Friday, September 17, 2010

Saved for What?

Last week those who were in worship at Cedar Hills were "introduced to the elephant." You'll have to listen to the sermon if you want to know exactly what that means (listen to it here).  It's been a funny week of conversations, following that sermon.  Comments have been all over the spectrum from, "That was good.  We needed to hear that" to, "The same thing is happening at my brother/sister/cousin's church, so I guess we're not the only ones."  Some have cautiously asked, "So, what have people been saying about that sermon?"  Even in my own family we've had some interesting and spirited conversations.  As if to punctuate the week, I had a long, sad talk with a friend of mine, also a pastor, who is going through difficulties in his church and isn't sure what to do next.

So what this sermon series, Becoming An Outpost for the Kingdom, aims to do is help us rebuild our understanding of what the Church, and our church, is all about.  We've had such an emphasis in Christianity for many decades on being "saved" that we don't really know (or haven't considered) what we're saved for. What's the point?  It's like all we're taught to do is wait.  Wait for the afterlife - in other words we're just hanging out until we die, and then finally something really significant or good will happen.  What kind of a God would do that -- desposit us here for 70 or 80 years like we're prisoners on death row, waiting to see who gets pardoned and released into heavenly bliss?  That's not what the bible teaches at all, but it's what a lot of people believe.

What the bible does teach is what we started to look at last week:  We're here to partner with God in building a new kingdom - or rather restoring the world to the way God intended it to be.  We don't accomplish that on our own, but with God's help and with the complete restoration ultimately in God's hands.  This week we'll begin to study 7 Objectives that God has, and each are ways that he invites us to partner with him.  These 7 objectives begin in our own hearts and lives, and from there they can change our community, our work, our schools - our church - and our world.  See you then...
- Curtis

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Ridiculous Command: Love Your Enemies

This week,  I'm preaching the second part of last week's message about Jesus' teaching to "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemies."  Luke's version of Jesus' teaching says this,
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Luke 6:27-28
It's really a crazy idea that we're supposed to pray for and bless those we start out hating.  Seriously, how often do we do it?  It's so unnatural for us on one level, yet there is a rightness to it that stirs something in our souls.  "Yes," says that something inside, "the world won't be a different, lovelier place, without forgiveness and love replacing anger and retaliation."  

But how?  All it takes is a car to cut me off in traffic and poof, something dark springs to life in me.  I want justice (!) or, honestly, revenge.  If that's a somewhat typical reaction to being less-than-marginally wronged, much less truly hurt, what hope do I have of loving an actual enemy?  

Jesus' words there in Luke 6 are more than a simple restatement of "love your enemies;" he's telling us how to do it.  And here's what he says about those good for nothing, evil enemies we encounter in life: Do good to them; bless them; pray for them.  Just try doing these actions, even when you don't feel like it at all, and see what happens.  We'll dig into what these terribly hard actions might mean for us personally on Sunday in worship.  

For those of you who know little 7 yr old Daniel in our church, please keep praying for him.  His surgery went okay, but he's healing very slowly and he's had some setbacks.  He's quite miserable and in a lot of pain, but he needs to move more and breath deeply in order to heal.  Pray for Joyce and Dennis too, as their hearts ache for Daniel in this process. 
- Curtis

Friday, August 6, 2010

When Heaven Opens

There are both profound and simple experiences that cause people to say, "That was a glimpse of heaven."  Such profound experiences might include the birth of a child (giving birth to, or being present for).  Or it might be something as simple as a particularly beautiful sunset or a beam of sunlight breaking through clouds.  Though our glimpses of heaven experiences can almost always be explained as natural events, we describe them as glimpses because we have some sense that a pathway or window between heaven and earth opened for a moment.  Something special happens in the course of the ordinary.

Jesus' transfiguration in Luke 9 was like that.  He takes a few friends on a prayer hike up a mountain, and -Shazaam! - he's changed.  We might wonder what exactly happened, there, but the more important question might be, "Why?"  Why was Jesus changed in this moment in such a radical way?  And why didn't he stay that way?  Why was it such a temporary state?   That's what we'll look at in this week's message, along with what it says to our faith and our place in the world today.  See you in worship!
- Curtis

