Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Discipleship--College Style

Where I live in Central Kansas, we're surrounded by several fine, small scale Christian colleges, each with a rich Christian tradition.

To the southwest is Sterling College (Presbyterian). To the north is Kansas Wesleyan (United Methodist) and Bethany College (Lutheran). To the east is Tabor College (Mennonite), McPherson College (church of the Brethren), and Central Christian College (Free methodist). To southeast is Bethel College (Mennonite), and in Wichita is Friends University (Quaker) and Newman University (Catholic). Nine places--all within a two-hour drive!

Recently I had lunch with a college student in my church whose attending one of these places (which one is not disclosed for reasons you're about to see). My friend was looking for help in preparation for his oral exam in his pass/fail religion class.

"So what's on the test?" I asked. The teacher made the class do two things.

First, they had to read the book of Deuteronomy. My friend said, "I thought that was kind of strange." I did too.

But as I thought about it further, it actually makes a lot of sense. If you were only read one book in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy is the basis of God's relationship with his people Israel. Reading it gives you the key to understanding every other Old Testament book and gives you a good start in appreciating the New Testament.

"The second thing we had to do," my friend said, "is read this book."

I couldn't believe what I was holding in my hand. It wasn't the book itself that bothered me. In that regard, it was excellent.

"You know what this is," I said, "It's something you would read in an advanced hermeneutics course in a seminary, not in a pass/fail introductory religion class at college."

"Yeah," my friend replied, "I can't wait to sell it."

Which leads me to an observation: In a college-level, introductory religion class, wouldn't it make better sense to assign a book that would inspire students to learn more about God and His Word, rather than drown and frustrate him/her?

My friend passed his class. He'll sell his book. And I trust, keep walking with Jesus.

But I can't help thinking that the teacher didn't get full-advantage of the college discipleship moment.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Solution-Focused Pastoral Counseling

There's a Peanuts comic strip where Charlie Brown sits in front of Lucy's "Psychiatric Help" booth and says to Lucy, "I have sort of a complaint. I've been coming to you for quite some time now, but I don't really feel that I'm getting any better." Lucy asks, "Do you feel any worse?" Charlie replies, "No, I don't think so." Which prompts Lucy to say, "Five cents, please!"

How do you help someone get better? And not spend long periods of time at it? Charles Allen Kollar's "Solution-Focused Pastoral Counseling" provides an effective approach that is helpful not just to pastors, but interested lay people who desire to see their friends get back on track.

As the title states, this counseling is solution-focused and thus "shifts the emphasis from the problem to the strengths, vision, and practical solutions that lie within the individual." Because God is already at work in the person seeking help, the counselor's role is to help the counselee discover present and future ways of getting back on track--by asking questions that focus on solutions, exceptions, and strengths.

Such questions include:
  • "If we had a magic wand that eliminated your problem immediately, what would be different in your life?"
  • "What will be the very first sign that things are starting to get on the right track?"
  • "What sign would tell you that things are getting better?"
  • "When things are getting better, what will others notice?"
  • "What's different about the times when ___ (you were getting along, cooperating, etc.)?"
  • "How did you get yourself to do that?"
  • "What are you doing when he/she isn't ___ (complaining, pouting, etc.)?"
  • "What difference does it make when ___ (things go well)?"
  • "How have you managed to cope when things have been so bad?"
  • "What's different about the time when the problem is less intense/frequent/shorter in duration?"
  • "How have you kept things from getting worse?"
  • "What would it take to make that happen more often?"
  • "How did you come up with that idea?"
If you've ever listened to someone's problems and thought, "That situation is hopeless," you'll find in hope in Kollar's book that provides a practical and biblical model for encouraging people to solve their problems.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Generational Blind Spots

Today's entry is a guest column by Rev. Bob Thompson, President of Faithful & Welcoming Churches, a renewal movement in the United Church of Christ, and pastor of Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, North Carolina.

The generational blind spots of history increasingly baffle me.

How could Jews of Jesus' day conspire to reject and condemn God's Son?

How could Christians in the Thirteenth Century conduct the Crusades?

