Monday, December 19, 2011

Asking the Right Christmas Question

Many years ago when I was the pastor of Soldotna UMC I was asked to come to Soldotna Middle School and read my stories about conflict to the students.  It was an invitation I gladly accepted.  In my other life I was a middle school teacher before becoming a pastor. 

We were discussing one of the stories when one of the students shared the frustration she felt when her parents would ask her every day after school, “Well, how was school today?”  The student felt that such a question was almost an invasion into her privacy. 

Many of the other students echoed her feelings.  But one young lady spoke out, “How would you like it if no one ever asked you how your day went?  You guys should be grateful for what you have.”  It was a powerful moment. 

As a parent of four students I heard again the need for parents to ask good questions.  Instead of “How was school today,” I have learned to ask, “What did you do in math class today?” or “What was the most fun thing you did today?”

It is the art of asking questions that many of us need to learn.  Perhaps it applies in our relationship with God.  For many the most basic question is “Do you believe in God?”  I propose a more fundamental question.  “God, do you love me?” 

This is a question humanity needs to ask this Advent and Christmas.  Sometimes we view God as distant and far off.  Life is hard and we feel that God is a million miles away.  At Christmas God answers our question with a baby in a manger, God’s own Self.  He is Emmanuel, “God with us.”

“Do you believe in God?” is a question most of us ask from our minds.  “God, do you love me?” is much more personal.  It has to do with the deep places in our hearts. 

This Christmas will once again answer this question with a resounding, “YES!  I DO LOVE YOU!”  The answer will be proclaimed from the heights of heaven to our earthly reality no matter how dark. 

The pastors and laity of all our Alaska UM churches are in my thoughts and prayers this Christmas.  And may the Christ Child be the answer to the question we are asking this year.

Grace Always,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Is a Time to Wake Up

Father Alfred Delp, a German priest who was imprisoned and executed by the Naziis in WW II wrote this from his prison cell.  “Advent is a time for rousing.  Human beings are shaken to the very depths, so that they may wake up to the truth of themselves.  The primary condition for a fruitful and rewarding Advent is renunciation, surrender ... a shattering awakening; that is the necessary preliminary.  Life begins only when the whole framework is shaken.”[1]
Advent can be a time for the framework of our lives to be shaken and stirred.  It can be a time to be roused from sleep into wakefulness.  If nothing in life has awakened us then we have a need to waken ourselves.
            There are several tests out there that offer Christians a chance to show how much they really know about Christmas.  It’s easy to get tripped up and think there were three wise men standing next to the manger, or that the Little Drummer Boy was there, too.  But these tests are challenges of the details of the story, and do not speak to the spirit of it.  Mastery of the facts isn’t what Christmas is about; the Advent season is one where the mystery of God’s love is opened to us as we progress toward Jesus’ birth.  
           That wonderful line of Kierkegaard comes to mind: “It is so much easier to become a Christian when you aren’t one than to become one when you assume you already are.”  Advent is a time to shake loose of all the assumptions we make about Christmas, ourselves, the world, and the Christ child.  When we assume we already are awake and alive to Christ we may discover that our soul has been asleep. 

Grace Always,

[1] Alfred Delp, S.J., The Prison Meditations of Father Delp, 1960 MacMillan, p. 40.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Connections

Our family has a tradition of sharing thanksgivings as we sit down to a Thanksgiving feast.  We also pass around a cup where each person gives some money which goes to help people in need.  One year we bought restaurant gift cards and kept them in our cars to give to those on the street corners asking for help.

Last week we gathered the gifts but didn't know for sure where to give them.  Then I had the chance to meet Pauline, from Cameroon, Africa, who was speaking Sunday at St. John.  Pauline is the widow of a pastor with an amazing ministry to her neighbors.  St. John has been sending teams there for the past several years.

Pauline wanted to thank me for supporting the mission efforts when I was pastor at St. John.  She gave me a gift.  A bottle of peanuts that she raised and harvested in her garden.  It was an amazing gift of imagine how she cared for these peanut plants and picked them when they were ripe.  I want to keep them as a visible reminder of the love of a disciple of Jesus who is sowing seeds of God's love in a tough place on the planet.

God had shown me what to do with our Thanksgiving offering.  When I gave it to Pauline with the hope that she would spend it on herself she was grateful and said it would be used to buy windows for her home.  It was a special moment for me.

One of the ways we can recover our missional identity is to be intentional about creating similar experiences for our congregations.  Yes, we will continue to send checks to food and shelter ministries.  But we also need our people to be in relationship with the poor.  Face to face.  Hand to hand.  Heart to heart.

I invite you to pray for Pauline and all of the dear saints of God working for good in the world.  I also encourage you to pray for God to open a door for you to be a friend to someone in need.  Consider going on a Volunteer In Mission trip.  Pray about stirring your church to be in ministry with the poor.

Grace Always,

Monday, November 14, 2011

Changes on the Horizon

Alaska lay and clergy will want to know about some changes to start in 2012.  One is about the Advance which is how people give directly to mission projects in the United Methodist Church.  Beginning in January we will have one Advance number (931027).  We will still receive all donor documentation so we can send thank you notes and newsletters.  And all funds given to a specific pastor or current project will be honored if we have the documentation which GBGM will send to our treasurer's office.

If a church has a general project Advance number it can be used for salary support.  In other words these churches need to choose to use the single Alaska number or one of their general project numbers.  This decision needs to be made soon.  Just let me know.

Another change involves moving of missionary pastors to and from Alaska.  Beginning in January, 2012, GBGM will no longer handle moving pastors and their families.  They will give us the money although not at the actual costs and we will handle these moves.  Hopefully, we can be more efficient with local control and contracting.  We will need to examine GBGM's moving policies and create our own.  For pastors returning to their home conferences we may need to ask for moving assistance from the receiving churches and/or conferences.