Friday, July 30, 2010

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

25th Anniversary in Carmel California
It's odd how quickly three weeks of experiences can evaporate into feeling like they were a dream.  This phenomenon seems happen most easily with vacations.  Once vacation is over, it's poof, like it never happened at all.  This summer I took three weeks; the longest vacation I think I've ever had.  Ana and I celebrated 25 years of marriage by returning to Carmel, the same spot we enjoyed on our honeymoon.  Despite overestimating how much we would enjoy driving down the Oregon and California coast, the time in Carmel was relaxing and fun.  After spending a few days with family and doing a tour of Stanford University with Becca, we drove back home to Beaverton, organized and loaded camping stuff, and trekked back to California's Lake Siskiyou.  It's a little hidden gem of a lake near Mt. Shasta with a warm water, huge campsites, and plenty of sun and heat to drive way the dismal memories of the long Oregon winter.  We swam, kayaked, read, slept and played.  It was a good, low-key vacation.  We had time to refocus and reconnect with each other and what's important in life.  
Lake Siskiyou fun

Rest easy, this week's message isn't really going to be a slideshow of vacation photos or a long diatribe about camping experiences.  Vacation did provide me with an opportunity to disconnect from much of my normal life, and perhaps that's where I reconnected with some important realities.  Which is what Jesus also attempted to do for the Pharisees in Luke 12 when he tells the story of the "Rich Fool." He uses the parable to chop through our normal priorities and values and hone in on what's truly important.  That's what we'll study together in worship.  And don't forget our Party in the Park Saturday at 11 AM!  

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Some Thoughts on Summer and Purging

It has actually happened.  Summer seems to have finally arrived in the Great Northwest, for more than a few hours. Today, Thursday June 24, is day two of real, unabridged sunshine and warmth.  Hal-layy-loooo-yahhhh!  It came in the nick of time too; I was preparing to suggest on Sunday that we move the church to the Caribbean.

Inspired by the dumpster party we had to clean up church flood damage last weekend, we ordered our own dumpster (pictured above).  It's far larger than we need, but it was the same price as the one half the size.  And this is America, so the bigger one seemed the logical option.  A dumpster either means you're getting a new roof, or it's a bad sign of having bought into the lies of materialism for too many years.  We're not getting a new roof.  Hopefully we are cleaning out the junk and tidying up our lives, and not just the garage.

All of this dumpster/tossing out/tidying up stuff has spiritual ramifications, of course.  And it's part of what summer is all about: Opening up real and symbolic attic doors, lugging things out of web-filed garage corners and cluttered backyard paths.  Cutting down overgrown brush and yanking out wild weeds.  It's a time of evaluation and asking,
"Do I really need this anymore?"
Or, "When did this get so bad?"
And sometimes, "Oh my, I've been wondering where this went.  I've been needing this for so long."

As important as the evaluation process is, it doesn't really matter unless the junk actually gets tossed out.  A few years ago we had a dumpster.  We went through the whole house and pulled junk from every room, getting rid of everything we that wasn't good enough to give away or sell.  But a couple of days after the dumpster was gone, we realized that we had neglected to toss in the one big thing that we really wanted to get rid of - a mattress under Amanda's daybed that was my brother's before I was born.  The disgusting old thing was at least 50 years old and it weighed, no joke, about 100 pounds.  At least 30 lbs of that is probably dust and mites, I figure.  I hated that mattress.  But we had forgotten it and so, to this very day, it has stayed in our house.

What old, mite filled, stained burdens are hanging around your place?

Summer, with warm sunny days, is a great time to pull stuff out into the Light and do some honest evaluation.  What needs to be dusted off and saved, or even treasured once again?  And what (behaviors, damaging relationship patterns, addictions, habits, burdens, etc)  should be joyously and enthusiastically lobbed into the dumpster because they are cluttering life - or damaging - you?

That old mattress is the first thing going in the drop box today.  It's going to be great.

- Curtis
(P.S. This post has little, if anything, to do with the sermon this week.  Except that self-evaluation and letting things go is often a part, or a consequence, of true rest)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Getting the Most Out of Summer

There is a certain irony in the timing of this new sermon series we're beginning this Sunday. It's a series about rest, sabbath, and stuff I mention below. It comes, however, at a time of extreme busyness. At Cedar Hills we're cleaning up after some significant water damage and we have a workday planned (this Saturday at 9 AM - hint, hint) to sort junk and toss stuff into a huge dumpster. Along with the cleanup we're gearing up for Vacation Bible School which starts on June 27th - just a week away. Rest seems out of the question.  Most of us constantly feel that sense of "There's just too much to do!" far too often.

But maybe that's God's point.