How could Martin Luther and generations of German Christians after him justify anti-semitism, ultimately leading to the Holocaust?

How could white Southerners believe that first slavery and then segregation were consistent with their faith in Jesus Christ?

Another question haunts me even more. What blind spots of my generation do I harbor, reinforce, and perpetuate? I wonder where you and I are making unfounded assumptions about what God thinks that will prove indefensible in his eternal presence or even a few years
down the road.

Isaiah was right when he said, "We have turned every one to his own way." Human beings have an amazing capacity for justifying our own thoughts and actions. Our sinful nature, our political views and alliances, and even our religious gatherings all conspire to feed our sense of self-righteousness and self-rightness.

"Freedom of choice" encourages us to gather with others who think and act like we do. We separate ourselves into churches full of people who share not only our passions (thereby allowing us to get something done!) but also our blind spots. We remain unchallenged in our assumptions because we congregate with only those most like ourselves.

So what shall we do? We must learn to listen better. God is speaking to us, but our hearing is selective. We tend to listen only to that which reinforces what we already know to be true. How can we pay better attention to God?

First, we must listen to Scripture. Not only is the Bible God's authoritative and trustworthy self-revelation, the very fact that it was written by and to believers at a different time and place frees it from captivity to our generational blind spots.

Second, we must listen to other Christians. This is certainly true within our congregations, but we must also allow ourselves to hear God's Word through believers of other races, cultures, and denominations. Otherwise our reading of the Bible becomes only another way to reinforce our preconceived ideas.

Then we must listen to our spiritual ancestors. G. K. Chesterton said that true democracy gives voice and vote to tradition alongside those who are still living. When we hear our egos declaring that we are the first generation to get everything right, we only demonstrate our spiritual poverty.

We must also listen to our critics. While it is convenient to dismiss them or counterattack, more than likely there is at least some truth to what they say. We will ignore them to our peril.

Finally, we must listen to God's still, small voice. While conscience is subjective and can be seared or blocked, most of the time God is still trying to get through.

Together perhaps we can avoid the worst blunders of the past. Or maybe we can't – time and God will tell. But we can certainly try harder to listen.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Youth Ministry in the 1950's

Tonight I'm leading our church's high school youth meeting. We'll sing, have a Bible study, and eat home made donuts.

I wonder if fifty years later, the youth ministry of 2007 will look as strange and funny as the video above. It's a 1950's era promotional film for a series of short films geared to teenagers, hosted by Rev. Donald Lantz.

The culture changes, but the problems--and the solutions--stay pretty consistent.

Video courtesy of FilmChat

Friday, January 26, 2007

Faithful & Welcoming Churches Holds Annual Mtg

Faithful & Welcoming Churches (FWC), a renewal movement within the United Church of Christ (UCC), of which I serve on the Board, held their annual meeting in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, January 19-20.

20 board members met to review the past and plan the future. 2006 began with our incorporated in January. Our regional workshops, where FWC introduced itself and laid out its view on the current state of the UCC, were presented to 1,600 people in 20 towns in March-April. Our national gathering in Bechtelsville, PA gathered 150 people in August, including various leaders in the UCC for face-to-face discussions. There, I presented a theological analysis of the "God Is Still Speaking" identity and advertising campaign. 66 UCC churches have declared themselves "Faithful and Welcoming." Our treasury had an end-of-year balance of $4,557.86.

In 2007, we're planning another round of regional workshops across the country. This year, we'll be focusing on local church health--identifying biblical principals and offering examples that have proven effective. We're also promoting passage of a resolution submitted to General Synod 26 coming up this June in Hartford, CT.

The glory of the UCC is its opportunity to meet Christians of all different stripes--from liberals to conservatives. I'm glad to know the people of FWC and the camaraderie we find in Christ.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Congregational Church Sets Ground Rules

Last night my church, the Little River Congregational Church, decided the ground rules it will use to determine whether or not to remain in the United Church of Christ.

In short, a vote will take place at the church on Wednesday, February 28. Everyone on the church's membership roll is eligible to vote. Any member who is not able to be present at the February 28 meeting may request in writing an absentee ballot, and the church must receive that returned ballot by mail before the evening's vote. As stated in last night's meeting, it's understood that anyone who exercises their membership right to vote, and requests an absentee ballot, does so in "good Christian conscience."

