Dec 20, 2012

Christmas: Anything But Serene, Gentle, and Nice...And Thank God for That!

We like to think of peaceful scenes of love, shepherds, angels at Christmas.

The whole scene is so serene, so peaceful.

Shirley Guthrie reminds us in his book, Christian Doctrine: 

The Christmas story is anything but the sentimental, harmless, once-a-year occasion for a "Christmas Spirit" that lasts only a few days before we return to the "facts" of the "real world." Christmas is the story of a radical invasion of God into the kind of real world where we live all year long -- a world where there is political unrest and injustice, poverty, hatred, jealousy, and both fear and longing that things could be different. (p.235)

While things may have seemed serene and genteel in the manger, there was something else going on in the heavenly realms.

Christmas was God's declaration to the Prince of Darkness that his time had come to an end.

John Eldridge says in his book Waking the Dead:

The birth of Christ was an act of war, an invasion. The enemy knew it and tried to kill Him as a babe (Matt. 2:13)...War is not just one among many themes in the Bible. It is the backdrop for the whole story, the context for everything else. God is at war. He is trampling out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored. And what is He fighting for? Our freedom and restoration: the glory of God is man fully alive. (p.16)

For those who know all too well what it means to be trampled under foot, to be oppressed by evil and darkness, what's needed is the destruction and the shattering of evil and darkness.

That's Christmas!

For those of us still reeling from the unspeakable evil that occurred in Connecticut, indeed the promise of this child to be born is indeed a word of strong comfort.

Listen again to the promise of Christmas:
"For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given..." Isaiah 9:4-6a.

Dec 19, 2012

Calvin Was Wrong...I Think

John Calvin said in the Institutes, "Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists."

The Scots Confession says, "Since the earliest days of the Reformation, Reformed Christians have marked the presence of the true Church wherever:

  • the Word of God is truly preached and heard,
  • the Sacraments are rightly administered, and 
  • ecclesiastical discipline is uprightly ministered.
Both are incomplete understandings of the church. 


I know. I'm just a regular guy. Who do I think I am to say that John Calvin and the Scots Confession were wrong? 

In my genuinely humble opinion, as I see it, the problem with both Calvin and the Scot's Confession is that both of these understandings of the church assume Christendom. They both assume a world where people are already a part of the church. Such that, what is necessary for a healthy church is good maintenance and order of the church

The problem is that's not the world I live in. I live in a world where the majority of the people are not part of the church. I live in a missionary context, where most of the people in the world need to come to know Christ as Lord and Savior and become part of the church.

Calvin and the Scot's Confession's definition of the church point inward. Their definitions have to do with institutional maintenance and order. There is no mention of the outward expressions of the church and her missional imperative to make disciples of all nations and to establish God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

Calvin and the Notes of the Reformed Church only tell half the story of the church.

Calvin and the Scot's Confession's definition of the true church are inadequate understandings of the church. 

Yes. I really did just say humbly as I can, of course.

Dec 18, 2012

Where Was God in Connecticut?...Sermon from Sunday

I don't normally post my sermons on the blog but have been asked by a few people for the text of the sermon. Since I don't use a manuscript, the best I can do is to point folks to the audio.

To listen to the sermon, click on the word sermon and it will take you to the LCOP sermon page.

May God continue to bring healing to those who are hurting.

May we continue to choose the way of love, forgiveness, and peace and join God in fighting back against evil.

God bless!

James <><

Dec 17, 2012

Paul Harvey...The Christ of Christmas

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Paul Harvey, the master story teller, shares the following regarding the Christ of Christmas.

There was once a man who didn't believe in God, and he didn't hesitate to let others know how he felt about religion and religious holidays, like Christmas. His wife, however, did believe, and she raised their children to also have faith in God and Jesus, despite his disparaging comments.

One snowy Christmas Eve, his wife was taking their children to a Christmas Eve service in the farm community in which they lived. She asked him to come, but, as always, he refused.

"That story is nonsense!" he said.  "Why would God lower Himself to come to Earth as a man? That's ridiculous!"  

So she and the children left, and he stayed home.

A while later, the winds grew stronger and the snow turned into a blizzard. As the man looked out the window, all he saw was a blinding snowstorm. He sat down to relax before the fire for the evening.  Then he heard a loud thump. Something had hit the window. Then another thump.  He looked out, but couldn't see more than a few feet. When the snow let up a little, he ventured outside to see what could have been beating on his window. In the field near his house he saw a flock of wild geese.

Apparently they had been flying south for the winter when they got caught in the snowstorm and couldn't go on. They were lost and stranded on his farm, with no food or shelter. They just flapped their wings and flew around the field in low circles, blindly and aimlessly. A couple of them had flown into his window, it seemed.

The man felt sorry for the geese and wanted to help them. The barn would be a great place for them to stay, he thought. It's warm and safe; surely they could spend the night and wait out the storm. So he walked over to the barn and opened the doors wide, then watched and waited, hoping they would notice the open barn and go inside. But the silly geese just fluttered around aimlessly and didn't seem to notice the barn or realize what it could mean for them.

The man tried to get their attention, but that just seemed to scare them and they moved further away. He went into the house and came with some bread, broke it up, and made a breadcrumb trail leading to the barn. They still didn't catch on.

Now he was getting frustrated. He got behind them and tried to shoo them toward the barn, but they only got more scared and scattered in every direction except toward the barn. Nothing he did could get them to go into the barn where they would be warm and safe.  

