Thursday, August 31, 2006

Down the Hatch!


She ate today! Yippee! The doctor smiled and said if she continues to make such excellent progress, she'll be coming home this weekend!

Orange jello for breakfast
Green Jello for lunch
Yellow Jello f0r dinner

Doing Much Better!


My lovely lady is doing much better this morning!

They served her a fine goumet orange jello breakfast. Pray that this is the beginning of Chapter 2 entitled, "Coming Back Home." If she's able to eat, that's a BIG step in the right direction.

We have been overwhelmed with the expressions of love and support from our congregation, as well as friends and family from across the land.

Prayers have been lifted from Nova Scotia, Californnia, Indiana, Virginia, New York, Colorado, New Bruswick, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, South Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee -- and a bunch of other places I can't even remember right now. Amazing! God's family is really big.

Today, Cathy asked, "What happens if they release me on Sunday? What will you do about church?"

I replied, "The church is Jesus' bride -- and your mine! I'll let Him take care of His bride, and I'll take care of you!"

She smiled and replied, "You've come a long way, baby."

The Valley of Baca


"Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the ways of them, who passing through the valley of Baca, make it a well; the rain also fills the pools. They go from strength to strength—every one of them in Zion appeareth before God."
--Psalm 84:5-7 (KJV)

Some time ago, after I'd preached on this verse, my friend, Jim Burmeister, loaned me a casette tape by Jack Hyles on the "The Valley of Baca."

Now, Jack Hyles isn't exactly my type. He's a snortin', yellin', narrow minded, independant, fundamentalist Baptist preacher. (Actually, he was that -- but five years ago, he went home to be with Jesus, so, most likely, his rough edges have been sanded off and he's a Wesleyan now!)

However, driving to the hospital, ol' brother Jack really preached a good sermon to me -- snortin' and yellin' all the way. My heart was blessed. "Even though he's dead, yet he speaks."

Basically, there were two points:

1. Everybody, sooner or later, has to go through the Valley of Baca.

Baca is the place of weeping -- sickness, sorrow, trouble, loss.

2. When you are in the Valley of Baca, Dig a Well!

Dig a well for those who will follow after you -- those who will experience the same sufferings. Don't just waste your trial -- dig a well to be a source of hope and blessing to others who will follow the same path.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Grandma Yoda


Ryan has often remarked that Grandma reminds him a lot of Yoda: a small spiritual warrior. She's little, but mighty and wise. Thus, he blended pictures of Grandma and Yoda together into this unique work of art!

"Try not. Do or do not. There is no try."

"When 900 years you reach, look as good, you will not."

"Size matters not."

Pray that Cathy can Eat

About noon today, the specialist came in to visit with us. He said that 80% of all cases of pancreatitis are due to alcoholism or gall stones.

The c.t. scan indicated that there are no gall stones -- and Cathy is definitely NOT an alcoholic -- so that leaves her in the 20%, and they are puzzled.

Right now, they are calling it "idiopathic acute pancreatitis" -- which basically means, they have no idea what caused it.

They are not planning on doing any surgeries or anything like that at the present moment -- but we are asking that you pray for her to be able to eat tomorrow.

If she can't eat -- then they will end up feeding her through a tube down her nose, and she really doesn't want to do that.

Thus far, she's progressing well, however, and may be able to go home in a few days.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Long Day

Just now, they took Cathy down to have a c.t. scan. We waited all day -- and at 1o:00 p.m., it's finally happening. We won't know any of the results until tomorrow.

As a pastor, I've visited hundreds of people in the hospital -- but I had no clue of the long endurance it requires to "wait" for the next step.

The doctor was concerned about a rise in Cathy's white blood cell count -- but the situation won't get any better by fretting.

Tonight, we prayed together and drew strength from Psalm 34.

She's really groggy right now. I think this might be a good time to get her to agree to stuff!

I am so thankful for good friends who took our children in -- Randy and Pam Young invited Luke and Wes to their place. Jeff and Roberta Jackson opened their home to Hannah -- and I'm staying free at Fairfield Inn, thanks to a generous donation of "lodging points" from Jeff.

Ryan is at home, holding down the fort. Pastors Heath and Loretta assured me that they would check in on him and make sure he doesn't starve.

Adam is at college in New Brunswick, and we've had limited communication thus far.

