Thursday, December 24, 2009

Out of the Box

Christmas Eve.  Here it is.
The week has been full for mostly good, significant reasons.  There are a couple of things I wish I'd done differently.  For example, yesterday I took a van load of food to Trihaven house.  It was surplus stuff from our Christmas Box program earlier in the week.  Trihaven is the residential facility for adults with mental and/or substance abuse troubles.  They invited us to their Christmas party, so that was an opportunity to take the food too.  What I wished I'd done differently was to get the word out more effectively so that I wasn't the only one who got to go.  I mentioned it to a few people ahead of time, but that really wasn't enough.  So I was alone due to my own lack of inviting.

I have to admit I really wasn't looking forward to it.  "One more thing to do in an already overloaded week."  That's what I kept thinking.  Then too, packing up all the food took more time than I planned.  By the time I got to Trihaven I was Scrooging (I hereby dub "Scrooging" a genuine verb - ie I Scrooge, you Scrooged, we Scrooge . . . I've been Scrooged).  But of course God had other plans.  I walked in and some of the residents recognized me, but others hadn't seen me before.  "Hi!  Who are you?  Why are you here!?" one young woman shouted across the room from her recliner.
"I'm Curt..." 
"Oh hi Curt!  I just wondered who you were.  Merry Christmas!"
And so it went.  My Scrooginess didn't last long.  The residents opened gifts donated by various organizations or purchased by staff, and they showed an appreciation that was profound and heartwarming.  "Wow!  Another gift for me?  This is perfect!"
When the gifts were all opened, we unpacked the van of food and I had a chance to talk with the facilities manager, Jim, the Trihaven Director, Carol, and Denise who counsels residents with substance abuse and anger issues.  Carol is a recent immigrant from Cameroon in Africa. She's a strong, faith-filled woman who oozes tough love towards the residents.  She's a powerful person; just what Trihaven needs.  Jim, who oversees several Sequoia (the mother ship organization) facilities, is one of the most compassionate, good people I've met.  He knows all the residents by name and interacts with them as a friend and mentor.  I doubt that's in his job description.  He walked around with cookie crumbs on his jacket and took pictures of everyone while brandishing a huge grin.  "Get over in front of the tree.  Big smile!  Got it!"

We talked for about an hour about the need for mentors, about Christmas, and about alienation from God and Church.  I was so glad I went.  It made me thik about my Christmas Eve meditation (and you might here a bit of this stuff again if you come to the Christmas Eve service).  We have a tendency to put Christ into our own box, and forget that he won't be kept there.   One of my boxes was my own agenda for the day, but Jesus would not be confined to where I thought he should be.  He has a knack of showing up in any way he chooses.  So why do we try to keep him in the box at all?  I pray you have a wonderful Christmas and perhaps I'll see you tonight as we do our best not to box him in.
- Curtis

Friday, December 18, 2009

Preparing for a Good Story

One of the truly great things about being a pastor is that no two days are alike.  It's really a dream job for someone with ADHD - which I don't think I have.  But who knows?  This week has been full of getting things done for the Christmas Boxes of Love (food from Barnes Elementary above) program and the final preparations for Christmas Sunday & Christmas Eve.  And then there's a wedding to work on and a sermon for Sunday... all quite joyous stuff (as I remind myself when I'm grumbling about having too many things to do).

It occurred to me this week that most of life is preparing for something which, when it arrives, is frequently not as wonderful as the actual preparation.  I'm not talking about let-downs or things that don't go as well as planned.  No, even the best of events are often not as meaningful as the preparation that lead up to them.  Our celebrations of Christmas are like that.  Christmas day is wonderful, but it's all the preparations that make it worthwhile --- the worship times, the decorating, cookie making, family coming together, presents, charitable projects, etc.  It all builds up like a huge life-crescendo ... and then it's over.  Christmas afternoon comes, we're stuffed again and passed out on the living room floor with a football game on (or is that just me??)

All of the running and work and preparations are exhausting, but they make the Christmas season meaningful.  There's always a story to tell.  The elements that make for a good story are the same things that create a good life (for a good book on this idea, try Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years).  The good deeds, busy times and people we connect with - these are what make this season a good story for us.  In fact, the more we sit around and try to make little cacoons of solitude or entertainment for ourselves, the more our story turns dull and unsatisfying.  I think that's why a lot of people suffer from depression - their stories become too small.

As soon as the angel told Mary about the story she would begin to live, she knew it was going to be good.  Her words in Luke 1:46-55 reveal that she had some small glimpse of what both her story and Jesus' story were all about.  What's powerful is that she seemed to realize (at a very young age), that she was a part of something so much bigger than herself.  Her glimpse of a bigger story tells us a lot about our story as well.  That's what we'll explore on Sunday.
- Curtis

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Friday Night, December 11th
(Nope, the video above isn't mine, but it was similar to what I describe below)
I'm at PDX - the airport - writing tonight while I wait for Amanda to come home from college for Christmas break.  I ended up being here a bit early, so I'm waiting for Amanda where people walk by security after they get off their planes.  It's kind of cool to watch people as they arrive.  Most arrivals around Christmas are very joyful.