"Why don't they follow me?!" he exclaimed. "Can't they see this is the only place where they can survive the storm?"

He thought for a moment and realized that they just wouldn't follow a human. "If only I were a goose, then I could save them," he said out loud. Then he had an idea. He went into barn, got one of his own geese, and carried it in his arms as he circled around behind the flock of wild geese. He then released it. His goose flew through the flock and straight into the barn – and one by one the other geese followed it to safety.

He stood silently for a moment as the words he had spoken a few minutes earlier replayed in his mind: "If only I were a goose, then I could save them!" Then he thought about what he had said to his wife earlier. "Why would God want to be like us? That's ridiculous!" Suddenly it all made sense. That is what God had done. We were like the geese – blind, lost, perishing. God had His Son become like us so He could show us the way and save us. That was the meaning of Christmas, he realized.

As the winds and blinding snow died down, his soul became quiet and pondered this wonderful thought. Suddenly he understood what Christmas was all about, why Christ had come. Years of doubt and disbelief vanished like the passing storm. He fell to his knees in the snow, and prayed his first prayer: "Thank You, God, for coming in human form to get me out of the storm!"

Now you know the rest of the story.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 12, 2012

Advent Reflections...Too Humane for a Savior?

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Advent reflections...

Malcolm Muggeridge observed that in our day, with family-planning clinics offering convenient ways to correct "mistakes" that might disgrace a family name, "It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all. 

"Mary's pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion; and her talk of having conceived as a result of the intervention of the Holy Ghost would have pointed to the need for psychiatric treatment, and made the case for terminating her pregnancy even stronger. 

"Thus our generation, needing a Savior more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born" 

Yancey, "Jesus I Never Knew", p.32.

Dec 11, 2012

Advent Reflections: 9 Months Pregnant, 80 Mile Journey on Foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem. What Were Mary and Joseph Thinking?

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This post was first published in December of 2010. 

I've noticed that it's been getting a ton of hits is after all the Season of Advent. May this repost be a blessing to many.

Advent Blessings!

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world...And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David..." (Luke 2:1-4).

These are the opening words to the birth narrative of Jesus in Luke.

The distance between Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles as the crow flies. It would have been at least an 80 mile journey by foot on the dirt roads.

A typical caravan traveled about 20 miles a day. That would have made this journey a four day journey. However, Mary was in her last trimester of her pregnancy when they went on this journey. 

Tradition says that Mary rode on a donkey while Joseph walked. The Bible never mentions a donkey, but for Mary's sake, I hope there was a donkey for her.

I have four children. My wife and I have experienced four births. My wife is a pretty tough lady. She gave birth to all four children naturally and without pain medication. I know...crazy. I pleaded with the doctors to give her some pain meds but my voice doesn't count in the birth room.

Even though my wife is a tough lady, we would have never thought about going on a journey like the one Mary and Joseph took.
  • Mary would have been on the back of a donkey, while fully pregnant, for 5-7 days.
  • There were no rest stops along the way, no fast food places to stop and eat, no motels or hotels. They would have slept on the hard ground, make do with the food they were carrying, and it would have been pretty darn cold.
And the craziest thing is, while it was totally necessary for Joseph to make this journey, it was completely unnecessary for Mary to do so. Women were not required to show up for the census. Only men were counted. 

So the question has to be asked, "What the heck were Mary and Joseph thinking when they went on this journey together? What possessed them to make to take Mary along?"

Ahh...We forget what it's like to live in a small town, and we cannot forget about the controversial circumstances around Mary's pregnancy.
  • Sure Mary. An angel appeared. 
  • Sure Mary. I'm sure the three months while you disappeared while engaged to Joseph had nothing to do with you showing up pregnant.
You see, the spontaneous whispers that would erupt whenever people saw Mary and Joseph, the finger pointing, and the downright rude comments that were made about them were worse than the thought of a week long journey on foot to Bethlehem. Mary couldn't imagine staying in Nazareth by herself without Joseph there to protect her and shield her. 

Mary insisted on going.

And so was fulfilled what was promised through the prophets: "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6).

God uses even gossip and cruelty of the smalltown folk of Nazareth to fulfill his promise to send to us a Savior. There is nothing that can stop God from loving us.

That's the story of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 10, 2012

Do You Know "WHERE" You Are Leading?

"Leadership is about going somewhere - if you and your people don't know where you are going, your leadership doesn't matter. "
- Ken Blanchard

Alice in Wonderland came to a fork in the road in her search for a way out of Wonderland.

Alice asks the Chesire Cat, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," the cat replied.

Alice replied that she really did not much care.

The smiling cat told Alice in no uncertain terms, "Then it doesn't matter which way you go."

Do you know "WHERE" you are leading?

Dec 1, 2012

Conservative Evangelicals...Liberal Progressives...Who's Right? Who's Wrong?

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"We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him. Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:3-6)

Conservative evangelicals read passages like this and point the accusing finger at the liberals to accuse the liberals of not obeying God's commands. "This is exactly what's wrong with the liberals," the evangelicals say. "If they would just take God's commands and word seriously, their lives would reflect God's holiness."

Liberals read passages like this and point the accusing finger at the conservatives and accuse the conservatives of not obeying the commands of Jesus. "This is exactly what's wrong with the conservative evangelicals. If they would just obey God's commands to love and welcome, their lives would reflect more of Jesus' love for people."

So who's right?

Who's wrong?

Perhaps, it's really not about who's pointing fingers at whom.

