Monday, June 27, 2016

Build An Ebinezer


For nearly two years, Mission Street Church met in a huge movie theater by the side of Highway 101 - just as you are driving through Camarillo (The Edwards Movie Theater).  Each day, I literally drive by the old movie theater two or three times as I pass through town.  Our church no longer meets in the Edwards because of cost increases in the movie industry (the theater in the end was costing $1,000 per week) but the theater landmark still holds a place in my heart as an emblem of God's work in my life, and the potential of God's work in the world.  Whenever my two daughters see the Edwards theater from the car they yell out - "'There's the church!"

When Mission Street first began, I committed myself to pray for this new church, this new work of the Spirit, each time I passed the Edwards Theater.  Using the example of Jack Hayford, who prayed over every chair in the church that he began many years ago, I prayed over the theater: "Dear Lord, please be with Mission Street Church - and build whatever you want to build here, In the Name of Jesus -Amen" (I said that three or four times a day).  And so, the theater developed as a kind of "Pavlovian" or  "BF Skinnerian" response mechanism for me.  When I saw the theater, I prayed.

After Mission Street moved from the theater to the "Sessions @ The Loft" (art studio), I still had the habit of praying for the church, even though we didn't meet in the Edwards any more.  Somehow I understood that that was what God wanted me to now do with the theater.  To pray, to pray, to pray...every time I saw the Edwards.  Now, I pray for lots of things whenever I pass the Edwards (world peace, Christianity, healing in a person's life, my kids, my wife, my congregants, other churches, my larger calling, my personal needs).  The Edwards for me has become my Ebinezer.  And so, this week, I want to encourage you to;

Build An Ebinezer

What is an Ebinezer?  Ebinezer in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 4:1, 5:1), is the place where the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant (the Ark that held within it the 10 Commandments); "Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines.  The Israelites camped at Ebinezar".  There the Philistines conquered the Israelites.  There was a degree of pain related to Ebinezer for the Israelites.  It was where they lost.

Ebinezer was also the place where the Israelites, under Samuel, years later, defeated the Philistines.  And so, the stones marked a place of victory.  Ironically, the place holds a double purpose for the Israelites - it marks both defeat and it marks victory.

Real places of faith always occupy competing aspects of victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, happiness and hardship - in all of our lives.

To help the Israelites remember that place, God told the Israelites to build a stone monument to help commemorate God's aid during a time of trouble, an "Ebinezer".  "Ebenezer" literally means "Stone of Help".  Whenever the Israelites saw that stone, that pillar, that monument, that small building, they were supposed to think of God and remember and thank and ask God for future provisions.  There they would remember the good times and the hard times.

There is an old church hymn called, "Come Thou Font Every Blessing" in which there is a line in the middle of it that goes; "Here I Raise My Ebinezer".  As a young kid, I used to wonder what that meant.  Did God want me to read "A Christmas Carol" featuring "Ebinezer Scrooge"?  What did it mean?  Years later, I realized that an Ebinezer is a monument (usually stone) that reflects and marks God's work in our lives.  It reflects the good times and the hard times.  There we should remember God.

What is your Ebinezer?  What is the monument in your life that marks both a time of challenge and a time of victory for God in your life? What is your, "Stone of Help".

 I have a friend whose father passed away not too long ago.  His father is now buried in a local  cemetery not far from his home in the family plot.  Like all father-son relationships, my friend struggled with aspects of his Dad's personality.  He also benefited from many other aspects greatly.  My friend goes to visit his father's grave every now and then.  His Dad's grave stone is a kind of monument, a kind of marker, a kind of "Stone of Help" that reminds him of who he is, and who he can be, through God.  He remembers and gives thanks and prays there.

What is your Ebinezer?  What is your, "Stone of Help"?

Mine is an old movie theater along the side of Highway 101 that no longer houses the church I am helping to build - but it does house something much more important - my prayers, gratitude and hopes for the future in God.

Build An Ebinezer!

