Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

A funeral and two weddings today

Monday, December 29, 2008

Top Ten Books of 2008

I finished quite a few books in 2008, and started many more. At any given time, I'll probably have 15-20 books going at the same time. Maybe that's a symptom of ADD!

Anyhow, here are my ten favorite reads of 2008:

1) Ablaze for God (Wesley Duewel)
2) It (Craig Groeschl)
3) Wild Goose Chase (Mark Batterson)
4) The Ultimate Blessing (Jo Anne Lyon)
5) Return of the Prodigal (Henri Nouwen)
6) Lumberjack Sky Pilot (Frank Reed)
7) The Way Forward (Matthew Leroy and Jeremy Summers)
8) On the Side of the Angels (D'Souza and Rogers)
9) God Size Your Church (John Jackson)
10) Wilderness Visionaries (Jim Dale Vickery)

Honorable Mentions:
The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher (Rob Stennett)
My Beautiful Idol (Peter Gall)
The Pastor and Prayer (R. A. Torrey)
The Revival We Need (Oswald Smith)
Touch One (Chris Schimel)
Crossing Over (Paul Scanlon)
White Robes and Spiritual Feasts (G. D. Watson)
Helps to Holiness (Samuel Brengle)

For Fun:
Agatha Christie
John Grisham

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Missional Christmas

The Christmas Season is winding down and it's been a beautiful experience. I love Christmas. I love seeing our people go the extra mile in helping and blessing others.

For instance, together, through our Giving Tree, we provided Christmas gifts to 175 children. When many of us did a little bit, it ended up making a big difference!

On Christmas Day, over 200 people came to the church for Christmas Dinner. My heart was warmed as I sat with my family, and looked over the Fellowship Hall at the happy faces. Many of these folks would have spent Christmas alone. Afterwards, I spoke with Mike, the head cook, who, with misty eyes, told me how much this experience blessed him. Several families of the church served together joyfully. I'm so happy to see the young children of the congregation learning this valuable lesson: It is more blessed to give than to receive.

The SHARE program, which provides a marvelous deal on food packages, is centered at our church. I was overwhelmed by the buzz of happy activity, as Mary Ann and the gang, prepared boxes of groceries for the waiting "customers."

Several of our church people were involved in Toys for Tots, as well as community food drives.

Some of our small groups went Christmas Caroling to the shut-ins. They came back reporting what a meaningful experience it was. Hannah and I conducted Chapel Services at the Nursing Home two days before Christmas. I noticed one dear lady, who cannot carry on a conversation, sang every word of the familiar Christmas songs. It brought back the joy of childhood.

Entering the store a couple of weeks ago, I was met by a group from our church, singing carols at the Salvation Army Bucket. They shook me down!

On the 23rd, a kind man brought a gift to the office to "help a family going through a hard time." I was delighted to play "Santa" and deliver the gift to a family who truly needed and appreciated the help.

Now, for a Missional New Year!!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bah Humbug

On the Side of the Angels

I've just finished reading a powerful, missional book by Joseph D'Souza and Benedict Rogers, called On the Side of the Angels.

It is a plea for Christians to become advocates for human rights and justice. These, they argue, are central to Kingdom mission, and not secondary activities.

Interestingly, although neither author is Wesleyan, they refer to the Wesleyan Methodists of 1843, who gave themselves to the abolition of slavery and women's rights.

On the Side of the Angels stretched me out of my comfort zone. I disagree with a few of their points, but the general theme is an important correction to the evangelical church.

Reading this book, I recalled these words of John Wesley:
"The Gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. 'Faith working by love' is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection."

Along the same line, here's an interesting article by Keith Drury: The Holiness Movement's Heritage of Social Action

Friday, December 26, 2008


I don't think this idea will catch on in Hayward. Sandals and robes don't cut it when it's 20 below.

Caroling at Famous Dave's

Last Saturday evening, a group of carolers from our church went to the Original Famous Dave's to sing for their Special Christmas event.

At the conclusion of the evening, as we were having our "figgy pudding", they held a drawing for a huge Kid's Christmas Basket -- and I won!! I won't tell you what I did with my treasure trove -- because it's top secret -- but let me say this much. It was by far the most delightful experience of the Christmas season for me :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

Awesome candlelight Christmas Eve Services tonight. Over 800 people showed up for our services. The theme was "Coming Home" (Prodigal Son)

My son, Ryan, wrote a special song for the evening, and sang it: It was powerful. I hope he posts it soon on his myspace.

A Christmas Prayer

Here's a beautiful prayer given by Peter Marshall, former Chaplain of the Senate in December of 1947:

We thank Thee, O God, for the return of the wondrous spell of this Christmas season the brings its own sweet joy into our jaded and troubled hearts.

Forbid us, Lord that we should celebrate without understanding what we celebrate, or like our counterparts so long ago, fail to see the star or to hear the song of glorious promise.

As our hearts yield to the spirits of Christmas, may we discover that it is Thy Holy Spirit who comes -- not a sentiment, but a power -- to remind us of the only way by which there may be peace on earth and good will among men.

