Monday, December 29, 2008

Links of the Intergoogle 12-30

The best article I've read about Pastor Rick Warren "He's against gay marriage and how dare he be invited to pray at Obama's inauguration" flap.

Insightful remark from Michael Medved:
"Advocates for same sex marriage regularly insist that they would never interfere with free exercise of religion and will do nothing to force unwilling churches to perform gay weddings. This position counts as hypocritical and misleading, and the current controversy over Pastor Rick Warren’s role in the Obama inauguration reveals the underlying intolerance in the gay agenda."
Top ten theological stories of 2008.

An interesting argument for changing the order of our Old Testament books.

If you like baseball, you'll love this article of major league odd events in 2008.

The Usefulness of Brokenness

Came across this thought provoking observation from a devotional by Evangelical Covenant Church president Gary Walter:
There actually is a distinction in the types of brokenness - not all brokenness is the same. Yes, there is brokenness that leads to disuse - the car breaks and can’t be used, or the plumbing, the computer, the toaster. When they are broken, they are of no use.

But there are other things that have no usefulness until they are broken.
• A horse is no good until . . . it is broken
• A baseball mitt is no good until . . . it is broken in
• In case of emergency, break glass
• And what does it say on your medicine? Break this seal.

The spiritual reality is that God uses broken things. In fact, our entire faith is built on this statement of Jesus about his sacrifice on the cross: this is my body, broken for you. And what does King David say is an acceptable offering to God? A broken spirit and a contrite heart.

Yes, in God’s upside down system of values, broken things are the most valuable. Brokenness does not inevitably lead to uselessness. Brokenness in God’s design is precisely the way to even greater usefulness.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Kansas-Oklahoma Conference CM Stepping Down

Rev. David Hansen, Conference Minister for the United Church of Christ's Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, announced on Christmas Eve that he is stepping down on January 15, 2009. The following letter was sent out by e-mail:

A Pastoral Letter to Members and Friends of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference United Church of Christ

Theologian Paul Tillich preached a sermon on sin and grace that remains his most famous and widely read sermon. The sermon was titled, “You Are Accepted.” Tillich begins the sermon by describing sin as the condition of separation and estrangement. Grace, he describes, as acceptance. To know grace is to “Accept the fact that you are accepted by that which is greater than you.” He concludes the sermon by saying that though sin and grace are strange words; they are not strange things. They determine our life. They determine the life of the K-O Conference.

The year 2008 has been a year of sin and grace for those of us in the K-O Conference. It has been a year of wonder, estrangement, struggle, and blessing. Given all that has happened, the Conference Council and I have agreed that new leadership is needed. Thus, I am leaving the position of K-O Conference Minister effective January 15, 2009.

I want to thank you for the grace-filled events of the last five years and for the privilege of serving as Conference Minister. Sally and I are truly grateful for your prayers and the gift of friendships formed and ministry shared. Let me name just a few highlights. The Conference welcomed two new congregations, celebrated three new church starts, and now has two conversations taking place that may eventually lead to new church starts. The Conference launched a new newspaper, The K-O Focus, and a new website. The Conference initiated, but not yet funded, the position of Justice and Witness Organizer. The Conference took courageous stands on important social issues: the right of all people to earn a moral minimum wage, religious freedom for Hawaiian inmates, standing in solidarity with the people living in the area of Tar Creek, initiating a movement toward becoming an eco-conference and a Fair Trade conference, and initiating a new Doctor of Ministry program in partnership with Phillips Theological Seminary. Conference partnerships with the Madhya Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India, and the Protestant Church in Baden, Germany are strong. The new Conference organizational chart is a work in progress begun in recognition of the fact that the financial realities of the future will demand that the Conference conduct its affairs in a new way in the future. The next two years will see the Conference living into this reality in ways that few have anticipated. I would like to thank the Personnel Committee in particular for their hard work these past several months as they help forge this path to the future.

White Memorial Camp has a special place in my life and in the life of the Conference. I want to especially thank Jim Power for his years of faithful stewardship of the camp and Ron Klein for his extraordinary work at the camp. The camp now has a new Executive Director, Sara Shaw. Sara is an incredibly gifted and talented woman for whom camp is both a calling and a profession. Under her leadership I am confident that the camp will become more fully a place to experience God’s grace and to nurture Christian life and values, if she is allowed to provide the leadership to which she is called.

The Reverend Dr. Kathy McCally and the Conference Council will make crucial decisions in 2009 that will to a large extent determine the quality of Conference life for the future. It is my prayer that in and through their work and lives grace may abound.


Blessings,

Rev. David P. Hansen
Conference Minister
Kansas-Oklahoma Conference
United Church of Christ

December 24, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Sad, But True Christmas Story

Andy Whitman some time ago wrote this sad, but true Christmas story about his father. How we still need the Savior and his forerunner who will "turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17).

A Candy Foxxx Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve, 1994, and my daughters, ages 8 and 6, anxiously await the arrival of Santa Claus.

Instead, my dad shows up with a new girlfriend in tow. Her name is Becky, and she’s a dancer. “Oh, do you do ballet?” Kate asks. Kate is so sweet. “No, I dance at a club,” Becky says. Kate ponders that one.

My dad totes in a bulging plastic trash bag. He dumps the contents out on our living room floor. There are presents, lots and lots of brightly wrapped presents. My daughters’ eyes widen. “Seventeen presents!” my daughter Katryn marvels. My dad picks one up. “This one’s for you,” he says, and hands a package to Becky.

Becky, whose nom de strip is Candy Foxxx, is maybe 30, maybe 50, it’s hard to tell. She looks at my dad with utter contempt. I know within the first two minutes of meeting her that she doesn’t give a rip about this old man and his Sugar Daddy pretensions, that she’s here in my house for one reason, and one reason only. She rips open the package, unwraps a dress. “Thanks,” she says.

My dad picks up another present. “Oh, look,” he says, “this one’s for you, too.” Becky unwraps a necklace. “Thanks,” she says in a monotone.

We watch this sordid exchange fifteen more times. The second hand inches along. There is wrapping paper scattered all over my living room floor. I watch my daughters’ eyes. I would give anything to shield them from this, to spare them this scene.

We eat our Christmas cookies and drink our eggnog in almost total silence. “Well, we have to be running,” my dad says. He bundles up the dresses, the necklaces, the purses, the perfume in the plastic bag. “Nice to meet you,” Becky says, averting her eyes. And then they are gone.

“Grandpa didn’t even say goodbye to us,” Katryn says.

“No, he doesn’t know how to,” I tell her. “He doesn’t know what to say.” And it’s true.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Guys: Buy Right This Christmas


I admit, I'm not a very good Christmas shopper for my wife.

Fortunately, she's very gracious.

Meanwhile, guys, avoid the doghouse!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Links to the Intergoogle 12-11

Best cameras for under $300.

I knew there was a reason why I let my Newsweek subscription lapse.

I received this as a gift from the church in January. Now, I can't imagine Bible study without it it: Logos.

