Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween and Christians

A couple of days ago, one of my church members asked me what our family did for Halloween at our house. Implied in the question was whether Christians should even observe a holiday that has its roots in evil and paganism.

Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, gives a thoughtful response at Beliefnet.com:

"We need to be aware here of what logicians call 'the genetic fallacy'-which occurs when we assume that because something started off with a certain meaning, it still has that meaning. Many of our Christian holy days, and the practices associated with them, have pagan origins-but this does not mean that we should not have Christmas trees in our homes or celebrate Easter at a time when the ground begins to 'birth' new life."

Yet, he wisely goes on to say, Christians must be perceptive about how Halloween is celebrated today.

Children especially need to know that Jesus--through his death and resurrection--has declared victory over death and evil. While these forces are still at work, their end is certain. Why celebrate forces whose power is limited and will be ultimately done away with?

My three young kids are all excited about trolling for candy. That's all Halloween is to them.

Mom is worried about all the sugar they'll ingest.

That's the greatest Halloween evil we're worried about.

Monday, October 30, 2006

God Is Still Speaking Seminar

This past weekend my family and I enjoyed the fall colors of the Missouri Ozarks at the Windermere Conference Center.

I led a two day seminar on the United Church of Christ's "God is Still Speaking" identity and advertising campaign for the Missouri chapter of the Biblical Witness Fellowship. The five sessions were based on a paper I originally presented at Faithful & Welcoming Churches national gathering this past August.

According to the New York Times, the UCC this coming Advent will spend $50,000 on blog and Internet advertising--using the Still Speaking commercials to promote the denomination.

While the Still Speaking commericals--and the theology behind it--has plenty of flaws, they still have much to teach us about what it means to be the church and help people grow in the holiness and grace of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Stay or Go? Ground Rules to be Proposed

Last night our church held its quarterly meeting. The two-hour meeting included committee and group reports, election of officers, approval of next year's budget, and further discussion about our relationship with the United Church of Christ (UCC).

A committee was appointed to propose "ground rules" for deciding whether or not to remain in the denomination. The rules will be presented as an amendment to the church's constitution (currently, it has no guidelines). If the church votes to amend the constitution, a meeting will then be scheduled between January-March for the purpose of discussing our affiliation; at that time, a motion could be made to schedule a vote.

The tone of the discussion was vigorous and respectful. I was encouraged by the church's desire to handle this in an orderly fashion, deciding to establish first the rules for any decision. I was also encouraged that a step was taken toward resolving this matter. People want to see a decision get made and settle the issue--one way or another.

In my pastor's report, I shared what I think is the bottom line question: Can we, as an autonomous local church, in good conscience be in covenant with others who hold beliefs that are sometimes or frequently different than our own?

I told the church this last year--and said it again last night: I believe sufficient warrant exists for withdrawing from the UCC. Synod’s decree for same-gender marriage was a significant, egregious departure from the clear teachings of Scripture. But in staying or leaving, I believe Scripture gives us a choice. We can be faithful to God in staying put. We can also be faithful to God in departing.

In staying put, there is this biblical testimony: In the Old Testament, the prophets remained within a disobedient Israel—working to reform it and also comforting the remnant. When Elijah told God he felt alone in calling for righteousness, he was reminded of 7,000 other faithful prophets (1 Kings 19). In the New Testament book of Acts, the followers of the resurrected Jesus preached in the Temple at Jerusalem—their spiritual home and heritage—up until the moment they were kicked out by the Jewish authorities. Only then did they leave.

In leaving, there is this witness: The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians to separate themselves from anyone who calls him or herself a believer and yet is regularly involved in immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Throughout the New Testament, the church is called to uphold standards of holiness—doing so in the spirit of grace and forgiveness (Galatians 5-6; Ephesians 4-5; 1 Thessalonians 4; 1 Peter 2). And there are frequent warnings against false teachers and doctrines (Galatians 1; Colossians 2:8; 1 John 4:1-6; Jude). We are not obligated to leave, but we are free to do so if we sense that this is God’s will.

