Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Son Force Kids Day # 1

Today through Friday is Little River's Vacation Bible School. This year's theme is Gospel Light's "Son Force Kids."

[For Middler teacher helps, days 2-5, I've written more here.]
For a Closing Rally script, one is available here.]

The first lesson is the story of Moses' birth from Exodus 1-2:10. Some observations:

  • The Pharaoh's policy of death was in conflict God's policy of life.
  • Midwives Shiprah and Puah risked their own death by choosing God's ways over Pharaoh's, but they did so because they "feared the Lord" (1:17, 21).
  • God honored the midwives' actions and gave them families of their own (1:21).
  • Moses is hidden from precisely the ones who find him--Pharaoh's court and his daughter in particular (2:5-6).
  • Miriam, Moses' sister, doesn't plead for Moses to be saved. Instead, she assumes his life and asks, "Shall I get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby?" (2:7).
  • Of all the Hebrew women who could have cared for Moses, the one who does is the child's very own mother (2:8).
  • God works out the difficulties for those who courageously trust Him!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day and Pentecost Sunday

This weekend is a collision of sorts on the calendar--today is Memorial Day and yesterday was Pentecost Sunday.

As I prepared for Sunday's message, I couldn't decide, "Do I emphasize Memorial Day and talk about how Jesus is our hope over death? Or, do I celebrate Pentecost Sunday and the ministry of the Holy Spirit?"

Then I thought about those old TV commercials of Reese's Peanut Butter Cup--where a chocolate bar and a jar of peanut butter collide--and decided to observe both the general calendar and the church calendar.

And what resulted is this thought: What the Holy Spirit does best is give life.

The Holy Spirit gives us earthly life. Psalm 104:29-30, the psalmist meditates on the splendor of creation and declares to the Lord, "When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth." On this Memorial Weekend, we gives thanks for those whom the Spirit gave life.

The Holy Spirit gives us Christian life. This week, my four-year-old son said, "Daddy, I wish I could have 2 birthdays." According to Jesus, you can--and must! In John 3, Jesus declares, "No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'" How we experience the Spirit's birth is contained in John 3:16--believing in Jesus.

The Holy Spirit gives us resurrected life. There's an old hymn, "When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be." Indeed that's true, but heaven isn't the end of the Christian story. One day, God will raise up our bodies. Romans 8:10-11 says, "But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you."

John Stott explains the ultimate impact of the Spirit's work in his Romans commentary: "The ultimate destiny of our body is not death, but resurrection... [which] includes transformation, the raising and changing of our body into a new and glorious vehicle of personality--liberated from all frailty, disease, pain, decay, and death."

What the Spirit does best is give life. So today, "Live by the Spirit" and "Keep in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16, 25).

Friday, May 25, 2007

Christopher Hitchen's "God Is Not Great"--A Reply from Douglas Wilson

Atheist "evangelist" Christopher Hitchens is making quite the scene right now with his grumpy appearances on TV and his rhetorically charged best selling book, "God Is Not Great."

Replying to Hitchens' book chapter by chapter is pastor and philosopher Douglas Wilson. On his blog, "Blog and Magog," Wilson answers Hitchens in a style much like a great thinker from another generation, G.K. Chesterton.

While Christians argue for moral authority and absolute truth on the basis of a holy and righteous God who has revealed His ways, the atheist says "bunk" to such claims. Consequently, Wilson argues, they cannot sufficiently defend any basis for what "ought" to be:
Suppose you went to see some fantastic illusionist, and he did something remarkable, like levitate himself. His beautiful assistant with insufficient clothing -- and this might have something to do with the success of the trick -- comes out on stage and passes some metal hoops every which way around the floating body.

Jeepers, you think, and head on home scratching your noggin. When you get there, you find yourself in a discussion with your cousin who used to do a small time illusionist act of his own down at the local Ramada Inn, and he explains to you how the trick is done. He doesn't have to be a big time headliner -- he just has to have enough experience to be able to explain how such tricks are pulled off. I am the Ramada Inn guy...

