Thursday, October 28, 2010

The power of a sentence

As I look back over they years there are a number of sentences that have had a huge influence upon my life. No doubt, books have made a significant impact upon me. But what made the books influential were the sentence or two within its covers that tattooed themselves upon my mind or heart or soul.

Here is a sampling of sentences from my favorite books and writers used by the Spirit of God to bring about transformation in my life. Although I could write pages about each sentence I will let them stand on their own for your reading and pondering.

"But there is such a thing as rising early for the love of God." (Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 44)

"Beyond all and in all is God." (Pursuing the Monk's Life by Thomas Merton, July 17, 1956)

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." (Now and Then by Frederick Buechner, p. 87)

"For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts." (The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer, p. 9-10)

"for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces."
(Poems and Prose by Gerard Manley Hopkins, p. 51)

"God and passion. That is why I was a pastor, that is why I had come to this place: to live in the presence of God, to live with passion - and to gather others into the presence of God, introducing them into the possibilities of a passionate life." (Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene H. Peterson, p. 45)

"The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God." (Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, p. 161)

"We are like sponges trying to mop up the ocean. We can never know God exhaustively. We can never picture God or imagine him. Either we make him too small, and we strain at that, or we make him too big, and he strains us. We have not got to invent God, nor to hold him. He holds us. I want you to hold very clearly the otherness of God, and the littleness of men. If you don't get that you can't have adoration, and you cannot have religion without adoration. I know more and more how small I am, how great God is." (Letters to a Niece by Baron Fredrich von Hugel, p. 24)

That's a start. I could go on and on. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

25 Years

This past Sunday marked my twenty-fifth anniversary at Canby Alliance Church. I preached my first sermon on the last Sunday of July, 1985. I was twenty-nine years old at the time, married for nearly seven years, and newly graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. I learned first-hand from two of the elders soon after my arrival that they didn't vote for my coming because they thought I was too young and couldn't do the job. I came without knowing what I was going to be paid. I still remember the jest of my first sermon - quit talking behind each other's backs; if you have something to say to me, say it to my face; it's time to forgive one another and heal from the past.

Why those words? The previous two pastors had been asked to leave. Though the first one had been dismissed six years earlier there was still some residual pain lingering in some. The second dismissal was still fresh in everyone's mind and heart. There were the usual differences of opinion about his leaving - some thought it was right and others felt it was wrong or hadn't been handled right. The church body was divided. Mistrust had crept in. Some people had left the church and others were sitting on the fence. Many people were hurting. In retrospect, I had no idea what I was getting into. But God was more than gracious to this young pastor and the congregation he had been called to lead.

On that warm Sunday in July twenty-five years ago I never dreamed that I would still be here in 2010. That seemed like an eternity away back then. My vision for the church in those first months was pretty simple - the church needs to heal, people need to learn to trust each other again, we need to find our unity in Christ, and we can get through this if we choose, under God, to get through this together.

One of my goals for my first year of ministry was to visit every church family in their home. Part of my reason for visitation was to ask everyone how they were dealing with the past and how I could help them move on. Those visits taught me a lot about the church and the hurts, fears, and hopes that people carried. Time after time I realized after leaving a home that these people were good people, had tons of potential, and just needed someone to love and lead them.

One thing I clearly see now as I look back over the past twenty-five years is this - I believe God placed a love in my heart for these people. I didn't have to make it happen. I didn't have to pray for it. I didn't have to work at it. No matter how good or hard the times were, the love I felt in my heart for the church never waned. Even in my darkest moment ten years ago when I was swallowed by a season of depression, once I swept away the clouds I came face-to-face with this love. I can't separate this sense of love from my calling to Canby Alliance Church. The two go hand-in-hand together.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Monk for a Day

I woke up earlier than usual. I was excited because I had scheduled a day room - St. Michael's - at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey near Lafayette, about a 45 minute drive from Canby. The Abbey is one of my favorite places. For a couple of weeks my soul had been telling me I needed rest, some monastic solitude and silence. I pulled into the Dutch Brother's in Newberg before 6am and ordered a latte. I switched on the light in my day room twenty minutes later and turned up the heat. I laid out my Bible, journal, pens, and books on the desk.

I headed for the microwave in the Guest House kitchen to warm up my coffee. Brother Martin was busy making morning coffee for the overnight guests. "Good morning, brother. Are you still over in, what is that, Canby?" "Yes" I told him. "I haven't seen you for a while" he uttered. I replied, "Yea, it's been a long time since I've been here. You've got a good memory." Brother Martin smiled at me and pointed at his head, "Sometimes it works." He went about his business and I went about mine.

I walked outside to look up at the night sky. The morning sun was rising sooner than I expected. The sky was no longer black but a dark blue. A few stars were still shining, twinkling in the cool morning air. I stood still, closed my eyes, and tried to take in the silence. Renewal was already starting.

I opened my journal and started writing. My mind felt like it was in slow gear. Next I began my Bible reading out of Eugene Peterson's The Message Psalm 90-94 and then Luke 19-24. Next I grabbed my ESV Study Bible that I lugged along (it must weigh 25 lbs!) and turned to my sermon passage for Sunday - John 2:1-11, Jesus turning the water into wine. I carefully read the introduction to John's gospel and then the study notes for the passage. One thing led to another. Before long I was jumping all over the Old Testament and the New Testament tracing what the Bible said about the use of wine. Drunkenness is out but "joy" is in - joy is sometimes linked to wine in the Scriptures. I took some careful notes about the 7 signs in John's gospel of which Jesus turning the water into wine is the first.

