Tuesday, March 31, 2009

This week's sermon...

My last stolen sermon...I am reforming and vow to steal no more. Acts 17:16-34.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Quote of the week...

Writing about the parable of the prayers of the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14), Robert Farrar Capon hits the nail right on the head. It's a long "Quote of the Week" but well worth it...
“Like all of Jesus' parables, it should carry a warning which is "this will be hazardous to all your previous opinions about how religion works and how God works." Jesus' parables are designed to outrage the hearers and to shock and to show how God has stood almost all of our values on their heads.

The point is that this parable is about death and resurrection. It is not about morality, spirituality or anything else. It is about the fact that both the Pharisee and the Publican (the tax collector), are dead ducks. The Pharisee is a very high class kind of dead duck, but they are both dead as far as being able to reconcile with God is concerned. The point about all of this is that the reconciliation God has in mind for them is totally dependent on their death.

Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works. Jesus taught His disciples for three years. They never caught on to very much at all. God has been teaching the world for a millennia. The world hasn't done anything much about it. The tragedies go on. The lies go on. The nonsense goes on. The twaddle goes on. All the things that are wrong with the world go on. They are not amenable to talk. They are only amenable to action and, therefore, Jesus came to raise the dead -- meaning by deadness, you in your deadness, the Pharisee in his deadness and the tax collector in his deadness.”

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Easter is coming...

Easter is coming two weeks from today.

Are you scared?

That's a silly question, isn't it? Easter doesn’t seem very dangerous. Fluffy bunnies and baskets of chocolate for kids. Pretty colored eggs. Not the sorts of things that would scare you, are they? But to me, Easter is the most dangerous of all “Holy Days”. It’s dangerous because if you believe in Easter it will reorder everything about your life. It’s not something that you can say that you believe and then just ignore. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t. He either was who He said He was or He wasn’t. There really isn’t much middle ground between the two. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead He is way easier to trivialize and ignore. His teachings can be admired, but no one really expects you to follow them. But if He did rise…well that would change everything. Maybe Philip Yancey said it best,
"In many respects I find an unresurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes him dangerous. Because of Easter, I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere."
But in the danger also lies hope. A God who can rise from the dead is never faced with a situation that He cannot “resurrect”. Some of the places we find ourselves in life are for all intents and purposes, “dead”. But that doesn’t limit a Jesus who beat death. In the book 444 Surprising Quotes about Jesus, Scottish Theologian John Macquarrie says,
"The resurrection means that he can bring forth the new. His working never comes to an end, for he can always open up a new possibility ... The cross speaks of God standing with his creatures in the flux of events, the resurrection speaks of his always being ahead of events. Both symbols seem essential to the idea of God."
So my hope for you as you go through your Sunday and begin working your way toward Easter is that you see both the danger and the hope that come from an empty tomb. The danger is that it will shake every foundation on which you build your life. The hope is that what He allows you to rebuild will finally be solid. May God fill you today with the dangerous hope of the resurrection. He is “out there somewhere…”

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Can you tell...

...that I'm not that big on shopping?
Shopping Mall
June 17, 2007

I hate thee, wretched shopping mall
I loathe thy trinkets, big and small
I needed something ‘ere I went
Yet all I found was discontent.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I have experienced many things in my 10 years as a pastor, but none as out of the ordinary as what happened the evening of March 11, 2009. It was to be a normal church business meeting, if there is such a thing. We needed to talk about the finances, select a nominations team for the upcoming Elder/Deacon selections, and briefly discuss a theological issue that we have been kicking around as a body for the past several years. What happened, however, was that in the middle of the theological discussion, after sharing his opinion, one of our long time members (a founding member in fact) collapsed and died of a heart attack.

Needless to say they never covered that one in Seminary.

Roy Corbett was 83. He was a man who I loved dearly and a man who loved me. This was despite the fact that on a few issues we could never see eye to eye. We made our peace with that about 8 years ago. We agreed that we both wanted to see Jesus lifted up in this church so that people could come to know Him. Where we disagreed was how the path to that would actually look.

