Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas through the eyes of expectant parents


We went to the Verizon store today. We decided to upgrade our phones and part of our Christmas for one another. Jennifer and I each had an old flip phone, and Jennifer got little to no reception in our house. We called the customer service folks, figured out which phones had the best reception, and went in to purchase them. The one that was recommended to us was the EnV3. It had the keyboard for texting. It had phone features. It was able to do all the internet stuff if we chose to go in that direction at some point, but did not require any "data" subscription from Verizon.

The sales guy we consulted with today was more energy than explanation. He was a decent guy, but kept pushing us toward the Droid. The Droid, he said, was a really good deal right now. We debated back and forth on what we wanted. Jennifer liked the EnV touch. I liked the Droid. He explained the merits of each, with the great apps that were free from Verizon. With our deal, we could have had Two Droid phones for about the same price as the other phones that were of lesser value. "Why not get this deal on the new Droid, while you can?" the salesmen emplored us to consider.

We asked him to explain to us the cost of the new coverage of the Droid vs. the EnV touch. He explained that in fact, we would be paying $30 more per phone to get all the "data" package that came with either. So, we would in fact be paying less for the phone. We would, however, be paying $60 more in coverage, which would mean that we would be paying over $1500 more over the contract of the phone.

We decided on the EnV3, that does not require a data subscription. As we headed out of the parking lot with our new phones, which we enjoy very much so far, we began to talk through the decision once more. "The way I look at it," I said, "it is like this: Droid or diapers, Droid or diapers...pretty easy decision".

Monday, December 21, 2009

Discussion Guide for A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS

Getting Started

  1. On a scale of 1-5, what would you rate this book and why?
  2. If you could summarize the point of this book in one sentence, what would it be

The Big Picture

  1. If your life was a kind of story, what kind of story would it be? Suspense? Romance?
  2. Does your story have a "narrative arc"? What would the theme of your life be if it were written as a story?
  3. Do you think your story is written by you, or written by forces outside of your control?
  4. How do you take more control of how your life is being written

Finding the Plot

  1. What do you think of the definition of a story as "a character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it"?
  2. What do you think of Don's discovery of inciting incidents? Have you created inciting incidents in your life? How have they come into your life unannounced?
  3. What are the major conflicts in your life? How have they defined you?
  4. What plot turns in your story do you see ahead?

Getting Into Character

  1. How would you feel about the process of editing your story?
  2. How do negative turns drive a story when you observe it?
  3. How do positive turns drive a story?
  4. Which usually comes first, the positive turn or the negative turn?
  5. Which of the following parts of character development intrigued you the most?

    Inciting incident

    A good character must face fears

    Saving a Cat

    Positive turn

    Negative Turn

    Making yourself the hero of your story

    The three acts of a person's life (discovery, stability, reflection)

  6. How do you keep from getting stuck in a bad story?
  7. How do you change to write a better story?

How do you become a more admirable character in the midst of your story?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Food Allergies

Today, I have had a number of conversations regarding food allergies that people have. It seems like there are a lot more people that are allergic to things that I remember in the past. The television is talking about kids with food allergies to peanuts. Another family expressed an allergy to Christmas trees. Is it the challenges in environment that cause more allergies? Did people with allergy problems just have a hard time and were considered sickly in the old days. I dont know. I am considered.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Wish You Could Have Known Him....

The other day I made a visit to a member of our church. She is in an assisted living facility after a number of months moving from the hospital to a nursing home to an assisted living facility then to the one that she is in now. Whenever I visit Harriet* she tells me about her husband that passed away a few years back. And each time, after she gets done telling me about this man and his many good qualities she says, "Clint, I wish you could have known him."

Recently, as I mentioned, I went to visit her. We had a brief conversation about her new home. I was there to check in on her and make sure she was doing alright in her new home. As I was leaving she was telling me how much she appreciated me as her pastor. Then she spoke about how she missed her deceased husband. After that she stopped moving her walker, she looked at me, and said, "I wish he would have known you. I think he would have liked you. I wish he could have known you."

I smiled and thanked her for what she said, and tried not to give away that I was deeply moved. She just changed a few words in her script, but it had really touched me. She valued me enough as a pastor that she wished her deceased husband had known me. I felt like when she had changed the directions of the relationship she was honoring me, showing respect for me, and demonstrating affection for me in a new way. I felt, in short, I had went from being the new preacher to her pastor. As I left, I took a deep breathe, made sure a tear did not well up in my eyes, and departed. Then, I smiled.

If I were Tiger....


Much has been said and written about Tiger Woods in recent days. I have listened to several news reports, read several more, and listened to my wife and mother about what they thought about what has been revealed about Tiger's very public sins. Now, I want to share some thoughts about the whole Tiger Woods media frenzy.


First, I must admit I am a Tiger Woods fan. I am not usually a frontrunner or a bandwagon fan, but when it comes to golf, I guess I am. I feel like I grew up with Tiger. I followed his career for years before he began the PGA Tour. And when he went pro, I rooted for Tiger to be the best ever.


I like several things about Tiger's game. I love that he can spray his drive off in the woods somewhere, shoot an impossible approach shot, and end up with a birdie. From the beginning, Tiger has played a rock and roll style of golf in a profession that has often been more like a Benny Goodman concert.


Not growing up with a lot of wealth, I admired folks in golf that did not fit the mold of the typical golf pro. People like John Daly, who is as redneck as they come. I also root a lot for Rich Beem and I used to be a big Chi-Chi Rodriguez fan. Tiger's game fits less into the typical mold. He has made a way for himself on the golf course, and changed the way the game is played.


On the other hand, I was not always a fan of the way he played. His four-letter word tirades at fans and cameramen wore thin. Although I loved the visible passion he played with, grounding clubs and throwing things while he was golfing made me ashamed to root for him at times.


Now, when I heard the news about Tiger I was not all that surprised about hearing that he cheated on his wife. Anyone who has Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley as his running buddies should expect to find themselves in some compromising situations. I did not approve of his behavior. But, I thought who Tiger Woods has sex with is really none of my business. As I watched the story unfold, I kept wondering why people would not just let the issue go.


Through the last two weeks it has become apparent that the Tiger Woods drama will not go away. And now, Woods has taken a leave of abscence. If I was Tiger I would have managed things totally differently.


Here is what I would have done:


1. I would have made a public appearance soon after the accident. Even if I was forced to bringing in camera people and a news reporter, I would have made a VISIBLE statement. I would have shared something to the effect of "I have made so many mistakes, many of which will only be known me and those closest to me. I have cheated on my wife. I have betrayed the trust of my fans. I cannot make things right. I can try to be a better man. I hope you will give me the space to do that with my family, and the patience to earn back your trust after I get my personal life taken care of. Thanks for all your support"


He needed to be seen visually by people. He wasnt. He needed to get ahead of the story instead of having it trickle out ahead of him. He didnt.