When atheists stop suspending their moral indignation from their invisible sky hook, then I will no longer amuse myself by pointing out their levitation trick.
There are several atheist "tricks" that Wilson exposes along the way. Here's the first one:
I can answer Hitchens' [book] with an argument condensed into one word. Not only so, but I will condense it into a word with only two letters in it, three if you count the question mark. So?

Religion poisons everything. So?

If Hitchens is merely saying that Christians frequently don't meet the standards of their own Christian faith, he is doing nothing remarkable. If he is pointing out such internal inconsistencies, then he is welcome to add his voice to the long and honored line of prophetic denunciation...

But this is not what he is doing. He is assuming that Christians are offending against a standard that overarches believers and non-believers alike, and that standard is clearly obligatory on everybody.

Now, pretend I am a simpleton...Explain it to me slowly. "God does not exist. Therefore all people have a fixed moral obligation to not poison everything because ..."

What goes after that because? Because the universe doesn't give a rip? Because in two hundred years, we will all be dead? Because moral conventions are just that, social conventions? Give me something to follow that because that is derived from the premises of atheism, and which clearly and compellingly requires non-atheists to submit to it as well. Is that too much to ask? Apparently.

The fact that the argument can admit of such elegant economy does not mean that it cannot be expanded. Here watch this. Religion poisons everything. "So? Does this offend anyone whose opinion should matter to me? Is there some kind of rule against poisoning everything? Who made that rule? And who died and left that particular busybody king? Get your moralism outa my face, Hitchens."

Now this response should not be confounded with anything so juvenile as a Bronx cheer. It is an argument, not a raspberry.
From his blog, here are Douglas Wilson's chapter by chapter response to Christopher Hitchen's "God Is Not Great":

Chapter One "Putting It Mildly"

Chapter Two "Religion Kills"

Chapter Three "A Short Digression on the Pig..."

Chapter Four "A Note On Health..."

Chapter Five "The Metaphysical Claims..."

Chapter Six "Arguments From Design"

Chapters Seven & Eight "Revelation..."

Chapter Nine "The Koran..."

Chapter Ten "The Tawdriness..."

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen "Does Religion Make..."

Chapter Fourteen "There Is No Eastern Solution"

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen "Is Religion Child Abuse?"

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen "In Conclusion..."

And if you can't get enough of this discussion, Wilson and Hitchens trade responses at Christianity Today over the question, "Is Christianity Good for the World?" Here are the links:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six

And finally, Peter Hitchens offers a stinging commentary to his brother's book in the Daily Mail.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Family Story

Yesterday before bedtime, my 6-year-old middle kid, who was drawing pictures, says to me, "Daddy, I have a story to show you."

She started to tell our family's story. "This is when you and Mommy got married. This is when you had Julia. This is when she died. This is when you had big sissy. This is when you had me. And this is when you had little brother. The End."

It's fascinating what runs through the mind of a child. What made her think about all this? Unknown to her, in this little exercise, she's learning the elements of storytelling, contemplating what makes a family, and recounting history.

I asked her, "Whose in the middle of this story? Who is writing it?"

Without hesitation, she replied, "God."

Either she's mastered the Sunday School response to all questions, or she's realizing something great--that her story is a part of God's story. Her purpose fits into God's purposes.

What's your story?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Seven Worst Communication Habits

How well do you stay in touch with those around you?

That's the challenge you'll consider when you read Jamie Walter's article, "The Seven Worst Communication Habits" at CEO Refresher.

You may not oversee an organization, but you do have people you talk with in your circle of association. It could be family members, people you work with, neighbors, or friends at church.

After reading the list, I thought to myself, "Guilty on counts #2 and #4." Afterwards, I made a needed follow-up phone call and wrote a thank you note.

It's a good list at an information rich website. Check it out.

The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World

Yesterday I was browsing through the music stack at the Hutchinson Library when I came across a CD I didn't even know existed, even though its been out for nearly ten years--"The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World."

