Monday, March 30, 2009

Embrace Me

In our church book club, we just finished the book "Embrace Me". Embrace Me is a wonderful book written by Lisa Samson.

Most of the other reviews I have read about the book do not do it justice. I am not sure I can either. It is hard to review this book because what is most compelling are the plot twists that bring everything together that at one point seems to be disjointed.

I like the book for a number of reasons. First of all, there is a sense of transition of theological temprament in the novel. The novel starts with a pastor of a megachurch that is in personal theological crisis. This pastor is contrasted with the a leader of a Christian communal effort with the poor of the same community. Through contrasting these two churches, it also speaks a lot to contrasting models of church in our own culture. I tend to be more comfortable with a church model with that is not modeled after big business and corperate america. The author subtly shares these sympathies with me.

The novel is a tour de force on the need for and difficulties of forgiveness. The novel illustrates the challenge of asking for forgiveness by an offender and giving forgiveness by an offendee. It is honest and realistic. There were a number of people with significant physical and emotional challenges in the book. Those who were struggling with unforgiveness, interestingly, were also self-abusive. I think this is intentional, illustrating the harm that grudge-holding and not forgiving others plays in our lives.

The characters in the story are well-developed. Valentine is a hard-edged woman who slowly exposes her soft-side to their readers. Augustine is a mysterious man who slowly reveals his deeper self to us. Drew is a jerk, who slowly earns our sympathy and support. And Leela is a beautiful character who we want to embrace, even though she lacks hands and arms.

I don't think this book is as powerful as The Shack, which I believe will have historic and long lasting appeal. I do believe that Embrace Me is a strong work of fiction, and would easily sell outside of the typical Christian market. I recommend it for a fun and thought-provoking read.

(purchase it through the Amazon search thing on the sidebar, and I get a kick back.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Keithy and Shannyn

Even when I agree with Keith, I am not a big fan of his show or his way of reporting. But, I was excited to see someone I went to high school with as a columnist and pundit on the Countdown. But then again...doesn't this seem to happen quite a bit with Homer and the creation of minor celebrities?

Jenny frolicking in the snow

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Jake running in the yard

Jake Marching the Perimeter

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Jake in the Snow

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Jake Strining His Angry Pose

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Jake Yawning

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Across the Driveway


The thing on the right is a bench.
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Big Snowstorm


This is the tree in the front yard
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Eugene Street


A picture of the Bravada.
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Snowstorm 2


Looking at the heating/cooling elements at the church from our yard
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This is in front of our house this morning.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Our Budget and Our Failed Obligations

Since the election, one of the things I have particularly tried to do is move away from the politically-driven kinds of posts that seeped into my writing during the election season. Even when I have shared some politically related material since November, very little of it has been editorial in nature. However, this post is both political and editorial implications. An issue has come to my attention in a very personal way that convinces me that I can no longer be silent.

No matter what your beliefs about war and peace, or whether or not you support the current millitary incursions in Iraq and Afganistan,I believe that we all should believe in appropriate support and care for those that are serving in the millitary. And right now, the Pentegon and our Federal government is not doing a good job in taking care of our veterans returning from conflict.

From 2003-2008, I lived in Colorado Springs, CO. With a number of military outposts in the area, I was able to observe and discuss several of these issues regarding the well-being of soldiers from a noticable but detached distance. That changed when the husband of one of my wife's good friends, who is stationed at Fort Carson, returned to Colorado Springs after being hit by an IED as he was slipping back down into his tank.

Soldier Dan lost part of his hand. His hand was above his body as he was entering the tank. At that point, an IED exploded. He lost the side or his hand, and most of his fingers at the top of the first knuckle as he was climbing into the tank. When we first heard this from his wife, we were somewhat thankful. It seemed he had avoided death by mere seconds. In fact he had narrowly escaped death.

What we learned from his wife, who was our wedding's matron of honor, is that he also returned home from Iraq with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). To give the military the benefit of the doubt, we know very little about TBIs at this time. Most wars before this one lacked the technology we have now, and so many more soldiers were being killed. Today, due in part to improved body armour, our soldiers are returning home with TBIs in greater numbers than we ever anticipated.

Soldier Dan's TBI symptoms have clear physiologial effects. His prefrontal cortex has atrophied. This has severely affected his ability to function normally. In many ways, it creates symptoms similar to early onset Alzheimer's disease. Lack of impulse control. Inappropriate social skills and control that come across as very adolescent. Loss of short term memory. A "blanking out" in such a way that the person with TBI just goes into a transe-like state for long periods of time. And then moments of clarity and awareness of what was missed that grieve the TBI patient about what they are doing, and what they are becoming due to their injury.

You would think our military would being doing everything they could to support these soldiers,and to help them get well, wouldn't you? The truth is the Pentagon is not doing nearly enough. First of all, they are only providing limited counseling for these men with brain injury and their families that they return to. Soldier Dan has a six session counseling maximum to adapt to both his traumatic brain injury and the PTSD that he suffers from, and one of those sessions is used just to fill out paperwork. His spouse also is allowed counseling, but they are not allowed any family counseling as part of their care.

A TBI needs rest in order for the soldier not to have permanent brain damage. Yet the military leaders on Fort Carson have soldiers with TBIs working 24 hour shifts.

Despite the loss of part of a limb, and the brain injury, Soldier Dan is already planning on being redeployed next March. His commitment will end later that year, while he is serving in Afganistan. This means right now he and his family are faced with a difficult decision. If Dan reinlists, it means he will be in the military at least another 2 and possible 3 years, and facing another tour. It also means being in combat while disabled. If he does not reinlist, they send him out with another unit 3 months after returning from Iraq with the hand injury and the TBI. If he does not reinlist, he has to serve with new people, and with a mental and physical disability that are not completely healed. And, it also means that he increases the possibilty that he will never heal from his brain injury.

Why doesn't the government offer discharges to people who are permanently disabled? Why doesn't the military care enough about its soldiers to make a stronger effort to help them heal from their TBIs? Why does every military branch of military play this stoploss games with people who have served 3 and 4 tours in the Middle East? Doesn't the military offer anyone disability anymore? How do they expect recruitment to be sucessful if they do not treat current soldiers and respect?

All of this poor care for our veterans makes me very angry. We need to do better.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation--Part 1

Monday, March 23, 2009

Newsletter article for 3/26

The Most Ignored Commandment

After my first year in seminary, I accepted a call to be a youth and children's minister to a medium –sized Baptist church in Powers Lake, ND. Powers Lake was a town of 400 people. The whole town was invested in the wheat industry, and sold their wheat to some company that made macaroni noodles. The chair of the deacon board came to me after I was cleaning up after one of the children's programs. "Clint, are you taking a day or two off a week".

"No," I responded "too much work to do."

"You need to take care of yourself. You need to take a day off. It is one of the Ten Commandments you know. You might to drive to Minot or something and just get away. Don't worry about doing that. Things won't fall apart while you are gone."

It is sad but true. As churches and as believers in Jesus we tend to pick and choose our favorite portions of Scripture. Within that, we tend to pick and choose the sins we tolerate in our lives, and what sins we judge most harshly in our life and in the lives of others. We tend to worry about whether people are enmeshed in sexual sin, whether they have addictions to drugs or alcohol, whether they are honest and generous with their money, but we say very little about Sabbath as churches. We should say more about taking at least one day of rest a week. It is one of the Ten Commandments you know.

We should not be legalistic about Sabbath-taking. Jesus confronted the Pharisees about their legalism with the Sabbath. However, Jesus did not do away with the importance of taking a day off. We may not be able to make Sunday our day off in some of our jobs, but we need to have a day of rest. It is the way God made us.

