Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pastors Live with Alaska Risks

Our pastors who serve faithfully in Alaska are exposed to the same risks facing all Alaskans.  Several years ago Pastor Tori Hicks and her family were involved in a serious auto accident.  Tori still feels the effects today.  On Sunday Pastor Ron Myers of First UMC, Anchorage, was transporting a homeless couple to Girdwood (30 miles from Anchorage) in snowy, slushy weather.  Another car lost control and slammed into Ron's car.  Ron had to be extricated and taken to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage where he is being treated for a dislocated left hip, broken right femur, and shattered right knee.  Doctors say he will be in the hospital for two weeks and won't return to work for three months.

These are major depth events that carry their own intrinsic meanings that those who experience them will spend the rest of their lives pondering its meaning.  When I walked into MatSu Regional Hospital years ago Robert Hicks was visibly shaken and said to me, "I almost lost my family today."  

When I walked into Alaska Regional Hospital yesterday Ron was somber as he shared what had happened to him.  He said, "I am so grateful to be alive."  

We are tempted to impose meanings onto the depth experiences of life.  Sometimes we impose meanings on our own experiences.  Sometimes we allow others to impose meanings onto our experiences.  But such traumatic experiences suffered by Tori and Ron have their own intrinsic meaning when they are given space and time to contemplate them. 

Tori was on her way to lead worship when her accident happened.  Ron was helping a couple get home. 

As you move forward with your lives and ministry in this great land of Alaska please be safe.  Breathe deeply the breath of God today.  Let go of your anger.  Let the Advent peace of the Christ Child surround you.  Continue to take the risks of being a disciple of Christ. 

Grace Always,

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

United Methodism is Alive on Kenai Peninsula

I just returned from a 600 mile trip visiting our 7 UM churches.  Congratulations to the central peninsula churches for a combined event at the Kenai church.  Celebrations of what God has been doing was shared by all.  I was able to speak to the large group about missional communities and conference vision.  Here is a video clip of some of the sharing.

On Sunday I preached at St. Peter the Fisherman in Ninilchik.  This photo is of their chime choir.
Then off to Homer and finally Moose Pass and Seward.  God is feeding the hungry, teaching the saints, visiting those in prison, and loving neighbors.  Thanks be to God for this witness!

Grace Always,

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dealing with Darkness

Alaskans may be a hardy people but we are vulnerable to the winter effects of darkness.  How much darkness in your part of Alaska depends of course on your latitude.  Folks in southeast Alaska may not have as much darkness as Fairbanks and parts north, but they have lots of cloudy days that block the sunlight. 

How do you deal with darkness?  Many of us schedule a trip south to a warm climate in January.  Any trip outside gives us something to anticipate.  That helps us deal with darkness in a positive way.  Some get outside to enjoy winter sports such as skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, sledding, etc.  There is a snow machine in my garage that I use to get out into the Alaska back country.  It helps me cope with the darkness.

Advent is a season of anticipation of the Light of Christ coming once again into the world and into our lives.  There are dark forces that conspire at times to make our lives difficult.  The invitation to each of us is to invite the Light of Christ into our lives again.  We must open the door of our hearts to this Light.  Darkness tempts us to keep it closed while we huddle in our depression and despair. 

Isn't interesting that the winter solstice comes near the same time as Christmas?  By the time we hold candles in church singing "Silent Night," we will witness a gain in sunlight with each new day. 

May the God of Light find its way into the dark places of our lives.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

21 Years!

Twenty one years ago tomorrow our family of six arrived in Soldotna, Alaska, to begin what we thought would be a four year adventure.  Little did we know!  Little did we know that we all would fall in love with Alaska, its people and the land.  Little did we know that we would love the people of Soldotna UMC so much that we stayed there nearly 8 years.  Little did we know that we would get the chance to serve St. John UMC for ten years.  And little did we know then that I would get the opportunity to continue to serve the Alaska Conference as superintendent.

We left Lima, Ohio in November of 1991 and drove west packed in our Mitsubishi Montero.  I had to install an extra seat in the back or else leave someone behind.  For the most part it was a grand adventure of a drive.  We discovered that Nebraska is one lengthy and flat state!  We bought tire chains before venturing into Wyoming, but never used them even in Alaska.  Thank goodness we had the foresight to choose motels with pools!  Our kids were 3, 4, 6, and 9.

Over the years we have tried to leave several times.  Many Alaskans have thoughts and conversations about moving south during the months of December, January, February, March, and even April.  But each time God whispered to us that we belonged here.  And we are so glad to still be here.  As an itinerant UM pastor I am grateful for the fact that all four of our children graduated from the same high school.  I am deeply grateful that Kim has been able to flourish in her vocation as a school nurse.  And I am still thankful to be serving in the Alaska Conference.

Our kids are now 24, 25, 27, and 30.  And I just became a old geezer of 60.  This Thanksgiving we will give thanks to God for the blessed lives we all have.  This Thanksgiving we will be reminded of how we can give to others.  This Thanksgiving we will reminisce about the amazing journey of life and faith God has given us in this great land of Alaska.

With Gratitude,

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Global Climate

Do you think the United Methodist Church at times fails to lead on some issues?  I am thinking of climate change around the world.  With all of the scientific data revealing to us that our planet is warming why are so many in a cloud of denial?  Or if denial is not the reason, perhaps inaction is a better term.

The recent super storm Sandy on the east coast is forcing some leaders to acknowledge the reality that something is going on.  We are experiencing too many severe weather events to ignore the fact that our climate is changing.  Perhaps this storm is the direct result of climate change but the data does not fully support such a direct causal effect.  As one scientist said, "I cannot say this storm was the direct result of global warming.  But global warming is increasing the odds of such extreme weather events."  (This is a loose quote as I saw this interview on TV.) 

God calls us to be stewards of creation.  Don't you think it is time we in the UMC ratchet up our rhetoric and alarm about the dire effects of global climate change?  Are our clergy planning a sermon on the topic?  Are we encouraging Christian education classes to study this phenomenon? 

United Methodists encourage the use of reason as one leg of the quadrilateral with scripture, tradition, and experience being the others.  It is a balanced way to seek God's will as we face the issues of human existence.  So let's use our minds, look at the objective data, and talk about the issues of creation care in our families and our churches!  Together let us seek the will of God and be out front as leaders.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Advice from John Wesley

If you are on Facebook then you have likely seen this quote from John Wesley regarding how Methodists should view elections.  Isn't it amazing when we come across wisdom from the saints of the Church past speaking to the issues of today?