From that time on, even though Roy and I loved and respected each other, business meetings were often the scene of some interesting discussions. Roy often said to me, "If you can't be open and honest with your church family then where can you be?" I agreed. Roy had the unusual gift of being honest about his disagreement with you and yet still loving you. It's a gift that I will miss.

As a pastor, I felt extremely emotional about the fact that Roy died as he did. There are always periods of second guessing - times of wondering what if? Regrets about things that could have been done differently, not just in the meeting, but in the past 10 years. Roy's family has made that easier to work through. In them I have seen the same love and respect that I always felt from Roy...although I must admit, they do it a bit more softly.

There are times that living in a broken world just gets to you. Watching Roy die and then walking with the family in their time of hopeful (dare I even say joyful) grief made it possible to see past the brokenness of our lives into the wholeness that comes through Jesus. I am still mentally trying to work through all that happened and I am sure that there will be more to write in the future. But for now I'll leave it with an article written by our local Member of Parliament, Chuck Strahl, a great man who I highly respect. And one who writes beautifully about his relationship with Roy.
Roy Corbett
By Chuck Strahl
March 25, 2009

You had to be there. Sure, it was a funeral and all, and who likes going to a funeral? But you should have been there at Roy Corbett's funeral, because a.) that would have meant you had known Roy in some capacity during the past 83 years, and b.) his funeral was a wonderful example of a celebration of life.

The church in Hope was packed, so plenty of people had known Roy, alright. He was the mayor of Hope back in the 60’s and 70’s, and remained an enthusiastic proponent of the town all of his life. Perhaps because he was a contemporary of my own dad (Same age, same logging background, same 'my-word-is-my-bond' ethics.) and because Dad spoke so fondly of all the Corbetts, all of us Strahls paid attention to him. He was also the first elected person I had ever met personally, and he was such a huge, outspoken character that a 'young fella' (His description of a wet-behind-the-ears but otherwise okay teenager.) like me wanted to be around him whenever possible.

Okay, to be honest, all of the Corbetts had, and still have, some of that in them. At the funeral, all five of the children took a turn at the pulpit to tell stories about their dad. Every one of them, in their own unique way, communicates a little bit like Roy himself. They knew they were well-loved by their dad, and it showed. Lots of laughter and self-deprecating humour, colourful anecdotes, usually with a teachable moment or principled position explained in a new way. And laughter. Lots of it.

If they had told stories non-stop for a week they would have only touched the surface of his colourful life. My own, first non-logging memories of Roy and his brother Vern were the duck-hunting trips we took with them as teenagers. The Strahl boys would flail the sky with buckshot- mostly ineffectively – while the Corbetts would chirp, "Two-bits, two-bits!" (The cost of a 1970 shotgun shell.) every time we blasted away. And then roar with laughter.

When Deb and I were married in 1975 we moved to Hope and Roy was the Mayor. It was Halloween, so Deb, my brother Stan, and I carved pumpkins and took them to his house, demanding that he use His Worship-like good judgment to pick a winner from the 3 'candidates'. He declared that mine was the 'loser', which wasn't what I had in mind. "You're supposed to pick the winner,” I protested. "Young fella", he replied good naturedly, "by picking the loser I made two people happy and only one unhappy. It's a lesson I learned in politics". Then he grinned that big grin of his and laughed.

Roy had a massive heart attack 25 years ago and it was touch and go whether he would recover. But he did and he continued as usual down the path of life, holding fast to his unshakeably strong opinions, and mixing in his usual jokes and laughter. Lots of hunting and fishing rounded things out and made the legendary stories even more legendary.

And it's impossible to talk about his life without talking about his church and his relationship with God. Roy and Betty devoted untold hours and dollars to their church and to children's camps, helping others enjoy the great outdoors and experience God's grace. Roy and the family were always involved in church, and two of the children are in full-time ministry work. It was an integral part of his life.

