Wednesday, March 31, 2010

From Darkness to Sunrise

When I was in seminary I was fortunate to be part of an amazing trip to the Middle East. We traveled through Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Israel and then finished the trip in Greece.

A highlight was a climb to the top of Mt. Sinai (where Moses received the Ten Commandments). What made the climb even more spectacular was that we began at 2:00 in the morning, on camel back. The camels carried us about halfway to the top, we climbed the rest of the way in darkness. Then we waited in darkness for the sun to rise over the Sinai desert.

It was a sight I will never forget.

Sometimes it seems to really experience the beauty of sunrise we must first journey through darkness - even an uphill climb in darkness.

That's why it's so important to pause and experience the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday before we hurry to the celebration of the Son Rise on Easter Morning.

Maundy Thursday @ Grace
Thursday, April 1, 7:00 p.m., Founders' Chapel
Quiet prayer and reflection from 6:00 - 7:00 p.m., followed by a presentation of "The Life of Christ" by our Worship Team.
Afterwards, there will be guided prayers for healing and wholeness.

Good Friday @ Grace- Friday, April 2
6:00-7:30 p.m., Founders' Chapel - Quiet prayer and reflection
7:30 p.m., Sanctuary - "The Seven Last Words of Christ" -- A Sacred Cantata, by Theodore Dubois presented by our Chancel Choir and Aaron Wilson, Organist.

But it's just as important not to miss celebrating the light of Easter.

Easter @ Grace, Sunday, April 4
7:00 a.m., Courtyard, Sunrise Service with a brass quartet and choral ensemble.
9:00 & 11:15 a.m. , Sanctuary - Easter Celebrations led by our Worship Team, Chancel Choir, and Festival Orchestra.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thinking About Monkeys

A few years ago my daughter Jamie and I exchanged a greeting card with a picture of a monkey on the front and a caption that read:

I’m thinking about monkeys….

The message inside continued the thought:

… and now you are too!

It began what’s become years of exchanging monkey cards. This year’s Valentine’s “Monkey as Cupid” may be my favorite.

Last year on Easter morning Jamie hid a card in my jacket pocket – I found it just before the first service. The outside read:

Are you thinking about monkeys?

Inside she wrote:

Then stop it! It’s Easter! Get your head in the game!

My guess is once you started reading this blog you started to think about monkeys – it’s hard not to once the idea is suggested – even harder since there’s a monkey on the computer smiling at you.

Psychologists refer to this as autosuggestion.

As I am preparing for Easter this week I’m working on keeping my head in the game and thinking about everything but monkeys. Instead I’m focusing on bread and wine and foot washing and a cross and a tomb… an empty tomb.

But sometimes it’s hard – because there are so many things shouting for attention to stay focused…. for instance right now….

all I can think about is monkeys!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Six Words

Recently I’ve become fascinated with a literary phenomena that's been around for a couple of years known as Six Word Memoirs. Several volumes of six word memoirs have been published and there are web sites devoted to sharing six words – and only six words.

Here’s the basic idea – using a minimum of six words tell a story – for six word memoirs tell your story. A classic example would be:

For sale: wedding dress, never worn.

The imagination can run with that one for awhile but you get the picture – a lot can be conveyed with just six words. Here are a few actual examples:

Voted most likely to succeed. Didn’t.

I’ll follow you anywhere, even Kansas

Fell seven times. Stood up eight.

Not quite what I was planning

It all changed in an instant

Dancing through life in sensible shoes

A friend of mine recently posted a blog (wait for it...wait for it...)suggesting that we evaluate worship each week with six word sentences. I thought about it but I’m worried there would be too many:

No idea where he was going….

But as I’ve been preparing an Easter message I’ve been thinking that a great six word story would be

The stone has been rolled away.

An even better story only takes three words:

He is Risen!

If you were to write your own six word memoir – what words might you chose?

How am I doing?

Flipping through the channels last night I came across the 1996 remake of The Bishop's Wife, the perhaps more familiar The Preacher's Wife starring Whitney Houston as Julia Biggs, the wife of the Rev. Henry Biggs.

Both the original and the remake have the same basic plot:

The bishop/preacher is so busy caring for his congregation that his family is neglected. So God sends an angel to the rescue – Cary Grant in the original and Denzel Washington in the 90’s version. In 1947 Grant’s angel was more unashamedly Christian, Washingtons’s is more “vaguely spiritual.” Both help set the preacher back on track with proper priorities.

The movie reminded me of the struggle that every pastor I know experiences on some level:

How to balance the expectations of family and congregation?

