Friday, September 26, 2008

Quick Hits on the Debate (title in honor of Steve)

Here are my brief thoughts about the debate.

Obama Strengths

  • One of the things that Obama needed to do is simply sound presidential. He sounded very statesmanlike. You can disagree with him, but he looked "ready for primetime".

  • Obama clearly engaged McCain. Often speaking to him directly. When McCain spoke he watched McCain speak. This was important to me. Against Clinton he appeared to defer and be unwilling to make eye contact and calmly but directly confront her. He corrected this mistake in the debate with McCain. Obama appeared to even be a stronger leader than in the primary campaigns. I less doubts he can directly deal with world leaders after this discussion.

  • Obama clearly won when talking about winning the war in Afganistan.

  • When he called out McCain for his "bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb IRAN.

  • At one point he went through a litany of how McCain was wrong on Iraq before the surge. McCain had no clear response.
Obama Weaknesses

  • He was not clear how he was going to cut spending in light of the current financial crisis. He appeared as if he was not going to change anything.

  • He gave to much credit to McCain on points of agreement. When they agree he should have said, "Senator McCain agrees with me."

  • Obama kept interupting with finger in the air. This appeared like the teachers pet in class
McCain Strengths

  • Some of his one liners were good--"I looked into Putin's eyes and I saw three letters KGB"

  • McCain effectively switched the financial crisis stuff to a discussion about earmarks.
McCain Weaknesses

  • Over and over again, McCain kept going back to the past. He refused to engage the future. In the live tracking, even Republicans became less interested in what McCain was saying when he started reviewing his resume. He seems to act like he should inherit the presidency instead of win it.

  • Often he refused to directly engage Obama. He refused to make eye contact. He looked away. Despite his history as a brave soldier, this made McCain look mousy and cowardly. At times when Obama directly confronted him he would look down, then look and the screen and shift his feet. This made him look like he was a child in trouble trying to appeal to everyone around him for support.

  • Too much name dropping.

  • At times, McCain looked like he was a grumpy old man scolded the little kid Obama.

  • At times, McCain got tangled up in his talking points. He then was confusing at points.
Other Thoughts and Observation

  • When McCain said objectionable things, Barack tended to laugh and shake his head. This works for him in that it is better than setting his jaw and lifting his chin. In other words, he avoided the "angry black man stereotype." And that is important in courting older independent white voters. But he did not avoid the elitist imagery. It was not a "Gore sigh", but it was not helpful in some ways.

  • I thought the candidates tied on Iraq. McCain and Obama both made their points clearly. No new points were made. No new minds changed.

Overall, I thought Obama won. If for no other reason than he was forward looking and McCain seemed to have few new ideas and a long resume. Hillary tried that gambit and it failed.


Dudley is a member of our church. He is 94 years old. Each Sunday as I have been here he has come to the church and put out flowers on our church sign. He also is our Sunday School Superintendent. In that job he faithfully transcribes who is attending, what the offerings in Sunday School are, and then returns to his class.

Dudley does many other unofficial things for our church. He trims our bushes that face main street. He fixes the doors in the bathrooms. Dudley is the most active 90 something person I know.

Dudley is tender heated. He has been widowed twice, and each time a memory of either of his wives comes to mind in my visits with him or our bible studies his eyes well up with tears. He misses them a lot. Dudley loves the company of women in general I think. He is the only man to come to our Wednesday Night Bible Studies since I began to attend. He has attempted to date a few of these ladies at one time or another.

Several times Dudley has told me about his work building the Pueblo Mountain Camp by the civilian conservation corps, as well as his military service in San Francisco. A couple of weeks ago he came into my office after working on a couple of projects. He sat down and we started visiting about several things. At one point, he started talking about the elections that were coming up. "What do you think about the elections coming up?," he asked me.

"I have not figured it out yet," I responded.

"I think we need to give the young man a chance," he said "I think he has got some good ideas. He needs a chance to try them out. We need to give the young fella a chance. I remember when Hoover was wanting to do all these things oversees and telling us everything was going to be alright. Then Roosevelt came along and helped us through the depression. He had a lot of good ideas. He got us to work. We had hard times. He had some good ideas. He got a chance to try them out. I think he did good."

I smiled. "Maybe," I said, "You realize you are probably in the minority of folks in town about that."

"In town. At the senior center. At the church. In this county..." he said with a little laughter and a mischeivious grin.
I laughed and grinned with him.

I like Dudley. Dudley is one of the reasons I like small town ministry in the West. People with stubborn independent streaks. People who think for themselves and live life on their own terms. And, people who Christ somehow, despite their peculiarities God calls to himself.


Dudley is one of the members of our church. I don't know how tall he is. I would guess he is about 4'11" tall. Dudley is 94 years old, and he is one of the more active members of our church.

In an official role, Dudley is our Sunday School Superintendent. He works hard to keep careful records of who attends our Sunday School classes, giving faithful reports every week.

Unofficially, he is the church handyman. He trims the bushes around the church. He fixes some of the doors in the church. He notices when some small thing needs done and takes care of it. In addition to that, Dudley is faithful in bringing flower boxes to place outside our church every sunday. He has a large garden in his backyard, which is now producing all kinds of produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.

Dudley is also a tender hearted man. He has been widowed twice. Often in a discussion something will remind him of one of his loves that has passed away, and he will be moved to tears. Sometimes I wonder if he is depressed. Maybe he is, probably more than that he is simply lonely. At different points I have heard how he has tried to woo prospective women. He is the only regularly attending male in our Wednesday night Bible study group.

I like Dudley.

The other day, I was in my office when he came in to do some work around the church. I invited him to come visit a bit. At some point Dudley brought up the election. He asked me who I was going to vote for. I evaded the question. Then Dudley said, "I don't see why we cannot give that young gentleman a chance. He sounds like he will do well. I think we should give him a chance."

From there, he went into a long story about growing up during the depression, and how Hoover was to interested in foreign policy and did not pay enough attention to Americans. He shared how Roosevelt was not liked by some, but he thought Roosevelt did a pretty good job. Dudley has been a Democrat since Roosevelt he shared.

I could tell in a way he was testing me. Seeing if I would be ok with him being a Democrat. I was. I said, "Maybe we should..of course you know that puts you in the minority in this town."

He looked at me with a mischeivious smile, "And at the church, and at the senior center, and ....."

We both laughed.

Pastoring people like Dudley is one of the joys of being a pastor in a small town like this.

Two Name First Names

On our drive to Colorado Springs last week, Jennifer and I talked about two name first names. Both of us were curious why they came about. My wife has made the observation that most serial killers seem to have a two name first name.

I noticed that an easy way to name a woman after a man is to put a female second name after a male first name. I used to have a girl in youth group named Kyle Ann. A number of her friends and I would just call her Kyle, but the Southern female youth leader made sure she always called her by both names. Ann is one middle name that can be added to many male names given to women to feminize those names:
Kyle Ann
Michael Ann
Bobby Ann
George Ann
Lee Ann

Mae is another feminizer in two word first names.
Willy Mae
Bobby Mae

Men with two names are often named after someone with a first and last name of someone important. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. We have a Walter Raliegh Walker in our family.

Any other thoughts on two word first names?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Quote for the day--from another minister a half a world away

I wonder whether they have rum and Coke in Heaven? Maybe it's too mundane a pleasure, but I hope so -- as a sundowner. Except, of course, the sun never goes down there. Oh, man, this heaven is going to take some getting used to.

-Desmond Tutu, London Sunday Telegraph, April 27, 2001

90 Minutes in Heaven

This last month at our church we have begun "family nights". Family night is an intergenerational program of our church that focuses on outreach and fellowship. We have a movie night once a month. We have a work night once a month. We have a game night once a month. And we have a book club once a month. Its nothing fancy, but it is a big step for our little church.