Perhaps, the truth is that the Word points it's finger at us - all of us conservatives and liberals and everyone in between - to challenge us to love and welcome all people as Jesus, and challenging us to keep God's laws so that we can be found pure and holy.

It is the Word that judges us.

It is the Word that challenges us.

It is the Word that transforms us so that we can walk as Jesus walked.

We all need to be more like Jesus.

We all need to be judged, challenged, and transformed by the power of the Word of God. 

Nov 30, 2012

Starbucks...Relationships...Church...Familiarity Matters

I have a daily Starbucks ritual.

Every morning, I take the kids to school and then I go to Starbucks.

I order my Grande Pike, open my Bible and journal, grab my pen and I spend about an hour reading, reflecting, and planning the day before I head into the office.

I love my Starbucks mornings!

But something about this Starbucks ritual has me really puzzled. There's always a buzz of background noise of coffee grinding, people talking, and music playing at Starbucks and it's never bothered me.

It's not just me. Lots of other people seem not to be bothered by the background noise.

While background noise at Starbucks is easy to ignore, the background noise at home and in the office drives me nuts. When people are talking at home or outside my office I can't read, I can't think, I can't write. Background noise is totally disruptive at home or in the office.

Why is that?

Here's my best guess.

The background conversations at home and in the office are distracting because of their familiarity.

The voices at Starbucks blend into the background and can be tuned out and ignored because they are unknown voices to me. But the voices in the office and at home are not only known to me, but because they belong to people whom I love and care about, as hard as I might try to block out those voices they simply cannot be ignored.

They demand my attention.

If I'm right about this, there are two huge implications of this truth.

First, each of our voices are unique and beloved to God. So while we may only hear an indistinguishable jumble of voices as millions of prayers are lifted up, to God, each voice is indispensable and impossible for him to ignore because our voices are not only familiar to God but because these voices belong to his beloved.

I love that!

Second, for those of us who are part of a local church, familiarity absolutely matters.

Get involved. Engage. Get to know folks. Your engagement is absolutely essential. I don't think there's a single pastor or church who goes out of their way to ignore someone who is hurting. Every church and pastor wants to minister to those in need. That's why we do what we do!

However, no church or pastor can address needs that are unknown to them. We're not God. We're human just like you.

Familiarity absolutely matters.

So, do it. Engage. Get involved. 

Nov 29, 2012

All I Need to Know In an Uncertain World

Got off a lengthy conference call today with folks from across the country to discuss the goings on in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

We, evangelicals in the PC(USA), certainly find ourselves living in interesting times!!!

As I've been reflecting on where I am and where our church is in relation to our denomination, there are way more questions than there are answers.

But these things I know:
1. God is in charge. No matter what, that will never change. Thank God for that!

2. God doesn't expect any of us to have the answers. What God does expect is our faithfulness.

There are times we can be absolutely faithful and still have no clue what to do about the future. That's where many of us find ourselves today.

  • We hate the thought of leaving the denomination we have been a part of for so long, and yet, continue to find ourselves feeling pushed out. But we don't even know where we're to go. Such is the life of an evangelical in the PC(USA) landscape today. 

3. But it's okay that we don't know what the future holds.

Abraham didn't know where he was going when God called him either. He just knew that God told him that God would show the step at a time. And that was enough for him to embark on a journey that would eventually change everything.

I'm good with that.

I have no idea what the immediate future holds.

I have no idea how everything's going to shake itself out.

But I know God's in charge and that he will continue to show the way.

That's all I need to know. 

Nov 28, 2012

A New Old Thought

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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord. (Psalm 19:13).

I've read and heard this verse hundreds, if not thousands of times.

Because I've heard it so often, when I do come across the verse, it has a tendency to get tuned out.

For whatever reason, as I was sipping on my coffee this morning, the truth of this verse struck me like a lightning bolt.

Imagine what your day would be like if every word you spoke and every thought in your heart today was pleasing to God!!!

Seriously...spend a moment thinking about your day...imagine every word that comes out of your mouth being pleasing to God...just think on what it would be like if every thought in your heart was pleasing to God.

Think on that and chew on that thought for a while.

Why, I bet you would have one of the greatest days ever!

I bet, you would live such a life that the people around you couldn't get enough of you, because every word you spoke was pleasing to God, and because your disposition was so God-honoring because every thought was captivated by what would be pleasing to God.

So make this your goal for the day.

I am. 

Nov 27, 2012

The Joy of Ministry...Wouldn't Want to Be Anywhere Else!

As I sit at my desk in the office...
- my head hurts
- my heart aches

What a day this has been!

I prayed earlier, "God, you must think I can handle all this stuff!" Glad at least someone thinks I can. I can't get through this stuff on my own. You better show up and lead cause I surely don't know what to do with all this stuff!

But you know what? 

I couldn't imagine doing anything else.

Wouldn't want to be doing anything else!

I love the ministry!!!

As crazy, mind-numbing, heart-breaking, and messy pastoral ministry can be, there's no other place I would rather be.

For who else, but Jesus through his church, can bring healing to people hurting?

Who else can bring clarity to messed up and hopeless situations like Jesus through his church?

Who else can change evil to good, hurt to joy, tears to laughter, tragedies into testimonies? 

Who else?

None but Jesus.

And we in the church get to be a part of this awesome HOLY ministry.

Thank you God!

Thank you Jesus!

Thank you Holy Spirit!

Nov 15, 2012

The "Gaming" Reality and What Parents Can Do

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Read something quite shocking this morning.