The decisions we make, almost daily, to maintain those expectations puts us in a perfect spot to be judged. And the more I think about it, simply being a pastor means constantly being judged (if “judged” sounds too harsh you can substitute “evaluate”).

Yesterday I was pretty good in the pulpit. It was a text and a topic I was especially excited to preach on and it came at the end of a series that I felt has gone really well. It was just one of those mornings when I felt like I was “in a zone” and the feedback I received after both worship hours suggested that those in attendance thought I was pretty good too (at least I was yesterday).

But in a sense every “good message, that really touched me” is that person’s “judgement” on how they thought I did – their evaluation of my performance. It’s an evaluation I am constantly looking for – I seek my wife out following every message to find out from her “How did I do?

How did I do? How am I doing? Those questions extend beyond Sunday morning. Because the role of pastor (maybe especially in a larger church where it seems there are members everywhere) is so very public the are opportunities for people to evaluate how I’m doing (every decision and action) every day of the week.

This probably comes across as whining (in fact this blog may be a “rant” I need to work through) – but over the years I’ve been “evaluated” for:

What kind of car I drive
Where I shop
Where I vacation
How I spend my time
Who I eat dinner with and where
Even what coffee I drink (seriously I once received complaints that I spent too much money at Starbucks… probably true)

With a church of 3,700 there’s never a shortage of opinions and (here’s the whining part) sometimes it’s exhausting to be constantly judged.

Okay, enough whining, I knew this came with the call – here are the lessons I’m learning:

I need to worry less (even less) about how I am doing in the eyes of everyone around me – no matter how vocal they may be.

It’s actually comforting to realize that this must have been going on from the very beginning of the church. In a letter to a church in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul wrote:

We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts…We were not looking for praise from any human being, not from you or anyone else…

It appear that church leaders from the very beginning faced the temptation to bless the crowd of evaluators.

The second lesson I am learning is:

I need to be less (much less) judging of others.

Jesus made that one pretty clear:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

I’m getting that more and more.

Okay – whining rant over – time to focus on Easter…. because I know that everyone will be “judging” my Easter message!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

After Ollie makes the second shot….

I've been fighting a nasty head cold and allergies so I haven't been posting much this week but I did have a few thoughts for tomorrow message.

Earlier this week a facebook friend suggested to post as your status a quote from a favorite movie and then have people try and guess the quote.

For me that was an choice between my two favorite lines in my two favorite movies.

In The Sound of Music (it’s a classic) there’s this great moment after the children have sung “good night” with so long farewell, auf weidersehen good-bye and Captain von Trapp is being congratulated by Herr Zeller

Herr Zeller: Perhaps those who would warn you that the Anschluss is coming - and it is coming, Captain - perhaps they would get further with you by setting their words to music.
Captain von Trapp: If the Nazis take over Austria, I have no doubt, Herr Zeller, that you will be the entire trumpet section.
Herr Zeller: You flatter me, Captain.
Captain von Trapp: Oh, how clumsy of me - I meant to accuse you.

I just love that - Oh, how clumsy of me - I meant to accuse you.

But the second choice (and the one I decided to post) is from the greatest sports movie of all time, Hoosiers.

With the game on the line, down by one, the team/s worst player, Ollie has two free throws (and he’s just thrown up air balls on his previous attempts). During the time out Coach Dale looks at the team and says:

After Ollie makes the second shot (and then turning to Ollie) and you will make the second shot……

It’s my favorite scene in one of my favorite movies. I’ve used it too many times when teaching on leadership to talk about the power of believing in every member of the team.

There is power in believing – but we spend a lot of time struggling with unbelief.

That’s the topic I am speaking on in the morning and one I’ve been reflecting on all week (reflecting as I’ve been battling this head cold and some nasty allergies). Tomorrow e are going to hear another of my all time favorite stories – one found in Mark 9 about a dad who brings his sick son to Jesus. The pivotal moment comes when the dad (with clearly less that perfect confidence) asks Jesus IF He can do anything for his son.

I understand adding the "if." My world is filled with “ifs.” I might have told the team “If Ollie happens to hit the second shot….” Even my prayers are just as filled with “ifs.” I understand this dad asking “if…..”

I suspect there are “ifs” in your life too. What “if” we did what this dad did and brought our “ifs” to Jesus? We might find that He believes in us even more than Coach Dale believed in Ollie.

Anyway that's the topic for tomorrow morning - and I think I'm about over this cold!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

8,889 and 180


That’s how many pairs of shoes were sent this week through Soles for Souls to help support recovery efforts in the nation of Haiti.


That’s how many neighbors will receive the gift

of shoes and more importantly of knowing that they are loved.