A Christian believer's test of what is essential and what is non-essential. This is a good way to order one's theology, assuming its ordered properly!

What a mega church pastor told his entire staff: resign.

I own none of this music, but I always enjoy reading Andy Whitman and his recent post of Favorite Albums of 2008.

Christianity Today's Top Religion stories of 2008.

It's the end of the semester at Sterling College. And my blog is suffering because I'm busy huffing and puffing toward the term's finish line. I'll write about experience teaching RP 102 Old Testament Introduction... only later!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Money Solution for Small Churches

Our small church, like most small churches, is feeling the effects of the tightening economy. But have no fear, have faith in God, the Lord provides! Our church recently received this note through our church's website! Don't be jealous! :) Can you sing, "We're in the money?"

Dearest in Christ,

I am Mrs Vivian Noel from Kuwait. I am married to Mr. Jerry Noel who worked with Kuwait embassy in Ivory Coast for nine years before he died in the year 2002. We were married for eleven years without a child. He died after a brief illness that lasted for only four days. Before his death we were both born again Christian. Since his death I decided not to remarry or get a child outside my matrimonial home which the Bible is against.

When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of US$4.5million dollars in a Bank here in Abidjan Cote d'Ivoire.Presently, this money is still in bank. Recently, my Doctor told me that I would not last for the next Eight months due to cancer problem. The one that disturbs me most is my stroke sickness.

Having known my condition I decided to donate this fund to a church that will utilize this money the way I am going to instruct herein. I want a church that will use this fund for orphanages,widows, propagating the word of God and to endeavorthat the house of God is maintained.

The Bible made us to understand that "Blessed is the hand that giveth." I took this decision because I don't have any child that will inherit this money and my husband relatives are not Christians and I don't want my husband's efforts to be used by unbelievers. I don't want a situation where this money will be used in an ungodly way.

This is why I am taking this decision. I am not afraid of death hence I know where I am going. I know that I am going to be in the bosom of the Lord. Exodus 14 VS 14 says that "the lord will fight my case and I shall hold my peace".

I don't need any telephone communication in this regard because of my health hence the presence of my husband's relatives around me always. I don't want them to know about this
development.

With God all things are possible. As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact of the Bank here in Abidjan Cote d'Ivoire. I will also issue you an authority letter that will prove you the present beneficiary of this fund. I want you and the church to always pray for me because the lord is my shephard. My happiness is that I lived a life of a worthy Christian. Whoever that Wants to serve the Lord must serve him in spirit and Truth. Please always be prayerful all through your life.

Contact me on the this e mail address: [deleted here]. Any delay in your reply will give me room in sourcing another church for this same purpose. Please assure me that you will act
accordingly as I Stated herein. Hoping to receive your reply.

Remain blessed in the Lord.
Yours in Christ,
Mrs.Vivian Noel.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Yikes! What a Hike



I've seen video and pictures of this a couple of times and it never ceases to take my breath away.

I'm speaking of The Kings Way, known also as El Camino Del Rey. Located in Spain, the walkway is 700 feet high off the ground. First built in the early 1900's, the pathway today is closed to visitors, but adventure hikers still manage to get up on the walkway.

Have a look. YIKES!

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Reflex of Prayer

Read an article this morning on the leadership of Nehemiah, where Pastor Mark Dever offers this good exhortation:
My Christian friend, cultivate your prayer life. Cultivate your desire to talk to him. What is your first response to challenges? To bad news? For that matter, what is your first response to good news? What stirs up your heart? When you hear anything of significance, you should respond in prayer. Especially if you would be a leader of God’s people!

Taken from, "The Message of Nehemiah," in the Message of the Old Testament

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An E NOte on the Benefits of Singing

Brian Eno is one of the most creative people of the 21st century. From his ambient music, to his production of stars like U2, to his light installations, Eno is a living icon. So when Eno speaks, I listen with keen interest.

Eno is esoteric, but he's on regular ground in an essay he writes for NPR's "I Believe" on the topic of singing:
"I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor. A recent long-term study conducted in Scandinavia sought to discover which activities related to a healthy and happy later life. Three stood out: camping, dancing and singing."
Alas, another good reason to attend church this Sunday!


HT: Lee

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wright Blasts the Media

This article is also posted at UCCTruths.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright-- former pastor of President elect Barack Obama-- is speaking out against the media's treatment of him during the campaign season.

During a Q & A session after an address in Connecticut, Wright declared:
"The world doesn't know about my 41 years of ministry, or my writing of books, because it was all taken down to a 10-second sound bite that the media chose to show about a sermon that was delivered seven years ago," Wright said. "The media didn't care about the whole sermon and what it was about. They just used those 10 seconds and used it as a weapon of mass destruction against [Obama's] campaign."
It's true. The world doesn't know Wright's years of ministry and doesn't know his books. Nor does it need to. The world knows plenty enough to judge Wright. It knows that after the greatest atrocity on American soil in modern times, Wright's pastoral word post 9-11 was America be damned because it deserves to be damned.

Lest anyone forget, Wright's past wasn't completely ignored. Back in March, ABC News reviewed dozens of Rev. Wright's sermons, and in their words, "found repeated denunciations of the U.S. based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans."

You don't need to look further into Wright's past to see that he views this country as systemically racist and incapable of reform. Just consider this recent remark:
"If you take a Tiger Woods, a Michael Jordan or a Barack Obama, their success should not lull us into thinking society has changed."
Translation: the accolades about Obama's "historic" victory are severely overblown.

A few days later, speaking before an audience at Northwestern University, Wright again lamented his treatment:
In the question-and-answer session, Wright accused the media of "public harassment." "My family's getting lynched in the process," Wright said. "Never in the history of this country has there been a demonization of a person like I've been demonized."
Family getting lynched? Who in the media has targeted his family? The only thing close was the New York Post's report of a likely affair by Wright. And demonized by like no other person in the history of the United States? Can you say, "slight exaggeration"? Certainly, Wright's circus performance at the National Press Club had nothing to do it.

Listening to Wright's address at Northwestern was another well-known Obama associate, former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers, who summarized the result of the media's treatment this way:
"Both Rev. Wright and I were brought up as cartoon characters in this campaign because of disinformation and dishonest news," Ayers said. "I did not suffer as much as he did, but we both got out of it with a certain amount of dignity."
Yep. Forever elevated in our minds is the ego and radical left-wing politics of this complicated man of faith, Rev. Wright.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rev. J.B. Schlichter (1831-1916)

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Yesterday was the 132 anniversary celebration of the Little River Congregational Church. The following sermon centered on the founder of our church, the Rev. J.B. Schlichter.

Because of this man, you are here today.

Yesterday, I went to visit this tombstone. You can find it in cemetery at Sterling—22 miles southwest of Little River.

The dates on the stone read 1831-1916. The name on the stone is John B. Schlichter.

You are here today because this man was the founding pastor of our church.

This morning, listen to his story and consider the price of our Christian heritage.