This recording features two of the greatest guitars to ever grace the planet--Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel. Each represent their generation as examples of incredible players. Atkins, had a long career that started with RCA in 1947. Emmanuel is well-known in his native of Australia, but is gaining increasing attention here in the United States through appearances at places like the Walnut Valley Festival. A good friend and I saw Emmanuel at Wichita's Orpheum Theatre a few years ago and both of us were amazed (check out this clip of "Amazing Grace"); he's a great player and a funny entertainer.

"The Day Guitar Pickers..." is a light hearted recording that features lightning fast licks, smooth melodies, and humorous vocals. The production is minimal so the guitar picking shines bright. This was Atkins' last recording before his death in 2001.

I'm going to enjoy this CD. Too bad it's due back at the library on June 11.

Monday, May 21, 2007

John 3:16

What is your favorite verse in the Bible?

Most people reply, "John 3:16."

Have you ever pondered the riches contained in this single verse?

Over at ScriptoriumDaily, Fred Sanders does just that. First, he considers its proper translation:
The verse doesn’t say “God loves the world so much that he sent his Son,” rather it says “Look at this, this right here is the way God loved the world: he sent his Son.” God loved like this! As a pointer-word, “so” directs your attention like an index finger toward a thing so unparalleled and singular that all we can do it look and learn. And it points to a past action, an event already accomplished. Think how much we lose when we unconsciously dumb this verse down to “How much God loves the world” (present tense, emphasizing magnitude) rather than what it wants to show us: Here is how God loved the world!
Then, Sanders outlines what John 3:16 says about the doctrine of revelation, Scripture, God, Christ, sin, and salvation.

It's a brief and interesting article. Have a look.

Friday, May 18, 2007


"Wow, time really does move."

That's what I remember thinking back in 1979 when I graduated from high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. Grade school and high school seems liked forever to me. But ever since then, time has really moved. Just today, I got a graduation announcement from one of my college roommate's son's. Geez, I'm getting old!

On Thursday, Little River's three churches (Catholic, Methodist, and Congregational) celebrated Little River's senior graduates with a Baccalaureate Service. Principal Dawn Johnson said something to the students that really resonated with me: "We're excited for you. We're also living a bit vicariously through you. We can't wait to see what the future holds for you."

Dr. Craig Smith from nearby Sterling College gave the commencement address. Speaking from Mark 1:9-20, he offered God's blessings to our students, warned them of the temptation wilderness experiences awaiting them, and encouraged to respond to Jesus' call to "Follow me."

This Sunday afternoon is graduation ceremonies at Little River High School. Earlier in the morning, our church family will have a graduation breakfast for its college, 12th, and 8th grade students.

Our students have passed their tests. Now they go out into the "real" world. That's where the greatest of tests await. May you walk with God. And may you have the "time" of your life.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

John Stott Announces Retirement

John Stott, one of the most beloved and respected pastors in the evangelical world, has announced plans to retire from public ministry. He'll speak at one last conference in July and then move to a retirement community for Anglican clergy in southern England. Stott is 86 years old.

I had the opportunity to hear Stott back in the mid 1990's at a church in Dallas, Texas. He preached a memorable message from Matthew 11:25-29 where Jesus offers comfort to the weary. Afterwards, me and a friend--like star-struck rock-n-roll fans--waited in line for the chance to shake his hand and greet him.

Rev. Stott's books are a treat to read. He has a wonderful gift in bringing out the most important point in a passage or doctrine, and explaining it in a unique and edifying way. A good example of this is a recent release, The Incomparable Christ. Probably his best known work is Basic Christianity, while The Cross of Christ is his magnum opus. Any Bible commentary with Stott's name on it will be profitable reading.

I really enjoy his short book, Evangelical Essentials, which outlines in Trinitarian form the common ground of Christians. In the preface of that book, Stott writes:
As I approach the end of my life on earth, and as I complete more than sixty years of privileged Christian discipleship, I would like to leave behind me, as a kind of spiritual legacy, this little statement of evangelical faith, this personal appeal to the rising generation. Of course I have changed over the last six decades. Yet I hope these changes have been not the denial of anything I previously affirmed, but rather the enrichment of what was inadequate, the deepening of what was shallow, and the clarification of what was obscure. The great evangelical truths remain. This is how I would wish to be remembered and judged, as I prepare to stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Rev. Stott, whenever that glorious day comes, may you hear from Jesus, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

R.I.P. Jerry Falwell

By now I'm sure you've heard the news about the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell. Founder of the Moral Majority back in the 80's, Falwell led the rise of conservative Christian politics and made them an undeniably influential and powerful voting block. Along the way, he created plenty of controversy--even making Christians wince.