The challenge before us is admittedly difficult. But this is the situation God has sovereignly put before us. For this reason, I believe that as we rely upon Him, He will help us.

Certainly, whatever we decide will significantly impact our future.

We are approaching a milestone in the church’s life.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Prayers and English Composition

Every night, me and my three-year-old son David have a little nightly ritual.

We walk the dog together.

For ten minutes, we have time to ourselves and talk about whatever. Often we look up in the sky and find the moon or point out stars.

Our route is around the block. David usually walks about half way. Eventually he gets tired and says to me,

"I want to hold you."

That's what he says, but the grammarian in me says he actually means, "I want you to hold me."

But the last time this all transpired, it dawned on me that maybe David's language skills are just fine.

Instead of issuing a command or request ("I want you to hold me"), what David really wants to communicate is the desire of his heart ("I want to hold you").

A lot of times when I pray, I tell God what I want Him to do for me ("I want you to...").

But next time, I'll learn from my three-year-old, and just tell God, "I want to hold you."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sister Rivalry

Today my eight-year-old daughter Jenna went off with Grandma on a trip for a couple of days .

Right before the two left, my five-year-old daughter Valerie said, "Bye Jenna." (very sad)

But when Valerie got inside the house, she told her mother, "Jenna's gone!" (very happy)

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Definition of Blogging

I found this definition of blogging on the mast head of Guy Kawasaki, who happens to have a very good blog at Signal Without Noise:

"Blogger, n: Someone with nothing to say, writing for someone with nothing to do."

Hmmm, reminds me of someone...

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Famous Leader I Am Like

Next week is our church's annual meeting. One of the items to be discussed is our relationship with the United Church of Christ. Do we stay in the denomination or do we leave? The question arose when the UCC's General Synod 25 in July, 2005 endorsed same sex marriage.

The 15 month long conflict has not been pleasant and has tested my leadership skills like nothing else. I've lost a lot of sleep--worrying and wondering how to properly handle the crisis.

So when I found the SimilarMinds test at Philosophy Over Coffee that would compare my leadership style and ability to handle conflict to a world famous leader, I was eager for some self-discovery and insight.

So I took the test. And I had to laugh when I saw the results. Scroll down to see.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

We Remember

I've read the following quote before, but never with the final note.

From Kem Meyer:

We remember...

10% of what we read,
20% of what we hear,
30% of what we see,
40% of what we do
100% of what we feel.

--Dr. Karl Pribram

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Persistence Pays Off

Hearing on Saturday night Gwen Clark's story of perseverance was interesting to me because in a few short hours, after I got home from the K-State football, I was going to preach on the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 who persists in asking Jesus for her daughter's healing.

I asked Gwen, "What motivated you to work so hard?" She said, "I'd never won anything before."

Later on I thought, "Golly, and past experience suggests you won't win anything now!"

But that didn't stop Gwen. She kept her eye on the prize.

In a similar vein, the Canaanite woman persisted in asking Jesus. She displayed a dogged faith--even when God appeared aloof.

Frederick Dale Bruner writes, "Faith believes Jesus is good--even when reason isn't so sure."

Persistence pays off--in the spiritual and secular realm.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Clark Wins Alltel Contest at Kansas State

Yesterday I shared about sitting in a 3rd floor suite at Bill Snyder Family Stadium to watch the Kansas State-Nebraska football game this past Saturday.

It was great fun. I felt like a mouse that sneaked into a castle. You know the old saying: It's not what you know; it's who you know. While that adage applied to me, inside the castle I met another mouse--Gwen Clark--who literally won her way inside the Alltel suite.

Clark, a K-State junior from McPherson, Kansas, won an Alltel contest--not with mere luck, but persistence.

First, she wrote a 50-word essay explaining why she should win a football party for herself and 100 of her friends. Her essay got selected along with 9 others as finalists. Then, she had to solicit friends and family to vote for her, either by text message or online.

And what did she win? 100 tickets to the K-State-Nebraska game. T-shirts for all those friends. A tailgate party for all those friends. 10 tickets in the Alltel "castle." A 42" plasma TV. A mountain bike. An autographed Ron Prince football. $1,000 cash. A MP3 player. And before the game started, a live picture of her and all her friends was shown on the stadium jumbotron.