2. I would not have said I was going to take time off from golf. Idle hands will only lead to more temptation and emotional distress for the Woods family. It is not coincidence this happened in the off-season. Instead I would have said that I was limiting my appearances and reevaluating my life in such a way that I would only particpate in majors and in tournaments where I could be at home at night. A self-imposed house arrest for Tiger will not help Tiger's marriage. I will not help his image either.


3. If I was Tiger, I would work to reinvent my image to be commensurate with who I am. I would allow myself to be recast as the villian of the sports world and the golf world. I would star in commercials that poked fun at my mistakes. I would be very blunt with those who criticized me about my mistakes, and come up with snarky comebacks to put them in their place. I would be more difficult with the media. I would get a tatoo or two that was visible on the golf course. I would be the Man in Black of the PGA tour. The man that everyone hates. The antagonist of all the pretensions that are a part of the golf world. Later, as I worked on my marriage and family at home, I would hope to reinvent my image again in four and five years, pointing to what I had overcome and the good I have done in the community with my foundation.


What do you think? Do you think the whole Tiger Woods thing is truly newsworthy? Do you think there are racial dynamics in how the story is being covered? I would love to hear your thoughts.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Second Sunday of Advent

Advent Faith

RESPONSIVE READING
L: Father God, as the season gets hectic and our life gets crazy
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to remember that the person that took our parking spot is also your child
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to understand that seasonal employees are only temporary
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to believe that gifts of time and money in Salvation Army pots and to helping deliver food baskets does make a difference
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to remember that having all the family coming to town is a good thing
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: in ourselves finish all of our work, schoolwork, and projects we have taken on
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: in each other to believe that we can all praise you and worship you without expectation
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to pray and believe we are heard
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to pray for those who don’t have blankets—not for gifts we think we need.
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: of a child who sees decorating the Christmas tree as a gift and not a chore
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: Of a child who sees the world through eyes filled with wonder
C: Lord, give us the faith
L: to believe this candle is but one light among a million others that will guide your children back to you
All: Amen
(from the Book of Uncommon Prayer)


MEDITATION
Advent is about faith. Faith is a word that is easily confused in our society. When we think about “having faith” it can be easy to think about faith as something that we own,--a possession or a noun. We talk about different religions as different “faiths”. Faith becomes for us then an idea, or a value system. Scriptural faith is not primarily an idea or an object. Faith, first and foremost is a verb.

Faith describes an action. Having faith in God is about courageously trusting God. It means that we trust even when we do not quite understand all the details of how things are going to work out, and when God’s promises are going to be fulfilled. We are not living by faith until we are trusting God to care and provide for us without having all the answers and demanding all the control. We have faith when we follow Christ with certainty even in light of uncertain circumstances today, and an uncertainty about what tomorrow brings tomorrow.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph? Can you imagine yourself as a young woman, who was probably in about 8th or 9th grade, becoming pregnant as a virgin,
and trusting God through that? Can you imagine the courage that took to trust that much? To trust through the teasing and the mocking? Can you imagine how foolish people must have believed Joseph to be for still taking her as his wife? Sometimes believing God means trusting in what he is doing even when everyone else thinks you are a fool. Sometimes having faith means living in the truth that “nothing is impossible with God”, and believing that truth on a daily basis.

LIGHTING THE CANDLE (read as lighting the candle)

Now we light the faith candle, and as we light it, we trust that God is at work keeping his promises and bringing his light into our lives and our world.


PRAYER

Thank you God for your promises to be faithful, and to and never forsake us if we have put our trust in you. Help us to remember that even when things seem hopeless, we can trust in your promise that “nothing is impossible with God”. Give us that kind of faith.

Sermon on 12/6

Song of Mary

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"[c]
29 But when she saw him,[
d] she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."
34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"
35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible." 38 Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.


39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord."

      " My soul magnifies the Lord,
       47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
       48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
      For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
       49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
      And holy is His name.
       50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him
      From generation to generation.
       51 He has shown strength with His arm;
      He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
       52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
      And exalted the lowly.
       53 He has filled the hungry with good things,
      And the rich He has sent away empty.
       54 He has helped His servant Israel,
      In remembrance of His mercy,
       55 As He spoke to our fathers,
      To Abraham and to his seed forever."

56 And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.


 

It is easy to look at Mary in the pictures that were drawn of her in days of old and get a different picture of her than is Biblical. It is easy to think of her as this matronly woman with alabaster skin and a beautiful blue and white robe. It is easy to think of Mary and beautiful and docile. A well-behaved young woman from a working class or middle class family whose father worked hard and whose mother stayed home to keep house and home school her and her brother and sisters.


 

Or maybe it is easy to think of Mary as that girl that never speaks up in class but always gets straight A's in her classes. She does what she is supposed to, but generally is meek and invisible and seeks to fade to the background and into the wall whenever possible.


 

As I start to read the gospel of Luke, and as I read Mary's song, commonly known as the Magnificat, I get a different picture of Mary. I hear a young woman full of courage and energy. A strong and bold woman. A woman who asks questions for clarification of the angel of God. A woman who lives a life defined by boldness and risk. A woman who courageously stands for what she believes, no matter what the cost. A young teenager who is willing to do whatever God told her to do, no matter who it confused and made angry.


 

Most historians put Mary's age at 13, though she could have been as old as 16 or 17 and as young as 12. It kind of worked rather simply in ancient Israel. Once a young woman shows initial signs of entering puberty and being able to have children, the parent makes arrangements for the girl to get married to an appropriate man, and about a year after that she gets married. Many parents would already have arranged that man to Mary, and have begun the wedding plans.


 

Mary's parents and Joseph and Mary had already made the wedding plans. They had already received the dowry that the family got from Joseph—in effect paying Mary's family to marry her. She had already set the date for the wedding. After her 8th grade graduation she would probably be walking down the aisle with her husband, who seemed to be a decent man with a good job to support her.


 

Then that pesky angel stepped on the scene. You know who he is. His name is Gabriel. That day he came to Mary and immediately told Mary that he had good news for her. Twice Gabriel says that Mary is favored by God. That God has seen her and approved of her. The angel tells Mary that God is with her.


