Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Just Remember Who's Town This Is....

Over Christmas weekend, I heard a lot of good family stories. But none of them tops the following story - completely true, so I'm told - about my grandpa James Baird while he served as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elko, Nevada, in the 1940's.

It was a snowy month of December, with westerly desert winds, coming off the Sierras and whipping the white farm houses and red painted barns of Elko, Nevada with the power of a sandblaster. In those days, the late 1940's, the mainstreets of Elko were as likely to see a herd of cows being driven down the center of Main Street as they were to see a white stretch limo, or a black be-curtained hearse. Cheap bars and tacky saloons lined both sides of the street, and were punctuated only by a wayward tumbleweed that occasionally blew past their doors or the bellicose drunk who crawled into the gutters. It was a cowboy, drinking man's, rough and tumble, tough dude's town.

The toughest place in town was not the bar, however, but the corner bank, where a self described "lowlife" banker and casino owner named Mr. Tibbs held court and ruled over Elko like a Columbian drug Lord. From the back of a smoky office, Tibbs swilled cheap whiskey from a chiseled tumbler and sent assignments out to his lackeys and "henchmen."

By contrast, on the other end of town, stood the First Presbyterian Church, where Rev. James Baird, a 28 year old pastor, served as senior and solo pastor. First Presbyterian Church had had a tough year. The finances were down and attendance was simply holding steady. The building, erected during the turn of the century, needed a new coat of paint. In the 5 years that Rev. Baird had served as senior pastor of PFC, he had developed a reputation among the Elko establishment for being a fiery young preacher who wasn't afraid to, "call a sin a sin." From the spindly "knox style pulpit" in the sanctuary, Baird had been known to speak against the evils of drinking, gambling, prostitution, and dancing - often all in the same sermon. While never naming anyone in particular, the city of Elko all knew that Rev. Baird was taking square aim at Mr. Tibbs. Tibbs relied on the gambling, prostitution and drinking trade to stay in business. Rev. Baird was calling Tibb's activities sinful...and Mr. Tibbs didn't like it.

One Sunday, Tibbs sent several of his "henchmen" to sit in the back row of the First Presbyterian Church of Elko. The men wore black suits, trench coats and bandito mustaches. Guns could be seen inside the hit men's coats. Just outside the door, several other men were sent to stand and send ominous, and miasmic fear into the spines of worshipers who attended there. Tibbs had intended to elicit fear, and he was good at it. After three Sundays of this intimidation and fear, Rev. Baird had had enough.

One Sunday, after the sermon, and after the thugs arrived in their usual fashion of fear and loathing, Rev. Baird finished his sermon with a crisp, "And the Lord is in this Place...". After the benediction, Baird marched directly out the back doors of church, down main street, through the front doors of the bank, past the blonde secretary in the front, past the teller with a red and black arm band. While still wearing his pulpit robe, Rev. Baird walked up to Tibbs, pointed a finger in his face, and said, "Just Remember Tibbs..Just Remember Who's Town This Is..."

Of course my grandpa meant that it was God's town. Though Mr. Tibbs assumed that grandpa meant it was his town. Mr. Tibbs backed down after that...or so the story goes...

All for Now,

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Manger & The Cross

I don't know about you, but I have always preferred to experience my holidays in separate seasons. In this regard, I like to think of holidays as individualized events - each occupying a separate month, silo, or parking spot. So, Halloween should be Halloween, and Thanksgiving should be Thanksgiving, Veterans Day should be about Veterans, and Birthdays should be Birthdays. Because this is the case, I've never been a fan of fireworks in December, Valentine Cards in July, turkey in January, or dress up parties - any time of the year. And, my general aversion to holiday "cross-pollinization" would also include a dislike of Christmas sermons with overt references to the crucifixion of Christ or Easter sermons that reference Mary's immaculate conception (call me rigid:-). As the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us; "There is a time for everything, a season for everything under heaven..."

All of this said, my mind was verily changed, just this past week, after the following episode...

On Saturday, I was attending our city's annual Christmas extravaganza; "Christmas on Vine Street." As usual, there were masses of children, hundreds of houses all decked out in Christmas glory, Christmas carols, sleigh rides, hot chocolate and the usual holiday frenzy. As Star and I and Haley were making our way down the street, marveling at the lights and the grandeur of it all, Star accidentally ran Haley's stroller (ever so slightly), into the leg of an erstwhile Christmas Caroler. It was actually more of a love tap than a running into... The man was wearing a green scarf, and a red had, and he had sleigh bells in his hand. Moments before our encounter, he had been singing a jolly tune (Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls). Wow his face was beet red with lividity and anger. "This is no place for a child's stroller!!!!" he boomed. "Oh really?" I wanted to say. "I had always thought that Christmas was first begun by a young lad who occupied a stroller (manger)." How was it that this man's outer joy was so much in disparity with his inner sense of joy.

Without going on about the histrionics of the whole episode, I have come to the basic conclusion that the man's problem was that he was suffering from a case of too much manger and not enough cross.

One of the very difficult things about Christmas is the perpetual aspirationalism of the entire holiday. Christmas aspires to be so much: a time of family wholeness, a place for individual bliss, a moment of community togetherness, a chance for church connectedness. Every year, Christmas aspires to be all of these things (and so much more). Sadly, it rarely achieves any of them. In a way, Christmas is the great set-up. It beckons us every year with an invocation to hope for all things, and then it often leaves us in January with a sense of the achievement of none of these things. Even back in the day, the manger was all that the world hoped for - but the cross ended up being all that the world really needed.

The Manger needs The Cross.

So, from now on, I am changing my tune. Holidays should be celebrated in separate seasons, but the Manger should always include a smattering of the Cross.

