Category Archives: Church

I love the Covenant

I had the privilege of attending my denomination’s Annual Meeting, held in beautiful Portland, Oregon, a few weeks back. I brought Mercy with me and she participated in the Covenant Kids program they provided while I attended the meetings. Doug took the boys with him to his Dad’s house for the weekend, and they had a ball too! The weather could not have been better during our stay and both Doug and I were reminded of how much we love the city of Portland!

I was honestly prepared to be a bit bored at this event. Having never attended before, I had in my mind that it would consist of long, drawn-out sessions that would not be altogether engaging. This was not my experience at all. I loved the event and was moved to tears on more than one occasion as our larger church “family” celebrated God’s work together.

I had the opportunity to sit with dear friends from Los Angeles, and to see their church-plant in Long Beach officially recognized as a new Covenant Church. I was also thrilled to have their pastor, John Teter, lead us in our corporate morning Bible study. It was one of those “worlds colliding” sort of moments, as I thought back on the many years of friendship we have shared with John and Becky, and to see that God has led them on a path into the Covenant church thrills me!

I also rejoiced with Daron and Kristin as Alive Covenant Church was officially welcomed and recognized as a new Covenant Church in nearby Poulsbo. Kristin and I were roommates one year in college, and I can still remember the charge given to them at their wedding (a total fairy-tale wedding I will never forget!) as they sought to follow God’s call to seminary. Their wedding was a commissioning of sorts for a life together in ministry, and seeing them and their FIVE beautiful children, with Kristin’s parents, on the stage was a beautiful picture of those prayers being fulfilled.

I enjoyed dinner by the pool with a Covenant church-planter and his lovely family from Helena, Montana, who happens to be an old friend from high school who I had not seen SINCE high school. Matt’s journey into the Covenant denomination is one that likewise brings me great joy and delight!

I also had the privilege of being present for the recognition of those commissioned and ordained, and to celebrate those callings during the ordination service. I watched as a new fellow-pastor friend in Seattle, Leah Klug, received her stole. I cheered for John Frye, a blogging friend I had never met in person until that night, who is newly a part of our denomination. And I watched as always with deep admiration as one of my heroes, Brenda Salter McNeil, received the laying on of hands as one newly ordained. It is my hope that I will be ordained at next year’s Annual Meeting in St. Paul.

And speaking of blogging friends, I managed to make my way over to Brad and Cheryl Boydston to introduce myself, having followed Brad’s blog for quite some time now. Cheryl and Brad have just returned from time teaching in Guam, and Cheryl laughed when I introduced myself via the blog connection. It really can be a very small world.

Other highlights included lots of time spent reconnecting with old friends and making a few new ones, lounging by the Red Lion pool while Mercy swam to her heart’s content, sharing a hotel room with my daughter for three days, and loving every minute spent running around in downtown Portland with the crew from L.A.

Our denomination’s president, Gary Walter, made a point to emphasize that, in an age of denominational decline, the Covenant is not followoing suite. In his words: “We are growing. We are growing younger. We are growing more diverse. We are growing in conscience.”

We used to joke in L.A. that I should have an “I Love the Covenant” t-shirt made. If I had one, I would happily wear it.

Annual Meeting

Dave Gibbons preached tonight at the opening worship service for the Annual Meeting of the Covenant. At one point he referenced the commands to love the Lord with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself and he highlighted the provocative way Jesus answered the question of “who is my neighbor”. And as he spoke about the church’s call to love those on the fringes, to love those who are not like us, he confessed the easy inclination toward homogeneity; the default setting of like attracting like. And he concluded: “We in the church have pimped the second commandment.”

Confirmation Sunday

Our congregation celebrated Confirmation Sunday a few weeks ago, and Pastor Mike asked me to say a few words to the confirmands before they received the gift of their Bibles. I stood before them and our congregation proudly holding my own burgundy, leather confirmation bible from so many years ago, and offered this:

I remember receiving this Bible in this room almost twenty-two years ago on my Confirmation Sunday. The name on it reads “Erika Carney” which is not my name anymore and the inscription inside says that it is given to my by North Seattle Covenant Church, which is not our church’s name anymore. The date written inside is June 1987. I was thirteen.

I remember how shiny and perfect it looked then. The edges of the pages were gold and shimmery. And I remember thinking it weighed a ton!

It became my Bible. The one I read and used and carried around with me to youth group and Hi-Tops rehearsals and Winter retreats and mission trips and CHIC.

It was also the Bible that sat on the nightstand beside my bed. And it was the one I committed to reading every night before going to bed.

It was the Bible that came with me to Cascades Camp where I worked as a Wrangler. One week I got roped into counseling and I can remember sitting in the grass, with my cabin of girls, and leading them in our afternoon Bible study from these pages.

It was the Bible that came with me to Venezuela and Mexico and South Africa. It was the Bible that came with me into the inner city of Chicago. I can remember standing in a lodge in Wisconsin where we had brought close to a hundred city kids for a weekend retreat, one of whom would later become my brother. And I stood in front of this crowd and read from these pages and told them that they could “choose life” and that Jesus loved them.