The Rev. John B. Schlichter was born in 1831 in Canada. He was ordained to pastoral ministry at the age of 20. Later, at the age of 40, he was a man like the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who after seeing a glorious vision of God, declared in Isaiah 6, “Lord, here am I, send me.” So in 1871, Schlichter was sent to Kansas by the Congregational Home Missionary Board.

Starting from Topeka in 1871, Rev. Schlichter followed the line of the Santa Fe Railroad. Moving across the prairie of Kansas, he settled in the town of Peace, known today as Sterling.

Schilchter and his family homesteaded land with a one room cabin, 12 x 17 feet. According to our history book, the cabin had “no doors, windows, roof, or floor.” To get inside, I suppose they climbed over the wall with a ladder, and then pulled a blanket over their heads at night. Schlichter became a fruit grower and sold products of the orchard to support his family. He was also, at one time, the superintendent of public instruction for Rice County.

Schlichter preached his first sermon in town of Peace and started a Congregational church there. Then, in 1876—100 years after the Declaration of Independence— Rev. Schlichter made a routine of traveling to the Little River area—riding 22 miles on horseback. Now by car, it takes 25 minutes to get to Sterling. Imagine how long that trip would take on horseback! And how cold the ride!

But once in this area, Schlichter met and preached the Gospel to the people of this area. Then, under Schlichter’s leadership and guidance, a small group of neighbors, meeting northwest of town, in the home of Mr. Antoine Bailey, voted on November 6, 1876 to organize a Congregational Church.

On that date, exactly 132 years ago this past Thursday, a seed was planted that continues to grow and bear fruit.

According to our church’s history book, “Rev. Schlichter worked diligently in (what was then known as) the North Fork Church and, in spite of the hardships of the early settlers, the membership grew, doubling in the first year. A series of revival meetings were held and 11 more members were added in 1878. At this time, it had been voted to pay Rev. Schlichter the sum of $25 per year for his services.”

On December 14, 1878, Rev. Schlichter resigned as pastor of our church in order to go to another community where he said, “the harvest is ripe and the laborers are few.”

Schlichter’s method for starting new churches was this. He obtained permission from the Santa Fe Railroad to use the train depots along the line as a meeting place. After preaching his very first sermon in Peace, Rev. Schlichter went on to preach as far west as Dodge City and established other churches in Garland, Chase, Nickerson, and Hutchinson.

What motivated Rev. Schlichter—and others like him? To leave behind the comforts of home back East, settle in untamed lands like Kansas, and go from place to place, to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ? And today, what should motivate us—to pay the price and make the sacrifice—to share the Good News of Jesus?

Our Scripture reading this morning from 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:13 gives us some clues.

In this text, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Corinth—found today in modern Greece. Although this church was started by Paul, the church was at odds with Paul. They even went so far as to question his authority as a messenger of Jesus Christ. But Paul persevered with this church—pleading with them in 5:13, “If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.”

Then in verses 14-15 of chapter 5, Paul declares why he is willing to pay the price—to sacrifice and even suffer so that the message of Jesus gets out to others. He says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all… he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Paul is saying, “The reason I get out of my comfort zone, and go out of my way, and pay the price—offering to God the use of my time, my abilities, and my energy—is all because of Jesus. When I look at Jesus, I see how he paid the price for me—how he sacrificed his life on the cross—suffering and dying—just so my sins could be forgiven—and I could be reconciled back to God.”

What Jesus accomplished at the cross is life-changing for all who will receive it. For Paul declares in verse 17, “If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

It was God’s love—seen at the Cross—the message of forgiveness and reconciliation—it is this Good News that motivated Paul to pay the price and make the sacrifice.

If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you too have this message—it’s the greatest message in the world—“God loves you and Jesus Christ has forgiven your sins!”

For this reason, Paul declares in verse 20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (For) God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Because of this Good News, Paul was willing to pay whatever price. This Good News of God—it is that good. And in chapter 6, verses 3-13, Paul describes some of the sufferings he willingly endured—hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, sleepless nights, hunger, and more.

You and I may never pay such a price so that others might hear the Gospel of Jesus—but God calls us all to be willing—for that is the mark of a disciple.

Our history book describes our founding pastor, Rev. Schlichter, as a man willing to pay the price. He was staunch, hardy, and earnest—a true example of the early pioneer missionary. When we go downstairs for our fellowship potluck meal, you can see a picture of him as you enter the fellowship hall.

When Rev. Schlichter arrived with his wife and six children, Kansas was a state of wide-open spaces for homesteading. In turn, Kansas was also wide-open in terms of opportunities for starting churches. In fact, after the close of the Civil War in 1865, over 250,000 immigrants had moved and settled into Kansas by 1875.

But most of these people were not the religious type. According to author Charles Correll, in his book, A Century of Congregationalism in Kansas, those who moved out to the new West were typically restless, venturesome, and sometimes a lawless bunch that sought to escape from the restrictive social, civic, and religious ways of the established East. In addition, those who happened to be practicing Christians were not Congregationalists.

Just like the farm land of Kansas, the spiritual ground of Kansas was rough and untilled. But Rev. Schlichter, and other Congregational missionaries who came during the 1870’s, were up to the task and willing to pay the price that God had laid on their hearts.

Think about it. Rev. Schlichter willingly left behind the comfort, security, and riches of life in the older, settled sections of America, back in the East, in order to embrace the trials and tribulations that were typical of new undeveloped territories.

Why did he do it? Why did he gladly pay the price? I believe he did so because the love of Jesus compelled him.

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After sixty years of ministry, and earning the title, “Father of the Congregational Church in Kansas,” Rev. Schlichter died at age 85. Today, you can find his tombstone in row two, second tree to the North, in the Sterling Cemetery.

God might never call you to be a pastor. Then again, maybe God is calling someone today under the sound of my voice to give their life in the service of full-time Christian ministry. But paying the price is not just for spiritual giants. Getting out and spreading the Good News of Jesus is a sacrifice that God calls every disciple to make.

In 1876, thirteen Congregational Churches were started in Kansas. Today, less than half of those continue to carry out a mission. Certainly, it can be said that the spiritual soil in Little River has been fertile for many years. For God has graciously provided this church with good pastors and good people who have been willing to labor in God’s harvest field.

Today, God still needs Christians in this community and beyond who are willing to pay the price—who are willing to make sacrifices so the Gospel gets spread. Sacrifices of time, energy, money, and know how. Giving up “my agenda” and taking on God’s agenda. Going out of my way, so I can go in God’s way. Sacrifices that say, “Here am I Lord, send me.” Imagine if every person in our church took on that call.

Today, there are people in this town who don’t know Christ in any real or saving way. If they were to die today, they would spend eternity apart from God.

Maybe you are one of those persons. In chapter 6 verse 2 of our text today, the Apostle Paul encourages you, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

Becoming a Christian is recognizing that your good works cannot save you. You cannot earn your way into heaven. Heaven is not filled with good people. Heaven is filled with forgiven people—with those who have recognized their debt of sin and evil before God—and have put their entire hope and trust in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross—to forgive sin, grant eternal life, and bring us into true fellowship and peace with God. Right where you are seated, talk to God and ask Jesus to be your Savior.