All For Now,

GB









that we used to sing


Monday, June 20, 2016

The Power Of A Single Seed


On October 26, of last year, the late autumn sun was blazing down upon our back yard here in Oxnard, California.  Halloween was just 5 days away, and because I had a busy work week ahead, this was my only chance to help the girls carve their pumpkins for the upcoming holiday on Oct. 31 (And yes, as children of Scots who love costume and flourish, we do celebrate Halloween in our household).  As Sheena and Haley carved out the inside goo from their respective pumpkins, a clump of ooze clung to one of their hands.  "Ooh, yuck Daddy, get it off!"  "Just fling it in the garden," I said.  "Just fling it in the garden....".  Little did I know how portentous this advice would end up to be.  Apparently, the pumpkin slime also carried with it at least one seed from the inside of the pumpkin.  I know this because, as I write this post, a twenty foot plant, verdant with two basketball sized pumpkins now grows in our garden (pictured above).  From this slimy seed has grown a huge plant.  And this whole episode has got me thinking about:

The Power Of A Single Seed

The gospel of Jesus Christ is really in large part about this very dynamic.  Of course, the Bible is rife with stories about seeds:

*  "I have given you every herb bearing seed..." (Gen. 1:29)
*  "He that sows sparingly will reap sparingly" (2 Corinthians 9:6)
*  "I say to you that unless a seed of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it is useless" (John 12:24)
*  "If you have the faith as small as a mustard seed, you can move this mountain" (Matt. 17:20)
*  "Still other seed fell on good soil, and it came up" (Mark 4:8)

And all of these illustrations about seeds are significant and carry with them deeper meaning for their particular context.  What is remarkable about my own story of the "pumpkin seed", and why I think that it is an emblem of the gospel of Christ is because:

A Seemingly Unwitting Action Produced Such a Huge Result

I am actually quite a terrible gardener.  For most of my life I have tried unsuccessfully to grow many things (vegetables, flowers, trees).  Either by benign neglect or over-attention I have managed to kill most of the plants that I have been in charge of.  I have been equally unsuccessful in helping my daughters to grow plants.  Our pumpkin plant was not meant to grow where it did, or as large as it did - and yet it grew.

The Kingdom of God happens in the same way.  With the flick of a wrist, an enrollment in a class, a decision to pay off debt, a "yes I will marry you", a tag-along to a Sunday school class, many many lives have been changed forever.

A Child Did the Flinging

Something tells me Jesus would have loved this story of the pumpkin seed.  For one thing, He loved/loves children.  He loved their random energy, their impetuous ideas, their innocent games, their animated excitement over pumpkin goo.  The Jesus that I know would have loved that what a child thought was, "goo" as actually the beginning of a great living thing.  I can almost hear Jesus telling this parable:

"The kingdom of God is like a child carving out a pumpkin and getting slimy goo all over her fingers and flinging it into a field, only to find eight months later that the goo that was rejected turned into a huge blooming plant."

The goo that was rejected - became the corner plant of a whole new world!

The Kingdom Grows Where It Will

When I said that the pumpkin goo was flung unwittingly into the garden, I wasn't being exactly accurate.  As you can see from the picture, the seed was flung just along the side of the cement edge of the porch.  No hole was dug, no water was poured on it, no fertilizer was strewn on top of it, no care whatsoever was given to the bourgeoning plant.  Just a single seed being flung by a child on a hot autumn day.  It really is testament to;

The Power of A Single Seed!

All For Now,

GB






Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Family Vacation

Dear fellow blog readers,

I will be taking a week away from blogging while my family and I take a bit of a vacation together.

Back next week,

All For Now,

GB

Monday, June 6, 2016

Recipe


It is no exaggeration to say that I have probably made around 1,000 salads in the past two years.  The truth is, the way that some people work on the "Great American Novel", I am working on the "Great American Salad".  I have been working to perfect the best salad on the face of the earth.  I love a really good salad, and because they are healthy and light I love to eat them.  Being filled up with salad does not make you feel sluggish the way being filled up with a steak dinner can.  The process some evenings can take me up to two hours to perfect the perfect salad.  Here are some of some of the tricks I have learned on the road to salad perfection:

Homemade Croutons
These are best made by taking dryish bread (preferably sourdough), and tossing large chunks of it in olive oil, garlic, basil, seasoning, some kind of hard cheese (Parmesan, Aged Gouda...).  Then, bake it at 350 for 20 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Finely Diced Ingredients
I don't know where I learned that the smaller the ingredient, the more of it you can get into your mouth.  Lots of small bits of lettuce, pickled beets, cucumbers, carrots and bacon, taste better in your mouth than large chunks of just one thing.  In high end restaurants this has become known as "chop salad".  Salt and pepper to taste.

Washing All Ingredients Thoroughly
This would seem to go without saying, but lettuce, and other vegetables just taste a lot better if they have been washed totally and thoroughly.  They are also, not to mention, much more healthy this way....