There are always more things to do. Sometimes those things press in so urgently that they simply must be done. But life can't be filled with what Charles Hummel calls, "The Tyranny of the Urgent." Not all the time. God knew such things about us when he planned the cycles of the body. He created us to need sleep and for our slice of the world to go dark for a portion of each 24 hours so we would ... stop. He hard-wired us in such a way that those who simply refuse to rest and play will eventually break down. It seems important to God, then, that we get this right.

So even in the middle of urgent things that are pressing in upon you and me, we're going to start this little message series. I hope it helps take away any misplaced guilt about taking time to slow down, rest, worship, remember God, spend time with family. Recharge.  There are many different kinds of retreat or rest are mentioned in the bible. There is the overall concept of Sabbath - which means “cessation” in the Hebrew. There are also great celebrations and feasts, prayer retreats, and other times when people of the bible stopped doing their regular work. This three-part message series will study different rest periods and look at the reasons for them.

So listen to God's wisdom and ... take a break! As if for us personally, the Wall Street Journal has an article today (June 17, 2010) entitled, Why Relaxing is Hard Work. Take a look at it (I snagged their picture - above - too...) and you can even check out their "Are you a workaholic?" quiz linked in the article.  Then, for a little over an hour on Sunday, we'll all simply . . . stop . . . and begin to consider God.
- Curtis

Friday, May 28, 2010

Chained for Good: Jeremiah

I sometimes wonder what the dedicated prophets of the bible would have to say about some of the big name preachers today.  Consider some of the top selling books and audio CD's by one of the most famous preachers in the USA today.  His works include:
  • It's Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God's Favor
  • Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day
  • Good, Better, Blessed: Living with Purpose, Power and Passion
  • Living in Favor, Abundance and Joy 
  • Living The Joy Filled Life (Six Easy Steps To Living A Life Of Victory, Abundance And Blessing)
While I'm certain he has some very good things to share, I can't help but wonder how Jeremiah would respond to advice about Six Easy Steps to Living a Life of Victory.  Jeremiah spent a good chunk of his life being hated by his own people, persecuted by those he was sent to save, and tortured for doing exactly what God called him to do.   He's known as the weeping prophet.  

Imagine a conversation, then, between Jeremiah and a Big Name Preacher (BNP) from today. . .
BNP: Jeremiah, my friend, you're not living a victorious life.  Look at you.  You're sad, you're unsuccessful, you're a mess.   But I can help.  Let me share with you the easy secrets to living a life of victory. 
JEREMIAH:  Really.  Do tell. 
BNP:  Clearly you're doing this prophet thing all wrong.  You'd have favor, abundance and joy if God were pleased with you!   You need to activate your faith! 
JEREMIAH:  I'm about to activate you.  
BNP:  You see that?  That's anger.  Let God can turn your anger to action;  your sadness to sufficiency; your trials to triumphs!  
JEREMIAH: You've got a knack for catchy phrases.  
BNP: Thank you.  I'm writing a book about that. 
JEREMIAH:  Of course you are. . .   But here's the thing.  God told me, the day he called me, that my path with him would be terribly hard.  That my work is to warn people of God's coming wrath.  This is what he's called me to.  
BNP:  Of course he didn't.  You misunderstood.  He doesn't want anyone to be unhappy.  He wants to turn your inner Eeyore into a Tigger!  It's right here in my book, "Living in Favor, Abundance and Joy."  
JEREMIAH:  My inner Eeoyore is about to kick your . . . never mind.  I have to go.  Someone wants to throw me into a muddy cistern.  (walking off)
BNP:  Read chapter 3 - God Has More In Store!  
JEREMIAH: (muttering) What I wouldn't give for a little fire and brimstone right now. . . 


Truly, Jeremiah had a tough row to hoe.  So tough, that at one point he curses the day he was born (Jeremiah 20:14) and wished it hadn't happened at all.  But in the end, he stuck with the thing God had given him to do.  He realized that life wasn't all about him, but about God's purposes and Kingdom.  That's a huge thing to remember.
It isn't all about Me.  

A good friend reminded me of that this week, when I was lamenting some of those tough rows God gives.  We'll see what else Jeremiah has to say to us this week in worship.
- Curtis

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chained for Good: Peter

I think it must have been very confusing to be an early Jesus follower.  It's confusing enough for us sometimes, but these guys had to be constantly saying, "Huh?  What's God doing now,  for Christ's sake?!" (and, if they used that phrase, they really meant it - not like people do nowadays, who say it lightly and defame the name of Christ - not for his sake at all...but I digress).  It would have been confusing because God never seemed to do things the same way twice, even when it would have been quite nice if he had.