Our first book club book is 90 minutes in heaven. It is a book about one man's experience of dying in a car accident for 90 minutes, being resussitated through prayer, and recovering from the injuries of the car accident. It is a story about how his faith guided him through his healing process, and how his experience in heaven impacted his ministry as a pastor in the future.

So far, the response to this book has been very positive in our church. People have been excited primarily about the brief outline of what heaven will be like. One octogenarian lady said, "I could not sleep at night. I just kept thinking about what heaven is like."

I have a lot of mixed emotions about this book. And a lot of questions that it created. I enjoyed reading about the man's recovery, the lessons he learned, how he has overcome his disability, and how God has used his heartaches and bone breaks for his glory. It is a great story about what God can do through an open and teachable heart. Depite the occasional corniness and cheesiness of the writing, I thought it was a very heartfelt memoir and testimony.

On the other hand, the actual part about heaven to me was a little disappointing. First of all, the description of heaven was really from the suburbs of heaven, instead of downtown in heaven. He shared how he was greated by a welcoming committee, which sounded like all the people he knew and admired with cosmetic surgery. The pearly gates were really transluscent gates with "pearl like icing--like on a cake". He starts to go through the gates and then in brought back to earth.

He meets the welcoming committee but never encounters Jesus. My friend Becca said, "That sounds like some chuches I have been to!" I laughed when she said this, but it was kind of sad. First of all, because a lot of churches that I have attended are like that. Second, because I think a lot of people are caught up with some pretty shallow things when they think about the afterlife.

Why are we so enamoured with the ammenities and geography of heaven, but then we talk so little about God's eternal presence? Why are we so fixated on the trappings of wealth and power in God's eternal kingdom, and so little focused on God's presence and his love?

Why is there so much focus on heaven being somewhere we go, and so little emphasis on the new heaven and new earth as one kingdom redeemed by God as the pinnacle of our eschatology? Is our view of heaven clouded by our fixation on power and wealth, so much so that we forget the themes of shalom and redemption?

These are the things I am struggling with. I have no doubt about the honesty of this man's experience. I am just not sure if I trust it as concrete reality, or as more of a vision he recieved in a semi-conscious state.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Book Review: How to Be Evangelical without Being Conservative

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Written by a Baptist theologian that has taught at both Bethel College and Seminary in St. Paul, as well as George Truett Seminary (Baylor) in Texas, it found it to be more thought provoking that I thought. Each chapter dealt with a different issue. I will quickly summarize the issues in the chapters as my review.

Being Biblical without Orthodoxy--The interesting discussion here was his argument that orthodoxy was a man-made construction, and that challenging "orthodox" theology is the hallmark of protestantism and historic protestant theology. He argues for having one's belief based on what is biblical, instead of simply what has been labeled "orthodox". Orthodoxy he asserts, is tradition. That is something we can live within and trust, and yet be open to challenge at the same time.

Building Character without moralism--dont remember much about this chapter

Celebrating America without Nationalism--This was a very helpful chapter on how a person can be patriotic (love their country and be thankful for it) without being nationalistic (worshipping their country, or confusing fidelity to government with fidelity to God). Another good deliniation.

Seeking Truth without Certainty--About being faithful without being a dogmatist

Taking the Bible Seriously without literalism--This is really a distinction between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. A good distinction to make.

Being Religionless without Secularism--

Transforming Culture without Domination--About being an alternative society of the kingdom. This chapter owes a lot to the work of Stanley Hauerwas in my opinion

Redistributing Wealth without Socialism--Much of the "social gospel" has been relegated to liberal Christians and non-evangelicals. Olsen tries to remind us that many social movements were rooted in evangelicalism, and that a robust evangelical faith will be involved in helping the poor out of poverty without advocating socialism.

Revitalizing without Rejecting Theology--Communicating theology in a relevant way for churches, and igniting a love of theology in our churches

Updating without Trivializing Worship--He shares that there is no one evangelical worship style. He emphasizes the need to be missional without sacrificing clear content of Christian worship.

Accepting without affirming flawed people--this touches on homosexuality, but is not simply "stuck" there. It communicates the accepting but not affirming attitude in a variety of contexts

Preahcing Equality without sacfificing difference--This is about gender isssues. Olsen believes that there is some room for comprimise between complimentarians (women have an equally important and complimentary role as supporting male leadership in the home and church) and egalitarians (the bible teaches equal partnership among men and women in home, church and society). He asserts that he is a believer in biblical equality (as am I),but also believes that the gifts of men and women compliment one another. He shares egalitarians try to assume everyone is the same. They are not the same--men and women are different with different things to offer in leadership. We need as egalitarians to respect complimentary gifts and attitudes with men and women, and recognize the need for diversity. As do complimentarians, who tend to often to diminish and not recognize women's gifts.

All in all it was a good book. The ministerial culture in Fowler is very patriarchal in its function and theology, and the final chapter was helpful for me in understanding my situation and how I can respond with grace.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What each party needs to do to win

I have still been faithfully been watching the political campaigns. Though I get tired of the bickering, I love the back and forth of this election cycle. The two candidates for president are so close in the polls! It makes for a lot of excitment and a lot of drama.

As I have said previously, I have not made up my mind who I am going to vote for quite yet. Unlike some, who do not believe we have a lot in the way of choices this time around, I find things I like about each of the candidates. And things I am hopeful about with each ticket.

As we come up on 6 weeks left in the campaign, there are certain things I think each candidate needs to accomplish.

Obama: Obama has to prove he is not the second coming of Jimmy Carter. He needs to assure us that he is going to be strong and direct with other foriegn leaders we may be hostile with. Whenever I have seen him in strong confrontation, he seems uncomfortable with that confrontation. In the debates it is most important that he appears strong. He needs to have times where he does not just look the camera in the eye, but that he looks McCain straight in the eye and tells McCain that he is wrong about something.

McCain:McCain, from my vantage point, needs to prove that he stands for something specific. Specifically, he needs to have a vision for the future. Right now, his campaign is basically, "You can't really trust that young man" and "Isn't Sara a great young lady?"

Darius Rucker "Learn to Live" is here!

"Patsy Cline never listened to Hootie and the Blowfish. But frontman Darius Rucker listened to Cline. And what has become of him in the last year would do her proud."

- Alison Bonaguro, Chicago Tribune

The first time I heard Darius Rucker on country radio, I wondered who it was. My wife said, "You know who that sounds like, that voice sounds like Darius Rucker."

I gave her a strange look. "Darius is the lead singer for Hootie and the Blowfish," she said, "if not someone has a voice just like him"

Jen would know. She loves Hootie and Blowfish enough to have bought some of Rucker's other solo ventures.

Since "Don't Think I Don't Think About It", we have been anxiously awaiting the release of the entire album. It was released Tuesday morning. I bought it on Itunes at midnight eastern time. (Actually, this was a good deal. Not a lot of new releases release at 7.99 on itunes)

Jennifer heard an interview on the radio with Rucker the other day. He said that putting together the album was exciting because it is the kind of music he has always wanted to do. In the 80s and 90s he said, he did not believe he would be able to break into country music as a black man. So he went with the bluesy, folk sounds of Hootie and the Blowfish. But now he believes that the time is right.

Listen more the the review of Alison Bonaguro, who writes for CMT and the Chicago Tribune. I think she hits the nail on the head:

I’ve been waiting for this day for weeks. Not very patiently, I might add. I’m so crazy about Darius Rucker’s new country album, Learn to Live, that I wanted this album release day to get here so the rest of the world could hear it.