That’s the number of touches with the love of Jesus Christ that are possible because the Grace community along with schools and neighborhoods and businesses embraced generosity.

8,889 (plus another 128 singles – and there are needs for singles) reasons to celebrate!


That’s how many minutes we are asking that you give March 26 or 27 at the Walnut Bend Elementary and Paul Revere Middle Schools.


That represents the turn around that is happening in these schools as throughout the year members of Grace serve as tutors, support families, encourage parents and equip teachers.

180 minutes of your time to love our neighbors (Jesus said that’s a very good thing to do).

It’s very simple – just click here to register: Project 180 Register.


There are a lot of things you can do with 180 minutes on a weekend (golf, shop, go to the movies, nap…). Why not use 180 minutes to make a kingdom difference, respond to Jesus’ command and

180 minutes. It can transform a life – starting with yours.

Kenyan Stewardship

One of the discoveries I made last week in Kenya was the expanded role of elders in PCEA churches (Presbyterian Church of East Africa). Because most pastors are responsible for multiple congregations (my friend Jimson Bore has 9) the elders take on significant leadership roles that include leading in worship, preaching and (and this is what I found most intriguing) fund raising.

Here’s what that looks like at one of the churches we visited.

The church has an annual operating budget of 2.250M Kenyan Shillings (KS) and 9 elders (about $29,000 US). Each elder is responsible for raising 1/9th of the budget – 250,000 KS from the portion of the church families assigned to them. In their vestry (where the elders meet) there is a list on the bulletin board ranking the 9 elders in the fund raising success. The list is updated as contributions come in and there’s a bit of competition to not be at the bottom of the list. This practice is evidently repeated at churches all across the PCEA.

So I started thinking…

Grace has an operating budget of about $5.3M and 38 elders that would only be around $140,000 for each elder to raise….

We likely won’t be heading in that direction – but it does make me wonder how to better share the responsibility for the operating budget with all of leadership.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kenya Journal

Kenya Journal

Doug and Jamie Ferguson

While in Kenya my daughter Jamie and I spent a few moments each evening recording our thoughts. It makes a long post but here’s our Kenya Journal!

Day One (Friday, 5 March 2010)

We arrived in Kenya this morning at 6:00 rather than the original plan of last evening. The change in our schedule was the result of mechanical problems in Houston that caused us to miss our British Airways connection at Heathrow. We were placed on a 7:00 evening flight and handed 40 pounds of food vouchers. Rather than spend the day in the airport Jamie and Dad elected to take a train to Paddington Station and the use the London Underground to a little exploring. We walked around Notting Hill and out onto the Tower Bridge and since it was freezing (and we were dressed for Africa) bought Oxford sweatshirts. It was definitely just a quick peek at London but a fun (cold) way to spend the day. We returned to the airport with plenty of time for our vouchers to provide dinner (and cupcakes with great icing) before boarding a Kenyan Airlines overnight flight to Nairobi.

All that means that we arrived in time for a full Friday but exhausted from two consecutive nights of sleeping on a plane.

We made our way through smoggy Nairobi rush hour traffic and eventually to our “home” at the Kikuyu Hospital’s hostel where we were greeted by our hosts for the week Stu and Linda Ross. We grabbed quick showers and coffee and were on our way again.

Our driver Joseph, who will be with us the whole week, drive us to Masai Land, which is located in the Rift Valley just over the Ngong Mountains. A native Masai, and close friend of Stu’s, David, lead us into his homeland. On our 2 hour drive we passed Olympic runners training, four giraffes (of course we stopped to take pictures) and a heard of gazelles (the book of Song of Solomon makes much more sense now!).

We arrived at a boy’s secondary school (high school). After meeting with the school board we took a tour of the school and saw the classrooms and dormitories. The boys attend school year round, three months on one month off, and travel reat distances to receive their education.

The biggest challenge the school is facing is the lack of clean water in the community. The chief and the principal, and many others made it VERY clear that they wanted our assistance in drilling a bore. A bore would provide not only clean water, but would also become a central location for people of the community to come and meet.

After our meetings and tours we gathered for a celebration under an Achaia tree where we were presented with beaded necklaces, dancing, singing, and a performance by the Boy Scouts (whom were inspected by Dad). Everyone made a speech, including Dad and he was given a Masai name by the chief Ole Saruni (meaning ‘one who brings gifts’) and made of member of the tribe. The cheif also taught Dad about the oringaa – a ceremonial stick that gives the chief power (Dad really wants one). Then we went back inside the school and feasted on buzzi (goat).