Take the Big Three Apostles, for example.  Peter, James and John.  These guys were Jesus' BFF's.  We don't want to think about Jesus having favorites, or if he does we'd like to think it might be us.  But the truth is, Jesus always chose these guys to go do stuff with him that no one else got to do.  They got to go into the house when Jesus raised a little girl from the dead.  They were the ones to go up on the mountain and see him transfigured in glory.  They were the ones he asked to pray with him in the garden before was carried away and executed.  Again, if I had been there with Jesus I would have been the obnoxious one saying, "Pick me!  Pick me! Oo, oo, pick me, Jesus!!"  He never would have.  He always picked Peter, James and John.  Which makes what happens to James in Acts 12 extra confusing.  If you read it quickly you might even miss it because it's like a little footnote to what comes next with Peter.  But read what happens to James, one of the Big Three friends of Jesus,
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.  He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. (Acts 12:1-2)
Poof.  That's it.  James is done.  There's nothing more said of him.  Yet back in Acts 5, all of the apostles were apparently rounded up and imprisoned.  They were put in jail by the High Priest and his thugs, but during the night an angel came and sprung them free.  So when James again ends up in prison in ch 12, he might have thought and prayed, "Okay, Lord!  You know me, your buddy James! Spring me free again!"  It didn't go that way, sadly.  See how confusing following God can be?  And dangerous.  

Peter is the next one tossed in the clink (ch 12).  Herod sees how happy the Jews are to have James sliced open, so he grabs Peter and puts him in stocks too.  I wonder what Peter was thinking the night before his trial and probable execution?  The scripture doesn't say.  He had experienced miracles and he'd felt God's silence when prayers for deliverance were uttered.  Just because we ask God to free us from a prison, it doesn't always mean he will.  Which leads us back to the beginning:  Following God is certainly confusing.  A dangerous adventure.  The funny thing is, I don't think Peter or even James would have wanted it any other way.  They were content with putting their lives completely in God's hands.  For Christ's sake. 

This Sunday is both Pentecost and, at CHBC, Camp Sunday.  So wear campy, red stuff!  The message will look at Acts 12 and how Peter sensed the Spirit's peace and power, even in prison.  
- Curtis

Friday, May 7, 2010

Chained for Good: Jonah

A long time ago I remember hearing a preacher tell a story about a guy in the late 1800's, in English waters, who fell off a ship called the "Star of the East" and was swallowed by a whale.  According to the story, the poor guy had very light skin the rest of his life as a result of the whale's gastric acid which bleached him.  The story was told to show that yes, in fact, something as amazing as Jonah's story could be true.  The unfortunate guy who was whale chum was named James Bartley.  The story (see one version here) has been told in many sermons through the years and is still a common one today for preachers who desperately seek a hook to make the more amazing bible stories a bit easier to swallow (insert groan here).

The trouble is, the Bartley story isn't true.  The best that historical sleuths  have been able to come up with is that the story was fabricated soon after an actual whale was beached and died near the shore town of Gorleston England.   The thirty-footer was rather famous and lots of stories circulated about it - including the Bartley story.  Eventually, an ambitious taxidermist stuffed the whale and it was displayed in the London Westminster Aquarium.  But James Bartley was not found inside.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether the Jonah story is historically accurate or mythic.  I don't have a problem with it being true.  If God can create big fish -  and you and me - out of a single cell and puff his breath into us to make us alive, then it can't be that hard for him to give a fish a hankering for a Jonah snack and keep the rebel alive for a few days.  "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it" the Psalmist says.

What's odd to me is that we squabble over the truth of whether Jonah could live in a fish, but we don't blink an eyelash at how the Ninevites repsond when Jonah shows up.  Jonah delivers the "turn or burn" message and they . . . turn.  Huh?  The arch-enemies of Israel who follow a smorgasbord of other gods drop everything, fast, pray, repent and turn to God because some reluctant fishy smelling loudmouth tells them they're going to fry if they don't turn to God?  Seriously?  How great of a miracle is that?  That's a story that we should cause us to think, "Wow, what sort of a God is this?"

On Sunday we'll think about such amazing truths and hoist more treasure from the depths of Jonah's tale.  In the meantime, Netflix has the VeggieTales version streaming online . . .
- Curtis

Friday, April 30, 2010

Chained for Good: John the B

It's been awhile since there's been time to write here, but we're in the middle of a 7 part sermon series about biblical characters who were imprisoned.   I have to mention, before I write anything else, that I absolutely KNOW you're going to love the video intro to this week's message.  If you've been in worship, you know that each message in this series starts with a story about an unusual prison.  This week's is one of the best - really fun (which isn't the way you might normally describe prison stuff).  But I don't want to spoil it for you, so you'll have to show up if you want to see the prison story I'm going to share this week.  It's great!

