Previously Preposterous Prospective Perceptions

Looking into an Early Sunset across Monastery Lake, Pecos, New Mexico
When ever Neal and I gather to write as we are this week the first thing we do is open scripture and pray on the question, "what do our congregations need to hear?" It's not an original question but it helps us focus. We go out to a new place, experience new things, see the world and our lives from a new and sometimes out of focus perspective and creativity begins to flow.

This week we checked in and out of the most inhospitable retreat center we have found in 16 years of writing. But it raised questions about the nature and function of hospitality in our congregations. It sent us into the scriptures looking at Jesus' hospitality and it lead us to a place of grace that we will be sharing in a couple of weeks. Just a teaser: it turns out that hospitality is a huge theme in Jesus' ministry and we will be playing and praying with Peter as he learns and relearns to fish for people.

Sometimes all it takes is a dip in a frozen lake to shock us awake.
Welcome to a world where Christ is making all things new.
Welcome to the adventure of advent.
Welcome to Peter's previously preposterous prospective perceptions!

LEAP

Kelsi on the Tree
A couple weeks ago at confirmation camp I got to see some folks conquer their fears. They gathered as a group, watched and learned from each other, then took their turn scampering up the tree and leaping from the platform as the rest of the group cheered them on.

It sounds fairly simple... Yet no description is adequate to what it FEELS like when you're the one on the tree. Those little metal loops you are supposed to grab and step on as your heart races away in your chest and your eyes dilate and you realize just how far away the ground is and how small the cheering friends are. It is enough though to keep moving, keep climbing, let your body do what it can do. Then leap and you're zipping down the cable.

WOOOHOOOO!

Sometimes our walk with God can be a similar adventure. God calls us into mission and ministry that we may find uncomfortable. Tithing, praying, helping, teaching, hosting, singing, planning, walking in neighborhoods, serving in leadership, can all feel quite daunting. Who has time in their schedule or room in their budget for these things? Contemplating taking the first step can be like standing at the base of a tree looking at the tiny little handholds. And yet you hear the encouragement of the saints that gather on Sundays to keep climbing and let the Body of Christ do what it can do.

We are coming up on a very active time in the life of the church. There are myriad opportunities to conquer your fears and grow your faith as you engage in God's work in the world through Family of Grace. The cheers are rising as you...

LEAP!

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Already Not Yet

the new view from my study is already amazing and not yet fully filled...
The landscaping improvements at Family of Grace are already looking great.
     They are not yet fully complete.
The transformation of our worship space and our worship face has already begun.
     It is not yet fully realized.
Our transition to a new choir director has already begun.
     It is not yet fully complete.
Our welcoming of health ministry has already begun, with Stephen Ministers and a Parish Nurse.
     It is not yet fully grown.
Our ministry to the community with our Good Samaritan Fund is already serving the community.
     It is not yet fully accomplished all God intends.

We pray in the Lord's Prayer that God's kingdom would come... 
     See it all around. It is already here. It is already coming.
          It is not yet complete.
Thanks be to God that we individually and collectively are a work in progress.
     Already.
          Not Yet.
             Peace,
                   Pastor Mark

Chalk Outlines

Lizzie drew this on her drive way. Notice the notes!

When I say Family of Grace, what image flashes in your mind ? Is it our name, our congregation, or our building? Is it our theology, our biblical interpretation, or our worship style? Is it the faces of the people you worship with and work with, or is it the faces from the community that have been helped by our participation in God's mission in the world.

Too many times people think of church as a place to go. As we strive to be a part of God's mission in the world it is much more a place to be from. This fall as we gather for worship and learning and serving I hope you will find this a place that both gathers us in and sends us out.  And my prayer is that people driving by your house or meeting you in the community will recognize you are with Family of Grace.

Like Lizzie!

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Up Lifting

VBS Crew Flying!
Vacation Bible School gives me hope. This year 30 kids and about as many adults gathered to play and learn and play and create and play and sing and play. Did I mention we played? God gives us joy and we remember those moments. Like God teaches us to dare to dream. God's dreams give us hope. God's dreams give opportunities to help others. God's dreams give us direction. We learned all this during some serious PLAY!

How does God give you opportunities to play and share in God's joy?
How does God lift you up and get your feet off the ground like the people in this picture?
How do you respond to the opportunities to gather and play?
Where is God's joy working its way into your life?

Family of Grace gives me hope as I see folks out playing their faith.
Thanks be to God for all the uplifted!

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Sparks are Flying

Confirm our Faith!
On Pentecost we celebrated the gift of the Spirit resting on the disciples huddled in a room. They didn't stay huddled for long. They soon found themselves translating the Good News into the native languages of all who were gathered. Luke tells us that 3000 were baptized that day! It's like that when the Spirit is throwing sparks around.

