of meekness, humility, "holding one's tongue" and being simply "helpful" to others.
What century did this guy live in?! Oh, wait, that's right - he lived during the first half of the last century; formed an underground seminary community where people actually lived out all of these Biblical ideals; was executed at 39 yrs of age because he had the courage to stand for his convictions.
So the sermon has, as usual, been difficult because the way I actually live, and the way I suspect most of us live, is so disparate from the way the bible intends us to live. I think the reason that Romans 12 doesn't shock me as much as Life Together is simply because I get used to reading what the bible has to say and I become numb to its teaching. The Spirit tries to blast through my spiritual deafness, but it doesn't always happen too well.
So in the message this week I'm going to invite people to think of Paul's words from a bit of a different angle - a cafe' parable, in a sense. But if you don't mind slightly slow reading, check out Bonhoeffer's stuff. We would do well to make our church, and The Church, a lot more like his Life Together. - Curtis

Friday, August 22, 2008

For Sunday, August 24 - Getting the Keys!


Matthew 16:13-30
Time to get back in the sermon saddle this week. It's been good to take a break while on vacation and I'm quite thankful that we have such good folks to preach while I'm away - like Everett Curry and Peter Clay. Several people have said how good their sermons were. Our first week of vacation was fun time with family - camping near Mt. Shasta at Lake Siskiyou. Warm water, swimming, basking in a windy sun, campfires and smores at night. The kids read a ton, I swam a fair amount, and it was generally a quiet time with Ana's family. The second week was sort of vacation, sort of work as I got ready for the El Salvador mission report in worship and the Community BBQ in 100+ degree weather. Now, back to reality...
This week we're taking a look at the back side of a familiar story. Jesus asks, "What are the people saying about me - who do they think I am?" And after a bit of chit-chat, Peter pipes in, "You're the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." Good answer! (applause). That's what we normally focus on when we look at this passage and, indeed, that's the focal point here. But on the backside of discussion, Jesus makes a statement that has three (insert sermon points here) key parts to it. He makes statements that have perplexed theologians and thinkers ever since:
1. "On this rock I will build my church"
2. "The gates of Hades will not overcome it"
3. "I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven"
My head's been swimming with all of the opinions I've read about each of these statements this week. The least controversial is #2, the most is #1. The most ignored is #3. Jesus only bothers to give an explanation to #3, but even those words are open to wide interpretation. If you'd like to chime in with your thoughts about these, go for it! I value your comments. Check out the question too - I may use replies in my sermon intro. I have a good memory from my youth I'll be sharing as the sermon intro.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Vacation Time!


Matthew 9
Crowds of Sinners, by Dr. Everett Curry

It has been quite a week around the Buthe home. A good one, overall, in fact.
Last Monday night, near midnight our church mission team from El Salvador returned home. They were tired and a few were a bit worse for wear, but it appears to have been a good trip. Some stomachs remain in recovery. Ana (my wife) and our three daughters were part of the twelve person team. For Amanda (our 18 yr old) it was her third trip. She says it was the best yet, and our other two daughters loved it equally well. It was our church's fifth trip since 2001, and the first time I have not gone. In total, 26 people from Cedar Hills have now traveled to our sister church, Shekina Baptist in Santa Ana, El Salvador.
Most of the next couple of days for my girls was spent recounting all of their adventures and sharing dozens of pictures and memories. They have informed me that, if I take a sabbatical, it had better include a significant amount of time for the whole family in El Salvador. They recommend a month. We'll see how that goes. The wonderful thing for me was simply witnessing their joy and a shift, at least for now, in how they see the world and what is most important. We'll be working on a report to the church of the trip from the entire group which will take place on Sunday, August 17th in worship. Stay tuned!
Along with the normal visits and Kids Summer Fun responsibilities of the week, I have a wedding this weekend. It has been a joy to work on in many ways. The groom has waited 10 years to marry his special bride - for she required that her children be grown and on their own before she would remarry. He waited. And so their wedding will be a sweet beginning to a new life together.
Just to make things more interesting for me, I had a dental appt today at 1 PM. A couple of months ago I found out that I had a deep cavity in an old wisdom tooth (a hole in my wisdom), and the dentist said it was so deep that it would likely either need a root canal, or that it might just be best to yank the sucker. Since it was an especially deep cavity that shouldn't wait too long, they scheduled me 2.5 months out - August 23. After bugging them, they moved it to today. Ana thought I was nuts for scheduling it the same day as the aforementioned wedding rehearsal, but I thought, "Hey, what's the worst that can happen? They pull it and I swell? I'm already got a big fat tumor on that side of my face - who's gonna notice a bit more puff?" However, I wasn't looking forward to 1 PM today. It did occur to me, though, that a richer prayer life is often a spiritual side effect of fear.
Anyway.. it is true that testy tooth is on the same side as my tumor and I've had some nasty complications with previous dental work on that side (let's just say that hearing your dental surgeon say "Uh-oh, we have a problem!" when he pulls a tooth can be a bit disconcerting). But God is good. After numbing me up and drilling away, my good dentist, Mimi, said, "I think we'll be able to simply do a filling and hope that the tooth can be saved." Amen, I said. And so, 45 minutes later, I was out of there and my anxiety was significantly lowered.
I'm back to wedding message writing and getting things tidied up before vacation. We're heading down near Lake Shasta to meet up with Ana's brother and his family for about a week of camping, swimming, and hopefully a river-raft trip with our clan. It should be interesting and, I hope, fun. I always feel like God is a bit more visible in the midst of mountains and lakes.
I'm deeply grateful for people like Everett Curry and Peter Clay who will be preaching while I'm away. They always offer fresh perspectives on life and God's Word. We are fortunate to have their leadership.
Grace,
Curtis