In one account of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), the Bible says that we should take a day off because God took a day off on the seventh day after creating the world in six days. We are created in God's image. We are created in such a way that our minds, souls, bodies, and families need us to take one day off a week. We need that day to pray and worship, and to spend time with those we love.

In the other account of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5), God tells us to remember the Sabbath because of the need to remember the Israelite slavery in Europe. When the Israelites were slaves, they were not allowed a day off. They were only valued for what they could make and produce. And they slaved away under the hot sun until the day they died or escaped. In our time, this reasoning reminds us that we are more than what we do and produce as well. We are valued by God for who we are, not what we accomplish. We are human beings, not human doings. Our value does not come from how much money we make, or anything we can put on a resume or brag about to a neighbor. We are valuable because we are God's children. When we are gone, our contributions that will be most important will be how we cared for our relationships to God, our families, our friends and our neighbors. It takes a day off a week to remember that, and to renew ourselves and refocus.

I also believe God also commands us to take a day off to teach us humility. We need to remember that the whole world is not in our hands, but it is in His. We cannot do everything, but God can do anything. We need to take time to let go, and realize that we cannot accomplish all we would like to, and we cannot be everything to everybody. When we put our whole lives—including having the faith to put our work lives—in God's hands, we will find that he is faithful beyond our wildest imagination to take care of us. But, we must have faith enough to take that day of rest and let Him do his work.

Sermon on 3-22--Introduction On Forgiveness

One thing I love about the Bible is that the people that show up in the Bible have the same kinds of questions and struggles to trust and follow Jesus as people like you and I do. Perhaps no character is quite as easy to identify with in the gospels as the person of Jesus’ disciple Simon Peter. Peter often speaks what might be on our mind if we were walking and talking with Jesus while we were on earth. He speaks what we might think, but might not have the courage to voice.

Perhaps, then, it comes as no surprise that Peter asks the question he did. After Jesus gives them a biblical foundation for reconciling with someone who has done something sinful and offensive in one’s church, Peter speaks up. He asks, “How often should we forgive someone? Seven times?”.

Then Jesus answers that we should have to forgive someone seventy seven times. After this Jesus tells a parable to illustrate his point.

He asks us to imagine that there is this king. And financial times were getting a little tight, so he decides to call in some of the debts of people who owed him money. And he found this man who had defaulted on his debts big time. How the collection agencies had not gotten after him we will never know, but they had not. The man owed 10,000 talents. Now a talent is 15 years worth of wages. Which to my calculations, based on average family income in Fowler, ranges somewhere between 4 and 4 and ½ billion dollars.

Needless to say, this servant did not have the money that he owed the king. He was a citizen, a businessman, but not wealthy. He did not have that kind of money. So the day came when the servant’s day of reckoning had come and he stood before the king. He had scraped together a few thousand bucks maybe, but not much more. And the king said that he was going to need to sell the man, his wife, and his children into slavery to begin to somehow reconcile the debt. The servant fell to his knees, begging and pleading to have a chance to find the way to earn this man’s money back. He fell on the floor, he cried, and he flailed around. He begged and pleaded for a chance to make this right.

Somewhere, deep down, this king had a heart. And he forgave this miserable servant. He looked at him and pitied him. Hear that again—he saw the position he was in as simply pitiful, and in a move of extraordinary mercy, the king forgave his debt.

Then a few days later, this servant went down the road, and ran into someone who owed him money, who was also a servant of the king. How much money did this poor guy owe him? Somewhere around 6,500 dollars, if you count a day’s wages by what a substitute teacher makes in Fowler. Well the fellow servant did not have the money to pay back the servant who had just had a debt of billions cancelled. And when our forgiven servant found this out, he assaulted him. He tackled him, and grabbed him around the throat, and began to almost kill this fellow servant for not making good on his debt.

Well, the other servants noticed what had happened and they ran to the king and told him the story. And Jesus says the story ends with the man having his debt reinstated and him being tortured and thrown into prison for what was most likely a life sentence.

In Jesus’ story the king is God. To whom we have a debt we can never repay.
This selfish and pitiful servant is our own pitiful, pathetic selves.
And, the fellow servant that we almost kill is that person that we judge. That person we refuse to forgive, even though we know how much we have been forgiven.
This story that shows up later in Matthew is a story makes the same call on our lives as we put on ourselves when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. “Father God, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

Both the parable and the prayer challenge us with the knowledge of two things. First, how desperately we need to be forgiven, and how pitiable and needy we are in God’s eyes. Second, how challenging and difficult it is to be a forgiving person even after we have received God’s forgiveness.

So let us dig a little deeper into understanding what this prayer says. Let’s begin with discussing what forgiveness is, and what forgiveness is not. Then, let us talk about our need for God’s forgiveness. Then, once we have gotten this far, let us talk about what it means for us to forgive others, and why is it is so important.

Sermon Part 2--What forgivness is and is not

Forgiveness is acknowledging a sin as wrong, not excusing a sin as if it never happened.

Have any of you ever had this conversation? Someone does something that they feel bad about to you. They say, “I’m sorry”

You say, “It’s ok”

Anyone ever had that kind of conversation? I bet many of you have. And I bet most of the time you were telling the truth. But this saying, “It’s ok” is saying that what happened did not hurt, and did not matter. Saying, “Oh, it is no big deal” is not forgiving. It is excusing.

When we do something wrong, it is a big deal. It is sin. We don’t come before God and say, “Forgive us our sins”, and hear him say, “No problem”. No. Instead we hear Jesus crying out from the cross, “Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing.” Sin is serious business. It is serious enough that God wants us to acknowledge our sins. Our sins are serious enough that God wants us to confess our sins to Him.

And when we come before the Lord and confess our sins, we often at the same time ask him to excuse us instead of forgiveness. We go into all the reasons why we really are not to blame for what we have done wrong. We plead our extenuating circumstances on why we have done the thing that we have done. Our bad temper. The evil things that the person had done to us that justified what we have done to them. Our low self-esteem. Our loneliness and unhappiness. Our poor health, or the lack of rest we got the night before. We poor on these excuses when we say to the Lord, forgive us our sins often times. Asking God to forgive us and accept our excuses at the same time.

But Jesus commands us to come to God and say, “Father forgive me. God I was wrong. I did what was evil, and I need your forgiveness”.

Often when we are asked to forgive someone else, it goes the other way. We think we are supposed to forgive and forget. To wipe the slate clean, and to pretend like nothing ever happened and what happened did not matter. When we forgive another person, it does not mean that we pretend like nothing ever happened. When we forgive someone, it means that we acknowledge what they have done. We acknowledge what they have done that is wrong as wrong. And then we choose not to hold it over their heads. We choose not to get revenge. We choose to not try and set things right. We choose not to put them in their place. We choose to kill that resentment against them. And we choose to release them from that “debt”. And we leave them to God to judge.

Also, because forgiving is not excusing, forgiving does not mean we live without boundaries. You may be a kleptomaniac. And you may have stolen money from me in the past. My forgiving you does not mean I should feel obligated to leave my wallet on the table and walk out of the room. Forgiving does mean that I don’t hold your sins against you, and that I stop keeping a running list about why you are a bad person. It means that I start hoping for the best for you, instead of having secret fantantasies that some evil befall you.

This brings me to my second point in understanding forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a verb, not a noun. We think that forgiveness is a feeling we posses. A state of being. It is not. Forgiving is something that we do. We learn to forgive by acting as if we have forgiven someone. We forgive by choosing to forgive someone.
Forgiveness is a continuing action. Most of the time it is something that we choose to do, but something that we must recommit to over and over again.

Let me, in vague terms in order to protect the privacy of those involved, share how I have done poorly with this forgiveness thing and how I have done it well. Because I do often fail in doing forgiveness well, but when I have chosen to follow Christ’s way, he has blessed me.

