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Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Round-Up

2015 has been a full and different kind of year. Last year at this time I wrote about finishing renovations, new patterns of exercise and recreation, and looking forward to being fully staffed at church. For both myself and the congregation, 2015 felt like a 'recovery' year from a pretty exhausting 2014. Though that language seems to fit a personal workout rather than the overall experience of a community, it seems apt nonetheless. And where I anticipated being fully staffed early in the year, it was fall before we had new staff in place. (And they are wonderful!)

So as I look back on the year, I see myself leaning back into core ministries of preaching and leading worship, struggling (a bit) to maintain weight and exercise routines, and only rediscovering time and space for recreation and music late in the Fall. So what follows are some highlights of this past year.

Sermon Series: I don't always preach in series, but when I do, I often enjoy the cumulative effect of building on a theme or digging deep into a topic. We had several this year; here are the indices:

  • Holy Habits: the Law as Teacher: patterns and practices God established that still cultivate and develop a healthy spiritual life
  • Tested with Us and for Us: on the benefits of Jesus' humanity to identify with us
  • What is the Good News: a basic look at several aspects of the Christian message
  • Teach Us to Pray (The Lord's Prayer): our longest series by far, we looked at scriptures to understand (and pray) each phrase of the Lord's Prayer
  • Welcome Wanderers: working through Ephesians 2 to see how extraordinary is the gracious welcome offered through Jesus Christ
  • Psalm 24: a three-week study on Psalm 24 that really covers the whole biblical story
  • Advent: a look at the hope, love, joy, and peace of God w/personal testimony
Individual Sermons: three sermons that stood out as "most downloaded" as well as meaningful to me. It is interesting to me that two of them came from our 'number' series early in the year and that the three represent a nice range of interests (spiritual struggle, spiritual discipline, spiritual health).
  1. "40: Waiting on God" (Psalm 37:1-7a, Acts 7:20-36) - three stories of having to wait on God
  2. "10: Tithing" (Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Matthew 23:23-26) - this was the first time I had preached on tithing not during the "stewardship season" of the church; it was a profound text for me to work through
  3. "Fit for What?" (Hebrews 12:1-11) - what does spiritual health look like? and how do we get started?
Testimonies: this was a year of meaningful testimonies shared in and with the church; some are included below; I started to note "this is amazing!" next to them, but they are all amazing and really significant testimonies of God's goodness!
  • Cynthia Roberts (audio link, 7 min) - responding to the question "Where have you seen or experienced the Good News of Christ?"
  • Marty McKenzie (audio link, 5 min) - responding to the question "How have you experienced the HOPE of God?"; Marty shares personal loss and struggle and how hope in God has sustained her
  • Karen Katibah (audio link, 6 min) -  responding to the question "How have you experienced the JOY of Jesus Christ?"; Karen, a senior in college, shares about the uncertainties of graduating from college and the joy she has discovered in following God's leading
  • Cynthia Roberts (audio link, 4 min) - responding to the question "How have you experienced the PEACE of God?"; Cynthia shares about the loss of her mother and God's peace
Music: one of the goals/habits I cultivated in 2014 was trying to regularly write or record music; I called this "Sundays for Singing," trying to post something each Sunday. I certainly didn't generate a post weekly, but it did get the wheels turning again. Here are a few unpolished examples:
  • "Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul" - a worship song by Kevin Twit (Indelible Grace) to a text by Anne Steele; wonderful words for those struggling in this world
  • "Hail the Day that Christ Arose" - an encouraging song by Steve and Vikki Cook (adapted from a Wesley hymn text) about the benefits of Christ's resurrection
I was also excited for my friend, John Duncan, to get a life-long dream up and running in Beathaven. It brings the opportunity of professional interaction, review, and submission of ideas to amateur musicians. I was pleased that John used several of my instrumental tracks (here's one example) in setting up the site and interacting with him around the Beathaven service has spurred some enjoyable musical creativity.
    Health/Fitness - Just a few benchmarks to mark (for myself) where I am. Still running and walking regularly, though I've put some weight back on this year. (here are last year's data also shown +- below). Everything is a little shorter and slower, but still a significant amount of work. Big goals ahead for 2016!
    • Jan-Dec: approx. +5 lbs ...but still down 25 from pre-2013
    • 279 (-61) workouts in 213 (-40) hours
    • 155,000 (-49k) total calories burned
    • 502 (-153) mi. running + 400 (-71) mi. walking = 902 (-224) total miles
    • Longest Run: 10.1 mi. [did this 2x, but no 13.1 runs this year]
    • Fastest Runs:
      • 1mi: 7:59 min/mi
      • 5k: 10:09 min/mi
      • 5mi: 10:07 min/mi
      • 9mi: 11:35 min/mi
      • 10mi: 12:18 min/mi