The ground rules were formally established when the church, after much discussion and a couple of amendment votes, agreed by a 30-5 decision to adopt into the constitution an amendment stipulating how the church will decide affiliating or disaffiliating with any denomination.

The actual adopted constitutional amendment and a description of how absentee balloting will take place will soon be posted on the church's website.

As far as church meetings go, this one was certainly the most difficult I've ever been a part. But I'm proud of how our people handled themselves. Good questions were asked. Important observations were made. No one muffled their opinion. Best of all, the process wasn't rigged. The multiple options of how the church could decide its future were laid out for every one's consideration. And after a long and hard discussion, the ground rules are now set.

I've shared with my church several times, "We can be faithful to God remaining in the UCC and we can be faithful to God in leaving the UCC." What we actually do is a matter of prayer. As stewards of God's church, we must seek His will because the church belongs to God. And after having sought His face, cast our ballot.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Unexpected Lessons from the Classroom of Life

How does God teach us?

Obviously the Bible is where we find God's revelation about Himself and his Son. Having our nose in the Good Book, we discover the timeless lessons that God wants to impart to us.

But as my friend Keith Wasserman says, "Bible study can only take you so far in your Christian walk. There comes a point where you have to close your Bible and go out into the world in order to learn God's other lessons."

Sometimes, those lessons come from unexpected places. Recently, Albert Mohler, president of Louisville's Southern Seminary, spent a month in the hospital. Taken out of commission from his daily routine, Mohler writes how he learned many unexpected lessons:

Just before the crisis hit, I felt great. We had big plans for Christmas and some calm days after the celebration. All that was changed in a matter of hours. I went from strong to hopelessly weak. I went from being in command of my world to being unable to care for myself in a matter of hours. I had no expertise that could help; no medical knowledge that mattered. I was in the immediate hands of the surgeon and the medical staff. I had no control.

The blood clots were a great emergency and a great mystery. Where had they originated? Were more lurking? The human heart, lungs, and brain can be wiped out by a major blood clot in an instant. We are not tough. We are frail and incredibly complicated beings.

Life is so short, and "man knows not his time" (Ecclesiastes 9:12). That knowledge puts things into a new perspective.

There's learning that comes from Scripture and then there's the learning that comes from living. Both are necessary ingredients for mature Christian growth.

Whenever I see someone in life's classroom, getting tested and tried in ways unexpected, learning lessons never anticipated, I marvel at God's invisible hand--and wonder, "Lord, what do you have in store for me next?"

UPDATE: Time Magazine has an interesting interview with Mohler--"A Calvinist Faces Death"

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Rush Limbaugh on Chicago Bears' Motivation

An interesting quote yesterday from Rush Limbaugh on motivation and what brings out the best in people:
There's something else I want to say here about motivation and inspiration...I grow weary of people telling people that they can't do this or that; they don't have a chance. These obstacles are against them or this system won't let you do that. "What do you mean, wanting to be a doctor? What do you mean? Who do you think you're kidding?" It's so easy to beat people down.

As a result, everybody needs to be inspired. There are really very, very few self-starters -- and even among the self-starters, they need people, occasionally, to remind them they have more inside them than what they think they do.

A small illustration of this can be found yesterday in the game between the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans -- ah, sorry, the United States -- Saints. The Saints were having a tough time of it.

They turned over the ball a number of times, and then had a miracle play, 88-yard pass reception to Reggie Bush, the longest pass play in NFC playoffs history. Reggie Bush outran virtually every Chicago bear defender who chased him. Before he got to the end zone, he turned around and taunted and pointed at Brian Urlacher, #54, the star middle linebacker of the Bears and then took a somersault dive into the end zone for the touchdown...

The Bears said, after that happened, they were fired up. That made 'em mad. They weren't going to be dissed like that! They weren't going to be! That was just childish, and it was rookie inexperience, but they were not going to be treated like that in their own stadium.