Friday, July 18, 2008

For Sunday, July 20 - Moving to Higher Ground


Genesis 28:10-22

The team of 12 CHBCers going to El Salvador leaves on Sunday morning about 10:30. They'll get into Santa Ana, after the flight and drive, by about 11 that night. It will be a long day of travel. By the time they get back, it will all have seemed like a dream. You've had trips like that, haven't you? You go through a grand adventure, and the next thing you know, it's over and feels like it never happened - or was just a dream.
I had a dream this week just before we came back from our trip to California for college orientation. In my dream, I came back to work and instantly had a memorial service to perform (it wasn't anyone in the church, in case you're worried it was you). I got to the memorial service and I wasn't dressed for it, I didn't have anything prepared to say, and I just couldn't understand how I had to do this so soon after vacation. Such are the warped nightmares of pastors. I woke up about 5 AM in the middle of the dream and then every time I went back to sleep it started again - this went on for about 2 hours until I got up. Thankfully, no one has died this week. Yet.
Jacob is one strange guy in the scriptures. He's sort of a creep for much of his life. Manipulative and selfish; always working on an angle to get what he wants. And yet God chooses him to be one of the key fathers of the People of Israel. Go figure. Or maybe that's the point. God chooses who he wants to choose and he can change any garden-variety creep he wants. In the Genesis 28 story, Jacob has this amazing dream (how does he manage to sleep with a rock as a pillow?) - and the focal point of the dream is a ladder that connects heaven and earth. Apparently these were the angels who didn't yet have their wings so they needed a ladder to go up and down. Or maybe it's a spiritual point God is making to Jacob! Perhaps the point is that... oh wait! I don't want to give that away. Come to worship for my 2-cent's worth.
Your ideas? - Curtis

Saturday, July 5, 2008

For Sunday July 6, 2008


Romans 8:1-11
So Paul, at the end of Romans 7, has just finished his "I don't do what I want to do, but the evil I don't want to do - this is what I do. What a creep I am!" speech. And he says that the only way he (we) is (are) saved from such wretchedness is because of Jesus and what he has done for us on the cross. But how? That's what this week's passage from Romans 8 is about.
The "how" is to live in the Spirit of God. It's all about making the best choice, Paul tells us.
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (vs 5)
The problem for many of us, is that we still choose to go back to our old life (the flesh) and live in it. What an absurd picture, really: Living in freedom from the old dead life we had, we instead choose to crawl back into a dead body, a carcass, and muck around in it, doing things that slowly drain the Spirit out of us and kill our spirit as well. Why do we do such foolish things? Maybe it is just that we would rather stick with the "known," as bad as it is, than the wonderful "unknown" of the Spirit life. We see real life-images of that all the time. The criminal who offends so he can go back to the knowns of prison rather than live in the unknowns of freedom. The addict who goes back to the horrible known of drugs rather than live in the terrifying but wonderful unknown of sobriety and responsibility. The woman who lives in the miserable known of an abusive relationship rather than leave into an unknown future. Those choices look so clear to those on the outside, and we say, "Are you nuts? Leave! Get a new life!" But in some way, we are no different when we go back to the things we did before we knew Christ.
Paul encourages us to get out of that dead carcass once and for all, and leave it behind. Then live in the unpredictable, confusing, frightening yet wonderful life of the Spirit.

Friday, June 20, 2008

For Sunday June 22 - Take Two Tablets and Call Me



Exodus 24
I don't think that we, as modern-day Christians, have a very good idea of the immense glory, holiness, or power of God. Our idea of God is been domesticated to fit what we are comfortable with. After all, God exists to make our lives better, right?
That isn't the view we get standing at the edge of Exodus 24. No, the view here is wonderful and terrible. A child in the The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe asks eloquent Beaver a question about Aslan the Lion (the Christ figure in the book),
Child: "Aslan is safe isn't he?"
Beaver replies, "Safe? Oh no, he's not safe at all. But he is Good."
We love the goodness of God, but we sometimes love the idea of Him being safe more.
Exodus 24 - really all of Exodus - sets us straight. God is wonderfully good, forgiving, long suffering, and loving. But he is terribly Other. He's not like us. His holiness means that he's separate, different than anything we can imagine or wrap our minds around. He gives his Law because he loves his people so much. But soon after he's ready (Exodus 32) to wipe out the whole race and start over with little Moses clones. He wants all people to know him, but "no one may see (God) and live" (Ex 33:20). Even those, here in chapter 24, who "see God" seem only to see a bit of him. They describe only the foot of his throne. But this is enough of God to fill them with wonder and awe. He wraps himself in a thick fog and fire; the mountain shakes violently - and that's before he even utters a word. No, this God who speaks from burning bushes and donkeys, who writes on walls and tablets and on human hearts - he's nothing like us. Yet he makes us in his image. We know ourselves only when we know him who is unknowable. Oh my.
When was the last time you trembled at the glory of God? Really trembled with fear and dread and worship and wonder. - Curtis

