Friday, July 23, 2010

Outward Focus--it is about attitude--our own

This week the esteemed Stated Clerk of Minnesota Valleys Presbytery who is also on the City Council of Redwood Falls, Minnesota who is also my little sister sent me a link to a blog written by Landon Whitsitt, the new vice-moderator of our denomination. He wrote about what it means to be an open-source church. The blog can be found here:

Landon compared the church to Wikipedia. The process is simple--one person writes about a topic, another person edits the topic, and the process keeps going. According to the blog, Wikipedia is clear about its own identity and also has clear guidelines for handling disputes. In bold letters, Landon wrote that “being an open source church is not so much about content but attitude."

During the last 24 hours, I’ve written a devotion about Chain of Lakes’ Core Value of “Outward Focus.” This summer I’m preaching on the eight Core Values of our new church. (Links to the sermons and the devotion I write for each sermon can be found at our web site—

It’s fascinating to me that the challenges of having an Outward Focus are certainly not new. I think that we humans are predisposed to focus on ourselves, our own problems and the internal interests of our own communities. This isn’t a 21st century problem—just read some of the stories in Acts—the story of Peter in Acts 10 or the struggles of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. These stories illustrate the different attitudes that people had towards having an Outward Focus. Peter was hesitant to eat food that God wanted him too; a sect of the Pharisees had problems with the outreach to the Gentiles.

Self-centeredness is one of the hardest sins to overcome. It afflicts all of us no matter what our theology (conservative or liberal), our politics (Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc.), our denominational affiliation, our … you get the picture.

Perhaps the key to the resurgence of the Presbyterian Church is all of us acknowledging the following, “ I am powerless over self-centeredness.” All recovered alcoholics know how hard it is to move through that first step. Perhaps the pastors and elders in our denomination can acknowledge the same challenge. Being open, having an open-source attitude is not about judging others—it’s first recognizing the forces in ourselves that limit our attitude.

Thank God, we have God on our side!! For myself, I can’t imagine successfully negotiating this first step without the help of God.

Can you?

Next week I'm off with my family to Synod School in Storm Lake, Iowa. I'll be taking a short break from blogging.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Serving the poor at Manna Market

Last week seven of us from Chain of Lakes Church volunteered at Manna Market, a food distribution ministry that is coordinated by Son Life Church in Blaine. Manna Market distributes fresh vegetables, fruit and meat products to low-income residents from eastern Anoka County. They distribute food on Tuesday and Thursday nights at Son Life Church.

This ministry was an opportunity for us at Chain of Lakes Church to have direct contact with low-income folks. My task was to stand behind a table and offer fresh meat. Each participant could choose one package of fresh meat from two boxes. The people selecting the meat were grateful and very polite. James Chapman, pastor of Son Life Church, shared with us that many of the families who come to Manna Market have zero income. The food that is distributed is the only fresh food that families will have for an entire week.

I enjoyed serving last week because I had the opportunity to see the face of the poor.

Before we started serving I saw a person who I knew I had seen in the past. I had a moment where I knew I had seen the person before, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen the person.

As the person came through the line, I remembered where I knew the person. The person was a server at a local restaurant. I have been to the restaurant many times; I never knew that this person was struggling financially.

I was touched that I was serving this person food at Manna Market--a person who had served me many times at a restaurant.

At that moment poverty wasn’t invisible to me. It was represented on the face of someone I had come to know—but obviously much of the person’s life was invisible to me.

I would guess that many of the rest of us would be shocked if we learned about people who are in poverty.

I’m very hopeful that we at Chain of Lakes can partner over time with Manna Market. This is a ministry that is directly living out Matthew 25—“whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to me.”

Friday, July 16, 2010

Letter to the Editor regarding English Only

The following is a Letter to the Editor I wrote that appeared in this week's edition of the Quad Press:

Before I became a pastor I worked for farm workers in California in the late 1980s. I came to understand that the phrase “English-only” was code for “you are not welcome here.”

When I read that Lino Lakes Councilman Dave Roeser wants to establish English as the official language of Lino Lakes, I couldn’t help but hear these code words.

