Monday, October 24, 2011


I'm so excited! I have two students to mentor this year at Shepherd King's adopted school - Eisenhower Middle School. Next week I will meet with one of them, and the following week I'll meet the other.

When the school year began, the student I mentored from last year - N - was no longer enrolled at Eisenhower. I was disappointed because I'd become fond of him, but I knew he had planned to go live with his mother. The Counselor at Eisenhower found another student for me to see - Z - and just as that was set up, N returned to Eisenhower. I told her I would gladly see both of them, one on Monday mornings and the other on Tuesdays.

Before I go any further I have to confess - I have no special skills or wisdom to offer these two boys. What I have is time. I meet them at the school and we go to the library to talk for an hour. We talk about whatever is on their minds, or I might ask them a few questions about school or their particular interests. But the most important thing I offer them is an hour a week. For that one hour (40 minutes, really) I'm all theirs. I listen to them, encourage them, celebrate and lament with them, and occasionally offer words of guidance. My aim is to let them know that I care and, by meeting with them each week, to allow them to count on me.

Mentoring is not hard to do. You don't have to understand and help your student with homework; you don't have to have answers to their problems. Mostly you just have to commit some time to them and show you care. The benefits you - the mentor - receive are rich. You get to know a young person, grow to appreciate his/her abilities, see how he/she copes with challenges, and come to care about someone who is tied to you in no way other than by mentoring. It is a wonderful experience.

We've all been mentored by someone - an adult who took time for us when we were young, a colleague who helped us learn the ropes, Sunday school teachers, grandparents, friends who modeled faith for us and had confidence in us. In a few weeks the Church will celebrate its official "mentors" on All Saints Sunday. Saints are not people who are holier or more spiritual than others; they are ordinary individuals who have trusted God and followed Jesus in their own lives. They are mentors to all of us, their lives showing how we, too, can live.

One of my personal mentors or 'saints' currently is Leymah Gbowee, a Lutheran from Liberia who just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Ms. Gbowee helped organize the women of Liberia to protest the long standing civil war that had killed thousands of people and ravaged their homeland. Hundreds of women - Lutheran, Catholic, and Muslim - wore white and gathered in the center of town to call for an end to the war. Mostly they were silent, letting their presence speak for them. When official peace talks reached a stalemate, the women used their bodies to prevent the committee from leaving until an agreement had been reached. Former Liberian leader, Charles Taylor, is now in exile and a new, democratic leader has been elected. Ms. Gbowee is an inspiration to me and a model of how faith can lead people to work, peacefully and successfully, for change.

Who do you mentor? Consider volunteering at your local school as a mentor - you, too, can change a life for the better.


Pastor Kris

Monday, October 17, 2011

Like Vacation

We don't go on vacation until the end of the week, and we'll only be in the hill country for three days, but in some ways vacation has already started. On Thursday Don and I will be at a small cabin near Vanderpool Texas, celebrating our 15th anniversary. We were at the same place last year for a few nights -- just a scattering of small cabins near the river, accessible to both Garner and Lost Maples, and a short, beautiful drive to Leakey. As I anticipate our upcoming trip I can almost smell the fresh hill country air, see the sun rising over the treetops, and hear the cooing of the doves.

When I've felt tired in the office this morning I've refreshed myself with thoughts of napping during vacation. I've escaped the sound of traffic rushing past my window by imagining those peaceful trails in the park. Vacation has already begun, here in my office, breaking into my daily routine with its own unique reality. It is coming. Soon there will be rest, enjoyment, long minutes and slow-moving hours of freedom. Because vacation is drawing near, its coming affects me today.

The kingdom of God is like that, too. Jesus initiated the kingdom of God on earth through his life, death, and resurrection. But it isn't fully here yet. We know that by observing the world around us. There is still pain and suffering here; there is still injustice and corruption here; we do not yet live in peace and harmony with one another. Where God rules as sovereign there is no hunger, no war, no crime, no disease, no death. When the reign of God comes everyone will have work to do (meaningful work), everyone will be healthy and well, and we will all treat each other with respect and kindness.