Friday, June 6, 2008

For Sunday June 8 - It's a Long Race


Genesis 12:1-9
I think I mis-named the sermon, but it's already printed in the bulletin, so "oh well." It isn't the first time I've thought about what to name the thing and then, later, I think, "What was I thinking? That's not what it's about at all." Anyway...
Fourteen years ago, when Ana was just a couple of months away from releasing Malia from her womb, I thought it would be fun to take a little trip. So we borrowed a friend's mini-van, tossed in almost 4-yr old Amanda, 18 month old Becca, and invited the rest of Ana's family to come along on an adventure. And surprisingly, they signed on. Ana's sister, hubby, and their 2 small children; Ana's brother and his new wife. The Adventure: A driving trip from Fresno California to British Columbia - just over 1000 miles each way with 2 small children, a 7.5 month pregnant wife, and just enough money to stay in every Motel 6 we could find along the way. (They may leave the light on for ya, but they need to wash their sheets better and maybe think about some new mattresses too...) This is the kind of husband and father I was. Along the way, Ana discovered just how car sick a pregnant woman could become in the winding hills of Southern Oregon, how bad sciatica could hurt, and, I suspect at that moment, how much she wished she had married a rich man who could fly her to the French Riviera. It was a good time.
I relate this story because it reminds me of Abram (later he was Abraham) and the push God gave him in this week's passage out of his homeland and into - the unknown future. For my family, it was on that 2000 mile driving trip that we truly felt God telling us it was time to pack up, leave Fresno, and to come to Oregon. You see, on that very trip we stopped off and met the good folks of Cedar Hills Baptist Church for the first time. Just a few days before leaving on our trip, we got a call from the "search committee" from CHBC. I did a phone interview and told them we were heading out on this trek North. They said, "come on by when you're here" and so we did. It was, oddly enough, a bit cool and rainy and we fell in love with the people and the place. A few weeks later we were back for a weekend, and the rest, as they say, is history. Fourteen years of melding our lives with people here; of kids growing up and heading off to college soon; of mission trips and prisons, VBS's and weddings, funerals and baptisms. Life together. Who would have known? It was very hard to leave who and what we knew. Family, friends, that life. The only thing that mad it easier was sensing clearly that God was directing us.

Surely Abraham didn't know the big story, even though God told him more than he tells most of us. It really isn't a race at all, as my mislabeled title implies. It's about God's Story working it's way out in lives as he melds those lives together into his Big Story. And every good and lousy thing that happens in our little stories fits somehow into a wonderful, Grand Tale told by the Author.
Thoughts? - Curtis

Friday, May 30, 2008

For Sunday June 1 - What Doesn't Shift


Psalm 46

(Video was made this for Kids Klub kids this week - birds & nest are in our back yard!).
As the goofy insurance ad says, "Life comes at you fast." Take this cool thing for instance...
Last Saturday, less than a single week ago, Ana ran across a little bird nest in our back yard (that's it above). It was on the ground in an area where she was weeding. In the tiny nest, she discovered four little hatchings which looked as if they had just come out of their shells.
I decided to chronicle the progress of the birds, figuring that it would be a couple of weeks before they left the nest and struck out on their own. Wrong! This morning I looked outside and found them not only out of their nest hopping around, but trying to leave the area completely. By this afternoon, they were hopping through the fence into the yard next door; mom and dad right with them, teaching them how to peck for worms and food.
The irony was not lost on me that God put this evolving story in our yard just as Amanda is hopping out of our nest and preparing to fly. She turns 18 in two weeks and had her last day of school yesterday. By Fall she'll fly off to Santa Clara University.
Changes like these are good. But what about the tough ones? How do we handle life then? That's what this week's Psalm is about - life when the earth quakes and the seas are foaming; when nations are in uproar. How do we rely upon God as our refuge then? Here's a hint I found in the Psalm: "Selah" - it's a Hebrew word scholars have had a tough time with for literally thousands of years. They think it may be a musical term, but it seems to come from a root Hebrew word "calah" that means weight or measure. So it might means something else. We will explore that on Sunday in worship. - Curtis

Friday, May 23, 2008

For Sunday May 25 - Dying for Citizenship


Matthew 6:19-34
Philippians 3:17-21

For several weeks, since Easter in fact, we've been looking at what it means to live on the "other side of resurrection." After all, life is supposed to be different, fuller, more zesty if we are resurrection people - right? So we've been exploring why that isn't always the case and what needs to change or mature in us so that the life Jesus modeled is more of a reality than a pipe dream.
I've normally heard this week's passage preached or studied as a way to get people to give more, and not waste on selfishness. That's probably part of it, but it falls short of the more substantial point Jesus was making: Use your resources for things that last; eternal things. In the long run, we'll be happy we did and we will enjoy them so much more. Still, we lack a lot of creativity when it comes to living out this principle of citizenship in the Kingdom. We keep thinking in terms of giving our money. But "storing up treasure in heaven" means a lot more than that. What are come creative ways we can do this "storing" of our treasure? What might that look like? And how does the Church play into it? Is there something to be learned from the way the Israelites brought their offerings into the temple and then had feasts and celebrations, and shared the abundance with the rich and the poor alike? Ideas? - Curtis

Friday, May 16, 2008

For Sunday May 18 - This is Easy?