All for Now,

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pastor John Pharisee

So, for years, when reading about "The Pharisees" in the Bible, I conjured up images of angry mobsters, riotous miscreants, seething religious fanatics, first century versions of Mr. Mephistopheles himself. The Pharisees were a "brood of vipers" as John called them. The Pharisees were the bad guys, the ones in black hats, the ones that the ominous music plays behind in "B" grade movies. Of course, by categorizing the Pharisees in such concrete and black and white terms, I was able to discount the Pharisees as "those guys" and definitely "not me".

However, I think I have stumbled upon a simple but important Biblical fact. The Pharisees were simply a group of struggling pastors. Let me say it again, The Pharisees were simple a group of struggling pastors.

The organization of early Jewish religious community life happened around a central place - the synagogue. The synagogue was just another name for a common church (First Baptist, First Methodist, Grace Lutheran, Community Congregational). In those days there was no such thing as "pastor care" or "ministerial counseling agencies." When there was a problem, it was the local rabbi's responsibility to solve it. When a pastor needed time away for refueling, there was no alloted study leave in the contract. Actually, there was no contract! The job of a rabbi, or Pharisee was ongoing and never ending. Unlike today, where churches are usually organized into committees, that share the burden of different functions, each synagogue stood alone, and the rabbi functioned as a solitary figure. So, the Pharisees struggled.

Let me now say that I would at one time have described myself as a struggling pastor - a Pharisee (though I must strongly emphasize that am not one now:-). Here is a short list of characteristics of a struggling pastor;

* Over worked
* Under paid
* Under appreciated
* Isolated and unsupported
* Jack of all church trades, master of none
* Jealous of other pastors who had bigger churches, or made more money
* Ready to quit my calling at the drop of a hat.

In short, the first century clerics (rabbis, Pharisees) simply needed a vacation. They were burned out. The ministry is a tough job, and it can seem unending at times. And so, when it came down to it, the Pharisees were angry, struggling pastors. Mostly, they were angry that another pastor, an unordained, young upstart by the name if YESHUA (Jesus) was taking all of their congregants and the lime light they felt so much that they deserved...

All for Now,

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Our Inner Island

Last night was one of those fun nights for a parent, when, after you put your child to bed, it's hours and hours of waiting for your child to fall to sleep. On such evenings, the ritual saga usually begins this way: 30 minutes of "Goodnight Daddy", 27 minutes of crying, 15 more minutes of tirade with bottle being thrown, 20 minutes more of singing and talking, 15 minutes of taking off pajamas and sitting in crib naked, 20 minutes of silence before sleep. It's a lot of alone time.

Over the past year, though, I have thought about how this time that my daughter Haley spends by herself in bed is an essential tool in helping her develop. It in helping her to find and moor her soul upon something other than outside stimuli. It is helping her to find and develop what I like to call her - "INNER ISLAND".

And I know that as Haley grows older - that this inner island will be an important piece of her soul. It will be an important PEACE of her soul. Because life will sometimes be often a storm of wild waves, a tempestuous tsunami of difficulty, a myasm of unmet expectation, a bundle of of frustration and challenge. Life will not always be easy.

Here's my question for you for the week? Where is your inner island? Do you have one? When was the last time you visited?

Because Haley is not alone. We all need an inner island - a place to moor our boats. In my experience, the island in our souls is best when it is cultivated at an early age - in a crib, a sandbox, on a school yard playground, at a grandparent's house during long summer holidays, sitting in a Sunday pew in a church where the pastor has no apparent understanding of preaching limits (gulp:-). But it there we find our inner island.

Most important, God should be there. Jesus spent many hours and days by himself, in prayer, searching for an ineffable mooring on the roiling cultural and religious seas of first century Israel - with the small community of fishermen in Galilee.

Jesus said; "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt 11:29-30)

Where is your Inner Island?

All for Now,

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Outliers" is Outstanding

Every once in a while I come across a book that is written for a secular audience, but which is more Christian than anything I am reading in the religious sphere.  The current book I am reading is more Presbyterian than anything John Knox himself could have written.  The book I am reading now is called; Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

The main premise of "Outliers" is that success is not a solo event.  Success is not just about an individual, but it is a about a composition of factors that contribute to the individual's success. Success is the result of the right people in our lives at the right time.  Success is about certain conditions being right for change.  Success is not really about intelligence or IQ.  In fact, those with the highest IQ's are statistically often the least successful.  Success, to coin a political cliche, on this election Tuesday in which I am writing this blog post, "takes a village".

Gladwell describes a tall red wood tree in a forest.  Why is it the tallest tree?  Well, it had a good pine cone (genetic code).  Several other factors contributed to the tree's success, however. No other tree around the red wood tree is crowding out it's sunlight.  The tree had just enough rain, sun, space.  A lumberjack did not come along and cut the tree down as it was in it's infancy.  The tallest redwood tree in the forest required an entire set of factors.

Reformed Theology (Presbyterian Theology), is founded on the same principle.  Our two main sacraments, Baptism and Communion, must be done in a group setting (congregation).  It is the power of the group, in addition to the presence of God, we believe, that makes communion holy.  At Highlands, when we baptize people, we ask anyone who wants to support the person being baptized to stand.  It is the group, community, which helps to make the baptism a success.  

So, three cheers for Gladwell.  

Now, I will send this blog out to the "group" for your comments or contributions,

All for now,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

garbage dumps and graveyards

I am quite proud of myself.  This past weekend I ripped out three major appliances from our kitchen (a refrigerator, an oven, and a dishwasher), and I somewhat successfully re-installed new versions of each appliance.  All three appliances now work, but my wine cooler now does not work...go figure.