The first sermon I ever preached, in a little storefront church in Chicago, was preached from this book.

I don’t know when the shimmery gold rubbed away or when the spine came off, or when the cover and all of the edges became so cracked. I know that an elderly woman in another church where I served was so embarrassed by the condition of this Bible that she promptly went out and bought me a new one.

I used that new one for a while. And then I went to seminary, and you buy a LOT of books in Seminary. And I had to get a different translation to use for my classes. And of course I had to buy the Bible in its original languages of Greek and Hebrew. So for a few years, this Bible saw a bit less use.

I don’t remember exactly when it became “my Bible” again. Sometime before moving up here in December.

But it has again become my companion. And a few weeks ago I was sitting next to Howard Thompson during church and I looked down at the Bible he held in his lap. And my eyes were immediately drawn to the duct tape holding it together along the spine of the book. I don’t think I need to feel embarrassed here by my shabby Bible. In fact, I think I’m in pretty good company.

Two weeks ago, I went to the hospital to visit Dale Harper. This Bible came with me. Bob and Joy Drovdahl had also stopped in to see Dale, and when Dale saw the Bible in my hand he said with a smile: “Ah, she brought the good stuff.”

Today, each of you receives a Bible. It is shiny and perfect and its edges shimmer. And you too will think that it weighs a ton!

My hope and prayer for each of you is that this Bible you receive today is for you a companion as mine has been for me. As mine continues to be for me. Don’t let it stay too shiny; too perfect. It is not intended to be something pretty to be admired from a distance.

When I was handed this Bible twenty-two years ago, I had no idea the places it would go with me. I had no idea the life that was in store for me and where my journey with Jesus would lead me. I certainly had no idea, as a thirteen year old, that someday I would serve the church as a pastor and cling to the truth of these words with all of my life.

And as Dale reminded me the other night in a hospital room: may it be for each of you that when you see this Bible, you too might smile and remember: “This is the good stuff.”

Sermons

This past Sunday was the first time that I led the service at our new church home. Pastor Mike took a much-earned day off, and our other Associate pastor was gone for the weekend, so I was entrusted with the Sunday morning gathering. Other than leaving out the greeting time at the beginning of the service and forgetting to invite the children to Children’s Church midway through the service, things seemed to go well.

I preached a little too long, as well, which has less ramifications now that we are on our summer schedule of only one service. I think I have done a pretty good job of adjusting from the almost-hour-long sermons in L.A. to the much shorter format here, but it seems I still need to pay close attention to how much material I plan to share.

We are preaching through the book of Isaiah right now, and I was given the second chapter to preach from this past week. Isaiah two is actually the text I preached my very first sermon from in a little house church back in Chicago. I can remember sitting in a stuffy apartment with a small gathering of folks form the neighborhood with my Bible open on my lap. There were no microphones or stage and and while I remember feeling a bit nervous, I can also remember that it felt right to open the scriptures and speak about them to people that I loved.

That first sermon emphasized the beginning of Isaiah two: visions of plowshares replacing swords and all nations gathering together in one reconciled place. That word was especially significant for a community that knew a great deal about violence and was made up of people from all over the world. This pas Sunday, I preached the second part of the chapter that speaks to the fullness of the people of God: a fullness of power, wealth, and idols. And it offers a sober vision of every high and lofty thing being brought low, and every idol being cast aside at the end. It raises the question of where our allegiance is at present and where the paths we are taking now ultimately lead. It challenges us to consider what we truly worship. As a community that has so recently come face to face with the the fact that this life ends, this was a good word for us.

Living with the end in mind

Tonight our church family will gather to remember and celebrate God’s grace and goodness in the life of Dale Harper, a dear member of our congregation I have known for most of my life. We will also gather together to declare our confidence in God’s saving mercy and the truth of his promises of resurrection and eternal life. We will certainly cry and most likely laugh a great deal as we celebrate a life so well-lived: a life so fully devoted to loving God and neighbor.

Yesterday I sat down for a bit to work on my sermon for Sunday, and I was struck by how fitting the text is for where our community finds itself this week. The second chapter of Isaiah makes some pretty bold and profound statements about the different things we can pursue in life and where our allegiances and confidences will ultimately lead us. I won’t preach the sermon here, but let’s just say caves filled with bat and mole dung play a big part…

Since moving up here, what always struck me about my time spent with Dale was that it was as if he had already been given his eternal eyes, so to speak. The things he was excited for and committed to and anticipating were so clearly the places where God’s spirit was moving and working around him. It was like a veil of sorts had been lifted and he was able to plainly see what God was doing: and he wanted to be a part of it.

We all talk about wanting to “join God’s work” or “follow God’s spirit”, and most of us struggle most of the time to genuinely know and sense and follow where we see God lead. Dale had such clear vision, it seemed to me. He had been given eyes to see. The fruits of his eternal life were already being made manifest in our midst.

Dale’s life offers the opposing witness to the judgments found in Isaiah two. Dale did not waste himself on pursuits that lead to dark caves or treasures that end up covered in dung. Dale knew what the good stuff was. Dale knew what it meant to accept the prophet’s invitation and “come…and walk in the light of the Lord.”