May we not spend Christmas, but keep it, that we may be kept in its hope, through Him who emptied Himself in coming to us that we might be filled with peace and joy in returning to God.

-- Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tag, You're It

The flu bug declared war on our house during the last few days -- five of the six Wilson soldiers fell. Only one strong warrior remained unscathed - Cathy.

One of my kids came into the room where I was resting and said, "Tag, you're it!"

The UPS man arrived late morning with three wonderful books from Amazon. I tore the box open and dug right in to Craig Groeschel's IT: How Churches and Leaders can Get It and Keep It.
Awesome book! I couldn't put it down! Page after page, I kept saying, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
The bottom line is having a true heart full of love for God and others. It's a great follow-up to Ablaze for God -- and written for today.
I want all my leaders to have IT!
By the way, Life Church, where Groeschel pastors, is one of the most innovative churches in the country. They have made many of their creative resources available to other church leaders for FREE! Good stuff Available Here.

A Couple of Christmas Stories

My up north friend, Bill, sent me this beautiful Christmas tale by Leo Tolstoy

Also, The Story of the Christmas Guest by Helen Steiner Rice

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why Churches that Want to Change, Don't

Because They Don't Have a Sense of Urgency.

(Great article by my friend, Alan Nelson, reflecting on Kotter's new book, A Sense of Urgency)

Book Review

I recently wrote this review of Ken Schenck's excellent book, Making Sense of God's Word, for Cross Reference:

Dr. Kenneth Schenck, associate professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University, has written an insightful and concise guide for reading the Bible: Making Sense of God’s Word.

Though one of the deepest thinkers in our tradition, Schenck handily simplifies the very complicated issue of biblical hermeneutics. Through a clear, step-by-step process, the reader is taught to move from the historical and literary context of a passage to life experience and today’s application.

This is helpful guide is easily one of the best-ever books on interpreting the Scriptures. It will prove to be a valuable tool for teachers, preachers, and others concerned with “rightly
dividing the Word of Truth.”

(The book will be available for purchase in early 2009)


With all the bailouts happening in Detroit, seems like they've overlooked the Lions.

Removing the Space

Last week, in my newspaper column, I said that Christmas is FOR GIVING. This week, I’d like to take out the space between those two words.

Christmas is FORGIVING.

Forgiving means removing the space between others and ourselves. It’s taking away the distance from our hearts.

Now, nobody wants to walk around with a heavy load of resentment and bitterness. Yet, finding a path to forgiveness is one of the most difficult things a human being can do. If it was easy, everybody would do it. But it’s hard – particularly if the offense was deep.

Sometimes, the people who should be closest to us are the ones we struggle to forgive. That’s because the closer we are to somebody, the more opportunities we (and they) have to do or say hurtful things.

Forgiveness is about letting it go and not holding the bitterness in your heart. It means placing the hurt and the one who hurt you over into God’s hands.

You might be tempted to “punish” the wrongdoer by holding tight to resentment. However, the only person you punish with a grudge is yourself. I recall my mother saying, “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

The only way to find release is to release – to let it go.

Often, people fail to forgive because they can’t say “that’s ok.” However, you don’t have to say “that’s ok” in order to forgive. There are many evil actions and words that are NOT ok – and they never will be ok. It would be an offensive lie to say “that’s ok”

A better way to deal with it is to say, “What you did was NOT ok. It was wrong and hurtful. But, I choose to forgive you anyway.”

That’s what Christmas is all about, isn’t it? Extending forgiveness and grace? That’s the very reason Jesus came to earth, taking on the form of human flesh. He came to extend forgiveness and grace. He came, bringing mercy.

This Christmas, the best gift you could give to yourself is to forgive the one who has wronged you. When you let it go, you will find an overwhelming sense of peace. You will discover just how heavy that burden has been for your spirit.

Open your heart and your hand. Release the resentment. Let peace fill you completely.

Peace on Earth.
Good will towards men.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Great Day

I like this quote -- and used it in my sermon at church this morning.

Great, Lord, is Thy day. Let it not be small upon us.
-- St. Ephraim

Whatever Comes

This is a re-posting of something I wrote a couple of years ago. I used it in my sermon this morning, and several people asked for a copy of the poem. It's a touching story.

One day, after making a hospital visit in Duluth, Minnesota, I was drawn by the spire of the old First Presbyterian Church. A kind secretary opened up the sanctuary for me to sit and pray for a while.
Gazing around, my eyes fell upon a beautiful stained glass window. It was the picture of a gravestone with dark purple and black hues overshadowing it. But at the top of the window, squarely in the center of a black night, shone a bright golden star -- which seemed to exude hope and light. The star was the focal point of the window.
At the bottom, the following words were inscribed:
In memory of Sarah Agnes Graff
Build a little fence of trust around today.
Fill the space with loving work and therein stay.
Look not through the sheltering bars upon tomorrow.
God will help thee bear whatever comes, if joy or sorrow.

I wondered what the story was behind Sarah Agnes Graff -- who passed into eternity at the tender age of 36. What was it about her that inspired such a beautiful work of art?