In the article I read, Roeser was quoted as saying that the city doesn't spend any money right now on documents in languages other than English. His proposed policy would guarantee that the city wouldn't be required to spend money in the future on translation services. He said his motivation for this policy is to save the city money.

It seems strange to me that Roeser would want to save money on an issue that isn’t costing the city anything. And he’s using words that minority groups have come to understand to mean, “you are not welcome here.”

I don't know Dave Roeser. I would be happy to grill a steak for him and listen closely to him in order to understand his rationale for having an English-only policy in Lino Lakes, a city where the new church I serve worships.

I would like every person in our country to learn and know English; however I've never been convinced that passing English-only policies causes people to learn English. I've seen the English-only rhetoric for what it is — a way to make immigrants, legal and illegal, know that they aren’t truly part of the community.

As a person of faith, my final test is what would Jesus do. He spent much of his time with the people whom his first-century culture ignored. If he lived in the United States today, I believe he would go out of his way to spend time with people who didn't speak English. I believe he would encourage this group to learn English, but he wouldn't do it by passing a law.

Immigrants have the responsibility to assimilate; just as politicians have the responsibility to be frank about their motives.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Recap of General Assembly

Last Saturday, July 10, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) completed its work at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

A big congratulations to the Committee on Local Arrangements for their work in hosting the General Assembly. I know that some folks had worked on the General Assembly for years. Part of their work was recruiting hundreds of volunteers to help at General Assembly. As a pastor I know how recruitment can be a nerve-wracking experience. From my outside perspective it seemed that the General Assembly operated very smoothly.

Tonight I will give a short report to the Steering Committee at Chain of Lakes Church about what happened at General Assembly. On Sunday, July 25 Gordon Dosher, a commissioner to General Assembly will come to Chain of Lakes Church and give us a report.

An excellent pastoral letter summarizing the actions of General Assembly can be found here:

The letter highlighted five significant issues on which the General Assembly took action. According to the letter and the links on the letter this is what the General Assembly did. The explanations are from the links in the letter.

Civil Union and Marriage Issues
The General Assembly approved both the Final Report and the Minority Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage and ordered they be sent out for study by the wider church. The vote was 439 in favor, 208 against, with 6 abstentions. By this action (sending both reports for study) the Assembly maintained the definition of marriage as "a man and a woman.” With the action to send the reports for study, no change has occurred, or is pending.

Form of Government
The General Assembly voted to recommend a revised Form of Government to the presbyteries with a vote of 468 in favor, 204 against, and 6 abstentions – a 70%‐30% margin. The new Form of Government includes:
• Foundations of Presbyterian Polity ‐‐ the principles that are foundational to government, worship, and discipline for the PC(USA). Preserves the vast majority of the material in the first four chapters of the current Form of Government.
• Form of Government ‐‐ in six chapters, which spells out the constitutional framework for government of the PC(USA) as it seeks to respond to God’s call to life in mission.
• Advisory Handbook for Councils for the Development of Policies and Procedures Required by the Form of Government ‐‐ an aid to councils (governing bodies) of the church for developing the policies and procedures to carry out their mission.

Nothing has changed until a majority of presbyteries vote to approve this new Form of Government. Voting must be completed by July 10, 2011, and if affirmative, the new Book of Order would take effect the next day.

Middle East
The General Assembly approved a comprehensive report on the Middle East – its first since 1997. The paper calls for:
• An immediate cessation of all violence, whether perpetrated by Israelis or Palestinians;
• The reaffirmation of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders;
• The end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories;
• An immediate freeze on the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and on the Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land and buildings in East Jerusalem;
• And many other steps toward peace in the region.

Middle Governing Body Commission
The 219th General Assembly (2010) has created a Middle Governing Body Commission with the power to act as the General Assembly, upon request of presbyteries and synods. The commission has the power “to organize new synods and to divide, unite, or otherwise combine synods or portions of synods previously existing” (G‐13.0103m) and “to approve the organization, division, uniting or combining of presbyteries or portions of presbyteries by synods” (G‐13.0103n) — upon the request, by a majority vote, of the affected presbyteries and/or synod.