I praise God for Dale and all that he was in our life together. I praise God for the witness Dale was, in sickness and in health. I praise God for Dale’s healing, which is now complete.

I will remember Dale with a lot of joy and thanksgiving in my heart. And I will miss him.

Some of Elijah’s observational skills

Sunday after worship, the big kids decided to walk back to my parents’ house with “Grammy and Pop-Pop” so I headed out to the van with only Elijah. I had the diaper bag backpack, my purse, a folder that held my teaching notes, and the stainless travel coffee mug that is my faithful companion most days. Oh, and of course my one-year-old who is now sharing clothes with Aaron. Needless to say, my hands were full.

I have a habit of setting the tall coffee mug up on the roof of the van while I buckle the baby into his seat. It rests perfectly inside the rails that hold the Thule top on our van, and this frees my hands to load things into place.

After securing everyone and everything, I slipped behind the wheel, latched my own seat belt, backed out of my parking space and drove to the parking lot exit. As I turned the van onto Ashworth, a large thud was heard right outside the van, and there was the sound of something heavy bouncing along the street.

I slammed on the breaks, and before I could even throw the van into reverse, a little voice from behind me declared: “Coffee!”

Shane Hipps on Porsches and the Gospel

I came across an interview with Rob Bell and Shane Hipps on the Out of Ur website this morning, and the subject they discuss in the interview is the role of “the medium” in proclaiming the message of the gospel. This is a timely discussion as we see a lot of church-growth initiatives rely more and more on video screens. Just yesterday I sat with an old friend who is a pastor in the area and this issue came up: how new generations are being shaped by technology and how the church is responding to that.

Shane was a TA for one of my preaching classes at Fuller, and he offered a great deal of encouragement and affirmation to me as a preacher, for which I was grateful. I was pregnant with Mercy at the time of the class, and I remember feeling a bit self-conscious in my mostly male class. It was my first preaching class at Fuller and I hadn’t realized it but I was still slightly haunted by my experience at North Park Seminary where a male student shared during the feedback time in a preaching class that my eyelashes were too distracting. I remember debating what to wear when I gave my first sermon to the class and thinking about how to minimize the fact that a child was growing in my belly, fearing the ways that would “distract”. All that to say, Shane was great, and it was fun to see him in this video sharing about a topic that he is passionate about.

I would love to hear any responses to what he suggests in this brief interview with Rob…

Backfire

Aaron has been walking around this past week singing the worship song: “This is the Day…” I thought it was a bit curious that he was singing it so much until I found out that the kids have been rehearsing the song during Sunday School in preparation for Palm Sunday when they will walk through our sanctuary waving their palm branches and then gather to sing “This is the Day” from up front.

I was commending Aaron for his great singing on the way home from a church pancake breakfast Saturday morning, and I made some comment about how God loves to hear our worship. Mercy, of course, wanted to know why, so we got into a more extended discusison of worship and God’s relationship to all of creation. At one point I explained to her how the Bible tells us that if we were to stop worshiping God, if we were to stop singing God’s praises, the rocks would start to sing in our places.

There was a very long silence from the back seat.

“Mommy, is that true?” Mercy finally said.

“Yes, Mercy. That’s what the Bible tells us,” I replied.

It was quiet once again until Aaron began a new chorus of “This is the Day”. Mercy immediately turned to her brother: “Shhhh……Aaron, don’t sing! I want to hear the rocks!”

Young lives

One of the things I am really enjoying here at Shoreline Covenant is the opportunity to be involved with pastoring our youth. There has never been a season in my adult life that I have not, in some capacity, served young people, and while the youth ministries of our church here are not one of my areas of focus here in terms of job description, I am involved in working with all of the other adults who serve our youth in seeking together how we can serve our young people and walk alongside them in their discipleship journey.

This morning I came across a discussion at Scot McKnight’s blog that I will definitely follow that explores what kinds of shifts have taken place culturally for youth, and how the church is or is not responding.

The post suggests that maybe 25% of youth who participate in a church’s youth ministries will grow into mature disciples of Jesus. Do you think that is accurate? Why do you think that is true?

One commenter writes:

The fact that there is a “their” culture is largely “our” doing. Who worships youth? Adults. Who makes the shows, the songs, the technology, etc. forming/facilitating “their” culture? Adults. Who made even ‘big’ church into something that ‘entertains then entertains some more?’ Adults. Who made following Jesus into something you can supposedly do while remaining loyal to consumerism? Adults. Youth groups are just amped up versions of big church, trying to ‘reach’ a more media sophisticated, less religious, more energetic group.

Grace also has a post up this morning that speaks to these questions on a much broader level in defining what discipleship or Christian formation really is. She offers a series of quotations form an article by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. These are well-worth the read. I will offer some of Willard’s thoughts as a concluding word here:

Spiritual formation is the process of establishing the character of Christ in the person. That’s all it is…Forget about perfection. We’re just talking about learning to do the things that Jesus is favorable toward and doing it out of a heart that has been changed into His.”