The Christian life is a life of love and life of sacrifice. It’s life with God and life in service to God—a price worth paying.

Amen.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Mike Roe of the 77s

This is a 2004 pic of me with Mike Roe of the 77s and the Lost Dogs. Mike has been a long time favorite of mine.

The admiration continues. His band the 77s has a new album out entitled, "Holy Ghost Building." It's a collection of gospel-blues songs from the 1920's and 30's.

Good stuff. Check it out!
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Thursday, November 06, 2008

New Cell Phone Tower

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Nex-Tech, the cell phone provider for our local telephone company, Mutual Telephone, is putting up a new cell phone tower south of Little River on Plum St.

The other day I drove by the tower and saw two workers way up high, working on the tower.

I hope they're not afraid of heights!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New Habitat House in Little River

 
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Rice County Habitat for Humanity is building its eighth home in the county and its second in Little River.

This home is going up across the street from the city park and will be occupied by a single woman with two children.

I had the privilege of participating in the blitz build over the weekend of October 23-26. Knowing very little about how a home is built, its quite an education seeing a house go up from, literally, the ground up.

Little River is blessed with several outstanding carpenters. Working besides them and learning from them was a real treat.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sermon: God is a Politician

The following message was preached to my congregation on Sunday, November 2, election weekend.

Tuesday is Election Day. Through your vote, our great nation will elect a new President.

The pundits are saying, “This is the most important election ever.” Seems like they say that every four years!

But this is a critical election. We have before us two candidates who are offering us a vision of how they will pursue tax policies, domestic issues, the Courts, and war on terror—and those two visions are in stark contrast.

And so today, this pulpit will get political.

This year, a survey conducted by the Pew Forum suggests that maybe I shouldn’t use the pulpit for politics. Of those who consider themselves political moderates or liberals, 52% of them say the church should stay out of politics. And those who consider themselves political conservatives, 51% agree, the church should stay out of politics.

But today I’d like to offer one reason why the church should engage in politics and then three ways you—a follower of Jesus—should engage in politics.

Why should the church—that is, God’s people—engage in politics? Because God is a politician.

Yes, God is a politician.

When we think of politics, we usually think something negative. Politicians are crafty. They put themselves first. They devise schemes for their own self-advancement. Often, that is true. But the problem isn’t the office itself. The problem is the kind of person who holds the office. Proverbs 29:2 puts it well: “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”

This week I looked in the dictionary for a definition of a politician. God fits every definition. First, a politician is:

1. A seeker or holder of public office
  • The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” –Psalm 103:19
  • “Dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.” – Psalm 22:28
  • “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” –Colossians 1:16
  • On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” –Revelation 19:16
Is God a holder of public office? Absolutely? Does God seek to have you submit your life completely to Him and let Jesus Christ govern your life? Absolutely.

2. An expert in the art or science of government or administration
  • “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders…Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” –Isaiah 9:6-7
Is God an expert administrator of government? Absolutely. He will—in the fullness of time—bring peace to the world. Today, He brings peace to the human heart to all who trust Christ as Savior.

3. Someone who engages in politics—that is, tactics for the benefit of his/her party or their own personal advancement

  • “He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.” –Daniel 2:21
  • “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.” –Isaiah 40:23
  • “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” –Philippians 2:10-11
Is God in control of history and the cause-and-effect flow of events in our world? Absolutely. Nothing surprises God. In fact, God is actively shaping history. He is moving history toward a goal and that end is the glory of God and the glory of Jesus Christ.

God is a politician. How then should we—disciples of Jesus Christ—engage in politics?

First, we must vote. I hope you are registered to vote and I hope you will exercise that privilege on Tuesday. God in his providence has given you and me the ability to elect our officials. It is a choice that God has given us and for this reason we should exercise this privilege. Voting is a Christian duty. Michael Gerson of the Washington Post writes:
“The essential humanism of Christianity requires an active, political concern about human dignity and the rights of the poor and weak. But faith says little about the means to achieve those ideals. The justice of welfare reform or tax cuts or moving toward socialized medicine is measured by the outcome of these changes. And those debates cannot be short-circuited by the claim ‘Thus sayeth the Lord,’ spoken by the Christian Coalition or the United Church of Christ.”
So exercise your vote—but pray for God’s direction before you cast your ballot.

Second, we must not cast all our hopes on the political process. If your Presidential candidate wins, don’t get too excited. And if your candidate loses, don’t get too depressed. Chuck Colson, a former adviser to President Nixon, and former Watergate criminal, and later born-again Christian who went on to begin Prison Fellowship, writes these words:
“Many Christians, like most of the populace, believe the political structures can cure all our ills. The fact is, however, that government, by its very nature, is limited in what it can accomplish. What it does best is perpetuate its own power and bolster its own bureaucracies.”
In short, keep politics in perspective.

And finally, never forget, God is control. Slowly, but surely, He is working out His plans. And His plans will come to pass. As Christians, we should yearn for God’s rule, for Jesus has taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
One of my favorite authors—Philip Yancey—illustrates well how God is always in control—and He will work out His plans—not just in politics, but in all things.

He writes:
"In high school, I took pride in my ability to play chess. I joined the chess club, and during lunch hour could be found sitting at a table with other nerds pouring over books with titles like, Classic King Pawn Openings. I studied techniques, won most of my matches, and put the game aside for 20 years. Then, in Chicago, I met a truly fine chess player who had been perfecting his skills long since high school.

When we played a few matches, I learned what it is like to play against a master. Any classic offense I tried, he countered with a classic defense. If I turned to more risky, unorthodox techniques, he incorporated my bold forays into his winning strategies. Although I had complete freedom to make any move I wished, I soon reached the conclusion that none of my strategies mattered very much. His superior skills guaranteed that my purposes inevitably ended up serving his own.

Perhaps God engages our universe, his own creation, in much the same way. He grants us freedom to rebel against his original design, but even as a we do so we end up ironically serving his eventual goal of restoration...

When a Grand Master plays a chess amateur, victory is assured no matter how the board may look at the given moment. In a miracle of grace, even our personal failures can become tools in God's hands."
So go and vote, but be encouraged. God the politician will ultimately win the victory.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Lay Family This Sunday


This Sunday, during the worship hour at the Little River Congregational Church, the Lay Family from Wichita will be our special guests.

Here's a clip of them playing, "Are You Washed in the Blood."

It's going to be a fun Sunday. Join us!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chicken Noodle Dinner This Sunday

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This Sunday from 11:30am-1:00pm, the Congregational Church is serving up a free-will chicken noodle dinner.

And yes, those are hand made noodles-- from scratch, kneaded, and hand cranked twice. The church family had a lot of fun making those noodles. We used 10 dozen eggs and 50 pounds of flour!