Jim Denison writes:
When typical Americans reach 21 years of age, they have spent 10,000 hours "gaming".

By comparison, a person with perfect attendance in middle school and high school would have attended class for 10,084 hours.
- 92% of two year olds play video games
- 99% of boys 18 and younger play video games
- 94% of girls 18 and younger play video games

We have a couple of choices. We can cry and bemoan these realities. We can do that. That's what older generations typically do.

Or, we can accept this reality and impact what games and how games shape our young people.

I would rather be a part of shaping a new reality of our young people.

I'm no expert in video games and the psychological, emotional, social impact they have on kids, but I do think I have some common sense. So here's what I do as a parent with four kids under the age of 18 who play video games.

  1. I choose with them the games that are appropriate for them. It doesn't matter if all their friends are playing a particular game. It doesn't matter that certain games are the most popular game in the history of human kind. Helen and I get to choose what is appropriate at our home. Just as we monitor and determine what and television shows are acceptable, the parents determine what is appropriate for our kids.
  2. Our kids are only allowed to play video games on non-school days and after they have completed their homework and chores. 
These two rules seem reasonable to Helen and me. 

That kids are playing video games is a reality. However, parents can and should still shape how they interact with video games. 

Nov 14, 2012

If We Are Generous, God Will Bless Our Generosity

This is the first guest blog entry on my blog site.

This was written by Deanna Price, a member of "The Hole in Our Gospel" small group at the Little Church on the Prairie. Deanna wrote this piece for the church newsletter. She's given me permission to add it to the blog.

Here it is:

FOCUS Group #6 "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Deanna Price.

The last meeting of FOCUS Group #6 was billed by Pastor James, our group leader, as a celebration dinner and what a celebration it was, but let me start at the beginning.

Our group read "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns, president of World Vision. Using Isaiah 1 as an example, Mr. Stearns posited that God is tired of people and churches who just "go through the motions" of their faith. The hole in our gospel, he says, is that we, as individuals and as churches, are not reflecting God's love for us to others. We should be doing this by showing compassion to those in need, not only locally, but around the world.

The book and accompanying videos were very thought-provoking and impactful. 

As a group we decided to donate toward what world vision calls, "micro loans". These loans are given to individuals or groups in Third World nations who have been screened by World Vision to start or grow a business. The recipients pay back the loan to World Vision over time and World Vision then uses the money to fund more worthy business ventures.

As a group we donated $1,075.00 and decided we wanted to help a woman or women in Mexico. We were excited to find that we could fund four businesses. And then Pastor James noticed that an anonymous donor had agreed to match funds that were donated. 


We now had double our money in essence. In total we funded seven complete loans and donated toward an eighth. What a lesson for us all. If we are generous, God will bless our generosity.

Nov 13, 2012

Behold A Virgin Shall Be with a Child...

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It's baaaaaack!

That's right. It's that time of the year again.

Of course I'm talking about Christmas.
  • The crowds
  • The shopping
  • The same ol' Christmas carols over the loudspeakers for the thousandth time
For pastor types, it's time of the year where we're left praying and wondering, "How can I make the same ol' Christmas message new and wonderful again this time?!"

In the midst of all this...cough,, do remember it's CHRISTmas Season!!!

Seriously, can you imagine a time or a world that needs what only Christ can bring more than our world right now?

More than ever our world and our church needs to hear the good news, "Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel - which means - God with us."

More than ever our we need God in our lives. We need Jesus.

It's back!

It's Christmas!

Let the world know! 

We are not alone!

God is with us.

His name is Immanuel! God with us!

Merry Christmas!

Nov 9, 2012

There is No Budget Crisis in the PC(USA) nor Her Presbyteries

There is no financial crisis facing the PC(USA) and her presbyteries.

No, I'm not crazy nor have I been sipping on happy juice.

I readily acknowledge that most of the presbyteries in the PC(USA) find themselves strapped for cash as their incomes have been radically reduced.

But I still contend that there is no financial crisis facing the PC(USA) and her presbyteries.

Let me explain.

The primary way the Book of Order describes the function and the mission of presbyteries is in its administrative and judicial functions. Look at G-3.0301 - G-3.0307 in the Book of Order.

If this is what presbyteries would actually do, most presbyteries could do this with minimal staffing and expenses.

However, the problem with the finances arises because of the way most presbyteries are structured and budgeted. Many of our presbyteries find themselves in a budget crisis because they are structured and budgeted to do far more than they have been charged to accomplish. Most presbyteries are budgeted and structured as if they were the mission and ministry accomplishing entity.

That's neither the charge nor purpose of presbyteries.

G-3.0101 says, "Councils of the church exist to help congregations and the church as a whole to be more faithful participants in the mission of God."

The Book of Order and our constitution rightly recognizes the local congregation as the primary locus where ministry and mission is accomplished. The councils exist to enable ministry.

The problem is not a lack of funds or even the reduction of funds at the presbytery level.

The problem is that today's presbyteries are structured and budgeted to do far more than its primary role to fulfill the administrative and judicial functions of a regional area.

If our presbytery's budgets and structures reflected this primary function, there is no budget crisis.

It's not that the income of presbyteries is shrinking, the problem is that the structures of presbyteries are unnecessarily large. It needs to be pared down to its original administrative and judicial functions as prescribed in our constitution, the Book of Order.  

Nov 8, 2012

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing: A Parable of the Life Saving Station

This is the parable of the Life Saving Station I shared this past Sunday.