Falwell had plenty of enemies. When you enter the political fray, that's to be expected. And Falwell said plenty of controversial things that brought him criticism. As a public figure, that's also to be expected. Entering the public arena is like going into a boxing ring--expect to get hit.

Now Falwell is dead. But instead of letting the man rest in peace, Falwell's enemies can't help but jab him one more time.

TMZ.com mocks him with the Teletubbies' Tiny Winky waving good-bye; years ago, Falwell's magazine suggested Tinky was gay and a bad role model. Atheist "evangelist" Christopher Hitchens spewed distain and contempt for Falwell on CNN. And then there's this from the AP:
Matt Foreman, executive director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, extended condolences to those close to Falwell, but added: "Unfortunately, we will always remember him as a founder and leader of America's anti-gay industry, someone who exacerbated the nation's appalling response to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, someone who demonized and vilified us for political gain and someone who used religion to divide rather than unite our nation."
The man is dead. Can't his enemies simply express their condolences--as insincere as they may be--and say no more? It's funny to me that the person showing the most grace right now is the undignified pornographer Larry Flynt, who released the following statement:
My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends.
In the Wild West, when a bad guy got shot dead, at least he was given the dignity of a funeral, with the parson presiding, and the sheriff with his head bowed and hat over his heart.

But you know what? I doubt that Falwell is upset with those who are scorning him once again. In fact, he's probably smiling. Falwell enjoyed the public attention and he certainly relished a good fight. Even more, I imagine that Falwell is busy delighting in seeing his Savior face-to-face.

You may think that Falwell was a scoundrel, but those are precisely the kind of people that God loves and Jesus saves.

R.I.P. Jerry.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What is Success?

What is success? More specifically, what is success in God's eyes?

Over at the UCCtruths.com discussion board (registration required), an interesting conversation got started when someone wrote, "Christians know that anything God is behind succeeds and anything He is not behind will not succeed."

Dr. Theodore Trost, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama and a former United Church of Christ Conference Minister, offered a thought provoking response:
From a Christian point of view, "success" rhymes with "crucifix." The juxtaposition of these two words should give pause to anyone who advances "worldly" standards to judge the merits of enterprises undertaken in the name of Christ. We have other means of evaluation, it seems to me. The simple formula you adopt is dangerous to my mind. Take Jim Jones, for example. On his ride to fame he had all the signs of "success." He received numerous humanitarian awards, was featured in Time magazine as an important leader in the Christian community, and was "ordained" by the Disciples of Christ denomination as a minister of Word and Sacrament. He was a genius when it came to church growth. He even convinced over a thousand members of his congregation to relocate to South America and start a new kind of community...

By the standard you advocate, the growth of the Vineyard Churches, the Southern Baptists, and the Cathedral of Hope, among others, are defacto proof that God is with those groups, enabling them to "succeed." ...

At closer range, the simple faith you affirm above would not be welcome news to my many friends who have undergone divorce. Did God trick them into a marriage that subsequently did not succeed because God was not really behind it?
What I appreciate from Dr. Trost's remarks is that what appears on the surface to be "success" may not, over time, prove to be actual God ordained success. Every time I read of a high profile minister who tumbles down from his lofty position into the scandal of immorality, I can't help but wonder about their (so-called) accomplishments. Too often, Christians have bought into the world's version of success.