The world is not like that now, however. Nations are quick to go to war against one another, age old conflicts continue with newer, more modern weaponry. We work hard, buy things, invest money in the hope of retiring one day, yet others cannot find work, people are losing their homes to foreclosure, some are hungry, and many are frustrated. This is not how life is in God's realm. It is discouraging to see the disparity between the life God intends us to live and the one we do live. According to God's vision, there is enough for everyone - enough money, enough food, enough houses, enough work, enough friendship, dignity and love. Some day life will be like that, God's way, but that day has not yet arrived.

God's kingdom is not here in its fullness. But it has been begun in Jesus Christ and the completion of God's reign is coming. On that day when our Lord returns, things will change as dramatically as summer gives way to fall or winter to spring. Every person will live with dignity and humility - confident in his own worth and honoring the worth of others. Jealousies will vanish, grudges will disappear, wounds and scars will be healed. We will live honest, productive lives; our relationships will be truthful and loving; we will share habitually with friends and strangers alike and there will be no need to fear anyone. Creation itself will be restored - mountaintops alive with healthy trees, skies clear and radiant, waters flowing strong and clean.

As we await the fullness of God's kingdom we can already feel the effects of its presence. Throughout the world people are calling for justice and freedom; hope is stirring the air around us. Habitat for Humanity recently reached 500,000 houses built for low-income families - ordinary people working together have made that happen. More and more people are finding ways to recycle and to reduce their waste, striving to make the earth healthy and whole. And although traditional churches may not be as full as they once were, people young and old are looking for ways to encounter God, to know God, and to live in communion with God. The kingdom may not be here yet, but we can feel its presence, we can see its affect on our lives, we know it is coming soon and we are getting ready.

Jesus urges us to live how he did - as though the kingdom of God was already fully established. There may not be justice everywhere around us, but we can be just and fair to one another; we can expect justice in every situation. Where people are hurting, hungry, neglected we can respond with concern -- our hands ready to comfort and our ears to listen. We can trust that there is plenty of time, plenty of goods and money, plenty of room for everyone and so we do not have to rush or horde or oppose one another. By trusting we demonstrate that Jesus is lord of all. We can pool our resources, donate our time, and work to make a positive difference in the world. God's kingdom is near! Its nearness is rubbing off on us and on the way we live.

May the kingdom of God touch you and brighten your life. Look for signs of its presence here, now. It won't be long before God's kingdom comes and the whole world sings God's praise.

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bigger, Faster.

What a marvelous world we live in. Today the Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to three American scientists for their recent discovery that the pace at which the universe is expanding is accelerating. Although that sentence is easy to understand grammatically, the concept is hard to grasp: the entire universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate. The image that comes to mind for me is of taffy being pulled and stretched more and more.

"O LORD our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens." (Psalm 8:1)

Scientists, however, tend to compare this process to a mound of raisin bread dough. As the dough rises (increasing in size) the raisins are pulled farther and farther apart. Think of the raisins as galaxies and you have a simple illustration of what is happening in our universe - the whole thing is getting bigger, wider, and as a result the galaxies are moving away from each other.

Scientists say this is a good thing. If the universe were to stop expanding it would collapse upon itself (because of the pull of gravity). My mind cannot quite picture that, but surely the earth would not survive such an event. Space itself is expanding - there's more of it all the time. Greek philosophers used to wonder whether the universe was infinite or finite. If it is finite and you stuck your hand out at the edge, where would it go? What an amazing question to contemplate.

If the universe is ever expanding what does that say about us and our place in it? Out in the country, away from the lights of the city, when you gaze up at the night sky with its millions of stars, it becomes obvious how small a single human being is by comparison. When we think of the countless generations that have preceded us and all those that will follow us, our lives, our communities, the nations and their struggles also seem small and passing. Is our own significance being reduced as the universe gets bigger?

"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals, that you care for them?" (Psalm 8:3-4)

And yet God does care for us, even though we are tiny in comparison with the universe, even though - considering the breadth of time - our days are but a sigh. There are so many wonders in the created world we'll never fully understand them all. But the knowledge that science has gained of the universe and how it operates is fascinating.

"You have given (human beings) dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet." (Psalm 8:6)

Praise God for our ability to learn and understand. Praise God for this incredible world where we live. Praise God for caring about all of us regardless when or how long we live. Truly God's being and God's activity is more than our minds can fathom.

"O LORD our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:9)

Pastor Kris