Thursday, February 28, 2008


Lent is just about half done. Spring is only 3 weeks away. My sermon is almost finished. Life is good.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Clarence Jordan, author of the "Cotton Patch" New Testament translation, was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister's church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decorations. As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop the steeple.

"That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars," the minister said with a satisfied smile. "You got cheated," said Jordan. "Times were when Christians could get them for free."

via KCL

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sermon: Lent 3 - Year A

In some church growth literature, scholars identify what they call the “homogeneity principle.” Simply put, this means that churches attract folks just like themselves. Ethnically, economically, socially, politically, educationally. The theory says that churches need to reach out to folks just like themselves.

So, if you’re a white middle class, professional with a university degree, you should reach out to other white, middle class professionals with university degrees. If you’re a farmer who loves getting his hands dirty, then you should reach out to the same.

It makes sense when you think about it. We like to around people just like us. That’s often how we organize ourselves. Especially as churches.

This church has a Norwegian history. The first time I scanned the church directory I was a little intimidated by the Scandinavian names. Tall and blonde I am not. I didn’t find it all that helpful when it was noted to me that, 30 years ago, this congregation would never have called a pastor named “Kevin George Powell.” A name that conjures up the smell of fish-and-chips and stout, rather than lutefisk, lefsa, and chewy coffee.

So, the history of this congregation proves these theories correct. Or at least it used to. But something happened along the way for you to invite this eastern, Anglo-Saxon to serve as your pastor. Something happened along the way that made you broaden who you welcomed through your doors.

You did something the church growth theorists didn’t think of. I think you read today’s gospel and...(read the whole thing here)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I've been tagged.

Erin tagged me. So here's the deal. I'm supposed to:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five other people.

The nearest book was Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret (Meg) Wheatley. She writes,

Strange attractors are self-portraits drawn by a chaotic system. They are always fractal in nature, being deeply patterned, but they are a special category of mathematical object. Estimates are that there are only about two dozen strange attractors. In contrast, fractals describe any object or form created from repeating patterns evident on many levels of scale.

I tag Streak, Tom, Nasty Boy (this should be interesting), Sara, and Andy.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Woman at the Well

Thanks, Peter, for sending me this.

That sucker really sucked.

Last night’s leaders’ debate sucked. The format sucked. The questions sucked. And the commentary REALLY sucked. Reporters were complaining that there was no “knock out punch,” that none of the leaders really presented their positions.

Could it be because they were given only 30 SECONDS(!) to answer questions?

“So, Kevin Taft, what is your policy on child care? You’ve got 30 seconds.”

No wonder nobody could say anything. The format prohibited it. Even the free-for-all segments didn’t allow for real engagement with issues.

That’s an hour-and-a-half I’ll never get back. Absolute waste of time, space, money, and energy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

All the News We Need

Author Brennan Manning tells the story of a recent convert to Jesus who was approached by an unbelieving friend.

“So you have been converted to Christ?”


“Then you must know a great deal about him. Tell me, what country was he born in?”

“I don’t know.”

“What was his age when he died?”

“I don’t know.”

“How many sermons did he preach?”

“I don’t know.”

“You certainly know very little for a man who claims to be converted to Christ.”

“You’re right. I’m ashamed at how little I know about him. But this much I know: Three years ago I was a drunkard. I was in debt. My family was falling to pieces; they dreaded the sight of me. But now I’ve given up drink. We are out of debt. Ours is a happy home. My children eagerly await my return home each evening. All this Christ has done for me. This much I know of Christ.”

Despite all the books on my shelf. Even though I have the accumulated wisdom of the saints at my finger tips. I still don’t know how all this works. I don’t know why some people get healed and others don’t.

I just know that some people have extraordinary stories to tell. Whether it’s an angel rescuing someone from a carbon monoxide filled house, a drunk whose life was put back together, or a blind man receiving sight, God leaves tracks, clues for us to find. But when we piece them together we still don’t get the whole picture. God is God. We are not.

Is that good news? Maybe not for those who need God wrapped up in a tight little box.

But for those of us who would rather be saved then be correct; for those of us who rather be healed than brilliant; those of us who rather be loving rather than clever; maybe it’s all the news we need. Amen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lenten Quote of the Day

The notion of permeable boundaries has sparked both fear and curiosity. Perhaps if we understand the deep support we have from natural processes, it will help dispel some of the fear. It is not that we are moving toward disorder when we dissolve current structures and speak of worlds without boundaries. Rather, we are engaging in a fundamentally new relationship with order, order that is identified in processes that manifest themselves only temporarily as structures. Order itself is not rigid or located in any one structure; it is a dynamic organizing energy. When this organizing energy is nourished by information, we are given the gifts of the living universe. The gift is evolution, growth into new forms. Life goes on, richer, more creative than before.

(Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lenten Reflection II: The Woman at the Well

I’ve met the woman at the well, several times. Once, it was a woman in a dirty, smoke-filled apartment. She had called the church for help and I went to go see her armed a bag of groceries.

As I was leaving she said, “I want to go to church, can I come to your church?”
Those were her words but that wasn’t what she was asking. What she was really asking was “Will someone like me be welcome in your church?”

I pictured her in our pews, her gray greasy hair, her yellowed fingers, soiled skirt, and her booze and nicotine stained breath, mingling with men in ties and suit jackets, women in dresses and children in jeans. Nice, middle-class folks. Nothing wrong with that. It's who we are.

And I thought that like woman at the well was to the disciples, she’d be a challenge to our congregation. But a challenge our congregation would definitely step up to.