There is one person in my life that I find hard to forgive. This person has hurt me. And they have not hurt me once, they have hurt me over and over again. They call me names. The spread lies about me. They have a certain amount of power over people, and they use this power recklessly. They would pretend to be my friend, and then betray me. Not just once, but over and over. And when I think about this person, it is hard for me not to wish evil for them. To wish this person would lose their job, be discovered for the fraud that they are, and to be punished for being so self-absorbed. I fantasize about telling this person exactly what I think about them. I fantasize about punching this person in the face. I want this person to feel like a failure about everything they have done in their entire life.

Then there is this person that I forgive well. When I have an opportunity to do good by this person I do, because they are my sibling in Christ. I pray for this person. I drive along in my car, and say that maybe my wife and I should try and spend some time with them, because I think that they feel lonely. When they ask me for support, I offer it to them. Even at significant personal sacrifice. And I do this despite the fact that they have done some things that have hurt me very deeply, and I do this despite the fact that I know I cannot trust them. They have even taken things I have shared with them in confidence, and shared them with others in a public setting. And they have not always been kind to my wife.

Strange thing about this. The person I described that I forgive well, and the person that I have a hard time forgiving at all. They are the same person.
This is because forgiveness is a process. It is a choice. It is something that we choose to do. It is something that we act upon. It does not mean that our feelings of anger and resentment go away. It means that we have chosen to release that person from the debt that they owe to us due to their behavior.

And forgiveness is something we cannot do without God’s grace. Which brings us to our discussion of God’s forgiveness.

Sermon Part 3--God's Forgiveness

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we use the word “debts”. This word debts is the most literal translation of the word used in the passage.

You see in the time of Jesus, rabbis spoke of sins in terms of debts. And each sin was a debt that put a wall up between you and God. And each good thing, that built a bridge between yourself and God. And the hope was that you could do enough good things to build that bridge over the wall of your sins and to God by the good things that you have done.

When Jesus asks us pray “Forgive us our sins” he asks us to pray that God will knock down that wall that stands between us and him. When Jesus tells us we are to pray asking God to forgive us our debts he is saying something very powerful. He is telling us to ask God to come down and break down that barrier between us and him that keeps us at a distance, so that we can be in right relationship.

When we pray, forgive us our sins we are saying that we are powerless to manage our lives, to manage our relationships, to do anything that is good enough to bridge the gulf that we have created between us and God. When we pray forgive us our sins we are asking God to step right into our lives and knock down the walls and strongholds that keep us from God. And to make us new. We are admitting we are powerless to handle our sin on our own.

We are like that pitiful, pathetic man who comes before God with 4 billion dollars in debt and no way to pay what we owe. We need intervention. We need help. We need to pray, “Forgive us our sins”. Not just some of us, all of us. Me. You. You. And you too.

There is no excusing our sin. There is no making it cute. There is no saying it was just “natural”. No. We cannot go there. We must cry out for help. We must cry out for mercy. Or we will be trapped in a prison of our own creation.
And when we pray, “Forgive us our sins” we find that Jesus has died to break down the walls of hostility between us and God. When we seek the bridge that connect us with God’s love, we find the bridge is actually a cross. The cross of Christ.
We pray forgive us our sins because that is what Christ came for, to set us free. To pay our debts. We know that we are pitiful, pathetic, and lost without Jesus. His kingdom is about forgiveness.

Which brings us to forgiving others.

Sermon Part 4--Forgiving Others

For many of us, the hardest part of the Lord’s Prayer is the little clause, “as we forgive our debtors”. We wonder why God had to put that in this model prayer that he gave us.
It is hard enough to admit we are powerless, pitiful, and hopeless. That takes humility. But now God asks me to forgive as part of my forgiveness. Why?
You know, I do know people who refuse to pray this prayer. They change the words, they tweak them just a little bit, so that they don’t have to say it the way it is written, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”
There is a lot I do not understand about what God is doing here, but I do know a little bit.
One thing I do know is that God’s forgiving comes first in the prayer. Jesus could have had us pray, “Lord, I am forgiving others, so please forgive my sins” He didn’t.
We are not capable on our own of forgiving and experiencing forgiveness without the grace of God. It is God that must break down our walls to offer us forgiveness so that we may be forgive. God’s forgiveness comes first, and then our ability to forgive grows from that.
Yet there is a sense somehow that if we really have experienced God’s forgiveness and new life, that our willingness to forgive will come out of that. Because we will understand God’s goal in the word. To set us right. To set relationships right. To bring about reconciliation. Wholeness. Not just new life for us individually. But a new community, a new eternal community. Something that we are supposed to pray for and participate in. And if God’s primary reason for coming to earth was to forgive us, then it makes sense if we are truly committed to following him, we will commit to being forgiving people as well.
That may take time. That may take work. It may be a process. But it is a commitment you make when you receive God’s forgiveness. That you will not just try and posses the forgiveness you have received, but that it will spur you to forgiving acts all around you. And that you will at least make an effort to be forgiving, however imperfectly you may do it. Why? Because that in addition to that wall you have erected between you and God, you have placed these walls between you and others. And God’s must have full reign to knock down those walls as well.

I say all this, but this seriousness of God’s call to haunts me. Because there are a lot of times I don’t want to forgive. I don’t want to love. I don’t want to be reconciled. I just want to be right. It haunts me as well, because I know how imperfectly I forgive. And sometimes I doubt whether my forgiving will just leave me more exposed and vulnerable to being hurt again. And I don’t want to do it.
And I know deep down in my soul I must go to the cross. I must see Jesus hanging there, blood dripping from his brow. I must hear him suffocating and barely able to gasp another breathe. I must see his bruises. I must hear his groaning. I must stand there, and I must not run from it. And I must know that it is my sins that put him there. It is the evil I have done that placed the perfect son of God on that cross. Suffering and dying. And at that moment I must cry out for forgiveness, because I put him there. Jesus is paying my debt.
And while I am there, while he cries out “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” I must bring all of my sins to his cross. Including my selfish grudges and my lack of forgiveness. And with his blood dripping down I must lay that unforgiveness at his feet. Because if I don’t, I don’t recognize what he has done for me. If I don’t forgive, I make a mockery of his suffering. If I don’t forgive, I am saying I am more righteous and more holy than Jesus, who is begging God to forgive them at this very moment. Forgive us Jesus says. Forgive them Jesus says. And as I hear Jesus say that, I realize that it is not just about me. Though it was my sins that put him there, it is the whole world he has come to forgive. And my unwillingness to forgive is standing in the way Jesus’ having that other person experience Christ’s forgiveness through me. So I must bring that person to this cross too, even if only through my imperfect attempt to offer forgiveness like my Master.
Help us Lord Jesus. Amen.

Monday Morning Update

the weekend that was:
It was a busy weekend.

Jenny and I went to Starbucks in Pueblo after working out. Also got a few houseplants at Lowe's.
Talked with Larry White on facebook. After he tried to give me crap for a little while we had a good conversation.
Watched March Madness

I hopelessly threw out the leftover seeds from last year into the flower bed hoping against hope that I would have some flowers spring up relatively maintenence free. Also planted bulbs for the dahlias. Relatively new at planting bulbs. We will see how it goes.

Watched March Madness

Also worked on bulliten and sermon and sunday school lesson. Saturday nights are always work nights for me.

we did church in the morning. It went well. We had our church potluck and business meeting. Relatively uneventful. I took a nap Saturday afternoon. BAD IDEA. I am still all off kilter with sleep. And I acted like the goofy drunkard I always act like when very tired after I woke up. Actually I have never been drunk. I have, however, taken to much Vicadin once, and I acted a lot like that.