Please exercise your right to vote today!

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Prayer As Participating with God in Our Becoming

I have always struggled with prayer.  The scientist in me wants to think in linear terms, cause and effect, and observable data.  I have always searched for a construct or framework to think and talk about prayer.  I want to have a picture in my mind that prayer is more than a posture, more than words.  

Seven Alaska UM's are in our second year of the Academy for Missional Wisdom.  We are taking online classes and the current one is Missional Discernment and Disciple Formation.  In today's video our instructor, Jerry Moore talked about prayer as participating with God in our becoming.  This statement helps paint this picture that prayer is my participation with God in my becoming...like God...Christ like...holy...whole.  Every thought I have about God and self and world is prayer.  Every moment of reflection on the holy is prayer.  Every breath of gratitude is prayer.  It is so much more than a particular form.  It is not dependent upon whether my eyes are closed or if I am kneeling or bowing my head.  It is a way of life, a way of being.  

Grace Always,

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

From Orthodoxy to Orthopraxis

Part of the reason we are experiencing a seismic shift in the religious landscape in America is the church's obsession with orthodoxy, i.e., "right belief."  The world doesn't care about the details of what we believe.  They do care about orthopraxis, i.e., "right practice."  They want to see a sermon lived out, not preached with words alone.

Last week I attended a lecture by Dr. Robin Meyers, author, pastor, and professor in Oklahoma.  He thinks Christians are selling a Jesus today who is not who Jesus really is.  For example, he cites the Sermon on the Mount and observes that there is not one word about what to believe.  For Jesus it is about doing and practicing a faith in God. 

Fast forward to 325 A.D. to the Council of Nicaea called by Emporer Constantine with the charge to the bishops to determine the fundamental beliefs of Christianity.  From this we have the Nicene creed which I had to memorize during my confirmation classes.  "I believe in God, the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth..."  Meyers points out that this creed does not help us know how to live in the world as a Christ follower. 

What would Church look like if we shifted our focus to the orthopraxis of the Sermon on the Mount?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Native American Day

Yesterday was my 60th birthday.  It was also Columbus Day.  I'm not sure which event deserved more attention. 

The issue that is swirling through my mind has nothing to do with my birthday.  It has everything to do with the fact that our nation sets aside a day to remember Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of America.  We seem to conveniently ignore the fact that people had been living here for thousands of years. 

The state of South Dakota is the only state that has replaced Columbus Day with a Native American Day in 1989.  The city of Berkeley, CA, observes Indigenous Peoples' Day.  This is it?

Methodists travelled with native Americans on the trail of tears to express their solidarity with this outrageous act.  But they also were on the other side.  And in 1864 a Methodist pastor and colonel in the U.S. Army, John Chivington, led a 700-man army and killed 70-163 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho people.  Two thirds of them were women, children, and infants. 

As United Methodists we have not always been on the right side of history or lived by the principles set forth by John Wesley or holy Scripture.  It seems to me that we still have work to be reconciled with native people in this country.  One part of this work could be the creation of a Native American Day.

To learn more about this issue you can go to http://www.bia.gov/DocumentLibrary/HeritageMonth/index.htm

Our United Methodist Native American Comprehensive Plan can be viewed at http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.4751535/k.9027/Native_American.htm.

Grace Always,

Monday, October 1, 2012

Grandpa Identity

I like to write although I would not say I am a writer.  I've had a few small pieces published now and then but nothing major.  A few years ago I did try my hand at writing a book about identity.  I've always been fascinated with the way we view ourselves based on what we do in life. 

I am living into a new identity as a grandpa.  Isabella is a 9 month old beautiful little girl whose smile brings joy to my heart.  I was given this new identity.  I did not do anything.  It comes to me as a gift of relationship. 

But it is my choice how I will nurture and develop as a grandpa to Isabella.  I choose whether or not to pray for her, to spend time with her, to get to know her, to build trust, and to love her.  If you peel away the top layer of choice you will find desire.  Ultimately it is about desire, what we truly want from God, from life.  It is why Jesus asked people, "What do you want me to do for you?"

And so it is with our relationship with God. It is about choice, about what we want from God this day, this moment.  Feeding that choice is our desire.  Here is an excerpt from my unfinished book.

As Christians we are asked to be like Christ, to be formed in the image of God.  We are being asked to assume a new identity.  If people do not have much experience taking on a new identity that is their choice, then they will likely have difficulty taking on a Christian identity that is fully their choice.  What many end up doing is to copy someone else’s version of Christian identity without making it their own.

This brings us to the premise of this book.  How much experience have I had in forming my own identity?  I suggest that the more experience, the more freedom we experience in this kind of venture, the more fully and deeply we will be empowered to assume an identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

May God empower us to gently brush aside all that is keeping us from being in touch with our desire for Love.  For when we see Love as it is our choices to live in this Love will shape our identity as children of God and disciples of Jesus.

Thank you God, for the gift of being Isabella's grandpa.  I look forward to exploring and enjoying this new identity!

Grace Always,

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wedding at 40,000 Feet

This amazing true story comes from Pastor Janice Carlton of Kenai United Methodist Church.  I was in worship with them last Sunday when she used this story to illustrate her sermon about our need to share our story with others.  I use this with permission.  This portion is copied from their Facebook page.
Last week on a flight inbound for Anchorage, our pastor Janice heard the flight attendants asked a couple seated in her row what was taking them to Alaska. They were headed to our state to celebrate the man's birthday, because Alaska was on his bucket list and to get married.

Janice took the opportunity to speak up sharing that, "I'm a minister". One thing led to another and a wedding was performed on the flight. In order for this marriage to take place, the plane needed to be at 40,000 feet and over international airspace. The bride was decked out by the flight attendants in a veil made of toilet paper. Her bouquet was made of Alaska Airline napkins. She walked down the long aisle while a passenger sang "Fly Me to the Moon." The groom and the minister (Janice) stood against the cockpit door watching her approach. Janice was amazed she remembered the marriage ceremony words.

As the preacher came to "I now pronounce you husband and wife" the ceremony was turned over to the pilot who had to remain in the cockpit. As "captain of the ship" he did the actual pronouncing
over the intercom. The bride threw the bouquet, coached by the flight attendants, directly to an Alaska Airlines pilot who was deadheading in first class. He caught it. A legal marriage ceremony had been performed.