  • A young soldier just walked through security, met by a  happy young wife and two excited children who look too young to really understand what's happening.  All they know is that they get to cling to a dad who's been gone for too long.  
  • A woman just arrived and was met by her pregnant sister.  They hug and the happy future aunt bends over to kiss her sister's protruding tummy.  They smile and laugh.  Towering over them, in the background, is the soon-to-be dad.  He gazes at his growing family with great content.  
  • Then there's the grandfather who has been trying to corral his three small grandkids for about 45 minutes.  It isn't working and his patience is just about gone.  These little monsters have been running around the rows of chairs.  They're all ready for momma to get back from a five day trip to somewhere.  When she arrives, they sprint to her shouting, "Mamma!  You're home! You're back!"  Grandad gets the last hug, but no one is happier to see mamma home than he.

I've noticed that romantic welcome-home hugs are long and close; often silent - as if it's finally time for a melding of flesh and hearts.  Friend hugs are shorter and people often sway from side to side while talking.  Women hold the hugee's face in their hands and step back to take a look at that face.  Men may give each other a hug, but men's hugs include hearty slaps on the back.

Joy seems to be the one constant in each of these reunions.

Zephaniah. When's the last time you thought to yourself, "Hey, I think I'll brush up on the old book by Zeph today!"  Can you even think of the last time you read anything from this "minor prophet?" Twelve prophets in the Old Testament are called "minor prophets" not because they are less important but because they are simply shorter books.  So why don't we read old Zeph more often?  Well, it might be because he delivered mostly bad news.  And although we seem to love bad news at 6 & 11 PM, we don't like it in the bible.  We want "gospel" (good news).

Tucked into the last chapter of all the bad news Zephaniah delivers is, at last, some good news.  More than that, it's Joy.  Promises that the story won't have a terrible, downer ending.  But that God will do what God always does - turn the saddest, most disappointing story into a very joy filled reunion with his people.  Joy is what we'll consider in the message this 3rd Sunday of Advent.
- Curtis

Friday, November 27, 2009

Generous Living - But maybe not ...

It happens from time to time.  I get started with the study of a passage for the upcoming sermon and then I realize, "What I thought this passage was all about isn't what this passage is all about."  That's happened this week.  The passage is from Mark 12 where Jesus spies a widow dropping her two small coins into the temple treasury.  An act of sacrifice and generosity, no doubt.  It was a significant offering, not due to the amount, but due to the extreme sacrifice.  That's the direction I've always taken with this story (retold almost identically in Luke 21).  Here's what one commentary says about it:
The Christian lesson of the widow's mites, as relayed in Luke (21:1-4) and Mark (12:41-44), is an enduring testament to the value of faith. A destitute widow has only a few mites to her name, and those she gave selflessly as her donation to the Temple. (Mites were ancient pennies, fairly worthless at the time). Jesus comments that her modest gift was worth more than the ostentatious contributions of the wealthy, for her mites represented all that she had. This virtuous woman had demonstrated true faith in God -- she could not know from where her next meal would come, but she believed that He would provide for her.
 But there's a glaring absence of comment in the actual story.  At no point does Jesus commend the widow.  Jesus actually says she "put in all she had to live on."  Was that a good thing?  The context of the passage, in respect to the events before and after it, is important too - and very revealing.  Another thing: What exactly was the "temple treasury" - where was the widow's money going?  These are things I started to wrestle with this week.  Have we been reading this story incorrectly all along?  And if this other direction for the sermon is right, what does it say to us today?  That's always the big question.  The answer might be disturbing for me as a "church leader" (I hate it when that happens).

The sermon title is printed, ready to go in the bulletin.  But if I could still reprint it, I'd title it differently.  Without spilling all the sermon beans already, I'd love to hear what you think the title should be.  Share your ideas!  And I hope your Thanksgiving was good.
- Curtis

Friday, November 20, 2009

This Will Not Change

 It's not just California... it's the whole world!
- John Cusack's character in 2012, the movie 

No, I haven't seen the movie yet.  Short on story, long on special effects I suspect.   But Hollywood knows we love a good end-of-the-world thriller every few years.  It taps into our social anxiety that things are just getting worse and worse. What's next - how about The END?!  I had a wonderful lunch with someone today  and we were talking about the state of things in the world.  They asked the Big Question: "Where's all this going to end up?"  Nobody really knows in the short term, of course.  My prediction: Things could get a lot worse.  Or they might get a lot better.  I'm pretty sure I'm right.

This week I'm preaching on Revelation 1.  Is this the start of a 26 week sermon series on Revelation, complete with charts and timelines and clear explanations of the "mark of the beast" and identities of four horsemen?  Hardly.  When I first became a Christian roughly 30 years ago, I dove deep into that stuff.  Hal Lindsay's The Late Great Planet Earth scared the crud out of me - and I loved it.  Maybe it was the mental rush of thinking I knew some kind of secret about God's timing or plans for the world.  Who wouldn't like to have a world-changing secret stashed away?  Automatically you're brilliant and everyone else is just a poor, ignorant fool.  There's an appeal to that.

In his book (published in 1979), Lindsay wrote that about 70% of the prophecies in the bible had already taken place, and that most of the rest seemed to be on the verge of fulfillment.  He then writes:

What generation [would experience the end times predicted in] Matthew 24:34? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs -- chief among them the rebirth of Israel.  A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. (Late, Great pg. 54)

Lindsay was careful to never predict the "day or the hour" but he seemed to support the idea that it would take place in the next decade or so (the 80's or 90's).  And there were many so-called scholars who believed that 1988 would be the most likely year for the rapture and Christ's return.