With any change in our system anxiety may be present.  We are open to ideas on how to best communicate these changes.  GBGM will send a letter to pastors, donors, and supporting churches.  We could use our Fuze online meeting service to allow these changes to sink in.  Mostly, let us hold fast to our Lord, his grace and the mission given to us all.


Monday, November 7, 2011

From Leap of Faith to Faith of Leap

Ten Alaskan UM lay and clergy have embarked on a two year journey of faith and discovery.  We are enrolled in the Academy for Missional Wisdom.  The goal is that we would begin new missional faith communities.

In our first online course called Missional Imagination we are reading and writing about "Faith of Leap" by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost.  It is an attempt to write a theology of risk, adventure, and courage.  It is about a life of faithfulness to God that includes risk, adventure, and courage.  The temptation is, and this happens a lot in the Church, to settle into safety and security.  When I was single I was fairly adventurous and courageous when it came to my faith.  When I was married and our first child entered our lives it became easy to shift into safety and security mode.

I could spend a couple of blogs and sermons talking about how the Church has retreated from risk when it comes to being missional.  According to the authors the main thing to recovering a missional identity is to create a sense of holy urgency.  This connects with the business world and the authors cite John Kotter's book "Leading Change" with eight necessary steps for bringing significant and lasting change to an organization.  The first and most important is to create a sense of urgency.

"The adventurous church thrives on a sense of holy urgency, and missional movements are built on it.  Says Kotter, "If the sense of urgency is not high enough and complacency is not low enough, everything else that we seek to do will become much more difficult."  p. 40.  The authors go on to describe how to create holy urgency in Church.

Those of us in the Academy are looking for ways to share what we are learning.  If you have a desire or a suggestion of how this interface can happen please let us know.  We are:  Cindy Roberts, Karen Martin-Tichenor, Robert Hicks, Sandra Wagenius, Jenny Smith, Eric Treider, Nelma Treider, Lonnie Brooks, Janice Carlton, and myself.

Grace Always,

Monday, October 31, 2011

Church Leadership Ideas

I subscribe to "Leading Ideas" which comes as a free resource from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.  The first article by Reggie McNeal is "Fast Forwarding Your Church's Community Engagement."  As we all rediscover what it means for our churches to missionally reengage with our communities this article is very helpful.  Reggie reminds us that one in five Americans are sure about their belief in God but never attend church.  So people are out there ready to be engaged about their faith.  Click here for the link.

A second resource is about asking good questions.  Author Debra Meyerson suggests some questions when fearing consequences of potential actions.

  • What might happen if you take this course of action?
  • What are the worst things that could happen?
  • Why are you afraid of these outcomes?
  • How bad would it be if feared outcomes materialize?
I offer these resources to you as Alaska lay and clergy leaders working to make disciples of Christ to change the world.

Grace Always,


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Native Storytelling Event

I believe that all human societies should make time to listen to the wisdom of people who lived for centuries in the land they now inhabit.  To be sure our God speaks to us through the stories and experiences of people who have learned to live in harmony with creation.

Last Sunday Charlie Brower, an Inupiaq man from Barrow, whaling captain, retired engineer and businessman, member of St. John, and chair of our Native Ministries Committee, asked several native American leaders from the lower 48 to share their stories.  About 100 children and adults gathered to listen and laugh as stories of native people were shared.  We were reminded of the importance of names, of the meaning of a special dancing dress with patches from service in Iraq, and of brokenness and healing.

I want to share some photos and to encourage our churches to observe Native American Sunday this year.  For resourcing go to

This video clip depicts an Alaskan flute played for the first time.

Grace Always,

Monday, October 17, 2011

Preparing the Way for God to Do a New Thing

I am not a fan of musicals with one exception.  I love "Godspell."  I love the music, the acting, and the story.  The opening song is called "Prepare Ye."  Echoing the words of John the Baptist it proclaims softly and then builds with anticipation.  Pre....pare ye the way of the Lord.  Pre....pare ye the way of the Lord.  

Alaska United Methodists are doing what we can to prepare the way for the Lord to do a new thing in our midst.  We are refocusing on our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  When it comes to our structure we are discerning our way towards a more streamlined and nimble structure that will respond to the missional needs of the people in Alaska.  

For example, we currently meet as conference leaders three times a year.  We want the primary purpose of our gatherings to be on learning how to grow and make disciples rather than administration.  So we are thinking of a Leadership Team or Table that would include 15 leaders from around the state.  This group would wear many hats such as trustees, pension board, outdoor ministries, and acting on behalf of the annual conference.  We would retain PMU and CFA and Nominations.  Missional subgroups that reflect our core values could be Native Ministries, Congregational Revitalization, New Ministries, and Leadership Development.  The goal is to create a structure that helps us redirect the flow of energy towards revitalizing our congregations who are effective in making disciples of Christ.

Bishop Hagiya is leading this task group.  Members include Nora Ortiz Frederick, Lonnie Brooks, Leila Disburg, Luther Oconer, Charles Martindell, and Dave Beckett.  We have reviewed the 61 survey respondents and are open to hearing from lay and clergy.  We want to engage one another in a dialogue over the coming months with the plan of approving a new structure at annual conference next May.  

Please look for communications coming to you via the E-Aurora, Aurora Witness, and the conference website.

Grace Always,

Monday, October 10, 2011

Party at Aldersgate

Aldersgate UMC in Juneau celebrated 25 years as an active presence of God's grace in action in the Mendenhall Valley last weekend.  I was there along with my wife, Kim.  She had never been to Juneau and I asked her to go with me as a birthday gift.  I also had not met Pastor Susan Boegli's husband, Ken, and daughter, Megan.  I was not able to find Megan for this picture but here is Susan and Ken after worship.
Another highlight for us was to see Fred and Sharon Cooper.  The Cooper's were instrumental in helping to launch Aldersgate back in the day.  Sharon is a retired diaconal minister whose music ministry and contemplative prayer ministry blessed Alaska for many years.  Fred is a retired Alaska state trooper who was the pilot for many of our governors.  Here is a clip of Sharon's sermon on Sunday.
And for those with a long history in the Alaska conference who know and remember the Cooper's, here is a photo.