Had youth night SUnday night. Poor turnout, but it was the end of Spring Break.

on my to-do list this week:
the usual--Bible study, sermon, etc etc.
meals on wheels tuesday
Lunch with Ronnie tuesday
drop off cabbage starts to the Fairs
Check in with Lee Fullerton over at Ordway
get at least 3 workouts in at the Pueblo YMCA
hunt pueblo for flower starts
Think about doing flower starts in the house
(Can you tell I am obscessed with the gardening stuff yet)

procrastinating about:

reading embrace me, our church book club book.
quitting as friends of library president

book i’m in the midst of:
Tell It Slant by Eugene Peterson

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week:
Reckless Kelly's Bulletproof album

big excitment coming up:

how i’m feeling about this week:
wishing there were more days in it

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Life in a small town church

1. At midnight last night, a man called me on my cell. He was drunk dialing. He is a member of our church, and wanted to talk.

2. We had a little girl come to church for the first time this morning. Everytime it was time to pray, she asked that she pray for her cat that died last week. The cat was at by a coyote. She shared this in the middle of worship.

3. We had a donation of cabbage starts from a local nursery. We gave these away during worship.

4. Our previous pastor has cancer and is dying. Each week includes weekly updates on his health and well-being. Sometimes I feel he is like a ghost. Sometimes prayer requests feel like "Death Watch 2009".

5. Each fourth Sunday is a potluck at our church. This Sunday, our wife cleaned some of the tuna helper out of our cupboards. I told her she did well with her tuna. She said I should never use a woman's name as a possesive noun with the word tuna in the same sentence. I then followed her around the house, calling her my tuna queen, telling her how much I enjoyed her tuna,etc etc. She tried to be mad, but we were both laughing hysterically. She told me not to tell anyone what casserole was hers. She was ashamed she had made tuna helper for a church potluck. There is nothing wrong with tuna helper.

6.I misread the benediction passage, and corrected myself saying, "Well I messed that up". I did not feel bad about it. Everyone laughed. I like that about small town churches.

7. I try to make eye contact with people in church. This is not easy. Because after a while in church, you begin to wonder if everyone begins to think you are staring them down.

8. Even more than in other places, people have a penchant against direct communications. So, a lot of times, when people have an issue in our church they relay their concerns through other people. Or, even more often, they speak in a passive voice and indirectly about an issue. Then they hope you understand. I find this code speach difficult to decipher.

Well.....that is what is on my mind after church this sunday. What about you?

If dreams came true....

I would be able to attend this conference

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I am picky about my veggies

I told my wife some good guidelines to what vegetables i will or will not eat:

1. I do not eat veggies that starts with an a. No asparagus, avacado, alphalpha sprouts, or artichokes.

2. I do not eat veggies with solid flowers. No califlower or brocolli.

3. Nothing in the squash family.

4. I like peppers. The more color the better.

5. I like most foods on a relish tray, except what is mentioned above.

6. I will eat tomatoes, but only if diced and mixed in with something good, like cilantro, salsa, and pizza.

7. I love green beans when mixed with fatty meats, such as sausage and bacon.

8. I like fresh green beans and snow peas.

9. I live Olive Garden salad, but do not like most other lettuce arrangements. I will eat some other dinner salads. But I will not enjoy them.

10. I can tolerate corn on the cob.

11. I prefer not to eat veggies from a can. Too mushy. I had a friend in Montana (Debbie Hansen) that made veggies with seasoning and only cooked fresh veggies. I ate them up like french fries.

12. I especially liek veggies in stir fry. I dont really like any food boiled besides pasta.

13. Do not try and sneak veggies into something that is already a good meal. Peas in tuna casserole? It wont fly! Try and sneak corn into hamburger helper? No thank you. Better to put them on the side and I will eat them while plugging my nose

14. Nothing in the fungus family.

15. All of this does not I will not eat veggies (except rules #1-3 AND #14), it just means it will not be something I enjoy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama and Roosevelt

As I watched the news today I was struck at how intentionally the Obama campaign/administration is seeking to model themselves after the FDR administration.
This was a surprise to me, this modeling after FDR, because during the Presidential Campaign Obama seemed to be intentionally modeling his image after JFK. This was especially apparent if you went to his rallies. Even the pictures and the themes seemed at points very reminiscent of the 60s.

Here are a few of the things that remind me of the FDR administration:

1. The consistent labeling of our economic problems as the problems created by the previous president. What were the shantytowns called during the great depression? They were called Hoovervilles. And when it comes to any of the complications from the TARPs and bailouts, the current administration is sucessfully spinning the current problems as issues that are inherited and not created by themn.

2. It is hard to turn on the news and not observe that President Obama likes being on the television. Whether he is choosing his brackets, or showing up on the Today Show, the President seeks out media coverage. This reminds me of FDR as well. In his day, President Roosevelt harnessed the radio for consant "fireside chats". The Obama press machine is harnessing all medias in the same way as Roosevelt utilized the radio.

3. Today Michele Obama planted a organic garden on the White House property. The last time this was done it was done during the Great Depression. It was then, as now, a symblolic act of identification by the Obama family with people in financial hardship across the country.

Whate else do you see?

sermon prep

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Truth or Cop Out on Forgiveness?

Sin is the generic word for what is wrong with us and what is wrong with the world. But exposing and naming sin is not at the center of life lived to the glory of God. Muckraking is not gospel work. Witch-hunting is not gospel work. Shaming the outcast is not gospel work. Forgiving sin is gospel work.
Eugene Peterson Tell It Slant pp. 185-6

Good Interpretation or Cop Out?

"So the Lord's Prayer contains, at this point, a most unusual thing: a clause which commits the pray-er to actions which back up the petition just offered. 'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.' Prayer and life here locked indissolubly together. And, please note: this isn't saying that we do this in order to earn God's forgiveness. It's a further statement of our loyalty to Jesus and his Kingdom. Claiming this central blessing of the Kingdom only makes sense if we are living by that same central blessing ourselves"
N.T. Wright--The Lord and His Prayer p.54

Another quote on forgiveness

Our forgiveness comes in reponse to our being forgiven. It is not so much an act of generosity toward our fellow offending human beings as it is an act of gratitude toward our forgiving God--Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Lord Teach Us, p. 83

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Video Blog: Wrongheaded Ideas about forgiveness

I begin this video post on Friar Tuck's not having done a lot of studying yet on the issue of forgiveness, but having done a lot of thinking and praying about forgiveness and being forgiving. My thinking starts with some of the thorny and challenging parts of the passage, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors".

Jamey Johnson: That Lonesome Song

I was sitting at home yesterday watching television. I got tired of the news, so I switched the channel to CMT. And they had a duet between Shooter Jennings and Jamey Johnson as one of the videos. The song was, "Between Jennings and Jones". I loved it, so I did a little research. That research led me to buy the album you see above.

I was familiar with Jamey Johnson's radio play, and was neither turned off nor impressed. However, the radio play is much different from his albums as a whole. For instance, on this album the only radio release has been "In Color". Good song, but just kind of there. If you listen to the album what you get is old school outlaw country. Jamey Johnson sounds eerily similar to Waylon Jennings actually.

If you liked the 70s country with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and Kris Kristopherson and the like, you need to time to listen to this fine album.
This song is a little rough around the edges, but I like it:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Morning Update: A New Tradition


the weekend that was: It was a busy but fun weekend
friday: got home late from working out. Did not do much on Friday night.

saturday: I spent a lot of time working with Jennifer on house organization and cleaning. We tried to rearrange the furntiture but it did not work. It always feels so much better when the house is clean. Then I spent quite a bit of time working on church stuff--getting all the stuff for worship and Sunday School together.

we did church in the morning. It went well. We got lunch and did some shopping for Sunday night in Pueblo after church. I met with parents about camp stuff.

on my to-do list this week:
the usual--Bible study, sermon, etc etc.
also: meals on wheels tuesday as well as a ministerial alliance special meeting
watch the march madness coverage while working
miss jenny while she is at her class all week

procrastinating about: church directory

book i’m in the midst of:
Steve Wolfe's Call Me Coach. Makes me nostalgic for Alaska. Too bad I am a gypsy. Fun to learn things about a person you knew that you did not know about them.