Upon some further investigation, I found that she and her family had moved from central Pennsylvania a few years before, and that her husband, Phillip, owned and operated a very successful lumber and interior furnishings company. The Graff's seemed blessed, indeed, with a lovely home, a thriving business, a good reputation in the community, and five beautiful, healthy children.

Tragedy, however, does not discriminate. It knocks at every door. Sarah fell ill with a high fever and severe abdominal pain. Before the doctors could find the cause or cure, she slipped into unconsciousness and died. She drew her last breath on November 20, the day before Thanksgiving.

I imagined Phillip, the heartbroken father, and his precious children: little Herbert, only five; and Agnes, age six, along with twelve year old Carroll, and the two teenage daughters, Anna and Margaret,, standing beside an open grave at Forest Hill Cemetery, on that cold, bleak November afternoon.

Rev. Ringland, their beloved minister, bowed his head and said:
Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God to take unto Himself the soul of our sister, Sarah, here departed, we therefore commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

And then, the grieving family walked away together, with deep sorrow and a glimmer of hope to face uncertain days.
I've heard it said that there are two things that pierce the human soul: beauty and anguish.
The Sarah Graff window at First Presbyterian Church captures both.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned."
(Isaiah 9:2)

. . . God will help thee bear whatever comes -- of joy or sorrow.

Bare Your Bookshelf

Research indicates that the average American owns nine Bibles and is actively in the market for more. Meanwhile, there are many pastors in other countries who don't even have one.

Christian Resource International receives over 400 letters a month from pastors and Christian workers in developing countries who own no Bibles or Christian books.

Now, here's their challenge. Clear out some of the Bibles sitting on your shelves and send them to someone who needs them! You can mail a four pound package anywhere in the world for $11.95. CRI will tell you exactly how to do it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let the Game Come to You

Steve Furtick, of Elevation Church, shared a great insight on his blog recently:
One of my mentors was trying to teach me recently about something he learned playing basketball in college:Let the game come to you.
Sometimes we get so determined to make something happen in our lives and ministries that we take dumb shots. We blow our assignments.We mistake frantic activity for fruitful accomplishment.
If we truly believe that God is sovereign, we don’t need to MAKE anything happen. God makes things happen. It’s not that we become passive…blaming our inaction on God’s timing…or saying we’re being patient when we’re actually being timid.
Instead, think of it as responding to God’s initiative rather than trying to get Him to respond to yours.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rick Warren's Response

I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn’t agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony.

Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America.

The Bible admonishes us to pray for our leaders. I am honored by this opportunity to pray God’s blessing on the office of the President and its current and future inhabitant, asking the Lord to provide wisdom to America’s leaders during this critical time in our nation’s history.

The Rick Warren Flap

Listening to the news, one would think that Obama picked Fred Phelps to say the Inauguration Prayer. The virulent backlash is unwarranted. President-elect Obama is right to hold his ground on this one.

The irony is that if you look at the wide spectrum between conservative fundamentalism and left-wing liberalism, Rick is in the middle between them. He's a moderate, for heaven's sake!

Some are calling him a gay-hating bigot.
At the same time, fundamentalist watchdog groups are calling him a wolf in sheep's clothing.

John Leo has made some insightful observations at Huffington Post.

The problem with being a bridge is that you get stepped on from both sides!

The Architecture of the Post-Modern Mind

Ben Witherington gives some powerful insights for ministry (education) in today's culture: The Architecture of the Post Modern Mind.
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Living Rich for Less

How would you like to have more money available to you -- even if your income doesn't increase?
Ellie Kay has written a fabulous book, Living Rich for Less, which gives practical, common-sense, advice for handling your finances. (Order here)
In a humorous and easy to read style, Ellie maps out how to get the most BANG for your buck. She follows the 10-10-80 Principle:

Give the First 10% -- The Sweetest Dollar You'll Ever Make
Save the Next 10% -- The Safest Dollar You'll Ever Make
Spend Smart on the Remaining 80% -- The Smartest Dollar You'll Ever Make
Reminds me of John Wesley's adage:
Earn All You Can
Save All You Can
Give All You Can
It's particularly refreshing, during the current economic downturn, to discover creative ways to cut spending, save wisely and give generously.
I'd like to provide a copy for all the members of our church.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Economy and Church Attendance

During the Great Depression, church attendance surged as Americans turned to faith in difficult days.
The New York Times recently reported that worship attendance is surging as a result of the economic downturn.

Despite some news reports to the contrary, a review of almost 300,000 interviews conducted by Gallup so far in 2008 shows no evidence that church attendance in America has been increasing late this year as a result of bad economic times. In September, October, November, and so far in December, about 42% of Americans reported that they attended church weekly or almost every week, exactly the same as the percentage who reported attending earlier in the year.

Here at Hayward Wesleyan, our worship attendance has declined 5% from last year. We are seeing two things:

1) The econmic struggle has been a catalyst for some new people to come, and some absentees to return. They are seeking a spiritual center and turning to God for help and strength.