Happy 25th, Aldersgate UMC.  You have a rich history and a blessed future if you stay focused on God and God's mission.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Renovate Or Die by Bob Farr, Chapter 6

The title is "Think Strategies, Not Programs."  I resonate with Bob's opening sentences:  "It is important to have a strategy to achieve your vision and mission.  Most congregations are simply going along and are guided by the calendar of events."

Wow!  I say this because I see many of our churches being guided more by the event calendar than anything else.  When an event works we naturally want to do it again next year.  A program calendar can easily become packed with successful events leaving little room for new initiatives.  The question needs to be asked, "What criteria shall we apply to all of our church's events to determine whether or not they should be continued?"

Bob Farr writes that UM Churches do not need to spend time writing a mission statement.  We have one which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  "Our mission is clear; the only question is how your local church is going to carry it out."  The answer to this is our vision.  "Once you have your vision, make sure it is easily understood by all, and that it is obvious and strategic so that the congregation will support it by putting feet to it to make it so." (p. 51)

Farr believes that everything we do in our churches should be measured by whether or not it is achieving the mission.  When talking about a church preschool he writes, "There's value in having weekday ministries for children, but you must ask if that value is in line with the overall mission of the church.  Too many churches have lots of separate little ministries going on that are good but don't align with the mission.  They may look like they are not hurting anything, but they take up needed time, space, and energy and thus lessen our ability to achieve the overall purpose of growing our church."  (p. 53)


It has been my experience as a pastor and superintendent that we generally do not do a very good job of measuring our ministries by our missional purpose.  We find it difficult to turn down a traditional event we've had every year for 30 years.  We don't want to risk hurting others who value an event.  But as Bishop Mike Lowry advised us at annual conference in Homer, "mission always trumps niceness."

I don't think this is a call to become less nice.  Rather, it is a call to put mission first.  The major issue for our leaders is to keep the mission and vision of the church before our congregations.  Farr's words are a helpful challenge to us all as we seek to be faithful to the mission God is giving us.

Grace Always,

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Suggestion on Dealing with the Nomination Process

Have you scheduled your Lay Leadership Committee (formerly known as the Nominations Committee)?  Pastors know they need to have this report ready for Church Conference so leaders can be elected for next year.  We all know that this is the only committee in the church where the pastor can serve as chair or co-chair.

But with a plate full of autumn ministries pastors all too often succumb to the “warm body” approach.  Let’s ask so-and-so.  She isn’t doing much in the church.  Or there is my favorite, the “activate the inactive” by giving them a job.  Or the “lower the bar” approach where “you don’t have to do very much to be on this committee.”

Do our churches have written job descriptions for committees and ministry teams?  How are new people asked to serve?  A single phone call from someone who doesn’t really understand how the committee works?  A phone message?  An email?  Does anyone speak with a potential leader face to face, and perhaps with several conversations?  Maybe the quality of our church leaders is partially dependent upon the quality of how they are courted and asked.

What is the criteria for choosing people to serve?  I suggest each Lay Leadership Committee ask these questions when names are brought forward.
1.    Does this person attend worship regularly?
2.    Is there evidence that he/she is praying for the church?
3.    Is this person a faithful giver, perhaps even a tither?
4.    Is she/he involved in our community with acts of service?
5.    Is this person able to share their Christian faith by words and actions with others?

You will notice that these are the vows for becoming a member of the United Methodist Church.  Do you promise to support the Church with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness?

Lay Leadership committees need to operate a bit like SPRC where they can share their discernment about their future leadership in confidence.  It is high time that we all take leadership development more seriously.  It rarely is a squeaky wheel so it rarely gets grease.  Pastors deal with so many squeaky wheel clamoring for attention.  But not everything that clamors for our attention should get it. 

When it comes to creating a healthy church system leaders really need to make leadership development a high priority, especially in Alaska where we experience such high turnover.  Revamping how we choose leaders this fall can be a great time to begin anew.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Renovate Or Die" Chapter Five on Preaching

It is clear and should come as no surprise that Alaska lay people want and expect their pastors to inspire them through experiential worship with life-application preaching.  It is why this is one of my expectations of all our clergy, and it is essentially the title of Chapter Five of Bob Farr's book, "Renovate Or Die."

Bob opens this chapter by citing the rapid rate of change in our world today.  While it took 71 years for the telephone to get into 50% of American homes, it took only ten years for the internet to reach 50% of American homes.  Given this velocity change Bob believes that current preaching methods must change to keep up.

"I'm not asking us preachers to give up our values or change our theology.  I'm asking us to rethink our presentation style.  I'm asking us to change our medium to rethink how we communicate, so that we might be culturally and emotionally relevant."  p. 45.

Some of the preachers in Alaska remember being trained in seminary to have three points and never talk about yourself.  Farr wants to dispel these notions.  In fact he believes that people are hungry to walk away from a sermon able to remember a single, main point!  And he believes that we must begin with peoples' experience.  His outline process is:
A. Theirs
B. Yours
C. God's
D. Ours
We live in an era where people are hungry for authentic discipleship models, so it's not only okay for preachers to talk about their human experience, but necessary if people are going to make a connection.

But it isn't about us.  God's story is always included, ending with the story that we are never alone, that we live in a world and faith community.

Farr goes on to discuss how to inject music, video, dialogue, or humor every 4-5 minutes.  We need to be multi sensory and work with themes.  How pastors plan and include a worship team is vital to inspirational preaching.

I think clergy and laity alike will enjoy chapter five.  I am confident that all of our preachers truly want to become better at helping their people connect their real lives to the story of God acting throughout human history.