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week:
I have been obscessed with U2 and Jakob Dylan this last week. I just got a Jamey Johnson album.

big excitment coming up: My minister's small group is coming to town. I am excited about it. I am also nervous about it. I hope I am a good enough host.

how i’m feeling about this week: wishing i could feel caught up

Prayer Path

This Sunday Jennifer and I put together a prayer path for our church. This Lenten season, we have been emphasizing prayer with our congregation. The preaching is on the Lord's Prayer, and then we had this special prayer night.

This is the angle from the North end of the fellowship hall looking Southeast.

This is looking northeast from the southwest corner of the fellowship hall

This is some of the kids that were at the event at the listening station in the southeast corner. There was Scripture on CD at this station.

Prayer Stations

This was our second prayer station. It was about confession. The participants wrote down their sins on a notecard. Then they asked forgiveness from God. Then they put the card with the list of the sins that they confessed in the shredder.

This was our first station. It was about letting go. Looks strange, doesn't it? You hold on to the sugar cubes, which represent your distractions, worries and anger. As you let go of each of these impediments to prayer, you drop the sugar cube into the hot water, and watch the distractions dissolve.

The next three pictures are of the third station...the Creation Praise station. This is a station designed to praise God for who he is through artistic expression. There were several options which included play doh sculpture, drawing, or writing a poem similar to Psalms of Praise.

This is a drawing of praise to God by one of the participants.

This is a play doh sculpture that Wilma made. Wilma is one of our octogenerians. She spent at least a half of an hour on it. Its caption on the paper is, "God holds us in His hands!!!" So awesome.

Sermon 5.12.08

Our Daily Bread

You don't have to spend much time with Nora Clifton before you hear a certain story. The story goes something like this. Nora was the oldest child, and her mother was widowed as a young wife. So Nora had the burden and joy of caring for her younger siblings, even as a child herself. One night, after all the children were fed dinner, Nora noticed that there was no food. Nora mentioned this to her mother. Nora's mother said she had prayed about the issue, and she knew that the Lord would provide. And since she knew that the Lord would provide, she had to go to bed and get some sleep before work the next morning. Nora spent the night worrying. She spent the night angry at her mother for being so impractical as to simply pray for food for the family, and leave it at that. After Nora's mom had gotten to work that morning, there was a knock at the door of their home. Nora opened the door. Someone had donated enough food to help them get by for the next few days. Nora describes this moment as pivotal in her ability to trust God. I understand this moment as one model of doing what Jesus commanded when he said, "Give us this day our daily bread".

Many times, I think, it is hard to really relate to praying for our daily bread. Some of us may struggle financially more than others. Some of us may have lived through the depression, or been broke enough to not be able to afford food for a few days. Very few of us, though, really know what true poverty is. Even the poorest of American children are better off than most. For a few years, I participated in the 30 hour famine with World Vision. The 30 hour famine is where you fast for 30 hours, and then send the money that you raised in pledges and would have used on food to a hunger relief agency. In the process of that fast, you do some study. One thing you learn is that between 30,000 and 35,000 people starve to death each and every day. For us, daily bread may be something we almost take for granted. For many others, they are praying for daily bread because they need bread and decent drinking water to survive, and they do not find either very easily.

Now, I did a lot of study on this message this week. You would think that doing sermons on 5 or 6 words would make the sermons much simpler and much easier to handle. Much easier to focus. This is not so with the Lord's Prayer. Because the prayer is so short in the Lord's Prayer, each word and each phrase is layered with meaning.

What I feel led to talk to you about this morning is about depending upon God. Depending upon the Lord. Specifically I want to talk to you about acknowledging the reality of our dependence upon God for all that we have, building our lives on an attitude of dependence upon God, and what choosing to be used by God to meet the needs of others. It is as basic as abc, acknowledge, build, choose. But it is not easy at all. Prayer is always work, isn't it?


  1. We need to acknowledge our dependence upon God

The first word of this section of the Lord's Prayer is "Give". Give us this day our daily bread. When we pray this, we acknowledge that all that we have is a gift from God. The food we eat. The air we breathe. The laughter we share. The shelter we have. Our friends. Our family. We own nothing. It is all just a gift.


A lot of times we forget this. We think we deserve the home we have. We think we have earned the car we drive. We think that we have gotten that nest egg because we have worked hard for it and been smart to save it. We believe that we have pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That we have reason to puff our chest out and be proud of all that we have done. We use words like me and mine a lot.


The truth is that the clothes you are wearing—Gift. The ability to get to this place each Sunday—Gift. That watch around your wrist—Gift. That lunch you are going to be eating in 45 minutes—gift.


Furthermore, it is not just the things that we have that are gifts. The relationships we are blessed with are also gifts as well. That husband that you have is a gift, even if he doesn't seem very gift like at time. That wife that you have—she is a gift as well. That friend sitting beside you….have you ever thought about how miraculous it is that God gave you the friends that you have? Friends are a gift from God too. As are enemies actually at times. Those children that you have, they are a gift too. When you look at them, and are proud of how they turned out, and who they turned out to be. Remember that you didn't earn or merit having the kids that you did. They are a gift from God. And each moment you live, and each day you have with them is a gift as well.


Take a minute to take that in. You may think that you own something. That is a lie of our culture and the kingdom of this world. Everything that you have, really, is a gift from God. You do not really own anything. Everything you have title to, that is in your possession, are gifts, and if truth be told, all of the things you have and relationships you have been given are really on loan from God.


GIVE us this day our daily bread. In spite of all that God invites us to come to Him with our wants and our needs. He invites us to ask him to provide for us. He invites us to come to Him and lay our needs before Him, and ask him for help, for support. He asks us to come before him, and ask him to give us what we want and what we need to live, to be happy, to be healthy.


Jesus tells us later God tells us to come to him and ask. He invites us to come to him to seek. He invites us to come to him and knock at the door of hope and opportunity and love, and expect that the door will be opened.


He invites us to ask for our daily bread. Our daily bread speaks about BREAD it does not say ask for our daily CAKE. God asks us not to take from him, and then be on our way. He asks us to enter into a place of acknowledging our daily dependence on Him for our most basic needs. It is ok to pray for cake I suppose, especially if it is your birthday. But God commands us here to even pray for our most basic needs and necessities. He wants us to notice that we need him for everything. That is part of what prayer should teach us.


This brings me to our second point.




  1. Build your life based upon a dependence upon God.

In between my junior and senior year in college, I found myself in an interesting position. I had a double major in college—behavioral science and Christian Education. The Christian Education part of my degree required me to have some sort of practicum in Educational Ministry, which is a fancy word for a mini-internship. There were not a lot of options for me in the town I was going to school in, especially because I did not have a car to get me into bigger towns like Hutchinson or Great Bend. So I figured out I needed to do some sort of summer thing. There were a few camps that were options to go to. And then, there was the possibility of doing a mission experience as my internship. And that is what I decided to do.

Deciding to do the mission experience was scary. It was scary because I had to raise all of my financial support in order to do the mission trip, and then, if there was a little bit left over, I could use that money as money for education in the fall. It was scary choice for two reasons. First, there was a lot of money to raise. And the mission required that you send out so many letters to so many people in order to raise support. What if people rejected me? What if people got offended with me asking them to support my mission trip? It was a very scary proposition.