1 Peter 4:12-19
The picture here is of a bombed church in Iraq. Would you go to worship the next Sunday if this happened to our church?
One of my biggest, and I mean BIGGEST pet peeves in modern Christianity is the way the faith is portrayed as a remedy for life's tough stuff. That is to say, Christianity is peddled as solution to all of life's problems, and that God will replace your troubles with comfort and ease if you do things right. Smiling preachers all over media spout that dribble. Suffering is a result, according to some teachers, of "some hidden sin" in a person's heart. While that may, in fact, be the cause of some kinds of suffering - Peter even says we need to make sure that that's NOT why we are suffering - the Christian is told to embrace suffering as a path to deep faith in God.
There is an essential difference, at the same time, between the normal suffering that comes with life - ie sickness, accidents, death and grieving, etc. - and the suffering that comes our way as a result of being a follower of Christ. In the West we don't often deal with the latter brand of suffering very much. But Christians all over the world know such suffering well. The Church in China (check out this BBC article from 2004) and Iraq, for instance, know what it is to suffer. Instead of seeing ourselves (the Church in the West) as specially blessed because we do not suffer, could it be that we are somehow poor because we don't know the riches that result from such suffering? Could it be that sacrifice is part of what opens the door to being a suffering people - and we're not so good at genuine sacrifice? What would happen if we began to really sacrifice? Is that a frightening prospect for you? What would that kind of sacrifice look like in real life? - Curtis

Friday, May 9, 2008

For Sunday May 11 - Pentecost


The Kingdom Comes
John 20:19-23
Acts 2:1-13

The picture here (not a fake) doesn't have much to do with the topic today (unless you look in Acts 2 where it talks about people thinking the Spirit-pumped followers of Jesus were drunk), but I just thought it was weirdly funny. It's from Texas where there are, apparently, drive-thru adult beverage spots. No it isn't legal to drink and drive, but it's fine to get an alcoholic drink, tuck it away, and drive. No sipping of course. Seems like a bad idea to me - but that's Texas for you (my home state).
So....one of the biggest promises of the Old Testament is that the Spirit of God will be poured out on all who know God. Just a few of the passages that talk about this promise ...

Isaiah 19:13-15
Isaiah 32:14-16
Isaiah 44:2-4
Ezekiel 39:28-29
Joel 2:27-29
Zechariah 12:9-11


The Spirit is something -rather someone - who we may not miss in our lives that much if we've never known him. Before I became a Christian during college, I didn't really think that anything was missing. I know Billy Graham and others say that unbelievers have a "God-shaped hole in their hearts" - but I didn't feel it. Until I became a Christian, that is. Then I noticed that something seemed different. I sensed God alive in me in new ways. And when I strayed away from God (frequently in those years), I had a lonliness that didn't exist before. At least that was my experience (which may not be the norm).
In scripture the Spirit seems to be given to Adam and Eve as a part of God creating them. God breathes his wind/life/breath/Spirit into them and they become alive. There's no specific verse that says that God took the Spirit away after they "fell away." But God does tell them that they will "die" if they sin. This death may be not only physical but also a separation from the Spirit of God - a kind of Spiritual death that eventually leads to physical death as well. The rest of the Old Testament narrative implies that humankind is no longer privileged to have the Spirit dwell in them. However the notable exceptions include prophets and a few others like David. David experiences the separation from God's Spirit when he has his fling with Bathsheba and knocks off her hubby. When confronted with his sin he prays (Psalm 51) "take not your Holy Spirit from me."
Perhaps there is a very big tie between the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost and the coming of God's Kingdom that we've been studying in worship recently. You can't have one without the other, in fact. The Kingdom comes as the Spirit comes. We'll go into this interesting link in worship - or at least ask some big questions.
Check out the question above to the right. - Curtis

Saturday, May 3, 2008

For Sunday May 4 - A New Mind for a New Kingdom

Ephesians 4:17-24
"How do I really move forward?" That's one of the big questions most of us wrestle with at various times in our lives. We want to get out of certain ruts, habits, addictions, but we fall back in. We try and try, but end up in those ruts all over again. "At least they only affect me" we say to ourselves. Or we hope they only impact us personally. Well, yes, there might be those in our families who have to deal with our crud. But that's it. Right? Oops. No, that isn't all. The whole point of Paul's "out with the old, in with the new" section of the letter to the believers in Ephesus is this: Believers are the Body of Christ, and are tied together as a Body. There is a unity; there must be a unity. And if one little cell in that Body is sick or messed up, then there's trouble in the Body. And we don't want to be the Corpse of Jesus, but the living Body of Jesus in the world. After all, there's a Kingdom to build and a corpse can't do that very well.
So in Ephesians 4, Paul tries to tackle this idea of how we move forward, getting away from that stuff in our old lives that pulls us back, holds us down, ties us up.
In writing to Gentiles who had come to a knowledge of Christ's new Kingdom and the Truth of God, Paul tries to direct them along a path away from the old worthless crud of their previous life, and onto a new path within the Kingdom. That wasn't easy, considering all the baggage they brought along from GentileVille. But if they want to live, if they want to be a part of a new Kingdom, if the world is really going to know about God's power at all, they have to get a new mind and move on a different path with Christ. Now the challenge is ours. - Curtis