At the school we met Grace, a Masai women, who recently spoke at the UN representing indigenous people. She talked about how hard life it is for women in the Masai especially without water. For instance as part of their dowry the woman must build a mud house for her and her fiancé. Without water they use cow urine to mix the mud.

On the way back to Kikuyu we stopped briefly at a girls school and had chai (a British custom that is VERY important… Dad loves chai and is glad not to pay Starbucks for it).

We returned to the hostel in time for dinner, more meat and potatoes, and then all fell asleep quickly! What a wonderful beginning to our trip!

Day Two

We woke up better rested (Jamie is completely on Kenya time), had breakfast (not potatoes) and then headed to the orphanage at Kari (kari means “washing basin” – we have water poured over our hands each time we eat or have chai into a kari. There we met Big T (Antony) who is the director of the orphanage, school and soon to be a vocational school. We toured the vocational school (under construction) where they will teach sewing, cooking, masonry and carpentry. Then we went through the shamba (garden) where they are growing their own potatoes and cabbage. We visited dorms, classrooms and the farmyard where they are raising cows, chickens and rabbits (for food). The hope is to make the orphanage self-sufficient. Then we went to Antony’s office for chai (no potatoes but sandwiches).

The highlight was distributing the quilts and crosses made by Grace members to the children. We went into each dorm and the kids greeted us with singing and then we gave out the quilts and helped them make their beds. We also helped them put on the crosses. It was a ton of fun! Afterwards we gathered in the dining hall to watch homemade music videos of the boys rapping – since it was Swahili we just smiled.

On the way back with stopped at two other churches, one Grace helped build and the other with a working bore. While we were there a woman came to get water from the church (which they sell at a discount). It was a great reminder of the important role water can play for ministry.

After a long emotional day at Kari we came home took a nap and then had dinner at Stu and Linda’s. It was a Texas dinner and this time the potatoes were mashed! Before dinner Gilbert (who markets local artists) brought us items to purchase and it was worth his effort!

Day Three

We headed to church at Murakrara. dressed up – Dad in a tie and Jamie is a Kenyan dress. This is the first church Grace helped build in Kenya.

We met with the pastor and elders and Dad sat up front with the pastor on the chancel. Jamie stayed in the congregation with Linda – surrounded by kids – who admired her blue eyes and white skin. Dad brought greeting from Grace and then the pastor and elders bestowed us all with gifts. Dad got a stool and a cane and a Kikuyu oringaa and they clothed him in a shuka. Jamie came up and was first asked if she was married and then wrapped in a shawl and given and purse. We also both got Kikuyu names. Dad – Camauw and Jamie – Muthoni (which means “not yet married”). Church was good (long but good). The choir was amazing.

After lunch we headed to an old British plantation that has been transformed into a restaurant. “The Rusty Nail. ” There are beautiful gardens and great food. We were surprised by a visit of the Moderator of the PCEA – Rev. David Gathanju. He and dad talked church and Kenyan politics for a while.

After a busy first two days we are relaxing this afternoon and evening (and catching up on this journal. Tomorrow we head to Embu!

Day Four

We left this morning for a 3-hour drive to Embu and the Gateway Church. It rained last night and was rainy all along the way. We passed through coffee and tea plantations and lots of shambas. About half way we stopped at a Del Monte plantation and enjoyed some cold pineapple juice.

When we arrived at the Gateway Church we were greeted by Jimson, Mama Jane and Evelyn. We sat down for mango juice in the church vestry before going to the dining hall for lunch – more buzzi!

After lunch we headed to the church of an official welcome. It began outside with singing and dancing that continued as we entered the church (Jamie has more rhythm than anyone in our group)! Once inside everyone offered the typical welcomes. Then we toured the clinic and talked about the vision for expanding the ministry .

We spent that night at a conference center run my Mama Jane and her husband (Ngju). It has beautiful gardens each with Biblical names (we are writing this laying on the grass in the Garden of Eden. They do wedding in the gardens. The center is named for the Shunammite women in 2 Kings 4 who provided a bed for the prophet. It is all very beautiful but the mosquito nets over our beds reminds us that this isn’t paradise. J

Dinner however was pretty close to paradise! We enjoyed some very good food and thanks to Mama Jane – ice! Making ice for us really was a sacrifice and a labor of love – but she knows how her American friends like things cold. She even brought us ice cream to help celebrate her 38th wedding anniversary.

Day Five

We ate breakfast at Mama Jane’s house a special display of her hospitality and love, and then went to the Rogoi church, a mud hut with a dirt floor made smooth by cow dung. Plans are in the works to build them a mabati church. There was singing and dancing and chai and genuine love felt from the congregation (we had to sing in Kikuyu). It really is amazing how powerfully God is at work in this place. It is clear that many people are going to continue to be introduced to Jesus because of the work that is underway.