2) At the same time, several "fringe" people are choosing to stay home. Many drive several miles to attend church, and when the purse is tightened, they have to choose their activities with more discretion. (Actually, I shouldn't say the people are fringe. Instead, the church is fringe to them.)

Those who view church attendance as a "fringe activity" will let it go when they are forced to make hard choices based on the pocketbook. For instance, they will be sure to get their son to hockey practice, but attending worship services is optional.

Generally speaking, the committed folks who consider church attendance to be central and foundational, will continue attending church regularly, regardless of what happens with the economy.
One other thought: Now, more than ever -- the church needs to go to the people, rather than waiting for the people to come to the church. For instance, we are providing Christmas gifts for 150 children in our community who wouldn't have anything otherwise. Also, we're hosting a free Christmas Dinner for anybody who wants to come.
Still, I'm hoping we can get our absentees back to church. Sunday mornings have been awesome lately -- better than ever, and I feel bad that they're missing out.

Inauguration Invocation

America's pastor, Rick Warren, has been invited to give the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration.

Just think -- a few years ago Rick was having tacos with me. Now, he's hobnobbing with presidents.

Leadership in the Hot Seat

This great leadership thought was in a recent article by Phil Stevenson in Expanding Wave:
Brett Favre is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the National Football League. He currently plays for the New York Jets. Running back Leon Washington, when attempting to express the impact Favre has on the Jets, said, “You get into the huddle and you look into No. 4’s eyes, and you know you are going to have a chance to win” (USA Today, 11.19.08).
Let me tweak this just a little bit:
Less than two minutes in the game. The Packers are down by two. They get into the huddle and look into No. 12's eyes and say, "Uh Oh."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Open Letter to Leith Anderson

Several evangelical leaders sent an open letter to NAE President, Leith Anderson yesterday, in response to the recent departure of Richard Cizik, after his controversial comments on NPR.

In part, the letter states:

We respect the right of the NAE to select spokespersons that represent the organization's stated priorities. At the same time, we release this letter to show our deep gratitude for Richard's 28 years of leadership at the NAE, in which he has had a guiding hand in shaping a broad Christian moral agenda that has helped define American evangelical's public witness.

It was unfortunate that Cizik overstepped his bound, and made statements that were not in line with NAE's values. His words did not accurately reflect the position of most of the people he was supposed to be respresenting. However, on the other hand, Cizik should be commended for broadening the scope of evangelical conscience in America and beyond. He helped pastors like me see that although we support the right to life and traditional marriage, there are other important concerns of compassion and social justice which demand our attention as well.

Joy to the World and Hallelujah!!

Yesterday, Cathy and I hosted the Pastoral Staff Christmas Breakfast. Including spouses and a few children, there were about 20 people jammed into our living room. As I looked around, my heart was filled with thankfulness for these dedicated men and women. We have a great ministry team at Hayward Wesleyan Church.

We're not exactly the same. Each person is unique, and has his/her own special gift and perspective to bring to each situation. Our ministry together is not normally "singing in unison", but we do a fantastic job of singing in harmony -- and that's much better. Ask any choir director!!

We finished the party by singing "Joy to the World" together.

Later in the day, I stepped into the rehearsal of the homeschool teen musicians preparing for their Christmas program -- with electric guitars, drums, keyboard, violin and bass. They were rockin' out ""Joy to the World." Splendid! Splendid! Isaac Watts would give two thumbs up.

Late afternoon found Cathy and I going on a double date with our dear friends, Steve and Linda to a Handel's Messiah Sing-a-long.

We stopped for a quick bite at Culver's, and to our surprise, there was a lady in there playing Christmas songs on a portable organ. That's the first fast food I've ever had with organ accompaniment. I went to the lady and requested "Joy to the World", which she gladly fulfilled.

Never did a burger and fries taste so heavenly! Let heaven and nature sing.

Finally, we made our way to the Mitchell Auditorium, where we joined the audience-choir, and sang the Messiah. Well, Cathy and Linda sang, I bumbled along after the beared bass sitting in front of me, and even Steve joined in on the Hallilujah Chorus!

Christmas Giveaway

In light of my last post, I think you'll appreciate this perspective on Christmas giving from Gary Exman:

I am reminded of a guy several years ago who came to me with $3,300. in cash and had me send it with no return address to needy families on two Christmases. In this envelope he had me place a $100.00 dollar bill and another envelope inside with $10.00 dollars in it with a note suggesting the recipient give this $10.00 dollars to someone else. We did that for thirty needy familes. This man that had me do this kind deed understood it is more blessed to give than to recieve.

Christmas is for Giving

Christmas is For Giving.

Santa asks, “What do you want for Christmas?” Little kids write letters with lists of things they want. Some of those cute letters made their way to the Sawyer County Record last week.

That’s a precious thing, and I certainly don’t want to detract from the wonder little children experience at Christmas.

But, at the essence, Christmas is not for getting – it’s for giving!

Tis the season of unselfishness.
Tis the season to share with those you love.
Tis the season to be compassionate for those less fortunate.