During the morning worship celebration, from 10:30-11:30am, our special guests are the Lay Family. This is a 10 member group from Wichita. They'll get your toes tapping with their fun bluegrass-gospel sounds.

If you live in the area, be sure to stop by!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Funeral Message from John 11:1-44

Nearly 400 people attended the memorial service of Matt Waters on Sunday, October 12, at the Little River High School gym. Many wonderful tributes were given by Matt's friends. The story about Matt and his friend making chocolate chip pancakes late at night--with Matt plucking the chocolate chips out of a tub of ice cream--is one I won't soon forget.

The following is the memorial message I was privileged to deliver. It's based on John 11:1-44, the story where Jesus raises back to life his friend Lazarus. May it be an eternal comfort to Matt's friends and family.

This has been for us a very emotional journey. When Matt first went to the doctor, we were surprised. When he was taken to Wichita, we were concerned. When he was transferred to Kansas City, we were fearful. And we when we learned Matt was no longer with us, we were filled with grief.

We prayed prayers to God and we hoped. And yet.

Today, we can relate to what Mary and Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:21, 32).

One of the questions I’ve asked, and maybe you have too, is, “Why God?” Imagine if God came down and answered our question, “Because…” I doubt there’s any answer that would ease our pain. It leaves us to wonder, “If God is good, why didn’t He use His power?” And another question, “Since God didn’t use His power, does that means God is not good?”

If we ask those two questions only, it will lead to despair and bitterness. Today, I suggest you ask a third question, “Can good come out of suffering?” “Can good come when God delays?”

This memorial service is proof—yes indeed—when suffering comes, good can and does rise up.

You are witnessing how Matt is greatly loved. What marvelous tributes we’ve heard and seen.

You also know the good of the organ donation program. We were extended hope because someone gave hope to Matt. And in turn, Matt’s family has given hope to other families.

You also know that it’s good to grieve. It’s good to let out your emotions. It’s OK to cry. Even Jesus wept (11:35).

And yet, I admit, I have said to God, “Lord, I’ll trade all this good—if we can just have back Matt.”

The answer to the question, “Why God?” is a mystery that God has chosen to keep to Himself. Deuteronomy 29:29 declares, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things He has revealed belong us and to our children forever.”

In the Gospel of John, what God reveals to us is this—even though God delays, He comes at the right time.

In our story, Jesus learned that his friend Lazarus was sick. And yet, Jesus waited two more days before he went to see him. And when he arrived, Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.

Jesus delayed. And yet, he promised, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (11:4).

Dear friends, this is God’s promise for us today. Sickness does not have to end in death. And the reason is this: When death comes, God always gets the last word.

In John 11:25-26, Jesus gives you and me an incredible promise of hope. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

In these verses, Jesus declares that He is the victor over death. Death does not get the last word—God does.

Jesus makes a bold claim—He says of himself—He has power over death. He says the words, but in a time like this, we need more than just words—we need a real promise, one that will empower us to live, from this day on, forever strong.

And so, Jesus does something even bolder. He stands at the tomb of Lazarus and says, “Take away the stone” (11:39). And then he yelled, “Lazarus, come out” (11:43).

And he did! Verse 44 says, “The dead man came out.”

God delayed, but he came at the right time. God always gets the last word.

Someone has said, “Until you meet adversity, you don’t know your strength.”

In this story, Jesus met death. And now you know, His strength.

After all this, the only thing left for Jesus to say was, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (11:44).

Dear friends, there will come a point in time when every one of us must put on grave clothes, but the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus declares, “Let him, let her, go.”

All of humanity must put on grave clothes because the Bible declares that “all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In thought, word, and deed, we have failed to live the way God calls us to live. We have all broken the Ten Commandments. We each have our own story of how we’ve turned on God to do our own thing.

But the Good News of the Bible is that despite our sin, “God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only son—Jesus Christ” (John 3:16). 2,000 years ago in the land of Israel, Jesus lived and modeled for us the way to live. And then, Jesus was crucified on a cross. He died. But on the third day, the Bible says that Jesus rose from the dead. 40 days later, he ascended up into heaven. He is there today. He receives all the souls that belong to Him. And one day, the Bible promises that Jesus will come back to earth (1 Thessalonians 4:16). He will raise the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:14). He will judge all people (Matthew 25:31-46). And He will create a new heavens and a new earth—where there will be no more crying , no more pain, and no more death (Revelation 21:1-4). God will get the last word.

Heaven then is not filled with people who are good enough. Heaven is filled with people who are forgiven. The Good News is that your sins are forgiven. The Good News is that after you die, you can go to heaven.

God only asks one thing of you. That you believe. That you entrust your soul to Jesus Christ—to the one who has power over death.

Remember the promise Jesus makes in our story—“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Remember too the question Jesus asked afterwards, “Do you believe this?”

Someone has said, “Every man or woman must do two things alone. They must do their own believing and their own dying.”

The choice is yours. God offers you His forgiveness, His victory over death, and a home in heaven. You can receive these gifts simply by asking God. Talk to God. You can pray something like this:

“Lord God, you know I’m not perfect. You know I’m not always good. I need your forgiveness. I’d like to receive it. I believe that Jesus died and rose again for me. Thank you for your power over death. Thank you for letting me come home. Teach me how to live as a forgiven child of God. Amen.”

The churches of Little River, Windom, and Andover exist because we believe that God truly is the victor over death. For this reason, you’re invited to attend a worship service and be part of a church home. And to those of you students who attend this school, you’re especially invited to come to the Methodist Church on Wednesday nights at 6:00pm—and experience God at the place where Matt came to experience God.

God has delayed. But I also believe He’s come at the right time. Think about it. We’re here on the very weekend that our school is celebrating what heaven is all about—homecoming.

Amen.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Little River Mourning

Yesterday I was at the high school. There's a lot of sad students-- and a grief stricken community right now.

From the Wichita Eagle:
Matthew Waters of Little River died Sunday night due to acute liver failure. Waters, 16, had undergone an emergency liver transplant in Kansas City on Friday night.

The transplant was succesful, however there was too much pressure on his brain.

The 16-year old sophomore was the starting quarterback and linebacker for the Redskins, an eight-man team.

"He was a very popular kid amongst his peers but was quiet around adults," Little River football coach Shane Cordell said. "He was very athletic, the type of kid that the younger kids looked up to and the older kids respected.

"He really was a fine young man."

On Sept. 21, Waters was taken to Promise Regional Medical Center in Hutchinson. However, due to the severity of the illness -- which was not football related -- he was then transferred to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita before being moved to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

"There was a lot of anxiety Friday. We were waiting to hear how he was doing," Cordell, who last talked to Waters two weeks ago after the team had played its second game said. "Unfortunately, when we did get the news, it wasn't good. It hit real quick. His symptoms just kept getting worse."

The news hit the small community hard. Little River is a 1A school whose enrollment for the 2007-2008 school year is listed at 167.

"It's pretty quiet," said Cordell, who is also a guidance counselor. "We gathered the kids this morning to explain what happened and to allow them to ask any questions. All the counselors are here for them as well."