1988 came and went, and it hasn't happened yet.  Which isn't to say that the hope of Christ's return is untrue.  It is, in fact, at the very core of our hope in a resurrected Jesus.  The Bible is clear that things won't be made completely right - they can't - until Christ returns and transforms everything.  Paul puts it this way,

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Romans 8:20-22 (NLT)

But does that mean we should get giddy when things get bad?  "Finally!  Wars! Pestilence! Hunger! Cataclysm - YES!  Jesus must be about to come back!"    No, that's not the attitude that would serve God or our world well.  Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, lovers of enemies, blessers of the poor - in other words do the work of recreation in the power of the Spirit until he returns and finishes the job.  But I've gotten way ahead of myself.  

The message this week won't go that for, most likely.  Instead we'll focus on  John, who sat rotting on the island of Patmos - and penned the book of Revelation.  He has a bead on how we can not only make it through, but perhaps even thrive as God's people in these "in-between times" - no matter how hard they get or what happens along the way. 
- Curtis

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dangerous Community

Acts 4:32-5:11
This week I'm preaching on one of the weirdest passages in the New Testament - the story of amazing love and community! And the story of Ananias and Sapphira (yup, 2 P's). The first story is the happy one to talk about. People caring for and loving each other sacrificially. It says, "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had." Things are going well; love is all around - that's how chapter 4 ends.

Chapter 5: Ananias & Sapphira drop dead after lying about an offering they made to the church. They sell some property and give a chunk of the proceeds to the church to help others. But they lie and tell Peter that they've given the entire amount of the sale, not just part of it. That lie seems to be their downfall. They could have given whatever they desired, or nothing at all. But to lie and say it was the full amount when it was not - that was trouble. More trouble than we might expect too - DEATH!? What happened to grace, mercy, forgiveness? This is confusing stuff. It sort of makes you stop and think about writing that tithe check, doesn't it? (see ending of the video below) What's giving all about? Apparently more than we think.

In the sermon, we'll look at what this odd incident has to do with community and why following Jesus can be so very dangerous. Then we'll share some turkey and fun after worship at the Thanksgiving Dinner!
Let's hope we don't lose our appetite.

- Curtis

Disclaimer: I wouldn't share this in worship, but it drives a certain point of view home - check out this video:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Are You in a Funk? Maybe It's Cultural . . . and Curable

Deuteronomy 6:1-8; Mark 12:28-34

Message: Uncommon Community

I was reading about a study done at Northwestern University that provides some fascinating findings about individualism, community and mood - especially depression. You can find the actual study HERE but, trust me, it can be depressing just to sort through the pyscho-lingo in these things. (I think that one day they'll do another study revealing that those who do these studies are more likely to be depressed). This wasn't a People magazine pop-poll sort of thing; it was a real, scientific, brain-mapping, chemical, genetic, confusing study.

They looked at genetic markers for depression. It turns out that some people have a specific "short allele - a depression gene," that predisposes them to depression. So one part of the study looked for any sort of correlation between cultures/races that have a bunch of these pesky short alleles. Here's what they found:

  • Some cultures have a significantly greater genetic predisposition to depression (the short allele)
  • Some cultures have much higher rates of depression

The study also looked at where cultures are on the spectrum of individualism vs collectivism. In other words, are collective cultures (those that are structured more towards the community than the individual) or individualistic cultures more prone to depression?

Then they smashed all the data into a fat computer and hit the "go" button. Here are the surprising results:
  • The culture with the genetic marker for depression has significantly lower rates of depression.
  • The culture that, genetically, should suffer lower rates of depression - is the the one full of depressed people.
Huh? What's going on? It turns out that the cultures with lower rates of depression are the ones that live in greater community. People's lives are tied together more; they inherently value collective harmony, expression and support each other much more. Perhaps community is an adaptive way of dealing with a genetic predisposition towards depression. In fact, something about these cultures - maybe the community they enjoy - heals or prevents depression to some extent. Amazingly, 80% of people from these collective-valuing cultures have the short allele that makes them more likely to suffer depression. Eighty percent!! But they aren't as depressed as the long-allele-ers.

The part you've probably guessed by now is that we in the western cultures - especially the United States - are the ones who suffer the greatest rates of depression, despite the fact that we don't have the big genetic predisposition to depression. Amazing. On the other hand, Asian cultures (and probably other collective cultures) have a high genetic predisposition towards depression, but suffer it far less than we do in the west.

The study raises many questions about cause and effect and what (countless) other factors might be involved. But one clear possibility is that we would all do well to live in greater community.

Hey, wait a minute - doesn't the bible say something like that too? What do you know.

- Curtis

Friday, October 30, 2009

Got Poop?

Lessons Learned in a Recession # 2: Power & Light

We've all heard the phrase, "Hindsight is always 20/20," meaning that once we live through an experience, it makes more sense or we realize how we could have done things differently. From a faith perspective, the phrase also includes an understanding of how God accomplishes his will and purposes through events that take place. That's one of the great things about the bible stories. We get to see how things end up. It's like we travel through time and see how the pieces fit together, even though things might have seemed pretty lousy for those living through it.

The thing that amazes me about my own limited perspective is that, even though I know God always has purpose for the poop that life brings, I still tend to wallow around in that poop wondering if there really is a purpose and wondering what it could be. It doesn't matter that I've done this poop wallowing hundreds of times before and that, almost every time, I could eventually see how things worked out for the best. Or, at the least, I later came to a point of trusting that God was doing something I couldn't see or sense at the time; that he was at work in hidden ways. I know these truths quite well, but when I'm in the poop, I still wonder and wallow.