Anyway, this is week three in the Chained for Good series, and we're taking a look at John the Baptist who is an interesting guy.  (Matthew 11:1-19)

John's ministry is fairly short-lived and yet Jesus describes him as the greatest of all the prophets.  He has an amazing ministry of proclaiming the coming of the Messiah and getting people to look at their lives.  But soon after Jesus comes on the scene, John gets tossed in jail for daring to tell Herod that he was an adulterer.  Instead of being rescued as some of Jesus' disciples were later, he comes to a grisly end when his head is lopped off to please a bratty dancer (makes a nice painting though, doesn't it?).  

If you've ever believed that a radically faithful life lived for God will lead to success and comfort, this guy torpedos that idea.  What does John have to teach us then?  That's what we'll discover Sunday.
- Curtis

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Extreme Makeover

I have a memorial service this week for a wonderful woman who lived 96 full years:  Ida.  The last time I saw her was on Friday when she was, quite literally, on her death bed.  Her body was rounding the final turn, but her mind was still sharp.  The visit consisted of a scripture, a prayer, and holding her hand for a few minutes.  She dozed and breathed heavily.  She smiled.  Then she said, "Well, thank you for coming.  It's been delightful!"  I knew that meant, "Time to go, preacher man!"  But I also had a feeling she was saying that this life had been delightful.  Even in those last moments she was dignified and grateful.  That's a beautiful lesson.  I laughed and she smiled once more. We said our goodbyes on this side of the new creation.  Three days later she went home.

A central theme all the way through 2 Corinthians is about Paul’s awareness of his own mortality.  He was probably in his mid to late 50's when he wrote the letter, but he knew that there were plenty of people who wanted him dead.  Life wasn't exactly safe for him.   He writes about, “Treasure in jars of clay...being crushed...outwardly wasting away...earthly tent destroyed....”  Yet his awareness of death is always framed within the context of hope in the resurrection and knowing that this life is not all there is; in fact it is a small part of all that life is for the believer.  

We are in the infancy of our lives.

Try and think back to when you were leaving elementary school and heading off to middle school.  For most, that’s 5th grade, 6th for some.  Those first 5-6 years of school, at that point in your short life, seemed like forever.  As a 5th grader, you looked back at those little 1st graders and thought, “They’re so little!  They’re so young and silly. I’m so big and smart now.”  And then you re-lived a similar experience in 8th grade as you looked back on those punky little 6th graders; yet again when you were a senior in high school and you saw those pimple faced freshman walking, deer-in-the-headlight style, down the halls.  Those experiences continue, perhaps with less frequency, throughout our lives when we end one stage and begin another.  College...our first job....marriage....raising children...taking them off to their first day of elementary school.
Isn’t it likely, then, that we’ll find something similar at the end of this life as we step into the next?  I suspect so.  Once we’re with Christ, stepping into a new stage of life, we’ll look back on the decades we’ve spent in this “earthly tent” (2 Corinthians 5:1) and say, “Wow.  What a child I was! Look at all that lies ahead.  I wonder what this new stage will be like?” 

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” - 1 Corinthians 13

Paul’s whole point, in 2 Corinthians 5 (our sermon passage this week), seems to be, “Don’t waste the time you've been given in this body.  Spend your time on eternal things, meaningful things."  The very most meaningful, to Paul, was reconciling people to God.  And that’s the topic we’ll be looking at for  this week’s message.  How does this long-term, eternal perspective of life - and other people - change what we focus on now?  How does it change our view of people and their sins, hurts, troubles?
- Curtis

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Decisions, Decisions . . .

It's Lent already.  That's the 40 days leading up to Easter which really doesn't seem like it should be as close as it is.  I'm beginning some sermons that don't technically qualify as a "sermon series" but there is a common string that winds through the next three Lenten sermons.  That common string is "Decisions."  Life is full of decisions small and large.
"Will I get out of bed today? .... Oatmeal or cereal?" 
"Phone call or email?"
"Should I quit my job?" 

I'm suspicious that, like the guy who opts for junk food instead of something healthy, we fill up on relatively unimportant choices and neglect the truly important and less numerous decisions.  We ponder what TV show we'll watch, whether to buy a new gizmo and fifty other meaningless choices each day, but we don't bother thinking about whether there's any significant purpose to the day we just completed.

The problem with such a pattern of small choices taking precedence over important decisions is obvious:  Life feels meaningless.