Tonight, I am exhausted, but thankful -- for a good God, good friends, good kids, and a good wife -- who stays a classy lady, even when loopy with morphine.

Update

There was room at the inn after all! The ambulance crew took her there this morning. They'll be running various tests, and we'll know much more later on today.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Cathy Update

Cathy is still in the hospital -- and very ill.

Though I've walked that corridor hundreds of times, today, I felt like a visitor in a strange and forboding land. It feels much different when you're the one in need.

On our 24th wedding aniversary, I am keenly aware of how precious married love is. One must never take such a treasure for granted.

She slept mostly, and I watched, occasionally holding her hand.

The doctor says she needs to go by ambulance to a bigger city. They have done a good job in Hayward, but her condition is beyond their ability.

We're hoping for St. Mary's in Duluth -- but at this point, no rooms are available. Ironic, isn't it? No room at the Inn called St. Mary's? I'm praying for a room.

It looks like Cathy will have some sort of surgery, and will be in the hospital at least a week. It's going to be a long haul.

This is definitely NOT what I had figured today would look like.

Still, she looked kinda cute in her hospital gown!

Weeds


A couple of days ago, I had a rare Saturday without any pastoral responsibilities.

I spent the whole day doing yard work -- trimming branches, cutting grass, picking blackberries and weeding the garden.

Heavy schedule demands had kept me from the garden over the past several days. I'm amazed at how quickly weeds can grow!

A whole section of the garden was covered with a flowering mossy weed bed. "Where in the world did all that come from?" I puzzled, "Getting all this out of the garden is going to take all day!"

But then, on closer investigation, I found that the widespread nuisance had one root! Pulling one little root took care of entire big problem!

You know, weeds like that spring up in church, too! Problem weeds!

When it seems like there's a negative situation and "people are concerned", often everything goes back to one little root -- one negative, disgrunted person -- one misunderstanding -- one trouble maker.

Deal properly with the root, and the whole problem goes away.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Sad Turn of Events

Something dreadful happened after church today.

Cathy and I had plans to go t0 Duluth for an overnight getaway, to celebrate our 24th aniversary tomorrow. We had really been looking forward to a couple of days alone together.

A few minutes after the 11:00 service, I was meeting with a couple, when my daughter, Hannah, barged barefoot into my office -- terror in her eyes.

"Dad, come quick!" she cried, "Momma's REALLY sick. She needs you to come home now and take her to the hospital!"

"Hospital????"

I dashed to the car and rushed home to find Cathy crumpled on the floor, pale, clammy, and writhing in pain. I'd never seen her that sick before in all our years together.

Everything happened so fast. She was feeling great this morning -- and then whammo. It hit her hard.

Within a few minutes, I had her in the Emergency Room, where they diagnosed the problem as: acute pancreatitis.

So -- instead of a romantic trip to Glensheen Mansion, Red Lobster, and a room at Spirit Mountain, we will celebrate our 24th in Room 90 at Hayward Area Memorial Hospital.

They say she will be in there two or three days. I'm becoming a "fast learner" about the pancreas. Please pray for my sweetheart. We still don't know what caused it.

(The only thing the doctor has ruled out thus far is alcoholism.)

On the brighter side -- Hayward Hosptial recently renovated their rooms. That will be the most expensive room we've ever rented for our aniversary -- and the forest view out the window is spectacular.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Blog of the Week

Blog of the Week: Jim Watkins

Trying and Doing


Last night, I watched the old classic civil war film, Shenandoah.

In it, the farmer, Charlie Anderson (Jimmy Stewart) says:

"Somehow, I just had to try. If we don't try, we can't do,
and if we don't do, then why are we here on this earth?"

Now, that sure applies to church, doesn't it?

Most great works have not been accomplished, because they never were attempted.

Friday, August 25, 2006

God Has Caller I.D.


Jeremiah 33:3 says "Call to me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things."

The beautiful thing about calling upon the Lord is that the line's never busy, he's always home, and you never get his answering machine!

God DOES have caller i.d., however -- he knows your number! In fact he knows much more about you that you know about yourself! Yes, he has caller i.d. -- and he's always delighted to take your call.

Prayer is the most important thing a person can do. It is the highest privilege and the greatest human activity. When we're connecting with our loving Creator -- we are then, most alive and real. Prayer is the breath of the soul!