Ordination Standards
The 219th General Assembly (2010) proposed a change to the PC(USA) Constitution regarding ordination standards by a vote of 373‐323‐4. This action does not change the Constitution. It is a first step in the process. A majority of the 173 presbyteries would have to vote in the affirmative to approve the replacement by July 10, 2011.

The first statement would replace the second statement in the Book of Order
1. “Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G‐1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G‐14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation
(W‐4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

2. “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W‐4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self‐acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or
installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”

The bottom line for me is how these actions will enhance the ministry of a local congregation. Last night I read an outstanding article written by Barbara Wheeler in the most recent issue of the Christian Century. She shared a detailed description about the challenges of providing pastoral leadership in a small, rural congregation. She shared the pros and cons of hiring a Commissioned Lay Pastor.

After reading the article I wondered about how the actions of the General Assembly will help this congregation. How will the above five issues enhance the ministry of that congregation?

Even though the General Assembly spent enormous energy on these five issues and debated them with passion, I would say that most of them won’t affect the ministry of that church. And that is one reason we Presbyterians are struggling.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Skipping town

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in General Assembly in many ways the past five days and now am skipping town for a family vacation. This blog will be quite until next week.

I had a wonderful time sharing Communion at Opening worship, driving international commissioners from the airport to their hotel, participating in Tuesday’s morning worship, and staffing our Presbytery’s table yesterday for Chain of Lakes Church.

I’m very pleased that the Form of Government Report has cleared committee and will go to the entire Assembly.

I will keep the General Assembly in my prayers over the next four days. I look forward to seeing what the Spirit accomplishes through these dedicated servants!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Opening Worship at General Assembly

On my Facebook page I just shared my feelings about Opening worship this morning at General Assembly, “Terrific opening worship service at General Assembly--I'll remember it for a very long time. Praise God from whom all blessings flow ...”

I was one of many Communion servers and arrived at 7:30 a.m. at the Convention Center to receive my training. And even though I’ve administered Communion hundreds of times, I appreciated that we received training. I quickly learned that whoever planned and implemented this service was paying attention to details.

As soon as I entered the Convention Center I felt the spiritual energy. I saw many Presbyterians who I know and greeted them. We had a feeling of celebration from the start. I could feel a sense of anticipation—that something very special was going to happen. I felt like a greeting machine—dispensing “hi’s” and “how are yous” and “this is a very special day” to anyone I knew who came near me.

We Presbyterians are so good at identifying our own problems. It felt good to celebrate!

The opening of worship took my heart away. Fern Cloud, a commissioned lay pastor from Rapid City was dressed in traditional Native American apparel. She and Elona Street-Stewart shared the welcoming. Animals (humans dressed that way) and then large Native American figures walked by where I sat. I saw a bunny hopping and skunks skitter by. The processional was a story of creation with a midwestern accent.

I so appreciated a welcome from these Native Americans. It fit our history and context. It affirmed my recent thoughts opposing the English Only initiative that a Lino Lakes City council member has floated. If we truly want to go back to our native language, we should all learn Ojibwee. I don’t propose that, but we have to remember that we Caucasians brought English with us to this land. Now we Caucasians are called to welcome people who look and act differently than us.

Now former moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow knocked the sermon out of the park. Much of what he shared is what we are trying to create at Chain of Lakes Church. He shared the challenges of being Presbyterian mean we have to work together. He shared a beautiful story of a an elderly woman who became angry with him in a congregation he served because of how the flowers looked in the sanctuary. After her outburst, Bruce shared with her that he didn’t care about the flowers. That is the mistake we all make about people who disagree with us. We don’t care about them. We don’t care about them as people, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as children of God. We just don’t care enough. Bruce shared the Core Value of “Healthy Disagreement” that we’ve articulated at Chain of Lakes.