Plating Salad Nicely On A Glass Plate
My mother gave me some rather inexpensive clear glass plates several years ago, and they are my favorite for plating salad.

And so my evenings have gone.  One salad after another.  One collection of vegetables, type of lettuce, temperature of ingredient (there is nothing better than really cold lettuce, sometimes I put mine in the freezer until just before serving), and variety of cheese.  The one thing that has eluded me, though, in my quest for salad greatness has been the salad dressing.  And, of course, the salad dressing hands down one of the most important factors in making a great salad.

Typically, I have begun each salad dressing by taking an empty salad bowl and just randomly throwing in some kind of oil, vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper, Dijon, and any other sundry ingredient.  But the dressings have never been quite right.  Sometimes they are too light, other times they are too acidic.  Sometimes there is too much dressing other times there is too little.  Too vinegary, too salty, too peppery, too spicy...too strong!  But then I discovered an incredible thing, which is actually the main (and slightly belabored) focus on my blog post this morning.  I discovered a...

Recipe

After about two years of making salads from scratch and spending long hours on them, trying to concoct the perfect salad totally on my own, I decided to try something bold and out of the box.  I decided to try and consult a recipe for making a dressing.  And so, as a child of my technical generation, I went to my I-Phone and Googled, "How to make a great Balsamic Salad Dressing":

1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
1 clove of garlic minced
salt and pepper to taste

Presto, the perfect dressing!  After two years of trying it completely on my own, what I discovered is the power of consulting a source that is more knowledgable than me (imagine that).  What I learned  is the benefit of getting the input of chefs and experts (many of whom likely gained Micheline Stars by making salads), chefs and experts who have made even more salads than I have.  What I uncovered is the power of a:

Recipe

I was thinking that many people live their lives by the same method that I have made my salads.   They try to figure them out (to make their own salads), all by themselves.  Some people spend much more time than two years and 1,000 tries in living their own codes, ideas, concepts, and precepts.  Many people spend an entire lifetime trying things out on their own.  Like me, often people say, "I know I can figure it out on my own.  Just give me a few more tries."  But like me, many people find that though their own "way" is often pretty good, it is never exactly just right.  In my own case, it is definitely a degree of ego - I will figure it out by myself - that has prevented me from true excellence in the kitchen.

But there is, of course, an ultimate recipe book from our lives.  It is not the "Joy of Cooking" but it is the Bible.  The Bible is the story of God's intervention, direction, nurture and guidance of millions of people throughout the history of the world over thousands of years living.  As the book of Proverbs says, "Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him." (Proverbs 30:5).  

If you are in need of an answer today, or have been trying to live life by figuring out things totally on your own, check out God's Recipe Book - the Bible.  And then, feel free to...."salt and pepper to taste".

All For Now,
GB






Monday, May 30, 2016

The Things The Wives Carry


Today is Memorial Day.  Many of us in America will be visiting actual cemeteries to lay flowers and wreaths at the tomb stones of fallen war heroes.  Others are watching our TV as the President and top military leaders commemorate the war dead at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.  Still others are just taking a moment to cast our thoughts and prayers on all those who have died in the service of our country.  On this day that is set aside for fallen soldiers, though, I would like to take a moment in this blog to recognize the contributions of the wives of soldiers in the field.

In 1990, author Tim O Brien (a graduate of the same college I attended - Macalester College), wrote a critically acclaimed book about of platoon of soldiers in Vietnam called; "The Things They Carried". The book talks about the things that soldiers carry on their person, but also in their soul, as they fight in war and combat situations.  The title of this blog is a play on Tim O Brien's title:

The Things the Wives Carry

I should begin by saying that I recognize that today the US military has both men and women in active combat roles, but still, to this day the military is made up of mostly men (24% of US society are male veterans , 2% are female veterans).  Mostly it is still the men who go off to war, and mostly it is still the women who stay at home carry on with their lives and raise families.  And so, I want to focus on:

The Things The Wives Carry

For the past two years I have had the responsibility and the privilege of dropping my daughters off at school nearly every morning and picking them up in the afternoon.  And so, I have gotten to know many of the parents of Haley and Sheena's school mates.  By far my best acquaintances have been the wives of soldiers and sailors whose husbands serve in combat rolls around the world.  Here are a couple of their stories (names have been changed for confidentiality).  Here are some of:

The Things The Wives Carry

Renee
Renee has four kids.  Her husband John is a first lieutenant in the Navy (a graduate of Annapolis).  John is on full time duty away from his family four 5 and 6 months at a time.  John does work in Latin America, usually on secret missions.  Renee joyfully and cheerfully takes care of all four of her kids by herself.  She has a very strong inner constitution and the separation away from her husband for long periods of time is hard for her.  But she recognizes military service as the choice and the life they have chosen as a family.  Sometimes Renee's parents come to help her with the kids, but it mostly falls on her shoulders.  "When is John coming back?" I asked her recently.  "In four months, around Christmas time, but maybe after."  "Is it extremely hard for you?"  "No," she said, confidently, "it's just what we do.  It's better not to think about it."