Here are five great prayers. We usually pray the last two first -- but, really, we should pray the first three before we get around to the last two:

1. Forgive Me
2. Fill Me
3. Use Me
4. Help Me
5. Bless Me

W tend to pray "Bless Me" and "Help Me" too quickly -- without considering the level of our commitment. "Good Lord, bless this mess!"

Too often, we pray last. We wreck it and then ask God to rectify it.

God is much more likely to bless us, when we LIVE in His blessing. How can we pray "help me" when we're not willing to say "fill me?" How can we pray "bless me", when we're not willing to say "forgive me?"

There's one more prayer I'd like to add to the list -- I think, perhaps, it's the most important one of all.

The first and final prayer-- "Thank You."

Amen -- (which is not the END of a prayer, but rather it's start! Amen is the trigger that shoots the prayer into eternity, and it lasts forever! Although my daddy passed away 15 years ago, his prayers are still going strong!)

Ben Where?

This past week, we landed a big fish for our little pond!

We extended an invitation to Ben Kidder to pastor our baby church in Minong! He graciously agreed to come. The U-Haul will show up in about six weeks, bearing Ben, Ingrid and their two precious little ones.

Yippee!! I'm really excited. He's a great guy, an outstanding preacher and a Jesus-lover! I know he'll be an excellent minister, and will have a significant impact on the Minong community and beyond.

We already have a Pastor Ben on staff in Hayward -- and as the new Ben will be included on our tean, that creates a little puzzle. How do we tell them apart?

Big Ben and Little Ben?

I like what my good friend John Boone suggested: "Ben Here and Ben There!"

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hymns and Hounds


Don't SEND your hound dog to church. . . BRING him!

(found this over at Purgatorio)

Who Cares?

Question: Who cares what happened over the last 1000 years?
Answer: Anyone who cares what's going to happen in the next 10 years.

(Picked this idea up from Jack Hayford's book, The Charismatic Century)

Dumb Mistakes Christians Make

My friend, Kirk Sunderland, passed along this great article from Crosswalk:

Avoid the Dumb Mistakes Christians Make

Bullseye!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Charge to Keep


A study of 150 Methodist Circuit riders at the turn of the 19th Century, found that 63% died before their 40th birthday -- and 72% died before giving ten years of service.

(Information obtained here.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Taxi Driver


A passenger in a taxi leaned over to ask the driver a question and tapped him on the shoulder.

The driver screamed, lost control of the cab, nearly hit a bus, drove up over the curb, and stopped just inches from a large plate glass window.

For a few moments everything was silent in the cab, and then the still shaking driver said, "I'm sorry but you scared the daylights out of me."

The frightened passenger apologized to the driver and said he didn't realize a mere tap on the shoulder could frighten him so much.

The driver replied, "No, no, I'm sorry, it's entirely my fault. Today is my first day driving a cab.... I've been driving a hearse for the last 25 years."


-- Thanks to my sister in law, Sandy, for sharing this one with me!

Don't Work Too Hard


"We have to guard ourselves from the dangers of excessive activity, regardless of the office one holds, because too many concerns can often lead to hardness of heart."

-- Pope Benedict (link)

Monday, August 21, 2006

No Pain, No Gain


I think this new approach to Bible Quizzing will really raise the memorization level and increase intensity:
Link

Thanks to Scott Hodge for the lead.

Pronouncing Difficult Bible Words

Although I have my Bachelors from Indiana Wesleyan, and my Masters from Fuller Seminary, I still struggle with pronouncing certain names in the Bible.

At first, when I came to a name I couldn't pronounce, I just said, "Moses", and went on. They caught on after a while!

Then, I just made up a pronunciation. Most of the folks in the congregation didn't know any different, but somehow, that seemed like cheating.

But now, I have found the lifesaver: An Online Bible Pronunciation Guide!

Now I can say "Micaiah" with an air of authority and no sweat!

Yippee!!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Blog of the Week

This week's Blog of the Week is Mark Batterson's Evolutional.com.

I really like this guy's perspective on things -- and he inspires me to be more creative in reaching people for Jesus.

He serves as the Senior Pastor at National Community Church in Washington, D.C.