Funeral service arrangements have not been released.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stock Phrase 3

Ask some people a question and they'll give you a unique stock answer. For instance, when people call the radio show of financial guru Dave Ramsey and ask him, "How are you?" he always replies, "Better than I deserve."

I have my own unique stock reply. When people ask me, "What do you know?" my stock answer is, "God still loves me."

Even casual conversations can be opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel.

Stock Phrases 2

Being one of two pastors here in small town Little River, there's some casual conversation that only the preacher gets, like this remark: "Keeping everyone straightened out?"

I once thought this was a compliment. You know, the preacher is recognized as the moral compass of the community. But now, I think it smacks of legalism. The goal of life isn't moral living, it's grace filled living that results in moral living.

So now, instead of reinforcing the idea that my job is to get people to "be good" and follow the rules, I want to underscore the point that my calling as a pastor is point people not to rules, but a person.

So here's I'm going to reply: "Nope, just pointing them to Jesus."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stock Phrases 1

Casual conversation is a part of everyone's life. And like you, I hear lots of "stock phrases." Instead of listening to these redundant phrases and going, "Uh huh," I've decided that I need to start responding more deeply. If we, as God's representatives, don't say anything of substance, who will?

For instance, yesterday I asked someone, "What's going on?" and he replied, "Nothing. Just trying to stay out of trouble." In his own strength, history shows that this friend doesn't stand a chance of staying out of future trouble. Our town's lone policeman knows this guy pretty well. So I said something I've never said before, "Well, to make that happen, you'll need to start following Jesus."

It may sound like a campy response, but I can't keep hiding my only source of hope.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Past Life

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Here I am in front of the store I once managed back in the late 1980's, School Kids Records in Athens, Ohio. More hair back then, but I probably dress a little better today.

Those were the days.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Baring It All At Church

Over the summer I filled the pulpit at a small rural church that averages 20 each Sunday.

During the time of sharing joys and concerns, an older woman stood up, pointed at her husband, and said this:
"Tomorrow is our 52nd wedding anniversary. And I'm proud to say that this is the only man who has ever seen me naked."
I can't say I've ever heard that kind of testimony before in church!

Afterward, during the coffee hour, I visited with the lady and offered my congratulations-- that is, on their wedding anniversary. And she replied, "I probably shouldn't have said that, but, I said what I said."

I'm glad she didn't stand up later in the service and say, "I'm sorry, but I need to clarify what I said earlier. Another man has seen my naked... my doctor."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Part 5: Closer Look at the UCC's God Is Still Speaking Ads

The United Church of Christ is putting itself on television again and thereby launching a new phase of its "God Is Still Speaking" (GISS) advertising campaign. What is the theology behind the campaign and its three commercials, "Steeple," "Bouncer," and "Ejector"? That's the subject of this 5-part series. These observations are taken from a paper I presented at the 2006 National Gathering of Faithful & Welcoming Churches and again at a 2007 regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Today's post summarizes the critique of the UCC's "God is still speaking" campaign.

"Never place a period where God has placed a comma" is not only a foundational quote to the God is Still Speaking (GISS) campaign—it was a guiding force for this lengthy series of posts! It explored in depth the theological method to three basic questions that the “God Is Still Speaking” campaign raises: What is God saying? How is God saying it? And how are people hearing and responding to God’s message?

The following "comma-tary" is offered in summary about the Stillspeaking Initiative and its slogan, "God is still speaking:"
  • It is a good summary of the UCC’s history, yet it cannot prima facie validate that history as correct, nor guarantee future faithfulness on the part of the denomination.
  • It warrants the UCC's interest in God’s revelation today—in contrast to the pattern of all "new" revelation being evaluated in the sieve of sola scriptura.
  • It warrants the UCC's belief in an all-embracing, inclusive God—in contrast to the biblical witness of a God who transforms one's moral character by redeeming sinful humanity through Jesus Christ. Everyone is welcome, but not everyone will enter God's kingdom.
  • It warrants the UCC's "extravagant welcome" in all aspects of the church’s life—in contrast to the biblical preference for distinctions and holiness guidelines.
The lasting challenge of the "God is Stillspeaking" campaign is its call to think more deeply about what it means to be the Church and how its boundaries should be defined.

So instead of ending this series with a period, it will end with a comma--leaving you with a memorable metaphor from Caroline A. Westerhoff's excellent book, Good Fences that challenges us all to contemplate what it means to be a church of "extravagant welcome:"
Like a cell membrane, a boundary must be semi-permeable: admitting and containing what is necessary for sustaining and enriching life, discharging and excluding anything that does not belong within its borders. A membrane that allows anything and everything to enter and leave is a membrane that is no longer functioning. The cell—the system—is now dead or dying. A healthy boundary is firm enough to hold, but not so tight that it binds, confines, and cuts. It is flexible enough to allow movement and change within time and circumstances, but not so loose that it encourages sloppiness and aimless wondering. A boundary that is too rigid fosters still and brittle attitudes; it is always in danger of freezing and cracking. One that is too porous encourages attitudes of carelessness and disorder; it will rot and crumble.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Part 4: Closer Look at the UCC's God Is Still Speaking Ads

The United Church of Christ is putting itself on television again and thereby launching a new phase of its "God Is Still Speaking" (GISS) advertising campaign. What is the theology behind the campaign and its three commercials, "Steeple," "Bouncer," and "Ejector"? That's the subject of this 5-part series. These observations are taken from a paper I presented at the 2006 National Gathering of Faithful & Welcoming Churches and again at a 2007 regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

The phrase, "God is still speaking" warrants the UCC's extravagant welcome in the local church, but in doing so, it distorts the purpose for including people in the local assembly.

Dr. Walter Brueggmann, in an ad reflection for the "Ejector" commercial, explains how the inclusive nature of God should be applied in the local church: "There is no doubt…that the deepest impulse of the Bible is toward inclusion, that all of God’s creatures be accorded dignity, respect, safety, and a sense of belonging." Meditating on Isaiah 56, Acts 10, and especially Ephesians 4, Brueggmann argues that out of God’s inclusive nature, "We [the church] are offered…a new characterization of holiness that is not related to race, ethnicity, or any other category of uncleanness, but rather to participation in a community of grace, tenderness, forgiveness, and generosity."