The day Roy died, the church had its business meeting, and of course Roy had an opinion on how they should conduct their business. His doctor had warned him to take it easy, to stay away from controversy, and avoid stressful situations. "I'm going to that meeting,” he told whoever would listen, "And I'm going to speak my mind if it's the last thing I do!" So he went to the meeting, took the floor, gave them all a ‘piece of his mind’, sat down, and within a minute or so, passed away. It really was the last thing he ever did!

If Roy could have told that story at his own funeral, he would have told it, I think, with quite a chuckle. Perhaps it was a fitting end. Speaking from his heart and faithful to his convictions, seated beside people he cared for in the church he loved.

He was a big man in so many ways – in all the right ways. He will be missed, especially by his wife Betty, but he will not be forgotten.
"Speaking from his heart and faithful to his convictions, seated beside people he cared for in the church he loved." I couldn't have said it better myself. For more on Roy's life read the Hope Standard article here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My wife is VERY interesting...

Angela just posted her "25 interesting things about me" on Facebook. I think the whole world should know them so here they are...

1. I've only gotten our mail once since living here in Hope the last 10 years. I don't like running into people and making small talk about the weather.

2. I enjoy my own company which is fortunate because I'm always with myself.

3. My favorite hobby is canning. I can my brains out and thoroughly enjoy the process.

4. My faith is the size of a mustard seed which I feel is unfortunate but sufficient.

5. Our "family song" that we sing out very loudly and often on road trips is Good-bye Earl by the Dixie Chicks.

6. Looking at old black and white photographs makes my stomach feel sad and makes me want to live an amazing life.

7. We had a double wedding with my sister and her husband which was super.

8. I felt embarrassed at our wedding when I had to say my vows, I think it was saying slightly sappy things right in front of other people that got me.

9. My husband is the most consistently amazing person I have ever met and he thinks I'm pretty cool too.

10. I only like talking on the phone with my sister, parents, Jeff and my girls.

11. If I have to call through a list of people I'll break it up in chunks because it stresses me right out.

12 My husband works as a pastor which is most likely the weirdest job on earth.

13. We love traveling with our girls and would go anywhere and have been seriously tempted to "sell it all" and live in a rolling turd.

14. I had a blast in college but slightly regret not learning anything.

15. I also had fun in high school but have no regrets about not learning anything.

16. I have fibromyalgia and lots of "early onset" arthritis which I find quite bothersome. Also just discovered a bunion on my foot that hurts but just saying the word makes me laugh.

17. I'm not really into reading. My favorite book is written by Ann Lamott called Traveling Mercies.

18. My husband reads books like crazy and sometimes I pretend to be interested in what he's reading by nodding occasionally and maintaining eye contact.

19. I can only relax when my house is clean. Bummer, I know. I have tried to let it go but it just doesn't work for me.

20. I think women who can relax and drink coffee with cupboard doors hanging open are very cool.

21. My Mom thinks I'm better at everything than I really am. I like this.

22. In college I jumped on top of that big huge outdoor tennis bubble in Richmond. It was hard to run up the side of it and scarier then I had anticipated when I finally made it to the top.

23. We had a sabbatical a couple of years ago and did a 4 month road trip to Alabama. It was 4 months of glorious bliss.

24. A granny-square is aptly named.

25. We have 4 daughters 15,13,10,& 8. Each of them are unique and come with their own gifts and quirks. We think they're great.

Easy to understand...difficult to live

Fear is a part of everyone's life to some degree. In fact, fear is healthy and often keeps us from making stupid and dangerous mistakes. What I had not realized until the past few years is that at times I am becoming afraid to read the Bible. It seems the more I read it the more it challenges my assumptions and calls me to greater surrender. I have noticed that in my own life often my approach is to spend a lot of time trying to reason out what the Scriptures mean instead of actually just listening to what they say. This is particularly true in the way that I have approached the teachings of Jesus. As we read the gospels, especially the parables, we sometimes are forced to admit that the struggle is not understanding them so much as it is listening and applying the truth that Jesus is communicating. The “Good Samaritan” says, “Love your enemies.” The workers in the vineyard remind us to love the generosity of God and to follow his example of grace. The Prodigal shows us the shameful lengths God will go to in order to bring us back into the family. These truths aren’t complicated, just hard to live and thus easy to explain away. Kierkegaard said something similar when he wrote,
“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly …you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” (Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, p. 201)
We need to approach the Bible with our guard down. The goal is to set the New Testament free in your life. Don’t control it, just listen and ask God to help you to live like Jesus. It's a bit scary, but nothing to be afraid of...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Word Creation Wednesday...