    Tuesday, December 01, 2015

    refugees, faith, and freedom

    I worked on this post off-and-on for two weeks and was still holding it, thinking I could improve it. And, I wanted to link to numerous articles I had read that I thought were helpful. But, instead, it has just sat in the draft folder for too long. So, I'm posting and will come back and add to it, if so led. I'd rather do that then not ever post it at all. (1.1.15)

    Thanksgiving week, 2015

    Particularly since the acts of terror and loss of life in Paris, the question of how the U.S. will respond to Syrian (and other) refugees in days to come. Rather than speak quickly, I have read widely and pondered deeply because the question of how to respond is interwoven with compassion, faith, religion, politics, nationalism, fear, and many other factors. No one person or article can address the question fully; sadly, many have not addressed the question meaningfully at all, but have added to the problem by circulating false information and (intentionally or not) fanning the flames of fear.

    After pondering whether and what to add to the fray, I want to focus on one particular part of a response and then link to some of the articles and commentary I have found most helpful (and accurate).

    As a Christian and pastor, my first response has to do with faith and the teachings of Jesus, that kind of response has been handled well by others.

    Thought, Speech, and Action

    One meme I continue to see online goes something like this: "If you had a bowl of 1000 smarties and you knew 10 of them were poison, would you eat any of them?" One more accurate and thoughtful response points out that the actually percentage of refugees who have proven to be terrorists is more like .005% AND if you knew that each smartie you didn't eat meant the death of a woman or child, then yes, you sure would take the risk. Another outright lie suggests that "most of the refugees would be 20-something Muslim men of fighting age." Not only is that completely distorted and untrue, but it crystallized for me a point that I have not seen addressed well or at all: that is the distinction between thought, speech, and action.

    In this country, THOUGHTS are our own (at least legally!). We may try to shape and sway them through media and marketing, but at the end of the day you can't read someone's mind and you can't make them think something they don't want to. We also have written into our founding documents that SPEECH is free and protected. There are some limits on that, like shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater, but broadly speaking, free speech is protected and guarded, even when it cuts against deeply held public values. Where we draw the line on stepping "out of bounds" is with ACTIONS. If you break the law (and are caught), you are arrested; there are consequences. That is true of running traffic lights as well as it is of committing treason.

    So, you can think all day long about driving 100 mph on your local Main Street. You can make speeches and publish blogs about your belief that driving fast is okay (as long as no one is hurt). You may run into trouble if your "speech" starts to cross the line into threatening others... that's the gray part. But you will certainly be arrested and punished if you head out to Main Street and put the pedal to the metal.

    I know there are some exceptions to all that, but ponder the refugees for a moment. Are we really ready to say that all should be kept out of the country because some might have thoughts many of us don't agree with? Is that our standard for justice, much less for compassion?

    "But, there are surely some refugees that might harm us!" you say. Well illegal action or definitive intent to commit illegal action needs to be the line, I respond. Think about some other implications otherwise of that "one in a bowl of smarties" meme.

    • I read in the news that some percentage of young black men are in gangs and commit violent crimes. Does that mean we should enact laws against ALL young black men for thought, speech, or for a certain statistical profile?  
    • I read in the news that some percentage of school shootings are by young white men who (often) identify or are described as fundamentalist Christian and/or white supremacists. Does that mean we should enact laws against ALL young white men? against fundamentalist Christians? against white supremacists per se?
    • I read in the news that some percentage of Catholic and evangelical Christians so strongly believe abortion to be sin (and morally equivalent to murder) that some commit criminal acts. Does this mean we should enact laws against all Catholics and evangelicals? against all who identify as pro-life? 
    • I read in the news that some Christians (and Muslims and other religious groups) teach and preach that homosexual sex is a 'sin' and should be considered legally as hate speech. Does this mean that doing so should be a jailable offense?
    It's one thing to be part of the "in-group" and decide that the person you disagree with should be penalized for a different belief. But if you do that based on thought or speech (or only on statistical data!), you are crossing a line that needs to be carefully examined before "they come for you."