Bruce shared that he dreams of a church where we have more people in their 20’s than 30’s than 40’s than 50’s than 60’s than 70’s instead of vice versa, which we have now. Amen and preach it! His thoughts shared the Core Value of “Investing in Future Generations” we articulated at Chain of Lakes.

I watched the breathtaking baptism of Alexis Renee Sanders. Alexis is part of Kwanza Community Church. Watching Rev. Alika Galloway take Alexis in her arms was seeing an illustration of God’s clinging to us as humans. (The preceding thought came from Donna Christison from Community Presbyterian in Plainview. Donna shared this with me after worship.) I teared up when many of the Kwanza Community church, sitting near the stage rose to affirm that they would raise Alexis in the faith. This African-American congregation from North Minneapolis committed to instilling faith in this precious child. I very much appreciated the diversity in worship. We shared theological diversity—musicians from Westminster, Church of All Nations, and Christ Presbyterian in Edina—shared their gifts. I appreciated the different styles of music from classic hymns to contemporary Praise Band selections. Through our diversity we were united in our desire and passion to worship. These diverse styles complimented each other and didn’t tear at the fabric of our unity.

The power of worship will fade, but the principles lived out give us as Presbyterians hope in which to grasp as we face an unsettling future.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The most important issue at General Assembly Changing the Form of Government

The most important issue for the 2010 General Assembly is the Form of Government report. I find our current Form of Government (the first of three parts of the Book of Order) to be cumbersome, regulatory, and much too large. It operates as a Manual of Operations instead of a guiding sense of constitutional principles. Any policy that moves our Form of Government from a Manual of Operations into a guiding sense of constitutional principles will serve our denomination well.

My friend and colleague, Neal Lloyd has done a marvelous job of sharing the rationale for changing the Form of Government. His blog can be found here:

Our current Form of Government is too easily changed and too frequently debated. We have made a great mistake of turning the idea of being Presbyterian into a regulatory system called the Form of Government.

I am Presbyterian because we are a denomination where pastors and elders work together to lead our governing bodies; I am Presbyterian because we believe that God alone is Lord of the conscience—we don’t tell people to think a particular way in order to be a Presbyterian; I am Presbyterian because we support women pastors and elders; I am Presbyterian because of our history of opposing racial discrimination, war, and our advocacy for the poor; I am Presbyterian because when operating well we have a fluid form of government where power moves both up and down; I am Presbyterian because we have a wonderful record of starting schools and hospitals and are committed to public education; I am Presbyterian because of our commitment to overseas missions and missionaries. I am Presbyterian because we can combine the best of our conservative traditions (prayer, Bible Study, worship) with the best of our liberal traditions (involvement in the community, social justice, advocacy for the poor and the earth).

I am not a Presbyterian because of the Form of Government. I would go as far to say that I am a Presbyterian despite our Form of Government. I follow it, but am not energized to be Presbyterian because of it.

I would like to say that I am a Presbyterian because of our Form of Government and our Book of Order.

During my 17 year tenure as a pastor I have had many people ask me what it means to be a Presbyterian. Before I grew wiser, I used to give people a copy of the Book of Order and asked them to read it. I never had a person come back to me and say they were clearer about being a Presbyterian because of the Book of Order.

As a New Church Development pastor I would love to give people a copy of the Book of Order that contains a Form of Government which is short, concise, and shares certain constitutional principles that are essential to who we are as Presbyterians.

One reason the United States has survived and thrived as a country for over two hundred years is the strength of our constitution. The constitution sets forth a set of principles that governs our nation. The constitution can be changed, but it rarely is. Any change must go through a very rigorous process. Recently deceased Senator, Robert Byrd reportedly carried a copy of the constitution in his shirt pocket.

If our country can have a constitution that is carried in a person’s shirt pocket, why can’t the Presbyterian Church do the same?

I encourage this General Assembly to change our Form of Government so that it becomes a set of constitutional principles, one that could be carried in my back pocket, if not my shirt pocket.

I would like to be able to say that I am a Presbyterian because of our Form of Government and our Book of Order. The General Assembly can make a very important step in that direction, a step that could have an impact on future Presbyterians for generations to come.