Still, success is not a dirty word--it's something Christians should strive to see in their personal and public life. The fruit of the Spirit, listed in Galatians 5:16-26, implies successful Christian living. Jesus said his kingdom is like a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32; Matthew 13:31-32)--it starts small and grows big. Acts 9:31, 16:5, and 19:20 report that the early church grew in numbers. Revelation 7:9 says that in the end, people from every nation and tribe and language are worshipping at God's throne--indicating that Jesus' Great Commission was fulfilled. Signs of God's blessing with Old Testament characters Joseph and Daniel was seen by success in their work. The number of Christians in China today, compared to 100 years ago, testifies to the success of God's Spirit.

It's important to "add" that true Christian success can also appear to our eyes as failure. Missionaries who labors for years in places like the Middle East, with few conversions, are still successful, though their numbers would suggest otherwise. So too the rural pastor who proclaims the Word and offers the Sacraments to only a dozen each week. Or, the stay at home mother who disciples her three kids. The prophet Isaiah had a pretty successful ministry, even though God told him Israel wouldn't listen to his preaching.

In the end, if we will strive to walk with God, He'll definitely use us. But how much and to what degree--that is solely up to the Lord.

What we are called to be is faithful.

And that, in a word, is success.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mothers of Grace

Yesterday during my mother's day sermon, I mentioned that in over ten years of being a pastor, I've had numerous opportunities to sit and visit with mothers. And almost inevitably, those moms will start talking about their children and say, "They're such good kids."

And I'll say to myself, "Wait a minute. I know those kids. Are we talking about the same people?"

It's easy to see the shortcomings of others. Moms whose live by the law do so regularly. They constantly complain and are critical. Their kid is never good enough and never measures up.

But that's not the way of mothers who lives are characterized by grace. Moms of grace aren't ignorant about their children's shortcomings and failings--in fact, they're fully aware of them. However, they choose to focus on what shines best in their child. And when their kid does get off track, Moms of grace don't "let it slide." Rather, they woo their kid out of the mud and back into grace.

God works with His children (1 John 3:1) in a similar way. God knows what smucks we are. He's fully aware of our sin. And yet, He chooses to say, "I have such good kids."

How does God honestly say that? In a word, Jesus. Through the crucified and risen life of Jesus, God chooses to look at us through the lens of imparted righteousness--grace. The Apostle Paul declares in Romans 3:21-24:
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
In our daily practice, we are hardly righteous, try as we may. We sin. We fall short. We fail to fulfill all of God's righteous expectations laid out clearly in the Law--like the Ten Commandments. And yet, despite our failures--both intentional and unintentional--God chooses to view the one who trusts in Jesus as completely righteous, without blemish, and without sin. Apart from Christ, God declares us guilty. But united with Christ, God declares us righteous.

Elysse Grinnell in the Christian Standard told of a time when her near-adult kids started confessing their childhood secrets:
One said: "Mom, do you remember when the slats kept falling out of Ben's bed, and we told you we didn't know why? We were jumping on it." I said, "I know."

"Did you know I didn't eat my lima beans? When I excused myself to go to the bathroom during dinner, they were in my napkin and got flushed." "I suspected as much when I saw the bulging napkin accompanying you."

"Do you remember the peanut butter sandwich you found in the VCR slot? I put it there. It was the perfect size." And once again I said, "I figured."

Finally, one of my oldest daughters laughed and said, "I can't believe you still loved us."

I smiled to myself and thought, "It was easy, because you are my own."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ascension Balloons

Good News Club--our church's midweek Bible club for elementary kids--had its last meeting of the season this past Wednesday. We made the last day a party, playing kickball and serving snow cones.

The previous Wednesday I did a lesson with my 4th-5th-6th grade students on the ascension of Jesus. We heard from Acts 1:1-11--ending with the angels' promise to the disciples that Jesus would one day return to earth in the same manner that He left.

While the liturgical church celebrates the ascension, the evangelical church rarely does. In fact, the evangelical church doesn't observe many fixed dates on its calendar besides Christmas and Easter. I think that's a mistake (you can blame it on my Lutheran heritage). We who are Christians have a new way of life. The Christian calendar helps us remember and celebrate our story.