Pretty good, huh?

Curiosity getting the best of me, I asked Clark, "How did you get so many people to vote for you?" She said, "I basically quit being a college student for a week and begged anyone and everyone to vote for me."

So why was she so motivated? She told me, "I've never won anything in my life and I decided that I wanted to win something...I voted for myself 2,000 times. My mom voted for me 2,000 times. And other friends and family voted for me 9,000 times."

All together, Clark garnered 13,000 votes and won by over 4,000.

After hearing all that, I thought, "Wow."

Then, the late -Saturday -night -and -won't -get -home -till -after -1:00am -preacher -who -still -hasn't -finished -his -sermon -for -Sunday -morning, thought:

"Bingo, she's my sermon illustration for tomorrow!"

More about that next time.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Suite Football Game

Saturday night was quite a treat as my Kansas VP of Alltel sister-in-law invited me to attend the Kansas State-Nebraska game in a 3rd floor Alltel suite at Bill Synder Family Stadium.

K-State lost to Nebraska, 21-3.

The suite was literally and figuratively rarified air. I've never had the privilege of watching a football game in such an awesome environment. Comfortable digs and lots of free food and drinks. The experience was like driving a Porsche after years behind the wheel of a Honda Civic. Once you taste luxury, suddenly normal doesn't look quite as good anymore.

If another suite ticket were available in the future, I could make the sacrifice of time to be available!

Friday, October 13, 2006

October Snow

It's October, but Chicago, Detroit, and Buffalo already have snow. Parts of the Great Lakes and Midwest had up to 2 feet of snow.

So much for global warming.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

What If the Amish Were In Charge of War on Terrorism?

Diane Butler Bass, writing at God's Politics--a new blog featuring Jim Wallis and other Christian progressives--raises an intriguing question: What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terrorism?

Sparked by her admiration of the Amish people in Nickle Mines, PA and how they've responded to the school shooting atrocity, Bass confesses:

"Despite attempts to avoid this particular news, the stories of the Amish practice of forgiveness eventually captivated me. Their practice of forgiveness unfolded in four public acts over the course of a week. First, some elders visited Marie Roberts, the wife of the murderer, to offer forgiveness. Then, the families of the slain girls invited the widow to their own children’s funerals. Next, they requested that all relief monies intended for Amish families be shared with Roberts and her children. And, finally, in an astonishing act of reconciliation, more than 30 members of the Amish community attended the funeral of the killer. "

After a conversation with her husband, she wondered aloud:

"What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror?"

That's an incredible question! By "incredible," I mean good, imaginative thinking.

Bass ponders the possibilities and then concludes:

"So, here’s my modest proposal. We’re five years too late for an Amish response to 9/11. But maybe we should ask them to take over the Department of Homeland Security. After all, actively practicing forgiveness and making peace are the only real alternatives to perpetual fear and a multi-generational global religious war."

I'm not sure I agree with Bass' suggestions.

But she sure has me thinking. I appreciate her creative thinking and Christian witness.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Reginald Betts Makes a New Life for Himself

He was smart and talented, yet landed in jail after making a bad choice. Now, Reginald Betts is encouraging youth to learn from his experience as he makes a new life for himself.

Betts' story, told by Lonna O'Neal Parker in the Washington Post and printed Monday in the Hutchinson News, is inspirational and telling.

Betts was a smart kid growing up, but didn't apply his wisdom to his personal life.

"I had a teacher who honestly, legitimately didn't like me," Betts says. "But I legitimately, honestly was not a likable person."

When one of Betts' school teachers figured out that making him read kept him quiet, Betts discovered that he enjoyed reading. Even though he showed academic talent in high school, Betts did barely enough to get by and smoked dope with friends after school.

Betts had never been in trouble with police, but he says, "I wasn't fully law-abiding either." In December of his junior year of high school, Betts and a friend drove a stolen car to a mall. There, they found a man asleep in his car. Betts pointed a borrowed pistol at the man, stole his wallet, and drove off with his car. After they tried to buy $300 worth of clothes with the heisted credit card, Betts got arrested. Tried at 16 as an adult, Betts was found guilty and sentenced to 8 years in jail.