Grace Always,


Tuesday, September 6, 2011


One of the aspects of local church ministry I miss is the creativity.  When I was pastor at St. John and overwhelmed with administrative functions I could visit the children in the preschool, or write a song alone in the sanctuary, or create a new visual for worship.

In my role as superintendent I do not always have these outlets.  This was driven home to me this past Labor Day weekend.  I had several projects planned at our little cabin in the woods north of Willow.  A combination of factors including rain made those projects undoable.  I was really looking forward to completing these projects so I was fairly grumpy when it did not happen.  So I went home and built a roof over part of our deck.

I was amazed at how my spirits lifted.  This roof project was the outlet I needed to express my creativity.

Maybe you are a person in touch with your creative spirit and you set aside time for art and creative projects.  Most of us however find it easy to push this part of us down in favor of checking off our to do lists.  And creativity is often not a part of our daily routine.

I know God can speak to us through the mundane administrative details of our daily lives.  But I am more open to hearing and seeing God when in a creative mindset.  Our God is a Creator God.  Thanks be to God who gifts us with creativity.

Pray for Kim for patience to deal with a husband seeking creative home projects!

Grace Always,

Monday, August 29, 2011

To Live As Trish Lived

Last Saturday I attended the memorial service for Trish Opheen Redmond. About 17 years ago Trish and Mike were part of a marriage retreat Kim and I led for the Chugiak UMC. Trish was an active and vital leader for the church who had knee surgery so she could enjoy her love of skiing. On the way out of the hospital she fainted and never revived even though medical care was immediately available. An apparent blood clot blocked the flow of vital oxygen to her brain.

And suddenly, without warning, a vibrant, energetic, compassionate woman left this world. When someone in their 80's or 90's dies we understand that she or he has lived a long life. But when someone dies "before their time" it gives us pause. Somewhere deep inside we wonder out loud, "This could happen to me. This could happen to the people I love."

It did happen to Mike and his family and the entire Chugiak church. It was clear that the church building would not hold all those who would come out of love and respect for Trish so the Chugiak High auditorium was made available. It was in that space that we had church. Pastor Carlo Rapanut led us in a time of worship and remembering. We sang hymns from the Faith We Sing hymnal that were Trish's favorites. Chugiak member, Jan Wachsmuth, sat near me. I noticed that people were not singing, probably because they did not know the hymns. I am not one to sing loud, mostly out of a desire to save my voice for preaching. But there in that holy place where church was happening Jan and I raised our voices a notch or two. I had a sense that we were helping to fill the empty space that Trish had left with hope, the kind of resurrection hope that only comes from God. It felt like we were witnessing to our faith with our singing.

I wondered what people thought of us as United Methodists. I found myself grateful that Trish was loved by so many people that we had to hold her service in the school auditorium. It was a moment of intersection of Christ and culture, of church and society. It felt right.

Trish did not choose to die. But the way she lived, so full of life and passion and joy, gives me an example to follow. I am not promised tomorrow. God only gives me today. God help me to live like Trish lived, fully present to the moment, fully present to God who is the source of our love and joy.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Highlights from “Renovate Or Die” by Bob Farr. Chapter 4

Continuing with our book study/review.  I skipped to chapter 4 titled "Momentum."  Bob writes, "You know when you have it and you know when you lose it."  The scientific definition of momentum is a measure of the motion of a body equal to the product of its mass and velocity.  I am partial to the definition of momentum in the investment world: "the perceived strength behind a price movement."

As we think about momentum in the church it might be helpful to think about the "perceived strength" behind any kind of movement.  Farr believes that momentum, like the movement of the Holy Spirit, cannot be created, only caught.  We don't create a wave or the wind but we can notice where it is and ride.

Five steps to catch momentum according to Farr.
1. If you want new momentum, you have to change something.
2. Make the easy changes first.
3. Do best practices and keep doing them.
4. Lead by example.
5. Preach change to get change.

One thing I am learning is that renovation and vitality in our Alaska churches will not happen unless our clergy and lay leaders agree that our old sails are not catching the wind like they once did.  Our churches will not change unless our leaders are willing to embrace the changes we need in order to gain spiritual momentum.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Highlights from “Renovate Or Die” by Bob Farr. Chapter 2

Understand Your Present Reality is the title of chapter two.  How well do you as a leader in your church understand your present reality?  One of the reasons I enjoy living and ministering in Alaska is that people are real.  You don't see a lot of posturing, posing, and pretending.  My next question is: do we look at our local churches and communities through such a realistic lens?  Or because we don't want a negative reality to deflate our hopes for the future, do we ever try to paint our reality in a new light?  Do we gloss over the hard realities because we don't want to face them?

This chapter is about taking what we can learn from others and mixing them in with our local contexts.  Upon arriving at a new church Bob Farr "wanted to know more about that church and community than they themselves knew."  p. 26.  He cites three kinds of data leaders need to know.  1. Demographic statistics.  2. Historical information.  3. Stories (what he calls "walk-around information").  Welcoming a new pastor is a good time for a church to engage in this activity.  Let us remember that we need to find ways to share this data with the new people who come to our churches.  It's not just the pastor's job to learn a church's context.

The last point is about survival vs. vitality mode.  "This is where most mainline churches find themselves today: survival mode.  This turns us inward and leads to protectionism.  It also most often separates us from the vitality that makes us a church, which is our connection with the mission field."  p. 28.

I do hope you will get Bob's book and study it together.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Highlights from “Renovate Or Die” by Bob Farr

Bob Farr is the Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence at the Missouri Annual Conference. He attended seminary at Perkins School of Theology, and he first served in the Missouri Conference at Randolph Memorial in Kansas City. He started a new church in Lee's Summit called Grace UMC, and his latest appointment was at Church of the Shepherd in St. Charles where he led the congregation through a relocation. He is experienced with developing the Pastor Leadership Development program, church consulting, relocations, mergers and new church starts.
Renovate or Die: 10 Ways to Focus Your Church on MissionFrom the book cover: “Bob Farr asserts that to change the world, we must first change the Church.  Rearranging the pews, painting the fellowship hall, or paving the parking lot are just not enough.  With clear language and practical tips, this book will inspire and help you organize your church for new life.”