New Church Sign


When holiness churches refuse to broadcast the Gospel to “whosoever will,” they should consider purchasing a new church sign for the front of their property—a long slab of granite from the funeral home. -- Barry W. Hamilton

From a great article in God's Revivalist, "Remembering Who We Are."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Beyond Survival


By the shores of Gitche Gumee, near Thunder Bay, Ontario, lies a thundering cascade: Kakabeka Falls, the Niagara of the North.

Information signs tell the legend of Princess Greenmantle, daughter of the great Ojibwa chief, Ogama Eagle.

During her seventeenth summer, a neighboring band of Sioux warriors captured Princess Greenmantle and held her hostage in their camp on Dog Mountain. After preparing for battle, they forced Greenmantle to guide them down the Kaministiquia River, in order to launch a suprise attack on her Ojibwa village.

The courageous young lady, pretending to betray her people, led the war party down the river -- and headed straight towards Kakabeka Falls.

Nearing the swirling whitewater at the top of the craggy precipice, the princess suddenly steered her canoe towards the west bank, leapt into the rapids, and swam to shore.

The Sioux warriors, caught off guard by this unexpected turn of events, were sucked into the foaming current and many were swept over the falls to their death.

Greenmantle dashed down the portage trail in time to warn her father of the impending attack. The Ojibwa quickly took up arms, and when the conflict came, the Sioux were decisively defeated.

(Another version of the story has the princess going over the falls to her death -- but I like this one better!)

Moral of This Story: One person with a good dose of courage, conviction and creativity can definitely change the course of future events.

It brings to mind an inspiring message I heard by John Maxwell many years ago entitled: "I Don't Have to Survive." Basically, he said, the world belongs to people who are willing to lay down their lives for the higher cause. The "self preservation" instinct keeps us from doing what we know we need to do.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Fun Farewell


Despite common misconceptions, there IS something north of Hayward after all.

Our family took Adam to the airport in Thunder Bay yesterday, where he flew back for his second year at Bethany Bible College in Sussex, New Brunswick.

Surprisingly, it wasn't nearly as hard to say goodbye the second time around. Last year, I was a basket case. This year, I prayed with him, hugged him, told him I loved him, and off he went through the security gate. Off I went back to the water slide at the hotel!

The rest of us spent yesterday as tourists. We visited Kakabeka Falls (the Niagara of the North) and then, we went back in time and spent most of the afternoon at historic Fort Williams.

On the long drive home, we stopped off for pictures at Split Rock Lighthouse, and then to pay our respects at Father Baraga's Cross.

That was the funnest farewell trip I've ever had!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Don't Blame the Lettuce!


My friend, Famous Dave, recently shared this great quote with me:
When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well.

It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce.

Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce.

Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience.

No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Give Me A Sign!


This preacher asked for a sign -- and got one!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Northwoods Pallbearers

Six stoic pallbearers
Reluctant recruits
Clad in ill-fitting suits
Awkwardly stand to bear away
Their brotherly burden
Their comrade --
Charlie, the mechanic,
Who died with his boots on
And grease under his nails.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind starswaiting for their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world,
and am free

-- Wendell Berry

Friday, August 11, 2006

Boozy Creek

Today, I'm flying to Tennessee to attend a Wilson family reunion at Old Salem Church in Boozy Creek, Tennessee.
Won't be back to bloggerland until Tuesday.

We Prayed for Rain

We prayed for rain.

Long weeks of oppressive heat scorched our lawns into brittle, yellowed hay.

We prayed for rain.

Nightly, a burdened weatherman spoke of disappointing "possible chances."

We prayed for rain.

It became serious business when crops began to wither, and instead of roasting summer marshmallows, we worried about our wells running dry.

We prayed for rain.

For once, everybody in town was on the same page. It's the first unanimous agreement I've seen in a decade and a half. Rain?? We're ALL for it! All the churches in town asked God for the same thing.

We prayed for rain.

With the one exception of the lady who announced to her tea party that she had implored the good Lord to bless them with a sunny afternoon-- and her guests almost burned her at the stake.

We prayed for rain.

Late one night, thunder rolled, lightening flashed, and winds blew a few branches from the trees. But they were all just empty promises: dry clouds and nothing more.

We prayed for rain.

Those of us without air conditioning sweltered, swigged lemonaid, went swimming, and made extra trips to the grocery store.

We prayed for rain.

"Sure has been hot." everybody told Bob at the Post Office -- as if he didn't know.

We prayed for rain -- and somehow survived.