It’s not about spending money you don’t have on stuff they don’t need. This year, especially, with financial squeeze we’re all feeling – how about simplifying? How about being creative, spending a little less, and giving a little more of yourself? How about shopping locally, so you when you DO spend, it’s helping your neighbors put food on their tables?

How about giving something homemade? How about giving your time?

How about remembering those who are in need? Did you know that Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas spent year and that we could provide safe, clean drinking water for every person in the world for $10 billion? What if this Christmas, we were less consumeristic and more compassionate? Consider joining the “Advent Conspiracy” (

How about your neighbors who are suffering? As I was writing this article a desperate mother called me for help. They have no money. Her little girl has no winter boots, and a snow storm is approaching. There are many little children, right here in our own community, who go to bed hungry and don’t have adequate winter clothing. What can you do to help them?

How about putting something in the kettle, when you pass the Salvation Army bell ringer? Better yet, how about signing up for a stint of bell ringing? How about getting a few friends together and caroling at the home of someone who is sick?

Who knows? In the end, you might just say, “It was my best Christmas ever!”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent Reflections

Scott McKnight is posting a beautiful Advent series at Belief Net
From December 15:
Three acts of advent: adoration, activism, and community-building. I'm struck in the advent stories of how focused they are on the people of God ... and today's text makes that abundantly clear. It comes from Matthew 1:20-21.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
What do we see here: Joseph is to marry Mary, in spite of what appearances are, because God's Spirit is at work in the conception of the child.
The birth of that baby leads to the naming of that child: his name is to be Yeshua (Joshua, Jesus).Why? Because he will be a Savior of "his people." That people is undoubtedly Israel.
The mission of the Messiah is to redeem, save, restore Israel. The work of God in Jesus is to create the people of God. God's work is ecclesial. We must observe that it does not say "he will save just individuals." It is an ecclesial task.
(Note -- the Dec 11 Advent Video by Chrstine Sine is powerful. We're going to use it! Thanks Steve for directing me to this awesome Advent Resource!)

You Know It's Cold

You know it's COLD when you have to scrape the INSIDE of your windshield!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Stop Shouting

The Republican party must stop "shouting at the world" . . . if it is to win elections in the 21st century, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday.

The same applies to churches who desire to impact their communities.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday Night Thoughts

A winter storm made roads hazardous, but our hardy northwoods congregation showed up anyway! Half the morning, it looked like a snow globe outside our large sanctuary window. It was absolutely beautiful.

We were honored to have the Uke-Ladies and Laddies perform a couple of Christmas numbers for us. A choir of enthusiastic children did a fantastic job singing "Born on this Day."

I preached on the following:

1. Christmas is For Giving. (showed the advent conspiracy video)

Then -- remove the space and it says --

2. Christmas is Forgiving

I used Col. 3:13 as my text and spoke on the importance of "removing the space in our hearts towards other people." I used Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal as an illustration.

3. Christmas is Forbearing
Col. 3:13 in KJV says "Forbearing one another. . ." Rev. 3:10 in the message speaks of "passionate patience"

The inscription on Ruth Graham's grave reads, "End of Construction. Thanks for your Patience."

4. Christmas is Bearing. Bearing with one another. Bear with the failings of the weak. Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
To illustrate, I used this powerful video.

We concluded the services by standing in a large circle, holding hands, and saying the Lord's Prayer together.

It was a beautiful morning.

This afternoon, the family had Chinese food and watched the Packers lose again. (I think I'm going to be a Jets fan -- or maybe Bears) Later in the day, we played in the snow together, and then I gave our dog, Vin, a bath. That was quite an ordeal!!

Learned this evening that The Crystal Cathedral is looking for a new Senior Pastor. Not interested!! We have our own natural (and much more beautiful) "Crystal Cathedral" right here in Hayward this morning.


See how good you are at remembering all the presidents: Click Here

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Two Types

Gary Lamb, who pastors a thriving church in Canton, observed that there are two types of growing churches:

Those who are consumed with doing church in a cool way
Those who are consumed with doing church that reaches lost people

They both end up doing similar things -- but with a different motive.

I'd like to adjust it a just little bit and say, there are two types of churches in general:
Those consumed with doing church
Those consumed with BEING the church

Dead Donkey Raffle

Young Chuck moved to Texas and bought a Donkey from a farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the Donkey the next day.

The next day the farmer drove up and said, 'Sorry son, but I have some bad news, the donkey died.'

Chuck replied, 'Well, then just give me my money back.'

The farmer said, 'Can't do that. I went and spent it already.'

Chuck said, 'Ok, then, just bring me the dead donkey.'

The farmer asked, 'What ya gonna do with him?

Chuck said, 'I'm going to raffle him off.'

The farmer said, 'You can't raffle off a dead donkey!'

Chuck said, 'Sure I can Watch me. I just won't tell anybody he's dead.'

A month later, the farmer met up with Chuck and asked, 'What happened with that dead donkey?'

Chuck said, 'I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at two dollars a piece and made $998.'

The farmer said, 'Didn't anyone complain?'

Chuck said, 'Just the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back.'