This week we study two people who handled life's lousy events far better. Bartimaeus was a blind man who cried out to Jesus even when others told him to shut up. What made him so strong and persistent? And then there was Elisha who was surrounded by enemy soldiers ready to kill him. But he was sure of victory, though he had only one frightened servant with him. He was confident something else was going on. No wallowing with these guys. That means, of course, there are some beautiful things we can learn from them.

Got poop? Bring it on Sunday and we'll all see what God does with it.

- Curtis

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Too Close to Home

Mark 10:17-31

This week we start a new series of messages called, Lessons Learned in a Recession. Part of the plan was for me to intro each message with a short interview of someone who lived through the Great Depression and therefore has a wider view on what's happening in our world now. It seems to me we could use some of that perspective and their wisdom these days.

What I didn't count on was that these wonderful, humble old saints don't really want to be interviewed on video. Each one I've asked so far (maybe it's me!) has said, "Oh, I can tell you some things, but don't turn a camera on!" I need one of those 60 Minutes cameras hidden in a brief case button, but I don't carry a briefcase. I might try just audio interviews, but it's a little more fun to watch people. Anyway, all that is to say that I'll be starting the series off sans video interviews!

I started thinking about this series because everything I've been reading and hearing about the economy says that this "recession" may really be the start of a very long-term shift. We've all been looking at this economic situation as if it were a dislocated shoulder that economists can knock back into place with a few twists and pushes here and there. Painful, but things will be okay once it pops back. Now we're all waking up to the fact that it isn't going to be that way. Things have changed. There's a new normal ahead and it may not look like what we've been used to. We're nowhere near what it was like during the Great Depression, but we also don't know what's ahead.

When we start to realize that things have changed, it might feel discouraging. Dreams of security, college, travel, homes, retirement . . . are wavering and may vanish for many. But there are a lot of very good things that come out of such a shift away from our past experience of super-abundance. For instance we start to realize our interdependence and our dependence on God (hopefully). Along with new perspectives, we'll be studying some bible passages and stories that give us insight about better ways to live; what we can learn; what's important now. I hope you'll do more than just listen to these messages. Part of the lesson we're already learning is lean times mean we need each other more than ever. So share your thoughts and wisdom! And watch out, I may have a video camera rolling.
- Curtis

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Doing Something Right

(Take the "evil" poll at the bottom of this post!)
Each week Garrison Keillor begins his weekly radio address with the words, "Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon Minnesota, my home town out there on the edge of the prairie..."
If this were an audio podcast I might start it with similar words, but instead of "quiet" I'd have to switch the "e" and the "t" - saying instead, "It's been quite a week in Cedar Hills..."
Most of you have heard that the church building was slammed into by a 20 yr. old young man who had been drinking heavily. His car was totaled, but fortunately he was not seriously hurt and no one was in the building at the time. It happened 11:15 Sunday night. The building has stood up well. There's a good sized hole that impacts 4 different rooms and some minor structural damage that we're having both contractors and structural engineers deal with. There are ongoing messes to clean up. But it could have been much worse - for us and especially for the young man who made some serious mistakes. I'm heading out today to get a copy of the police report and see if I can can contact him or perhaps visit him. Without exception, the people in our church family have expressed concern for him and hope we can make a positive, course-altering impact upon his life. So pray for openings into his life.

I can't help but wonder how that event might be related to something much more wonderful we were a part of the day before, Saturday October 10th. On Saturday about 12-14 people from Cedar Hills joined with hundreds of other volunteers from 20 Beaverton Churches to form Compassion Beaverton - a free clinic for uninsured people who needed medical or dental care. It was an amazing day! I've posted a video here on Youtube (above) of my perspective as I traveled around the clinic as a "flow" person - helping people fill out the right intake forms and then move along through the different steps in the process. Though there were hundreds of people who didn't get everything they needed, and many who were not able to be helped at all - still, there was a tremendous atmosphere of gratitude, grace and mercy that filled the air. God as tangibly present in the people serving and in those being served. It was a privilege to be a part of the day.

Now I'm not one to find Satan under every rock and behind every tree. But I do know that evil is personal; Satan is real. At times we credit him with too much power and, in the process, give him more power over us. Jesus acknowledged him, but never once feared him. More importantly, he overcame Satan and defeated his kingdom. And if Christ lives in us through the Spirit, there's no reason we should see evil differently. So when this young man took a terribly wrong turn in his life and smashed into our church, I don't know whether it is his own personal demons that were at work, or a sign that we're doing something right as a church family and Satan isn't pleased. Maybe it's both. Really, I don't know that it matters. It just means we have to stick with God, stay on the course he sets for us, extend forgiveness and Jesus' redemption to the young man, and pray that evil is bound and powerless. Then we get to see the old story retold in our lives: Evil defeated; God's glory shining brightly. That's what I'm counting on.
Friends, when life gets really difficult, don't jump to the conclusion that God isn't on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.
So if you find life difficult because you're doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he's doing, and he'll keep on doing it.
1 Peter 4:12-13; 19 (The Message translation)
Finally, I'm EXTREMELY happy to have Gavin Silaski preaching this week! What perfect timing with everything else that is going on! Gavin will be preaching from Jeremiah 9:23-24 (linked at right). His message is called, "Voiceless."
- Curtis

Thursday, October 8, 2009

When God Lets Us Down

So I started this blog earlier in the week with a childhood story of dashed expectations. But it turned out so well, if I do say so myself, that I decided to use it as my opener for the message on Sunday. If you want to hear it, you'll just have to attend worship. Or listen once it gets uploaded to the podcast page. But I highly recommend worship for all other benefits that come from being together in God's presence. Of course, if you get your expectations up too high for a clever sermon-opener, those expectations might be dashed as well - leaving you with double-dashed-expectations. What could be better? So get your hopes up and I'll let you down, leaving you with the very point I'm attempting to get across.