Because this is not just another rocker who’s gone country. This is a man who clearly established he could sing when he was fronting Hootie & the Blowfish. But now he’s proven that the country roots — the ones so many claim to have had all along — are genuinely his.

Like with the stand-out banjo in “Forever Road.” The mournful fiddle in the near-death “I Hope They Get to Me in Time.” The robust steel in the debut single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.” The shoutout to Patsy Cline in “Alright.” And hook of all country hooks in the shuffle, “All I Want”: “All I want you to leave me is alone.” Every song has something that feels honest-to-goodness country. And those are all just small details of the bigger country picture.

When other artists have come to Nashville to add a country edge to their music, I have a hard time hearing it as country. Mostly because good country requires a blending of the right arrangements, traditional instruments, distinctive vocals and lyrics that tell a story. Having one without the others just isn’t enough. That’s where some new-to-country artists fail. Twangy vocals on nonsense lyrics. Or a hooky chorus with no steel guitar. Or layer upon layer of guitar disguising a mediocre voice. But Rucker has everything, in all the right doses. Download any three songs, and you’ll see what I mean. And whether you agree or disagree, come back here and give us your two cents.

She is right about "All I Want". Very easily could have been a George Strait song, except he has a recently released song with a similar sentiment from a woman's point of view. The hook of the song is 100 percent country. The bonus track about his momma is also a great song. And she is right about the narrative nature of country music, and how tuned in Rucker is to it. "Drinikin' and Dialin" is a great straightforward country song as well.

After listening to this for a few days, it is one of my favorite albums. Like other good country albums and good Rucker albums, it is something you can play in the background, take a deep breathe, and let hum along as the soundtrack to your day.

Friday, September 12, 2008

On Monday night, Jen had fallen asleep on the couch in the evening while her laundry was going upstairs. She was beginning to pack for her trip to Michigan to see her family. She woke up because she felt a little bit of pain on her lip. Slowly what started as a fat lip grew into something huge.

She grew very upset. And, although I tried to be empathetic, I could not help but start laughing as I saw this giant thing growing on her lip right in front of my eyes. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. She started crying, jumping up and down, and flapping her arms. I tried to be more understanding. It worked for some time, and then I would just look at her and start laughing.

She could not decide what to do. She was too upset. I took her to our local loaf and jug, and we picked up a lot of benedril. She was loopy on benedril for the next day. We drove her up to the airport on Wednesday morning at 4am to get there by 5:30. Her lip was much better.

I felt bad that she had something so weird happen to her. But I still giggle everytime I see these pictures.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

NFL Picks

Buffalo at Jacksonville
Buffalo wins on the road
Chicago at Carolina
Carolina wins in home opener
Tennessee at Cincinnati
All the drama downs Tennessee. Cincinatti wins
New Orleans at Washington
New Orleans rolls in a big win
Green Bay at Detroit
Detroit wins in upset, making them and Atlanta look stronger than what people expected
N.Y. Giants at St. Louis
NY Giants blow out the Rams
Oakland at Kansas City
Kansas City in solid win
Indianapolis at Minnesota
Indiapolis wins on the road
San Francisco at Seattle
Seattle finds a way to pull out the win with half the team injured. Ties up division
Atlanta at Tampa Bay
Atlanta continues to roll. Misses Mike Vick less and less.
Miami at Arizona
Arizona wins
New England at N.Y. Jets
Jets defeat Bradiless New England
Baltimore at Houston
Baltimore wins again.
San Diego at Denver
San Diego wins in a shootout with Denver
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Cleveland upsets Pittsburg
Philadelphia at Dallas
Dallas goes to 2-0. Darn it!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Quotes from Soul Searching by Mindi Caliguire

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering--
Augustine in Confessions

God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk--
Meister Eckhart

The knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, lead us by the hand to find him
John Calvin

Grace must find expression in life, otherwise it is not grace
Karl Barth

Monday, September 08, 2008

Lead Me Not Into Temptation

I think that is me lifting my feet off the ground on the left to try and keep jake from laying on them!

Besides being a time to exercise, walking Jake in the evenings has been a time for me to meditate on God's word. It has become a time when I work through the Scritpture that I am going to be preaching on, and it has been a time when I pray.

Jennifer changes up her walk with Jake most of the time I think. And she goes and runs a little bit with him in the field behind the elementary school.

I tend to walk the same path each day. Sometimes I switch up which direction we go, but I have the whole path measured out. Jake is a dog that is easily distracted and easily tempted. He is young. As we have walked together, I have learned to avoid those places that have the greatest temptation for him. I also have learned different ways of leading him through those difficult and tempting places. Sometimes that means walking a little faster. Sometimes that means talking him through something. Sometimes that means that we stop and I nuzzle him a little bit. Sometimes that means that I pull his lead a little tighter and make a shorter leash. As I learn the places where he is most tempted, I figure out ways to navigate him through it and get him home with both of us unscathed.

It has given me new appreciation of two well -known Scriptures

1. "lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil"--The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 5)

In this prayer, I am asking God to lead me in a similar way that I am leading Jake. I come to know with Jake, that there are situations that are just too tempting. For instance, I do not let him anywhere near a frog's nest, or he is going to have his hunting instincts put him into a frenzy. I am asking God to remove those stumbling blocks that are in front of me the same way that I remove those thinks from Jake's influence.

2. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides in pathes of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me."

In this prayer, I am trusting in being led. I may tug against the lead God gives me. He may even have to nudge me a little bit to go the right direction. We may go through dangerous places. God will be with me. He may even have a little stronger hand with me at those times. It is because he is trying to protect me, and others as well.

Anyway...just thinking...

Separation Anxiety or Dominance Behavior

My dog has this obscession with my feet. He lays on them when I am around. He tries to find socks and shoes to lay on when I am not. I am wondering, is this dominance behavior (Trying to be the leader of our pack), or is this separation anxiety (since he was a pound puppy). Your imput will be helpful.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Downs' Syndrome and Abortion--As Highlighted by Sarah Palin

Both Al Hsu and Andy Crouch wrote articles on abortion, Downs' syndrome, and how the Palin candidacy brought certain issues to light. This is a very informative read.

Sermon on 7/7/08



A Dream.

What do you think of when you hear that word?

Today, a lot of times, we tend to be dismissive of dreams and dreamers. When someone boasts inappropriately we say "in your dreams"!! When someone is flighty and unambitious in regard to making their way in the world we dismiss them as a "dreamer". When someone expresses unrealistic hopes or ideas that we think are unattainable we tell people to "dream on".

This morning in our study of Genesis, we move from the focus on the life of Jacob to the life of Joseph. Joseph was the second youngest son. He was also the first born son of Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel. The one that he fell in love with the first moment he saw her. He would work fourteen years for his father in law to win her hand. For many years she was barren. Then she bore him Joseph. She also is the mother of Benjamin. But Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. So, Joseph was the favorite. And worse yet, it appears that Joseph knew he was his father's favorite.

Joseph had a habit of tattling on his older brothers. He annoyed them beyond words, as little brothers and sisters often do. And then their father gave him that coat of many colors. Or, as the play would say today, a Technicolor Dreamcoat. He was a favorite. He was a tattle tale. And then there were those dreams.

Some of us dismiss dreams. But for most people through most of time dreams had power. They have the power to lift up and tear down. They have the power to change things people believed. They have the power to create who we are and where our community is going. Those pesky dreams.

In Native American culture people went on a vision quests. They would go out to discover who they were supposed to be and what their calling was. They would come back with a new name and a new identity. Sometimes dreams are just dreams…just fantasies. But sometimes dreams define who we are.

In Genesis, what the promise was to Abraham, what the blessing was to Jacob, this covenant is communicated in terms of the dream when it comes to Joseph. Joseph's dreams come to define him and guide him.