The second part of concern for me was my financial well-being for the next school year. The way my school worked is that you got your financial aid package around the time of finals, and then you had the summer to work out financial stuff for the next year. Would I get the academic scholarship I needed? What about the football scholarship part of my financial aid? I had worked for quite a while to build up a little bit of scholarship here, a little bit of scholarship there, a little bit of work study, as well as working in the cafeteria as well.

But I had always felt led to do Native American missions. I had grown up around different Native American cultures, and I had studied a lot about the needs and hardships in Native American cultural settings. And when this opportunity to spend a summer as a missionary to a village of 60 in the Alaska Bush that one could only boat or fly into, I knew I had to go. I knew God was leading me to go. So I went.

So how did I deal with the worries and concerns I had? This may sound simplistic, but I chose to trust God. I chose to depend on him to take care of what I could not figure out, and go where I felt he led me. Strange thing happened when I did that. I was able to raise all of my support that paid the mission organization for my expenses, as well as some money for school the next year. Some opportunities came about to make some extra funds rather quickly during the fall after my return (I memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism and wrote a paper about it). The following Spring I was able to cut back to part-time in school, and work more hours. Because I was going to school part time, I was also allowed to move off of campus—another savings of thousands of dollars. Turned out, I sent back my student loan for second semester, and it was my least expensive year in college.

And I have not even told you about being on the mission site. About how the missionary just prayed with me, said to make friends and develop your ministry how you see fit, and left me in the village in this cabin with a pump for water, a camp stove, and an outhouse, and no bathtub or shower. Me, with no technical skills, and who was just out of college. Amazing thing was, God did some pretty cool things with the ministry in Stony River Village that summer. I was able to touch some lives, and my life was completely transformed. And, it affirmed my call to ministry in a huge way.

Without getting into any more of the gory details, this is what I learned. I learned I had to depend upon God daily. I had to depend upon God for my financial support. I had to depend upon God to build up the ministry. I had to depend upon God to move across cultures and quickly adapt to a strange, new place. I had to depend upon God to get me through the next school year when I got back. And I learned that when I put myself in place where I must depend upon God, that is where he really works. That is where he shows up in power. When I have to live a life where I am daily depending upon God to guide my words, my thoughts, my relationships, and my financial well-being….I really start to see God at work.

I urge you to think about not only acknowledging your dependence on God, but step out in faith in a way in which you base your life on depending upon God. Daily. This is what God is encouraging us to do when he urges us to pray for "our daily bread". Some of you have already been put in this situation financially and emotionally due to circumstances beyond your control. I urge you to keep praying. Keep hoping. But some of you, well some of you need to take a step of faith. You need depend upon God daily.

You need to pray in a way that says God I need you. Lord, I am lost without you. Heavenly Father, if you do not help me out here I don't know how I am going to make it much longer. I need your help to provide for me.

When Jesus says to pray for our daily bread, he is referring to an event in Israel's history. He is making an allusion to the Exodus. As Israel was moving from being slaves in Egypt toward entering the promised land, they went into desert places without any food. Sometimes without water. And so, when the Hebrews were in the desert God provided this miracle called manna. It was this special, strange kind of bread that appeared on the desert floor in the morning. Manna means something like, "what is it?" It was this bread that allowed the Hebrews to survive. But there were rules with the bread. You could only collect so much. And, the bread would go bad after a day or two. So, you had to depend on this bread every day to be out on the desert floor when you woke up in the morning. If you didn't, you'd die.

So when Jesus talks about our daily bread, he is talking about having the courage to live in that kind of dependence upon him. God's word tells us to live in a way in which we need to live in that day by day, moment by moment needing of him to help us make it. For many of us, that means listening to God's prompting to live a more risky faith.

For some of you, that means you need to think about giving more. Each month, our church falls a little bit more behind financially. You can see the evidence of that in your bulletins with the financial report the deacons asked be included in our bulletins once a month or so. Maybe God wants you to take a step of faith to be more committed to giving to your church.

For others of you, that means having more courage in letting go of that thing that has you trapped in your life. That addiction you try and try to overcome, but have yet to be able to snap. That unhealthy relationship that makes you angry, disappointed, and bitter with yourself. That trap you get in where you let that person push you where you do not want to go, and you say things that you regret.

Still, for others, that may mean having the courage to speak out more about your faith. Maybe you have been a closet Christian for years, and yet you know that person across the street or at work, school, or the senior center that needs to hear the good news or Jesus or needs a good church home. Have the courage to depend on God for the words you speak and just walk across the room and share the truth of Jesus' good news with a neighbor or a friend. It is, after all, the most loving thing you can do for someone, telling them about how to spend eternity with Jesus.

You know those areas where you have refused to depend upon God. Or where you are feeling led to trust God more and yet are scared to do it. It may be something totally different from what I have shared. But, I urge you, have the courage to step out in faith, and take the risk to depend upon God, and watch and see how he provides.


  1. Choose to be used by God to meet the needs of others

We all have certain struggles following God in certain things that Scripture tells us to do. Some of us struggle to forgive. Some of us struggle to trust. Some of us struggle to have the courage to stand up for what we believe.

I know that some of you struggle with the idea of helping those that are in need. You wonder if people's poverty is something that just happened to them, or something that they deserved because of their actions in the past, or even in the present. But here is the truth of the matter. Jesus commands us to help those who are in need. The whole bible commands us to help those who have less than we do.

The Lord's Prayer says, "give us this day our daily bread". Notice the plural nouns…us…our. When we ask for God to provide "our daily bread" we are not just asking God to provide for me. We are asking God to provide for the needs of all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are asking God to provide for the basic needs of everyone on earth.

We do good at this. We bring in food for the food bank. We work with meals on wheels to help provide for people who have a hard time getting out of their homes. We reach out to one another when we know that we have a need. We even have a ministry project in Fowler this fall which will require us to take the step of faith to meet real life needs of people in our community.

Yet, we can do better. As our church grows, I would like to see us make a stronger commitment toward a goal of giving 10 percent of our church income to some sort of missions. If we are going to ask members of our church to work toward tithing, then we need to tithe as a church as well. I don't care how we get to that 10 percent, but as we grow we need to work toward meeting that goal.

Also, would like to see our church involved in more random acts of kindness for lack of a better word. Maybe you hear somebody talk about something they need or want, and it is within your power to give it to them. Perhaps you can find a way to anonymously get them that gift.

Or maybe you share your home with someone between places to stay. Or you know of someone at work that is struggling that month, and you sneak some groceries in the back of their car when they don't notice.

One way to experience the presence of God is to depend on him to meet your needs. An even more powerful way to experience God's power in your life is to meet the needs of others while depending upon God to meet your needs as well.

I guess what it all comes down to is this. Do you have the courage to trust God. Not just at those moments where you have nowhere else to go. Do you have the courage to live a life trusting God day to day, trusting him with your life, your reputation, your pride, your money? That is the challenge that is put before us when we are encouraged to pray for our daily bread. Are you up to the challenge of prayer and life Jesus has set before us? I hope so.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Our Daily Bread: Dependance

My wife says I don't speak loud enough with these videos, so I tried to speak louder in this one.

Soon videos will include the community of Fowler with the iflip video camera.

Also interesting is that as I put these things together, I begin to learn more about preaching and speaking without notes. I usually use a sermon manuscript to preach with, that I usually publish on this blog. But these videos just may give me the courage at some point to preach with limited notes, and then maybe to preach without notes at all.

This has been a good learning process. Please comment with any feedback about the format or the message.

For those of you who just visit the blog and don't usually comment, please learn to do so. It helps me know that you are here, and it helps me feel I am doing this for more than three people.