Friday, April 4, 2008

For Sunday April 6 - Lessons from Failure


John 21:15-25
I don't think there is anything more disabling than failure. Grief is completely disabling, but there is usually a sense that, in time, the feelings will pass and life will get back to normal. Failure, though, can be even harder to "get over" or, more appropriately, heal from than death. Failure haunts us and makes us disconnect from others because it is such a lonely thing to fail.
Who hasn't had a failure? Every life is marked by a few of these nasty experiences and yet when it happens to us, or when we are the cause, it can scar us for a lifetime.
Peter had to feel like one huge loser. A true failure. He had been given a chance to be the "Rock" on which Jesus would build his Church; he was entrusted with huge secrets; he was blessed with a close friendship with Messiah. But he blew it. He disavowed Jesus. He denied knowing him three times and turned away. Judas killed himself when confronted with his shame. We could see Peter doing the same thing.
This week's passage is really about a new creation: The re-creation of Peter. If the message of a new Kingdom is going to have any teeth, it must bring newness to those who have failed; those who have been detroyed. And so it does. The lessons Jesus teaches Peter, and all those watching or reading the story ever since, have a lot to tell us about newness in Christ and how to come back from life's biggest failures.

Friday, March 28, 2008

For Sunday March 30 - What Now? Living on the Other Side of Resurrection


John 21:1-14
There are puzzling questions that go with this passage. Why don't the disciples recognize Jesus right away? It seems they are just hanging out, not knowing what is next - why?
In Shane Claiborne's book, The Irresistible Revolution, he makes the point that becoming a Christian, to him, seemed to be a matter of a list of don'ts. And that after he made changes in his life, he wondered of that was all there was. "Don't do this, don't do that." But what was he supposed to do? That's a familiar concept, isn't it? We cram this new life in Christ into a tight little package, don't we? We quantify, qualify it, define it in ways that are manageable to us. But in the process, it may easily cease to resemble Jesus' life at all. Which is where I think this passage comes in. One part of what happens here, I think, is some shock treatment for the disciples. They are at risk of falling back into a comfy pattern of life - because they (like Claiborne) don't know what else this new life is supposed to look like. So Jesus rattles their plans, shows them the emptiness of going back to the old life (no fish), and then reminds them how overwhelming and powerful life with him is.
The hard thing is that it seems almost impossible for us to live this new life. We fall into patterns that look like the old ones over and over. But there's so much more to find. How can we live in the new, full net way of living all the time? Thoughts? - Curtis

Friday, March 21, 2008

For Easter Sunday - A New Era


Matthew 28:1-10
Why? Why does it happen like it does? Wouldn't it have been great if Jesus' resurrection had been a bigger deal to the public? Some sort of publicity or announcement would have been nice, for heavens sake. Like when Obama came to town this week, they let everyone know. Thousands showed up and cheered. Those who didn't like the message could have showed up to protest (maybe they did, but it wasn't covered).
But it didn't happen for the biggest even since creation. How come?
Palm Sunday's entry in Jerusalem was a big public event. But not the resurrection.
The trial of Jesus was a public event witnessed by many. But not the resurrection.
The death of Jesus on the cross was a very public event. But not the resurrection.
Why? Wouldn't the Father want as many people as possible to see it, experience it, believe it?
Yes the Bible says that hundreds later saw Jesus after he rose in subsequent weeks. Yet it didn't happen at first. What's the deal? That's what we'll explore in the brief message this week, along with why it matters. Thoughts? - Curtis

Friday, March 14, 2008

For Palm Sunday (March 16) - A Kingdom Parade


Matthew 21:1-11
This week we come to one of those passages that's hard to get a fresh grasp on because we are so used to it, if we've been in the Church for a long time. Palm fronds, kids processing in the santuary, cries of "Hosanna" which sound fun, but we're not sure just what these cries mean (save!). Jesus accepts the people's praises and apparent proclamation of being a King, but he knows full well that in just a few days his time on earth will come to a violent end.
Just what's going on?
As we've been learning for the past few weeks, there is a Kingdom thing happening. All through the Gospels Jesus talks more about the Kingdom of God than just about anything else. Most of his parables are about the Kingdom, Jesus' final week might just be the clearest evidence we have that he was ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth. Back at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus said,
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matthew 11:12)
What if Jesus was really talking about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth - now? What if his final week was the end of an old earth and the beginning of something new happening - even if we've been incredibly slow to figure it out? If there's truth in this perspective, then what might Palm Sunday and the way Jesus arrived in Jerusalem mean? What's different about this understanding? What might it mean for how we are to live our lives? Share some thoughts here! - Curtis