Now, the point of this is, here you are in the NFC Championship Game. Theoretically you shouldn't need any more motivation than winning that game and going to the Super Bowl -- and this is not a criticism of anything or anybody, by the way...don't misunderstand -- and yet I'm sure the Bears to a man thought they were giving it everything they had.

I'll bet you that they were as stoked as they could be. This is a big deal, the first time since 1985, everything on the line here. It was a home game, in the snow, typical football weather for January. These guys are revved up. They're coming off a big win the week before. Yet, something as innocuous as Reggie Bush turning around and taunting Brian Urlacher before he scored got even more out of them than was already there!

Now, you can imagine the kind of motivation they had. You can imagine the kind of energy and inspiration these guys had to go out and win this game for the Super Bowl. They're professionals. They are paid, and yet the Bears that commented on this said, "That fired us up." Well, what were they before?

Well, they were certainly fired up. You know they had to be fired up. Besides, they had heard all week about how the vaunted Saints offense couldn't be stopped, the running game of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush -- and the Bears have the (statically, anyway) greatest defense in the NFC this year. They said, "What is this? The Saints gonna come here, run all over us?" So they were they stoked; they were fired up -- and yet there was still more in them, even though they were professionals and were probably as stoked as they thought they could get...

The point here is no matter whether you think you're giving it your all, there's probably more in you than you are aware. Even when you think you're giving it your best, the odds are there's a reservoir there, somewhere inside you that has just a little more.

I thought that was a fascinating moment yesterday because here you have a team that couldn't possibly be more motivated in their minds than they already were: the Super Bowl on the other side of three hours of football, and yet that one incident revved 'em up even more.

So the next time you think you're giving it your all; the next time you think you've got nothing left, just know that you do. It just takes a certain spark to get it out, and we're all this way. It's human nature.

It goes back to my often stated theory: Most people have no idea what's inside them, how good they can be, how much fortitude they have, because, frankly, not enough people have had high enough expectations of us through most of our lives.
After that hearing Limbaugh's observation, I thought about the Indianapolis Colts' run defense. It was terrible all year. How did it suddenly get better in the playoffs? Somewhere and somehow, those defensive players found something within themselves that they didn't exhibit all season long--and it propelled them into the Super Bowl.

Maybe former Dallas Cowboys head coach and Super Bowl winner Tom Landry knows the secret of how to get more out of people:
Leadership is getting someone to do what they don't want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Phil Keaggy in Wichita, Kansas

When Phil Keaggy came to Wichita two years ago, the show was cancelled due to a blizzard. When he came back Saturday night, it was snowing heavily. But this time, the show went on and about 300 brave hearts came out.

The evening featured Phil's majestic multi-layered guitar work and several light hearted moments. With tunes like "Salvation Army Band" and "Strong Tower," Phil used his "Jam Man" digital looper to feed guitar licks on top of one another, transforming his lone Olson guitar into a vast sound machine.

On songs like "Love Broke Thru," Phil set aside the technical gadgetry to highlight his incredible finger style playing. Being in the town of the infamous abortion doctor Dr. George Tiller, Phil offered a tender rendition of his pro-life song, "Little Ones."

After the break, he played four Beatles songs--including "Help," and "Yellow Submarine" and then closed the night with more songs featuring the "Jam Man."

The last time I saw Phil Keaggy was 20 years ago. Saturday proved that he's still an incredible artist, using technology like no one else to take the guitar to a whole another dimension.

Lots more pictures of the evening are posted at my photo site.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Figuring It Out

"Susie doesn't play fair."

That's what my two young daughters and a pal said about the new neighbor girl who recently came over to play.

"She uses scary magic and we don't use that," they went on, "and she's always trying to tell us what to do."

"Girls," Mom and Dad replied, "she doesn't know how you guys play. Just show her how."

Isn't a lot of life spent trying to figure things out and fitting in?

When my wife and I were in Dallas last month, some friends took us out to eat at their favorite restaurant. While they were zipping through the ordering line, we were perplexed. The menu was right at the door; if you missed it, you had to go back and look. If you wanted a sandwich, you order it from the lady roaming the customer line. If you wanted a salad, you ask for that from the attendants behind the counter. If you wanted dessert...geez, I never figured out how to order that.