So why is the Ascension important? Basically, the act of the resurrected Jesus going up into heaven affirms that Jesus' home is heaven, not earth. Jesus is God who came down to earth and took on human flesh. His ascension completes the "circle" of His ministry to us, a circle apparent in the song, "Lord I Lift Your Name On High":
You came from heaven to earth to show the way,
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay,
From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky,
Lord I lift your name on high.
To illustrate Jesus' going up into heaven, I brought into class some helium balloons. As I was putting the balloons in place before class time, it dawn on me that balloons typically mark happy occasions, but here I am using them to reinforce Jesus' time of leaving us. How often do you use balloons to celebrate someone leaving you?

After our classroom discussion, the kids and I went outside to launch our balloons--and imagine what it must have been like for the disciples to see Jesus slowly disappearing from sight. The balloons flew off quickly to the south, unusual for Kansas because the wind typically blows north.

As the balloons were on the brink of disappearing, one of my students--a kid who comes from a tough background and hardly came to club this year--said to me, "Wouldn't it be neat if on the day that Jesus comes back, he brought with him the balloon I let go, and gave it to me?"

Indeed, that would be neat.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Congregational Church's 53rd Auction

Last Saturday, May 5, was our church's 53rd annual consignment auction. We had quite a day.

One auction ring sold household goodies. The other sold tools, motorized equipment, and furniture. Nearly $2,500 was raised to benefit the ministry of Bill & Carol Cowell at Victory Village--a boarding school for troubled teenage women in Hutchinson, KS. Our Women's Fellowship sold sloppy joes, bbq baked beans, and home made pies. Our youth entertained kids with the Lolly Pop Trolly and Leaping Lizard rides. Kendall Hodgson's Sunday School class raised $63 with .25 tries to climb Jacob's Ladder. And my wife told Bible stories to kids all day under a big, bright red and yellow tent.

What makes the sale fun is members and friends coming together to casually socialize, all the while pulling off an auction.

On Friday, me and a couple of guys went to a woman's house to pick up some stuff she was consigning to the sale. Included in the pile was a garden hose, an old shelf, and some other odds and ends. Also included in the pile was a huge pile of big limestone rocks.

After we loaded the easy stuff, the guys and I looked at the limestone pile and asked, "Are we supposed to take that too?" The pile was three feet high, about 4 dozens pieces. Each rock probably weighed between 40-80 lbs. To avoid taking what we shouldn't--check that--to avoid some really hard work, we agreed to wait and ask the lady when she came home from work.

Late in the day, I found the woman and asked her what she wanted to do with the limestone. She didn't expect us to take it--given that the rocks were so heavy--but she did say, "If you know anyone who wants it, they can just come over and take it."

So I took this report to the guys who helped load the lady's pile earlier. I said, "We don't have to take the pile. But, if you know anyone who'd like the rock, they're welcome to go over and take it."

Immediately, one fellow said, "I know my wife would love that rock. She'd put it around the flower garden." The other guy said, "My wife too. She'd find a project for it." I said, "Well, it's all there for the taking."

And both guys said in unison, "We're not telling!"

Wives, if you're looking for some nice, free limestone rock, I know where a pile is.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bush Visits Greensburg

President Bush visited Kansas today and toured the tornado stricken town of Greensburg.

After flying over the town in a helicopter, his caravan drove through the streets, and then he met with dozens of the town's people. In all, President Bush spent three hours in Greensburg.

"My mission is to lift people's spirit here," he said. "I'm struck by the character of the people in the plains, who refuse to have their spirit affected by this storm...America is blessed to have such people."

Each of the Wichita televisions stations--KSN, KAKE, and KWCH--provided live coverage. The Wichita Eagle is providing continual updates. Meanwhile, the Hutchinson News is reporting on flooding in the region.

The cynic in me says that every politician--Republican and Democrat alike--is using Greensburg for their own political posturing. For example, Barack Obama claimed in a speech that "10,000 people died" in Kansas. The actual number is 12.

On the otherhand, the neighbor in me is glad to see our politicians going to bat for people when they're help is truly needed.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Spirit of Greensburg, Kansas

If a tornado was moments away from destroying your house and town, what would you be praying about?