This group of teenagers who confirmed their faith on Pentecost decided that they wanted to be a youth group, Nathan and Nancy stepped up to sponsor them and at their last gathering they had invited three more people and effectively doubled their group! It's like that when the Spirit is throwing sparks around.

This Summer we are sponsoring Dare to Dream: Joseph's Dreams and God's Love. It is a four day Vacation Bible School with opportunities for all of us to get caught up in a Pentecost moment as the Spirit translates the Good News into the native languages of the people of Auburn. Expect a swirl of sparks as the Spirit moves us all into a closer relationship with the God of mercy and love that we know through Jesus.

In preparation for this event we are gathering to invite our communities. As we invite the Spirit to fill us and send us into the neighborhoods where we each live, expect to be like the disciples who began the day huddled in a room and ended the day translating the Good News into the lives of all the surrounding nations. It's like that when the Spirit is throwing sparks around.

Come, Holy Spirit! Come!
See you at the bonfire!

Pentecost Peace,
Pastor Mark

Lost and Found


The other day Josh and I discovered that one of his confirmation classmates was playing her cello in the Auburn Orchestra Festival. We cut out of confirmation early and Josh's mom drove us to the concert. Half of Auburn must have been there we parked on the other side of campus, walked by hundreds of instrument cases from every middle and elementary and high school orchestra in Auburn and arrived at the gym PACKED with players and fans. We were looking for one cello player and her mom. We made our way through the crowd and up into the bleachers, spotted mom and there was space to sit. She helped us find Janeese and we were treated to a room full of strings making beautiful music.

It struck me that most of the people there were there for one person but enjoyed the event put on by all. As our "Each One Reach One" evangelism focus comes into full bloom this summer we are hoping that something similar happens at Family of Grace.

One day, one or a couple of your friends will ask you about FoG and discover that VBS or Summer BBQs or Band Sunday or Sunday Worship and will show up, in the back, after the event has started. Your ability to recognize them and help them feel comfortable and our planning and preparation for them arriving will be tested. And after the initial flurry we will all settle in to make beautiful music together.

Peace be with you all as your invitations make their way into the world.

Pastor Mark


Abundant Life

Early on the Second First day of the Week
(the week after Easter)
As we wait behind locked hearts for the risen Christ I have noticed some differences in our "garden." Take a second or third good look at the picture. What signs of resurrection do you notice? Is it the family Alleluia! and He is Risen! banners along the walls? Or the new paint, or carpet, or chair rails, or lighting, or hanging art, or quilts, or care kits. Yes. All of it is new and transformative. Signs for all to see.

And more signs of resurrection are on getting ready to burst into bloom. Amazing Grace! is rounding up folks and baskets for an old fashioned western BBQ complete with Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane. On Pentecost, four students will affirm their baptism, and have made it clear they want to continue with youth group activities. Over twenty college students are gathering every Friday night for fellowship, and on Tuesdays to plan, and on Saturdays for bible study in Chinese. VBS is on the way with Dare To Dream as our theme, focusing on the story of Joseph. The summer lunch program has requested to move to the new park down the street so recruiting for VBS will be more challenging but we have contacts from last year. Our landscaping renovation project is gearing up for a transformative summer planting. We have applicants for our choir director position. We are recruiting Stephen Ministers to expand our ministry capacity. This garden is bursting with new life.

We see Christ in the garden as he calls us by name.
We see Christ behind the locked doors as he meets us and gives us peace and breaths into us the Spirit, teaching us to forgive and sending us out.
We see Christ where he is always, out and about in our community bringing resurrection and abundant life. Truly we are like Mary exclaiming, "We have seen the Lord!"

Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!


Sheepgoats

North Bend from Little Si with International Friday Night Students in the foreground
Sheep and goats seem to be discreet categories that we use to judge people. Last night at midweek service we played with Matthew 25:31-46 and it seems that things may not be as clear or as static as I first imagined. The sheep or goat question is often situational. People are complex. Try categorizing this group, out for a day hike. They are not all from the same country or even the same part of any country. They are not from the same economic system or status, family system or parenting style. They vary in their english proficiency (even the US Citizens) and physical abilities. Some had never hiked before, others had logged thousands of miles. Some are life long Christians, some are atheists and agnostics or undeclared or undecided. Simple categories do not work.

I've been taking time to get to know some of them, a very different endeavor from categorizing them. It turns out that the truth of who they are and who they are becoming is best discovered by forming relationships. It turns out that they defy sheepgoat categorizing, as we all do. And relating to them as folks journeying  through life is a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor. So I invite you to come on Friday evenings and hang out. Come this Saturday at 10 and hike to Rattlesnake Ledge. Come and discover the who you are in relationship, and discover that as we build relationships with "them" God builds relationships with us sheepgoats.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

God's Valentines

One of the members of FoG treated the morning prayer group to chocolates and cards - WOW

The day before Valentine's Day the prayer group gathered at Sharis for breakfast and prayers, as we normally do on the second and fourth Thursday's of every month. Marion was glowing. She had Valentines for everyone, chocolates and cards. We had a festive, warm and wonderful morning, lifting Family of Grace and Lea Hill in prayer.