 

Then Gabriel shares the big news that he has come to announce. He tells Mary that she will have a child. He tells her that she will have a son, and he will be called the Son of the Most High, that he will be in the line of David, that he will reign over the house fo Jacob forever, and that his kingdom will never end. Jesus will be his name.


 

Mary has a question, and she asks it. She asks how she can become pregnant when she has never had sex. Pretty bold to ask a question like that to an angel. But typical of a teenager to ask it.


 

Gabriel tells her that this child with be conceived not in a normal way that babies are made, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. He says after this that the child is the Son of God. And that Elizabeth, who had been barren and was well beyond childbearing years, was also going to have a child. It seems Gabriel shared this with Mary so that she would have another sign that what was happening to her was part of what God was doing. It seems Gabriel was also telling Mary this so that she would know that what was happening in her womb was bigger than just her and her situation.

He is also telling her this. There is nothing that is impossible with God.


 

There is no situation that is impossible with God. There is no town that is God-forsaken. There is no person that is hopeless. There is no illness that cannot be healed. There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven. There is no situation, on heaven or on earth that is more than God can handle. Nothing is impossible with God.


 

Mary responds by saying this "Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word".


 

At first that may appear as a passive response. A response such as "not my will, but thy will be done". That is not the kind of response that Mary has though. It is more akin to the prophet Isaiah when he encountered the angels in the Temple. Mary is saying boldly something similar to "Here am I! Send me!" or "Let's roll". It is the response of a good soldier to a general when they are giving marching orders. The angel said it. Mary believed it. She believed in what God was doing even if the whole world thought she was a fool. Or even if the whole world thought she was a slut, which it is clear that people even at the time of Jesus believed to be true. She had her marching orders. Now she was going forward armed with the knowledge that she was doing the good and just and right and fair thing.


 

Can you imagine the kind of character it would take to be pregnant out of wedlock for nine months in a community where everyone knew everyone, where everyone gossiped and whispered about the indiscretions of everyone? Furthermore, can you imagine going through all of that anger and judgment and disappointment that people would heap upon her?


 

What kind of teenage girl would it take to deal with all of that? I will tell you what kind of girl. A passionate girl willing to do what she believes is true and right even if it means defying everyone around her. A courageous young woman that is willing to do her part to bring the kingdom of God to earth. Strong. Bold. Full of conviction. Not meek or passive. Submissive to the word of God. Yes. But Mary was no wilting flower.


 

So soon after Mary discovers she is pregnant she goes up to visit her cousin Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth meets Mary John starts dancing in her womb. The Scripture said John leapt as a fetus in the womb of Mary. He started praising and dancing. And when Elizabeth touched Mary she started saying under the power of the Holy Spirit that she was blessed, that the Messiah was coming from her womb, that Elizabeth was overwhelmed to have the Mother of her Lord come to her. Furthermore, Elizabeth says that the promises that the angel made to Mary are true, even before Mary was able to share with her cousin the story of Gabriel's visit.


 

Mary responds with one of the most amazing words from Scripture. Her prayer has been banned by governments in the 20th century, because the governments who heard it believed it to strong and too subversive. She prays a prayer that expresses the truth that Jesus came to set the world upside down. Or rightside up. Depends how you look at things I suppose.


 

She sings a song that thanks God for looking at her, and making her the vessel to bring Jesus into the world. Then she says what God is doing through her at that moment. At that moment God is turning the world on its head. He is bringing down the proud from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. He is looking with favor upon the poor and the hungry, and he is stripping the wealthy of the money they are so proud of. He is remembering his people, and he is at work setting things right for them. Those that have lifted themselves up will be brought down to their knees, and those that are humble will be lifted up from their lowly estate. This is what God is doing for me and through me said Mary. This is what is happening through this Jesus that is in my womb. Mary speaks up against the evil rulers and the greedy rich. She speaks up against evildoers in power. And she speaks up for the humble and the forgotten, the lowly and the faithful.


 

You see, faith is not passive. The word faith is an action word. It takes courage to live by faith in God. You will offend people. You will lose friends if you stand for what is right. If you walk by faith there will be times where you are literally living by a prayer.


 

When you choose to live by faith, you are living a life of active dependence on God to help, to provide, to guide, and to show the way. You are not always going to make the most money. You are not always going to have people clap for your words. You might be lonely. You might have people roll their eyes when you walk by. You might be mocked. You might even be physically attacked.


Living by faith means trusting God. At times when it is hard to trust, we must keep acting in a trusting manner. We must keep standing for God. Faith isn't faith when its easy, and when we can see the end in sight. Faith is faith when we walk step by step forward, leaning forward to hear the voice of God calling us to keep moving forward into a future we cannot completely see.


 

And it is when we have the courage to trust God when it is not easy to trust God that we see God doing amazing and unthinkable things through his people in their simple and humble estate. Will you have the courage to have the passionate faith of Mary? Will you have the courage to be as bold as Mary? Will you trust God enough to trust Jesus then? I hope you will. Because faith like that never is in vain. You never lose your investment in the kingdom of God.


 

Mary is a woman of faith. And she expresses that faith through her song and her actions. But she about more than her and her situation. As Mary sings that prayer she is speaking of a God who is faithful. Faithful to the prayers of generations. Faithful to the promises that God had made through the prophets. Faithful to love people like you and like me, and to make a way for us when there seems like no way.


 


 


 


 

By faith she points forward to what she had yet to imagine in those months when Jesus was still in her womb. She points to the love of God that sends Jesus to teach us the Way of God. She points forward to the faithfulness of a Jesus that wandered as a homeless man, and taught us how to love and live. Then he showed us what the love that regards us in our lowly state was really all about. He did that by being willing to go to the cross and to die there for our sins. Mary suffered the mocking of her peers. Jesus endured something far worse. He suffered mocking from the very people he came to save, to love, and to die for. And they beat Jesus. And the hung him on a cross. And they left him there for dead. And when he took his last breathe they ran a spear through him to make sure he had died. And to everyone who looked around it appeared like their hopes were in vain, their faith in Jesus was ill-placed, and their prayers were all for naught. But that was not the end of the story.


 

Scripture says that on the third day Christ rose again. He was victorious over sin and death. He ascended to the right hand of God. He rules even now, and he will come soon to judge the living and the dead.


 

And he urges us, as we come to this table to be bold enough to trust him. To stand with him and for him. To take this bread and this cup and proclaim that we trust that what God was doing back then means that we can stand for him and trust him even today.


 


 


 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

ADVENT MEDITATION WEEK 1

FIRST WEEK ADVENT MEDITATION AND PRAYER


 

MEDITATION

Advent is about hope. Hope requires waiting. Hope requires expectant waiting. Waiting with hope means waiting with an attitude of trust. When we hope, we always must wait with the knowledge that our prayers will be answered, but not immediately. We must remember that God is faithful to his promises, but that God's faithfulness does not always fit in our desire for immediate gratification.