On Tuesday, the newlyweds arrived in Kenai and reconfirmed their vows in our church since they actually were planning some kind of church wedding.
Pastor Janice used this story to point out that we as disciples of Jesus need to be open to opportunities to engage others for the sake of the gospel.  Many times we try to avoid such encounters.  The flight attendant was willing to be an impromptu wedding coordinator.  The couple was willing to share their story of their first trip to Alaska.  Janice was willing to say that she was a pastor.  The captain was willing to allow this celebration on his plane.  A woman was willing to sing a song. 
All of this came together in one magical moment to create a spontaneous celebration of love.  There were smiles, laughter, and applause on that plane.  God was already very present on that plane, but several people were willing to open the door wider so that others could experience the light of God!
How will you be open to the promptings of the Spirit today so that others may sense God's joy?
Grace Always,

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Motorcycle Wave

Have you noticed that motorcyclists wave at each other on the highways?  I am fascinated by the evolution and biker social rules of the road.  The wave used to be up high with the hand like anyone would wave at someone.  Nowadays bikers wave at each other with a lowered hand.  Always a need to be different!

I used to ride a motorcycle.  I gave it up last year to support Aaron, my son-in-law, who sold his when he and Jenny had their first child, Isabella.  And it made my wife happy which is one of my main missions in life. 

I admit that I enjoyed the camaraderie of the biker wave.  The only part of what others saw of me was my bike and my wave.  Nothing else was visible behind the helmet and gear.  Today I see a biker wave and I have an impulse to wave at him/her.  And then I remember.  People won't wave at me because I drive a truck now!

But then I remember when I had a scooter.  Other bikers did not view me as an equal with them and most did not give me the biker wave.  Maybe someone should invent a scooter wave!  There are other cliques in the motorcycle community.  I met many owners of a certain brand (I won't say which!) who would not wave at me because I owned a different brand of bike. 

All this makes me think about Christian community and how we act in the world.  Are there people we avoid because we don't see them as a part of our "in" group?  Do we look down on some because they are not as smart or as gifted as we are? 

It's interesting that as more people ride motorcycles they are not waving at other bikers as much.  This is because there are simply too many of them on the road.  All I am saying is that let's be in the world as if everyone is a part of our group.  Everyone deserves a wave, a smile, a kind word, a whispered prayer.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Taking Health for Granted

I remember a great definition of maturity.  Maturity is realizing that the most important lessons in life are the ones we thought we already knew.  Don't you love that?  Most of us know how to live rightly according to God's desires for us.  But we are a people who forget easily.  We need to relearn the same basic lessons over and over again.  Mature people are those who for the most part have learned those lessons and remember them.

I am at the end of a 10 day bout of severe sore throat and coughing spasms.  I am sure that before this spell I was not as aware of how good life can be without a sore throat and the wracking pain of deep coughing.  But during the past 10 days I have thought a lot about life without this pain.  It leads me to think about all the blessings of life without pain.  How I take them for granted. 

This is an important part of our prayer life:  simply being still in gratitude to God for simple things like a pain-free body, eyes to see, arms to hug loved ones, legs to hike trails, etc.  When something like our health is compromised or taken from us we immediately understand what we had.  The challenge of a life of faith today is to thank God for all the gifts of life and love.  They may not always be with us.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pastor Ignores Neighbors

Part of what it means to be missional is to be in relationship with the world without a hidden agenda other than to offer the grace of God in Christ.  I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to do this in my neighborhood.  Last spring I passed out fliers announcing a "Come and Ask Your God Question" Bible study at our house.  No one came.

For most of the 13 years we have lived in this neighborhood I have ignored my neighbors.  I was busy with an energetic and growing church, and a bustling household with four teenagers!  I had a good excuse, right?  What I realize now is that all of my energy was directed to growing the attractional church.  I did not leave any time to simply be the grace of God for my neighbors.  So how do I move from ignoring them to suddenly being interested in them?  The answer probably has something to do with confession!

When you are new to a neighborhood you have this window of being new where you can approach people and ask questions.  Even though I had hoped our log cabin in Willow would be a refuge where I would not be known as a pastor I have been "outed" there!  With PLUME director, Robert Hicks encouraging us, Kim and I hosted a picnic for our Willow neighborhood a few weeks ago.  We learned that it had never been done and guess what...people came, even in the rain!

So this dibble is a little poke for you to ask God how you can be present with the people in your neighborhood.  I'd love to hear stories.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fall Church Come Back

I remember my first summer as pastor of Soldotna UMC in 1992 as I experienced the summer exodus.  What do you mean we're not going to have Sunday School, Bible Study, or choir in worship?  We don't get to take a vacation from being a disciple of Jesus!  I was a lot more legalistic back in those days.  In the 20 years since then God has taught me much about grace.  God seemed to say to me, "Just relax and enjoy this season of light and outdoor beauty."  I learned that worship was not lessened.  It often moved outdoors!

And now we find ourselves in that wonderful season of coming back.  School has begun.  Students and teachers have been blessed on Sunday mornings in our 29 churches.  Summer schedules will soon give way to busy fall/winter schedules.  So much needs to be done by our lay and clergy leaders.  But it is a good busyness.  God is present in the creative imaginations of new Sunday School teachers who are working even now to prepare learning environments for children to learn about Jesus.  God is working in the plans of youth leaders who are thinking of ways for our teens to walk with God and do acts of social justice.  God's Spirit is stirring the minds of adults who will engage holy scripture with other disciples of Christ in a few weeks.

As we all experience the fall church come back season let us remember to include others who need a deeper connection with God.  Let's take some time to think about who we can invite to church this fall.  It's a great time to begin or renew a faith journey!

Grace Always,

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Missional Community Follow Up

Good news!  The people at the Academy for Missional Wisdom have agreed to our request to change the program for Alaskan United Methodists.  Instead of two years at $4000 it will now cost $2000 per person excluding travel. This is because those of us in the first cohort will provide the second year of coaching.  The Academy for Missional Wisdom will provide the first year's content which are the biblical and theological foundations for missional communities. This will involve online courses of six weeks each with short reflection papers, readings, and online forums.

The next Alaska cohort will begin in January, 2013.  We need at least five lay and clergy for this to happen.  To date we know of two clergy who have already registered.  To learn more about this program check out this video.