Jennifer
Jennifer's husband, Frank, is a "Special Operations" Green Beret who serves on secret and very dangerous missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  One day, recently, just before church began, Frank, who was home on leave, showed me a video on his I-Phone of his base in Kabul that got bombed and obliterated by ISIS militants, just a day after her left the base.  As he showed me the video, Jennifer, his wife stood by his side watching the same images.  "Does this frighten you?"  I asked Jennifer.  "Yes, a lot, I don't like looking at it."  "But," she paused, "Frank is very good at what he does."  There was a quiet resolution and strength with Jennifer which acknowledged the potential for the worst to happen, while at the same time recognized the important professional responsibility that her husband played for our country.

These, of course, are just two stories of wives and mothers whose husbands serve in military situations.  America, as I write, is filled with thousands of wives and mothers who husbands did not come home, and whose families will never see them again.  There are, actually, so many wives of fallen warriors that the US Senate has recently designated April 5 as a day to commemorate, "Gold Star Wives".  Currently, there are over 10,000 members of this non-profit organization (10,000 wives) who are without husbands because of war.

If you know of a family that has been separated war, through service or through life, I encourage you to reach out and connect with them sometime soon.  Find out for yourself:

The Things The Wives Carry

All For Now,

GB











 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Even Jesus Had Scars


When I was first starting Highlands Church, in Paso Robles, our family had a little less means than we do now.  And so, like most young couples starting out, we would tend to try to "fix things" ourselves, rather than hiring people to fix them, or buying new things.  And so, I decided one Saturday afternoon to try to "fix" the box spring on the bottom of an old couch we had in the garage, rather than to buy a new one.  The box spring was extremely heavy and hard to hold, and required that I grip onto it and pull it by great force with a pair of pliers.  Long story short, the box spring slipped out of my hand and popped me in the eye - one millimeter from my eyeball.  My eye was gushing with blood, but by some miracle of God, the spring did not hit the center of my pupil, which would have made me permanently blind.  I rushed to the urgent care, where the doctor skillfully but disapprovingly sewed up the gash just to the side of my eyeball.  "You could have shot your eye out," he said (reminiscent of a line from one of my favorite movies, 'Christmas Story').  To this day I have a three centimeter scar just to the right of my right eye.

When I see my scar in the mirror each morning, it is a reminder to me of how lucky I was that Saturday afternoon.  It is a reinforcement of how fragile all of our human bodies are.  It is a memory of how much I have been through in my relatively short life.  Most of all, my scar is a testament to how God protected me from a near disaster, when, to be honest, I was doing something rather stupid.

Here's my big idea for the morning.

Even Jesus Had Scars

The end of the book of John tells us that on the Sunday of that first Easter, "Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' After he said this, he showed them His hands and side (he showed them his scars).  Later, Jesus showed himself and his scars to Thomas who had declared everyone that; Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side (touch Jesus' scars), I will not believe it.  Later Thomas does touch Jesus' scars (the only one in the Bible who we know for a fact ever did), and because of this, believed in Jesus.

Even Jesus Had Scars

This is extraordinary when you think of it.  Why did Jesus have scars?  I mean, after-all, since it was possible for Jesus to reverse the course of life and death itself, to be resurrected, it would seem that it would also have been possible to reverse the exterior clumping-up of white-blood immunity cells which created the masses of skin tissue on his body - to reverse his scars.

What purpose did Jesus' scars serve?  Jesus' scars showed the disciples and the world that Jesus was, in-fact, the same person before the resurrection as he was after the resurrection.  They showed the pain and the struggle that Jesus went through in order to be resurrected.  If Jesus went through pain and survived, then we can too.  They were evidence of Jesus' hardships.  Perhaps, in a strange way, Jesus was almost proud of his scars.  There is evidence of this in the text.  Showing his scars was one of the first things Jesus did after the resurrection.  After saying, "Peace" (Shalom), Jesus showed them his scars.  And why not?  Jesus earned them after all.  They were badges of honor for having vanquished the evil one and overcome death on the cross.