When we celebrate advent, we remember the faithful waiting of those who waited for Jesus to come into the world. God had promised a Messiah for centuries, and God's people waited for a Messiah. They had gone hundreds of years without a true prophet from God. In God's timing, and in God's own unique way, Jesus came to earth. He came to a peasant family. To a virgin who was not yet married. We remember the one who was born to pave the way for Jesus named John the Baptist. We remember that his parents

were advanced in years, beyond the age of childbearing. And yet, God provided them with a son in their old age. God used teenagers and seniors, men and women, smooth skinned babies and calloused construction workers to bring his good news into the world. But first, there was waiting.

Today, many of us wait as well. We wait for answered prayer. We wait for God to deliver us from illness and sadness, loneliness and conflict. We look with hope to Jesus, who continues to make all things new. We believe that even now, Jesus can and is doing a new thing in our hearts and the hearts of others. And we wait. We wait expectantly because we hope, and waiting is a part of hoping and believing.


 

PRAYER

Lord, help us to look to you as our one true hope, and our one true deliverer. Let us trust that you are now working out things for the good of those that love you and are called according to your purpose. And help us to not grow weary. Amen


 

The Song of Zechariah

The Song of Zecheriah

Scripture: Luke 1

5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,'[
b] and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
18 And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years."
19 And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time."
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.
23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 "Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people."


 

57 Now Elizabeth's full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, "No; he shall be called John." 61 But they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name." 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, "His name is John." So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, "What kind of child will this be?" And the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
       68 " Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
      For He has visited and redeemed His people,
       69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
      In the house of His servant David,
       70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
      Who have been since the world began,
       71 That we should be saved from our enemies
      And from the hand of all who hate us,
       72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
      And to remember His holy covenant,
       73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
       74 To grant us that we,
      Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
      Might serve Him without fear,
       75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
       76 " And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
      For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
       77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people
      By the remission of their sins,
       78 Through the tender mercy of our God,
      With which the Dayspring from on high has visited[
e] us;
       79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
      To guide our feet into the way of peace."

80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

SERMON

You will have to excuse my strange attire. I come from a place far away, and a time before you were born. You may have never met me, but many of you may have heard who I am. My name is Zecheriah. Thousands of years ago I was a priest of the Lord Most High. Most of my ministry was spent in the hill country of Judea. But when it was my turn to serve in the Temple I would pack up my things, head to Jerusalem, and work in the Temple of the Lord in the heart of the holy city.

One time I went down to the Temple was especially memorable. That is what I want to share with you about.

Before I get into all of what happened, you need to know a little bit about what my life was like before I was in the temple that day. I married my wife Elizabeth when she was marriageable age when I was a young priest. Those were the days! And man we had dreams. Dreams of a big family with lots of boys and girls! And we prayed for children. Then we prayed again. And we would wait. We would think Elizabeth was pregnant, and she wasn't. We thought we needed to pray longer. It didn't work. We thought we needed to try harder. It soon became clear that would not work either. We listened to every old wives tale to help a woman get pregnant. Nothing worked. Soon months turned into years, and years turned into decades. No child. No matter how often we prayed. It was like God never heard our prayers.

Having no children was even harder on Elizabeth than it was for me. I just poured myself into my work. I taught more. I studied more. I visited the people in my care more. I prayed more. And people respected the work I did. And they talked about what a good father I would be when I worked with the boys teaching them the Bible in the synagogue.

Things were not that easy for Elizabeth. The women whispered about her behind her back. They did not want to speak against the priest, so they started to speak about how we did not have a child because Elizabeth had committed some great sin. Or somehow God was mad at her. They made fun of her. Or, if they were nice they would simply just shake their heads and say "Poor Elizabeth".

I remember several days where I would walk home for lunch and see her crying. She overheard something, or saw some woman give her a dirty look. We prayed and we prayed. We prayed for a child until that time in Elizabeth's life came where we knew there was no longer a possibility for her to have a child. Then, we gave up.

It is easy to give up on prayer, isn't it? To pray and to pray, and feel like God is not hearing anything or choosing not to answer. And then we wonder. We try to keep hope. We try to keep praying. We try to have faith. But we wonder if God really is listening up there or if he we are just talking to ourselves.

When it became apparent that we might not have children, we started putting that energy we would put toward a family in other places. Elizabeth would watch other people's kids when they needed it. We started having our cousins, nieces and nephews come up for a visit here and there. Elizabeth was especially close to her cousin Mary. Elizabeth would have all sorts of things Mary had done around our small home. A pet rock here. A flower arrangement there. It should have come as no surprise then that John and Jesus would cross paths the way they did….but I am getting ahead of myself.

I began to work harder to support parents in raising their kids. That had mixed results too. Some of them would run off with these renegade military groups hoping to ambush Roman soldiers and end up dead. Others would seek to go to a big city far away and we would just hear rumors about them and shake our heads. Others would try and scratch out a living on our hard dirt up in the hill country. Year after year soldiers would march through. Demanding our food stuffs as tax and provision. Beating one of our men to make them an example. Raping some of our women just for sport.

I began to pray for my people. Lord, I would wonder, when are you going to give us a new word? When are you going to send a deliverer? When are you going to remember us and rescue us? I would take this prayer with me into the synagogue where I worked, and into the Temple when I worked there.

So, like I said before, I was doing my work in the Temple one day, and it became my turn to light the incense inside the holiest part of the Temple. So I purified myself. And I went into to tend the incense. And as I was doing that something miraculous happened.

An angel appeared to me. Now, when I saw the angel,, I was afraid. I thought maybe it was just my time. I was old. Maybe this is what it is like when you die I thought.

Then the angel Gabriel said, "Be not afraid". He went on and said that God had heard my prayer. Wow! Which prayer? The prayer for my people? The prayer for a Messiah?


 


 

He went on to say that my wife was pregnant. That she was going to have a son. And that our son's name would be John. The angel said that he was going to be a prophet. And that he was not only going to be "a" prophet, he was going to be "the" prophet. The one that prepares the way for the deliverance of the Messiah. The one that turns the hearts of the sons back to the father. He would not have any strong drink touch his lips ever. He would be a holy man full of the Holy Spirit.

I said the only thing I could think of. "How will that work?," I asked "my wife is well past her childbearing years!"

Well, Gabriel got mad at me for questioning him and the message he sent. And so I was unable to speak for months. Actually until after the birth of my son John, I was unable to speak.