And then the restaurant manager came to the table and gave us money. Now this is a first. Usually the server brings the check and we give the manager your money. As she brought us money she said that the day before a customer with red hair (we asked!) had given their server money to cover our breakfast. The manager was glowing as she delivered our Valentine and gave us the change as a donation to the church. Even as a bystander she recognized this as an act of love. It appears that the public ministry of prayer is noticed and at least one non-church member appreciates our presence and said so with a loud thank you. 

God's ministry in this place may begin with Valentines from loving church members, but it spreads like wildfire into the hearts of all who have eyes to see. As we serve and love publicly, we are used by God to touch lives of people we may never meet and who rarely acknowledge that they have been moved. And yet they are. Thanks be to God for ever-present community connections. Thanks be to God for the one who spoke for all who do not, and helped us see that this place and these people are God's gift to us and we to them. Happy Valentines!

Driving Past

The Johnsons circa 1968
I pass five churches, five schools and a Sikh temple on my five mile drive to work. They often blur into my thoughts for the day and blend with the background of trees, lights and leaves. It is an act of will to remember where they are and celebrate what they represent in my life and the life of the community. Faithfulness and learning are core values for my life and they are institutionalized on the road I travel.

This week marked two years since my mother's death. As I look at this picture I see my father the pastor and my mother the teacher gathering us around music and I pause. My mother taught us faithfulness and my father's faith formed us into life-long learners. Who did what and when for how long blurs into my thoughts for the day. The five of us shared life for so long.

I am who I am because of that sharing.

It is an act of will to remember, celebrate, and give thanks to God.

Connected Beauty

Pam captured this evening light at Clark Lake
What does it take to bring you this beauty?

Light and shadow, field and forest, water and sky, clouds and clearing...
  Camera and dock, generous public parks and patrons, paths and time to use them...
    Technology to capture and share this precise moment...
      A connected community of faith that shares our dancing hearts...

I've had an extended week of beauty, beginning with Nic at night coming to Jesus last Sunday, extending to our annual meeting that sparkled with good news and hope filled ministry, extending to a prayer retreat and a bishop's convocation reconnecting with colleagues who serve God's church, extending to band practice last evening preparing for this Sunday's celebration,  extending to a pastor's breakfast and celebration of music at Seattle Christian School where two of our members attend. Beauty has filled the eyes and ears and life of this beholder!

I live inspired and amazed by beauty that surrounds and fills my senses. I work in my life to contribute to the vast collection of good God gathers. And I wonder, where has God brought beauty and bounty into your life? How are you called to connect that to your community?

Peace,
Pastor Mark


In God's Eyes. . . .

back in "the day" at Kukuiolono Park on Kauai
What is your image of your self?
What is your image of your family?
What is your image of your church?
What do you see?
How much memory and how much mirror make up the image?

As we move into 2014,
     how much of who we are is who we were,
     how much is who we are,
     how much is who we are becoming?

We've been reading the gospel of John on Sundays and have spent some time thinking about what we see and who we see and how God sees us.

How do you see Family of Grace moving into God's future for us?
How much memory and how much mirror make up the image?

Peace,
Pastor Mark

God is teaching me...


"Can't not lead!" is a an epitaph some folks might write on my headstone some day. But as I live and grow in community God continues to teach me to step back, let go, and share the joy of planning and bringing to fruition, wonderful ministry to our community.

This congregation is an amazing, growing, mix of leaders, workers and support people that love to love our community and world with an incredible mix of events, projects and programs. God's first challenge to me trying to lead everywhere is to simply overwhelm me with all the wonderful ministry happening without me ever knowing about it. God's second challenge to me trying to control all the plays, is the passion God puts in your hearts for the ministries you carry. God's gift to me is the surprise I have when I find I am in the midst of such inspired, gifted folks.

So when I gathered with three international students yesterday in my office to design an invitation to and untitled event, I expected to gather ideas, name the event and design the card myself. God had something to teach me. This group brainstormed, designed and put together the invitation you see, named the group, set out the structure for activities and the invitation was in my inbox this morning.

God is teaching me to live with a thankful heart.
I think I can learn that.

Christmas Peace Day 6,
Pastor Mark

By the way, if you would like to support this ministry with food, fellowship or presence, we will be meeting Friday evenings from 6:30 to 8 beginning January 9.