Bishop Hagiya has encouraged us to experiment and this is one of those endeavors.  We have a vision of lay and clergy working together to serve Alaskans with practical Christianity.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gluten Free Communion For All?

 Here's my question.  Why do we have one communion station with wheat bread with gluten and another for those who are gluten intolerant?  Practice reflects theology.  What theological principles are we communicating by offering two stations to serve two groups of people?  This holy sacrament needs to nourish all of God's people.  I know of one United Methodist who brings his own gluten free wafer to the table which is fine.  But why can't we all partake of gluten free bread?  It should not affect the experience of this holy sacrament.  And it would demonstrate our solidarity with others and symbolically show that we do all partake of the one bread of Life.

I encourage a conversation on this question.  Maybe there is something I am not seeing.  Perhaps some of our Alaska churches will conduct an experiment and try gluten free bread for all.  If you are interested in learning more about this issue I refer you to this article which also includes three recipes for gluten free communion bread.


Grace Always,

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What Is a Missional Community?

Missional Communities are are groups of 20 to 50 or more people who are united, through  community, around a common service and witness to a particular neighborhood or network of relationships. With a strong value on life together, the group has the expressed intention of seeing those they impact choose to start following Jesus through this more flexible and locally incarnated expression of the church. The result will often be that the group will grow and ultimately multiply into further Missional Communities. Missional Communities are most often networked within a larger church community. These mid-sized communities, led by laity, are lightweight and low maintenance and most often meet 3-4 times a month in their missional context.

Seven Alaska UM's are being trained by the Academy for Missional Wisdom (link to website:  http://www.missionalwisdom.com/Missional_Wisdom_Foundation/Academy.html).  If we can find 5 new people willing to receive the training which will be a year of online classes and a year of coaching and supervision Dr. Elaine Heath will begin this second cohort this fall.  I will be seeking 100% funding for this initiative from the conference.

If you or someone in your church would like to know more about missional communities and how they can complement the attractional church model we currently use there are two webinars next week.  One is Tuesday, Aug. 14 at 2 PM.  The other is Tuesday, Aug. 21 at 7 PM.  Both are identical and will last no more than 45 minutes.  If you would like to attend just contact me or Crystal to receive an invitation and instructions on how to participate.

I am convinced that we need to train leaders who will be in relationship with people where they are as we seek to offer them Christ.  Incarnational grace.  I invite you to pray with me about the vital mission God is asking us to carry forth.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Renewal Report

 I'm back!  After five weeks of a combination of church meetings, family time, travel, and sightseeing, I am glad to be home.  The entire experience was fulfilling and rewarding.  Highlights include the ordination of David, Julie, and Jenny; a week in Yakima with all of our kids and their families; time with my brother exploring the Olympic Peninsula; hanging out with Lauren and Rob in Idaho; Jurisdictional Conference where I participated in the decision to assign bishops; driving the Pacific Coast highway.  No speeding tickets, crashes, or road mishaps.  I did manage to lose a new GPS at the start of the trip which put pressure on Kim to be our navigator.

I must confess that I could have returned a week early as Jurisdictional Conference put me in work mode.  Part of why I did this leave was to model for our churches that renewal leaves for our pastors are important tools in the renewal of our churches.  Here is what the Book of Discipline says from paragraph 351: 

2. A clergy member’s continuing education and spiritual growth program should include such leaves at least one week each year and at least one month during one year of every quadrennium. Such leaves shall not be considered as part of the ministers’ vacations and shall be planned in consultation with their charges or other agencies to which they are appointed as well as the bishop, district superintendent, and annual conference continuing education committee.

So am I renewed?  I knew the answer driving north from San Diego when my mind was flooded with ideas about our vision for the future.  I say the answer is YES.  Now comes the challenge to translate this renewal to action as together we lead our churches to be faithful to the mission God has given us.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


This is a time of major transitions for many of our clergy families.  Some will say their goodbyes to congregations and neighbors this Sunday.  A few are already on the road to their new homes.  I know that new clergy families are headed north right now for their big Alaskan adventure.  And some of our clergy will be leaving beloved congregations in Alaska to serve new ones in our great state. 

How well do you handle transitions in your life?  This is another way of asking how well do we deal with change.  I think there is a difference between the big changes of life and the little ones.  For me it is often the little ones that prove to be the most difficult.

For example, and this is a confession, I am too dependent on the electronic devices that keep me connected with the world.  Just now, while writing this, an email arrived and I felt compelled to read it.  I've always wanted to be available to people but I think there is a spiritual dimension to this habit.  What am I ignoring because I am paying so much attention to my communication machines?

Next week Kim and I will spend 5 weeks traveling around the western US.  We will witness the ordinations of David and Julie Elmore, Jenny Smith; spend time in Yakima with family; tour the San Juan Islands with my brother; do some writing at Dale Kelley's and Joan Flower's home in Port Ludlow; visit our daughter, Lauren, and her husband, Rob, in Idaho; attend Western Jurisdictional Conference to be part of the decision to assign bishops; and travel up the Pacific Coast highway.

The question for me as I face this little transition is: can I separate from my beloved technology to create space for God to fill it with something wonderful and beautiful? 

I'll keep you posted on my progress. 

On the other hand I probably shouldn't!

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Alaska Conference Afterthoughts

Last weekend was annual conference for the Alaska Conference and folks are still talking about the glow. Here is part of my "glow." First has to be the East Anchorage Samoan Fellowship singing and dancing for the Lord and for us. It was the highlight of my experience. Then there was the respect we gave one another during debate. And Bishop Grant's visionary leadership and personal sharing. I also noticed the joy we felt in Christ and each other. One of my favorite times is listening to new pastors at their first Alaska conference talk excitedly about how they have never experienced an annual conference like this!

 Five Alaska clergy and two laity are on retreat today with Dr. Elaine Heath. We have finished our first year in the Academy for Missional Wisdom with one year to go. Now we will be moving forward with plans to begin new micro faith communities. We don't know if they will "work" but we step forward in faith trusting God to lead us. It is truly an exciting time to be in mission in the Alaska Conference!

Grace Always,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Powerful Questions

Last week I attended a coaching training event with Bishop Grant, PNW cabinet, and other PNW leaders in Seattle.  It was a remarkable learning experience and I learned much about listening.  One of the coaching strategies is to ask powerful questions.  You probably know what it means when someone asks you a question that causes you to think and take you to a deep place.