But that's not really what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about was the experience of taking the aforementioned old appliances to the garbage dump.  As I made the turn into the city dump, in the remote area where we live, I could see Sea Gulls and Ravens circling in a hallow of surveillance and demise.  The smell of the garbage was sweat and spicy at the same time (a reminder of the smell of India).  The dump workers were kind but stoical, each of them imbued with a deep sense of finality.  Their faces read the tell tale signs of resolution and understanding, almost as if to say, "Here is where all things come to an end."  

In short, I loved the experience.  I love garbage dumps, and I love graveyards.

There is a quiet peace about both places.  It is a peace that stems from garbage dumps and graveyards.  It's the end of the quest for upward mobility, eternal happiness, new appliances, better appliances, better stuff, more stuff...

So, here's my homework assignment for you all, visit a garbage dump or a graveyard sometime in the next month...it will do your soul good! Happy Halloween!

All for Now,

Thursday, October 21, 2010

God and Football

This won't be the most edifying blog-post I have ever written, but it will offer some insight as to what I have been upset about lately.  Boise State University is the best football team in the entire country, they hale from a middle-class farming town, they aren't connected to th entrenched establishment of football in this country, and therefore will not be playing in the National Championship Game.

I should begin by saying that I was raised in Boise for 12 years of my upbringing, and, growing up as a child of modest means, the only thing to do in Boise in the 1970's was fish for mud suckers in the canals around the town perimeter, and go to football games to watch the Broncos play - a team who were, at that time, only a little bit better than a Jr. High girl's field hockey team....

I could spend some time in this post complaining about the fact that no other team wants to play Boise, who is a great team, because they don't want to run the risk of losing to the Broncos, and effecting their own win loss record.  I could lay out arguments about how the Boise football scenario is emblematic of an entire elitist class structure in this country that usually keeps people in middle and low income areas trapped in poverty and marginality.  I could ask the question of why we even have a National Championship game at all (the BCS), and why college sports has devolved into a commercialized empire that is today more about money than educational opportunity.  I could ask the question of why we have decided to pick a National Champion based on a computer polling system, rather than the opinions of real live human beings....

But I won't

I am just going to commit this whole thing to God, and know that our God (Jesus Christ) came to a place and a town not so different from Boise, Idaho to minister to people who nobody else wanted to play a sporting event against.  And he made them, and all of the rest of us, winners in the process!

All the For Now,

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Faith is a Fight

Faith is complex!  Whenever I hear a person say; "just believe", or, "faith is simple," or, "that guy has a simple faith," I want to cringe.  Saying that faith is simple is like saying a nuclear reactor is simple, E=MC2 is simple, quantum mechanics is simple, or the Human Genome Project is simple.  Faith simply isn't simple.  Faith the most complex and most difficult human experience in our entire lives.  

I am convinced that God meant for faith to be the most basic elemental building block in every human life, as well as being the most complex meta-physical dynamic in the entire universe.  The Bible says; "Faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see."  (Heb. 11:1).  Oh...Now I get it....:-)

Here are some ideas that have helped me to begin to grasp some small part of my own, "faith walk".     
1.  Faith is trust.  Faith is allowing our own cognitive understanding of a problem be superseded by our trust that God has a better plan, a better answer, a fuller understanding.  
2.  Faith is belief.  Faith is a deep sense of belief that God's plans will prevail, even when we don't understand them.
3.  Faith is knowing.  There is always small "k" knowing and big "k" knowing.  Small "k" are the things we know based on facts.  Big "k" knowing is represented by the things we understand that is not based on facts.  I know, for example, that my wife is at work right now and that she is alive.  She is living and breathing.  I do not have facts in front of me to support this, but I know it
4.  Faith is a feeling.  When we feel deep down that something is true, we can't explain it, but we intuit an understanding.  My mother woke up the other day and just felt that her brother had passed away.  She felt...capital "F" feeling.  At that moment, the phone rang, her brother had just passed away, 5,000 miles from her.

Here is my latest out of the box idea....Faith is actually also a fight!  Everything in this world has a tendency to pull our gaze, our focus or our heads downward.  So, Faith is the daily fight that we engage in to hold our head up, despite the things that work to pull our gaze downwards.

Our faith as Christ followers isn't an etherial philosophical dynamic that stands alone...

***  Our Faith is in Jesus Christ.  Literally, what we hold fast to in our lives is the idea that our Trust, our Belief, our Knowing, our Feeling, our Fight resides within the living reality of Jesus Christ.  Inside of it...

So, as I was saying...faith is complex

All for now,

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sadness and Fear

I woke up today to learn about a friend who just lost his job and who, with his new wife, has to vacate his apartment and move in with his parents.  I was contemplating this loss and my sadness for him as I sat at my computer in my office at home.  My heart full of sorrow for him. My office was silent, except for the clicking of my computer keys.  Then, out of nowhere, a voice behind me said, "Hi, how are you?"  I jumped nearly a foot out of my chair.  As it turns out, my own wife had forgotten to tell me that the house cleaners were coming today and that they would let themselves in with their own key. Now, here's the thing, I am not a generally fearful person.  I don't jump very often when I watch a movie that's scary, or get bad news...

What am I rambling on about?  I think there is a sometimes a connection between sadness and fear.  When we are sad we are more prone to being afraid.  When we are afraid, it is often a result of some depressing situation that we are dealing with.  I wish I understood synaptic neurological psychological programming of the human brain enough to know if there is any scientific proof for my newfound theory.   

As I have observed the recent downturn of our economy in America, I have wondered about the connection between sadness and fear.  People are hurting, so they become afraid about their lives and then they lash out.  