I guess the other priests were a little bit worried about me. I was in there for quite a long while. They asked me what had happened when I had gotten out of that holiest of places in the Temple, but I could not speak. I tried, but no words came out. My hands just started to fly everywhere. Nobody could understand me. They thought I had gotten a stroke, or gone mad.

Those months went really quickly really, and before long Elizabeth had given birth to a child. We took him to be circumcised on the eighth day, as was the custom of our people. They asked Elizabeth what we would name him. She said his name was John. They thought she was mistaken. They asked me. I found something to write with. I said John as well, after all that is what the angel Gabriel had told me. All of the sudden I could speak. And I spoke. Actually, as the Bible records it, I sang.

I sang a song about how God had answered my prayers. He had answered my prayers for a child. He answered my prayers for a son. He answered my prayers for a deliverer and a Messiah. And he used the conception and birth of my son to pave the way for the son of God. God not only answered my prayers, he answered my prayers in a way that went far beyond what I could have thought or imagined. My prayers for my family. My prayers for my community. My prayers for my nation. My prayers for the world.

God had begun to enter the world in a unique and powerful way. Through sending his son to save us and to forgive us. Christ came to deliver us from our enemies, from our sin, from our despair. To bring light into our dark and lonely world.


 


 

You need to know this. Waiting time is never wasted time. I waited for God to send me a Son, to send our nation a Messiah, to send the world a Savior. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. And just when I began to doubt, when I began to lose hope, it was in that very moment that God began to bring his deliverance. It was in that time that God began to answer my prayers, yet in a way I was yet to imagine.

God is at work answering your prayers as well! You may be discouraged. You may have waited and waited and doubted if God ever heard your prayers. God has heard your prayer, and he is working out a merciful and loving answer in HIS time and HIS WAY. Trust Him! Believe Him! Keep hoping in Him!

The answer to your prayer is just around the corner. If you will keep hoping. Keep trusting. Keep walking.

And don't forget that God is working in a way that is bigger than you imagine. God is working in a way that will make a difference in your family, your community, and our world. If you will have the courage to wait, and the willingness to join God in what he is doing.

Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Understanding Church Governance: Thinking through the Issues

CHURCH GOVERNMENT: TOWARD A BIBLICAL STRUCTURE

INTRODUCTION

    Church structure is a hot topic among evangelical pastors, and among Baptists in particular. Each church I have served had a different administrative structure for how their church was governed. Each of these churches believed their government to be both thoroughly Biblical and within the American Baptist tradition. Today, it seems that churches are reinventing their structures to reduce meetings, streamline decision making, and better equip the church to use their gifts to do ministry.

    There is a lot of overlap in the nature of the new structures that churches are looking at. Generally, however, these structures fall into a few categories. First, there is the move toward having a one church board. Instead of giving the people the title "deacon" or "trustee" each member comes on the board and leads different teams of ministry. These ministry teams, led by the board member, carry out the ministry of the church.

    Another model popular among conservative evangelicals is moving to a "plural-elder" model. This has one board responsible for the day to day work of the church (the deacon board), and one board responsible for the spiritual oversight of the congregation (the elder board). The pastor becomes the lead elder in the congregation, but he is surrounded by a tribe of other elders that are responsible for the ministry of word and sacrament with the congregation. The congregation may vote on major financial concerns, as well as the call of a pastor, but the elder board takes a strong lead on most decisions

    The traditional model in Baptist churches is also in use in many churches. In these churches, the pastor is the elder of the church, and the deacons are the "board' of the church. The trustees handle the physical concerns and/or financial management. And the congregation meets either quarterly or monthly and has substantial input on the day to day operations of the church.

    I have served churches that employ a variety of leadership structures. The church I serve currently uses a "pastor/deacon congregational" model of leadership. It is unique in that the deacon board is invested with both the power of the purse as the finance committee, and the power of oversight of the church ministry. In recent years preceding my tenure at First Baptist Church of Fowler, as well as while I have been serving First Baptist, I have been confronted with people who believe that the traditional Baptist structure is not what God has ordained for the New Testament church. Many advocate for a plural-elder model of leadership with deacons having the role of servant-leaders supporting the elders as the only leadership model that is Biblical. Most of these people also believe that only men should be elders of churches.

As I began to discuss church governance with these people, I began to realize that my own theology of church governance is not well thought out or prayerfully considered at all. I need to understand what I believe about how a church should run. I had all sorts of questions. What is the one way a church should be led? Or is there a "one" way? Are the instructions in the Pastoral Epistles prescriptive or descriptive of the leadership of the early church? What are the "rules" of Biblical governance, and what are the principles that I should lead our church toward as we seek to be more faithful to God's word, and his call to minister to our community and world? Are there any changes we should make? What are they? And, what are the practical implications of certain forms of church governance?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hebrews and Psalms: A Biblical Studies Question

Why does the Book of Hebrews, it all of its theological nuance, choose to make the Psalter its theological guide in so many critical arguments? Just curious.

Leaders Who Last Book Review



I recently finished reading the book Leaders who Last by Margaret Marcuson. Marcuson is an ordained minsiter, a church consultant, and a pastor. As one might be able to tell from the title, this book is a guide for pastors on how to surive ministry over the long haul.

Margeret, when you meet her, is the kind of person that inspires a sense of peace and comfort. Her books does the same for pastors. It also encourages church leaders to do the same for their constituents.

Part of me found much of her writing to reminiscent of Peter Stienke's work on church health. Margaret is adept, however, at communicating this kind of information as though she were in a series of mentoring meetings instead of in a stuffy classroom. The book has a healthy mix of the systems theory that guides her thinking, and down to earth application of how her beliefs on leadership work in a day to day fashion.

Marcuson is thorough. Her encouragement to know your history and your familiy history is always helpful. The book covers relational triangles and how to navigate them as well. Where she excels is talking about how knowing your history, and navigating triangles applies in the mundane business of church life. Her encouragement to explore your relationship and your families relationship to money, and how you view a budget process in the church I thought was very helpful. As was how to integrate a personal and institutional need for purpose as a way of dealing with anxiety in leadership.

Perhaps most challenging for me was knowing who some of the people are that were mentioned as resources in the book. Ms. Marcuson and I belong to the same denomination and some of the same church circles. The persons she would view as models at times I would not. At times this was distracting, But, if I were to write a book, I am sure the roles would be reversed.