Wonder


I see it in the little girl's eyes as she hangs Krismons on the biggest tree she's ever seen.
I see it in the man's eyes as he experiences the joy of this young one.
I see it in the eyes of the people who come for help with power and food and Christmas gifts.
I see it in your eyes as you worship and watch Hashmakaka carrying EVERYTHING.
I see it in your faces as it is announced that the carpet phase of our curb appeal project is funded.
I see it in the replies of the leaders of Family of Grace when all our positions are filled.
I see it in the faces of the choir as they sing for Advent even without a music director.
I see it in the eyes of the kids who want to play and sing at the 5:30 Christmas Eve service.
I see it in the faces of those gathered for consolation at the Longest Night services.

Everywhere I look I see wonder, and I wonder at God's presents and presence all through the year.
May you  experience wonder as we celebrate God with us.
Christmas Peace,

Pastor Mark

Bearing Joy

Last week I was walking in the park with my granddaughter Maddie.
Seeing our joy and knowing how fragile life is, gives me pause. My deep connectedness to my family surrounds and fills my heart, and at the same time terrifies me. We are so vulnerable to the ones we love.

When I look forward to the celebration of the birth of God's son,
When I claim my heritage as a child of God,
When I look deeply at our community's joy and how fragile it's life can be,
I wonder what joy and sorrow are in God's heart. We are so vulnerable to the ones we love.

The more I know of this deep generational connectedness, the more I can appreciate God's gift of Jesus. God's love truly "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" 1Cor 13:7

Thanks be to God.

Happy Birthday Jesus!
Christmas Peace,
Pastor Mark


Generation to Generation

On work day Chris gathers leaves.
You might have seen Chris, Maurice and Cecelia in worship, or at work day, gathering leaves and washing windows. They traveled here from Taiwan where their families are friends and their fathers are professors at a university. Two of them were born in the US. Two are siblings. Two have completed two years of college. All three have been baptized and one in a Lutheran church. They come with faith. When I asked them how we could help them, they paused and said they were here to help us, so we sat and shared stories.

One of the stories they shared was of a young married student completing his PhD in Berkeley. He and his wife and newborn daughter had found no place to live and were running out of resources living in a hotel. In a supermarket parking lot a member of a Taiwanese Christian church in Berkeley heard them speaking and invited them to church and they found a place to live through connections at the church. The family came to faith, the father finished his PhD and twenty years later sent his children to the US to experience life. And where do they find community?

Every single one of us has a story of God's love calling and surrounding our lives. Know and share your story with these faithful sojourners. Maybe you will discover which one has Lutheran roots! Generation to generation, blessings abound.

I can see!

Work on our landscaping project has begun.

I drove into the parking lot this morning and saw two trees lying in pieces on the ground. "Ultimate pruning" ran through my head. And then I saw our long hidden church wall and the scruffy back of the old sign and the trash enclosure and the other trees that needed ultimate pruning. And, it is amazing how accustomed I was to the way it was. And, how I almost didn't see the changes. And how I almost miss the hiddenness?  And, how it is humbling to be tree in the horizontal, headed for the wood pile. And how exciting it is to see our project underway, and, and, and. Such a flood of thoughts in response to a planned and highly anticipated change.

And then my mind wanders to how our relationship with God is based on God's love and our humility and trust. This calls for some major changes each time I think I've figured things out. And the first steps to change are painful, especially when the grand design calls for pruning.

And my mind wanders to how God has pruned me so that I can be part of God's grand design.

What is God pruning in your life?

Are we having fun yet?

What we look like coming from GRCC
This picture presents a problem. As you walk into the sanctuary and look down, and around, you will see 25 year old carpet fraying at the seams. Another problem. This fall we are solving these problems. But here's the thing, when those problems are solved there will be others. And when those problems are solved there will be others and when....

Problem solving removes annoyances but falls short of giving great joy. Joy comes from the people we stand next to as we solve our problems. I might be an odd duck, but my joy in solving problems is twenty percent in the removal of the annoyance and eighty percent in the relationships I build while working through the problems. I look at pictures of the building of this building and see all kinds of relationships that were built at the same time the building was built. As we address the building of curb appeal and carpet, our challenge is to have fun and build relationships.

As we solve our problems together, what builds joy in you?
Me? I want to buy the carpet under Chris's chair!

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Hook Line and Sinker!

Kid's Message on Rally Day
Sometimes preaching is like fishing. You have what you think is the right equipment, [knowledge, interpretation, story]. You put together what you think is the correct bait to catch the fish you're after, [directed questions, leading statements, guided visualizations]. And you stand up and cast.

Karen Stahl was out fishing for how God provides last Sunday. She had done her homework and equipped various members with various items that they would provide on cue. She was on a roll, talking about how God provides and having folks from the congregation providing.

Then she asked, "What do these folks provide?" pointing to the congregation. She was fishing for, "love, teaching, food, friends." Four year old Abby took the bait and answered, "FAMILY"

She caught us all. Hook, line, and sinker. Kid's message limit caught in a one word answer.

Welcome to Family of Grace!