Denis Boyles at NationalReviewOnline tells this inspiring story of how one teenager prayed as a F-5 tornado was roaring through Greensburg:
The minority leader of the Kansas house is Dennis McKinney, a much-admired conservative Democrat who represents the heavily Republican constituency that includes Greensburg. Until 9:45 last Friday night, McKinney had a house in town...

[Soon after the tornado warning was issued, McKinney got a call] from a young man who lived next door. He explained to McKinney that he was too far away and didn’t think he could make it back home in time to take care of his wife and baby. His house had no storm cellar, no place for them to go. Could he tell them they could seek refuge in McKinney’s basement? McKinney said of course. He sent his 14-year-old daughter, Lindy, down to the basement and went out to wait for the woman and the baby.

But it was too late. As his house started exploding around them, McKinney turned back toward the basement stairs. Debris showered down on him; he lost his flashlight. His daughter helped him into a bath in the basement, and he threw his body over hers to protect her. As the house disintegrated above them, Lindy McKinney suggested they pray for the mother and child next door. “And that’s what we did,” McKinney told me. “My daughter — she didn’t pray for us. She didn’t pray for herself. She prayed for the people next door.” The significance was still settling on McKinney. His voice suddenly hoarse, he said, “As a father, I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud.”

When the wind subsided, McKinney climbed out through the wreckage of his home into the darkness and found the house next door had vanished, leaving only a thick carpet of debris. Suddenly, he heard the sound of a woman’s voice crying for help. Working with another neighbor, the two men pulled the mother and baby out. Their only injuries: a few scratches.
Meanwhile, the clean up continues. Reports indicate that the Red Cross and Salvation Army are doing great work. Altell gave away 42 phones and set up a repeater tower in Haviland, so Greensburg residents seeking shelter there could make necessary phone calls. Here in Little River, students from the high school are collecting money to help Greensburg seniors with graduation.

Locally, a day without rain helped flood waters receed off roads. I heard a report of one family whose basement was flooded, destroying a washer/dryer and 3 freezers full of food. A collection is being taken up in the community to help this family.

Monday, May 07, 2007

We're OK, But Greensburg Is Not

With Kansas in the national news because of weekend tornadoes, several out-of-town friends and relatives have asked how we are in Little River.

We're fine. There were several small tornadoes to the east and west of us, but nothing got close to us. We did get a lot of rain though, which created some local flooding. The little river (Little Arkansas) that winds through our town is out of its banks for the first time in years. North of us at Kannopolis Lake, the 100 acre + lake is up 13 feet. Last fall, the lake was so low you couldn't get a boat in. Salina, KS--45 minutes northeast of us--has extensive flooding. South of us, the rural community of Saxman is being evacuated.

Greensburg, KS--which got hit by a F-5 tornado on Friday night--is 2.5 hours southwest of Little River, about 110 miles away. 95 % of the town was destroyed. One person was found alive after two days in rubble. Rebuilding the town will be very difficult.

Information on how to give help is available here. Meanwhile, everyone's prayers are needed.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Ha-Ha Holy Humor

Proof of what Bob Nelson once told me: Comedy = tragedy + distance

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why Bother With Church?

Why bother with the local church?

The people can be rude and petty. The services and speakers can be boring. Yes, all that and more.

But as Tony Campolo writes in his new book, Letters To A Young Evangelical:

It is she who taught you about Jesus. I want you to remember that the Bible teaches that Christ loves the church and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). That's a preeminent reason why you dare not decide that you don't need the church. Christ's church is called his bride (11 Con 11:2), and his love for her makes him faithful to her even when she is not faithful to him.

Campolo is a well-known and often controversial figure in the evangelical world. He is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University. Described by Christianity Today in 2003 as one of America's "25 most influential preachers," I saw him speak once back in the 80's.

CT has posted Campolo's chapter about the church for May only. Read the rest here.

Review of Central Christian Church

Last Sunday I took a vacation day, allowing me and the Mrs. to attend Central Christian Church in Wichita, KS. I've been to Central a couple of times for concerts, but never a Sunday service. So going this past week satisfied a curiosity. Like my review of a previous church in Cincinnati, my observations are based on categories established by Outreach magazine and their "Mystery Visitor" column.