I have been given a powerful question to ponder for several weeks now.  It came from Robert Hicks, co-pastor in Wasilla and Palmer, and director of PLUME.  We were talking about all things theological and spiritual while he was in the hospital recovering from surgery when he said, "I think I am to the place in my life and ministry where I am looking forward to being shaped more by my mission field than by the Church."  Okay, so it wasn't a question.  But his statement prompted me to ask, "Am I being shaped by my mission field more than the Church?"

Then came another.  "How much time do I spend immersed in my mission field compared to my Church world?"  As one who has spent most of his life in the Church world I must say that it is daunting and scary to imagine me fully engaged in new relationships with people in my neighborhood.

But I am enjoying this time with these questions.  Who knew that Robert was coaching me in that hospital room?  Thanks for the powerful question, Robert!

Grace Always,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Embracing Alaskan Lifestyle

When a church is to receive a new pastor the first task is for their SPRC to complete a church profile.  In this profile they respond to a question by listing the top five qualities they need in a pastor to help them meet their mission.  In many cases I see something like "embrace Alaskan lifestyle."  What do they mean?

They want to know that pastors will come to see and appreciate Alaska the way they see it.  In my expectations for Alaska clergy I write, "In big and small ways show them that you are one of them, that you embrace this Alaskan life in its grandeur and in its sometimes difficult realities."

These photos illustrates this very well.  Pastor Dan Lush of Willow UMC created this cardboard and duct tape kayak for an event at Birchwood Camp last Saturday.  To me it shows a pastor who embraces the quirkiness of Alaska in a creative and fun way.  

One of the things I tell new pastors is that Alaska is a place where the people want us to be ourselves.  They don't abide by phoniness or pretentiousness.  It's about being real and genuine.  

I believe God desires this for all people.  Those of us who know the joy of living and ministering in Alaska know this all to well.  

By the way none of these crafts sank as many had predicted!  Way to go, Dan!

Grace and peace,

Monday, May 7, 2012

Full Time Lay Ministry

Last Sunday I preached and led communion at Turnagain UMC which was a great gift.  Most preachers like to preach and I'm no exception.  But we really enjoy the rhythm of leading worship: the music, hymns, liturgies, prayers, and even the children's time!  I got to do a Sermon in a Sack again.  Great fun!

I told the congregation that I have been bragging about them.  Pastor Bob Smith who is half time has helped them (and me) reframe what it means to be a church with a part time pastor.  In the past we have defined a church by whether or not it could support a full time pastor or not.  If a church moved from full time to part time then this was a bad thing and the goal was to get back to full time as quickly as possible.

Turnagain UMC is talking about full time lay ministry served by a part time pastor.  Do you see the subtle difference?  Instead of the pastor's status being the most important, it is the laity's status that is emphasized.  And the laity are stepping up in our churches served by new part time pastors.  I am concerned about how pastors and laity respect the part time boundary, but so far it seems to be working well.

This does raise questions about how we deploy part time pastors to these full time churches.  Currently, our rules only allow health insurance for pastors serving full time appointments.  Two of the six pastors now receive their health insurance through their spouses' work.  The other four are retired.

All this is to say that the ministry of the laity is very important to the health and vitality of our congregations.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Please Watch this Video

When it comes to understanding the history and culture of native people I think those of us in the dominant culture in America have much to learn.  At the General Conference of the United Methodist Church An Act of Repentance towards Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples was held April 27.  I won't share the highlights here but will simply invite us all to do two things.

1. Watch the video of Dr. George Tinker, native American theologian.

2. Engage one another in dialogue about ways Alaskans can be part of healing relationships with native people in Alaska.

Please....watch the video which includes Dr. Tinker's address and the entire service, and let the conversations happen in your church and community.  Pastors and lay leaders...please forward this link to your congregations and ask them to watch it as well.


Grace Always,

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Decision Time for the United Methodist Church

Today marks the start of General Conference of the UMC in Tampa.  One of the hallmarks of Methodism is holy conferencing where lay and clergy gather to discuss, debate, and discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in our world.  We have this model in the local church with church or charge conferences.  Once a year the annual conference gathers.  In Alaska ours will meet in Anchorage May 25-26.  There are Jurisdictional Conferences that meet every four years to elect bishops.  And there is General Conference which basically consists of 500 lay and 500 clergy delegates elected by their home conferences. Four years ago I was honored to be at General Conference.  It was an amazing experience, the highlight being the worship.  The African Children's Choir was the highlight of all the worship times. These orphaned children were taken in by a United Methodist school where they found the song God desires to put in the heart of every child on earth.  Here is a video clip from of the choir at that General Conference.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogXJZmlz_W4

Please join me in praying for our delegation: Peter, Jo Anne, Lonnie, Ev, and Jim, and for everyone to be able to discern God's leading for our church.   Other Alaskans attending include Steven Maga, Lupe Saafi, and Susan Smalley.  To follow the General Conference process including live streaming go to http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1353935/k.85E4/General_Conference_2012__The_United_Methodist_Church.htm

 Grace Always,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Familiarity Breeds Contempt?

Those of us who live and serve in Alaska in the United Methodist Church experience seasons of wanting to be somewhere else.  The myth of greener grass should be translated in Alaska to the "myth of grass anywhere."  Yes, we do get tired of all the snow and ice, especially in Anchorage where we set a new record with over 133" of snow.  There is at least 3 feet of it piled in my yard.  

One of the reasons we enjoy hosting family and friends in Alaska is that we get the opportunity to look at our homeland with fresh eyes.  There is some truth to the old saying that "familiarity breeds contempt."  The more acquainted one becomes with a person or a place, the more one knows about his or her shortcomings and, hence, the easier it is to dislike that person or place.  

Sometimes I look at Alaska and confess to a bit of contempt for this place especially when the cold never seems to loosen its grip.  Last week I spent a night at our cabin in Willow and had a conversation with God about this.  It's almost funny but the mere fact of talking about my feelings about the never ending snow helped me to see with fresh eyes.  As I thought about what it would be like to live in a place without this beauty I was suddenly filled with gratitude to God for the gift of being in this great land.  

Perhaps we experience this same reality with God.  Can our familiarity with God ever lead to a contempt or at least indifference?  I think the answer lies somewhere in the spiritual process of looking at God with fresh eyes.  We do not know everything there is to know about God.  Thank God for mystery!  Like Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, "we see now through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face."  