The Bible says, "there is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made in perfect love." (1 John 18)

I suppose the simple remedy for fear then, is to reach beyond sadness, somehow, and look for perfect love.  Jesus Christ is perfect love.  He is the only one who has ever been perfect.  He is the only one who has perfectly loved us.  Knowing how to embrace perfect love, however, is another question.

For now, I will try to remember whom I have given the key to my house, and when I they might be stepping into my office unannounced.

All for Now,

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


So, I am visiting my family in Merced this weekend.  My very macho, very farming, very cowboy, very American family.  This is family that have been in California for 6 generations, and involved with winning rodeos, growing Almonds (AMANDS), staking claims on property, spitting in the mud - tobacco or whatever else.  We're talking apple pie, chevrolet (or at least Ford F150), and all that.

So, we are looking at family photographs hanging on the wall - iconic photographs, the kind that get hung in the Whitehouse and places like that.  And my great second aunt once removed says, "That's a picture of Adam Kahl....who was, of course, Jewish!"  My aunt carried on in her prattle about family history, like she had done it a hundred times before.  "Hold on," I said.  "What was that about my great, great, great grandpa being Jewish?"  "Well, it's a family secret, nobody wants to talk about it, but he was Jewish.  It is confirmed.  I mean look at him, he was as Jewish as...." "Alright, Alright I got it," I said.  "So, that makes me about 10% Jewish? I asked.  "Looks like it," said my aunt.

It has taken me three days to process this new information about myself.  Frankly, I'm elated.  I always knew there was something sort of unique about myself that I have been unable to put my finger on for years.  For years I thought it was a cognitive programming, attitudinal behavior, what have you.  Finally, I know what it is.  I am part Jewish.  I am of the same race, at least in part; of Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, John Stewart, Sarah Silverman....and Jesus! Lekhayim!!!

Honestly, I don't have any particularly deep insights about this newly discovered personal revelation.  Except this...Embrace where you have come from, Embrace from whom you have come, and most of all, who you have been made - in Christ.  For all of us, our personal identity is made up of our cultural heritage, our national ethnicities, our environmental influences, our biological makeup.  And yet, the most important thing about ourselves is that when we are Christ followers, we are one in Christ.  The apostle Paul said it better; Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above...Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian...but Christ is all, and is in all (Col. 3:1-11).

Come to think of it, Paul was also Jewish...

All for now, 
Graham "Jesse" Baird


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eagles and Wings

I've been thinking about eagles lately - and our faith.  If you've ever had the opportunity to view an eagle on the edge of a precipice or a cliff, it's a stunning sight.  The eagle sits perched, very high above the earth, sovereign and sturdy.  Then, seemingly without word, the eagle tips forward and drops.  A full grown eagle can weigh up to 60 pounds.  60 pounds of bird drops about 50 feet to the earth.  Then, an incredible thing happens.  The eagle begins to spread it's wings.  The spreading of the wings begins slowly at first - emerging from the side of the bird like two automatic doors on slow mode - extending out.  The bird continues to drop.  The wings keep getting extended.  One foot, two feet three feet, four feet - the wings spread.  The bird keeps dropping.  And then, at five feet the eagle's descent begins to slow.  He hasn't stopped his fall quite yet.  The wings, extended at five feet are only a baffle against the wind and the air. And then, as if another button is pushed inside of the eagle, the tips of the feathers begin to get extended - like five long fingers on each side.  It is only when the wings are fully extended, and the feather tips are extended that the bird finally begins to take flight and soar.  It's a majestic thing to behold.  Swooping upward, the bird reaches it's wings even further by extending it's shoulders to the distant horizons.  The eagles soars!

Now, here's the thing.  God has made us humans like eagles - in one important respect.  We too must extend our wings as far as possible if we are to take flight.  Like the eagle, our descent, our fall (our FALL) continues to happen in our lives, every day of our lives, unless we use every inch of the wings that God has given us to fly with.  

What are our wings?  Our wings consist of faith, hope, love, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, trust, trust, trust, positive feelings, ambitious concepts, inspiring dreams, trust, trust, trust...

Most people go through life with their wings at half extension.  Or, they extend their wings fully, only to quickly pull them back into their body - ashamed, or afraid to take full flight.  Or, at full extension, we constantly wonder if our wings are "out there too far" "maybe there are holes in the wings somewhere" "perhaps our wings will break off".  And so, we fly with an inner trepidation that makes flying much less possible and certainly less enjoyable.

It is only through Christ (through our faith - trust) in God that we can actually have the strength to fully extend our wings - our lives.  The book of Isaiah says, "those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles..." (Is. 41:31).

Ask God to help you extend the wings of your life further than they have ever been extended.  I have recently come to the conclusion that as an eagle/human, I have only been flying at half extension most of my life.  Full flight comes through trust.  Trust me, Trust God, the fall you are experiencing will come to a halt, and your true flight will begin.

All for Now,

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Window Pane Away...

This morning I had a bit of a traumatic experience with my 2 year old - Haley.  While putting Haley in her car seat, I accidently allowed her to grab my keys, and in the process inadvertently lock all of the car doors.  Haley was on the inside - Daddy was on the outside

For a good 10 minutes I tried to communicate with my 2 year old.  "Haley, will you please unlock the car?" "Just push the button on the door, push the button." "Haley, just reach down an open the car door handle."  Beaming with a smile, Haley was thoroughly enjoying the experience.  With me safely on the outside, and her a window pane's distance from being punished, Haley took advantage of the experience.  She actually opened up an entire packet of gum and began to inhale a huge piece of Hubba Bubba (maybe inhale isn't the right word).   