Overall, I recommend this book as a good read for anyone looking at doing ministry over the long haul.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Review: The Same Kind of Different As Me



Today I both started and finished a book called The Same Kind of Different As Me. It was an excellent book written by two men. One man was a homeless ex-con who had been living life as a homeless man. His name was Denver Moore The other was a man who grew up in a lower-working class family, and worked his way up to be an international art dealer. His name was Ron Hall. Through the inspiration of Debbie Hall, who was both Ron's wife and a tireless servant at the mission Denver was served by while he was homeless.

Certainly, a love for Debbie Hall bonded these two men together. I believe, however, that the most powerful part of this book is the friendship these two men awkwardly forge, and how their friendship with one another sustains them through difficult times.

What starts for Ron, it seems, as kind of a social experiment and a favor to his wife, ends up being a friendship that supports him, helps him to grow and learn, and transforms him into being a leader and influencer in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex's ministry to the homeless.

The friendship between the two men really breaks down walls that the two men had been putting up with others for years. They learn to listen to one another, trust one another, and to make a commitment to being friends with one another over the long haul.

So often, I think, it is difficult for men to find friendships like this. It can be easy for many men (including myself) to think that we are strong enough on our own that we don't need friends, that we are strong enough to stand alone, and that deep, emotionally connected, vulnerable friendships among men are simply unnecessary. Yet,I started to think as I read this book that most men, at some point, hope and long for the deep, trusting, committed kind of friendship that Denver and Ron have.
It is the development of that unlikely and moving friendship that makes this book worth reading, and thoughtfully considering in the future.

Book Review: The Same Kind of Different as Me

I just finished the book

Friday, November 13, 2009

My top 8 Christian albums ever

8. What the Light is All About--Alathea
7. Lovin' the Day--Out of Eden
6. God's Property from Kirk Franklin's NU Nation
5. Can Youe Hear Us?--David Crowder Band
4. The Ultimate Collection--Michael Card
3. Lay It Down--Jennifer Knapp
2. A Legacy, A Liturgy, and A Song--Rich Mullins
1. Jesus Freak--DC Talk

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Pro-Life Rant on the pro-abortion lobby



This Saturday, the house passed its version of health care reform. Included for it to pass was the Stupak amendment, which guarantees that no money set aside for a national health care program will fund any abortions. I woke up on Sunday morning thankful that the pro-life democrats took a stand that produced the biggest victory in pre-born advocacy in the last 20 years.

Immediately after the passage of this bill, the left-wing of the democratic party began to position themselves for action. They immediately began to overstate the loss. In doing so, they stated that women are being "robbed of their reproductive rights". Specifically, the plan prohibits any privately owned plan subsidized by the federal healthcare bill from providing abortions as part of their coverage. The "women's rights" lobby (who really probably does not even represent a plurality of women) shares they will make sure the health care bill does not pass unless the Stupak amendement is not modified or repealed.

Let us imagine for moment that the Stupak amendment stays in the health care bill, and the house health care bill becomes the law of the land. What would happen? Careful reflection shows that the pro-abortion lobby has overstated the direness of the situation in their worst case scenario. This is how:

1. The average abortion, according to my research, costs between $350-650 dollars. Since the poorest of the poor would already be on government sponsored healthcare, this means that the most vulnerable of affected women would be making between $25000-$40000 a year. While a doctor bill of $400 is no picnic, it is not something that is going to put a middle-class couple into bankrupcy. Furthermore, having to pay for such a service might be an effective stimulus for women to either use birth control or practice abstinence. A 12 month finance plan of $50/month would be appropriate for many. Shouldn't getting knocked up unexpededly at least have the consequences of speeding?

2. Within days after the passage of this bill, some insurance would provide a low-cost insurance rider in partnership with Planned Parenthood that would cost members about $10/month that would cover controversial reproductive procedures. This would be separate from their insurance coverage.

3. Most pro-abortion organizations could spend a lot of their money to further subsidize the abortions that they believe are important to offer at select clinics.

So what is the pro-abortion lobby yelling at? The loss of women's rights? No, abortions are still legal in all 50 states. They are angry because they have a sense of entitlement. An entitlement that I am hoping they soon have to live without.

Sunday Lunch Bunch

Most Sundays, Jennifer and I grab lunch with the ladies at Phat Willie's after church. This last Sunday, Jennifer had a baby shower, so I went alone. I thought I would introduce you to some of the lunch bunch crowd.



This first picture is of Gracie Eddy and Helen Bouldin. Gracie turned 80 this last October, and Helen will be ninety this summer. Gracie is a spitfire, and still on top of everything that happens in Fowler. Helen's hearing is very poor these days, but still enjoys lunch with the after church crowd.

The next picture is of Wilma Gager and Velma Leggott. Wilma hates having her picture taken, but I snuck this one in when she was least expecting it. Velma and Wilma both grew up in Fowler, and were in the same class throughout their childhood together. They are both 85. Wilma is our church clerk, and plays the piano for us at First Baptist. Wilma's family has been in this area for seven generations. Wilma and her brother, Charlie Buck, ran the community newspaper for decades. And their parents before them....you get the picture. They sold the paper to a corperation and retired a few years ago.
Velma is a sweet lady. She always prays for Jennifer and I when we have times of prayer. She is also a woman who is very strong in her conservative Christian values, and is not afraid to speak her mind.


Sunday was Doc's birthday. He was 90. His wife Inez will be 80 this year. They have lived in Fowler for about 10 years. Before that they lived other places in Southeast Colorado, including Manzinola and Pueblo, which are nearby. They spent a lot of time in the SE Colorado, SW Kansas, Oklahoma Panhandle area. Being as Doc is 90, he lived through the dustbowl in that area as a child/teenager. (I have a fascination with dustbowl history these days). Doc lived in Ulysses at one point, which a number of my friends from college and blogland have spent some time in. Doc was even the mayor of Vilas, CO for about 4 years. He insisted he was elected without his knowlege. Kind of a fun story.
Doc and Inez also love music. Doc plays the fiddle, and Inez accompanies him on the piano. When I go over for a visit, they often insist on playing. It is delightful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thought this was a good eulogy today...strong yet compassionate

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Interesting news from Fowler today...

Sierra Club is honoring our city's effort to utilize safe, clean energy, namely solar.

Specifically, we are being named one of the country's "coolest" cities.