We survived the fiery furnace, perhaps, because tough weather builds tough people. Up here in the northwoods, we know tough weather -- though usually, it's of the winter variety. Toughened by severe winters, we can survive a scrawny little heat wave. What is a mere 105 when we've survived 45 below? Still, we'd rather take the winters.

We prayed for rain.

And finally, our prayers were answered. Suddenly,sweetly, strongly -- after a long, hard month of drought, it came, like Noah's flood.

It came with a pounding vengeance. Gale force winds toppled trees, snapped power lines, and lifted roofs from their buildings. Roads were blocked, homes were darkened, and frantic workers scrambled to establish reconnections. Fear and thanksgiving mingled together in the howling winds. Sometimes prayers are answered with a roaring exclamation point!

Overnight, it seemed, the yellow stubble transformed into a lush carpet of green. The soft summer rains that followed came with with sighs of great relief.

A long drive in the countryside, revealed the carnage of fallen timbers blended with the beauty of a freshly renewed earth. The birds sang again, and flowers were smiling, somewhat grateful for heaven's severe mercy.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Waldorf Principle


Here's a great article by my friend, Tim Elmore, called The Waldorf Principle.

The bottom line is this: It pays to be kind -- always. You never know who you're dealing with.

A few years ago, Tim graciously agreed to come up to the northwoods and preach for us here in Hayward.

What a blessing it was to me that a world class leader like Tim would remember his old buddy from California days, and make the extra effort to go the extra mile (literally) to encourage me.

Preaching Sites

John Jackson posted a list of great preaching resource sites. I use Bible Gateway almost every week when "sermonating" -- as it gives me all the different Bible Translations of the text.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lunch with Roger

Yesterday, I had lunch with Roger Ciskie at Huong's Little Wok.

Roger is one of the most inspiring people I've ever met. Before his retirement, he was the CEO of a Fortune 300 Company. In later years, he was "bitten by the missions bug", and has literally devoted his final years to serving the Lord full time in a global capacity.

He's done some outstanding work in Cambodia, India, Brazil, South Korea and several other places.

With a couple of friends, he has helped found Christian Ministry Alliance, which has some BHAGS (big, hairy, audacious, goals!) He's also been on the ground floor of starting a brand new congregation in Naples called, Summit Church -- which has grown from zero to 800 in two years. In a couple of months, they are hiving off 200 people to launch another church.

He lives in Hayward for a few months, and in Naples, Florida, the rest of the year. Each summer, I try to spend some time with him so I can learn more about being an effective leader and missional pastor. I need a little bit of Roger to rub off on me!

My brain and heart are stretched three sizes every time I come away from my lunches with Roger.

Here are the three biggie take-home points from yesterday's lunch:

1. On Wesleyan Church Planting In Wisconsin:

"I read your district brochure that says the Wesleyans in Wisconsin have a goal to plant 20 new churches in the next 20 years."

Roger then he raised his eyebrows, smiled, and said, "Now, that's a paltry goal, if I've ever seen one!

Do you guys only need 20 new Wesleyan Churches in Wisconsin in the next 20 years?
Wouldn't 200 be beter?
Why not just blow off the lid?"

I gulped and nodded.

2. On Loving Our Neighbors.

Roger has been teaching our High School Sunday School class. He told me that he'd asked the class a simple question: "In the early 1900's, if a farmer died, who would help the widow get her crops in?"

He was stunned when there was no reply -- they didn't know!

He went on to tell them how the neighbors would rally together and help the one in need. "Instead of doing that today," he said, " we write a check (taxes) and expect an organization (the government) to do it."

One of the older boys piped up, "And in God's work we have the same mindset! People write a check (tithe) and expect the organization (church) to do it.

BINGO!

Roger summed this exchange up with these words: "Our problem in American today is that we expect the organization to do what the organism USED to do. We are hiring out the work of loving our neighbors!"

3. How to Know if You're Stretched too Thin.

With the various ministry and mission projects consuming his energy, time, and money, Roger began to wonder if, perhaps, he was overtaxed -- stretched too thin. He happened to host Henry Blackaby at his home and thought he'd propose the question to Henry.

After supper, he pulled the great man of God aside and asked, "Dr. Blackaby, how do you know when you're overdoing it? How do you know when you're stretched to the limit?"