    I believe one of the great strengths of our democratic republic is the freedom of thought and speech we have written into the fabric of our society. We forget it sometimes, to our great detriment and moral loss. (Japanese internment, McCarthyism, etc., etc...)  So, in addition to the many other good reasons to welcome men, women, and children who are fleeing horrific torture and death, let us not forget the very freedoms we cherish  as we wrestle with protecting the freedoms we cherish.

    Thursday, October 29, 2015


    I was recently quoted in an article by Jodi Craiglow entitled, "Is there hope for PCUSA evangelicals today?"  I thought I would bump my old article to the top of my blogs in case anyone wants to read the quote in its fuller context.

    In mid-January 2012, Moderator Cynthia Bolbach and a group of other ruling and teaching elders posted a video entitled, "Hope for the PC(USA)."  They invited others in the church to share with the church why we believe "this to be the beginning, not the end, of what God has planned for us."  What follows is my answer to that invitation...

    I have great hope and conviction that God is alive and well and at work in this world in which we live. That was just confirmed in person as I sat at the corner coffee shop and had a conversation with the manager who has become a friend, who shared some of her own personal burdens, the help she gains from her recent faith, and her desire to follow God's leading in her work and life. That she had no church background or desire to know God did not stop God from pursuing and finding her. Thankfully. Mercifully. Gloriously!

    I have great hope that God is alive and well and at work in the part of the Church called the PCUSA. I see it as I share stories with friends across the presbytery and across the country. For instance, I see it in my good friend's church - a "transformation church" that has struggled to cling to life, battled the prospect of change, and embodies new life in Christ. Despite struggle and tears, even accusations and opposition, I have heard and seen the Gospel of Jesus Christ SHINE through her and those remaining to become God's church in their neighborhood. I see our presbytery responding to a vision of becoming less about institutional maintenance (survival?!) and more about asking what God is already doing through the congregations of our presbytery. Despite resistance to change, guarding of territory, and fear of the unknown, I have seen the Spirit stir and move in and among our presbytery.

    I am not ignorant or indifferent to the challenges before us. John Vest's "Pathos" post was piercingly truthful about the ways we fail and fall short. But my hope is not pinned to institutional "success," human merit, or theological position. Honestly, I have been disappointed by people all across the theological spectrum; I have also been greatly encouraged, challenged, and witnessed to by people all across the theological spectrum. People are people... and they sure aren't God. My hope comes from a conviction that God's ability to move, work, help, and save is not dependent on human success or faithfulness. That doesn't let us off the hook in terms of faithfulness or obedience, but it sure keeps me from becoming hopeless.

    Finally, I have great hope because of my own congregation and ministry. And lest that seem obvious or self-promoting, that hope comes precisely because of my own keen awareness of my limitations and failures. One of the ways I describe our congregation is "ordinary people; extraordinary God" - and I mean every bit of that. There is nothing I would deem good or bad, faithful or unfaithful, Jesus-centered or wayward as Hell, in the denomination that I don't also encounter in my own congregation and my own life. And God keeps showing up, stirring us up, calling us back, cleaning us up, and sending us out under the Word, sealed in the Spirit, and following the Son.

    Thankfully. Mercifully. Gloriously!

    Wednesday, September 23, 2015

    ::SCOTLAND ROUND-UP:: [repost]


    A trip to Scotland in summer of 2014 was enjoyable and wonderful in and of itself; it also occasioned significant reflection, as demonstrated in a number of blog posts. Here is an index of those posts.

    Wednesday, September 09, 2015

    missional life in the small(er) church [repost]


    Some key posts gathered into one list.