Friday, March 7, 2008

For Sunday, March 9 - A Vision of Re-Creation



Romans 8:6-11 (Ezekiel 37:1-14 too)
One of the themes God seems to be hammering away at for me is this concept of recreation. Not as in gas guzzling "recreational vehicle," but as in RE-Creation. Something being re created. (Which by the way, is the idea behind the concept of recreation...times of recreation are supposed to re-create us). The idea that's been bouncing around in my cranium is that God is constantly performing a do-over of creation. If it is true that humanity, and indeed the entire cosmos, went terrible wrong just after being created (initially perfect and good) - as the result of humankind's rebellion from God, then the work of God involves re-creating everything as it was meant to be. That's what Romans 8 says,
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
The Bible stories are, among other things, about returning creation to the way the world was meant to be before the Fall. Freedom, forgiveness, redemption, grace - all of these are about God creating all over again. Resurrection is re-creation.
So when God, in Ezekiel 37, gives this tremendous vision of the Valley of Dry Bones growing new tendons and new flesh and rising up as a vast army, it isn't just about those bones becoming the living dead. It's about re-creation of Israel, and of humanity.
The question then becomes, how is God creating all over again today? What is he re-creating? How are you and I involved? We're very in tune to the "groaning" of the fallen creation, but how in tune are we to the birth of new things? To our part in this birth through the power of Jesus' resurrection? Check out this week's question to the right, above, and chime in with your thoughts!
- Curtis

Friday, February 29, 2008

2nd Post from the Pastors Convention



Picture here is Shane Claiborne, talking about his new book, "Jesus for President."

Big Ideas

You've probably heard me mention NT Wright in some of my sermons over the last year. He's an Anglican Bishop and a prominent English theologian who has stirred no small amount of controversy because of some of his ideas and interpretations. He's been the speaker here for the last 2 sessions, mixed in with lots of music, comedy and other fun stuff. When he gets up to preach or, more accurately, lecture, he's like a fire hyrdant being opened up full throttle. He doesn't do much pleasantry stuff, but just lets loose. Last night, when the hydrant of his teaching opened, he flooded the room. I've never seen anyone preach like him. It isn't his style that's amazing, it's the speed, the force, the ideas, the sheer volume (amount, not loudness), of it. He explodes all over with thoughts and images that are new and amazing. Although there are things I don't completely agree with or maybe understand, he's very powerful and thought-provoking. Not in a charismatic way, but a very spiritual, intellectual, blow-you-into-new-territory kind of way. For any of you who are interested, I recorded his talks and you're free to listen to them when I return. I can burn them on a cd for you.
The first night I arrived in San Diego, I spotted NT Wright on Nightline (I think- or another late night thing, but I'm fairly certain it was Nightline). They have a “Faith” segment they've been doing, and maybe you saw him too. He talked about one of his “radical” ideas that says Christians have the whole idea of the afterlife wrong. Of course they tried to make him seem more edgy than he really is by highlighting Wright's belief that when we die we don't live forever in heaven. Instead he looks at passages like Revelation 21 that talk about the “New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” - and he says that's an image of heaven on earth; eternity on a newly created earth. That may seem like splitting apocalyptic hairs, but the thing that's radical about it is his view that eternity may be very different than what we've been taught in our culture/church. Instead of being a forever in heaven experience, singing God's praises for all time, NT interprets scripture to mean that eternity is about God's Kingdom coming to earth – the New Jerusalem coming out of heaven, and that perhaps it begins now as we work and live out Kingdom values. He very much believes in eternity, resurrection, resurrection bodies and eternal life, and heaven being a real place. What's different is “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven” points us to the possibility that God is starting this whole revolution of new creation now, not after some destruction of all creation and God starting over. And you and I, our church and our individual lives, are meant by God to be little glimpses of God's re-creation of all thing beginning now, not later after we die. As little chunks of a new creation, we are put together by God to be building blocks in a whole new created world. It is quite scriptural, but not exactly the way the bible has been interpreted for a long time. Christians are windows for others into God's new recreation, at our best. Our problem is that, as windows, we're quite foggy. All of this has things to say about our priorities, our resources, our vision for who we are and what we are to do - now.
Anyway, I probably risk making him sound like something he's not – but I believe he's right on target. I'd enjoy the chance to share more with you when I return.
Otherwise, I haven't been out much! Just going to seminars and buying my year's supply of books and supplies for church – everything is half price here.
In the next few days I'll be doing some planning for future worship and sermons; visiting my brother in LA; checking out Loyola University, (where Amanda has been accepted, but isn't yet sure she wants to attend) and if I get up the chutzpah, I may venture out to the surf for the closest I'll ever get to walking on water.
I'll keep you posted on my adventures if I can locate continual internet access. Grace to you this week as you seek to be little windows of God's new creation.
If you want to see or hear more about the convention I've attended, check out: http://zondervan.typepad.com/zondervan/ - this is their blog. Let me know if you spot me in any of the pictures...
- Curtis