God help us all to see the mystery and the reality of God in fresh ways.  The result will always be a heart filled with gratitude.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Different Ways to Relate to God

Recently I led a men's retreat at Hope and introduced Corinne Ware's book on Spiritual Temperament.  The best thing about her book is the notion that we are all wired to relate to God differently.  Religious people have long tried to mold people into a particular way of being spiritual.  Mainliners want to think deeply about God.  Evangelicals want to feel God's presence.  Mystics want people to shut up in the presence of God.  And Crusaders want to take their faith into the social sphere and work for justice.

Once we discover our particular path or wiring we can free ourselves from the guilt of trying to be something we are not.  We all still need to experience the fullness of God from perspectives that don't appear to be natural.  But knowing our preference can free us to dive deeper as we plumb the depths of God.

Grace Always,

Monday, April 2, 2012

Election Eve Thoughts

Last week I was struck by the irony that in Anchorage many pastors and church leaders marched side by side in one of the many “Choose Respect” marches across Alaska.  Here we are in this photo.  And yet we are divided on another social issue about whether gay, lesbian, and transgender people should have the same rights as heterosexuals. 

I find it fascinating that many Christians define their Christianity with a long list of “must believes” like the virgin birth, bodily resurrection of Christ, inerrant view of the Bible, rejection of homosexuality and abortion, and so on.  Maybe one of the big reasons people think the church version of Christianity is irrelevant is because they really like Jesus’ list.  They get it.  Love God.  Love your neighbor. 

Today Anchorage voters will decide on Proposition 5 which seeks to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender identity.  Those who oppose this are not arguing the merits of legal protection, but are claiming it is the slippery slope that will lead to large fines and pastors being thrown in jail.  Fear, distortion, and distraction.

Why can’t we trust Jesus’ list?  It’s not that hard to define.  I guess it’s just hard to actually do it.

Grace Always,

Monday, March 26, 2012

High Pressure Culture of Giving

Kim and I are receiving more and more phone calls from call centers asking for more of our money.  What is it about hearing in the background dozens of other conversations that immediately makes me want to zip tight my wallet?  And what is it about making a single donation to a charity that forever puts you on an email or call list?

We donated money last fall to a charity helping with the African famine because my brother in Ohio who is a pastor had asked.  Since then we receive weekly emails and some phone calls.  Last week after I listened to their pitch I explained the reason why we were on their list.  I stated that we give regularly to church and charities and do not want to give anymore to them.  I was calm and invited the woman to pass this feedback to the proper person in their organization.  What is irksome is that often people do not accept my response.  They are trained to keep us on the line and ask if we will give a lesser amount.

So why can’t I just interrupt such pitches so they can go on to the next person?  I cannot bring myself to hang up but I often feel like doing so.  Is this anything close to your experience?  How do you handle such calls? 

Finally, it makes me wonder how new people view our passing of the offering plates.  In this kind of high pressure giving culture how do we approach giving in church?  Some churches make a point of saying that new people are not asked to give.  What are your thoughts on this?

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Adventure in the Mountains

I started to title this piece "Misadventure" but changed my mind.  Last week my adult son, Jeremy, and I drove to Trapper Creek, north of Talkeetna, for some spring snowmachining.  The day was absolutely spectacular!  Sunny and warm with perfect snow conditions with Denali and Foraker summits highly visible.

We were 17 miles into the backcountry when Jeremy's steering shaft snapped.  There was no way he could drive the sled back to the truck.  So we faced our reality as best we could.  With a tow rope we worked together to manuever up and down the hills, across creeks, and through alders.  Jeremy had to constantly use his brake and throttle to keep the tow line taut.  I had to shift my body to counteract the forces when he would slide to the side.

We didn't panic.  We talked about and scouted the best route.  And after several hours we made it back to the truck...and ran out of gas!

The preacher in me is tempted to make some spiritual connection to God with this story.  But I leave that to you.  All I know is that a father and son shared the bond of a risky adventure in the amazing beauty of God's creation.

God really is good all the time!


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Asking Good Questions

Perhaps I am becoming obsessed with the notion of asking really good questions.  But as I engage with pastors and lay leaders in our 29 churches and fellowships across Alaska I see over and over again the wisdom in this simple practice.

Questions arise in a myriad of places in my life, but one of the most fertile soils where they bloom is scripture and spiritual reading.  I am part of the two-year Academy for Missional Wisdom along with 6 other Alaskan lay and clergy persons.  In my reading for this week I was motivated to ask this question.  What if we as Church did not define ourselves as Church?  Rather, what would the implications be if we allowed those in our mission field to tell us whether or not we are being Church?

Wow!  Talk about giving up ourselves!  I am not certain that we should allow our identity to be totally determined by what others outside the church think of us.  But it is an intriguing question because it can shake up our view of who we are and our mission in the world.  One of the gifts of my not being part of a single congregation is the ability to see a bigger picture.  It can become easy for us to view the world through the lens of the Church.  Would our vision be any different if we viewed the world through the lens of God?

I believe that our work is God's work, not ours.  The grace of God is surely active in and through Church.  But it is also active in the lives of people apart from the Church.

So what answers would you be willing to hear if you asked people in your community to define your church?

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Equality for All People

​Whenever a human community faces a difficult decision we, as a United Methodist faith community, can look to our Social Principles for guidance.  The citizens of Anchorage are facing one of these decisions in the April election.  A grassroots group collected signatures to have this initiative placed on the ballot.  The  “One Anchorage Initiative” asks Anchorage voters “shall the current Municipal Code sections providing legal protections against discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age, physical disability, and mental disability be amended to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender identity?” 
​This is what our United Methodist Social Principles say about this issue under the section, Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation.
Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the
rightful claims where people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically
attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.
Regardless of our personal views our church is clear that discrimination is unacceptable as people of faith.  

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Purpose Centered vs. Preference Driven Church

I am in Seattle today sitting at the PNW cabinet table listening to consultant, Rev. Doug Anderson's teaching. Leadership is often about asking the right questions. He is asking three questions. The first is this.

Why are 90% of United Methodist Churches either at a plateau or declining?

purpose centered_______________________________preference driven

Doug's response: All churches are on a continuum between purpose centered and preference driven. Churches who are strongly on the preference driven side will be in decline. Preference driven churches tend to be churches where a small group of people have gained the power to make most of the decisions. How does this happen?
1. Money
2. People who do many things in the church
3. Certain families have clout
4. Conflict - Power group often wins.  Others lose.
Churches in a regular cycle of conflict are often on the preference side of the continuum.