Joseph's dream upset his brothers, and it is no wonder it did. He had these dreams about sheaves of wheat, and of stars in the sky. And in each of these dreams, somehow each of these dreams, which we learn later were prophetic, talk about everyone else in the family bowing down to him. He stands up, and everyone else bows to him.

In our world, we might just say "dream on" and dismiss Joseph's words as childish arrogance. But in the world of ancient Israel, like the ancient Native Americans, people's dreams had strength of meaning and power. Joseph's dreams were not simply fantasies. They were statements of belief and truth and intent. A vision for himself that he was going to live by, and a vision that might effect how they all live together. Sometimes dreams are a threat.

Forty five years ago last month, a 34 year old Martin Luther King Jr. stood up after a March on Washington. And he announced "I Have a Dream." That speech was voted the best speech of the 20th century by the Public Speakers Institute. It was, in my opinion, probably one of the most brilliant pieces practical theology that our nation has ever known. The part we remember is the end. It was about everybody holding hands and singing a song. We forget the challenge. Where King said that our nation was based on a covenant with God and one another. And that the promise that was due to black people in this country was marked "insufficient funds". The implication was that black folks were standing up and asking for what was owed to them. Respect yes. Freedom yes. And also the opportunites, wealth, and power that had been denied millions of people for hundreds of years.

Many of us were moved by this sermon. Many of recognized that God calls us to love people equally, and to not prejudge people based on the color of their skin. We recognized the end of the dream as very similar to the end of the book of Revelation, where people of every nation would be joined together in one family, one church, worshipping and serving God. And we recognized our call to bring about God's kingdom on earth.

Many others were threatened. Frightened. Angered. And several chose to lash out. There were threats. Attacks. And ulitimately Martin Luther King was assassinated. Killing him did not kill the dream. But some people thought it would.

Some dreams are harmless, and some dreams are threats. And when they are threats, they must be dealt with. This is what the racists against the civil rights movement thought. This is what the brothers of Joseph thought too.

So, when Jacob was sitting at home feeling old and creaky, he sent Joseph to run an errand to go find his brothers and check in on them. It took him a while to find them. And it so happened that they saw him coming from a long ways a way. When they saw him coming, they decided they were going to kill him. That will put an end to his dreams they said.

So they beat him up and they threw him in a well. And then a calmer head prevailed, and they decided to sell Joseph as a slave instead of kill him. They sold him as a slave to some traveling salesmen, who eventually sold him into slavery in Egypt. They went back to the father and lied to him. They told the father that Joseph was attacked by a wild animal and killed. They brought back his bloody coat of many colors as proof. They thought the dreams of Joseph died with him being gone. But the dreams God gives us don't die so easy.

Joseph thought the vision, the dream was all about him. We will learn later that it was not. God's call, God's blessings, God's gifts are always bigger than us. The dreams that center on us, when they come from God, are always a blessing so that we can be a blessing. Sometimes it takes us a while to figure out. Sometimes we needed to be reminded of that.


You will also notice that a vision, if it is from God, almost always requires suffering to make happen. We want our dreams to come true right away. We want to see our vision become a reality immediately. We forget that God sized dreams almost always lead us to a place where we have to suffer in some way. We have to face hard realities. We have to make sacrifices. We have to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Christ.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is God's agenda for his people. It is God's vision for his people. His dream that he gives to us in to become the kingdom of God. Jesus communicates how we are supposed to be forgiving people. How we are supposed to look for those in the world around us that are rejected by everyone else because they are too annoying, too wretched, too poor, and too rough around the edges, and we are to transform our community and world through loving them. He shares how we are supposed to be discerning, but refrain from judging people. He shares how we are supposed to be on the look out for people who are lonely and hurting, and let them be healed with God's love. Jesus confronts his people, people like you and I, and tells us that it is not about us. He shows us that the church is for people that others forget and take advantage of. Single parents. Addicts. Drunks. He has come to bring transformation and healing to those that are hurting. And he chosen to use those in his church to do this. He said the church isn't about those people who give the most, or seem to have everything figured out. He said he came for the lost sheep, the lost son. He said church is not about those who attend church every Sunday being comfortable and right. It is about God's people having their hearts changed so that they can in turn be used by God to change the lives of those around them.

You will notice as you read the gospels that they talk a lot about God's people going out and making disciples, and stepping out and following. Very little about sitting still and expecting others to want to join us and be just like us as a church. God's vision demands that we surrender and sacrifice. Sacrifice our pride. Sacrifice our agenda. Sacrifice our desire to demand what we want when we want it.

Well, Jesus communicated this kind of message. And as you might know, it made more than a few people angry. He shamed people who thought they were better than everyone because they sinned less, and went to church more. He told them they missed the point.

And when he became more and more popular, they decided that his dream of the Kingdom of God was just a little bit too dangerous. It was a threat. It threatened their agenda. It threatened the power of those who were in power. And so the political and religious leaders of the day decided that they would best kill the vision, that they would best kill the dream, by killing Jesus.

That is what people do when they do not like a vision. They try to kill it by killing the one who speaks it and who shares it. They know dreams that come from God have power. And they think that killing them off is the easiest way to get rid of it.

The Bible says that they arrested Jesus.

And the bound Jesus up.

And they mocked him.

They thought that would kill his crazy ideas.

They took Jesus and they brought him to a hill.

And they put him on a cross.

And they put up a sign that mocked the truth that eventually, like sheaves of wheat, they would all bow down to him.

They put a crown of thorns on Jesus, and they disrobed him.

And they stole from him.

And they laughed at him.

And they tortured him.

And they killed him.

And they thought they had killed his vision.

They thought they had trampled his truth underfoot.

But those pesky dreams.

Those pesky visions.

When they are of God.


They do not die so easy.

Because what God sees

Is bigger than what we see

And when they thought they had defeated the Kingdom of God


That is when the kingdom of God just became stronger….

And that Jesus that they thought they had killed

Could not be conquered by death

They thought it was all over on Friday when Jesus died on the cross

But then Sunday came

And up from the grave he arose

And he went to his disciples

And then he went to the Father

And then he gave us the Holy Spirit

And Acts chapter 2 says

That the old men will dream dreams

And the young men will see visions

A PROMISE from the Old Testament

And he has given us the Holy Spirit

So that we can obey the vision he gives us

And not sit still

But go

Go to those forgotten by the world

Forgotten by the churches

And give our time

And give our love

And give our hope

And give our Jesus

And give our church

To them

Let us not just agree with the dream

Or believe in the ideas

But let us live the vision of Jesus. And let us commit to that as we remember him and come to his table.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

NFL Picks

9-4 so far

Seattle at Buffalo


Detroit at Atlanta


Cincinnati at Baltimore


St. Louis at Philadelphia


Houston at Pittsburgh


Jacksonville at Tennessee


Tampa Bay at New Orleans


Kansas City at New England


N.Y. Jets at Miami


Arizona at San Francisco


Dallas at Cleveland


Carolina at San Diego


Chicago at Indianapolis


Minnesotta at Green Bay


Denver at Oakland


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Dog Takes Me for a Walk


Each night, there is a part of me that wants to stay home. There is a part of me that does not want to get up and go for a walk. Yet each evening, as I am tempted to be mesmirized by my television set, my dog nuzzles under my feet and pushes them up with his nose. He walks to the door and back, then nuzzles me until I move. When I move, he goes to the door again. Sometimes we think he will settle with just being let outside. Wrong! We leave the back door open, and he still does the same thing. One day he even brought me my shoe. My friend Jake is a pretty smart job.