Back at the retreat center our Gateway friends presented us with gifts and then we were on our way back to Kikuyu passing Mt. Kenya (in full view) as we left!

Day 6

All packed up Joseph took Jamie, Dad and Linda (Stu’s wife) to the see giraffes and elephants. First we headed to the giraffe sanctuary. It was amazing. We got to feed a Rothchild Giraffe named – Kelli (seriously). Great pictures. Then we headed to the Nairobi Wildlife refuge where we got to see orphaned baby elephants that are being cared for until the are old enough to be released into the wild. They drank milk and played “soccer” in the mud and it was awesome to see how social they are with one another.

Then we rejoined the entire group at the Java Hut for an American lunch (burgers and French fries) and Gilbert met us in the parking lot for a few last minute gifts.

On the way to the airport we made one last stop – at the Emmanuel Church in the Kibera slums of Nairobi. This was the site of much of the ethnic violence following the last elections and both the church and manse were damaged by petro bombs – curious those who damaged the church have all have accidents since …. The church has been rebuilt and so has a vocational school that is reaching kids in the slums. Compassion International is also onsite operating a center out of the church.

It was an amazing week. God is on the move in Kenya and Grace is blessed to be a small part of that movement.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rain in Africa

Five years ago I took my first trip to Africa. The church I was serving at the time had embarked on a five year focus of outreach to Ethiopia and I traveled there with a team to establish relationships and plan for future trips. We spent time both in the capital of Addis Ababa (which translates as new flower) as well as in remote villages.

For two weeks my head and heart were filled with images of those who cared for the living and the dying. I gained a greater appreciation for the transforming power of Jesus’ love that brings hope and healing to street kids and prostitutes and people victimized by AIDS.

We spent one afternoon at a small village in the Rift Valley. I preached in a small wooden church surrounded by a cluster of grass huts (it was the first time I needed a sermon translated into three different languages to reach everyone present). Afterwards we sat down with the elders of the village to discuss the needs of the community. As we talked I had a growing sense that more than clinics or schools or wells what the community needed was for it to rain. That part of Ethiopia was suffering from severe drought. The one thing they needed most of all, was the one thing only God could provide. Rain.

There’s hardly a day that’s gone by over the last five years that I don’t pray for rain in Ethiopia.

As individuals and families and as a community we also face needs. Just like the women and men we are reading about in Mark’s gospel we need healing for our hearts, our relationships and our bodies. Often the one thing we need the most is healing that only God can provide. And in reality the one thing we really need the most is God Himself.

Our current healing series, Daybreak, has encouraged me to consider where I most need Jesus’ healing touch. Where is that place for you? Are you willing to reach out to Him for healing? Would you dig a hole through a roof or push your way through a crowd or even argue with Him (just a few of the examples we are exploring in our message series).

What if you brought that need to Jesus today? The Sun of Righteous has risen and there is healing in His wings!

This week I am returning to Africa. Along with our Mission Director, Melissa Brown, Elder Ted Teinart, and my daughter Jamie, I will be in Kenya until March 11. So I may be even more sporadic with blog posts. While in Kenya we will visit with our mission partners and most importantly begin developing plans for a project to bring Living Water and living water to thirsty people. I look forward to sharing more about what God is doing. He is on the move and it's going to be an exciting year.

Prayer for Healing

This week in our Daybreak small group we closed with this pastoral prayer for healing written by Peter Marshall (1902-1949) Scottish-American, Presbyterian pastor, twice chaplain of the Senate. It’s a great prayer for all of us:

There are loved ones, O Lord, for whom we pray, and the prayers are even now being whispered before the throne of grace. We ask for Thy help without any hesitation, knowing that Thou are disposed to give even before we ask.

We thank Thee for askings that have been received and prayers that have been answered. We are so glad that by Thy grace and mercy broken bones have been mended, weak and struggling hearts have been made strong. We thank Thee that pain has been removed; the sick have so often been made well.

Hear us as we pray now for some who need stronger hearts. Thou art the great Doctor who can do it. Wilt Thou strengthen the hearts of them who we name even now?

And now grant to us that spiritual perception and faith that, having asked, reaches out to accept Thy good gifts. Help us to keep our eyes on Thee and not on symptoms. And grant, in Thine own time and Thine own way, a complete return to that health and strength which is Thy perfect will for Thy children. In Thy strength, who art the same, yesterday, today, and forever, we pray. Amen.