All the while that Haley was on the inside of the car, a commotion was developing in the parking lot.  People were overhearing my pleas to my 2 year old and were convinced that I was an abject parent and that they must intervene.  In fact, one woman, a self proclaimed parking lot protector, offered to call the cops.  "Shall I call the police?" she asked.  "No, it's under control" (It really wasn't under control, but I wanted to make it look like it was...).  Before I knew it, this well intentioned "do gooder" was delivering my license plate number to the Paso Robles - DMV."

Fortunately, about a half hour later, and a packet of chewing gum longer, Haley was freed from the confines of my car, when she figured out how to open the door on her own...none the worse for the wear (the same cannot be said of her father).

This somewhat traumatic experience made me wonder if God doesn't feel the same way about us at times.  Does God feel that He wants to communicate with us, but that we are just as innocently (sometimes not so innocently) oblivious to God's pleas for connection?  Does God care about us as much as I care about my daughter, and is He as worried about our safety as I was about Haley's safety?  Is the substance that separates us from the full love of God as thin and yet sometimes as impenetrable as a pane of glass?

The answer to all of these questions is "Yes".

My word for the week?  Let God connect with you today.  He is worried about you, and is trying to get through.  God is actually less than a window pane away.  Also, don't let your 2 year old play with the car keys...

All for now,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Bloom is off the Prayer

Many of the people who speak with me about their "Spiritual Life", complain that they are suffering from a lack of theological excitement; that there is nothing new in their Spiritual walk; that there is nothing fresh in their faith.  One man recently said, "I have no more mountain in my top."  My recent conversations have led to an increasing sense that people are looking for "highs" in faith that may not, in fact, exist.  Maybe they need to be more in touch with the "lows".

Recently, I have been reading about the life of Martin Luther (originally Luder).  The primary driving dynamic in Luther's life was a fear of God - more specifically that God would condemn him to hell.  While this daily and perpetual fear of damnation may seem strange to us in our modern world, Luther was plagued by such thoughts.  Luther lived every day of his life with a petrifying fear of being condemned by God - even though he was a relatively holy person.  In order to minimize his chances of being sent to a fiery eternity, he spent every moment of his life in worship, prayer, meditation, penitence.   Luther would literally spend hours in confession with a fellow priest, confessing every tiny confession of his day ("Dear Lord, I did not remember to pray before breakfast...and when I did pray, it wasn't in total adoration..."). In response, Luther's confessor would tell him to "lighten up"  - that his confessions were not real confessions and that he had, in fact, done nothing really wrong.

The juxtaposition between the recent connections I have had of people who feel no loftiness in their Spiritual Life and the depth of despair that Luther felt and which drove him into deep prayer, made me begin to think that the primary problem with modern Christ followers is not that they are not in touch with the "highs" of faith, but that they are not in touch enough with the "lows" of faith.  Maybe what is needed for people is a fair and healthier measure of fear.  Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book called, "Fear and Trembling."

If we were to be more in touch with the fears of our faith perhaps the "Bloom would be off the Prayer" but our prayers would be more real...and maybe our highs would feel more "high".

All for Now,

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When Strange Things Happen

When strange things happen I usually think one of two things.  Either A - a strange thing just happened, or B - God is doing something...

Just last week I had the incredible opportunity to speak to 5,100 high school students at the tri-annual youth gathering of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Indiana - called Triennium.  It was obviously a huge honor to be asked to speak, and I was so struck by the students were so honest, genuine and transparent about their faith in Jesus Christ.  Just after I spoke, there came an announcement that there was a weather advisory posted for the entire region.  A tornado was on the way.  Everyone should stay inside the building.  I didn't need much convincing to follow instructions.  What was strange is that Indiana is not known for tornados at that time of year, especially in West Lafayette.  A strange thing was happening - God was on the move!

A week or so ago, I visited one of my favorite coffee shops in Paso Robles.  Highlands Church has recently had some issues with this particular coffee shop because of their recent desire to serve alcohol, and because of the coffee shop's near proximity to our church.  (A cafe latte with a double shot of whiskey anyone?).  The owner asked me to leave the shop.  I wasn't welcome here anymore.  "Get out of my coffee shop - I don't want you here."  I have been kicked out of a few classrooms back in the day, but never a coffee shop.  A strange thing was happening - God was on the move!

The Bible is clear about the connection between strange happenings and the moving of the Holy Spirit.  For many years, commentators have attempted to explain the strange happenings described in the book of Revelations; "I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name." (Rev. 13:1).  What does this text mean?  Nobody really knows.  People who say they do know what this text means are not telling the truth.  One thing is for sure, thought, when strange things happen - it is either just a strange happening, or....God is on the move.

All for now,

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

One at a Time

One of the toughest lessons of the Bible for me, is Jesus' commandment to; "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matt. 5:44).  I don't know if my problem is that I just have too many enemies, or that I am just too much of a stalwart to change my frame of mind about something (I'm Scottish, I never like to change course once I start: and I have Scottish Parkinsons - I forget everything but my grudges).

One of the things that has helped me to "pray for those who persecute me" is to not try to pray for all of my persecutors at once.  I simply pick out one at a time.  And, in a sense, by picking out one of my so called enemies, I am really dealing with all of them.  I have figured out that all of the people I struggle with have a common denominator, and so by praying for one of them, I pray for all of them.

Every night I take my dog for a walk, and I pass by the house of one of my former persecutors.  I actually like the person, but there has been a history of brokenness and division between us, so there is a grand canyon's chasm of disconnect.  I have begun to simply, in a routine fashion, pray for this person each time I pass his door.  My prayer is not particularly eloquent or poetic, but simply, "please be with !?!?!?".  I also try to prevent my dog from peeing on this person's shrub...

I have only just started this process of prayer, so I am not sure where it will go exactly, or what I will learn or how I will grow from it, but I will let you know, pray for me:-)

All for Now,

Monday, June 28, 2010

Being a Banana

"Good leadership is the art of giving yourself away, and helping the people who bear more fruit in their own lives."