One wonders what Brueggmann makes of Paul’s charge to the Ephesians that "among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Ephesians 5:3-5). Or, Paul’s charge to the Corinthians where "you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat" (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Just as diamonds look best on a black background, we contend that holiness commands are necessary in order to precisely characterize the local church's community of faith, one that is marked by (in Brueggmann’s words) grace, tenderness, forgiveness, and generosity. In short, we declare that righteous distinctions in the church matter. This point—Robert Gagnon argues—is exemplified in the ministry of Jesus:
For liberals who think that an aggressive outreach to those on the margins of society entails acceptance with transformation and diminishment of the church’s moral standards, Jesus’ ministry provides incontrovertible proof that the church can practice radical love without sacrificing “one iota or one letter stroke” from God’s demands for righteous conduct. For conservatives who think that upholding holiness means complete separation from and contempt for the wicked of the world, Jesus’ ministry demonstrates that righteousness can be wed with love. When either love or righteousness is sacrificed, the church proclaims a truncated gospel.
--Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexuality, p. 213.
Holiness is an essential component of the local church, for it reflects the character of God. "Anything goes" simply doesn't go for those who call Jesus Savior and Lord.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wright Accused of Adultery

Years ago I was part of a large church in a major metropolis where the senior pastor was accused of adultery. It was a gut wrenching experience. For weeks, the leading newspaper had a hey-dey with the story. The congregation was devastated as hundreds left. And worst of all, the charges were found to be true.

So when news broke that controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright-- one of the UCC's best known preachers, emeritus pastor of the UCC's largest church, and the former minister of Barack Obama-- is being accused of adultery, the reaction here is one of sadness.

According to the New York Post:
Elizabeth Payne, 37, said she had a steamy sexual affair with the controversial, racially divisive man of the cloth while she was an executive assistant at a church headed by a popular Wright protégé.

When word of the unholy alliance got out, Payne's husband dumped her, and she was canned from the plum job at Friendship-West Baptist Church, she told The Post.

"I was involved with Rev. Wright, and that's why I lost my job and why my husband divorced me," Payne said.

She refused to reveal when the adulterous affair started or how she met Wright.

But fellow churchgoers at Friendship-West "found out about the affair in the spring," Payne said.

At the time, she was secretary to the Rev. Frederick Haynes III, a longtime Wright disciple.

In April, Payne organized a series of Texas public appearances by Wright, 67. Weeks before, Obama had disavowed his preacher of 20 years after Wright's anti-government rants came to light.

"Liz was by Rev. Wright's side day and night during those days," a church source said.

"It's all true," said Payne, adding that she has filed a wrongful-dismissal claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to get her job back.
The charges are being taken seriously. Wright this week was speaking at a revival in New Jersey, but the host pastor canceled any further appearances:
More than 300 people had packed the church when Elmwood Presbyterian senior pastor Robert N. Burkins Sr. made the stunning announcement about 7:40 p.m.

"There has been an allegation of impropriety that has surfaced," Burkins explained from the pulpit as all eyes focused on him.

The accusation involves "inappropriate relations with a female in Texas," Burkins said. "These charges are serious and present a profound dilemma. These are unsubstantiated charges that require us to be sensitive. We ask that you all refrain from judgment."
The "stink test" boils down to whether the incident likely happened and if it demonstrates a fundamental breach of trust that is placed with clergy. Thus far, the layers behind the accusation-- an accusing woman, a divorce, a lost job, secondary eyewitnesses, and a trail of e-mail messages-- don't look good for Wright.

Wright should do himself a favor-- get out of the public eye, surround himself with peers who will hold him accountable, and do the hard work of repentance.

Part 3: Closer Look at the UCC's God Is Still Speaking Ads

The United Church of Christ is putting itself on television again and thereby launching a new phase of its "God Is Still Speaking" (GISS) advertising campaign. What is the theology behind the campaign and its three commercials, "Steeple," "Bouncer," and "Ejector"? That's the subject of this 5-part series. These observations are taken from a paper I presented at the 2006 National Gathering of Faithful & Welcoming Churches and again at a 2007 regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

The slogan, "God is still speaking," is the result of the UCC's belief in an all-embracing, inclusive God. But this portrayal of God is overstated and distorted.

In a PowerPoint presentation for Still Speaking trainers, that once appeared on the now defunct Stillspeaking.com, slide # 1 presents four Scripture passages (Isaiah 56:3-8; Luke 15; 16:1-8; John 10:14-16) that testify to God’s inclusive nature. Later, slide # 4—answering the problem posed on the previous slide that people feel alienated from church—says this: “Key Remedy: Our growing understanding of the reach of God’s love.” Below that headline is the following claim: “We did not add multiculturalism to our brand. We took multiculturalism as a living breathing example of God’s love and made it a brand” (emphasis theirs).

From these two slides, it is evident that justification for the message of radical invitation in the GISS campaign rests in the nature of God (the depth of His loving reach toward all people) and in the recognition (illumination) of God’s revelatory—and modern day—work of multiculturalism.

In application, a reflection resource for the “Steeple” ad says it is a:
Simple affirmation that each person is a child of God and should be welcomed as a member of the household of God (Eph. 2:19). Although just about every church would view itself as welcoming, it’s the radical, inclusive, non-judgmental embrace that sets the UCC apart.
--“God is Still Speaking,” 30-Second TV Commercials Theological Reflection.
This “simple affirmation” however contains a significant assumption—that each person is already a child of God. How can that be? Earlier in Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul declares “at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (2:12). If—as the resources claims—“everyone is a child of God,” it happened before they ever entered the church—without knowledge of the redemptive work of God (2:13-16) and without any affirmation of faith directed toward Jesus (2:8).

It’s noteworthy that nowhere in the GISS material are people outside the church ever described as sinners in need of redemption. Instead, they are consistently described as “alienated.” This is not just an anthropological marketing description of the unchurched, it’s a theological description as well—for “each person is a child of God and should be welcomed as a member of the household of faith.”

No one should deny that God’s nature is not to include (2 Peter 3:9). We agree with theologian Walter Brueggmann that the “deepest impulse of the Bible is toward inclusion.” But we declare that God’s desire for inclusion must be held in balance with God’s holiness that stands in judgment of sinners and works for our salvation (Matthew 22:1-14; Matthew 25).

Knowledge of God’s character requires examination of the whole counsel of Scripture. John 3:16, the best known verse in all the Bible, makes plain that while God invites all, whoever does not believe in God’s Son will “perish.” Jesus warns in Matthew 7:22-23: “Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” And while Jesus invites many into the kingdom, he also tells some, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire…” (Matthew 25:41).

We contend that the better method for seeking the character of God is found primarily in God’s past revelation of Scripture—and once there, integrate its whole, not just a part. Donald Bloesch summarizes our view:
As Christians we proclaim an exclusive message with an inclusive goal—to include the whole world in the church of Jesus Christ outside of which there can only be ruin, lostness, and despair…The God of Scriptures is both infinitely loving and irrevocably holy. He cannot tolerate sin, but he embraces the sinner. He loves us even while judging us, and he judges us because he loves us. His love is not the sentimental love that overlooks our failings, but a searing holy love that equips us to deal with our failings. His is the love that does not let us alone, but pursues us even into the darkness (Nahum 1:8) so that we will finally return to the tried and true paths (Jeremiah 6:16).
--Donald Bloesch, The Church, p. 239, 134.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Part 2: Closer Look at the UCC's God Is Still Speaking Ads

The United Church of Christ is putting itself on television again and thereby launching a new phase of its "God Is Still Speaking" (GISS) advertising campaign. What is the theology behind the campaign and its three commercials, "Steeple," "Bouncer," and "Ejector"? That's the subject of this 5-part series. These observations are taken from a paper I presented at the 2006 National Gathering of Faithful & Welcoming Churches and again at a 2007 regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

The slogan, "God is still speaking," explains why the UCC gives great significance to today's revelation from God But emphasizing "today's" revelation over the "old" revelation of Scripture is a dangerous hermeneutic.