    • Wednesday Night Experiment (series) - initial description and follow-up reports of our experiment of pushing the Wednesday night church meeting outside the walls into the neighborhood.  Some exciting results!!  Continue reading about year two HERE.
    • Missional Identity in the Small Church (series) - this series chronicles the visioning, communication, implementation, etc... of a missional identity at Good Shepherd.  This material was compiled for a workshop I taught, but comes from an officer retreat in 2006.  The initial link has links to the successive posts.
    • Each One Bring One - our September 2012 outreach emphasis with a home-grown video from our drama and children's ministry
    • VBS on the Road - the story of taking our Vacation Bible School outside the walls
    • Searchlight-in-Training - a missional look at parenting my young daughter
    • More than Cookies - narrative of two memorable days in ministry that highlight our growing missional mindset along with the mess and the glory of being a lighthouse and searchlight church
    • Truth and Error (series) - study of truth and error in the local church from 2 Timothy 2
    • Frost Defines Missional (part 1, part 2, part 3) - blogged through Michael Frost's presentation on missional church at the 2007 Presbyterian Global Fellowship conference
    • The Talent Challenge - a real-life missional "parable of the Talents" exercise; two follow-up reports below
      • Mission Benefit Concert - a $20 talent turned into a fabulous fund-raising concert for our missionaries in Spain; raised $1800!
      • Family business in Nicaragua - a $20 talent sent to our missionaries in Nicaragua purchased equipment for start-up sewing classes

    Wednesday, August 26, 2015

    this is grace [repost]


    After the messages on "Grace and Truth" I saw this description of that worship service posted on Facebook. I'll also include my follow-up comment and another... to be sure there are days when we don't get it right, but then there are days like this where we catch a glimpse of God's purposes in the Church... and it's pretty glorious if you're looking (or as more than a few spiritual directors have named it: "cultivating the discipline of noticing" God's presence)!

    PRISCILLA: One of the many reasons I love having the opportunity to celebrate communion Sunday with all of you is the kids. For whatever reason, even the youth seemed to be sitting with family today, my own daughter sat with me. As service progressed and I would glance around I saw so many children being physically loved on in the pews. This was not just the little ones either. Teenagers were getting and openly receiving love all around the sanctuary. Middle-schoolers ended up on someone's lap or holding a hand. One family's 3 elementary aged children all ended up on the 2 parents laps. These visuals added so much to the service this morning. Thank you all for sharing your precious children with this community of believers!
    ROBERT (me): I also heard babies cooing, giggling, and fussing (and wouldn't trade it for anything); I saw our good friend with the stroke pat a young boy on the back as they arrived at the Communion Table to leave something in the Ten Cents a Meal basket; I saw a couple of guys from the men's group home worshiping all-out; I saw some new faces eagerly engaged in worship; I saw some folks I know are struggling with the whole idea of faith, but are there checking it out because someone they love is there. It is a very beautiful thing and I am beyond blessed to pastor this flock.
    RUTH: For here is Jesus, welcoming all into HIS family - the young and the old, the strong and the weak, the puzzled and the calm, the grieving and the peaceful, the lonely and the scared. All looking so diverse on the outside, yet all made in HIS image, all with eternity set in their hearts by HIM. And this is what LOVE is - this is GRACE.

    Wednesday, August 05, 2015

    grace and truth [repost]

    Monday Musings are reflections on things I've been pondering lately. They may be a result of the previous day's sermon or come from my own life or the ministry I'm involved with. As with any of my posts, I invite your comments, questions, or further reflection. Thanks for stopping in!

    Early in 2014 I was preaching on truth and grace and one of the dear members of the church was led to create a grace and truth banner for our sanctuary.

    I used that banner as a sermon illustration and it grew into this graphic, which spelled out a little more of what I think Jesus was teaching.

    The gist of the idea is that real grace and real truth are inseparable. There is a false grace ("license") and a false truth ("legalism"), but the real thing is held together in Christ (literally, IN Christ - embodied in as well as taught by).

    Further, in that space between grace and truth there is FREEDOM, specifically two freedoms. There is FREEDOM TO FAIL, which is an important freedom. It is the freedom to hear the truth of God’s Word and be found both guilty and still wanted and loved. We settle for believing we are not guilty or for finding others who look worse than we are. Yet we are not righteous before God. And here’s the Good News: we are not cast out, but we are chosen, wanted, and loved.