Once we figure out that new town, that new job, that new gadget, that new friend, or that new church, life's routine gets easier. Meanwhile, it's easy to forget that some people are struggling to to make sense of it all.

I've been a Christian for 30+ years. In once sense, I've "figured out" what it means to walk with Jesus. But in another sense, I'm still trying to "figure it out."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Crummy Church Signs

My church used to have a large, lighted sign board on its front wall. I liked it. I got to preach a roadside sermon to everyone who passed by.

"Who knows," I thought, "if a person doesn't come to church, maybe God can reach them this way."So each week, I diligently put up a new message. Some were originals. Others I gleaned from church sign books.

I took pride in the sign board. I thought its presence let the community know that we were a thriving little church.

Trouble was, not everyone in the church appreciated the board. Even my mother once told me, "It's ugly." Eventually, the sign was torn down and replaced with a splendid brick art creation depicting Psalm 23.

Today we have another sign board. It's smaller. It doesn't light up. It's harder to put letters in it. And right now, the plastic runner on the third line is pulling apart from the sign; any letters there end up falling to the ground. So really, I only have two lines to say something. And because that space is so small, I rarely change the sign, and don't try to say much, other than, "Join Us, Sunday 10:30am."

When our original sign got muted, I was disappointed. I thought not having it weakened the church's witness. But after visiting, the demise of our sign might not be so bad after all.

This site is full of awful church sign sayings--accompanied by plenty of sarcastic commentary. After spending a few minutes at this place, you'll be afraid to put anything on your church sign.

And yes...I did find a few quotes that were once on my church sign.

Friday, January 12, 2007

My Attempt to be Steven Wright

Jerry Seinfeld once said, "I will spend an hour taking an eight word sentence and making it five."

That's according to professional speaker and speech coach Patricia Fripp, who writes, "In comedy, the fewer the words between the set-up and the punch word, the bigger the laugh."

If that's true, then comedian Steven Wright is the master of humor delivered in a single line.

With classic lines such as:

Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow.

I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect.

Writing comedy for a living must be a tough, but once in a while, a blind squirrel like myself thinks he caught a nut. So here's my one attempt to be like Stephen Wright:

Can you sentence a schizophrenic to solitary confinement?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

New Chapter in Iraq War

President Bush has announced an increase in troops as part of a new plan to finish the mission in Iraq. I'm no military expert, but I greatly respect the opinion of Victor Davis Hanson:
So the increase — no one knows whether the 20,000 number is adequate — could make things far worse by offering more targets and creating more Iraqi dependency if we don’t change our operations. But if the surge ups the ante by bringing a radical new approach on the battlefield as the president promises, then it is worth his gamble.

...But why believe that this latest gamble will work? One, things are by agreement coming to a head: this new strategy will work, or, given the current politics, nothing will. Two, the Iraqis in government know this time Sadr City and Baghdad are to be secured, or it is to be “see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya,” and they will be on planes to Dearborn.
In another article, Hanson outlines 8 steps that will help bring success to the mission. Among them:
Emphasize offense. Our new forces are not going to “patrol” or “stabilize” things by their “presence” or “reassurance,” but rather are being sent to Iraq for one purpose: to hunt down and kill or capture terrorists to ensure public confidence that the Americans and the new Iraqi government are going to win. And fence-sitters should make the necessary adjustments.
Where do I stand on the Iraq War? I believe its mission is noble, necessary, and winnable. I've not forgotten the circumstances that led us into it--9/11, Saddam's support of terrorism and Middle East destablization, his refusal to abide by dozens of U.N. resolutions, and his quest for a nuclear bomb.

If Washington has the political will to finish the job, the world will be better for it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Playing with Fire?

Newsweek reports a noteworthy religious trend taking place on YouTube:
"...more than 400 mostly young people who have joined a campaign by the Web site to stake their souls against the existence of God."
I like the next line:
"That, of course, is the ultimate no-win wager, as the 17th-century French mathematician Blaise Pascal calculated—it can't be settled until you're dead, and if you lose, you go to hell."
For those eager to take up the BlasphemyChallenge and submit a YouTube video "denying the existence of the Holy Spirit," (Mark 3:28-29), take a Pascal moment and check out the thinking of philosopher Dr. Antony Flew.