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. 

Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. 

New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Some members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furnishing in the enlarged building.

Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club.

Fewer members were now interested in going out to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this hand work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club's decorations, and there was a miniature lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower built outside the club where victims of the shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. 

Most of the members wanted to stop the club's lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. 

Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out they were still called a lifesaving station. 

But they were finally voted down and told if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast.

They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded.

History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. 

Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

Church, never forget to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.

Nov 7, 2012

We Can Learn A Lot from Kids...

Some of you are elated for your "man" won last night.

Some of you are deflated for your "man" lost last night.

Most of us are just glad that the negative campaigning has come to an end.

No matter what, I think we can learn a great deal from Pastor Jim's 1st grade grandson.

Pastor Jim Probert shared a story with me about his 1st grade grandson, Nate.

Nate and his friend were working in their classroom when the conversation somehow turned to religion and God. A little boy turned and looked at Nate and crinkled his nose and said, "I don't believe in God. I don't believe in that stuff, and I don't know anyone who would!"

Nate sat quietly, looked at his friend with a smile and said, "Well, I believe in God. But I'll still be your friend."

Love it!!!

America could learn a lot from Nate.

Whether your man won or lost last night, it's time for Americans to get behind our president and start doing what's best for America. This won't happen until we put partisan politics aside and put America first.

So, whether your "man" won or lost last night, I'll still be your friend.

Now, together, let's start building a better America!

Nov 1, 2012

Check Out What God is Doing through the Little Church on the Prairie!

This is the powerpoint we showed at the Stewardship Celebration Dinner to celebrate all that God is doing through the ministries of the Little Church on the Prairie.

As the video says, this is just the beginning...

Oct 31, 2012

Football in Texas - Taco Meat...Hahahahahahahhahaaaaha!

I'm a big fan of sports. One of my favorites is college football.

I had the privilege of living in Texas for 16 years.

This ESPN commercial made my day.

I miss Texas....

Oct 29, 2012

Christians...Money Matters

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Money matters...

Money matters more than sexuality, orthodoxy, or morality.

While it is true that morality matters, right theology matters, and sexuality matters, it is also true that how Christians deal with materialism and greed in the light of abject poverty matters.

Money viewed through the lens of the American Dream says, "I am entitled to my hard earned money." No one can tell me what to do with my money. Not even God.

Money viewed through the lens of scripture says, "I am entrusted with God's resources." Everything that we have, everything that we are is all from God. And God's expectation of Christ-followers is that we would invest ourselves fully for the cause of Christ and not that we would work for things that will all end up in the junkyard.

Richard Stearns, the author of The Hole in Our Gospel, writes, "The Bible devotes twice as many verses to money as it does to faith and prayer combined, and fully 15% of Jesus recorded words dealt with money, more than he said about heaven and hell combined" (p. 210).

So make sure that your faith is orthodox, that your theology is sound, that our morality and sexuality reflect Biblical truths. But don't forget that what we do with God's riches, how we steward his resources, and how Christians deal with greed and materialism in the light of abject poverty absolutely matters to God.

Money matters...

Oct 26, 2012

Leading Change Like Apple Not Facebook

I don't own any Apple stocks. I wish I did. Apple stocks have been one of the best performing stocks around.

I don't own any Facebook stocks. I'm glad I don't. Facebook stock has been tanking since Facebook first went public.

When Apple stocks do well, it makes me happy. When I read that Apple stocks are doing poorly, I worry.

Again, I don't own any Apple stocks.

What I find fascinating is the opposite is true with Facebook stocks.

When Facebook stocks and its value tanked, there was a part of me that secretly enjoyed that.

I don't know any of the workers at Facebook. I am sure there are many wonderful people who work for Facebook. And I do feel bad for them.

Then why is it that I kind of secretly take joy when Facebook stocks perform so poorly? What's the matter with me?

After all, I use Facebook daily. It is one of the most visited sites by me. And I enjoy all this for free. And yet when Facebook stocks take a hit, there's a part of me that delights in that.

What's up with that?

You see, the biggest difference is that when Apple introduces a new product or upgrades its service, I can make the choice whether I want the new product or new service. If I'm happy with what I've got, I don't have to make any changes. But most of the time, their new products and services are so awesome, I want to make the changes.

But with Facebook, the experience is totally the opposite. Facebook has made numerous changes whether I've wanted those changes or not. I had no say in how I control my experience with Facebook.

And the thing about Facebook is that it is all so very personal. It's my pictures, my updates, my stories, my thoughts, my friends, my connections that are there. It's not some arbitrary stuff. Those are all my personal things. And when Facebook arbitrarily changes my experience with my stuff...I feel violated.

So when Facebook's stocks take a hit, I take some mild pleasure in that.

This is huge for any leaders who are working to bring about change in their organizations.

The changes we work on ought to be more like Apple and not like Facebook. If people feel violated by the changes, we will become their enemies. But if people sense that the changes are for their benefit, the changes will be viewed positively and those changes will be desired.

It's all about involving people in the changes.

So leaders, continue to lead change. But do it like Apple, not like Facebook.

Oct 25, 2012

Lord, Speak to me...And Make It Quick!

Lord, speak for your servant is listening...right now...I'm listening....better make it quick...cuz I gotta go!

We live in the world of drive through Starbucks, fast foods, instant contact through twitter, FB, texting, cell phones.

We get annoyed when we text someone and they don't immediately text back.

That's the world we live in.