Here's the word for this week...
"Biosimplification" - The tendency to assume that you understand the nature of an individual and the scope of their entire life from a series of brief interactions with that person. While we find it demeaning when our life is "biosimplified" and intuitively we know that our assumptions are most likely overly simplistic, we continue to "biosimplify" others as it allows us to categorize people and in the process ignore anything that God may be saying to us through their lives. The truth (if we can admit it) is that it's just simpler to write someone off than to actually take the time to get to know them. And simple is good...right?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This week's sermon...

The third in the stolen sermons series...I really wanted to call it "When the Preacher got Stoned..." but I refrained. Acts chapter 7.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quote of the week...

"I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world."
-- Mother Teresa

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A thought...

The life of an individual is so multi-layered that wisdom dictates we should be slow to form our opinions based on a few interactions. The person who cuts you off in traffic or speaks harshly to you is so much more than just that. He may be a husband and father. He may be a philanthropist. He may have never had the opportunities you have been given. He may be just having a difficult day. We do know for sure that he is a broken human being just like you and I. None of us would like to be judged on a select few moments of our lives, so from now on maybe we should just begin to give others the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Getting Lost in a Bigger Story...

Immerse Me in Your Story, God.
June 9, 2007

Immerse me in your story God.
From tempting fruit and serpent’s lies.
To Abraham with knife held high
And heart that longs to die.

Fill me with the joy he knew
When ram was laid upon the stone
Isaac journeyed with Him home
To Sarah’s laughing smile

Immerse me in your story God
Shepherd boy ascends to throne
Giant killer, 5 smooth stones
Your power through the weak

How beautiful the twist of plot
From lustful king to heart like yours
Broken vessel from which you pour
Yourself – in poet’s prayers

Immerse me in your story God
The prophets ate your book and said
Words to those who wished them dead
Who often got their wish

In death they told your story well
What others didn’t want to see
A prophet saw with clarity
My hope - To have their eyes

Can these bones live?
You know, O Lord, they can.

Your WORD has come, and story told
A story quiet, story free
Life from death, sweet irony
Renewing all who hear

Far more than words on page, in air
They aren’t just heard, they shape
Add to me as well as take
Like breath to dead bones giv’n

A story told with joyful pain.
Describing who I am to be, undoing, captivating me
The me my dark eyes can’t yet see
The me you’re telling me to be

Friday, March 20, 2009

Don’t go to church.

Don’t go to church. I mean it. You shouldn’t go. In fact, you can’t. One of the greatest misunderstandings about church today is that it is a place that you go to. But take some time to read through the New Testament and you’ll quickly see that the “church” is not a location, but a group of people. You can’t go to church…you have to be the church. Church is a people, not a building. It’s an organism, not an organization. A church is people who have accepted the forgiveness Jesus offers through His death and resurrection, and have committed their lives to follow His teachings. His Spirit then lives inside them and brings them together into one body with Jesus as the head.

That has huge implications for us. Church is more about how we live than where we spend our Sunday mornings. The people of Jeremiah’s day were doing whatever they wanted and then coming to the temple and saying, “We’re safe here…” But God makes it pretty clear to them (and to us today) that places aren’t sacred. What God wants is a people who follow Him wherever they are.
"Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!" If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
--Jeremiah 7:2-8
So what's the catch? Does that mean that we can just sleep in on Sunday? People often say to me, “If I become a Christian does that mean that I have to go to church?” Here’s my response, “No, you don’t have to go to church, you have to be the church.” The honest truth is that being the church is impossible if you try to walk it alone. We were made to follow Jesus as a people. Being the church entails knowing, loving and serving each other. So it's hard to be the church without getting together with the rest of the church. The problem I am trying to address is the idea that just showing up on Sunday is enough. Jesus came to change all of your life, and all of the lives around you. He wants you to do more than just show up in a building once a week. He wants your life!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Guatemala Update...