“Yes,” I told her, “we’d love to have you worship with us.”

Who is the woman at the well for you? Maybe it’s someone in your family, a co-worker, a neighbour. Someone you’d label a sinner, but maybe God has other plans for him or her.

Or maybe it’s you. You’re the woman at the well, carrying burdens that weigh you down while you put on a smiling public face.

You need to know that when Jesus looks at you, or looks at whoever it is you consider to be “outside” the faith, that he doesn’t see a sinner. Oh, sure, he sees the sin – and knows it, in all its sordid splendor – but he sees much more than that.

Jesus’ vision could have stopped at the woman being a Samaritan, a woman, in difficulty with her relationships, a sinner. But he saw more – a woman to be won over to a higher cause, a witness to serve God and God’s people, a disciple.

So, what do you think Jesus sees when he looks at you? A sinner? One who has failed and continues to fail in some of your moral obligations? Yes. But Jesus sees much more than that – someone to be won over to a higher cause, Jesus’ cause – a witness to serve God and God’s people, a disciple. That’s what Jesus sees.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tension and Opportunity

The church where I’m pastor is aggressively thinking about buying a new building. The three Roman Catholic churches in east Lethbridge are consolidating and building a fancy-schmancy new grand edifice. They say it’s because of the lack of priests that they need to do this. These three churches are packed each weekend at multiple Masses. So membership numbers is not the problem. Priest scarcity is.

I think it’s a bizarre solution to a staff shortage. Deal with presenting problem. They have three good churches. Find ways to keep church strong. Be innovative. Raise up lay people to serve.

But their decision to build has given us an opportunity. A lot of exciting ministry possibilities will come with a move one block south.

But with opportunity comes tension. Where will the money come from? Can we sell our existing facility? Will we be weighed down with financial burden that could overwhelm us?

Or, I think, most importantly, How will our ministry grow if/when we move? What new ministries can we build? How will this new building help us to be more faithful disciples of Jesus?

These are questions that we shouldn’t stop asking.

Friday, February 15, 2008


It’s amazing how life can turn up empty when left to our own devices. And how such emptiness can make you look at things differently.

I had been a fairly confident young man. I was studying music. I was going to be an orchestra conductor. And, as any musician will tell you, you need to have a bit of an ego to stand in front of 50 to 100 equally ego-obsessed individuals and suggest that your way is the best way. Confidence was one quality I was not lacking.

When you’re young and haven’t experienced failure. The first one can flatten you.

Without sharing the gory details, I had a few big set backs, both personal and professional. After which I found myself in church hearing the words from the prophet Joel in the language of the old Anglican prayer book:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. (Joel 2:13)

For me, these were words of refreshing honesty. Strange truthfulness. Perverse openness.

Failure felt dirty. But there was good news in knowing that my failures, my limitations, my brokenness, could be offered as a gift to God.

Not that God was offering worldly success in return. But that God wanted from me the parts of my life the rest of world didn’t even want to know about.

God wanted my tears. God wanted my anger. God wanted my disappointments and my regrets. No one other than God could take what the world calls ugly and dirty, and transform it into a gift for the Almighty.

So now, Lent is, for me, a time of devastating honesty. Honesty about myself: where I’ve failed. Where I’ve succeeded. Where I’ve fallen short of what God wants for me. Where I need God’s healing in my life.

Sometimes Lent is the spot where pain and pleasure intersect purging me of all that limits abundant living.

But other times Lent requires more from me then I’m ready to give. Because my sin is too great.

But what I’ve learned foremost is that sin is the great equalizer. The grand leveler. None of us gets off scot-free. When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he sings to them of the song of Jesus. He describes for them the entrance of sin and rebellion into the world. We are those who have gone astray, who have preferred our wills to God’s will. The results of this sin are all around us. The history of this past blood-stained century, the headlines in this morning’s paper tell the story.

Yet to this story Paul contrasts the story of Christ. Christ brings life to our death-dealing ways. Christ offers forgiveness for all our sins. In Christ, it’s like God starts all over with creation, from the beginning, and sets us toward a new future.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Lenten Fast? Maybe. Maybe not.

What are you giving up for Lent?

In submission to last night’s gospel reading, I’m keeping my Lenten fast a secret (or maybe I’m claiming gospel freedom and am not fasting at all this Lent).

Sometimes I think this whole giving something up for Lent thing is a little silly. Jesus sat in the desert for 40 days consuming nothing but air, and we're supposed to identify with his fast by, what, giving up chocolate for six weeks?

Is it just me or does that seem a little petty?

But then again, Jesus did all the fasting and dying that we're supposed to do. We can't be as perfect or righteous or faithful as he was. So ANY attempt by us frail, sinful beings to do so will seem small. I think that's the point of the gospel.

I'm still not telling anyone what I'm doing for my Lenten observance.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Remember that you are dust...

...and to dust you will return. Happy Ash Wednesday.

UPDATE: My Ash Wednesday sermon.

“Remember, from dust you came, to dust you will return.”

When you leave here, how long do you keep the ashes on your forehead? Are they gone, washed off with a damp Kleenex as soon as you reach your car? Maybe there’s no milk in the fridge and you have to stop at the Superstore on the way home. The last thing you need is for some well-meaning, but uninitiated cashier whisper earnestly, “Um, excuse me, but you have a little smudge on your forehead.”

How do you answer him? Do you say, “I just came from church, this is what we do on Ash Wednesday.”?

Or do you say, “This isn’t dirt. This is...(whole thing here)