Flew was a long time atheist, but changed his mind and became a deist. While he does not believe in the Christian view of God--a personal deity who revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ--he now accepts an Aristotle view of God.

In an extensive interview with Biola professor Dr. Gary Habermas, Flew explains why:
"It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of the Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature...which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design."
Will the lifelong thinking of an intellectual giant like Flew dissuade some from taking up BlasphemyChallenge? Hopefully, but I doubt it. Atheists will always be among us. Which is why G. K. Chesteron declares:
"If there were no God, there would be no atheists."

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

G.K. Chesterton--The Apostle of Common Sense

Have you ever heard a name from history and wondered, "Who's that person?"

Whenever I listen to evangelist and apologist Ravi Zacaharias, he often cites pithy and insightful quotes from a fellow named G.K. Chesterton. Curiosity getting the best of me, I decided learn more.

G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, written by Dale Ahlquist, is a great introductory biography into the life and wisdom of Chesterton.

Chesterton, a British citizen and Catholic convert, lived from 1874-1936. He never went to college, but he was a master of words and thought--a writer, poet, philosopher, literary critic, journalist, and champion of social justice. He's best known for his Father Brown detective stories, about a priest who applies his knowledge of human nature to solve crimes.

Chesterton wrote hundreds of books--many still in print--and over 4,000 essays. He was a popular lecturer and debater in his day, matching wit with contemporaries such as George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, and Clarence Darrow. His writings were influential in the conversion of Oxford English professor C.S. Lewis.

Chesterton was a giant of a man intellectually (figuratively too--he weighed over 300 lbs.) and a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. Ahlquist describes him as a complete thinker, an apostle of common sense--and thus the title of his book.

Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, is an excellent tour guide as he highlights the best of Chesterton's many books--such as Orthodoxy, St. Thomas Aquinas, and The Everlasting Man.

Here are three favorite Chesterton quotes that I gleaned:
"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."
"The best way to thank God for beer is to not drink too much of it."
"The Christian life has not been tried and found defective; it has been found difficult and left untried."
Having never heard before the name G.K. Chesterton, and now having read Alquist's introductory book, it's obvious that history and the Church is richer and wiser because of the wit and wisdom of Chesterton.

If you've never heard of the guy, or know little about him, check him out!

Monday, January 08, 2007

U Haul U Grunt

Need help moving? I'll help.

All you need to do is feed me lunch.

My sister-in-law did, so I grunted and groaned over the weekend and moved stuff off a U-Haul van into her new home.

One thing my nephew Ryan and I moved together was several huge pieces of an exercise machine--off the truck, through the front door, down the stairs, around the corner, and into a dim lit, unfinished basement room. One piece was a huge steel tube with some awkward pieces attached. It must have weighed at least 200 pounds.

I asked Ryan, "Is anybody really going to use this?"

He said, "I doubt it."

For the next few moments I pouted quietly, thinking, "Then why are we moving it?"

And then I told Ryan, "Well, if nobody uses it, at least we got some exercise from it."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

It's (almost) the 12th Day of Christmas

Ted Olsen at Christianity Today's Weblog asks if you're still celebrating Christmas:
In the Christian calendar, Christmas continues until Epiphany (January 6).

So if you take your decorations down (last) weekend, are you part of the "war on Christmas"?

On a similar note, why have almost all the organizations that made such a big deal about putting Christ back in Christmas already dropped references to Christmas from their website home pages?

Was all that really just about the shopping season?

Favorite Lines from President Ford Eulogies

In our nation's farewell to President Gerald Ford, we've heard several good eulogies from people like President George W. Bush, Tom Brokaw, Donald Rumsfeld, and others.