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

From San Diego - February 27th


1176 Miles From Home
No, it's not a sermon I'm writing about this week, but my adventure to San Diego for the Pastors Convention. I left town Sunday afternoon and zig-zagged my way to San Diego in my blue rental Chevy Cobalt by Tuesday for the conference. I know that being able to attend is an extravagance. Our church is able to pay a chunk and Ana graciously says "you need it, go for it" - so we pay the rest and here I am. I'm sharing some of what goes on here so that you'll have some idea of what's going on for me this week.
The things they have here for the 2000+ pastors from across the country are really quite amazing. I'm referring to the speakers and ideas and resources available - 60 seminars with more than 50 different speakers. Right now I'm typing away in a room they have set aside with internet access - a big comfy room with overstuffed chairs, and a young woman playing guitar and singing for us. She's a PK, probably in her mid 20's who's voice sounds like a cool stream. I suspect she'll be better known one day - Hannah Ford. Sort of reminds me of our own gifted Britt Petrovich, who I can see doing something like this too one day.
Last night the main speaker was a Rwandan Bishop who spoke about reconciliation and his experiences growing up as a child exiled to Uganda and then coming back to his home country. He spoke of seeing murderers who hacked up children during the civil war - who were then forgiven by the victims' families. "Who but Jesus could cause people to forgive such terrible things?" he said.
This morning Chuck Colson, (Watergate convict, Prison Fellowship founder) spoke. He shared the desperate need to teach people the core truths of our faith, not just so we know head knowledge, but so that we'll have a pool of understanding with which to act upon and change the world.
A bit later I spent two hours in a seminar called "Two Way Mission Trips." It was put on by Christianity Today and used all of us attenders as sounding boards and resources for an upcoming training series for short-term missions. There were just a few of us in the seminar, but it was good. It was encouraging for me to learn that our partnership with Shekina/Shalom is very unique and that we're doing a lot of things "right." It occurred to me that, with the large group going in July to El Salvador, we are approaching almost 40-50% of our church having made the trip - and being changed in deep ways by the relationships and experiences. I was also reminded once again that the trips we do are not especially about what great things we can go go do for "those people" far away. It is even more about our desperate need to receive the gifts of their faith and the way they teach us about relationships and the Body of Christ in the world. Hopefully, along the way, we'll be able to give them some gifts as well - but they may not be the ones that we think they are.
The last seminar I attended was a 90 minute talk by Shane Claiborne. He's a rather radical guy that might remind some people of a left-over or resurrected Jesus freak from the 60's. But he's much more than that. He's challenging and faith-shaking in very good ways; he lives in a "Christian Community" with 7 other people in inner-city Philly. They do strange good work with the homeless and speak up loudly on matters of justice. His new book is called Jesus For President. Afterward, I got to chat with him for a few minutes. In one of his other books, Irresistible Revolution, I read that he knew our Salvadoran friends, Ruth and Alex, so I talked with him about them. I also mentioned how I sent Stephen a copy of Irresistible Revolution, and that he loved the book -- that it helped ignite a new understanding of his faith that he could really dig into. Shane offered to write Stephen in prison, which I think Stephen will really enjoy.
So it's been a full couple of days already. I've run into a couple of people from Oregon, including one surprisingly unfriendly pastor from Hillsboro! He was quite un-interested in talking to me when I sat next to him, and then he hogged the leg and elbow room to boot. Oh well, maybe he had a bad day.
Well, time to wrap this up since I need to grab some dinner. Kids Klub back home is sitting down to eat right now too. The singer, Hannah, just finished up and so I went up to get her CD. Maybe she won't be so famous - I was the first cd she sold all day! Turns out her dad (flashing pictures and clapping loudest), is an American Baptist pastor as well - and we share some friends in N. California. More to come tomorrow...
- Curtis

Friday, February 22, 2008

For Sunday, February 24 - Parched



Exodus 17:1-7

The pic here is from an Irish church, 10th Century - Moses is the dude on the left striking the rock (well, the whole thing looks like a rock to me)- and then the Israelites are lined up in two rows with ancient Tupperware to hold the water.
This Exodus passage is a good one - where the people once again get testy with God (who doesn’t?). They complain about God not being with them, not providing for their needs (water). God instructs Moses to strike the rock and it will gush forth. I’m not totally sure where I’ll go with this yet, but it will have to do with times when our faith runs dry and how God responds.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

For Sunday, February 10 - Down But Not Forgotten


Genesis 3 (Romans 5 to a lesser extent)
So I'm super late with this week's blog. I've been reading tons of commentaries and books about the passages this week and I finally had to stop to actually write the blog and, more importantly, the sermon. I think it would be interesting to actually get people to post some comments here in response to the message tomorrow. I wonder if anyone will. What seems true is that almost everyone has some very strong ideas about what we've come to call the "Fall of Man" (forgive the paternalistic language). Most of what we think the bible says, though, is from people's interpretation of the Genesis 3 passage - not necessarily from what it does explicitly say. So here are some of my rambling thoughts below. I may mention some of this in the sermon, but I'll largely be going in a slightly different direction. Please post your thoughts and ideas too...

This serpent is strange. He's crafty, he talks. But the woman doesn't seem to think this odd. We don't know so many things here. How long Adam and Eve have been around? What do they do in the garden? Are there other talking creatures in this garden, and why does this serpent talk? We have a very small picture with which to make a big story.
What we do know is that people are intricately linked with the creation around them. Adam is made from the dirt, and his work (pre-fall) is to tend the dirt and farm it for food. Eve is made from Adam and so she's from the same “stuff” as Adam. There are some odd things that we may have been mis-taught in the past. Here are some realities from the passage as I see them:
* Adam is “master” (NLT) or "ruler" (NIV) of Eve as a result of the fall (3:16)– it wasn't evidently meant to be this way, which puts a real dent in paternalistic views of man's relationship to women. There's a better way than “lording” it over women.
* The serpent is not identified with Satan here at all. He may be Satan, but it isn't spelled out here (look to Revelation for that).
* Work, ie labor, is not part of the curse. The hardship of work is the result of God cursing the ground. Again we're more tied to the earth than we still seem to understand today (3:17-19). God says that man will scratch out a living from the ground til the day he dies, then he will return to the dust. We come from dirt, we tend the dirt, we go back to dirt. What does this tell us about how we should care for the earth? It is home.
* Eve doesn't even have a name until this whole episode is over. Why? No wonder she talked to the serpent, he was paying more attention to her than Adam, who hadn't even said "Hey baby, what's your name?"
* Here's one that I never saw before: People don't live forever (pre-Fall) and only die as a result of the sin and the curse. I always thought humans were made to live eternally except for the problem of sin. Which, in a way, is still true, but not in the way I thought. Instead, while humans are in the Garden, they have the freedom to eat of the Tree of Life. This tree, or the fruit, seems to give them eternal life. When they are booted out of the garden, they lose access to the Tree. And so they die. God doesn't want messed up, fallen, unregenerate people to go on living forever. That would let evil expand terribly. He slows down or puts a limit on the growth of evil by letting people die eventually. It doesn't seem to slow evil down much, though.
Enough for now. By the way, for a good laugh do a google search for "Adam and Eve" images. There's some pretty funny stuff out there, and bizarre stuff too.
- Curtis