In Africa, there are many different kinds of trees - but there are two trees which are the most opposite from one another.  These are the Banyan trees and Banana trees.  Banyan trees are the greediest, most selfish trees around.  From a long distance away, you can usually tell if a tree is a Banyan, because everything around the tree is dead.  Banyans grow very tall, and live long lives, mostly because they selfishly drink up all the moisture and the life around them.  No fruit grows on a Banyan.  They are impressive to look at, but it is hard to say what the real purpose for a Banyan tree is.  It would seem that Banyan's live mostly for themselves.

Banana trees on the other hand, are the most generous trees around.  Shortly after a banana tree grows, it develops another tree right beside itself.  Then, as soon as that tree grows, it too grows another tree right on the side of it.  You can always tell Banana trees because you will usually find a sea of life surrounding one.  From miles away, even before you see a banana, you can tell that a tree is a Banana tree, just because of the amount of vibrant and lush growth that you see all around.  And, of course, Banana trees grow beautiful fruit.  Banana trees don't live as long as Banyan trees, partly because they give up their own lives, so that other trees can have life.

Jesus said, "By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" (Matt. 7:17).  Jesus also said, "I am he good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I down my life for the sheep." (John 10:14-15)

Be a Banana Tree!

All For Now,

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Flying Solo"

This week at Highlands we are talking about "singleness".  One of the main problems with the concept of "singleness" in our society is that all of the terms associated with being "single" either connote a sense of non-completeness or loss (solitary, widow, alone, isolated, single, lonely, bachelor, bachelorette, just me).  As we think about "singleness" at Highlands, we want people to begin to see themselves being complete in God, and not having anything particularly wrong with them.  So, we are encouraging people to self identify themselves in a new way - as "Flying Solo".

All of us "Fly Solo" at one time or another.  All of us have aspects of our lives that are "solo experiences".  We are either not married yet, not planning on being married, our spouse has passed to the next world, our spouse is away for a period of time, we are divorced, or we are single in the faith (our spouse is not a Christ follower).  These times can be challenging, but they don't have to be. God speaks to people in solo situations!  God spoke to Moses, Mary, Abraham, Jacob, Paul and many others (99% of the Bible was written by people who were flying "solo missions") while they were "Flying Solo".

When my wife Star leaves for a couple of weeks to go visit her family in Tennessee, I begin a "solo mission".  My option is to either let my life totally go (fast food, TV, late nights, sleep late, not exercise, not pray, not read the Bible) or to grow closer to God through the solo experience.  

The great church leader St. Benedict lived in the 6th century - AD.  He led a group of people who were "Flying Solo" and who were actually excited about it - Benedictine Monks and Nuns.  When I think about monks and nuns I don't usually think of joy, freedom, adventure, journeying.  However, Benedicts followers were on life's greatest journey.  Here is a prayer that Benedictine taught his "solo flyers" that might speak wisdom to you as you fly your own "solo missions":

Gracious and Holy Father, 

Grant us the
 Intellect to understand You,
  the Reason to discern You, 
Diligence to seek You,
 Wisdom to find You,
 A spirit to know You,
 A heart to meditate upon You.
  May our ears hear You, 
May our eyes behold You,
 And may our tongues proclaim You.
  Give us grace that our way of life may be 
Pleasing to You, that we may have
he patience to wait for You, and the
Perseverance to look for You.
  Grant us a perfect end:  Your Holy Presence, 
A Blessed Resurrection, and Life Everlasting.
  We ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord  - AMEN.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Say Hi to "God"

I have a friend whose mother is dating God.  Maybe I should explain.  My friend's mother has had a relationship, for the past 10 years or so, with a person that claims to be "God".  The exact nature of the Godly deity to which my friend's mother ascribes is not known to me - neither is the level of dysfunction that is involved in the relationship.  Though obviously, it is considerable.  This dating relationship with God, of course, raises a whole host of related follow-up questions.  If you are on a date with God, who pays?  What are the implications of breaking up with God?  Each time I talk to my friend, I say, "Oh, and remember to say Hi to God for me."  My friend always replies, "I will say Hi to God for you, is there anything you want to ask Him?"

There is another friend of mine who is in an ongoing debate with me about whether Jesus is actually God.  This friend has recently written me a series of very animated, angry, screed-like emails about how wrong I am in claiming that Jesus is, in fact, God.  No amount of redirecting my friend to the Apostles Creed, "Fully Human/Fully God" can assuage my friend's strong convictions that Jesus was simply a teacher.  I think he is still attending Highlands, but just barely.

The purpose for this blog is simply to illustrate how confused and misdirected our world often is about the true nature of God - today.  While we theologians and pastors can spend hours at a time debating the nuances of how, exactly, does the nature of atonement in Christ work, everyday people continue to be completely confused about what and who God is (ie: God can't be dated, Jesus is God).  The basics of our faith should not be lost in the theological shuffle irrelevant nuance about God (postmillenialism, suprasurlapsarianism...).  In my faith community, people still need just the basics.

All for now,

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Ministry of "Grunting"

It was a Friday afternoon, and I was doing my usual yard work "chores" in the back yard.  The temperature was around 90 degrees and the heat of the afternoon was settling in on Paso Robles like a blanket over an old dead dog - cicadas were chirping loudly.  It was hot and I was tired!

My 22 month old daughter, Haley, was taking shade underneath the flap of the green recycling garbage bin and drinking a cold bottle of milk as she watched me attempt to pull up the last and most difficult weed of the afternoon.  I pulled and pulled at the weed, but it would not come up.  I started to grunt loudly as I pulled (uuuuuuhhhhhhhh.......).  My grunting did not seem to help.  The weed was fixed.