This expectation of instant response works its way into our spirituality. We all want God to speak to us, guide us, lead us. We just expect God to do it right now!

One of the problems with American spirituality has to do with the issue of depth...or more precisely the lack of it. Most of our spirituality is shallow because we don't invest the necessary time and intentionality required to go deeper in our relationship with God.

We all know in our heads that relational depth requires investments of time and intentionality. Where we have a hard time is in putting this to action.

The investment of time and intentionality is true of friendships, courtships, marriages, and yes, this is true of our relationship with God.

God speaks. God leads. God guides.

But we must listen. We must take the time to walk with him. We must make the investment of intentionally shutting out the rest of the world so that we can be with God.

You know all this already.

The trick is in making it happen.

So here's a couple of suggestions (I almost said "quick" suggestions, but I caught myself).

  1. Daily Quiet times - Set aside a time every day where you can get alone with a Bible, journal, and pen. I've tried lots of different things and have found that having a fixed time and a fixed place is the best way.
  2. Journal. Journal. Journal. I remember best, I reflect best, I hear best when I am journaling. I am pretty sure this is the case for most folks. Now you may be the odd person who reflects, remembers, and hears best in other ways, but from what I've read and experienced, most people do their best remembering, reflecting, and hearing by journaling.
  3. Try it for 30 days before you make a decision about continuing or quitting. 
I do my quiet time, journaling, reflecting, listening every morning at Starbucks. I get my cup of coffee, put on my noise isolating earphones, get my Bible, pen, and journal out and I do my thing. I love my mornings.

And you will too!

Oh, the places God will lead you to as you listen, reflect, and journal. 

Oct 24, 2012

Worship Wars...Nothing New

A prominent American pastor compiled this list of complaints regarding new music in the church:

  1. It's too new, like and unknown language.
  2. It's not melodious as the more established style.
  3. There are so many new songs that it is impossible to learn them all.
  4. This new music creates disturbances and causes people to act in an indecent and disorderly manner.
  5. It places too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than on godly lyrics.
  6. The lyrics are often worldly, even blasphemous.
  7. It is not needed, since preceding generations have gone to heaven without it.
  8. It is a contrivance to get money.
  9. It monopolizes the Christians' time and encourages them to stay out late.
  10. These new musicians are young upstarts, and some of them are lewd and loose persons.

The reasons above were adapted from a 1723 statement directed against the use of hymns! 

(Bob Sorge, Exploring Worship: A Practical Guide to Praise and Worship, p.137).
When we are at our wits' end for an answer, then the Holy Spirit can give us an answer. But how can He give us an answer when we are still well supplied with all sorts of answers of our own?

Karl Barth

Oct 23, 2012

Say No to Labels

Many in the PC(USA) are using the word "Progressives" to refer to folks who favor among other things, gay ordination and same gender marriages.

The reason why I refuse to use that language is because if that's who "progressives" are, then since I do not affirm those things, that then makes me what?

Regressive or anti-progressive.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am all about the church of Jesus Christ and my church doing its very best to discover new and better ways to proclaim and be about the good news of Jesus Christ.

That's the general problem with labels. Nothing quite fits.

So here's the thing.

I refuse to use the language of conservative and progressive.

I will stick to being a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ.

I am one who believes that the Bible is God's word to us.

I am one who believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ which makes atonement for the sins of those who believe Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Oct 22, 2012

The Most Important Question When Looking for a Church Home

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One of the realities of modern day life is mobility.

It's very rare for a person to never move.

It's very rare that someone would go to one church all their life.

The result is that most Christians will at some point end up looking for a place to call their home church.

One of the most common questions people ask when looking for a church is, "Where will I get my needs met?"

While this seems like a perfectly good question to ask, it's actually one of the most harmful ways to look at one's relationship to God's church.

You see, when you ask this question, you are a consumer and the ultimate judge of what is acceptable to you.

But you see, church life, discipleship is not about you. It's all about God. It's all about what is good and pleasing to God.

The proper way for us to relate to God is to ask "Am I acceptable to God?" and never "Is God acceptable to me?"

Also the reason why this question is unhelpful is because instead of making you an investor and a disciple, asking "Where will I get my needs met?" fundamentally makes you a consumer of what God can offer.

Imagine if the basis of your relationship with your spouse, your child, boy/girl friend, is "What have you done for me lately?" And if you don't contribute to make my life better, I'm out!

No relationship can survive that.

No relationship should endure that.

The most important question to ask when looking for a church is "Where do I feel most at home?"

As you check out different churches, you will know when you've come home.

  • It will be a place where you will be loved and cared for, but also a place where you will be expected to contribute and help with the chores. 
  • It will be a place where you can grow and be yourself. 
  • It will be home.

If you're in the Lakewood vicinity and you've been looking for a church home, you've got to come try the Little Church on the Prairie.

You belong here!

Oct 20, 2012

Stop Planning - Start PREPARING

You've all heard the adage "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

I no longer think this adage is true.

In a world that is changing as rapidly as ours, it is impossible to predict and plan for the future. 

Does that then mean that we are helpless to do anything about our future?

Of course not.

Stop planning and start preparing. 

No matter what the circumstances, you can prepare for a fantastic future. 

Moving into this emerging, constantly changing, unknowable future is kind of like improvisational music. 

When you get a group of amazing musicians together, no one has any idea where a set of musical chords can take them. But the music doesn't just happen. In order for these musicians to go where the music will take them, each invested thousands upon thousands of hours practicing and putting in the hard laborious hours with chords, scales. And it's precisely because of their hard work that they are prepared and ready for wherever the music takes them.