It is impossible to go through this life without a few scars, both on the outside and on the inside of our bodies.

I have a friend who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who suffers from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).  Every time he hears a loud bang from a construction site, or the backfire of the exhaust system on an old car, he jumps.  They are a flashback for him of the Buffalo bombs and the explosions that he experienced on a daily basis on the battlefield.  I asked him one day if he thought these startling reminders would ever get better - if his PTSD would ever go away.  He told me with a knowing sense of reality; "Yes, they will get better, but they will never go away."  These PTSD recurrences are his emotional scars.  And he bore them now, every day, with a mixture of fear and pride.

Just after World War I, the so called "War to End All Wars" - and one of the bloodiest and most traumatic in world history, a soldier named Edward Shilito, who fought on the battlefields of Europe and who bore many war wounds and scars, reflected on the scars of Jesus in a poem.  The poem is entitled; "O Jesus of the Scars".  Here it is:

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.
If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.[1]


Even Jesus Had Scars

And this fact reminds us that we, as people who also have scars, can carry on with faith, love and hope - and because of Christ, overcome all things!

All For Now,

GB






[1] Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (p. 647). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.










Monday, May 16, 2016

Don't Ever Give Up On People - Ever


Two truths continue to be reinforced in my life and my ministry.  First, God is good.  Second, most people eventually "come around", no matter how busy, hurt, angry, broken, confused, or against God they initially appear to be.  And so, I have developed a personal motto surrounding this theme:

Don't Ever Give Up On People - Ever

Many years ago, while I was pastor of Highlands Church in Paso Robles, a young man came to church one day who was totally against God and organized religion in general.  I knew that because he told me so at the back door after the service.  "How can you people sleep at night," he said.  I took, "you people" to mean pastors in general.  I knew a little bit about his personal life.  He had recently been divorced.  His father had struggled through addiction to alcohol and other drugs.  His son was now in the custody of his very estranged ex-wife.  He was really angry.  "How can you believe in God when everything in the world will tell you that God doesn't exist," I can remember him telling me as he left church that first and what I assumed to be his last Sunday.  But something inside told me not to give up on him.  And so, I wasn't totally surprised to see him at church the next Sunday.  And the next, and the next.  Each week, his anger seemed to dissipate little by little.  Long story short, he was baptized as a member of the church about a year later.  I can still remember his tattooed neck bowing downward as the water dripped down his shoulders and I prayed over him.

Don't Ever Give Up On People - Ever

Once, also many years ago, I was being interviewed for a job in a church.  The whole committee seemed to really connect with me, and I with them.  One man, though, seemed to have problems with every aspect of my ministry.  He was more theologically conservative than I was and grew up in a Pentecostal tradition.  My longstanding Presbyterian roots seemed to rub him in every wrong direction.  Does God choose us or do we choose God?  Is infant baptism defensible?  Was the world created in 7 days or 70 million years?  Can women serve at the highest levels of ministry?  Can a person be baptized with a sprinkling of water, or does it require full immersion?  We seemed to disagree on almost every subject.  Again, long story short, by some miracle of the Holy Spirit, our differences and disagreements never got in the way of our basic friendship.  We cared for one another, plain and simple.  We have remained in touch for many years now.  I can honestly say that he is one of my best friends.  I would do almost anything for him, and he for me.  On some issues I have become more conservative through the years.  On some issues he has become more open minded.  We have helped each other grow.

Don't Ever Give Up On People - Ever

This past Christmas Eve as we were holding our second worship service of the evening, a family walked through the door of the Spanish Hills Country Club (the venue of our Christmas Eve service last year).  Though this family were very active in the church in the beginning, I had not seen them in over a year and a half.  Frankly, I thought, they have probably begun to attend another church, which was fine, I told myself, as long as they have found somewhere to worship.  And yet, something told me to not give up on them.  So, I called them on the phone on an occasional Saturday and asked if they would like prayers for anything.  I sent them "Mission Blast" emails and newsletters.  When they saw me they beamed with happiness.  They introduced me to their friends, "Let me introduce you to our pastor, Graham Baird".  I was their pastor?  Wow.  They continued, "This is our church, and we are so proud of it."  This was their church?  Incredible.  I'm glad I didn't give up on them.

Don't Ever Give Up On People - Ever

All For Now,

GB