In getting me to keep walking he is also my accountability partner. Forcing me to exercise. Eager to get me moving.
I would like to say I take my job is to take him for a walk. But maybe it is the other way around
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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Matthews snaps on Keith at Democratic Convention

Best Campaign Poster Ever

ht Ivan

Sermon on 8/17/08—Rough Copy


When I headed home for the winter my last year in seminary, I brought my sermons with me. I brought them with me because I was anticipating an interview at a church in either Anchorage or Fairbanks. When I brought my sermons home with me, I allowed my mother to read them. The was very kind and supportive, as mothers are supposed to be. One of the sermons was on this passage. Mom said, you have done a great job bringing together this sermon, but I have always hated this passage in the Bible. You have said some good things here, but I still don't like this passage. I just do not understand it. And I don't like it. Then, she put that sermon aside and went on to read the next manuscript.

I suppose that is why Sarah is left out of this story, and as soon as this story is over, the next thing we hear is that Sarah is dead. This is not a story that is easy to stomach for a lot of parents, especially mothers.

It is also a story that can be misunderstood in a lot of ways.

Can you imagine? Things are finally settling in. Your wife has the baby she has longed for. You have been raising this son. And each time you look at this child of yours, you see the promise of God. So beautiful. Does he act up? Sure he does. But each day, each moment with your child fills you with wonder. You The promise fulfilled that God was going to give you a child in your old age. The promise yet to come that God was going to give your decendants this land that you are living in, and that God was going to bless you with decendants that were going to change the world.

Then, sometime between Isaac being 7 and 37, you hear God's voice again. This time, God leads you to take your son to what is the site of the future Jewish temple and the current dome of the Rock and wailing wall. Then, as you are there, the voice of God says, you need to sacrifice Issac. You need to bind him on the altar, kill him, and offer him as a burnt offering to me in worship. This is what Abraham heard.

So, he packs up in the early morning, sets out with a few servants and his son, and heads to do this thing that he believed God asked him to do. The Bible said that they were young servants, servants probably about the same age or younger than Issac.

If someone did this today…we would believe they had lost it. How do I know this? I know that this is true because some people did do it in this day and age.

Andrea Yates, a homeschooling mother of 5 children, decided one evening that God was asking her to kill all her children while they might still be innocent so that they would not all go to hell. She prepared bathwater. One by one she called them into the bathroom, and held them underwater until they drowned. She believed God wanted her to do this. She is spending the rest of her life in prison. We might have looked at Abraham the same way.

One way people try and get around the difficulty of this text of Scripture is to try and say that Abraham simply heard God wrong. That Abraham thought he was hearing God telling him to do this, but he really was not. Instead, like Andrea Yates, Abraham was simply mishearing God.

This would be a nice thought if the Scripture did not make it clear that this was not the case. The first sentence of verse 1 says that God decided to test Abraham. This story begins with God's action. We can't say that God heard Abraham wrong.

Anyway…so Abraham obeys this strange and ominous command of God, apparently without telling his wife about it. They get to the bottom of the hill, and Abraham tells the servants that he and his son will make the rest of the journey together. Isaac gathers the wood and carries it on his back. Abraham brings the flint and the knife. At some point Isaac becomes a little concerned about what is going on. He asks his father where the sacrifice is. Abraham says that "God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering."

Now we have discussed one common misinterpretation of this story…and that is that Abraham heard God wrong. If we look at verse 8, we can be subject to another common misinterpretation of this story. That is the idea that Abraham knew that God would not really ask him to sacrifice his son. If you pull this passage out of context one can say that Abraham somehow already knew that God was going to provide a lamb in the thicket. That he was speaking with some sort of inside knowledge, instead of either expecting Isaac to be the sacrifice or hoping against hope that God would find a way out of no way.

This idea of Abraham having inside knowledge does not make sense for several reasons. First of all, why would you follow through with putting Isaac through the ordeal of being tied up on top of wood and raising a knife above your head if you knew what was going to happen. You would just sit and wait for another sacrifice.

The truth is that faith is not faith if we know all the answers. Faith requires trust. Here we realize that despite the way everything looked, Abraham trusted in God's promise. He trusted when he did NOT see the answer, when he did NOT see how things were going to turn out right, when he did NOT completely understand what God was doing and why God was doing it. He trusted God when it seemed unreasonable to do so. That is what faith does. It trusts when we can't see and don't understand.


So Abraham and Isaac made it to the top of that hill, and Abraham bound him up and raised his knife to kill his son. Suddenly he heard a voice. ABRAHAM! ABRAHAM! And the angel told him, at the last possible moment, not to kill his child. Then the angel reiterated God's promise to bless Abraham and his decendants so that they could then bless the entire world.

Abraham has more faith than I do. I am not sure I could have gone through with what Abraham did. Abraham demonstrated his courage. He demonstrated his trust in God. He demonstrated his love for God. He showed God that he loved God more than even his child.

Some very reputable pastors have preached sermons where they share that they believe this is the story. On my desk is a book about preaching Old Testament Narrative. In his book he talks about this story of the binding of Issac. And he says his key point is that "You do the best for your kids when you worship God, and not your children".

I agree with his point. But I don't think the point of this passage is looking at Abraham as our role model. Abraham certainly had great faith, as Hebrews 11 points out. But the key to this passage is about who God is, and what God does in our lives.

If you look at this passage, there is a significant word play throughout the passage. A word play that is not as easy to see in our language, but it is still there. It is a word play on the word "to see".

God is waiting to see how Abraham will respond to the test.

The word provide literally means "to see to it" or "to see ahead for". The part of the word "vide" is from the same root as video or visual. Abrahams says that he believes God will "see ahead for" him, even though he cannot see or understand what God is up to in verse 8. God does provide. He names the place "the Lord will provide".

The Lord will provide.

At the beginning it is the Lord who tests. In the end it is the Lord that delivers and provides.

Many of us have points in our life when we struggle to "see" what God is doing. We do not understand. I have a friend who recently discovered that her daughter had been abused by an aquaintence when she was younger. She struggles to understand why God allowed this to happen. Is it a lesson? Is it a test? She does not know. She just knows that she hurts for her child, and she hurts for herself. Her child, at times, is struggling. But she still believes that the Lord provides. The still believes that the Lord can make something good out of this evil. She still hopes and prays and trusts God for hope and strength and healing. She knows that the Lord provides. The Lord sees ahead for us, when we can see nothing ourselves.

Many of you have known the loss of a loved one. A spouse has died. A child has died. And you wondered how you were going to get through the pain, and how you were going to be able to go on living without that one that you love so much. You take things step by step. You may be angry. You may not understand. But you keep trusting. You keep hoping. Not because you have Abraham as a role model, as good of a role model as he is, but because you know God will provide. He sees what you cannot. He knows what you don't. His job is to see ahead. Your job is to trust.

You may have a loved one who is sick or hurting, and you would do anything you could to take that hurt away. God's job is to provide. Your job is to trust.

You may have been mistreated by others and wonder how you are going to get through your sense of betrayal and heartache. Have the courage to trust. God will provide.

The final thing that I would like you to notice is the similarity between the sacrifice of Issac and the sacrifice of Jesus. Abraham is told to take his son, his one son, the son who he loves, and offer him as a sacrifice. The gospel of John says that God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son. Isaac has to carry the sticks for the sacrifice. Jesus has to carry the cross. God offers his one and only Son for us on the cross. When we hopeless, he made a way of hope for us. And when Jesus rose again, he showed that no prayer, no trial, no time of testing is outside of the power and the grace of God.

He offered himself for you.

Will you have the courage to trust him?

To trust him enough to surrender your life to him?