Difference between power and energy.  Energy is non-directional, unharnessed.  Power is directed energy that leads to actual work.  Preference driven churches may or may not have energy.  But purpose centered churches have power.

When speaking to SPRC's of Alaska churches receiving a new pastor this year I have said, "Don't ask your congregation what you want in a new pastor. Ask them what you need in a new pastor that will help you achieve your mission." Church really needs to be about mission and purpose, not our personal preferences.

More to come!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Venture in the Desert

I am in the desert. Spiritually, I am not doing well. At least in the sense that I am not feeling God's presence. I still pray in my prayer closet which is an empty space under the stairs in my home, but not as much. I still worship in our churches. I still give. I still try to do acts of love. But inside I am feeling the ache of emptiness.

And all of this is actually a good thing. In church culture we all too often create an environment where very real human experiences like loneliness, emotional distance from our spouses, and lack of connection with God cannot be shared. So we force a smile and pretend that everything is okay. Do you ever wonder how many broken lives in our churches lie just behind the smiles we see on Sunday mornings?

And then there is the pressure pastors feel to have it all together for their congregations. Surely, everyone expects their superintendent to be spiritually together! Well, I'm not! People still ask me how I like my job. I always hesitate because I am weighing which answer to give them. The one they likely want to hear, that it is all going very well. Or the one that is honest and doesn't lend itself very well to moving on to the next topic of conversation.

Ash Wednesday is a great time to acknowledge before my spiritual community that I am in the desert. As the Psalmist says, "It is a dry and weary place where there is no water." Lent is a time for all of us to come out of the shadows of a pretend spiritual life.

Last week I was holding my granddaughter, Isabella. Here is a child of God who does not yet know that she is loved by her grandpa. She even cries while in my arms, seemingly unhappy to experience my love. But there will come a day when Isabella will know in her heart that Grandpa loves her.

So it is that I hold onto the promise of God that one day I will feel the breath of God in my soul. Until then I walk by faith. I walk in the desert. And it is all good.

Grace and peace,

Monday, February 13, 2012

Generation Gaps

Last week at the Professional Church Worker's Retreat we heard generations expert, Amy Lynch, talk about how generational differences affect how we do church.  It was eye-opening for all of us as we began to understand, for example, why young people of the Millennial generation are not coming to our churches.  Rather than label a generation as being "lazy" or "old-fashioned" we learned to appreciate the forces that have shaped each generation.

I suggest our preachers consider holding a Generations Sunday where we all would address the topic in a sermon and find creative ways to get our generations to understand one another.  What if some churches invited Millennials who don't go to the church come and help us understand why they don't?  What if Baby Boomers talked about their optimism and understanding of endless youth?

The most important learning I received was that we need to eliminate the labeling and blaming across generations.  We need to appreciate the gifts of each as we strive to include all people in the work of God in the Church of Christ.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Reasons for the Ruts

Last Sunday I shared with Anchor Park UMC in a sermon the reasons why the distance between our railroad tracks is four feet, eight and one half inches.  The reason the rail distance is this odd number is because that's the way they built them in England, and American railroads were built by British expatriates.  Why did the English adopt that particular gauge?  Because the people who built the pre-railroad tramways used that gauge.  They in turn were locked into that gauge because the people who built tramways used the same standards and tools they had used for building wagons, which were set on a gauge of four feet, eight-and-one-half inches.  Why were wagons built to that scale? Because with any other size, the wheels did not match the old wheel ruts on the roads.  You see where this is going, don’t you?
So who built these old rutted roads?  The first long-distance highways in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The roads have been in use ever since. The ruts were first made by Roman war chariots.  Four feet, eight-and-one-half inches was the width a chariot needed to be to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.
Someone has said that the seven last words of the church are: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  Perhaps you are the kind of person who dislikes this attitude.  Such an attitude stifles creativity and ingenuity.  It conjures images of stuffy people who wouldn’t change their routine if their lives depended on it.  We need to understand and appreciate our history so we can understand the ruts that keep us on a certain road. 
But we also need to step out of the old ruts so we can forge a new path, one that will put us in touch with people where they are.  We need to be on a path that stretches and challenges us and moves us out of our comfort zones.  We need to be on a path where the Spirit of God guides us, not the old ruts!  
Old ruts.  It can feel comfortable to know where we going, or rather, where we are NOT going.  In this age of change the Church needs to cultivate a culture of experimentation.  Try new things.  Take some risks.  The Church can not afford to be on the tail end of a cultural shift.  We need to be at the forefront.  We need to get our wagons out of the ruts!

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Imagine No Malaria

While at jurisdictional meetings in San Diego this week the western superintendents and bishops gathered to hear a presentation by Bishop Tom Bickerton about the next phase in our goal to elliminate malaria from the face of the earth. It is called IMAGINE NO MALARIA. You may remember our previous campaign called NOTHING BUT NET, which by the way is still active. This next phase is to raise $75 million.

Here's my question. Why don't we as the Alaska conference choose this as our missional emphasis for next year?

This is from their web site: So, how will we do it? How will we eliminate deaths from a disease that has killed so many millions of people for thousands of years? Imagine No Malaria helps us take the next step in this fight.

Think of it as Nets Plus. We continue to support Nothing But Nets, because bed nets are an effective tool against the disease. But, we’re doing more.

First and foremost, we work in full partnership with communities in Africa. Empowering people to be part of the solution. Providing the tools needed so they can fight malaria.
So here’s the plan: we’re gonna put 160 years of know-how and experience in Africa to work against malaria. This comprehensive approach is divided into four main parts:

Prevention: It’s about improving the ways people fight the disease locally.  Using bed nets. Access to diagnostic tests and medicine. Draining standing water. Improving sanitation.  Every person can take steps to prevent malaria deaths, from protective measures to taking swift action when malaria symptoms begin.Treatment: Improving infrastructure. There are literally hundreds of churches, schools, hospitals and clinics operated by The United Methodist Church in Africa, but what good are they if medicines to treat malaria aren’t available?  We’ll make sure these facilities have the diagnostic tests and treatment needed to save lives.Education: It’s about outreach to those who need it most. Last year alone, we trained thousands of local people in African communities to teach their communities about avoiding malaria. In Sierra Leone, these workers went door-to-door to deliver bed nets, install them in homes and teach folks how to properly use and care for the nets.Communications: And finally, your support helps upgrade communications networks throughout the continent. Building new radio stations and providing hand-crank and solar-powered radios will ensure we are reaching great numbers of people with life-saving information about malaria.
What makes us so sure? We are putting in place a system of accountability. By establishing health boards in Africa, these groups will be held responsible for stewardship of your donation and results, putting funds to work with a plan that creates malaria programs that truly serve the needs of their local communities. Once established and trained, these boards will be eligible to receive a lot more funding from our partners, like The Global Fund, to Fight Malaria.