Those of us that live here know that Fowler is pretty "cool" already.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Quotes for the day

The Jesus I learned about as a child was sweet and inoffensive, the kind of person whose lap you’d want to climb on. Mister Rogers with a beard. Indeed, Jesus did have qualities of gentleness and compassion that attracted little children. Mister Rogers, however, he assuredly was not. Not even the Romans would have crucified Mister Rogers.--Phillip Yancey

Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives.--Mike Yaconelli

The way to Christian growth is often to allow oneself to be puzzled and startled by new apparent complexity.... Is it, after all, Jesus we want to discover and follow, or would we prefer an idol of our own making?--NT Wright

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Quotes for Sunday

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.--Albert Einstein

Contentment comes not so much from great wealth as from few wants--Epicitus

What is to give light must endure the burning--Viktor Frakl

Friday, November 06, 2009

Older Love


Today I went to the nursing home to serve homebound communion. I served it to one woman who has cancer and is near death. As always she was very sweet. She encourages me and cheers our church on every time I see her. We have shared communion many times. I enjoy her immensely.

Then I went and offered communion to a second woman in the nursing home. I will call her Gertrude (not real name). Gertrude is fun for me because she is ornery. One moment she can be glad to see you, the next angry that anyone has disturbed her silence. Each time I visit toward the beginning of the month I bring homebound communion. Usually she refuses to recieve the Lord's Supper. Today she accepted. It was a meaningful time for both of us. As often happens when homebound people recieve the Lord's Supper, her eyes looked a little moist. With Gertrude, it would be hard for her to admit she was crying.

As I left a gentleman walked in. Actually, the gentleman kind of shuffled in to say hello to Gertrude. My friend introduced us two to one another. The gentleman began to share how he always sits with Gertrude at dinner time. He said they sit at the tall table, and that they are there because it is made especially so that wheelchairs like Gertrude's can get under the tabletop. He talked about how he often got Gertrude's tray for her, and put it away when she was done with it. I looked back at Gertrude. She had that ornery look in her eye, like when she is really enjoying something, or like those times when she was up to no good. And Gertrude had her head tilted to the side, and she appeared to blushing a little bit. Gertrude was also smiling. She had the kind of smile that demonstrated for anyone watching that she adored being the center of this man's attention. It was very cute.

Watching this woman and her gentleman suitor intrigued me. The man was about the same age as she was, and he appeared to be a little slow of mind. It made me wonder if he had a stroke at some point. Gertrude adored him though. She couldn't hide it. It made me wonder, we're they falling in love? Perhaps so I pondered.

That led me to start pondering the difference between "young love" and "old love". Young love is about how someone makes you laugh, what kind of car they have, how they look in a tight pair of jeans and such. But what about "old love". Old love is having someone who wheels you into your special table in the cafeteria, goes and gets your tray for you, and takes your tray back in the afternoon. "Old love" drops by for a few minutes in the middle of the day at the nursing home just to see if you are ok. All of the other stuff, the beauty pageant kind of love, the trying to find the perfect one kind of infatuation fades away. And what is left? The man who will get your tray at dinner. The woman who adores you simply because you are better to her than she ever expected anyone to be. I kind of like "old love"

Conversation of the Day: Cutting-Edge Conservative Thought

I went downtown to buy envelopes this morning, and one of our deacons came up to me in his hoveraround wheelchair. This was our conversation:

Ronnie: I have an email to send to you, do you have an email address?
Me: I do. The easiest way to get to it is to read it out of the bulliten. Do you have one.
Ronnie: No I don't. Have any of you got the H1N1 vaccine yet?
Thrift Store Owner: I don't plan to.
Church Pianist: No I haven't
Ronnie: Don't get it. It has microchips in it.
Church Pianist: Ohhhh. Why?
Ronnie: It is in the book of Revelation. The number of the Beast. All that stuff.
Me: Ronnie....there are no microchips in the Bible!
Church Pianist: (Laughs)
Ronnie: Yes, but the Bible talks about the end times, and those that number of the beast will not go to heaven
Me: Ronnie, I think the mark of the beast is something that we choose
Ronnie: You ever watch Glen Beck?
Thrift Store Lady: Oh I love watching him. He is entertaining. He gets so excited everyday I think he is going to have a heart attack in the middle of the show.
Ronnie:Well. That is how we know it is true. My email is from Glen Beck.
Me: Well...I need to go get those envelopes...see you all soon (walks into grocery store)

Technology Video

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Beloit Mindset List

I have always thought the Beloit mindset list is interesting and thought provoking. This year is no different.

Check out the information about this year's seniors and this years freshmen in high school.

Social Networking Info



ht ElShaddai Edwards

Should I say it or not? Your input needed...

My new mantra about communication. I wimped out in sharing it at my last public communication to church people. I think I might include it in my presentation to pastors about social networking. What do you think?


Communication is like foreplay. About the time we think we might be overdoing it is about the time we are doing it right--Clint Walker

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Spiritual Place

Tonight I was watching Property Virgins on HGTV. Fantasizing about buying a home someday is one of our guilty pleasures. Our viewing tonight was especially interesting, because the prospective buyer was talking about finding a place that was "spiritual" for her. I found this interesting because her definition of a spiritual place was not anywhere near what any spiritual tradition would call a holy place. For the woman on the show a "spiritual" place was a place that was cozy, move-in ready, and at an affordable price.

This woman seemed to be a very flighty new-agey sort. But this snippet of her life showed her to be an example of much of contemporary America. I think many folks in the United States and the Western world are not that much different than this woman. We think of a place that ministers to our spirit as luxurious, comfortable, and aestetically pleasing. Christians build retreat centers in beautiful places in the mountains these days, or next to beautiful beaches to walk on. These places have wi-fi, laundry service, a cozy bed in a comfortable room, sometimes you even recieve a mint on your pillow.

Our contemporary idea of spiritual as comfortable, safe, easy, and cozy has nothing to do with what people have thought of as sacred spaces throughout history. The sacred places of Hebrew culture are barren wilderness one can die in, and remote mountains that most people were scared to climb. The Buddha left the comfort of the palace to embrace poverty and near starvation in order find spiritual enlightenment. Early Christian places of spiritual enlightenment were found in small "cells" in the desert of Northern Africa. The monasteries of Europe were drafty rooms in stone built structures, and beauty was only created in these places through the backbreaking work that accompanied monastic contemplation. Holy places throughout the world are dank and smelly barns and caves, in places that scared the average person, and made them overcome their longings for finer foods, temprate climates, and more jovial company.

In short, throughout religious history and tradition, from Islam to Christianity to the Native Spiritualities of North America, spiritual places were not comfortable places. They were places that required work and strength to survive in. They were places that inspired mystery and confusion. They required scarcity and relinquishment. Too bad we have redefined "spiritual places" as all-inclusive resorts, move-in ready homes with massive amounts of square footage, or a night at the Hilton with a bubble bath.