Chuck now leads the US bank bailout team.

(came to me via e-mail from Jim Garner. Thanks Jim!)

12 Days of Christmas

The Real Twelve Days of Christmas -- I like this!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Apology Accepted

I think Jim Wallis is right on with his response to this Public Apology to the Public from GM:

While we’re still the U.S. sales leader, we acknowledge we have disappointed you. At times we violated your trust by letting our quality fall below industry standards and our designs become lackluster. We proliferated our brands and dealer network to the point where we lost adequate focus on our core U.S. market. We also biased our product mix toward pickup trucks and SUVs. And we made commitments to compensation plans that have proven to be unsustainable in today’s globally competitive industry. We have paid dearly for these decisions, learned from them and are working hard to correct them by restructuring our U.S. business to be viable for the long-term.

How Would You Answer My Friend?

A pastor friend e-mailed me with this question yesterday:

I am working with a well-intentioned man who is considering becoming a part of our congregation. After exploring Wesleyan Doctrine, he is hung up on one thing- that we allow women in ministry. He believes that 1Timothy 2:8-15 is a clear Biblical prohibition against females in ministry.

I have always understood Paul's teaching on women in public worship environements in Corinthians and Timothy to be context driven and not a broad theological statement. This has been a learning experience for me because I learned that I was unprepared to defend our Wesleyan position, I had just accepted it. Any Biblical direction, orginal language clues, or historical perspective you could offer would be most welcomed. He is not bigoted about women, he feels they are equal in the eyes of the Lord but have been assigned different duties/roles in the kingdom.

How would you respond to his question?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cizik Resigns

Richard Cizik, long term lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, has resigned today, in the aftermath of his controversial statements on NPR's Fresh Air.

In a letter to the NAE Board, President Leith Anderson, stated:
". . . our NAE stand on marriage, abortion and other biblical values is long, clear and unchanged.”

Looking for Light in the Darkness

An excellent Advent Reflection from Dr. Jo Anne Lyon

Remembering Leah

One year ago today, our young friend, Leah Conner, passed away. It was one of the most heartwrenching days I've ever experienced as a pastor.

A lot has happened over these past twelve months. Sometimes it seems like an eternity since Leah's death. At other times, it seems like just yesterday.

Please pray for Leah's family on this day of remembrance.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Update on David

My nephew, David, came home from the hospital this afternoon! This is quite miraculous, as yesterday, they wouldn't even let him sit up. He still has a long recovery ahead of him, and is going to be seeing the neurosurgeon soon.

I must say, the Wilson family has a lot to be thankful for.

What if the Church was Run Like the State of Illinois?

Boy, I'm sure glad America's churches aren't run like the state of Illinois. Otherwise we'd have a ton of churches and pastors giving preferential treatment and bending over backward for people in the church who give the most money. . .

Open Letter

I was really happy to see the name of our General Superintendent, Jo Anne Lyon, on this open letter from Christian Leaders to President Bush regarding the recent persecutions in India.

The Way Many American Young People View Evangelicals

This is NOT a picture of our new puppy, Vin.

The Ones Who Didn't Make It

On September 6, 1965, Admiral James Stockdale’s A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over Viet Nam. The injured Stockdale found himself captured and imprisoned in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”, where he was a prisoner of war for over seven years. He was the highest ranking naval officer held as a prisoner of war in the Viet Nam war.

Stockdale was kept in solitary confinement for four years, placed in irons for two years, denied medical care and malnourished. Despite these terrible conditions, he led an “underground resistance movement” which brought hope and a sense of esprit de corps to his fellow POW’s. Still, many prisoners died under these grueling circumstances. Finally, in 1973, the brave admiral was released, and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor is 1976 by President Ford.
Several years later, author and researcher, Jim Collins, interviewed Stockdale in the campus of Stanford University, and asked the decorated offer how he coped with the demoralizing effects of his imprisonment.

Stockdale replied, “I never lost faith in the end the end of the story. I never doubted that not only would I get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Then, Collins asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”

"Oh, that’s easy,” Stockdale responded, “The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."

Now, I certainly believe in optimism. The title of my newspaper column, “Positively Speaking”, speaks to that. However, I believe Stockdale was right.

A misplaced, short term optimism can lead to failure and disillusionment. It’ much better to focus on the long term.

Some day
Some way
I’m going to make it.

Things may not go as I’ve expected or desired, but I’m not going to let a few temporary setbacks keep me from my ultimate destiny. Rarely, does a person follow a straight path from success to success. Usually, there’s quite a winding road, replete with failures, frustrations, shortcomings, and disappointments.

The important thing is to keep plugging on, regardless of the short term circumstance. Eventually, you’ll find your way.

Success is getting up one more time than you fall down.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Missional Roger

My friend, Roger Ciskie, isn't letting any moss gather during his retirement. He's one of the most inspiring people I know.
"I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink."

Prayer Request

Please pray for my nephew, David, who was in an automobile accident, and is in serious condition with two broken bones in his neck.