What if the solution to this problem is very simple?  Could it be that there are perhaps just two or three decisions that require our focus?  And, once we honestly make these genuine decisions and live daily in concert with what we've chosen, then everything else will fall into place rather well.

Over the next few weeks we'll look at what these two or three decisions might be, and how they impact every other aspect of life.  Check out the weekly question above - I 'd love to read about some of the decisions you have made this week.
- Curtis

Friday, February 19, 2010

We've Got the Power

A lot of times, when I read a bible passage, I blow through it as if I'm at a buffet.  I move right along, looking for the good stuff that tastes best: Morsels of the Word that encourage me, inspire me, comfort me - whatever it feels like I want at the moment.  I doubt that's a good way to read scripture.  What's missed are the most nutritious parts of the biblical meal.

There's a little appetizer in Ephesians this week that is easily passed over.  It's this:
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 
Ephesians 1:9-10
Did you catch that?  The "mystery of God's will" is that God is in the process of bringing all things on "heaven and earth... together" under Christ.  In other words, that's where everything is headed.  This world isn't going down the tubes.  It might look that way, but it isn't.  God's bringing heaven and earth together and that means that his recreative power is constantly being released all over the place.  It's kind of funny that we have a hard time seeing that since it goes on all around us and we take it for granted.  Just this week here in Oregon we had a super nice spell of weather and the blossoms started exploding on the cherry and plum trees.  Grass began to grow.  Leaves poked out of dead looking tree branches.  "That's just Spring," we say.  It's also part of the regeneration and recreation that God builds into nature. It's like he's tapping us on the shoulder and saying, "See? Heaven and earth are joining.  All things will become new."  Paul says the Spirit of God is the beginning of our own regeneration - part of heaven implanted into you and me, and yet there's more to come.

Back in Ephesians, after Paul points to this unification of heaven and earth, he prays that the "eyes of (our) heart may be enlightened."  Hmm.  That's different. Picture your heart with little plastic goggly eyes peering out between your ribs.  What are the "eyes of our heart?"

This week I'm finishing up our short series of messages on prayer by looking at this prayer of Paul's.  What strikes me most as we've studied some key prayers in the New Testament is how different they are than the way I normally pray.  I guess that shouldn't be so surprising - I'm no Paul or Jesus!  Yet their prayers are dramatically different than what most of us pray.  Part of that difference is due to them praying for many people, not just for an individual or a time constrained situation.  But their prayers are also different because they think differently; they have a larger perspective and a bigger view of what's going on around them.  In other words, it seems that reality is so much more real then mine.  The substance of Paul's prayer and what it means for our lives today is what we'll explore in the sermon.
- Curtis

Friday, February 5, 2010

Forgive us Our Sins As We . . . What?!

Have you been faced with . . . 
   * wanting to forgive, but the person who wronged you denies or minimizes their offense, or
     *  knew you needed to forgive but you didn't feel capable of it?
And have you . . . 
     * wanted to receive forgiveness, but it wasn't offered, or
       * received forgiveness when you knew it was immensely difficult to the one who offers it? 

In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us one of the hardest prayers for us to say with complete sincerity,
Forgive us our sins 
as we 
forgive those who sin against us

It's the "as we" that hits us between the eyes.  If we were just asking for forgiveness for ourselves - and sure, we could ask God to forgive those who sin against us - that would be one thing.  But he ties the two aspects of forgiveness together, 
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, 
your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 
But if you do not forgive men their sins, 
your Father will not forgive your sins.

What is there about un-forgiveness that short-circuits God's forgiveness for us?   Is it that grace, after all, is somehow earned - or perhaps withdrawn depending on whether we forgive others or not?  Or is there something deeper going on?  I opt for the second option and that's what we'll discuss in this week's message. 

I'll also be sharing a clip from a film that impacted me profoundly when I saw it recently.  It's called As We Forgive (trailer here), and it shares the true, contemporary story of Rwandans who were called to forgive those who participated in the genocide of over one million of their brothers and sisters in 1994.  If you've ever struggled to forgive something terrible, you'll want to see it.  If you need to sense God's forgiveness in new ways, join worship at CHBC this Sunday. 
- Curtis 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Soul Surgery (& Prayer)

This week we're starting a three week series of messages looking at prayer.  I'll just be straight-up here and confess that prayer has never come easy for me.  That's not to say that I neglect talking to God, which I do quite often through the course of the day.  But prayer is not something that comes easily to me like breathing, walking or craving a chocolate chip cookie.  Perhaps I have spiritual ADHD.  Prayer often feels like more effort than it's supposed to be.   The father of the Reformation, Martin Luther, supposedly said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours (of each day) in prayer."  I can't really imagine that kind of daily prayer focus.  When I pray for more than about 20 minutes, I get irritated, bored, and doubtful.  I start thinking, right in the middle of talking to the Almighty Creator of Everything, "I've got things to do.  Gotta run!"  That's not what you want your pastor saying about prayer, is it?  