My plan is not to review this book so much as share my highlights.  Here are the highlights from the introduction and first chapter called, “It All Starts with the Pastor.”

“Renovation and innovation, not just redecoration.” P. 4.

“The attraction model is dying and being replaced with a networking model.”  P. 9.

“If the pastor and some key leaders do not possess a sense of urgency, they are doomed to fail.  That burning desire that something must be done NOW is essential in beginning the renovation process.”  P. 10.

“Adam Hamilton, in Leading Beyond Walls, says you need to know three things about your church in order to cast your vision:  1. Why do people need Christ?  2. Why do people need the church?  3. Why do people need this particular church?”  p. 11.

“The church isn’t going anywhere if the pastor is not willing to lead.”  P. 17.

“A church must also be pastor-led rather than pastor-centered.”  P. 17.

 “Moving a church from being pastor-centered to pastor-led is a long process and transition.”  P. 19.

“(The pastor’s) job is to focus on the health of the whole community more than one individual.”  P. 20.

“A leader’s job is to provide vision.  It is the congregation’s job to confirm it.”  P. 22.

Bob’s words will no doubt challenge and even offend church people.  I encourage you to get the book and read it with me and start a conversation.  My plan is to offer these highlights in my dibble over the next several weeks.

Grace Always,

Monday, August 1, 2011

Downgrading My Life

"It won't happen to me." In one way or another we all have likely lived with this attitude, at least at a subconscious level. I have seen the news reports of traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers and witnessed advocates bringing this issue into the national spotlight. We all know that we should not drink and drive. Now the mantra is don't drive distracted! People can die. Last week I saw the ultimate example of distracted driving. A father was feeding his baby in the back seat while driving! It's making me angry because now I don't feel safe on the roads.

But how do I contribute to the plethora of distracted drivers? I have an iphone that keeps me connected with people. While stopped at a red light it is so easy to touch a couple of buttons and check my email. But then I hear what I truly believe to be the voice of God whispering, "It could happen to you." Would I ever be tempted to give attention to my phone while driving? I shiver at the thought that my distracted driving could someday cause injury or death to someone. So I have decided to downgrade my smart phone to a "dumb" phone, one that mostly is used for conversation with people.

At a store one clerk said, "Why would you want to downgrade?" After my response she said, "No one has ever come in here to downgrade before." I hope she hears it more often as people make proactive decisions to reduce the distractions in their lives. I have decided to give up my iphone this week. Less distraction. Less money. Less risk on the roads.

It is a way to simplify my life. A way to create a bit more space for conversation with God. I am truly looking forward to the changes it will bring.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lesson in Leadership from a Bike Trip

Last week five Anchorage area clergy (Jon Disburg, Jim Doepken, Ron Myers, Tom Holslag, and myself) pedaled 25 miles on a gorgeous sunny day. I wanted to emphasize fitness and enjoy a day outside with colleagues. It didn't take long for me to compare this event to our journey with Christ. For most of the ride I was at the rear which was what I preferred. I was not interested in averaging 12 miles per hour which was our pace after the first 30 minutes.

As I meandered the twists of the coastal trail and entered into a time of prayer I discovered that I could not ride quickly. What is it about the spiritual life that it blends well with all things slow? I knew the group would eventually stop and wait for me. At one point I wondered if they would wait when I was stopped on the trail by a mother moose and her calf. There was nothing to do but wait with other travelers until they would let us pass.

After a much needed lunch break we headed back to Anchor Park. Once again I was at the back of the pack and out of sight from the group. Maybe they were trying to ditch me! Here is the leadership lesson I gleaned. If you are leading others it is a good idea to stop or slow down and look back to see if your followers are still following you! I did not know the way back to Anchor Park and was left to my own devices to figure it out. I wasn't worried or bothered but it would have been nice to have someone who knew the path to tell me which way to go.

In our churches do our leaders ever think to stop and look back? Maybe the role of a straggler is a reminder from God to the group to slow down the pace. Maybe someone needs to be paired with those riding at a slower pace. Maybe the leaders are moving too fast. Who said, "We don't get there until we all get there?"

Here's hoping you all are engaging in the art of asking good questions as we ride on the path of discipleship. Thanks to Jon, Jim, Ron, and Tom for a great experience and a couple of important lessons.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beauty in the Rocky Places

I haven't been able to play much golf this summer. Last week I played my first time at an Anchorage course with my sons. It was a gorgeous day and a course full of golfers. At one point the marshal drove by and told us to speed up. Immediately afterwards I spotted a large rock outcropping with some wildflowers growing. Should I ignore the urge I felt to stop and appreciate the beauty? Or should I listen to the marshal and keep going?

Here's the answer.

Are you experiencing some rocky times in your life? Is it hard to see the beauty growing in difficult soil? May God help us to slow down to really look at the amazing beauty even when we are tempted to see only the rocks, even when we are told to speed up through life.

P.S. I am reading a new book by Bob Farr called Renovate Or Die. My plan for August is to share parts of it with you in this blog. I think it will challenge and stimulate us all.

Grace Always,

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hospitality Opportunity Missed

I have served as one of your three UM representatives on the board of Alaska Children's Services for about ten years now. It is an amazing agency with 200 employees dedicated to the mission of helping troubled children and youth find healing and wholeness. We welcome Denis McCarville as our new CEO after Jim Maley's retirement.