Then, from the corner of my ear, I heard my 22 month old daughter begin to grunt, mimicking my strains and stresses...(uuuuuuhhhhhhh).  We grunted together over the intransigent weed. Finally, with a snap, the weed came out of the ground.  Somehow, both of our grunts combined made the weed loosen it's grip on the ground.  It would seem that two grunts are better than one.

The Philippian Church church shared in the troubles of Paul's ministry; "I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me.  Indeed, you have been concerned but you had no opportunity to show it...Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles." Phil. 4:10-14 

Ministry, pastoral care, counseling, shepherding people can, in part, be described as "grunting with people."  When someone is in grief because of the loss of a loved one, when a couple is in crisis in a marriage counseling setting, when a staff member is struggling through a project, sometimes the most helpful thing we can do is to "grunt with them."  By sharing in the pains of others, we often, miraculously, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, ease their ability to pull up the weeds of their lives.

All for Now,

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Shalom of ADVANCE

I recently went to a "pastor's retreat" in order to recharge my engines as a pastor.  In my church, with the economy the way it has been, and with recent staff "transitions" I have been feeling very overwhelmed by life in general.  So, my thought was that I would RETREAT to a pastor's retreat, and there I would find God's peace.

The problem was that once I got to the retreat, the challenges that I was facing back at home were on my mind the whole time.  In addition, I was with other pastor's who were bragging about how well things were going at their churches, and the leaders of the conference were giving solutions which weren't helpful for me.  Soon realized that I would need to RETREAT from the RETREAT if I was going to find God's peace.

I went and spend time by myself, in the forest with my Bible and in prayer.  Nobody was around.  It was just me.  And yet, I was not at peace.  Even there, in the midst of nowhere, I felt this unrelenting sense of my burdens at home.  Then, in a non-audible voice, but still a strong presence, I felt God telling me; "Graham, the shalom (peace) you are looking for will not be found in RETREAT, but in ADVANCE.  Go back and face some small part of your challenges at home, and then you will feel my PEACE."  

I returned home and the first thing I did was organize a meeting with the person that I least wanted to connect with.  I talked to one of the people that I had been RETREATING from.  After the meeting, sure enough, I found what God was promising me - PEACE.  

So often, the peace that we are looking for, the peace that God wants us to have, does not come from RETREATING but ADVANCING.  The peace that God offers comes not in withdrawing but in connecting, advancing, going forward, making small steps towards the future.

Moses did not want to advance towards the Egyptian government and confront Pharaoh; "O Lord, Please send someone else to do it" (Exodus 4:13).  He thought that peace would be best attained by withdrawing from life and living in the wilderness.  However, it was there in the wilderness, in Moses' retreat, that he heard God's voice to GO, move forward, push ahead.

God wants you to have SHALOM (peace).  Often Shalom comes from RETREATING, but more often SHALOM can be found by stepping forward into what God wants to show us and provide for us, even in the midst of difficult challenges.

All for Now,

Monday, March 15, 2010

Loving Your Gift

This past Sunday, I was sitting in my usual chair at the front of the worship center, waiting for the final worship service to begin.  At Highlands we do three services (8:30, 9:45, 11:00...we used to do four but most of the staff almost died from hyperventilation....).  So, it was 10:55, and I can honestly say that I was sort of dreading to have to do another worship service.  It had been a hard previous week administratively, our church is struggling financially, and I was tired.  I didn't want to preach again.

But then, I heard this voice in my ear (not audible, but noticeable), say to me, "Do you Love your gift...Do you love your gift...Do you like the art of preaching...Do you enjoy the activity that God gave you an ability to do?"  The answer in my mind was, of course, yes, but I wasn't acting like it.

God gives all of us gifts.  To some people He gives the gift of organization, to others the gift of personality, to others the gift of music, dance, video, cooking, gardening, caring, listening, nurturing.  God gives us all gifts.  However, it isn't enough to just have a gift from God, we are also called to love that gift.

In the book of James it says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above; coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights...".  Our job as Christ followers is to not only accept the gifts that God bis us, but to love them,, and to live into them.  When we do this, we actually make God's gift in our life even richer and fuller.

Love your gift...even when you have one more sermon to preach on a long Sunday morning...

All for now,

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Easter - Surprise!

One of the most important things that marked the very first Easter Celebration in history was Surprise.  It was a surprise that Jesus chose Passover to make a big theological statement during Passover (most of his contemporaries thought Jesus would do something big during Roshashan - Atonement).  It was a surprise that Jesus actually was killed on a cross (his followers thought he was bluffing or mistaken, right up until the very end).  It was certainly a surprise that Jesus came back from the dead after three days, as he said he would.

This year, Highlands Church is trying recapture some of the surprise that represented that first Easter. To this end, we are trying two new ideas.  First, we are having a Maundy Wednesday worship service instead of a Maundy Thursday service.  For practical reasons this works better for us, because we already have a well attended Wednesday night service.  Also, Maundy Wednesday sticks in the mind a little more easily (it's out of the box).  We are also introducing an Easter Sunset Service (instead of an Easter Sunrise Service) on the Saturday night before Easter.  Again, other churches are doing Easter Sunrise, we are focussed on Surprise and newness.

When modern day Christ followers get too locked into tradition, ritual and thoughtless ceremony, we lose a sense of surprise.  God wants us to remain surprised about life, the things of God, the resurrection.  Surprise leads to joy and joy leads to newness and faithfulness.

How has God surprised you lately?