I suspect that there are a lot of other followers of Jesus who are like me.  Charles Spurgeon, an English Baptist preacher in the mid and late 1800's, preached 130 sermons about prayer.  Is it possible that Spurgeon preached about prayer so often because he knew it's hard for the average person to pray?  I long to be someone who can relate to/with God like Moses in Exodus 33,  "The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend."  How great would that be?  

The more I think and even (gasp) pray about my prayer problem, the more I've come to realize that it is my misunderstanding of prayer that's the real trouble.  Even though I know better, I still tend to pray as if it's all about me telling God what I think he should be doing.  I may couch my prayers in a respectful formula (ie, the old ACTS prayer recipe . . . A=Adoration, C=Confession, T-Thanksgiving, S=Supplication - ah! At last supplication where I get to what I want!), but the truth is, I see prayer as all about me.  That, I fear, is the real trouble with my prayer life.  And so that's part of the reason I decided to preach on the Lord's Prayer this week (on the left side of this blog you can see the other sermons coming up).   I figure Jesus must know how to do this prayer thing pretty well, so that when he teaches us to pray he probably knows what he's talking about.  I like how straight forward he is about prayer and that he says, "...don't babble like the pagans because it's really annoying to my Father..." (my paraphrase, but that's actually what Jesus says). 

In worship this week we will unpack this most amazing prayer and try to tear off most of our preconceptions and misconceptions, and get a clear view of what Jesus is teaching.  One peculiarly fascinating possibility is that Jesus' prayer had a lot to do with the Hebrew Exodus story as the Jews were delivered from Egypt.  Could the Lord's Prayer be a later development of praying through our own deliverance from the things that enslave us?  That's one possibility we might explore.  
- Curtis  

Friday, January 22, 2010

What's God Up To? Giving You a Great Body

I completed my first "spinning" class this morning.  Yes, "spinning" sounds like a class that teaches you how to spin around in circles until you puke.  In reality, it's a cycling class where you mount a bike like the one in the picture here and follow the leader of the class as they put you through an intense, varied workout.  It was a mere 45 minutes, accompanied by the DJ/instructor who spoke to us from her mic and played a variety of songs meant to inspire us.  "Sheesh how hard can this be?" I thought.  I used to ride almost every day and I even did a few triathlons many years ago . . . before my 19 yr old daughter was born.  "I'm in good shape, there's nothing to fear."   I thought.

I was wrong.

Things started off well, with the gentle instructor telling us to keep the resistance on the bike low and simply spin.

"I can do this" I thought.

Soon we entered Stage One - our first "hill" as we turned the resistance dial up a few notches and then rose off our seats as though peddling up an ever steeper hill.

"I might be able to do this" I thought.

Stage One, with varying degrees of difficulty, lasted 10 very long minutes.  The music, which was helpful to start with, began to annoy me.  When the first stage was over, we fell back into our seats and dialed down the resistance.  Heavenly.

Barely a minute later Stage Two began and this time we were coached to "dial it up" and "chase the van."  I couldn't see a van, which told me that it was way too far ahead and I shouldn't worry about chasing it.  But the testy instructor, who evidently could see the van, yelled at us to chase it while increasing the resistance.  We backed off for 15 seconds, then dialed it up for a minute, backed off for 15, dialed it up. . . you get the idea.  Sweat poured off my head, dripped down my face, and hung on the end of my nose until the salty droplets leapt to their demise on the spinning wheel below.  I tried to see how many of the drops I could get to fall directly on the wheel, hoping a wet, lubricated wheel would spin more effortlessly.

"What am I doing here?"  I thought.

After a brief low- resistance rest time, we entered the final challenge, Stage Three.
"Alright people!" the instructor barked, "This is it.  I want to see you work!  I want to see your hands on that dial; bump it up!  We're going to do 10 more minutes with 8 rotations; 10 seconds in your seats, followed by one minute on your feet peddling as hard as you can!  Ready, 3...2...1.... GO!"  The music blared a feverish country tune about a spurned wife, and we peddled furiously.