Blackaby responded, "The point of desparation is the point of your greatest usefulness! Don't quit at the point of desparation -- that's just the beginning! When you are desparate, you have to fully rely on God and not on your own resources."


We finished our time together with a drive through the LCO Reservation -- and discussing ways to effectively bless the tribal members with God's love.

I think something wonderful is going to happen!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Pastor Hacks

PastorHacks.net is a great website with excellent ideas for pastors who want to manage their time more effectively.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Baptism and Church with the Cows

This afternoon, we held our church picnic, and baptized 37 people in Little Round Lake.

We heard some amazing "faith stories" that brought tears to my eyes. I love baptism Sunday!
We dunked people of all ages -- young and old -- children, teenagers, young adults, middle agers, and senior citizens.

As those being baptized testified before their immersion, I marvelled at how God uses so many different avenues to draw people unto Himself. You never know when you're making a difference for eternity -- even the small things can have a lifechanging impact.

One man said he came to faith through an e-mail from a friend. His friend had no idea of the impact that small communication would have. Incredible!
--------

Earlier this morning, I had the opportunity to preach at the County Fair Church Service. 30 people came to the cow barn for church! We had a great time together -- with the cows punctuating every point with a "MOOOO!"

That's the first time I've ever had a bovine "amen corner."
-----------

Great services today at church. I preached 8:20 and 11:00 (Loretta graciously brought the message at 9:40 so I could preach at the fair.) 714 people attended our three services, with several first time visitors.

The theme for the morning was Isaiah 6 -- and I think a lot of people were really helped spiritually. I had the opportunity to pray with several folks afterwards.

Also, I preached at our baby church in Minong last night. The entire Minong core group was away, attending a big wedding, so we didn't expect anybody to show up. I went there with my guitar -- just in case -- and I'm sure glad I did!

31 people came, including a few delightful first time guests, who said they're going to make us their church family! We had a lot of fun praising the Lord together.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Barefoot Wedding

I've conducted well over 200 weddings, but this afternoon was the first time I've ever done one barefoot.

When we all arrived at the small beach on Beaver Lake, the bride said, "Alright everybody, I want the wedding party to remove their shoes and socks. This is going to be a barefoot wedding!"

I was the only one in a suit, and when I bent over to remove my dress shoes, someone said, "Oh wait a minute, Pastor Mark. You don't need to take off your shoes."

I replied, "Hey, I'm a part of this wedding party too -- and if the bride, the groom, the best man, the maid of honor, the flower girl and the ring bearer are all in bare feet, I'm gonna join 'em!"

Everybody cheered -- and just by taking my shoes off and looking stupid barefoot in a suit, I won over a crowd of unchurched people.

During the ceremony, when I asked for the rings, the best man accidentally pulled the string into a gordian knot. After a minute of frantic pulling, which just made the knot tighter, I called out, "Anybody got a pocket knife?"

Right away, we had five knive brandishers to the rescue -- and after a few whacks, retrieved the rings.

I remarked, "May the knot we're tying today be even tighter than that one!"

This wasn't a very "religious" crowd, and some of them drank too much -- but I found a special bond with all of them. They were wary of me at first, afraid I was going to judge them,

The good Lord waits until people are dead to judge them, so why should I be judging them while they're here on earth?

After the nuptials, the groom said, "Thanks for doin' my wedding. You're the first preacher I ever met that didn't look sideways at me. You're gonna be seeing a lot more of us at church."

That's a good thing -- because, although we ask our couples to come to church six times before they get hitched, I think this one snuck in under the radar. He's never been there yet, as far as I know.

From our premarriage counseling, I've gathered that he has gone through some very difficult times in his life, including the tragic recent deaths of his father and brother. I've really been praying for him, and I'm certain that won't be our last connection.

Heading back to my car, I was stopped by another guy, "Preacher! Preacher! Be sure to remember me in your prayers!"

"I will," I smiled, "Come and see me sometime."

"I will", he grinned, and, respectfully, raised his Budweiser in a farewell salute.

Doing weddings like that are good for me. They keep me from getting too starchy, and remind me of how Jesus befriended sinners.

Fish School or Middle School?


Tim Challies described an e-mail he received yesterday:

I got an email yesterday and thought I'd ask you if you can figure out what it describes.

I'll give two options and you can decide, based on this excerpt, what the person writing me was describing.