Luke 7 contains lots more miracles by Jesus. And then something strange happens: John the Baptist sends two of his followers to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" We don't know what exactly led John to ask this question, but it's quite possible that he was dealing with dashed expectations. He was, perhaps, thinking that Jesus would be someone different or that he would do things that he wasn't doing. In the message we will explore what these expectations might have been. We'll also look at our own expectations for God and what happens when God disappoints us in some way.
- Curtis

Friday, October 2, 2009

Upside Down Living

No, the video doesn't have anything to do with the message this week. If you can make a tie-in, let me know. It's just pure, mindless fun - my dog rounding up his squeaky toy sheep. He's an Australian Shepherd, after all. Herd he must.

I don't have lots to tell you about the message this week (skip to the last paragraph if you want...). Hopefully that will change by Sunday, but there's lots of work to be done on it before then if that's to happen. Instead I'll fill you in on yesterday. Some plans for a Season of Service meeting fell through due to a slight dental emergency in our family. Becca had a filling (her first cavity ever) about three weeks ago. Although the dentist said it was a "small" filling, somehow a nerve in the tooth was nicked, it seems. She started having pain a couple of days after the filling and it didn't go away. We thought it was just normal kind of stuff, but when it intensified this week I called back in to get an appointment. That call, in itself, was an experience. I called the "emergency appointment" line and talked to a young woman who asked me a series of questions about Becca's pain, when it started, what it was like, etc. When I was done she put me on hold for awhile, then came back and said,
"Okay, we can get you in on the 12th of October."

"The 12th?" I said. "Hmm. That's a long way off. What if she can't wait that long?"

"Then you call back in and make an emergency appointment."

"I thought that this was the emergency appointment line."

"Based on your answers to the questions I asked, I scheduled the appointment."

"But I asked for an emergency appointment."

"Sir, I'm just following the protocol."

She started getting a bit snippy at this point, and I guess did too. Come to think of it, I probably got snippy first. She was, after all, doing her job. My job was to get my kid in to see someone who could help her.

"Well, I think my daughter probably has an abcess tooth developing and she can't wait until the 12th. Can we get in as soon as possible?"

"Let me check. Please hold."

After a few minutes, during which I contemplated how I would rant and rave until they squeezed us in, she came back.

"How's tomorrow at 9:45 AM?"

"That would be great. Thank you."

And so, to make this long story shorter, we got in. Indeed it turned out that Becca had an abscess. So the poor kid started her root canal yesterday. And just to make it even lousier, it was her 17th birthday. Poor kid. She's feeling better today.

Oh yeah, the sermon for Sunday - it's about living in an upside down world. We're looking at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6. We normally read this message as if it really isn't doable at all. Pie in the sky wishful thinking that will only apply in heaven. But we forget that the problems Jesus mentions here aren't going to be part of the reality in the new heaven and new earth that God restores. So it is about living these ways now. Which, of course, we don't do so well. What would it look like and be like to live as Jesus describes in this passage? That's where we're going in the message this week.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Snowflakes & People

Luke 5:1-31

Categories. We love categories. We put everything into them, perhaps because categorizing things gives us some sense of control over life. We categorize experiences, restaurants, cars, books, chairs and chewing gum among millions of other things.

Most of all, though, we categorize people. People fall into categories like friend, enemy, loud, shy, ugly, sexy, smelly, nice, gay, straight, smart, stupid, compassionate, rude, happy, cranky, successful, loser, cool, geek, Christian, lost, this race or that . . . the categories are endless. I'm not sure if our categories are all about trying to control people, or if we're just trying to figure them out. Placing people in a category gives us a sense of, "Well now, I've got that one figured out." And so it's easier to stop worrying about who they really are very much because we already have them placed neatly tucked away into our mental file cabinet. We can almost hear God saying to us, "My oh my. What ever will I do with you?"

When we look at Luke chapter 5 we find Jesus meeting several people for the very first time. Some will become his apostles, some he will heal, others will reject him. Each encounter is surprisingly unique. What does this tell us about God and ourselves? About our relationship with him? That's what we'll explore in this week's message. - Curtis

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sneak Previews

Luke 4:31-34

Up! Along with being a great movie, the previews for Up define what a good sneak preview is all about.

When I go to a movie, I like the sneak previews - the coming attractions - almost better than the feature film. Why? Because the previews almost always look good. They whet the viewer's appetite, even if the real film later turns out to be a letdown (which, of course, is common). Previews are exciting and fun.