My friend Wes has added another beautifully written story from our time in Guatemala. It's one of my favorites - Tony the Stoner - you can read it here.

It's only money...

I wrote before about our inability to comprehend the numbers that are being thrown around in Washington DC today. My good friend Gary Bergen passed this on to me -

Just how much is a trillion dollars...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Word Creation Wednesday...

At times life happens in a way that you could never expect, predict, or emotionally prepare for. There are moments of crisis when you wonder if it is possible to face the future at all. Out of those moments comes today's word...
"Theolasticity" - The characteristic of God whereby He always stretches to be big enough for the situation at hand no matter how tragic, unexpected, or emotional the event. In truth, it is not God who stretches to meet our need, but our own mental and emotional understanding of His capacity that grows, enabling us to trust further than we ever have.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This week's sermon...

Another stolen sermon, this time from Acts 3:11-4:12.

Truth is stranger than fiction...

Look at what happened in my town last Wednesday. Bus full of students, on their way home, and the rear axle comes completely off. No one was hurt, but lots of parents are questioning the safety of school buses.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Quote of the week...

From a great hero of mine, spoken eight days before his murder...
"Those who think that my preaching is political, that it incites to violence, as though I were the cause of all the evils in the land, forget that the church’s word does not invent the evils in the world; it casts a light on them.

The light shows what is there, it does not create it. The great evil is already there, and God’s word wants to undo those evils. It points them out, as it must, for people to return to right ways.”
Oscar Romero, March 16, 1980

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Blessing for your Day...

A Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them, and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

(author unknown)

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Anybody know if this is real? And if so would you drive across it?


My friend Stefan says, yes, it's real. Get the details here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Danger of Life-Likeness...

Spiritual death doesn't always look like you think it would. Physical death is obvious. Spiritual death can be more subtle. I was reminded of this last time I was in the southern US. As you drive throughout the south you can't travel very far without seeing what is in the picture above - Kudzu. Kudzu is a vine that was introduced to the south as a miracle plant in the mid-1900's. It helps to control soil erosion as well as functions as a great high protein food for livestock. What a great idea, eh? Not. What no one knew was that the southern US was the ideal growing climate for Kudzu. The hot humid summers and the mild winters led to what you see in the picture - a vine that covers everything. It's actually kind of cool to look at; a blanket for the forest. Very much alive. But what you may not notice is that the trees underneath it are completely sheltered from the sun. Grade 10 biology reminds us of a little process called photosynthesis - the way in which plants convert sunlight to food. When you drive down the highway, the beautiful kudzu that you see everywhere - so green and full of life - is masking the trees underneath that are dying due to lack of sunlight.

So what does this have to do with my spiritual life? I'm glad you asked. Far too often we think that if we appear spiritually alive we are alive. We are a "seeker" or "a very spiritual person", but often it's only a shallow covering of life that veils a dying soul underneath. Jesus said that about the Pharisees...
"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (Jn. 5:39-40)
They were very active in their religion. Society around them would have said they were the spiritual ones. But Jesus says they are missing life because they refuse to come to Him. And that leads them to the point where they are dying spiritually. Jesus tells it like it is...
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Mt. 23:27-28)
Spiritual death, like Kudzu, gives the appearance of life. But the truth is that death is going on beneath the surface. More dangerous than death is pseudo-life. The challenge comes in admitting our need. Like men on a vacation, we can't admit that we are lost and need directions. Look deeper than the surface of your life. What is it that is going on underneath?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pope now consulting the internet...

Does anyone else find it ironic that the Pope, seen by many Catholics to be the voice of God on the earth, says this in regards to the Bishop Williamson schmozle?
"I have been told that consulting the information available on the Internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future the Holy See will have to pay greater attention to that source of news."
More here.

A post worth reading...