Every July 9 which is Alaska Flag Day we host a party at our Jesse Lee campus. For 20 years the price for admission has been $5 for unlimited food, ice cream, party booths, and live music. At the end of the event I was talking with another board member and I was lamenting the fact that I did not invite several of my neighbors to the party. The family next door has two young kids and no church family. The couple across the street moved here from Japan and doesn't know many people. Why didn't I invite them?

You know where I am going. We do the same thing when it comes to inviting our neighbors to church. We don't think about it until afterwards. The good news is that we can change to a culture of invitation. We can remind one another Sunday after Sunday that it is our privilege and responsibility to invite others to the Lord's table. We can create an environment of radical hospitality in our churches so we are thinking more and more about who we can invite to church.

We can do better. I can do better. In fact right now I am going to write a note in my calendar next June to remind me to invite my neighbors to the ACS Flag Day party. Until then I hope to be a better neighbor and witness for Christ to them.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Emotional Preparedness

Have you given thought to how you would respond to a crisis in your life?  I am thinking about an event that might upset your inner peace that comes with knowing Christ as Lord and Savior.  This past weekend something happened to me.

I was with my Aaron, my son-in-law, and his father riding mini bikes on a trail near Willow.  I had strapped a new can of pepper spray to the bike.  Suddenly, there was an explosion in my face with immediate burning in my eyes, nose, and mouth.  I find it interesting the very first thoughts that enter peoples' minds when something like this happens.  My first thought was that maybe someone had planted an IED on the trail!  Ridiculous, I know.  Then with the burning eyes I realized it was the pepper spray.  I dropped the bike and blindly stumbled around trying to figure out what to do.  Earl was the first to arrive and said I was acting as if drunk.  I tried to talk to explain what had happened but the chemical was restricting my mouth.  I stumbled to a river and practically jumped in seeking relief from the searing pain.

I was able to get some sight out of one eye to ride back to our cabin where I got some first aid.  Eventually I recovered and have no side effects, although I may use it to explain any future memory lapses!

It was a test, a small one, for me.  I can say that my inner peace was not touched during this episode.  There was no panic or deep fear to that place in my life I have given to God.  I may not have similar results when the stakes are much greater than chemicals splashed in my face.  I do not know if one can fully prepare emotionally or spiritually for future crises.  But I do want to thank God that the peace that passes all understanding was present in my life even when presented with a small test.

Grace Always,

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rose McLean's Last Sunday

Last Sunday was Rose McLean's last Sunday at St. John UMC, Anchorage, following 24 years of service as a diaconal minister.  The crowds gathered to hear her preach one more time, roast her unique personality, and thank God for her faithful ministry.

At the party in the afternoon it was standing room only as hundreds came to celebrate Rose's retirement.  Pastor Peter Perry did an exceptional job of being the master of ceremonies.  In attendance was Pastor Wayne Weld Martin, the pastor who hired Rose in 1987.  Recollections were shared from most of the senior pastors whom Rose had "trained" over the years.  Jim Fellers, David Fison, former superintendent Billy Still, Jo Ann Schaadt, John Dodson, and myself.  I had the honor of being "trained" by Rose the longest which was ten years.  We worked together during a period of high growth and led the church through the building expansion.  There was always something to laugh about when Rose was around including how church life always seemed to parallel an episode of Seinfeld, bargain shopping stories, standing ovations, and bets on Christmas Eve attendance.  (I won most of these!)

Seriously, though, our conference will miss Rose.  Over the years she was a tireless advocate for being a connectional church.  She provided significant leadership to our conference Professional Ministries Unit, Birchwood Camp, GBGM, regional program council, jurisdictional, and general church ministries.  Rose is first and foremost a disciple of Jesus, always a work in progress.  And she is wholly dedicated to the Church as a means of God's grace offered to the world.

I know St. John will miss her unique personality and ministry gifts.  I know many Alaskan lay and clergy will miss her presence in our faith community.  And I will be at the top of that list.

This clip is of the St. John choir singing a benediction song followed by Rose giving the benediction after morning worship.  Rose will move to Oklahoma City on September 15.  Her address will be
14901 N. Pennsylvania Ave.  #284
Oklahoma City, OK  73134

Grace Always,

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Interesting Email Debate

The Alaska Conference neglected to deal with an issue in Homer so the bishop allowed us to convene a special virtual session via email.  The issue was whether or not to approve a new minimum salary for pastors for 2012.  So we set aside a week for debate and three days for final voting.

I was interested to compare the oral vs. written debate processes.  I found the email debate to be helpful in a couple of ways.  One, it allowed more time for prayerful reflection.  Some people need more time to organize their thoughts.  Some are gifted with an articulate voice that enables them to speak intelligently on a moment's notice.  This email debate gave us the time to ponder and pray about this issue.

Secondly, it provided an environment for introverted people to express their views.  Many introverts will find it hard to venture forth to a microphone to speak on an issue even in a small conference like ours.  But writing down our thoughts was very helpful.

A 2005 Hartford Seminary study found that destructive conflict is a significant predictor of church decline.  I trust that our clergy and lay leaders will continue to model for our churches and communities respectful dialogue on issues where we differ.  So thanks to all who debated this minimum salary decision with respect for one another.  I'm not sure we should do this more often but it does seem worthy of consideration for some issues.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Samoan United Methodists Celebrate Christian Education

Last Sunday Leila and I had the honor of giving out awards to the children, youth, and adults to a gathered Samoan community from two of our churches.  Pastors Maga and Tafa are committed to bringing First Samoan UMC and the Samoan Fellowship of East Anchorage UMC together.  They swap pulpits, sing in a joint choir, and in this case, held a Christian education competition.

What struck me as we continue conversations about developing discipleship systems in our churches is that I was looking at one.  This was not just for children.  Even the adults participated!  And we concluded the celebration by handing out certificates to 7 new lay speakers.