I wonder if Luke thought of chapter 4 of his gospel as a sneak preview? It has so many of the major themes that come out in the rest of the story. Consider all he packs into one chapter:

  • The big temptation by Satan
  • Jesus' "this is what I'm all about" sermon in the Nazareth synagogue - and the rejection that comes along with it
  • Driving out evil
  • Healing people
  • Preaching Good News
That's a pretty good preview of the whole story. And the best part is, while Luke whet's our appetite, we don't feel let down at the end of the story. In fact, we realize it's just a beginning - our beginning. - Curtis

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Truth in Advertising

John 3:1-17
This is the "early in the week" version of the sermon blog. In other words, I don' t have much for you yet. But for starters... in John 3, Jesus talks with Nicodemus and discusses being "born again." More than any other phrase, "born again" has become wrapped in mis and pre conceptions. I think that's where my title, "Truth in Adversing" comes in. We get promised a lot of things when we come to faith, but how real are these? I don't know if it was ever really specifically said, but I got the idea that when I became a Christian I'd always be happy, and that I'd always feel God with me. I don't think I'm alone in thinking someone did the 'ole bait and switch on me. So what is the truth? More on that later in the week.
We'll take a fresh look at Jesus' talk with Nicodemus and where it leads us in our understanding of Jesus today.
- Curtis

Friday, September 4, 2009

Locksmith of the Soul

Mark 7:24-37
One of the great ironies of life with God is that we are so very reluctant to be fully known, and yet we desperately need and want to be known. Why do we fear something we crave so much? It's possible that the most heartfelt - and terrifying prayer is this . . .
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139
This week we'll start a new series of messages called Getting Reacquainted with Jesus. The way Mark's gospel starts in the early chapters seems to point to a profound truth: We can't know God fully until we allow him to know us - or perhaps until we simply realize how deeply he knows us. The good and the bad; the light and the dark within each of us. It is Jesus who knows us better than we know ourselves. That's wonderful and frightening.
One of my current favorite songs explains this need and paradox well. It's Times, by Tenth Avenue North. The first part is a person's prayer to God; the second part is God's reply. Lyrics and song are below. See you Sunday - Curtis

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Balanced Living

One of the recurring wishes of my life is that I wish I lived in in a more balanced way. Every vacation ends with an inner pledge something like, "I'm going to do things differently now. More of this, less of that. I will balance my life henceforth and live in peace!" And then, of course, I do more of this and less of that for about a day and a half, and within 36 hours life returns to the unbalanced mess that it always is. The same thing happens at the end of summer, the beginning of a new year, and pretty much anytime I go to the beach or look up at the stars on a clear night. You'd think I'd toss up my hands and realize that I'm never going to get it right. But I'm a dreamer and I keep seeking that balance in life.

I think that's why the passage from Ephesians 5 hit me as being about balanced living. Strictly speaking, from a theological point of view, it's not about balance. But the beauty of preaching is that this is where the passage hit me this week. Next week it could be about lawn mowing or baseball playoffs. So the sermon is growing into looking at Paul's answer to the question, "What does the Christian life look like?" He doesn't ask that, but that's sort of intrinsic in the passage. And the answer seems to me to be, "Balance your life in God." Not that God is the top priority on a list of priorities, but that a life lived in God will naturally be balanced. Paul even says, "Don't live like a fool." The NIV says "don't live unwisely" but a better translation is really, "Don't be an idiot, a fool." That sounds more like Paul anyway.

So maybe my perpetual problem of being out of balance is more accurately a problem of not truly living in God. Being a fool. Hmm. That's disturbing. - Curtis

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Not-Really-a-Guest, Guest Preacher - Dr. Everett Curry

So this weekend I'll be in the Cascades near Burnt Lake with about 12-14 men, sons, and perhaps a daughter or two on a backpacking adventure! Everett Curry, a friend and mentor, graciously offered to preach this Sunday. Here's what he says about the passage - a truly Great Scripture, by the way - worth the read below. Thanks Everett!

August 23 Message Title: "What's In Your Hand?"

Why is it we argue when God calls us to a task? Whether a leadership role
or putting a specific gift to work...we have all the reasons NOT to do what
God is asking.

We'll examine responses to God from Moses and Pharaoh. They are
amazingly parallel.

The Sermon text is from Exodus 3-4
Also read this amazing translation of Psalm 78
Psalm 78:23-29

When we were starving for affection, God found us friends.
Their cupboards fed us; we gained courage from their company.
We could not have asked for more, if we were little
lower than angels.
When we were mired in our own misery, God set our feet
on firm ground;
when self-defeating thoughts entangled us, God dusted
the cobwebs from our minds;
when we were frozen with fears, God warmed us in loving arms.
Like northern marshes opening icy ponds to the summer
sun, we respond to God's goodness.
God has restored us to life.
Once we were slaves, but God has set us free.
Freedom is an attitude; we can take it with us, wherever we are.
What more could we ask for?

From: Everyday Psalms
paraphrased by Jim Taylor

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Healthy Body

Ephesians 4:1-16

So maybe a catchier title for the message this week would have been, What a Body! Hindsight is always 20-20. Oh well.

What do you think of your body?

Is anyone ever truly happy with the body they have? Even if everything is working as it should, (which is no given past, oh say, 29 yrs), most people aren't happy with their bodies. Too much of this here, not enough of that there. According to Isaiah, even Jesus may have been ugly (Isaiah 53). Isaiah says that there's was nothing visually appealing about him; that people turned their faces away for some reason. Personally, I long for bodily symmetry. Someday it will be mine. But not in this body.