Vicarious Bon Appetit

A while back, a publisher sent me a free copy of Sandra Byrd's Bon Appetit.
I was supposed to read it and post a review here on my blog, but didn't get around to reading it.
Instead, it pawned it off on my wife, Cathy -- so this is vicarious book review.
Cathy says that Bon Appetit is a delightful read for people who treasure the following:
It's the delightful tale of a young American girl, Lexi, who travels to France and goes to school to learn to become a pastry chef. Her faith helps her to face many challenges and complex relationships.
Through this journey Lexi learns much about herself, her faith, and the value of friendship. Cathy says there are several recipes in the book worth trying.
This is the first fiction-cookbook I've ever encountered -- but I think I'll just take Cathy's word for it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Prayer Request

My friend, Kathy, posted a beautiful thought, Cold Sore Worry, on her blog today. Her husband, Rocky has a biopsy today which is really frightening. Yet, they are trusting in the Lord. . . regardless of what comes.

She mentioned something about how yesterday's sermon helped them, and that really blessed my heart.

Please pray for Rocky and Kathy as they walk through this vally of uncertainty.

Oldest Mother

If Rajo Devi goes to church next Mother's Day, she will win the "Oldest Mother" Award.

Top Five Sins

Keith Drury reports on America's Top Five Sins -- then lists 6 through 12 as well

I recall once, a red faced guy came to me after church and told me I needed to preach more against sin. So, the next week, I preached against the "whitewashed sins" in the church, such as gossip, greed, sloth, self-centeredness and materialism.

He came up to me after the sermon and said, "I didn't mean THOSE sins!!"

Leadership Lessons

Great lessons can be learned from anyone regardless of level of education or socioeconomic status. A good leader should have an open heart and an open mind.

-- Dr. Dexter McKenzie

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday Afternoon

It was almost 20 below zero this morning, but church attendance was up this morning. These northwoods folk are a hardy lot.

We enjoyed doing a rendition of "By the Rivers of Babylon" I preached on Exile from Habakkuk.

A terrible cold made me feel puny. It took all my my energy to get through the morning.

In the afternoon, we ordered Chinese food, and watched the Packers lose again.

Happy Aniversary!

Happy first aniversary to our son, Adam and his beautiful bride, Allegra!
Adam and Allegra are both students at University of Northern Iowa and live in Cedar Falls. After classes, Adam works as an inventory analyst for John Deere.

Good Leadership Decisions

One of my Church Leadership Students interviewed Mark Batman concerining what it takes to be an effective leader. Mark replied:

1. Listen Carefully
2. Question Thoroughly
3. Act Decisively

Good stuff. So often, leaders want to tell rather than listen, argue rather than question, and discuss rather than act.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Saturday Musings

Cathy and the kids went to a Bible Quiz Invitational, and I was the one appointed to stay back home and take care of our new dog, Vin. Didn't mind having a day at home alone.

It snowed a few inches overnight, so Vin and I shovelled the driveway together. We're getting along great.

I ran a couple of errands, and did a few fix-it projects at the house. I spent a couple hours watching "All the King's Men" on TCM -- it was a good lesson on how power can corrupt.

It was a joy to discover that Tom Raven, a key leader of my youth group back in California, is now the head baseball coach for Trinity International University, in Deerfield, IL. It's been years since we've been in touch with each other. He's an awesome man of God, and it feels good to know that I had a part in mentoring him during his early years.

A kind friend called to tell me that a Youtube Post I put up on the blog (Stethoscope) had some inappropriate links at the end. Oops -- didn't catch that. I took it down.

Signs of a Lukewarm Pastor

A great post by Craig Groeschel

  • Prays as much, or more, publicly than privately.
  • Is almost exclusively dependent on others’ sermons to preach than directly hearing from God.
  • Cares more about his church than The Church.
  • Preaches about evangelism but doesn’t practice evangelism privately.
  • Tolerates and rationalizes unconfessed sin.
  • Preaches for the approval of people rather than the approval of God.
  • Is overly sensitive to criticism.
Read the rest here

Something to Ponder

Good food for thought from Kimberly Smith, President of Make A Way Partners (a wonderful mission organization dedicated to eliminating human trafficking and modern day slavery):

The Upside of Selfishness in a Downturned Market

When I am in Sudan, I never find myself thinking about the stock market, 401ks, health insurance and so forth. But, then again, I don’t have access to newspapers or television reports that devote 24 hours a day monitoring those things and warning me that they are losing their value and I’d better not count on them. Instead, while in Sudan, I find myself concerned about whether or not the child next to me has enough to eat and drink to make it through the night

Happiness is Contagious

According to a new study reported in the British Medical Journal, Happiness is Contagious.

"The more happy people you know, the more likely you are yourself to be happy."

Friday, December 05, 2008

Leading by Preaching

My friend, John Jackson, recently shared a good post about leading via preaching. Of course, the pastoral nurture of the individual is vitally important. It is also important, however, to speak to the group -- a charge to this specific body of believers.

Kingdom Impact increases in our ministry when we recognize that we are preaching BOTH to the individual and to the congregation. Both are needed, and the effective preacher is both aware of the opportunity and the privilege to address both needs.