Desert Pastor always has good stuff to say. Here's an old post that is worth thinking through today...
"In today's world of runaway consumerism and materialism, one's chosen vocation increasingly takes a back seat to one's occupation. Why? Because possessions and status have become more important to us than calling and purpose. We've been sold a bill-of-goods. We've been seduced. And what we've given up is far more valuable than most people realize...My point then is simply this: when this vocation gives way to, submits to, our occupation, the working of God's Spirit through us is virtually neutered, and we become "Christian" in name only. And the prevalence of such "Christians" -- both inside and outside of traditional congregations - seems alarmingly high."
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Word Creation Wednesday...

This week's word speaks to the changing face of "normal" in our world.
"Surreality" - The state whereby something surreal (like school and church shootings, homelessness and hunger in a world whose wealthiest societies have enough to solve the problem, and the defining of success by the financial statement) seems to become the norm. It has drastic consequences such as increased self-centeredness, depression, and despair which in turn tend to exacerbate the problem. This condition can only be corrected by opening our eyes to how abnormal our world really is and surrendering our lives to God's "normal". We were made for more than this.
There is a normal that is real and not surreal, where we love and forgive, where people are more important than what they can give you, and where turning the other cheek is actually a way of life. A normal where people are loved because God loves them, not because they do something for us. A normal where we want God to bless America...and the rest of the world too - even our enemies - even those of a different political party or ideology. Jesus calls us to His normal. But then again, they killed Him. His normal is not for the faint of heart.

These things we call words...

Ever have trouble understanding what someone meant, or had someone misunderstand you. That's what inspired this poem...

What you tried to say…
June 12, 2007

A word is just a bucket
That you fill with what you mean
An unusual transaction
Not as simple as it seems

For when you pass that bucket
To another on your way
They drink up what they think you mean
From what you tried to say

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This week's sermon...

Moving into a new series of 4 sermons from Acts. Here's the first one from Acts 2:14-41.

Monday, March 09, 2009

That's interesting...

The rise in evangelical Christianity is contributing to the rejection of religion altogether by some Americans, said Mark Silk of Trinity College.
Read the full details here. What are your thoughts about that?

Pray for the Winters Family

From Todd Rhodes... (more here)
I'm sure it seemed like just any other Sunday yesterday morning when Pastor Fred Winters left his house for the church. Little did he know that while he was preaching during the first service at First Baptist Church of Maryville, IL, a man would walk up the center isle and shoot and kill him. The congregation at FBC was caught off guard as well, in fact many people thought that this was just part of a sermon illustration (Pastor Winters would often use unusual illustrations and dramas during worship). It was all over in seconds. According to some reports, Fred held up his Bible to shield himself from the shots of the 27 year old gunman. But it was to no avail. Pastor Winters was pronounced dead at the local hospital minutes later. Fred leaves behind a beautiful wife and two young daughters.
CNN story here.

Quote of the week...

Annie Dillard, from her essay, "An Expedition to the Pole" found in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk, writes something that I come back to over and over...
"On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."

Saturday, March 07, 2009

You gotta love this...

Not sure where I found this...it was buried in some old files on the hard drive, but I love it. I hope you enjoy it too...
Herbert A. Millington Chair - Search Committee
412A Clarkson Hall,
Whitson University
College Hill, MA 34109

Dear Professor Millington,

Thank you for your letter of March 16. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite Whitson's outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor in your department this August. I look forward to seeing you then. Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.


Chris L. Jensen

Friday, March 06, 2009

What do our lives say?