Getting There. Having been there before for concerts, I knew exactly where to go. The website told me it was a non-denominational church. A

First Impressions. Central has a Saturday evening service and 2 on Sundays. We went to the last one at 10:30am. Parking was easy. A greeter welcomed us before we even entered the doors. A

Inside the Church. The congregation was almost entirely Caucasian, although other races were represented in the pews and in the church's choir. Economically, it was mostly middle class, though not exclusively. The sanctuary's design is excellent. A stained glass cross stands above a baptistery. Video screens are on the left and right. The choir loft is elevated in the middle, with an orchestra pit below. Everything you see up front has a roomy feel. Nothing distracts your eye. If I were building a huge worship space, I'd go here for ideas. A

Service Experience. The worship music was outstanding. Peter Abood, Worship & Fine Arts pastor, had everything clicking. We sang mostly contemporary music. The variety of music was really pleasing. The 6 lead worship singers, the choir, the orchestra, Abood on piano, along with drums, synth, lead guitar, and bass were arranged in numerous ways, never the same and always interesting. A couple of people were baptized and the Lord's Supper was celebrated (something they do every weekend). My wife and I loved it all. A+

People Connection. Early in the service, there was a time to turn and greet neighbors seated next to you. It's an ice-breaker that all large churches do, but I've never gotten much out of it. C

The Message. Senior Pastor David Welsh recently succeeded Joe Wright, who was well-known in Wichita. Welsh's topic was, "How long should I pray?" He was personable, humorous, and enjoyable to hear. He recognized the difficult situations we sometimes have, yet reminded us that God never tells us to quit praying about our needs. By persevering in prayer, God shapes our character and transforms our life. Great question answered practically and with insight. A

Spiritual Response. People were invited to the front to pray with an elder or pastor. Rev. Welsh said they would even hang around after the service was completed. People felt free to raise their hands during throughout the worship. I know I was encouraged. A

Visitor Touchpoints. There's a welcome center in the lobby. My wife visited. I didn't. N/R

Return Visit? This is a neat church. Would I come back? Definitely. But oh wait, I'm a pastor and I'll be at my own church this weekend. A

Overall. The whole experience was great. After finally coming to Central on a Sunday, I appreciate how "extra curricular" events like community concerts can serve to welcome people into your church. While we sat closer to the front, I looked back and saw that the sanctuary was only about 1/2 full. That surprised me a little bit. As a contemporary church, Central has a more grown up feel to it than more youthful contemporary services I've attended over the years. But Central has a lot to offer. I appreciate their witness and spiritual leadership in the city of Wichita. A+

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Amazing Grace--The Movie

William Wilberforce.

Ever heard the name before? I'd heard about him once, but that was a long time ago. Frankly, it's been years since I even thought about him. That's just the way it is when your life becomes a part of history. Not many people remember you, even if you did something significant.

So it was nice this past weekend to see a movie that reminded me of what faithful Christians have done for the cause of Christ in past generations. "Amazing Grace," goes back to 18th century Britain to tell the story of William Wilberforce, the man principally responsible for getting the then world's super power to abolish slavery.

Converted in 1785, Wilberforce had a long career in the British parliament. Because of his efforts, laws forbidding the slave trade were passed in 1806 and 1811. Shortly after his death in 1833, freedom was decreed for all slaves in the British Caribbean, and similar laws were later issued for other colonies. In many ways, the voice of Wilberforce set the stage for American abolitionists.

The movie is a bit heavy of dialogue, but the plot moves quickly. When Wilberforce realizes he can both serve God and do the work of a political activist, he pours himself into the abolitionist movement. His courage and perseverance is inspirational.

There's one historical inaccuracy: At Wilberforce's wedding, the church sings John Newton's tune, "Amazing Grace." However, as Steve Turner documents in his book, "Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song," Newton didn't write the song's tune and he never heard the music we now associate with his song.

The movie will be on DVD in August. It's definitely worth seeing.