Here's the quote: "they will target the weakest, will keep her in the corner until she dies, then will pick the next weakest and do the same..."

Was the person describing
a) the behavior of a kind of fish I am hoping to add to my aquarium or
b) his middle school aged daughters?

It could go either way, couldn't it?

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Conversation with Pete and Frankie

On the way home from my lunch with the bishop yesterday, I followed an impression to go to the Duluth Public Library.

"But I don't have any quarters for parking."
Go Anyway.

"But I don't have my library card with me."
Go Anyway.

So, I went -- and ended up bringing home a couple of good books from the "free cart."

1) Managing for Results by Peter Drucker
2) Watchers at the Pond by Franklin Russell.

This morning, after reading my chapters in Isaiah, Pete and Frankie and I sat down together for a conversation. They both had something to say to me.

Pete said, "Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities NOT by solving problems."

"It is always futile to restore normality; 'normality' is only a reality of yeterday."

He also reminded me that "energy always tends toward diffusion -- from leadership, to mediocrity, to marginal." (Or -- as a preacher, here's how I would say it:
Manificent to Mediocre to Marginal.)

Frankie's book was quite different. He described in detail the happenings of a country pond: the insects, the plants, the animals and amphibians.

One observation about hibernating frogs applies to church, I think:

"In the shallows, the water was frozen to the mud, and the ice had gripped some sleeping frogs. They might survive if the ice did not reach their hearts."

Blog of the Week: Ruth Tucker


Ruth Tucker has become my favorite author. For several years, I've used her excellent book, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, as a text in my FLAME Evangelism and Missions Course (education for non-traditional students pursuing ordination in the Wesleyan Church.)

I recently finished her newest book, Left Behind in a Megachurch World, and was absolutely captivated by it.

Dr. Tucker, who teaches at Calvin Seminary, was raised in northwestern Wisconsin! No wonder I like her books so much. Behold, the power of cheese!

Just last week, she launched a brand new blog: River-Rat Reflections

Stop by and pay her a visit.

Lunch with the Bishop


I had lunch with a Bishop yesterday -- and that's a novelty.

Orange Scott would roll over in his grave if he knew. He and the other Wesleyan founding fathers launched the denomination as an "anti-slavery and ANTI-BISHOP" Church.

Now, 163 years later, one of his ministers dined with the devil -- a bishop!

Actually, he's not a normal bishop.
Not the Eugene Robinson variety, mind you.
Not a Shelby Spong.
Not even an N.T. Wright.

Rev. Timothy Johnson was consecrated as a Bishop on his trip to Africa a couple of years ago. Little did he know, that he'd be elevated to the episcopate over there.

They made him a Bishop -- and he's been going back twice a year ever since -- launching MCMA Africa (Providing excellent ministry training for pastors and other leaders in Nigeria, Camaroon, and Ghana.) He preaches, encourages the pastors -- and has even officiated a couple of Nigerian weddings!

I really do enjoy my connections with good Bishop Timothy. He inspires me, and helps me think more deeply about being a visionary, strategic, and missional pastor. He keeps urging me to come with him. "Who knows?" he says, "Maybe they'll make you a bishop too!"

Now THAT would be worth considering.

Besides his work in Africa, he provides the best training for Sunday School teachers in the upper midwest.

I was scheduled to do a seminar for him this fall, but the other day, I discovered that the conference fell on the same day Amber Yoder had planned her wedding. Amber's parents, Nate and Patty have been with me from the beginning. They are dear friends, and key leaders in our church.

Although I was already "committed" to the conference, Bishop Timothy graciously let me off the hook -- so I can stay home and tie the knot for Amber.

And this, as Melville noted in Moby Dick, "seems reasonable enough in the good bishop."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

10,000!


This afternoon the 10,000th visitor came to my blog!
Yippee!
Break out the party hats!

Sunset at Fish Creek


Last week, Cathy and I went on a "fish boil" date at Pelletier's, in Door County's quaint little village, Fish Creek. I know "fish boil" doesn't sound too romantic -- but it was a memorable experience nonetheless-- and better than it sounds. (They throw kerosine on the fire, but none of it gets on the fish.)

Holding hands on our way back to the car, I noticed a little trail leading into the woods with a sign pointing to "sunset beach."

Our curiosity got the best of us, and we followed the narrow footpath through a maze of trees, and found ourselves at a small park overlooking Green Bay.