UM's came through with amazing support of Nothing But Nets. Let's gather our energy and resources to run this next leg!

Grace Always,

Friday, January 20, 2012

Garbled Speech

Last Friday it was very cold in front of the federal courthouse in Anchorage.  I was there to read a statement from my friend and Presbyterian executive, Rev. Dr. Curt Karns.  It was a rally to highlight the unfairness of the recent Supreme Court decision that corporations deserve the same rights as individuals.  This movement seeks to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

This is what Curt wrote and what I read at the rally.  "The biblical witness is clear both in the prophets and in the words of Jesus that societies are to be based on justice, and that societies are judged by their commitment to justice.  By granting civil and personal rights to corporations, the Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Board case has turned this biblical guidance on its head. Rather than viewing political and social decisions from the perspective of the poor, the weak and the downtrodden, decision will now be considered from the perspective of the most powerful corporations.  The undersigned regional leaders, speaking on their own behalf and not their churches’, therefore endorse the formation of an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, in which it will be clear that corporations are not persons with constitutional rights, and that money can be regulated for political spending.
Christians have always understood that any true justice is of God, the Creator of all that is, including Creator of justice. As such, whenever gross injustice appears in a society it is important for Christians to stand up and be counted among those who oppose that injustice."

I encourage Alaska's United Methodists to apply our Social Principles to this and other social situations and speak out to church and society.  The funny thing as I began to speak at the rally after standing in -8 degree cold for 30 minutes was that my mouth literally could not speak!  I think my mouth muscles were freezing.  It felt like the dentist had just shot my mouth with novocain!  There I was with community leaders and the media watching, and I could not speak!  And what eventually came out was somewhat garbled.

I suspect there is a metaphor here for us as Christians.  Our mouths often become frozen when it comes to speaking a prophetic word in the public square.  The message of the Church is sometimes garbled and the message of God's desire for humanity fails to be understood.  My prayer for us as a conference is that Christ's message will be refined by the fire of our passion to bring God's reign to our communities.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Issues That Will Not Let Us Sleep

Last week I wrote about the sin of imprisoning children to be sex slaves around the world.  I am asking for our UM churches in Alaska to keep this issue before our congregations.

Another issue Anchorage residents will face on the April ballot is an initiative designed to provide equal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation.  Currently, a lesbian can be fired for simply being homosexual.  If a restaurant owner were to refuse to interview a straight waiter, that prospective employee would have no protection.

The One Anchorage Initiative simply provides to gay and transgender Alaskans the same legal protections that are provided to Anchorage residents in employment, financial practices, housing, restaurants, and other businesses.  

What are the similar issues in your town?  In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., what injustice can be seen through a God lens that demands prophetic voice and actions?  Where does our resolve to do something come from?  Not all UM's will feel the motivation to act on this issue in Anchorage.  I get that.  But as God's people we are called to look at life through a God lens.  Sometimes that view calls us to prayer, or to donate money, or to learning more.  But for some of us (and this means all of us at one time or other) it is a call to action.

I fully support this initiative in Anchorage and am working in concert with pastors to promote this issue.  It is because of my faith that I am compelled to act and work for justice.  And I encourage you to consider a justice issue in your community, one that may just move you to action.

Grace and peace,


Monday, January 9, 2012

Invitation to Prayer and Action

Isn't it interesting how stories of human suffering come into our minds and hearts?  We breathe a prayer and move on.  But every now and then it seems that God grabs our attention and we find ourselves wanting to do more than pray.  
Last Saturday I turned on the TV to look for a football game and locked onto an MSNBC special on how children are being forced to be sex slaves in Cambodia.  They were doing a follow up on four girls whom they had rescued five years earlier.  The transformation was astounding.  These teenage girls proudly wore their school uniforms and talked about their future.  One wanted to be a CEO.  Another wanted to be a doctor.  It was a testament to the power of healing love.
One California family of five saw the first special and were so moved that they sold everything and moved to Cambodia to provide a safe place for freed children to begin a new life.  Talk about being grabbed by God!

After the special I went to my computer and sent out this email to all Alaska clergy and asked them to read it to their congregations in worship during the prayer time.

"Next Sunday is Human Relations Day which is part of the United Methodist Church's effort to support community ministries that teach and advocate for justice, especially among people struggling to survive in the margins of society. As your superintendent I am asking you to pray for the world's children trapped in a dark web of human sex trafficking.  I am also asking for some of you to learn more about this evil so the light of God's love and justice can bring freedom and healing to children damaged and scarred."  

Pastors, if people come forward willing to learn and educate your congregation about this issue please refer them to these web sites.  Our UMW is working in this area as is General Board of Church and Society.  They recommend churches and organizations learn more about becoming a Rescue and Restore Partner.  

This issue has touched my heart and I encourage us all to shine God's light on this dreadful curse.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Roles in 2012

I have been fascinated with identity over the years and nearly finished a book on the subject 5 years ago. Specifically, I am interested in distinguishing between identities we choose and those that others choose for us.

Last Saturday, Dec. 31 I gained a new identity as a grandfather when Isabella Kay Smith was born. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I received a title on that day. My identity as a grandfather is one I gladly choose and which will require my love and energy. I will make time in my life to think about her, pray for her, spend time with her, and get to know her. This is what it will mean for me to choose and nurture my new identity as a grandpa.

I wonder if this applies to our identities as Christ followers. Are we simply assuming this identity because we grew up in a Christian home? My guess is that a Christian identity for many is a default identity. We did not choose it to be our own, but was chosen for us. And because we did not feel empowered to fully choose it for ourselves we simply defaulted to what we were given.

What would our lives be like in 2012 if we consciously made a choice to take on the identity of Christ follower each day? What if we embarked on a journey to wrestle with the questions of life and faith for ourselves? My sense is that our spiritual, emotional, and physical lives would be much enriched if we choose each day to invest ourselves into a relationship with God in Jesus Christ. And in the process the world will be transformed.

From a happy grandpa,