Why did he do it? "Basically," Betts says, "I did it because I wanted to and because I could and because I didn't think it would define me for the rest of my life."

While prison hardens most people, it changed Betts. When he got out, he determined to live a different life.

Nearly a year after he got out of prison, Betts, 25, started the YoungMenRead book club at Karibu Books in Bowie, Maryland.

"Young people don't read because they don't see other people they can associate with being cool reading," Betts says. "I've got a space where we can come together."

A straight 'A' student in junior college, Betts is focusing on keeping his grades up and figuring out where next to attend school.

Here's hoping that many will read and learn from Betts' life.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ron Prince's Coaching Move for Josh Freeman

"Why did you move offensive coordinator James Franklin from the field to the upstairs coach's box?"

That was one of the questions asked by Wyatt Thompson to Kansas State's first year Head Football Coach Ron Prince on his radio program last night, after K-State beat Oklahoma State over the weekend.

Prince explained that the move was done to benefit their first time starting quarterback, freshman Josh Freeman:

"I moved James upstairs into the booth so whenever Josh came off the field, he immediately had to put on his headset and listen to his coach.

A young quarterback, especially one starting for the first time, gets a lot of people coming over to him and talking in his ear. Some players want to encourage him, some want to point out something, some want to do a little politicking for the ball.

But if Josh has that headset in his ears, he can't listen to any of that. So I told James to talk to Josh the entire time the offense is on the sidelines."

That was a fascinating answer. That's a coach who is thinking about everything.

After hearing it, I thought, "There's a real spiritual principle there too."

As Christians, sometimes you must cut yourself off from all the well-meaning voices and just listen to your Heavenly Father.

Folks want to give you advice. Friends want to boost you up. Others want you to do them a favor. Everybody has something "good" to tell you. Lots of messages.

But sometimes, the best thing to do is get away from all the well-meaning voices, go to a quiet place of solitude, and listen solely for the voice of God.

Putting on the spiritual headset.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Baby Dedication Ceremony

Pastors, are you looking for a baby dedication ceremony?

Here's one that I wrote some time ago and is posted at bible.org.

When the site was redesigned over a year ago, it became difficult to find.

Hope it helps your ministry.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Summary Thoughts about the UCC KS-OK Annual Meeting

As I was thinking about how best to summarize last weekend's annual meeting of the UCC Kansas-Oklahoma Conference and the response to our resolution, "After Dialogue, a Declaration about Marriage," I was reminded of a poignant saying and story from G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) told by Dale Ahlquist in his book, "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense." He writes:

"In 1905, a famous London newspaper, the Illustrated London News, hired Chesterton to write a weekly column. He was told he could write about anything he wanted--except religion and politics. Chesterton responded by saying there was nothing else worth writing about...

Chesterton went ahead and wrote the column for the next 30 years, and every week he wrote about religion and politics. He never backed away from controversy, but if you think about it, every controversy, every argument, every discussion is really about religion and politics. Or both. Religion has to do with our relationship with God. Politics has to do with our relationship with our neighbor. These are controversial for the simple reason that all the problems in the world come from our failure to obey the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor.

As Chesterton says: "The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are are generally the same people."

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Here is a question posed to me by a delegate at the annual meeting of the UCC Kansas-Oklahoma Conference:

"What does welcoming homosexuals into our denomination have to do with changing the definition of marriage?"

Any takers?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Creating More Room for Dialogue

In the previous post below, I described what my church did and didn't do in the yearlong dialogue on marriage among churches in the UCC Kansas-Oklahoma Conference. Today, I'll share one step that the UCC and its conferences might consider to promote dialogue.

On Friday afternoon at the KS-OK conference annual meeting, I had a pleasant lunch with 77- year-old Bob Lemon, a practicing attorney and delegate from Mayflower Church in Oklahoma City. He told me this story:

"Years ago in Texas our church was approached by PFLAG. They asked if they could hold their meetings at our church. The vote was 35-1. I was the only one who voted in favor."