The sun, slowly sinking in the west, created breathtaking blends of orange, purple, red and black. It was like a classic piece of art being painted by a Master before our very eyes.

About 75 people had gathered at sunset beach that evening, observing the majesty in hushed reverence. We were total strangers to one another, yet, somehow, felt like family -- or perhaps, a congregation.

"This is a cathedral" Cathy whispered, and I nodded. It felt just the same as when we entered St. Giles and Westminster last spring: like a cathedral, indeed -- only better!

I thought, "Maybe I should take an offering!"

A single loon glided silently before us, her haunting call echoing across the lake.

The orange sun finally took bow and settled beyond horizon. Spontaneously, the crowd broke the silence with applause, and ambled away.

I said, "Amen."

Cathy and I lingered for a while longer than the others, her head nestled gently on my shoulder.

At that tender moment, I realized I'd never loved her so much before.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Later Than You Think

Dr. Frederic Loomis, a busy obstetrician, worked long, harried hours in his California hospital.

One day, he received a letter that completely transformed his life.

Peking, China
Dear Doctor,

Please don't be too surprised in getting a letter from me. I am signing my first name. My surname is the same as yours.

Your won't even remember me. Two years ago I was in your hospital under the care of another doctor. I lost my baby the day it was born.

That same day my doctor came in to see me, and as he left he said, 'Oh, by the way, there is a doctor here with the same name as yours who noticed your name on the board and asked me about you. He said he would like to come in to see you, because you might be a relative. I told him you had lost your baby and I did not think you would want to see anybody, but it was alright with me'.


And then in a little while you came in. You put your hand on my arm and sat down for a moment beside my bed. You did not say much of anything but you eyes and your voice were kind and pretty soon I felt better. As you sat, there I noticed that you looked tired and that the lines in your face were very deep. I never saw you again, but the nurses told me that you were in the hospital practically night and day.

This afternoon I was a guest in a beautiful Chinese home here in Peking. The garden was enclosed by a high wall, and on one side, surrounded by twining red and white flowers, was a brass plate about two feet long. I asked someone to translate the Chinese characters for me.

They said:

Enjoy Yourself -- It's Later than You Think.


I began to think about it for myself. I had not wanted another baby because I was still grieving for the one I had just lost. But I decided that moment that I should not wait any longer. Perhaps it may be later than I think, too.

And then, because I was thinking of my baby, I thought of you and the tired lines in your face, and the moment of sympathy you gave me when I so needed it. I don't know how old you are. But I am quite sure you are old enough to be my father; and I know that those few minutes you spent with me meant little or nothing to you of course, but they meant a great deal to a woman who was desperately unhappy.

So I am presumptuous as to think that in turn I can do something for you too.

Perhaps for you it is later than I think. Please forgive me, but when your work is over, on the day you get my letter, please sit down very quietly, all by yourself, and think about it'.

Marguiride.
-------------
The night after Dr. Loomis read the letter, he had difficulty sleeping. Was it really later than he thought?

"Well," he chided himself, "if it IS, then I'm going to DO something about it!"

That's exactly what he did. He changed the workaholic patterns of his life. He stepped back from the daily grind, planned a vacation to South America, and invited his best friend, Shorty, to come along.

"Oh, I really wish I could go," Shorty responded, but unfortunately, I have too much work to do." Dr. Loomis then read the letter to him. Amazingly, Shorty changed his mind and decided to go to South America! Perhaps it is later than I think! The business can wait!

They had a spendid vacation -- and the work was still there upon their return. The world didn't end while they were gone.

A few years later, Shorty was on his deathbed, and Dr. Loomis paid him a visit.

Clasping the doctor's hand, he said "Fred, I am so happy that we went to South America together. I thank God we did not wait too long."

Enjoy yourself -- It's later than you think

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Reading List

Here's what I've been reading lately.

On the Demise of an Angry Minister

poison in his brain
a volcanic couldron
boiling beneath
the pastoral toil.

one cannot force
bitterness down.
it erupts sooner or later
violently
to the pity and slight suprise
of those around,

who shake their heads in
dark dismay.
cluck their tongues
and sadly say,

he saved others,
but himself,
he cannot save.

Bible Bars


"Man shall not live by bread alone -- but by Logia Bible Bars.