Best of What's Around

Don Miller's Post on Fatigue of Self

Eric Lundy's Manscaping Adventure for Charity

Amy Seeking Discernment

Becca on "Writer's Crushes"

Scot McKnight's review of Tim Keller's newest

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thought Provoking Political Cartoon


Got this from Tony Jones blog via Steve Breen at the San Diego Tribune

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review: A Million Miles in A Thousand Years


A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is the latest offering by Christian lit rock star Donald Miller. I have read all of the books that Miller has put out (though I have avoided that expensive movie/DVD that is also out), and enjoyed each of them. Fans of Donald Miller should know this is BY FAR his best offering so far.

This memoir works on so many levels. The book begins with Steve Taylor and his movie making partner contact Donald Miller about making a movie about the book Blue Like Jazz. The problem with Blue Like Jazz....there is really no plot or direction. So they start making a story about Don for the movie that is partly fictional and partly real. He is uncomfortable with this at first, but then they tell him how much money he is being offered to have the movie be made about him, and he decides he will agree to the movie.

At the beginning of the book he wonders aloud if lives really have a plot, a clear direction, or if as Forrest Gump says, "we just float around accidental-like" with a few moments that really make what our lives about. Do lives have a direction, or are they just a mish/mash of experiences that are disconnected?

In Miller's life, he is challenged to gain direction for his life as he begins to recreate/edit his life story. He goes to a seminar to learn the elements of story, and learns a lot from the moviemakers Steve and Ben along the way. Slowly, as he begins to understand that he has the opportunity to write his life's story instead of just letting life happen to him, his life begins to change. He begins to deal with the difficult issues of his life through applying the tools of writing a movie to his life. He creates "inciting incidents" that force him to act. In the process, he begins the journey of reconciliation wiht his father he has not seen for thirty years, loses a bunch of weight because he commits to a hike in the Andes and commits to ride a bike cross country. And he finds that he can use some of the elements of writing a script to write the script of his life.

I like this book on many levels. First, it is a first hand example of what I believe about "narrative-driven" discipleship. Second, the story--besides being a fun memoir of growing spiritually--s actually a page-turning drama. The "meta" quality of the book is funny--it is a story about writting a story that becomes a story in and of itself. I kept thinking that the movie should be about this book. That they should make the movie about making the movie, and then throw in all the Blue Like Jazz stuff in flashback form.

I have been reading that Miller says that this is the last memoir he will write for some time. I certainly understand this. There is only so long you can talk about yourself before you just get bored with yourself, and feel like a professional, perpetual flasher of one's soul. But what so many of us love about Miller is this: he gives us a model of what is means to be a growing Christian. I shared Blue Like Jazz with our church book club, made up of midwestern conservative folk, most of whom are Republicans. They loved the book because they could identify with Miller, and because it left open the possibility for them to grow as Christians. The church that many of us grew up in has a culture that seems to encourage us to act as if we have it all together, and then wait to grow into what everyone sees us act like. Miller comes to audience as his raw and honest self, grows in the faith, and then gives his readers to live as an honest, raw, growing Christian who needs to learn and grow as well. There is something about a teachable spirit that speaks to many of us. And this book takes one from simply being a teachable Christian, to a Christian who is also purposeful and living on purpose. A Million Miles in A Thousand Years is brilliant and inspirational. A must read for anybody, but especially for those who feel stuck and wonder what is next.

Books I Finished



I had several resources as I worked on my recent study of the book of James. But the following two are books that I finished.

The Life Application Commentary gave me some good tools to pass on to the Bible Study I was listening. The commentary by Moo was full of good interpretive insights. Both were very helpful as I retaught the book of James, this time with Fowlerites.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My BCS Bowl-Playoff Hybrid

I have been thinking about how to resolve the playoff bowl controversy in NCAA football. I like the bowl system, but am sympathetic to the plight of non-BCS teams that deserve a shot like Boise State and TCU. Here is my plan:

6 BCS Conference get automatic bids--Pac 10, Big East, SEC, Big 12, ACC, Big 10

Best of 3 Independents if over 8 wins, Sun Belt, WAC, MAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, and 2-3 highest ranked at large teams playoff. These games will be played regionally.

Week 1--Dec 12

North--MAC v. Ind/At-large--@ Detroit (Little Ceasars bowl)
West--MWC v. WAC--in Alb, NM as the New Mexico Bowl
East--Conf. USA v. At-Large--@ St. Petersburg
South--Sun Belt v. At-Large--@ New Orleans (r and l carriers bowl)

Week 2--Dec 19

South v. East @ Eagle Bank Bowl @ DC
West v. North @ Las Vegas Bowl

OR

Seed these teams for 10 Team BCS games

AND

Seed remaining two teams after game for 8 team BCS

Why do this?

For Mid-Majors--Allows two weeks for mid-majors to climb in bcs rankings through games with stronger competition. Make more money through winning for your program.

For Bowl people--let your bowl games mean something!

For Independents--you will have at least one automatic bid out of three teams

For Conferences--Will not have to argue for your conference favorite vs. mid major schools. Will allow your second place conference team to prove itself and play in verses quality competition. Will allow second place team in conference to add money to its program

What this would look like today

BCS--Cincinatti, Iowa, USC, Florida/Alabama, Texas, Georgia Tech

Play in games--Dec 12
TCU v. Boise State
Central Michigan v Notre Dame
La-Monroe v Miami
Tulsa v Alabama/Florida

Dec 19
la-monroe/miami v. tulsa/alabama/florida winner
Central/ND v. tcu/boise state

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pac 10 pics
California at UCLA --UCLA in an upset
(5) USC at (25) Notre Dame--USC
Stanford at Arizona--Stanford
Washington at Arizona St.--Washington
RECORD 1-3

Pro Pics
Kansas City at Washington (1:00 PM--Washington
Detroit at Green Bay (1:00 PM)--Detroit
Houston at Cincinnati (1:00 PM)--Cincinatti
Carolina at Tampa Bay (1:00 PM)--Carolina
St. Louis at Jacksonville (1:00 PM)--Jacksonville
N.Y. Giants at New Orleans (1:00 PM)--New Orleans
Baltimore at Minnesota (1:00 PM)--Minnesota
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (1:00 PM)--Pittsburgh
Arizona at Seattle (4:05 PM)--Seattle
Philadelphia at Oakland (4:05 PM)--Philadelphia
Buffalo at N.Y. Jets (4:15 PM)--Jets
Tennessee at New England (4:15 PM)--New England
Chicago at Atlanta (8:20 PM)--Atlanta
Denver at San Diego (8:20 PM)--Denver
(RECORD 7-6 with one game left)