If you want to comment and you do not have a blogger account, just skip down to the anonomous box and click it, and type your name at the end of your note. Or spend the two minutes it takes to set up a free blogger account to comment.


ht to Jason

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Our Daily Bread Quotes

Chrysostom from The Gospel of Matthew Homily 19.5:

What is daily bread? Just enough for one day. Here Jesuss is speaking to people who have natural needs of the flesh, who are subject to the necessities of nature. He does not pretend we are angels. He consdesends to the infirmity of our nature in giving us his commands. The severity of nature does not permit you to go without food. So for the maturing of your life, he says, I require necessary food, not a complete freedom from natural necessities. But note how even in things that are bodily, spiritual correlations abound. For it is not for riches or frills that we pray. It is not for wastefulness or extravagant clothing that we pray, but only for bread. And only for bread on a daily basis, so as not to "worry about tomorrow".

Chysostom was known as "Golden Tongue", and was considered the premier teacher and preacher of the early, pre-constantinian church. This is taken from one of his sermons.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quotes about "Our Daily Bread" (unrelated to above)

It is impossible to pray for our daily bread, or for tomorrow's bread today, without being horribly aware of the millions who didn't have bread yesterday, don;t have any today, and in human terms are unlikely to have any tomorrow either. But what can we do about this, as we pray this prayer in church and go home to our Sunday lunch?

NT Wright--The Lord and His Prayer, page 45

Into our pathologically greedy world Jesus teaches "Pray for what you need...for your daily bread." Such an idea begins to make sense only when we seek to live with contentment.

John Ortberg--New Community Bible Study on the Lord's Prayer, page 37

Just had my first Skype phone conversation. It was free. I can see where I will like being a part of the Skype world. Very cool. And very cheap, which makes it even more cool.

For you Colorado Springs folks, got to say hi to Bob Gill. Now if I can have a video conversation with someone....

Jake's foot fetish


This is our dog Jake. This morning, I brought him with me into my office to work. As you might be able to notice, he is a little high strung. He likes a lot of attention, and tends to act out passive-agressively if his attention needs are not met. In other words, he is a little bit spoiled.

Right now, after getting pretty wound up exploring the office, he has laid down. And he has looked at me and sighed a few times.

Our dog has a foot fetish. That is part of the reason I brought him over to my office today. Once again, I went to the back yard after running an errand, and I discovered that my shoe was in the middle of the yard. My wife has lost two slippers so far due to this foot fixation. If we get our shoes in the proper place, Jake does not bother them. But if they are anywhere in the middle of the floor, or not with the other shoes, he grabs the shoes and takes them outside.

Most of the time, he does not bury my shoes. He lays on them. Just like he lays on my feet when I am home. Does anyone else out there have a dog that is obscessed with feet? How do you deal with it?
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Lesson learned as a small town pastor

Somewhere around Halloween of last year I was running around hanging up flyers around town for upcoming events at our church. (I try to keep the community informed of things going on at our church, and we have a great newspaper woman that allows me to write about upcoming events for the newspaper) As I was hanging up these flyers, I ran into a sweet lady from the library board who encouraged me to come to the Friends of the Libary meeting. She wanted me to come because our church has a book club, and she was interested in how that worked, and maybe if I could do the same thing in the community at large.

I decided to go to a Monday night meeting at the library, which is a little over a block from our humble abode. While at the meeting, I was elected President of the Friends of the Library. Choosing to agree to serve in this position has been the worst decision of my short ministry here.

You see, I thought that being President of the Friends of the Library would allow me to use my skills to bring structure, purpose, and direction to an organization that had not officially met in a number of years. To a certain extent in the last couple of months I have been successful with that. We have put together goals and objectives. We have gotten a skills inventory together of Friends of the Library members. I feel good about getting this done in only a few months, and with no bi-laws or structure telling us what to do.

However, in Fowler, being a part of the Friends of the Library has a dark side. I soon came to discover that the library board revived the organization for the sole purpose of sheltering the money they recieved and raised from our city government. Thus, friends of the libary was not so much a place to serve, as it was a organization formed out of political conflict. And stupid new-guy me gets caught in the crossfires.

Laast meeting I went to, I went to dreading even being there. The President of the Library is a very angry woman, and generally treats me with contempt. She sighs when I speak, she rolls her eyes, when she responds to me she uses a very harsh tone. And when it came time for me to report, I had to bring up a very uncomforatble subject. That subject was establishing clear lines of relationship and accountability between the Friends of the Library Board and the Library Board. Especially touchy was the fact that all of the money being raised for the library was in the Friends of the Library account, but that the Library Board believed that the Friends of the Library should have no input or authroity on how that money was spent. I suggested clear written guidelines. The Library Board president said, "The only thing we need you for is to get us money." A few minutes later she ammended her statement, but at that point I was seeing red. I felt used, angry, and disrespected. And I feel determined to quit that board. Which is too bad...because a lot of the things that other Friends' groups do, like programming and gathering people together, I would do fairly good at. But now it is a month later, and I am still feeling like quitting, and worried that if I do people in my church may be disappointed.

Oh some point I am going to have to do what I have to do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My First Video Blog Post

I have not figured out the best angle for this video camera, and have yet to figure out how to look at the camera instead of myself on the screen but I thought it would be interesting to try a few video posts. I am going to try and use video posts as a devotional tool. Please respond to the thoughts as well as the format.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sermon for 3/8/09—Very Rough

A Dangerous Prayer

I need to warn you. The Lord's Prayer is a dangerous prayer to pray.


It is like another prayer I used to pray. What was that prayer? I asked the Lord to give me patience. Have any of you ever prayed for God to give you patience? Have any of you regretted it a few weeks later? Why? Because when I prayed for patience God thought it best in his wisdom to test that patience to build that virtue. So, I prayed for patience, and I got more trying circumstances. I thought I was praying for an easier life. It turned out I was praying for stronger character.


The Lord's Prayer can take us by surprise in a similar way. Especially the part we are going to look at this morning. The second couplet of the Lord's Prayer says this. "Thy Kingdom come…thy will be done...on earth as it is in heaven." Now…we can think of this as a kind of tame prayer. As a kind of prayer where we simply remember God is in charge, and tell ourselves that whatever will be will be. After all, God's will is going to be done. His kingdom is going to come. He is God. We are not. He will take care of us. Praise the Lord.


On a very surface level, there is some truth to understanding this prayer in this way. It is about trusting God. It is about submitting to God's will, whatever that may be. But praying thy kingdom come is a more dangerous prayer that that. Praying thy will be done is a scarier thing than you might think. I urge you to pray the Lord's Prayer. But, I urge you to pray it with caution, and understand what you are really praying for. Because praying "Thy kingdom come…thy will be done…on earth as it does in heaven" is a prayer that invites, and even requires your participation.


I don't know how many of you have read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, or saw the movie. But I suspect that you know that the story was written by C.S. Lewis, and that his purpose in writing it was to introduce children to some of the concepts of the gospel and the kingdom of God through fantasy. One of the things that happens in Narnia is that with the exile of Aslan, a lion that represents Jesus in the story, it is "always winter but never Christmas. " in Narnia Then as the story goes on spring starts in the far corners of Narnia, and as Aslan is on the move, eventually at the heart of Narnia spring appears.


This image of Narnia is a biblical picture of the kingdom of God. Heaven is where God resides. But God's will is for his kingdom to not only to be in heaven, but to slowly grow into a powerful reality here on earth. Moving like the spring sun, melting away fear, sin, isolation and watching it flower into a spring time of hope, forgiveness, community, and new life. When we pray the Lord's Prayer, and we pray "thy kingdom come" we are not praying for the rapture. We are not praying that we will escape earth and be in heaven soon. Quite the opposite. We are praying that God will invade our world, topple the kingdoms of the earth and own our kingdoms, and bring his rule to power in this world, right here and right now. He wants his will to be done right now and right here. Through us. Through his people. Through the church.