Next I opened my journal and wrote out my prayers for the day. First, family concerns and then CAC people matters I feel called to pray for. Lately about the only way I can privately pray is by writing out my prayers, a number of journals of them since early this year. I seldom pace up and down in a room and pray out loud like I did for years. It doesn't work anymore so I only occasionally try it.

Next I went outside and walked down the Abbey road to the main highway. I wanted to feel the warm sunshine against my face. I wanted to hear singing birds. As I walked I looked down and saw a black, rust colored furry caterpillar walking across the road in front of me. I put my Nike running shoe in its path to see what it would do. The caterpillar crawled over the toe of my shoe and kept going.

Next I came back to the room and laid down and took a twenty minute nap that felt more like a couple of hours. It was just what I needed.

Next I made a quick diversionary trip to the Abbey bookstore, looked over both old and new titles, and got away without buying anything, somewhat of a miracle.!

Next I grabbed my copy of Godric by Frederick Buechner and my journal and found a quiet corner of the Abbey church to read and pray. I silently prayed through the prayer I wrote earlier that morning. I paused over names and situations that weighed upon my heart. I sought to give those prayers an extra push into heaven. Then I read a couple of chapters in my favorite Buechner novel. This is my third or fourth time to read Godric and each time seems more amazing than the time before.

Next I set off on my favorite hike on the Abbey grounds. By now it was noon. The warm sun was high over head and would push the mercury to 80 degrees. I looked up at a cloudless blue sky. I slowly made my way to the monk's picnic area located in the woods behind the monastery. I walked through the baseball field up into the tall, swaying fir trees that guarded the monk's volleyball and basketball courts, fire pit, and covered eating shelter. Think really simple and really primitive. Grass, dirt, ground cover for the courts. The eating shelter looks like its been there for fifty years, simply made out of leftover wood and materials. I have offered up many prayers here over the years as I've paced back and forth under the majestic fir trees that rise up into the sky to form an outdoor sanctuary for meeting God. I found a sunny spot, looked up into the sun, and closed my eyes - flies buzzing, birds singing, the faint sound of a distant combine.

I took a different trail back to the monastery, one that led me down a windy path next to a dried up creek bed. I heard branches snapping. I stopped and looked around. There across the path from me and standing about twenty feet up the hill was a deer, a doe, eating leaves off a bush of some kind. I expected her to bolt but she didn't. I talked to her. She looked straight at me. We stared each other down. And then she put her head down and continued to eat. She must have surmised that I wasn't a threat to her safety or lunch.

Next I went back to my room and grabbed my journal, Godric, and a new book, Regi Campbell's Mentor Like Jesus. I found a shady spot next to the big pond behind the Guest House. I opened
up Campbell and began to read. Every so often I heard water splashing so I looked down at the water's edge and spotted a large bullfrog. He was sitting in the water with the top of his head above the surface next to a tree stump. Dragon flies were flying around the stump. Occasionally one would light upon the stump or swoop down and touch the water. The bullfrog crouched still and when the time was right he lunged at the dragon fly and snapped it up. Once I happened to glance down at the right time and saw the bullfrog leap out of the water, catch a dragon fly in its mouth, and land at least twelve inches from where he started. Another time the bullfrog leaped completely over one branch of the tree stump. This was the first time I had ever been entertained by a bullfrog and dragon flies. The show was fascinating to watch and got in the way of my reading.

Next I went back up to my room, packed up, and headed out the door for home. The day was just what I needed. The weather could not have been nicer. The entertainment (caterpillar, deer, bullfrog, and dragon files) was awesome. And I caught up with my soul in a much-needed manner over the course of the 7 1/2 hours I spent at the Abbey. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Heather and I are going to Europe in November thanks to the travel voucher the church gave us this summer in recognition of my 25th anniversary at Canby Alliance Church. We are set to leave on November 4th to visit Prague and Paris.

Our first stop is going to be Prague in the Czech Republic. We were first attracted to Prague because of its reasonable prices (Europe can be very expensive). Over the past two months we have discovered that a number of people we know have visited Prague and highly recommend it. Prague escaped heavy bombing during World War II. Therefore its city center has the charming feel of an old world city. We are going to stay in a family-run hotel just a couple of blocks from the Old Town Square. Our plan is to put our feet to work and walk to as many places as we can on Prague's cobblestone streets. Most of the tourist sights can be found in a two square mile area.

After six days in Prague we are going to fly to Paris for four days. We will be staying in a fairly small hotel in the St. Germain des Pres section of the Latin Quarter. I stayed here four years ago on the way back from Africa. The hotel is located close to a number of famous cafes including one Ernest Hemingway frequented and helped put on the map in the 1920s. The oldest church in Paris, L'Lglise Saint-Germain des Pres, first completed in 558 and enlarged in 1163, is just around the corner. What I remember most about this area are the open markets, bakeries, cafes, and restaurants within just a block or two of the hotel.

We have limited ourselves to only visit two cities. The main reason for the trip is time together and time to rest. While we plan to do some sight-seeing we are going to carve out large chunks of time for reading, relaxation, and simply being together enjoying a nice meal, a good cup of European coffee, or a long walk exploring part of Prague or Paris.

We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the church's generosity and love. And we can hardly wait for November 4th to roll around!