So it's funny that Paul talks about the people of God being the Body of Christ. Somehow, all of us together, in Christ, make a beautiful Body. And in that Body we mysteriously find our unity with God. That's what we'll think about this Sunday in worship: What unity is really about; the how we are the Body of Christ; what that looks like - and why it makes a difference in our lives. - Curtis

Friday, July 31, 2009

Organic, Natural, No-Fat Jesus (come Sunday to hear why that's a sermon title...)

I'm back. And instead of waxing eloquent about the upcoming sermon this week, I thought I'd tell you a little about my vacation in hopes that, if you haven't yet gotten away, you will be inspired to do so.

First, however, I want to thank Peter Clay for preaching while I was away. This week one person told me, "The sermon was amazing. I enjoy it so much when Peter preaches. Not that you're not good too, but you know what I mean."


I do actually. Peter brings a life-perspective that has feeling and power. So thank you Peter! I haven't gotten my mittens on the sermon files yet, but when I do I'll listen and also post them on our sermon podcast. So check them out next week if you didn't hear him personally.
Back to vacation I mentioned in my post pre-vacation, I had a hard time breaking away. But camping with my girls did the job. We took along a little 2-person raft and went to a spot on the Nehalem River. Beautiful and quite perfect. The most adventurous part of the 3 day trip was sending Malia, Becca and one of their friends down the Nehalem in that raft. Fear not, they wore life vests. The only trouble was
figuring out where I would yank them out down-river. Yes, I should have considered this more before saying bon-voyage. It turned out well despite hacking through thick brush in shorts; being scratched by something in the brush that made my legs feel like red-hot chili peppers (not the singing group) had been rubbed all over my skin. That feeling only lasted about 12 hours. The welts subsided before that. But it was great fun and I doubt the girls will forget it soon. In the middle of my time away, we came back for the CHBC Community BBQ.
Then, during week 2, 14 of us rented a house in Manzanita - Ana's extended family from California. Some days were cool, some warm and sunny, but each one was good. We rested, golfed, kayaked, played volleyball, surfed, and hiked a bit. Ana's brother and I are extraordinary friends, though the family believes we are a pain to be around when we get together. We laughed so hardat times I thought I'd get a hernia. I finished a couple of books I'd been trudging through too. The pics here tell some of the story.

There's something wonderful about getting away. Disengaging allows the mind, soul and body to recharge. Perhaps God was onto something with the Sabbath thing, huh? I find that my ability to engage people meaningfully is restored - and I hope that lasts. I didn't realize, until I was away, that I was a bit fried emotionally. But that's another story....

So that's about it. I'm back, ready for our last VBS day this coming Wednesday (80 F beats last week's 107 F). I'm looking forward to see you all in worship! Oh, and the message is from John 6 where Jesus talks about being "living bread" - we'll try to figure out what that's supposed to mean. See you soon! - Curtis

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Vacation Time! Guest Preacher - Peter Clay!

Hi all! Okay, so it's Wednesday of my first week of two weeks of vacation. It has yet to feel like I'm "away." I'm normally pretty good at setting up boundaries around my away time. But it hasn't worked out well yet this year. Phone calls, loose ends ... you know how it goes.

In two hours, however, I'm officially unplugging. I'm taking 2 of my daughters to a secluded campground where there is no cell phone service, no electricity, and I don't think anyone will find me. I hope. I plan to dangle my toes in the river, swim, eat smores and watch my kids have fun. They're too old to want to include me in the fun much, but I'll try. So...goodbye!!!

I'm extremely happy to have Peter Clay preaching while I'm away. Peter is a gifted artist (both musically and in other forms of art), and a wonderful preacher as well. Peter has served as a pastor in the past, but it is his journey as a father, husband and child of God that has grown his view of God's Word into a form of preaching that should not be missed. He brings out depth and insight that will inform and inspire you. I hope you'll come hear him preach the next 2 Sundays. You can find his scriptures and sermon titles on the main CHBC webpage. Until then, wish me God's speed in disconnecting for a time.
- Curtis

Friday, July 3, 2009

It's Not About You

Just a brief paragraph about this week's passage. Anyone who has had any kind of chronic pain – either physical, psychological or spiritual (etc) – has found solace or frustration in this passage where Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh. There are lots of theories as to what that thorn was, but no one really knows.

God's words to Paul were clear though: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” These are words that not only speak to the way we endure as individuals, but also point to a larger picture of which we are a part. God's power is revealed in our circumstances when, in our weakness, we submit to God's purposes and plans. There's a bigger picture, a larger plan involved - God's Story of redemption for the world. If we don't know that's what the story is about, or that we're part of that story, then we live in a state of constant frustration and confusion - which is the norm for so many people.
- Curtis

Friday, June 26, 2009

Poor You, Poor Me

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

If, today, you heard God say, "Let go" - what would you feel, deep in your heart, that he was telling you to let go of? Would it be to let go of some hurt; some resentment or anger? Let go of a behavior or addiction that holds you tight? Maybe Or to let go of a resource (financial or otherwise) for the benefit of others?

What does God want you to let go of?

In this 2 Corinthians passage Paul tells the church at Corinth to give their resources for the sake of the suffering believers in Jerusalem. Giving is more than letting go, but releasing is definitely part of what needs to take place. Letting go involves trust and that's part of what generosity is all about as well. Trusting God with whatever happens once we have released - whatever we let go of. And all of that doesn't even begin to address what happens when we release something for the benefit of others. That's another layer of blessing, of mystery. We'll dig into all of this on Sunday - and celebrate a great Baptism!
- Curtis

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Letter From Dad

That's my dad here to the right.  He was 18 yrs old, drafted into the US Army in 1942.  Sergeant Buthe served in Germany, helped free Dachau, was awarded a Bronze Star but never would tell us why. 