Friday, February 1, 2008

For Sunday, February 3 - The Ways of the Kingdom


Matthew 5; Isaiah 53
On the surface, these two passages don't have a lot to do with each other. But I consider it a spiritual gift to be able to bend and twist disparate passages and ideas into something that will preach as one - or maybye it's heresy, who knows?
Matthew 5, what we normally call "The Sermon on the Mount" is Jesus' inaugural speech about the Kingdom of God/Heaven that he brings. Most believers, even non-Christians, stand in awe of Jesus' words here. Though he re-states many of the ideas of the prophets and sages of Jewish Old Testament history, he does so with perfect clarity, simplicity and beauty. One can't help but read through the Sermon and simply think, "Yes, if only the world and people were like this..."
Which is exactly the problem. It isn't and we aren't. Instead we find that, at our best, we consider Jesus' words impossible ideals. But we don't really think there's any way things can be as he describes.
Here's a thought: What if he really meant what he said? On both the individual level (inner me stuff), and on the social level of how we treat each other - and (gasp) - how tribes and nations treat each other? What would it mean to turn the other cheek and bless those who persecute us? How do we possibly do that? If we get ticked off when someone cuts us off in traffic, who we don't even know, then how do we ever forgive someone who has injured our soul? And yet here we are with these words about a very different kingdom.
That's where I think Isaiah 53, the passage of the Suffering Servant comes in. I don't know how far I'll get towards tying all of this together in the sermon - maybe it will be more than one. We'll see...
Your thoughts?
- Curtis

Thursday, January 17, 2008

For Sunday, January 20 - No Such Thing As Pointless


Isaiah 49:1-16
The second of the "Servant Songs" in Isaiah that points to both Israel and the Messiah as the representative of the remnant of faithful Israel.
What strikes me is that, in both Jesus' thinking and Paul's, we are called to be servants of God. We take that call rather lightly, assuming it means simply to do some few acts of obedience to God, instead of seeing it for what it really is: a total, radical, overwhelming, mess-up-your-life call to completely serve God. We settle for servanthood-lite, which is not much at all, I fear. If the Servant of Isaiah is, in some way, a model for what being a servant looks like, then we should be shocked. He fails, he is discouraged, he wonders if anything that he does has any value at all. Yet he sticks with it, confident that God has a reason for it. So, are we really doing anything close to serving God like the Servant does? What would that look like today? - Curtis

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

For Sunday, January 13 - Beyond Limitations


Isaiah 42:1-9
This is the 2nd of the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah. It speaks of God’s mission for his servant and his people. As we study God’s purpose for the Servant, we’ll try to see how the Servant relates to us and what the mission has to do with us. How does understanding Jesus’ purpose and mission change us?
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The past couple of weeks, thanks to some time off and wonderful people like Peter Clay and Gavin Silaski preaching, I've had the chance to do more reading than usual and actually think of things besides, "What am I going to say in the sermon this week?"
Turns out that life/God has been pelting me from various directions with messages about direction and purpose and what God really wants me to be doing. Which is sort of where this passage seems to be pointing as well - for the Servant, who Christians believe to be Jesus. We tend to think that Jesus was born with a God-brain and perfectly clear sense of who he was, what he was supposed to do in life. But I doubt that was the case. Part of being human is growing, maturing, finding what it is we are supposed to be and do. So if Jesus was fully human (as well as fully God), he probably had to develop a sense of his mission and purpose too. The servant songs of Isaiah may have been a big part of finding his identity. How do we find our purpose?
I've been reading books (slowly, yes) that are disturbing like NT Wright's Evil and the Justice of God, and The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne. And I've recently listened to an interview with Jean Vanier, a philosopher and Catholic social innovator who created a model of community, L'Arche - a community for people with special needs due to developmental disabilities.
I think my mind is about to explode, but this is all a part of the "message pelting" that God is doing. It relates to Isaiah 42 for me because God is repeating a life-long message for each of us that our lives are meant to be about more than just getting through another day or even finding "what makes us happy." There is purpose and meaningful work that he has for each person. Finding and doing that means that we have to go beyond the limitations we put on ourselves - or that our faith can put on us. And normally that simply means we have to get out of our ruts and do some things differently each and every day.
Yes I'm rambling. That's what a blog is. Your thoughts, your ideas? Is anyone out there?
- Curt