All for now,

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The End of Camelot

This past week I received some heartbreaking news.  A friend of mine, Rev. Jamie Evans, a fellow pastor in ministry, and colleague in faith, took his own life.  As with all suicides, there have come the usual flurry of questions, unresolved answers, personal remembrances and the looming three letter word which presents itself like an angry sentry at a castle gate - Why? When a death like this happens we are faced with an unresolved question mark, never to be followed by a period.   

There is a larger story here, though, which we shouldn't overlook.  Jamie's death also marks the end of Camelot.  In the 1930's and 40's, Jamie's grandfather, Louis Evans Sr. was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.  Louis Sr. was pastor during a time of great growth in the Presbyterian Church - "the golden age".  Louis' son, Louis Jr. was also a great pastor, as was Louis' wife, Colleen - Coky.  Coky graced the cover of Time magazine with a beautiful profile of grace and faith.  Both of them strode upon the national Presbyterian pastoral scene with panache and regal gallantry.  

When Jamie went into the ministry, most people felt that it was yet another piece of the dynastic legacy of pastors.  And it was.  Jamie was an incredible preacher, teacher, leader.  He seemed to have it "all together".  He looked like Tony Robbins!  

When John F. Kennedy Jr. (President Kennedy's son) was killed in a plane crash a few years ago, it was popular to muse about "The End of Camelot".  When Jamie died this past Thursday, a similar Camelot came to an end.  A seasons end, a curtain fell on four generations of great Presbyterian ministers, and legends of the faith. 

Ecclesiastes reminds us that, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven."  This will be a season of closure for the Presbyterian church. 

But a new season will begin...

All for now,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Graham "Jacob" Baird

Two weeks ago, I joined an online personality survey, spiritual development program called Monvee (by the way, I really, really recommend Monvee, www.monveebeta.com). The Monvee computer based program works by having you input personal information about your life and your walk with God into a computer program. Then it processes that information by allowing that information to be synthesized by expert psychologists and pastors, and then it gives you a spiritual diagnostic for you life. Among other helpful tools, it matches you up with a Biblical character that is most similar to your own character.

The character that the Monvee computer program matched me up with is Jacob. And I've got to say, I've really been wrestling with this one...

Jacob was the son of Isaac, who stole his father's inheritance from his brother, who ran away from home, who got lost in the wilderness, who met with God on the banks of the river Jabok (play on words), who wrestled with an angel - "until the angel was overcome" - (Thank you Bono). Jacob was conniving, he was deceptive, he strove for much, and stood for little. Jacob wanted to make alliances in order to further his own selfish ambitions, and when those alliances went south, he continually turned to his own charms and winsomeness to carry him through...

Ugh...is that me??????

Of course, Jacob ("the grasper") would also later became Israel ("the one who strives"). Israel became a great blessing to a nation, and a hope for lost souls. Israel was God's chosen path for a nation of people. But it was only after Jacob acquiesced his own goals, ambitions, dreams and desires, and gave them to God, that he became who God wanted him to be.

I'm still wrestling with this one, but I suppose that is in my nature,

All for now,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ashes on the Inside

Highlands Church is hosting it's first Ash Wednesday service tonight at 6:30PM.  Being a fourth generation Presbyterian minister, I have never actually attended an Ash Wednesday service, let alone led one.  At the ripe old age of seven I remember asking my father about why my Catholic friends had, "ashes on their foreheads...have they done something wrong?"  "They have done something wrong, so have we all, and Presbyterians wear their ashes on the inside..."  For weeks afterward, I couldn't erase graphic images of ashes, soot, and old logs, floating around in my stomach.

I actually believe that Ash Wednesday is one of those holidays (holy days) which Evangelical Christ followers should take more seriously.  After the Reformation, our side of Christianity jettisoned many of the unhealthy vestiges of Catholicity and sanctimoniousness Thankfully, this is why I don't own a papal hood, or a cardinals frock.  The down side of this proverbial theological bathwater drainage, has been that many of the healthy outward signs and symbols of faith (anointing, ashes, incense) have been lost.  As a result, people in my own congregation constantly ask, "Why can't I be baptized again...for the fourth time?"  What they want deep down is not baptism, but something tangible to hang their faith on.

Whether we actually put ashes on our foreheads or not, all Christ followers should view Ash Wednesday, and consequently Lent as a time to do four basic things:

1.   We should try to have Lent be a time of getting closure on some of life's painful and hard experiences.  Ashes symbolize this pain; "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job. 42:6)
2.  We should have Lent be a time to allow God to work on our ongoing areas of sin.
3.  We should have Lent be a time of being released from the treadmill of perfection.  God told Adam, and he tells us, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food, then you will return to the ground, since you were taken from it; from dust you were made, and to dust you will return." (Gen. 3:19)  As John Ortberg more recently put it, "At the end of the monopoly game, it all goes back in the box."
4.  Finally, Lent should be a time of preparation for Easter.

All for now....GB

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

God is Doing a New Thing!

Welcome to my new "Blog" site.  I thought about calling this site - "Baird's Blog", but that sounded too much like "Baird's Bog" which, unfortunately is what my front yard looks like when it gets too much sprinkling.  Each week I will update this new site with ruminations I am having, favorite poems, Bible quotes, ideas about the world, and other various and sundry pontifications and reflections...

Here's what I am thinking about this week:

I believe there is a new movement occurring in Christianity.  It doesn't look like anything we have ever seen before.  After a tumultuous and exciting 2,010 years of Christ followers and over 5,000 years of people of the Judaic/Christian faith, I am convinced we are entering a new time.  

The book of Isaiah says, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 44:18-19)

Many people have recently been asking been asking me what God's "new church thing" will look like.  The truth is I don't know.  I can say that what God is doing at Highlands Church definitely looks new and that God seems to be making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland where we live.