Here are my two favorite quotes. The first is from former President George H.W. Bush:
"History has a way of matching man and moment. And just as President Lincoln’s stubborn devotion to our Constitution kept the union together during the Civil War, and just as FDR’s optimism was the perfect antidote to the despair of a great depression, so, too, can we say that Jerry Ford’s decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate."
The second is from Ford's former Chief of Staff and now Vice President Dick Cheney:
"This President's hardest decision was also among his first. And in September of 1974, Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon. The consensus holds that this decision cost him an election. That is very likely so. The criticism was fierce. But President Ford had larger concerns at heart. And it is far from the worst fate that a man should be remembered for his capacity to forgive."

UPDATE: Considering how Ford's State funeral was filled with Christian language, it's ironic--writes Edward Whelan--that it was Ford who appointed to the Supreme Court someone who consistently opposes any government accommodation for religion.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What Gerald Ford Teaches Us in the New Year

A New Years' Scripture text and a lesson from the late President Gerald Ford have a lot to tell us about being ready for 2007.

The Scripture--Luke 2:21-40--is often read on the first Sunday after Christmas. About 40 days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph take the 6 1/2 mile journey to Jerusalem and dedicate their child at the Temple.

In that story, we discover three things about the future--and what awaits us in the New Year.

First, some of our dreams eventually come true. Long ago, God told Simeon that he would not die until he saw with his own eyes the promised Messiah. Sure enough, the moment that Mary and Joseph show up with baby Jesus, Simeon's promise is fulfilled.

Second, some dreams get created. After Simeon marvels at baby Jesus, he tells Mary and Joseph what they have to look forward to. The child will cause people to make a decision for or against him. And the sword of heartache will pierce Mary's soul.

Third, some things come to pass that we never dream of. Anna, the elderly widow who worshipped continually at the Temple, comes upon Simeon, Jesus, and his parents and is unexpectedly blessed with a personal viewing of the Messiah.

What can you and I expect in 2007? Dreams fulfilled, dreams made, and some things we never dreamed of. How we get ready is the lesson of President Gerald Ford.

Ford came from Michigan to the House of Representatives in 1948. His greatest aspiration was to become the Speaker of the House.

But sometimes, things come your way that you never dreamed of. On August 9, 1974, after a season of scandal and disgrace, Ford became the President of the United States.

Ford didn't seek to become our nation's leader, but when the nation called, he was ready.

How? A look at what Ford was doing the week before gives us a revealing clue:
"Faced with uncertainties and conflicting reports about his status in the week preceding Richard Nixon's resignation, Ford continued his regular routine, which included a prayer meeting...He reportedly assured his three friends that if he were to become President, the meetings—which have been held at 11 a.m. every Wednesday for several months—would continue."
How do we get ready for tomorrow? The lesson of Gerald Ford is this: Walk with God today.

Read what Ford learned from God while President in this 1977 commencement address to graduates of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2006 Blog in Review Highlights

12 highlights from a year's worth of blogging at Living The Biblios.

Zilcho. Don't exist yet!

February: A blog is born with its first entry.

March: The story of Elijah illustrates that God has a sense of humor.

April: The spiritual disciplines of Jesus. A series: one, two, three, four, five.

May: Two touching stories of what comes around...goes around.

June: Troubles in mainline denominations, including the UCC, and the source of the problem.

July: Analysis of how an entire conference--Puerto Rico--left the United Church of Christ.

August: An incredible story of prayer and how a friend escaped death on his last day in Iraq.

September: A theological take on Nike's "Football is Everything" TV commercial

October: With all the world's noise, sometimes you just got to put on the spiritual headsets.

November: Reflections on a questionable sign I once saw along a highway.

December: A narrative reflection on Matthew 1:18-25--part one and part two.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2006 Review in Pictures

January: Turkeys running in a winter wheat field

February: Wife Melissa's violin recital

March: Daughter's harp lessons

April: Bob Nelson comedy show

May: Family visits at Grandma's birthday

June: Wheat harvest

July: US Senior Golf Open in Hutchinson, KS

My favorite family picture of the year

August: Sunflowers in bloom

September: Baptizing both of my daughters

October: Trick-or-Treaters

November: Morning Sunrise

My favorite outdoors picture of the year

December: Christmas family portrait