    And in understanding that, accepting that, and rising in that, there is the FREEDOM TO LIVE. That’s also in that space and tension between grace and truth, in the presence of Christ. It’s a freedom to obey God’s Word, not because we have to, but because we want to. It’s the freedom that comes from failing and experiencing forgiveness. It’s the freedom God has designed us for. And it exists there in the middle space.

    That's the main idea I'm continuing to muse upon. You can read more in the three sermons linked below (especially the second one, where I first used this graphic).

    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    Ash Wednesday 2015

    We cancelled our Ash Wednesday service this year (2015) because of weather. For those who want to have an Ash Wednesday devotion at home, here is some of what we were going to do tonight. I hope you find it helpful.  In Christ, Robert

    Here is a video which captures the whole of the service; we were going to view it (5 min.) at the end as we prepared to leave.

    Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church

    February 18, 2015

        Tonight’s service will be mostly silence, scripture, and prayer.  Use this time to shut off phones, turn away from text messages, lay aside schedules and work and projects.  Try to slow down and enter quietly into the presence of God in order to consider “Who am I?” “Who is God?”
        Tonight’s service is a service of penitence.  It is about coming before God in all our frailty, weakness, and sinfulness; it is about humbly asking, “Lord, have mercy.”  Prepare your hearts and prepare your minds, for God is here.

    Call to Worship    Isaiah 6:1-7

    1 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

    God’s Word to Us    Who is God?    Job 42:1-6
    1 Then Job answered the Lord and said, 2 “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” 4 ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ 5 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; 6 Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.”
    Prayer of Recognition - finish these sentences from Job 42 in your own words as you pray.
    • I have heard of you, but now I see you…
    • Therefore I retract and I repent…
    God’s Word to Us    Who is Jesus?    Hebrews 5:5-10
    5 Neither did Christ presume to set himself up as high priest, but was set apart by the One who said to him, “You’re my Son; today I celebrate you!” 6 In another place God declares, “You’re a priest forever in the royal order of Melchizedek.” 7 While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God. Because he honored God, God answered him. 8 Though he was God’s Son, he learned trusting-obedience by what he suffered, just as we do. 9 Then, having arrived at the full stature of his maturity and having been announced by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek, 10 he became the source of eternal salvation to all who believingly obey him.  (The Message)
    Prayer of Identification - pray and ponder quietly as you identify with Jesus
    • Cried out in pain and wept in sorrow…
    • What he suffered…
    • Jesus’ trusting-obedience…
    • My disobedience…
    -------------CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE-------------

    God’s Word to Us    Who am I?    Ps. 24:3-5; Romans 3:23
        Psalm 24:3 Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully. 5 He shall receive a blessing from the Lord And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
        Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
    Prayer of Confession (read together)
    Most merciful God, to whom all hearts are open, to whom all desires known, from whom no secrets are hid, we confess and acknowledge our wickedness:  we have robbed You of Your glory; we have not loved you with our whole being; and we have worshiped idols made with our own hands.  Against you have we sinned.  (Silent reflection)

    We confess that we have not loved our neighbors; we have not served them; we have hidden the truth of your grace from them in our deeds, we have clung to things that bring us good, rather than sacrificing for our neighbor’s good.  (Silent reflection)

    Father, for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, forgive us and renew us.  Strengthen our love and desire for you in these coming days, turn our hearts to You that we may delight in Your ways.  Amen

    -------------IMPOSITION OF ASHES-------------
    Scripture    A Sign of our Penitence    Genesis 3:19
    19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”
    Imposition of Ashes
    Please come forward down the center aisle as you are ready.  Pastor Robert will put the sign of the cross on your forehead using a mixture of palm ashes and water.  Spend the time before, during, and after in prayer and personal confession to God.  Return not to your seat of solitude, but to the first few rows that Pastor Robert will indicate.


    Scripture    One Like Us Who Saves Us   
    Hebrews 4:14-16
        14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
    Psalm 113:5-7
        5 Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high, 6 Who humbles Himself to behold The things that are in heaven and in the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the needy from the ash heap…
    Prayers of Thanks and Intercession (open)

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