So why is this so dangerous a prayer you ask? It is a dangerous prayer for several reasons, which I am going to share with you this morning.


It is a dangerous prayer because YOUR KINGDOM MUST DIE. It must be crushed and crumpled. It must be trampled underfoot. You must surrender your kingdom in order to allow God to reign.


What do I mean by that? I mean this.


Each and every one of us has built up our little kingdoms, and we have put ourselves on the throne of our lives. We are master of our domains. We feel we have earned what we have got. We feel proud of our accomplishments. We think that we deserve this, and we have a right to that.


And then we pray the Lord's Prayer. And we pray that God's kingdom will come. And part of what that means is that we have to take ourselves off of the throne of our lives, and we need to let God's kingdom come into our lives. God needs to rule our eating and drinking, our driving and walking, our shopping and visiting worlds. YOUR KINGDOM MUST DIE so that God's kingdom can come in power, in your life, right now.


That KINGDOM OF CONTROL MUST DIE. You know what I mean by that. This idea that you have to have everything your way. That if you cannot do things your way than they just are not worth doing. The idea that everyone should have to agree with you and do things you like. That idea that Christianity is really about God doing things for you, instead of you giving your life for God. That idea must die. That kingdom must die, so that God's kingdom can live in you. That is what you pray with the Lord's Prayer.


There is no half-heartedness in letting God rule in your life. YOUR KINGDOM MUST COMPLETELY DIE. There is none of this—God you can be my Lord as long as you don't ask me to give up this thing, or love this person, or trust you with living this way. Either you trust God completely or you are not really trusting him at all. YOUR KINGDOM MUST DIE, so God can rule in your life. This is what you pray when you say THY KINGDOM COME. You pray THAT.

YOUR KINGDOM OF COMFORT MUST DIE. This idea that your relationship with Jesus is about helping you feel good must go. Nor should you be coming to church because you have always gone to church and that is what feels comfortable. It is not about whether you like the sermons, or whether you like the songs that we sing. No. It is about offering our lives to Jesus. It is about surrendering ourselves to his mission. If you come to church week after week and month after month, and you are never a little uncomfortable or frustrated, than your kingdom of comfort must die. Because if you pray thy kingdom come you are asking God to challenge you to talk to people you are not comfortable with, to serve him in ways that you might not have served him before, give more than you might think is reasonable, and to love more than you might have thought possible. YOUR KINGDOM must die, so that God's kingdom can grow and live and have full reign in you.


Jesus said it this way, if you want to find your life you must lose it. Jesus said it another way when he said the greatest of you must be the servant of all. Jesus also said, If anyone wants to follow me he or she needs to take up their cross and follow me. I hate to tell you this, but a cross is a painful instrument of death. When Jesus is saying this, he is saying that if you want to pray for his kingdom to come, that there is a part of you that needs to die. This part of you that puts yourself first. That puts your comfort first. That puts your desires first. That even puts your needs first. God's kingdom comes first, if you pray THY KINGDOM COME.


It means if the Bible says something, that you obey what the Bible says, whether you like it or not. Whether it makes sense to you or not. Whether you are comfortable with it or not. When you pray thy kingdom come that is what you are praying. It is a beautiful prayer. It is the prayer that Jesus wants you to pray. But it is a dangerous prayer. Because it will change your world, and turn your world upside down.


Let me take you back to grade school. We have not sung this song with the kids here, but when I grew up we sang this little song called "I'm in the Lord's army" Do you remember it?

**I may never fight in the infantry, ride in the calvary, shoot the artillery, I may never fly over the enemy but I'm in the Lord's army** Who is the general ? God is! What does a general do? He tells you where do go, when to be there, what to do? Why do you do it? Ideally because you believe in the kingdom you are serving, you believe in the cause, you believe in your purpose.


You should serve God's kingdom with the same kind of selflessness, the same kind of willingness to sacrifice, the same kind of willingness to endure pain and hardship as you would if you were a good soldier. Only you should fight with love, faithfulness, truthtelling, long-suffering, grace, kindness, service and the like.

THIS IDEA that the church is our kingdom must die as well. Pastors can live this idea. They can think of churches as places to build a name, or make a reputation. They can make churches all about what the pastor wants and what the pastor's agenda is. This is a difficult line I walk with you. On one hand trying to lead you and to be a strong leader and to give us a little nudge forward when we need to take a nudge forward, and yet on the other hand not making things all about me and wanting things to build my kingdom In Jesus' name. I pray I am finding that balance. I pray I am living thy kingdom come.


But CHURCH, your kingdom must die as well. We must stop thinking of church as a place to come because it is where I get MY needs met. Where I have something that speaks TO ME. Where I feel comfortable. Where we should do it the way we have always done it just because that is what I AM comfortable with. This is God's church, not yours. It is here to serve GOD, not you. Remember we are not the church that prays "OUR KINGDOM COME". No we are the church that prays THY KINGDOM come. YOUR KINGDOM MUST DIE.


You see what happens when you build your personal little kingdoms, and when we make the church into our little kingdoms, instead of about being part of God's kingdom, is that we draw lines and we built moats. We erect walls, and we defend boundaries—just like those medieval kingdoms of old. And we spend all of our energy trying to decide who is in, and who is out. We spend our energy trying to defend ourselves from others instead of offering ourselves to serve others. We spend our energy trying to justify ourselves and why we do things, instead of honestly acknowledging and growing through our weakness. We live in fear instead of in faith. We try and recapture past greatness instead of moving into future promise. We live just trying to maintain what we have instead of growing and learning, moving forward and being transformed.


Friend, God invites you to say "Thy kingdom come". Some of you may have come here this morning never having accepted Jesus Christ as your savior. You may have tried and tried to build this little kingdom for your self. You built your walls up. You gathered whatever treasure you could. And then you look at your life, that you have made all about you, and you realize that your kingdom is small, petty, and powerless to deal with much of the things that you thought you could handle and get under control. I urge you to let your kingdom die. To open your heart to God and let him rule your heart. Let him have free reign in your life. Try things his way. Give him a chance to touch your heart and change your life. I do not thing you will regret it. When we have our invitation this morning, come forward, ask Christ into your heart. Make him your king. Make him your Lord.


Praying God's will to be done is having the courage and the passion to focus our energy on listening to God and then doing what HE SAYS. Even if it is hard. Even if it requires risk. Even if it makes us feel a little out of our realm. And saying YOUR WILL BE DONE. When we say, your will be done, we are saying that we give God control. Yes. But it is also saying that we are willing to say YES to what God asks of us. We are saying YES LORD, I will do what you ask. YES LORD, I will trust you and your word even when I don't understand. YES LORD, I will trust you with my life, my children, my future and my hopes. YES LORD. YOUR WILL BE DONE.


And why do we do this? Because we want God's kingdom to come on earth as is in heaven. We want God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We want the love of God to be visible and real to people on earth right here and now, and not just in heaven. We want the grace of God to be real to people as we live with grace and forgiveness here on earth. Not just in heaven. We want to see God's power to heal and to change lives and to make things new in the world we live in, not just as it will be completely up in heaven. We want our children to know God's love not just in heaven, but here on earth. Right here. Right now. We want that hope, that power, that love, that truth, lived in US and through US, as believers and as a congregation. And that is worth whatever it costs. Because that is much bigger and more important that we could ever dream or imagine.


And when we pray the Lord's prayer, that is what we are asking. When we pray the Lord's Prayer, that is what we are committing to. When we pray the Lord's Prayer, that is the hope that we are living in. That is why we say THY KINGDOM COME. THAT is why we say THY WILL BE DONE. Amen.



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