"Is it possible for a heart valve to simply tear wide open and rupture?  How long are those valves good for anyway?  They can't last forever."  I thought.

On I peddled as the demonic coach told us to "give the dial two more clicks" and "push, push yourself!"  It wasn't me that I wanted to push.  I reached down as my inner poser made his appearance.  He grabbed the dial and twisted it ... except not really -  the stationary dial slid through my deceptive fingers.
"Is this what it takes to make me cheat? Spinning?!  Do I really need to fake this?"  
I looked around at the room of my fellow spinners:  A middle aged computer geeky guy who could stand to lose a few pounds, and an assortment of women of various ages and sizes.  All of them looked far less fatigued than I.

"I must finish this well."  I thought.

And so I did, more or less.  I dialed it up for real and soon Stage Three was complete.  The cool down felt like a reward.  As we stretched, our kind instructor gave encouragement to each participant saying, "Good job everyone! See you next time!"  

So what, if anything, does that experience have to do with this week's sermon?  Well, it actually occurred to me, between towel wipes, that the Church is not unlike a spinning class.  I have worked out on my own for years now, pushing myself hard, getting in good shape, I believed.  But most of my workouts have been on my own, alone.  I set the standards, the goals, the pace.  That's good as far as it goes but the problem is, it doesn't go nearly as far as it should.  The class approach has several advantages:
  1. The instructor knows how to bring out the best in class participants.
  2. The combination of an instructor and other spinners pushed and challenged me far beyond my normal limits.
  3. I didn't feel alone, (even though we didn't engage each other much.)  We were spinning together.
  4. I noticed good and rotten things about myself that I never see when I work out alone.
  5. I thought about other people and my snap judgements/prejudices changed in subtle ways.
  6. With consistent participation, I will be in much better shape. 
I believe that all of the same truths exist when we are participants in the Church.  Just substitute God or perhaps certain good leaders for "instructor" and serving/studying/worshipping for "spinning" and you've got a pretty good list of what's good about being a part of a church.  There's tons more to being a part of the Body of Christ, of course, but that's a start.  We'll explore more on Sunday when we look at 1 Corinthians 12 and Paul's teaching about being a part of Christ's Body.
Now, go spin!
- Curtis

Friday, January 15, 2010

What's God Up To - in Haiti?

Did you see the front page picture in the Oregonian today?  The picture (left) shows a reunion of a daughter and her mother who was, thankfully, pulled from a collapsed building in Haiti.   It's only been a couple of days since the terrible quake struck the poor, tiny nation and revealed once again how fragile we humans are.  We've quickly been swamped with hundreds of images of dead bodies and broken people searching for loved ones.  The ability to send massive numbers of these images and communicate instantly across the globe begins to numb us to the reality of the suffering.  Our gut reaction is to feel sorrow and a profound lack of hope.  What can we do anyway?  Maybe that's why the editor of the paper featured a picture of a successful rescue and reunion on the front page.  The image of someone rescued, reunited with family, rekindles hope.
We're lost without hope. soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind 
 and therefore I have hope:
 Because of the LORD's great love 
we are not consumed, 
 for his compassions never fail. - Lamentations 3:20-22
Hope breaks through the numbness that so easily overtakes us - whether we are the sufferers, or the observers.  Hope invites us to expect God to act to us, with us, through us - again whether we are the sufferers, or those who can offer help.

The passage for this week's message is from Isaiah 62:1-5 and it is a word of hope for the hopeless.  Verse 4 has a message that will be so important for the people of Haiti to hear in the weeks and months ahead:

Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City”
      or “The Desolate Land.”
   Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight”
      and “The Bride of God,”
   for the Lord delights in you
      and will claim you as his bride.
Despite Pat Robertson's bizarre ideas about Haiti making a "pact with the devil" (and the devil somehow having the inclination or power to keep "his end" of the bargain and free Haiti from slavery) and calling the quake a "blessing in disguise," we can be assured that God has not forsaken Haiti.  Because there is hope, God remembers his people and will be working to repair and recreate.  We, as his people, get the privilege of joining in this work with him.  Even if we're not going to Haiti, we can send resources to support those who are helping.  In the process, our prayers are answered and our hope begins to be restored.  Maybe our salvation is tied with our response to God using us to be a part of someone else's rescue and recreation as well.   If so, apathy not only spells doom for those we fail to help, but for ourselves as well.

On Sunday we'll study hope and Isaiah 62 as it relates to us personally - how God makes us beautiful.  Pray and respond generously for the suffering people of Haiti.
- Curtis