Since I constantly make horrendous mistakes when I try to converse in Spanish, I have always been a fan of truths that get "lost in translation". I guess it makes me feel better to see other's lack of multi-lingual proficiency. Some time ago I came across as list printed in The Los Angeles Times. It's a sampling of signs from around the world that attempted to communicate in English.
  • In a hotel elevator in Paris: “Please leave your values at the front desk.”
  • In a hotel in Zurich: “Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.”
  • On the door of a Moscow inn: “If this is your first visit to Russia, you are welcome to it.”
  • In a Soviet newspaper: “There will be a Moscow exhibition of arts by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years.
  • In a Bucharest hotel lobby: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.”
Many times we struggle with correctly communicating who Jesus is to the world. The goal is to say the right words and then back them up with a lived out an example, but when it comes down to it, all that we say and do is worthless if it is not inspired by God’s spirit. If this is the case, and I am sure that it is, maybe we need to worry a little less about what we say and how we say it, and a lot more about seeking out what God's Spirit is up to in the world around us. I’m not saying that we need to be careless in our words and lives, but that we need to apply our efforts in areas where people are already seeking. Peter spoke the truth clearly, but the people were “cut to the heart” because the Spirit was applying the truth to their lives. Maybe our prayer should be, “Lord direct me to the places where you are at work in the hearts of men and women. And as always, give me the courage to speak and live in such a way that what I do and say can help people to see Jesus clearly.” That’s a courageous prayer. But those are the best kind.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Hey You!!

Once upon a time
There was a God
Who so loved the world
That he gave his son
His only son.
And they took that son
And they hung him on a cross
And that son died.
And they buried the son—
Sealed him up tight.
But God said,
“Oh no you don’t”
And he rolled back the rock,
He unsealed his son
And his son came out,
Came out walking and breathing
And he was Alive.
And he’s alive today
And he walks around
And he stalks around
Breathing life and life

Every morning just before dawn
For thousands of years
Little grim people—
Preachers and bankers and
Storekeepers and students—
Sneak up to the grave and
Roll back the stone
To seal it up tight.

And every morning
God roars
“Oh no you don’t!”
And he flings back the stone.
And out walks Jesus
All over again;
Out stalks the
Grinning, striding Jesus.

Little people
Hover all day
Around the tomb
And cover it with
And bow before it
And walk before it
And sigh before it;
And pray to it
And sing to it
And weep to it
And lean on it.
And weep to it
And lean on it.
And no one
Or at least
They pretend not
To notice,
The living
Out on the
Edge calling
“Hey you!”

-- Lois Cheney, God Is No Fool pp 115, 116

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Word Creation Wednesday...

This week's word is related to the post below it...

Infobulimia - The knowledge disorder, made more rampant in large part by the internet, whereby people gorge themselves on information, regurgitate it to anyone in their vicinity, yet never let it actually nourish or develop them in any significant mental, emotional, or spiritual way. At one time this would have been socially unacceptable and seen as a shallow approach to life yet at present it seems to be highly regarded, with "infobulimics" perceived as people who are "in the know". This is the condition referred to by Mark Twain when he said, "You may have noticed that the less I know about a subject the more confidence I have, and the more new light I throw on it." (A Bibliography of Mark Twain, Johnson, 1935)

Too much information

There are many diseases in the world today. Poverty in the third world leads to aids, malaria, and dysentery. Prosperity at home blesses us with diabetes, cholesterol, and heart disease. While I claim no medical expertise, I am noticing a silent killer that I think may be more deadly than all of these.

I call it numbness of soul.

I am currently reading Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, the story of the 2006 shooting in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. I remember the event. I followed the story on CNN and have often used the response of the Amish to point to the kind of forgiveness that all Christians are called to offer to the world around them. I expected to be reminded of these truths as I picked up the book and started to read. What I did not expect was the depth of emotion that rose up from within me as once again I heard of how Charles Carl Roberts IV planned and executed the massacre. My eyes filled with tears as I read how Amish children offered their lives in an attempt to save others, how one mother held her daughter while she died in one hospital only to travel to another hospital and repeat the same experience with another daughter, and how a community responded in a way unimaginable by the world around them. At one point I had to close the book, my heart heavy with the grief that accompanies this kind of tragedy.

I learned nothing new about the event as I read, but my eyes were opened to a deeper truth about myself. I realized the flippant nature with which I had approached the story when it first happened. I skimmed the surface of the tragedy, took a moment to allow the shock of the event to register in my mind, and then flitted off to some other news story that caught my eye – the rise or fall of the market, the latest Hollywood scandal, the empty campaign promises made by some political candidate.