With Father's Day this week, it makes me stop and think about my dad who died more than eleven years ago.  One of the best things I ever did was to write him a letter not long before his body succumbed to cancer.   A friend suggested writing some of the things that were hard to say out loud to my dad.  Which, with him, was most things I wanted to say.  So I wrote him a letter thanking him for the good things I learned from him; for the blessings he had passed on to me and my children; and, in a sense, forgiving him for not being perfect.  I shared what I hoped life would still hold for him too as he grew closer to God.  As I said, it was one of the best things I could have done for dad.  I flew down to California when I found out the cancer was back, and gave him the letter.  He loved it.  He shared it with friends - men - who came to visit him - they told me later.  About a month after that, he collapsed in his entryway and died.  My mom found him when she came in from gardening.  

So write your dad a letter.  Don't make stuff up.  Be honest.  Be grateful for what he did well.  He'll like it better than a set of golfballs or a beer mug.   

This passage in John's letter, especially vs 12-14, is quite beautiful.  Think of it as a letter from dad.  Here it is:

I write to you, dear children, 
      because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 
 I write to you, fathers, 
      because you have known him who is from the beginning. 
   I write to you, young men, 
      because you have overcome the evil one. 
   I write to you, dear children, 
      because you have known the Father. 
 I write to you, fathers, 
      because you have known him who is from the beginning. 
   I write to you, young men, 
      because you are strong, 
      and the word of God lives in you, 
      and you have overcome the evil one. - 1 John 2:12-14

It's really more like poetry or a song with John repeating “I write to you children...young men...fathers” two times each.  The message will center on this interplay between John's instructions to “children,” “young men” and “fathers” - and what these words have to say to each of us about knowing God and our role in the Kingdom.  

And don't forget your letter to dad.

- Curtis

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hearing God's Frustrating, Wonderful Voice

1 Samuel 15-16
Samuel is one of the most curious of all bible guys. He's born destined to be a prophet. Talk about pressure. But he does it. Whatever God tells him, he does time after time, after time. Unlike most bible dudes, we see his life the whole way through, and even after death (1 Samuel 28).
In childhood he's humble, inquisitive and obedient. In adulthood he's courageous, sarcastic, blunt and exceedingly holy. He made peace and made war, forgave and condemned. There are few like him in all of scripture, who seem to follow God so completely. And yet his life is never easy, never simple, never what we would probably call "happy." I'm certain there was joy and laughter in his life that we are not shown - I think.

The thing that brings out a profound sense of awe in me as I read about Samuel, is the way he walked and talked with God all the time. Since he had the Spirit from birth - a prototype for how we are now meant to live in the Spirit - he walks and talks with God as few did.

Samuel: "Lord, I'm hungry. Don't have a dime for lunch. What now? "

God: "Take the next exit and turn right. There's a little BBQ place with a great tri-tip cut that I think you'll enjoy. Tell them I asked you to drop by. They'll understand."

That seems to be the kind of relationship they have. Curious. Wonderful. Frightening.
It's true that Samuel was a powerful prophet, but the more distinguishing characteristic of his life was the way he simply heard God; knew God. When I study Samuel I can't help but think God is saying, "This is how well I know you. This is the quality of friendship I want you to have with me."

How different life would be.

How about your life? What would this kind of intimacy with God mean for you?
- Curtis

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wind, Fire, Spirit! It's Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

Christian Pentecost is truly the most under-celebrated holy-day of the year. Next to Jesus' return, it's what the whole ball-game was all about. It's the grand reversal of the Curse, the death of humankind when, in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve drew back from God's Spirit with one act of betrayal. Finally, with Jesus' death and resurrection, the Spirit could return to each person who chooses to welcome him. The worst part of the Curse, separation from God's Spirit, ends. That's Pentecost! We should be dancing, yelling, setting off firecrackers and smacking high-fives till our hands bleed.

Perhaps we would blow the top off the place if we really paused to invite the Spirit in. So I ask you - how do you most long for the Spirit of the Living God to impact your life, your heart? What is there in your heart that is dormant, lost, forgotten - and that, if God were to infuse Spirit-power there, it would be exceedingly wonderful?

When I first came to know Jesus, I liked Keith Green stuff (there weren't many "Christian" music folks to choose from). He wrote a song about the Spirit. It makes a terrific prayer...

Rushing Wind
Keith Green

Rushing wind, blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within;
Come and breathe your breath upon me:
I've been born again.

Holy Spirit, I surrender; take me where you want to go.
Plant me by your living water,
Plant me deep so I can grow.

Jesus, you’re the one who sets my spirit free;
Use me, Lord; glorify your Holy Name through me.

Separate me from this world, Lord;
Sanctify my life for you.
Daily change me to your image,
Help me bear good fruit.

Ev'ry day you're drawing closer;
Trials come to test my faith.
But when all is said and done, Lord,
You know it's been worth the wait.

Jesus, you’re the one who set my spirit free;
Use me, Lord; glorify your Holy Name through me.

Rushing wind, blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within;
Come and breathe you breath upon me,
For I've been born again.

Grace to you,