Sermon on 8/24—Rough Draft


I have always felt a little bad for Esau in this story. I generally pull for the underdog, and it seems like Esau is always getting the bad end of things in this story. He loses his birthright here. A little later he loses the blessing. Is he a little bit dense? Yes, of course he is. But that is one of the reasons that I can identify with him. He is a lot like me.

Last week we talked about the binding of Isaac, and how the story of the binding of Isaac is less about Abraham, and more about God seeing ahead for us. In between that story and this one, Abraham finds a wife for Isaac by sending his servant back to his homeland to find a good woman. He finds Rebekkah. Rebecca marries Isaac. Isaac loves Rebecca. Rebecca gets pregnant. The pregnancy is difficult. God tells Rebecca this is because she is having twins, and the two twins do not get along. In fact, they are fighting one another in the womb. God tells Rebecca that there are two nations in her womb, and that the older child will serve the younger child.

When the boys were born, Esau came out first. A fiery redhead from the start, and very hairy. The second child came out wrestling with the first, grabbing a hold of the heel of the older one. Rebecca and Isaac had their hands full with these twin boys from the start.

This part of God's word has taken on a whole new understanding for me since I have become the uncle of twin boys. My sister's sons Zachary and Garrett are adorable. They are almost four and a half now. They are good boys—most of the time. But twins are a different than other children.

One of things that is different is that there is this special bond with them from the beginning. A bond that only twins can have.

The other thing that is different is that there is this natural rivalry that they have from the beginning. When we buy presents for them, the rule is that we must buy duplicates of everything. If we buy a yellow toy car, we need to buy one for each. Otherwise, they will fight over who gets the yellow car and who gets the green one. Although they are starting to dress different now, we used to have to do the same thing with clothes. It was just easier for my sister, because if one gets to wear the spider man shirt, the other one is going to want to wear it too.

The rivalry also extends to attention. Especially when they were younger, if one gets the chance to sit on your lap, while the other one was going to want to be there too. If one shows you how high they can jump, the other wants to show you they can do the same. They are cute and adorable. But with twins, especially of the same gender, there is this natural rivalry.

Twins, sometimes right away and sometimes over time, tend to develop their own distinct personalities. Right now, Zachary is a little more adventurous. And my nephew Garrett is a little more affectionate.

In the case of our Bible story, the difference was more pronounced. Jacob was a mild mannered momma's boy who liked to work on things around the house and in the garace. Esaus was a "free-range" child who liked to roughhouse and run the countryside. Jacob was a lover. Esau was a fighter. Isaac, whom Rebecca first met as he wandered the fields aimlessly, like his rough and tumble first born boy. And Rebecca had a soft spot for the young boy Jacob who listened to her and chatted her up as she cooked, and was never too far away when she needed some help with something that her husband was becoming too feeble and aged to take care of.

Jacob and Esau grew up. Esau because a skilled hunter, passionate and impulsive. He was strong and powerful. But he was also impulsive. Jacob was a planner and a plodder, and occasionally a schemer as well. The intelligent and responsible one. And thus they were labeled by the writers of Scripture.

The story goes that there was a day when Esau had been out on the hunt, and from the sound of it he got skunked. And he was hungry. Very hungry. So he came into Jacob's tent and aksed him for some of his food.

Jacob, always looking for a way to take an advantage, makes Esau a trade. I will give you the soup if you give me your birthright. A birthright for a bowl of soup? Who would make a trade like that?

What is a birthright? A birthright is a ranking in the inheritance of a father's estate. A father would send his daughters off with dowries given to them to help support their families. But it is the sons that get the inheritance. Each of the younger sons would get equal portions of the inheritance. The oldest would get a double portion of what was left behind. Furthermore, the birthright allowed the holder of it to be the "alpha male" of the family. He is able to be the "patriarch" of the extended family as well as have twice as much wealth.

So, Jacob offers to sell Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for his birthright. Oddly, Esau, convinced he might die if he did not have the hot soup right then and there, sells his soup for ½ of his future inheritance.

At first, it is easy to empathize with Esau. He was hungry after all! The poor guy got swindled by his own brother. Shouldn't his brother have been more giving? Shouldn't his brother have been more compassionate?

The more I think about it though, it would also be easy to see things from Jacob's point of view. Who wants a hot-head like this guy running our family business? Jacob thought, "I am the one taking care of our ailing parents. I am the one seeing that the family wealth is taken care of. I am the one keeping the books on the family farm! Why shouldn't I use my influence now to make sure things are taken care of instead of letting Esau run around chasing animals and foreign women?

The truth is, the Bible neither makes the scheming of Jacob or the stupidity of Esau model behavior for us. But it does teach us through Esau's mistake.

The Bible teaches us that we need to control our appetites or our appetites will end up controlling us. We need to control our appetites, or our appetites will end up controlling us—and ruining us for that matter.

We have appetites for lots of things. Food. Bargains while shopping. Sex. Power. Control. Respect. Money. Violence. Achievement. Approval. Love. Anger. And appetites are normal things. Desires are normal things. But if we let them get out of control, they will destroy us.

Our culture tells us to pursue all our appetites. To live without restraint. To live without control. To go for the gusto. To get as much as we can get when we get it. The world steals our money by increasing our appetites.

These are things we all struggle with, including your pastor. But they are things we need to get under control.

Let me give you a little visual example. See this cup. It is a 32 oz cup for pop. Where I grew up we had a seven eleven nearby, and this was called a big gulp. It was the biggest drink we could buy. Now…there is the double gulp. 32 oz is not enough. We need a half gallon of sugar water to make us feel good.

Whether it is pop, or the newest kind of television, or the newest best deal while we are shopping—we are convinced we all need to have things bigger and better.

Richard Foster, a well-known leader in Christian discipleship, talks about these appetites like rivers. They are healthy if they are kept in their proper channels. But if left unbounded and unrestrained they can pour out all around us and cause all kinds of destruction and problems for us and everyone around us.

The Bible says that Esau came into Jacob's tent and said. Quick! Give me that red stew I am starving. It implies that he feels like he will die without the meal.

In Hebrew it is even more interesting. It is like..quick ….give me that stuff…that red stuff…I need it now…I am starving to death. Quick bullet statements indicating urgency and panic.

After he gets the meal the Hebrew says he ate with passion. The Hebrew words imply "swallowing", "gulping down" his meal. Then as the scene closes, instead of red stew, the Hebrew describes it as lentils and bread.

Isn't that the way it works with our appetites and desires?

It starts out "that good stuff..that red stuff…I have to have it."

It finishes as "lentils and bread".

You think you have to have that new truck…that beautiful new truck. You think of all the things you can do with that fancy new truck. You get it. You discover its just a car. Nothing wrong with a truck. But chasing your appetites after the finest truck you can ever desire can leave you with a bad credit rating and a repossessed car.

Sex and romance are good things. Very good things. But at some point you can desire what you do not have, and what is not yours. You build up in your mind what it would be like to be with someone else besides your spouse. Or you are a teenager, and you head off to college and think about what it would be like to be with that "perfect guy or gal" Whether that is through sex, or through some fantasy of what an ideal marriage should be like, or through dating that dream person. You pursue your appetites and find that person or relationship that you were obscessing over that looked so good is not as exiting and life giving as you imagined. What at first appeared like that good stuff…now is just lentils and bread.

You turn on the TV and the beer commercials and movies show you how great your life would be if you decided to go to the fun, crazy party with everybody getting drunk. You go to that party, and wake up with a headache and not able to remember whatever happened the night before. That good stuff…that red stuff has just become lentils and bread.

We can develop an appetite for criticism too. For a while we can feel really good and find it delicious to tell everybody how they are doing things wrong. It can feel wonderful for a moment to be able to see and find fault in everyone and everything. But then, we discover after a while that we have only become angry, self-righteous, and negative. Eager to find fault. Criticism cant fill that hole in our hearts either.