I believe more and more, that this is what our future looks like for our churches and organizations.

Where as, in the years past, it was the leader's ability to plan that led to a successful future, more and more, it is the leader's ability to prepare themselves and their organizations for an unknowable future that sets up their churches and organizations for a bright future. 

What we must do as leaders is to prepare our churches for wherever the Holy Spirit will take us by preparing our congregations in the basics of a biblical world-view, prayer, worship, and service. And as we invest hard laborious hours with the basics, we will be most prepared for whatever the Holy Spirit has in store for the future.

And should the church be prepared, the Holy Spirit has some beautiful music in store for the church of the emerging future.

So stop planning and start preparing for God's wonderful future. 

Oct 19, 2012


Image borrowed from
In our rapidly changing world, one thing is certain: what used to work no longer works.

Where this is particularly true is when it comes to how organizations relate to their employees and people.

Richard Pascale relates:

  • Macy's rulebook is an inch thick. 
  • Nordstrom's rules can be summed up in two sentences. Rule 1: Use your good judgment in all situations. Rule 2: There will be no additional rules.
Guess which company is better prepared for the future?

What does your organization look like?
  • Do you trust your people to make good judgment?
  • Do you hire and attract people who will make good judgments and empower them to do so?
  • Or do you have to spell out what your people can and cannot do?
Use your good judgment.

Oct 16, 2012

Loving Father...

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I love being a dad. It's one of the greatest privileges on earth. There are few things in life better than being a dad.

As a dad, I prefer to interact with my children is as the fun-loving, goofy, cool, awesome dad I am.

But because I am a father, and because my kids are kids, there are times when I have to lower the boom and be the disciplinarian.

I make it clear to my children that what I prefer is being the fun-loving, goofy, cool, awesome dad. But if they so choose, I will be the disciplinarian.

It really is up to them how I relate with them.

The same is true of our God.

God prefers to delight in us and be a loving Father to us. However, because he loves us, he will discipline us if he must.

God says, "See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because the sin of my people?" (Jeremiah 9:7).

The question is, how do we want God to relate with us?

As a loving Father who delights in his children?

Or, must he be one who refines and tests us because our sins and disobedience?

It's really a no brainer.

Oct 11, 2012

Tasty Communion?

Image Borrowed from
I love tasty foods. Who doesn't?

If I have the choice between tasty foods and non-tasty foods, that's not a choice - that's a no-brainer. I'm going with the tasty morsels every time. And I have the waistline to prove that.

I'm working on finding healthier choices that are also tasty, but anyone who says healthier choices are just as good as the real stuff hasn't really tasted the good stuff!

I've been in some worship settings where they provided Gluten/dairy/flour free breads for those with food allergies, and I have to confess, I've never had gluten/dairy/flour free bread that can hold a candle to what we've been getting at the Little Church on the Prairie.

We've been using King's Hawaiian Bread for communion.

I love that stuff!

I can't even get it at home because my wife won't buy it.

But is that what the holy sacrament of communion is about? Tasty bread?

LCOP will be making a change in communion bread so that those who have food allergies and are a part of LCOP can partake in the holy sacrament of communion.

You see, we've had brothers and sisters who have been members here who have not been able to take communion because of their food allergies.

Some have asked "Why don't we provide a separate loaf for those with food allergies?"

That's a fantastic question.

The reason why the pastoral staff is asking the entire church to adjust to a gluten/flour/dairy free bread is because communion is about our unity in the body and the blood of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul writes, "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf...

The sacrament of communion visibly demonstrates our unity in Christ.

So here's what we promise.

  1. The worship committee and the deacons will do everything they can to get the tastiest gluten/dairy/flour free bread we can find.
  2. We will all partake of the same loaf to demonstrate our unity in Christ.
  3. We will remember to make communion not about the taste of the bread but about participating the unity offered in the blood and body of Christ.
We are one in Christ!

Jesus is Lord!

Thanks be to God!

Let us celebrate our unity in Christ!

Thanks church!

Oct 10, 2012

Why Do I Drive Past Two Perfectly Good Starbucks In Order to Get to "My" Starbucks? And What Can Our Church Learn from That?

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I come from the land of Starbucks. There's a Starbucks pretty much everywhere you go in the Seattle/Tacoma area.

When I do a quick Google search for Starbucks around my house there's eight to chose from within ten minutes drive from my house.

The thing is, I drive by a couple of Starbucks in order to go to "my" Starbucks. So I've been wondering why I drive past two perfectly fine Starbucks stores to go to my Starbucks. And what makes my Starbucks, my Starbucks?

First of all, I prefer my Starbucks because it's not as noisy, crowded, and busy as the other Starbucks around me. I normally read, write, and reflect while enjoying my coffee and I find that I can do that better at my Starbucks than at the other ones closer to my home.

But one of the biggest reasons why my Starbucks feels like my Starbucks is because I know most of the baristas there. As soon as they see me coming out of my car, they start pouring my Grande Pike and it's ready for me on the counter as I enter the store. Every time I am there, I am met with a smile and a friendly greeting.

Because of these small gestures of friendliness and hospitality, I feel more at home at my Starbucks than at any others. So much so that I drive past two other Starbucks closer to my home.

So the question for the Little Church on the Prairie is how can we help people feel the same way about LCOP so that LCOP becomes "my" church for folks?

How can we do our part to help people feel at home?