I asked Bob, "Do you have any suggestions on how someone in the minority, like myself at this conference, should handle himself?"

When you're in the minority, you obviously don't have the power of the majority. Yet, the majority--especially in the church--has some obligations to the minority, even as it exercises its majority privileges.

When lunch was over, Bob asked, "There's a movie showing tonight at 10:00pm called Inlaws and Outlaws. I've seen it twice. It's very good. Would you see it with me?"

I thought to myself, "Golly, when a 77 year old gentlemen asks you to stay up late to watch a movie, what's your excuse?"

I told Bob, "I'll be there, but you buy the popcorn."

I watched the movie--it persuasively advocated Bob's position that marriage can and should have a broad definition (not necessarily one man-one woman)--to reflect our diverse culture.

Afterwards I thought, "What is here at this conference that I can invite Bob to--that would reflect my view of marriage?"

Other than our resolution, there wasn't anything.

When I attended the conference sponsored marriage dialogue training back in January, the only material recommended for discussing the meaning of marriage was the UCC produced "God is Still Speaking about Marriage." That material advocates only one position--and it isn't the traditional definition of marriage.

But isn't that intellectually dishonest? To offer only one side of the story and not the other? Especially on an issue so difficult and dividing as same gender marriage?

Here's another example. This weekend our delegates debated and voted on a living wage resolution. It advocates the conference and its churches pay its employees not the state's minimum wage, but a "living wage" of $9.60 an hour.

On the meeting schedule was a "pro" living wage presentation. On top of that, the presenter was former UCC President Paul Sherry. Nothing was scheduled for the other side--even though legitimate concerns surfaced during the formal debate.

I realize it puts conference organizers in an awkward position to have a seminar that opposes what a former UCC president advocates, but isn't presenting a fair debate the UCC way? To provide dialogue from all sides, before a decision is made? When the annual meeting has on its schedule a seminar for only one of the points of view, isn't the outcome of the vote already decided?

When the UCC debates hotplate issues in the future--nationally and conference wide--it'd be wise to provide an equal platform to both sides--so each can layout their case.

Bob, I know what it's like to be the 1.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dialogue and the Marriage Resolution

"Where was the dialogue?"

That was one of the main questions asked about our church's resolution, "After Dialogue, A Declaration About Marriage," by delegates at the annual meeting of UCC Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, which concluded this past weekend.

Our church made some efforts.

I attended the daylong marriage dialogue training sponsored by the Conference in January. Facilitator Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer did an excellent job showing the 12 who attended how to create and maintain a safe discussion environment.

Our church sent a letter to all 80 churches in the conference, inviting them to receive a free package of marriage resources. The material featured 3 books and a DVD interview with Dr. Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. 5 churches responded to our offer.

Could our church have done more? Sure.

I was disappointed that our church declined an offer for a dialogue exchange with an ONA church in Oklahoma. While it might not have changed anyone's convictions about the definition of marriage, it would have put a human face on the discussion and lowered the rhetoric on both sides.

But as one lady said Saturday when the resolution was being debated, if 80% of the 2005 annual meeting delegates voted for a dialogue, it was incumbent on them to carry it out. It wasn't just Little River's responsibility.

What else could have been done? Some suggestions next time.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Marriage Resolution Voted Down

Delegates this past weekend at the annual meeting of the UCC Kansas-Oklahoma Conference voted down our church's resolution defining marriage as one man and one woman.

The vote to adopt was 24 yes (17%), 96 no (66%), and 25 abstentions (17%).

An earlier amendment to postpone the resolution was defeated--69 no (54%) to 59 yes (46%).

Bruce Ramage, our church's deacon and resolution representative, thanked the delegates for allowing our resolution to be voted upon. It was a grace note that capped off a weekend of difficult discussion.

I expected to take home the message that our resolution was voted down.

But I'm also bringing back word that we are loved.

That was a pleasant surprise and it puts all the discussion in better perspective.

Our church still has decisions to make on whether or not to stay in the United Church of Christ.

To that end, I covet your prayers.