The truth is, letting our appetites control us in a spiritual quest poorly thought out. That is why advertisers try and sell cars, furniture, events and services from vacations to makeovers as spiritual experiences. They think they can convince us to sell ourselves short with stuff that cannot and will not satisfy, except for just a moment.

Perhaps it is helpful to think of it this way. The Bible speaks of life with Jesus like a meal. It speaks of it as a wonderful elaborate feast with the best of foods. When we go the way of Esau, it is like we would rather dumpster dive for cold, half-eaten hamburgers in the back of McDonalds than wait for the elaborate banquet to come.

Jesus speaks about himself as the bread of life and the living water that will satisfy our thirst. We try and fill ourselves up with habits, objects, and behaviors that will never satisfy us. Jesus calls us to reject those things and make room so he can fill our hearts with his love, his gifts, and his presence. These are the things that in the end can satisfy.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.


Sermon on 8/31


Many of you know that I was a football player in high school and college. As a matter of fact, in high school I participated in about every sport imaginable. I did track one year. I played baseball two years of high school. I played basketball for three years of high school. I even ran with the cross country team half time my senior year until school started to improve my condition for football.

But, by far the sport I enjoyed the most in high school and the sport that I was best at was wrestling. There were a lot of things that I loved about wrestling. I loved the trips, and going to high school in Alaska there were a lot of them. We flew to both Kodiak Island and Fairbanks my senior year. We had a lot of trips where we would leave Thursday night and get back Sunday afternoon. And, I have always loved travel and getting out of school. In a lot of ways, the wrestling team was my social life for several months every year.

What I loved about wrestling was that if you used the gifts you had and worked a little bit harder, you could be successful no matter what your natural ability was. I happen to have the coordination of an elephant with a broken ankle on a three day bender, so I had to practice a lot. Several times I would have to stay after practice and have the coach literally put my body where I needed to go through the move in order to get a specific wrestling move down. Then I would drill that move over and over again on my own until I got it down.

A lot of wrestlers had pet moves. Head and Arm Harvey. Dave Crazy Legs Seljestad. I was a generalist. I was average to good at about everything. What I would do is read my opponent well. I would find out where I had an advantage, and force the match to my strong suit. So if a person had poor conditioning I would push the pace of the match. If the guy was weaker I would muscle him around. If he wasn't too smart I would lean on him until he made a mistake and exploit it, and if he was arrogant I would play possum and then strike with full force and surprise him. And, the one time I had to wrestle a girl, I just tried to win as quick as possible and get done with the whole match.

Probably my favorite thing about wrestling though is that was one on one. In football you have teammates that can be blamed for the loss. The same is true with basketball and football. But wrestling, it was just you against the other person. Face to face. Toe to toe. And you are forced to come to terms with yourself about who you are. Your strengths and your weaknesses.

Which brings me to the story of Jacob. Jacob's name means foot-grabber. Other synonyms are supplanter, overcomer, grappler and wrestler. And now, at a moment of crisis in Jacob's life, he finds that he is wrestling with God. Wrestling for a blessing. Wrestling for a blessing that has already been promised. Wrestling for a blessing that has already been stolen. A blessing that he has been struggling and wrestling to understand all his life.




For those of you that remember last week, we discussed the time in Jacob's life when he bought his brother's birthright for a bowl of lentils and a bit of bread. Later he disguises himself and tricks his father into giving him the family blessing. God has saved his life from his angry brother after that, provided wealth for him, and given him a whole brood of children. Yet, as he is about to meet his brother again for the first time in decades, fear grips his heart. So he sends his wives, camels, concubines, and animals ahead of him toward an Esau he assumes is angry in case his brother wants to kill him. Then, while he is waiting behind he runs into this mysterious being that he wrestles through the night until dawn.

The truth this life of wrestling is not just something that happens between our ears. We struggle and wrestle with things all day long. We want to be calmer. Then you run into that one person that irritates you and just gets under your skin. You find your temper bubbling over from somewhere deep inside you. You wrestle.

You try and live healthier. Yet there is some show on television that looks more interesting than exercising a little bit, or you go out to eat that greasy meal instead of that more wholesome meal you know you could prepare at home.

We struggle with greed. We want that toy or that thing that our neighbor has that is nicer than what we have.

We may be retired, but we still struggle with managing our time the way that we ought to. We find that the day slips away from us, and we have not lived by the priorities we tried to set. We forget to care for the people we wanted to care for. We forget to spend that time with the Lord that we wanted to.

We wrestle with what we do, and what we want to do. We wrestle with our desire to live day by day and moment by moment following Jesus, and our desire to sin and go our own way.

We not only wrestle with the day to day stuff, we wrestle with the big issues in our lives. In fact, almost all of us wrestle with God in one way or another. A loved one dies, and we wonder why. We wrestle with God. Struggling with God trying to understand. We come to church, with expectations about how church is supposed to be. And, at one time or another, instead of finding kindness and support we find hurt and betrayal. We wonder why things are not supposed to be. We grab on to the heartache and hurt and struggle with God about why we come to church and what it is all about. We go to work, and we try and do the right thing. We find that doing the right thing hurts us more than it helps us in a specific situation. We WRESTLE. We struggle. We wonder where our blessing is. Just like Jacob.

Where is my blessing? You may ask. Where is my blessing? But even more than that some of us may need to ask another question. WHAT IS MY BLESSING? WHAT IS MY BLESSING?

Let me explain by looking at Biblical history.

Some of us, including some people in Scripture and some current interpreters of Scripture, look at blessings as simply material blessings. Those that are blessed are those that have been able to accumulate power, been able to accumulate resources, or been able to build a good reputation. This view was prominent in Old Testament times. Especially with certain misinterpretations of the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy teaches us we sow what we reap. But sometimes, it becomes easy to go from that Biblical principle to believing that if things are going easy I am blessed, and if things are going poorly than I am cursed and or abandoned by God. We see this with "name it, claim it" television sermons for example.

I think this way of thinking dominates Jacob's life. He thinks that if he just gets the birthright, things will be good. If he just gets the blessing, than life will be easier. He begins to think if he just marries the right woman, then everything will be in place. Jacob starts to think if he finds the right way to do things on the job, then he will get a better salary and he will be happy. And to a certain extent he is right. He has lots of goats. He has lots of sheep. Jacob has a whole passel of children.

Yet, strange things keep happening to him. His is estranged from his immediate family and his in laws through a series of events. He gets one more wife than he bargained for. His children and wives are constantly bickering and he spends most of his free time doing conflict management. He doesn't really have anywhere to call home. And in the middle of all of this he wonders WHERE IS MY BLESSING. My life does not seem very blessed to me.

I think we have all felt this way to a certain extent. If this happens than I will know I am doing the right thing. If that happens than I will know that God loves me or approves of me. And then we get the point where we thought everything would be ok, and we realize that life is bigger than we thought it was. What we thought was the blessing we were hoping for wasn't really the blessing in the first place. Those things that we were doing with God, we find out that we were not. In fact, we went on ahead of God, left God behind us, and went on our merry way. In fact, we were running ahead of God and his will, ahead of God and his blessing, and we feel, frustrated, incomplete, or alone. Just like Jacob.

Others look at blessings in a different way. They look at a blessing as more of a feeling of power that comes upon us. This has many forms.

Let me explain. Jacob, earlier in his life, had stolen the blessing from his brother Esau. And whereas the birthright was about receiving the family money, the blessing gave him the right to carry on the family name. It made him the official number one son. I suspect he thought that once this happened, everything in his life would fall together. That this discontent that stirred in his heart would just go away. That his insecurities and hang ups would quickly disappear. I think he thought the blessing was some super therapy or magic pill that would bring everything together for him.