Pastoral Questions:
What does it say?
What does it mean to me?
What should I do?
How does this speak to my present?

Leadership Questions:
What does it mean?
What does it mean to us?
What changes should we make?
How does this speak to our future?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Greatest Words Ever Spoken

I've found Steven Scott's, The Greatest Words Ever Spoken, to be a valuable ministry resource.
Scott has collected all the recorded sayings of Jesus (via the Gospels) and has catalogued them by topic. It makes for a fascinating read. . . everything Jesus said about you, your life, and everything else!
Putting this volume together must have been quite an undertaking. . . as merely attempting to read it through has proven daunting.
It's more of a reference book than a "read-it-straight-through" type.

Christmas Wagon Ride

A large Catholic Church in a big city put up a Manger Scene every year in front of its church for the month of December.
The congregation decided to purchase a new baby Jesus one Christmas season. Every Sunday before Christmas people going by would notice the Manger Scene and particularly the baby Jesus.

On Christmas Eve the Priest went outside to say a prayer before the evenings services. He noticed instantly that the baby Jesus was missing so he called the police.

The officers arrived shortly thereafter and began cruising the neighborhood hoping to find the infant Jesus. After a few blocks ride they noticed a little boy pulling a glimmering new red wagon and to their surpise they saw the baby Jesus placed carefully in that wagon. They stopped their car and asked the boy where he was going with his red wagon and what did he have inside.

The boy excitedly exclaimed that he had gone down to the front of the church every day and prayed to baby Jesus for a new wagon and promised him if he got it for Christmas Jesus would be the first one he would give a ride too.
(Thanks to Gary Exman for the story!)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cash Crunch

Barna on How Churches are Weathering the Economic Downturn

Ed Stetzer on Denominations

Denominations are in a challenging time right now... and I believe things will get worse for denominations before they get better. However, I believe the best denominational partnerships are yet to come when denominations get re-focused on serving churches and helping them fulfill the Great Commission.
More here

The Circle

The poet, Edwin Markham, had put aside a great sum of money for his retirement. When he went to the bank to withdraw from the account, however, he discovered that a “trusted friend” had plundered his nest egg, leaving him penniless.

Edwin now needed to write again in order to survive. He sat at his desk day after day but was unable to produce anything. He could think only of his loss. Bitterness and resentment were walls, shutting out his creativity. It was destroying his life.

One day, he began to doodle on the blank page before him. As usual, he could think of nothing to write. So, he drew circles on the paper.

Suddenly, as he gazed at the circles, he knew what he must do. Bowing his head in prayer, he poured out his resentment to God and asked for the strength to forgive.

Then he picked up his pen and began to write:
He drew a circle that shut me out,
Rebel, heretic, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took him in!

Has someone wronged you? Have you been hurt by a harsh word, a cruelty, a betrayal, or a snub? If so, you need to let go and forgive. Forgiveness really is a choice – and it’s for your own good.

“But she owes me an apology!” might say. It doesn’t matter. You must forgive anyway.

Forgiveness means adjusting our attitude. It is dealing with the bitterness so we can smile again. It is resolving the issues rather than allowing them to fester. You don’t need “permission” from the one who offended you to do that.

The Jewish philosopher, Hannah Arendt, remarked, “Forgiveness is the only power which can stop the stream of painful memories.”

The Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Can you honestly say these words? Are you able to release your resentment and forgive the one who hurt you?

Never is a human soul so strong as when it dares to forgive an injury.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

So Who Is Admin?

My friend, Paul, e-mailed me with this question:

Hello Pastor. I've got a bit of a toughie that I can't seem yet to explain. I'm preparing a Bible Study for Sunday School called the "Unfit Misfits" where I review the genealogies of Christ in Matthew and Luke. I've run across a name I can't find in any of my resources - Admin He's listed in Luke 3:33 as the son of Arni, aka Ram. do you know anything about him? Matthew omits this name, going directly from Ram to Amminidab.

Can anybody help Paul out? He needs an answer before Sunday.

Firstborn of Mary

Firstborn of Mary,
provocative preacher,
itinerant teacher,
outsider's choice;
Jesus inspires and disarms and confuses
whoever he choses to hear his voice.
-- Iona Community

Josh posted this beautiful poem at Front Porch Life.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Five Amigos

I was impressed by something that happened a few weeks ago, when I was teaching a FLAME Course in South Carolina. These classes are to fulfill ordination requirements for people pursuing the ministry.

Al Thompson, one of my students was a repeat -- He didn't need the class -- He'd already taken it (didn't flunk either, but passed with an A) -- and, in fact, is already ordained.

Yet, he came back for another round of FLAME and guess what he did? He brought four other guys (Larry, Dale, Ken, and Joshua) from his church in North Carolina along with him!

Isn't that cool?? Kudos to the Five Amigos for diving deeper and seeking ministerial training that will truly benefit you and your church!! What a great experience for you to share together! Way to go Pastor Al. You're an outstanding leader, and obviously loved by the people of your congregation.