I plan on sounding like a broken record as I continue to speak the message of lay leadership development in our churches.  You will hear it again and again.  And we can look to these two congregations as leaders in our common mission to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Here's a short clip.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Party in Homer

Not many UM's would describe their annual conference as a party.  And I admit that as good as this annual conference was, a party?  C'mon, Dave!  This was my 19th Alaska annual conference and the second time it was held outside of Anchorage.  The other was in 1999 in Seward.  I have to say that a pattern seems to be developing because I would rate the two best overall conferences as Seward and Homer.  Perhaps if we were to meet outside Anchorage more often it would lose some of the uniqueness.  But it seems to me that we shouldn't wait another 12 years!  Maybe in 5 years we can meet in Wasilla.

This clip features the opening hymn of our memorial/communion worship. 

My home annual conference is meeting this week.  An old pastor friend of mine is there and he posted this on Facebook:  Conferenced out. Legislated and Roberts Rules of Ordered to death.  What a blessing it is to be part of a small conference where we have the freedom and laid back style to not sacrifice relationships on the altar of rules.  I do enjoy our relationship with PNW annual conference but I do hope we retain our status as a missionary conference.  I think we can provide a model for the denomination on the value of conference connectionalism.  

Here is a clip of our final worship with a combined choir.  

Grace Always,

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bible Study: John 14:15-21 Gaze of Grace

I may not have a weekly pulpit but I can still study the lectionary and offer comment.  So I'm reading the gospel lectionary for this Sunday about Jesus speaking to his disciples of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit who will be another piece of the trinitarian support system.  Jesus makes it clear that people who are not looking for the Advocate will not see him.

This begs the question, "Who truly does see the Spirit in the world?"  Rev. Harold Camping, the fundamentalist preacher who misjudged the rapture date last week was clearly wrong.  Most people would agree that Rev. Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas is wrong about his crusade to spew hate onto military families and people who are gay.  Why can people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ look at the same Bible and same world and come to such different conclusions about how the Spirit of God is present?  Have you ever been wrong about such spiritual matters?

Jesus tells his disciples that "the world cannot receive (the Advocate) because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you."  (v. 17)

It would appear that in order to receive the Holy Spirit Jesus is saying that it is more than seeing or knowing.  It is about abiding.  The Christian life is more than an occasional glimpse of God.  It is about a relationship that is based on abiding with the Advocate...dwelling....hanging out with God.  To be a Christ Follower is much more than belief in a church's doctrines.  It is about nurturing our desire to be with God and keep Love's commandments.  It is about taking that occasional glimpse of grace and asking the Spirit to transform it into a gaze of grace.

May we all see God more clearly, love God more dearly, follow God more nearly, love God more by day.  And may we always include how as a Church we can extend this invitation to others who may not be catching even a glimpse of Love in their world.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New Members at Palmer Fellowship

Last Sunday I was privileged to be invited to worship with our Palmer Fellowship.  They were excited about receiving three new members.  To a community of about 25 on Sunday morning this is a big deal.  They meet in the remodeled basement of Country Cuts in downtown Palmer.  Music wafted upward as I arrived.  The band which is quite good was rehearsing before worship.

Worship was rich and full.  The language of our faith was inclusive with a strong message of grace for all.  Christ was the center of our experience.  Pastor Tori Hicks spontaneously called me forward to participate in the new member vows which enabled me to add the fifth vow of "witness" which does not appear in the liturgy in our hymnal.  I do hope our pastors are including this important addition when they receive new members.  We need a conference conversation about what it means to support the church with our witness in Alaska.  What does "witness" mean for you?  And how do you "witness" to others of your faith?

Grace Always,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Showing Off Alaska

The tourists are coming!  The tourists are coming!  The old Alaska joke is that there are four seasons:  winter, winter, winter, and relatives!  My 80 year old parents and favorite aunt visited our state last week for Jeremy's college graduation.  I took a week to be their tour guide to Denali Park where the mountain showed her glory against a pale blue sky for us.  Then we went to Seward and a 4 hour tour of Resurrection Bay.  We saw caribou, ptarmigan, dall sheep, eagles, orcas, sea lions, tons of birds, and humpback whales.  For my Arizona aunt who had never seen such beauty it was the trip of a lifetime.

What do you see when you gaze out your window at your piece of the Alaskan landscape?  Because you have looked at that mountain, harbor, forest, or cityscape a zillion times does it ever draw you back to stop and appreciate the wonder of it all?

Surely it is God's desire to continuously call us back to look at this world both natural and human creation as God sees it with a sense of wonder and beauty and simple joy.  Let us take some moments today.  Let us create some time and space where we can breathe more slowly just so we can truly gaze at this amazing world God has given us, a scene we see nearly every day.

And thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me a spirit of adventure that brought us to Alaska.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thinking Past the Future

This Sunday marks a milestone for our family.  Our youngest son, Jeremy, graduates from UAA.  From the moment our first child, Jenny, was born, then Ryan, Lauren, and Jeremy our focus and vision has been centered around our children.  29 years worth.  For me this graduation marks the end of an era and the beginning of another.  The problem is that I have not spent near as much time thinking about our future without children than I did when their future was more in our hands.  Now it is out of our hands, except for college loans we still owe!

I wonder how much of our thinking about the future affects our relationship with God.  Can we spend too much time in the future that we miss the present God-moments?  How helpful is it that we think about the kind of person God desires us to be in 5 or 10 years?  It's just so different because I have always been a visionary, future oriented person.  Now I don't have responsibility for my childrens' future.  What kind of future do I envision now?

Some of this is linked to identity.  I'll always be a father but now a father in a different way.  More equal.  More adult to adult.  I like it but in the past being a dad has often been about the future.  Then there is my identity as a superintendent, or more accurately, as a former pastor of a local church.  This has been an interesting adjustment as I think it is for most superintendents.  People often ask how I like the new job.  In the few seconds that I hesitate to find the words they have their answer.  