We have had, and still currently have, some amazing people who do a fantastic job of welcoming and greeting people.

One of the challenges for us is to have some younger folk step into the ministry of hospitality so that we can carry the ministry of hospitality into the future.

One of the goals of our ministry is, because Jesus is One who welcomes all, to do whatever it takes to welcome all God's people. 

Oct 8, 2012

Confession: I Suck at the Whole Waiting on God's Perfect Timing Thing...

My Beauty
Confession time: I suck at the whole waiting on God's perfect timing thing.

If truth be told, I always want God to act, and act in a supernatural way right NOW!!!

Intellectually, I get God is omniscient and sovereign and he knows what's best. It's just that when I am looking at our church I so want to see God showing up in a supernatural way to transform hearts and establish his kingdom here in Lakewood, University Place, Dupont, Tillicum, Steilacoom, and Tacoma, I don't know why God's taking his sweet ol' time!

Many of you know I love riding my bike.

As a rider, I ought to know better.

You see, for most of us riders, we don't ride because it's more comfortable than the car. We don't ride because it gets us to our destination faster and in more comfort.

The bike can't compete with the car for comfort.

The reason why we ride is because there's nothing like the ride!

  • the feel of the air breezing by
  • the sites, the sounds, the smells of a ride
  • the ability to feel the temperature changes around you
  • being surrounded by nature
There's nothing like the ride. 

For most of us riding, the point is rarely the destination. Sure, we do want to get where we're going. But the thrill of the ride is the ability to pull over at whatever catches your fancy and to enjoy locales along the ride. 

I can't think of a better reminder for the spiritual journey than a bike ride. 

The problem for me is that I get so caught up on the final destination that too often I forget to enjoy the ride.

The spiritual journey is all about the ride. 

We will all eventually get where God is leading us as long as we stay on the path. But life is to be enjoyed in the journey. 

It's the journey that makes church life so exciting, fun, heart-breaking, awesome.

Making a promise to self: Remember to enjoy the ride!

Oct 7, 2012

Have You Read Your Bible with SOAP?

Image Borrowed from
One of the axioms I live by is "Inspiration without Organization leads to Frustration."

When it comes to things like being a better dad, a better spouse, eating a healthier diet, being more fit...who doesn't want these things? Who goes around saying, I want to be big fat slob, an unloving dad or spouse?

So whenever we hear people encouraging and inspiring us to be these things without also showing us how we might become these things, it only leads to greater levels of frustration and guilt.

For many of us in the church, we know that we ought to pray and read the Bible on a daily basis. Often, those who are starting out on the faith journey start out with great expectations of how awesome their prayer times and Bible reading times with God are going to be.

But without some help in knowing how we are to read the Bible and make sense of what's there, this endeavor only leads to frustration. And eventually, because we know we ought to be reading and praying, but find it so dull and irrelevant, we start feeling guilty.

And every time we show up to church we are reminded over and over again of what a terrible Christian we are because we don't even read the Bible and pray everyday.

Inspiration without Organization leads to Frustration.

I have four children so one of the things we say a lot is "Have you washed your hands?" And since the youngest one is a boy, we now say, "Have you washed your hands with soap?"

To help with structuring your Bible reading and prayer time, ask yourself, "Have you read your Bible with SOAP?"

Start with one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) and make it your goal to read one chapter a day.

Here's a little acronym I learned from Pastor Wayne Cordiero that helps with Bible reading and prayer...SOAP.
  • S - Scripture. As you read the chapter, look for a verse, a word, or phrase that jumps out at you. Write it down in your journal.
  • O - Observation. Reflect and write about why that particular verse, word, or phrase is meaningful to you. You might ask questions such as, "What is God trying to teach me or show me in this passage?"
  • A - Application. God never reveals a truth to us to make us smarter sinners. Every truth that God reveals to us is for the purposes of changing us to be more like him. In this section, reflect and journal what God is asking you to do in light of what God has revealed about who he is and who you are.
  • P - Prayer. Close your time with God by telling him how much you love him and the truths you will apply in your life today.
I have used the SOAP acronym to help me focus my time with God.

I pray that it will help you as well. 

Oct 6, 2012

I Didn't Love God...

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The very first blog I posted was entitled, "I Didn't Love God."

That may sound strange coming from a pastor guy who pretty much blogs and writes about God stuff. 

In my quiet time readings the last couple of days, I've come to similar conclusions as the first blog. 

Every once in a while, I think this is a good reminder for all of us God loving folks.

Here's what I wrote back in August 12, 2007:

You know what I realized while I was on vacation? I realized that I really didn’t love God.
In fact, I hadn’t loved God for a long time. 

Don't get me wrong. I still read the Bible, I prayed, and I went about my Christian and pastor thing, but I really never spent any time with Him. 

It’s like we living in the same house with someone and doing all the same things, but never really talking about anything. 

I’ve been so busy doing my Christian pastor thing, that I hadn’t sat down with God face to face to listen, to talk, to laugh, to cry. 

I hadn’t done any of the relational things. 

I treated God like a book, a thing, and not the person He is. 

I have been working hard to remember that Jesus is a person, and it is that person I love. I want to know God’s heart. I want Him to know what’s in my heart. 

It’s been awkward at times because I didn’t even know where to start because it had been so long since I’ve sought intimacy with Him, but it’s getting better. I’ve been talking to Him much more and seeking Him out more. And seeking intimacy with God has totally changed my prayer life. I am happy to report that my relationship with God is improving steadily. I am learning to listen to His heart.