“Surfing the internet” is such a good phrase. We skim the surface but never penetrate. We ride on top of this powerful force of evil, controlling it for our own enjoyment. We become addicted to the adrenalin rush of speeding over tragedy, and if we are really good at it, we don’t even get our hair wet.

Yet this time I fell in. The truth of what actually happened filtered deeper than the headlines of CNN had penetrated almost three years ago. Instead of surfing I was pulled under, confronted by my own inability to control this wave, terrified by the power of what actually happened. Though it felt as if I was drowning, the overwhelming nature of the event allowed me to make connections between my eyes, my head, and my heart. All of the sudden the mothers and fathers who lost their daughters were like me. My four daughters were the girls who lost their lives. The horrendous nature of the event poured its coldness deep into my soul and for a brief moment I saw something very clearly. When I first heard the story I was numb to the reality of what happened.

I live in a world where there is more information at my fingertips than ever before. Yet in my gluttony of knowledge I find that I often stuff so much in that I fail to taste any of it. Rather than experience the story and reflect on what God is saying to me through it, I am content to merely possess the information. While humanity grieves I am thinking of how this will become a topic to fill a lull in conversation or a great sermon illustration. I know more about what is going on in the world than any generation before me, yet I am impacted by it less.

I have become so conditioned to the normalcy of death and evil that my soul doesn’t even flinch. While numbness is a natural way to avoid pain, pervasive and continual numbness destroys us. A numb soul forgets how to feel. We lose touch with things that should shape us. Within days of the shooting I had lost interest in story, but those who lived it had not. Their lives were forever different.

I have written how often words can be overused and undervalued. Maybe the same is true of knowledge. Maybe we need to know about fewer things but know about them in a deeper way, a way that touches our soul, a way that impacts us. Maybe the danger in our world is not of knowing too little, but of knowing too much; skimming the surface of life instead of living it. Maybe in occupying our minds we neglect to develop our soul.

If so, we will one day suffer the consequences.

Maybe we already are.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Things are a bit different now...

...than they were back in 1863. The senate asked the president to declare a National Day of Prayer, Fasting, and Humiliation. Lincoln complied and said in the declaration -
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! (Read the rest here.)
Probably not going to happen today as a declaration from the white house. But it could happen within my house and your house. And that wouldn't be a bad idea.

This week's sermon...

Made it through Amos...Chapter 9 is ruin to renewal in only 15 verses...

Full study guide can be found online here.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Something new...

What you see below is a bit different from what I have done in the past. I have signed up to review books for Thomas Nelson on this blog and the first installment is my short review of The Faith of Barak Obama below. Hope you enjoy...

The Faith of Barak Obama by Stephen Mansfield

Mansfield's The Faith of Barak Obama is an excellent read. I began the book with some skepticism, expecting an attempt to make Obama say something that he hasn't or twist his own words against him. What I found was a refreshing surprise. Instead of seeking to provide a definitive answer in regards to Obama's spiritual state, Mansfield provides a helpful survey of the spiritual influences - family, church, and political - that have shaped the faith that Obama holds today. His purpose is to "...understand the religious life of Barack Obama and the changes in American religious history that he has come to represent." (p.xxiii) His chapter on Trinity United Church of Christ beautifully portrays the tension between the gospel and political liberation as seen in black theology and is worth the price of the book alone. Mansfield understands that Obama's description of his conversion to Christianity is frustrating to American evangelicals for its lack of clarity. But rather than pick Obama's wording apart in order to verify true conversion, Mansfield is content to let the ambiguity and uncertainty stand. If you’re seeking the definitive answer about Obama’s eternal destiny this book will disappoint. But if your goal is to better understand both why Obama frames his faith in the way he does and the fascinating relationship between faith and American politics, this book is well worth your time.

Quote of the week...

For this week's quote I share with you my philosophy of preaching...

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather the wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
-- Antoine de Saint Exupery

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Oh Daddy dear you know you're still number one...

...but girls, they wanna have fun...

Here's one of the reasons I love to live in my house!!