How much time do you spend thinking about your future?  What is "future" for you:  20 years, 5 years, next month, or making it through today?  Somewhere there is a balance point between our present and our future, sliding this way and that, but never fully one way or the other.  I believe we are called to think about the future but it is never just about us.  It is God's preferred future and how we as disciples of the risen Christ fit into that future.

May God be in your present and future moments.

Christ is Risen!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Healthy Church Workshops

In 1991 I began serving as pastor of the Soldotna UMC. In 1997 we went through a "necessary conflict."  To help me process the feelings and systemic realities I studied at Graduate Theological Foundation and earned a D.Min. in 1999, the year I became pastor at St. John.  Last month I returned to Soldotna UMC and shared with them some of what I learned with a sermon and a workshop.

I called it Healthy Church Workshop and it was well received.  Since then I took the workshop on the road north to Fairbanks First UMC and New Hope Methodist-Presbyterian.  What fun it has been for me to be in a teaching role and to get to know our laity.

The workshop content is about church systems.  People are given the chance to talk about the unspoken agreements that exist in a church.  The central point of the workshop is that healthy churches don't have a bunch of unspoken agreements.  They work hard to talk about most of the issues that come with doing church well.

The workshop lasts 90 minutes and I am available to come to your church.  Perhaps we might explore doing it online or when I come to your church for charge conference.

During my visit at First UMC, Fairbanks I recorded this clip of a youth group game.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Today marks the end of an 8 day trip to Seattle and Idaho. The front end was a meeting of representatives from PNW, Oregon/Idaho, and Alaska conferences to being our work to prepare for September, 2012, when we will share one bishop. I will be asking Alaska leaders to weigh in on specific questions very soon as we continue our work. We are hoping to leverage this as an opportunity to enhance the mission of Christ in the northwest.

Then I flew to Boise and drove to Idaho Falls to visit my daughter, Lauren, and husband, Rob and help them install flooring in their new home. The big joy for me was to watch Lauren teaching her kindergartners. Kim and I tried to raise our four kids in such a way that we would be good friends as adults. I thank God for such times.

Then it was back to Seattle where I joined the PNW cabinet. I appreciate their including me from time to time. It makes me feel less isolated when I am with them.

Looking forward to coming home!

Grace Always,

Monday, April 4, 2011

Choose Respect Rally Follow Up

Two weeks ago I encouraged all of our Alaska UM's to join one of Governor Parnell's "Choose Respect" rallies.  There were 64 of them on March 31 across the state.  I was in worship at Willow UMC recently and Pastor Dan Lush brought a willow walking stick with a sign on it reading "Methodists Choose Respect."  He had marched in a rally in Talkeetna and was sharing it with the congregation.

I had intended to ask Dan to borrow his sign for the upcoming Anchorage rally but forgot in the midst of an energizing after worship fellowship time.  So Crystal Feaster created a similar sign which I took to the Anchorage rally.  Walking with other UM's from First UMC, Anchorage, community members, and the governor it was an enlightening time as we listened to stories of abuse and violence inside the walls of Alaska homes.  Sixty percent of Alaska women have suffered some sort of abuse.  We rank #1 in the nation with abuse and violence done to children, women, and men in our homes.  It is not confined to one social or economic class.

I stood there in the cold and wondered how prevalent this problem is in our United Methodist homes.  Do you know someone who is trapped in the cycle of abuse either as a victim or a perpetrator?  I thought about God's desires and clearly this Choose Respect movement is aligned with God values.  So I encourage us all to focus some of the light of God's healing love and justice on this issue.  Help is available.  Healing can begin today!

To see the photo that appeared on the front page of the Anchorage Daily News click on this link.  Notice our sign just to the left of the cross.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

God Moments

During the children's moments in worship one time I talked with the kids about a God-moment.  I was interested in how children experience God-moments in their homes.  Sometimes we feel that a God-moment has to be a religious, churchy moment.  But God-moments happen to us every day.  And they are not always joyful, happy moments.  Sometimes a God-moment can happen after a car accident, or when we learn that a loved one has died, or when our families can't seem to stop arguing and fighting. 

Do you have a tendency to experience God only when life is going well for you?   For some folks the reverse is true.  They find it hard to think about God personally acting in their lives until a crisis engulfs them. 

During worship a young child was misbehaving.  The parents did their best to maintain order in the pew but were losing the battle.  Finally the father picked the little fellow up and walked sternly up the aisle on his way out.  Just before reaching the safety of the foyer the child called loudly to the congregation, "Pray for me!  Pray for me!"

God-moments are right before our eyes even as you read this.  Our job is to notice and be aware.  

Grace Always,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Choose Respect...End the Violence

I spent time last weekend at Kenai UMC (Check out their new sign.) and Soldotna UMC. While the Whetsell's were leading a Walk to Emmaus I got to spend the night in our old house and preach and teach at SUMC.  The topic was Healthy Churches.  At one point I asked, "If I were to ask several people in this town what they know about Soldotna United Methodist Church, what would they say?"  

In your community what is the reputation of your church?  Wouldn't it be amazing if people in your town began to say something like, "Isn't that the church that really made a difference in reducing domestic violence in Alaska?"

On March 31 at noon I encourage all United Methodists to join Governor Parnell's rally cry to put an end to domestic violence and sexual assault in our state. In the ongoing effort to raise awareness of DVSA, the Office of the Governor and non-profit groups across the state are sponsoring simultaneous “Choose Respect” events in more than 50 communities across Alaska.  There will be free parking at First UMC, Anchorage where the march will begin in the park strip. The march in Juneau will begin at noon at the capitol building and end at Marine Park.  You can learn more about Choose Respect events across Alaska at:

Pastors, please consider preaching a sermon about this vital issue.  Laity, think about getting involved in your community's efforts to reduce violence in the home.  To be sure this is God's desire that all people live in peace.

Grace Always,