A lot of us view the blessing of God the same way. Like a magic pill of some sort, that once we do the right thing or say the right word than everything would be better.

We do not have to go much farther than the Christian bookstore to see this view. Take these five purposes and everything will turn out right. Take these four steps to peace with God. Adhere to these three principles. Take seven steps to your best life now. A lot of people have been helped by books like this. But faith is not a cause and effect way to manipulate the universe. The bible prescribes no magic words to make everything better.

A blessing is not about always being right. It is not about always feeling good about everything. Now, does God's blessing include material prosperity? Sometimes. Does God's blessing include good feelings, a change of circumstances for the better, and finding ways to live a better life? Most of the time, it does. But are the health, wealth, the circumstances falling together God's blessing in and of itself. Definitely not. NO. The blessing is BIGGER, SIMPLER, and MORE ACCESSABLE than that. It is much more ordinary. So ordinary that we often miss it.

This is because the blessing is not about things at all. The blessing is about relationship. No. That is not precisely enough said. The blessing IS THE RELATIONSHIP with God. The relationship is not a part of the blessing. It was not a benefit of the blessing. It is the blessing.

In first John, chapter three the bible says this: Behold what manner of love the father has given unto us, than we should be called the child of God.

The blessing is that God looks down on you like a doting father, and whose face shines upon you. The blessing is that God looks down on you as his child and says…THAT'S MY BOY. THAT'S MY GIRL. That is my beloved child. That is my friend. That is the one I adore.

We can see this as Jacob wrestles as well. That the relationship is the blessing.

He wrestles with the angel until it is almost daybreak. He says he will not the being he is wrestling go until he receives a blessing. Eventually, he receives it. And what is his response after he receives the blessing?

It was that he was blessed because he saw God face to face. He saw God face to face and lived.

The blessing was not money. It was not physical health, in fact that worsened. It wasn't that his circumstances suddenly changed. NO. The blessing was that he saw God face to face and lived. And that was enough. That was enough.

Now there is a type of wrestling that I described at the beginning of this story that I loved. It was about success and accomplishment and all that. I had fun sharing that with you. But there is also a different kind of wrestling that I have enjoyed even more than competitive wrestling. It is the kind of wrestling I have done at home since I was a child, and occasionally when I could get away with it with the youth I worked with and the friends that I had.

I think of the most fun that I have had with my uncles, aunts and cousins. A lot of them have either be dancing or wrestling. I remember my little cousins at five years old all coming at me at the same time to wrestle. Trying to tackle me while I stood on my knees. I would pick them up two at a time and place them on the ground and they would run back and come back for more.

When my uncle, who is almost like a second father to me, wanted to show physical affection to me he would hug me sometimes. But more often, he would wrestle with me. He still does. So does my aunt sometimes by the way.

When I was a youth pastor it was sometimes the same way. Before or after youth group we would play pool on the pool table or play ping pong. But often I would start horsing around with them and I would throw them up on my shoulder, spin them around, and throw them back on the couch. And they would laugh and smile. And when I left parents would say, "He even wrestled with them". Sometimes wrestling isn't just about conflict. It is about love and acceptance and friendship. So it was with God. THE RELATIONSHIP WAS THE BLESSING.

It is interesting that the root of the Hebrew word for wrestle is the same as the root word for to hug or to embrace. When Jacob stepped into this wrestling match, he thought he was in for the battle of his life. When in fact, as he learned toward the end, he was in the loving arms of a father who loved him and whose face shown upon him. And that was the BLESSING. AND in spite of all the other things he hoped for, that was enough. THAT WAS ENOUGH.

And now the choice is yours. RECEIVE THE BLESSING. God is ready to grab on to you, love you, and never let you go. Don't run away from that BLESSING. THAT RELATIONSHIP. Even if you feel you are going to have to wrestle to get it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Differences in Presentation

The culture of Republicans and Democrats are different. This even goes to their method of communication and presentation.

The democrats seemed to be all about weaving a narrative and painting a picture. I personally like this, but I wonder how much of the highly abstract artistic stuff is appreciated by the common person.

Republicans are more literal thinkers than the Democrat party. You can notice this in the way they present their messages, the way they focus on their main points, and the way they present their party to the country.

This is what makes it difficult for me this year. I agree with the broad direction of Barack Obama, but on several important policy issues I agree with John McCain.

The Anti-Palin Smear Campaign--AIP, Teen Pregnancy, and National Politics

Last week Sarah Palin became the presumptive nominee to be the next vice president of the Republican party. Since then, an angry blog mob as well as a hard left leaning media has tried every concievable way of running Gov. Palin through the ringer.

I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss some of the objections.

The blogs and MSNBC have been eagerly discussing the possibility that Palin is a member of the Alaskan Independence Party.

First of all, even Palin's critics acknowledge this is not a proven fact, and even the person running the division of elections says it is not true.

Second, very few people have a knowledge of what the AIP means in Alaska politics. In 1990, when I was a senior in high school, Alaska had a gubenatorial election that had two main party nominees, both of which were more liberal and pro-choice. This was unacceptable to mainstream conservatives like myself. Those conservatives worked with the AIP to draft Walter Hickel as a nominee--a Republican that served in the Nixon administration. Thus, several Republicans, especially pro-life Republicans, developed relationships with the AIP machinery. This has disappated since then, as the AIP has once again returned to the lunatic fringe of conservatism/libertarianism.

Third, most people of both parties in Alaska are sympathetic with the AIPs stance that the government has overstepped its bounds in retaining between 80-90 percent of all land as federal lands. This becomes particularly sensitive as it relates to taxation of oil company windfalls. Currenly, the drilling in Prudhoe Bay is done on state land, and the state gets the tax on the oil companies for budget and permanent fund dividends. ANWR is on federally owned land, and right now the federal government is claiming 100 percent rights to oil royalties. Alaska citizens believe they should have 100 percent of those dividends for income made in their state.

All in all, most Alaskans dont affiliate with the AIP, but many of them agree with some of their more salient points. I suspect this is the case with Palin.

Teen Pregnancy

People really need to back off on this issue. The accusation that Sarah's child was really her daughters was rediculous. Everyone has family issues. Even politicians do not have perfect families. Even Obama says let it go. Let it go.

Liberal Sexism

There is much in liberal blogs about Palin simply being eye candy, and one well-known blog even refers to her as a VILF.

I do not deny that Palin does have some visual appeal, or even that this may be part of the consideration of having her on the ticket. The same could be said about Obama's success, but it rarely if ever is.

What I object to is that these are the same people who are militantly pro-choice to advocate for women, and then dismiss a serious nominee for Vice President as simply a sex object. It very hypocritical.

Political Backup

It is obvious that Palin needs back up on foreign policy. I think that the wisest move for McCain to consider is to name a Secretary of State with foreign policy experience in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention this week. This is not without president. Bush did the same with Colin Powell in the 2000 election, and it worked for Bush. It may work for McCain as well.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Simpsons Movie

I finally got to see it, a year after it was in the theatres. I watched the Simpsons movie with my wife today.

It was funny and smart.

To be honest, it was nothing more than a longer form episode of the show.

My favorite part of the movie was the brief scene when widespread panic hit Springfield and the camera focused on Moe's bar and the church. And everyone in the church ran out to the bar, and everyone from the bar ran out to the church. What a smart pick up on how human nature might effect folks in crisis.

If you want to just relax for an hour and a half and watch a movie and giggle, this is the show for you.

First Week

19-2 in my college football picks


Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying           Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christi...