In a study resource for the "Ejector" ad, Stillspeaking campaign director Ron Buford connects the past and present theology of the UCC—invoking our ancestors' example to take on the responsibility of listening to the new things of God:
We introduced the phrase, "God is still speaking," as a 21st century shorthand for [Pilgrim pastor] John Robinson's famous words…["God has more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word"]... [It] reminds us to take the Bible seriously, even though we may not take it literally.

Today, Robinson's words call us to question, explore, and make faith our own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God… Medical advances continually change our expectations… We expect them… Why don't we take the same open and inquiring approach to God?…

Like the calls to freedom heard by our Pilgrim, African, and other European forbearers, a mysterious God still calls to open and listening souls whispering, "Explore." And yes, new worlds will always appear, not only in science and technology, but [also] in justice, and peace, and relationships with God and all creation.

Our prayer for you… is that more light and truth will break forth for you and me from God's Holy Word in the world around us. May the illumination of the Holy Spirit advance our understanding of both the profane and the holy.
In a sermon once posted on the Stillspeaking.com website, Rev. Dr. Arlene K. Nehring claims this about the famous statement of Pastor Robinson:
In this powerful sentence, Robinson explained that God’s revelation could not be confined to scripture, to a creed, or to a catechism, neither could it be attributed exclusively to a pope, a particular religious body, or to a unique event or period in history. The word of God, Robinson argued, was more expansive than all of these.
Appealing to history can serve our agenda's today, but can also rebuke them. The 17th century Rev. Robinson may have believed that God’s future revelation "could not be confined to scripture," but he certainly believed it should not contradict prior, existing revelation already contained in Scripture.

What is often neglected is this—after his famous quote, Robinson went on to warn his soon departing Pilgrim flock to thoroughly examine any new truth—doing so on the basis of Scripture—before receiving it. According to the 1620 witness and recorder of the farewell sermon, Robinson said:
…We promise and covenant with God and one another, to receive whatsoever light or truth shall be made known to us from his written word; but [Robinson] withal exhorted us to take heed what we received for truth, and well to examine and compare it and weigh it with other Scriptures of truth before we receive it (emphasis mine).
In listening for the still-speaking God, Robinson advises that we also listen to what God has already said. If what God is supposedly saying today contradicts what God has already said, it should be rejected. If what God is saying today conforms to what God said in the past, we are obligated to adopt it.

But in no way does Robinson’s famous quote minimize the priority of Scripture, nor does it suggest that any future word of God will surpass or correct Scripture.

We appeal for a more balance approach in listening for God, one more in line with John Wesley’s quadrilateral of religious authority—Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. We have differing opinions on the exact way that God speaks today. But Scripture is not merely one of many ways that God speaks. Rather, it is the standard by which any “Word of God” today must be weighed.

Rev. Robert Thompson, President of UCC renewal movement Faithful and Welcoming Churches (FWC), succinctly makes the point:
We in FWC find ourselves uncomfortable with the UCC's "Still Speaking" campaign—not because we believe God is not still speaking, any more than we believe others in the UCC do not believe God has spoken. We do, however, unashamedly prioritize "has spoken" over "still speaking" because it is far too easy for individuals, institutions, and generations to equate their contemporary innovations with God's voice. Our opinions—most particularly the newest ones—must pass the test of consistency with the canon of holy Scripture.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Part 1: Closer Look at the UCC's God Is Still Speaking Ads

The United Church of Christ is putting itself on television again and thereby launching a new phase of its "God Is Still Speaking" (GISS) advertising campaign. What is the theology behind the campaign and its three commercials, "Steeple," "Bouncer," and "Ejector"? That's the subject of this 5-part series. These observations are taken from a paper I presented at the 2006 National Gathering of Faithful & Welcoming Churches and again at a 2007 regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

The slogan, "God is still speaking," says everything about the United Church of Christ. Today we'll consider how the phrase summarizes the denomination's self-understanding of its history.

Rev. Wilson Yates, former President of United Theological Seminary in Minnesota, offers a comprehensive description of the campaign’s foundational phrase, "God is still speaking," and explains how those words uniquely summarize the past and present theology of the United Church of Christ:
The formulation, brief and succinct, is foremost a creative forging of the images that give shape to an aspect of our understanding of God, at least once the statement is set within the context of the United Church of Christ…The words imply a past—if God is still speaking, we can assume God has spoken in the past, speaks in the present, and by implications that flow from both the verb and the comma, will speak in the future, for the future is indicated by the comma and is being created by the actions of the present. And the word speaking—i.e., stating, communicating, conversing, revealing, connecting—points to the active presence of God and to the possibility of dialogue between God and the human community.

But the statement is not simply a linguistic structure of an idea. It is a theological statement that is related to a context, the United Church of Christ. In one sense, the theological statement, "God is Still Speaking," is as authentically a part of the United Church of Christ as any theological idea we might call forth, for the United Church of Christ has throughout its history—from its biblical, Calvinist, Puritan, evangelical, African-American, and ethnic ancestry down to its present—had a dynamic sense of God as One who has spoken to us in the past, who speaks to us in the present and will speak to us in the future. Thus the statement reflects the received and current theology of the church.

Wilson Yates, "Imagination, Creativity, and Change" in New Conversations: Imagination, Creativity, and Change (United Church Press: Cleveland, OH, Winter 2004), pp. 11-12.
Rev. Wilson Yates makes an insightful case that in the "unique context of the United Church of Christ," the slogan, "God is still speaking" accurately summarizes our church’s history—or in Yates' words, "the received and current theology of the church." The UCC touts this record of historical faithfulness—Pilgrims seeking spiritual freedom, an early stance against slavery, first ordination of an African-American pastor, first woman pastor, and the ordination of the first openly gay minister.

After reflecting on Gracie Allen's quote, "Never place a period where God has placed a comma" and the slogan, "God is still speaking," GISS Director Ron Buford in a 2003 speech makes this connection: "Our history is full of evidence of many actions that were controversial in their day, but in the rear view mirror of history have proved and continued to prove that we have been right on target."

Indeed, the UCC has a long record of people who took steps of faith on various issues and causes before other religious groups. These UCC brethren were "ahead of the curve" because they listened and responded to the still-speaking voice of God in their day and age.

With that said, let's affirm the need to let history teach us. The rear view mirror is a crucial teacher in discerning whether or not the UCC—or anyone else for that matter—has been faithful to God. One can be convinced that he/she is faithfully hearing and obeying the still-speaking God in the present, but greater certainty necessarily requires the passage of time and reflection on the past.

More importantly, no one should assume that just because the UCC listened faithfully to the still-speaking God in the past, it will then—as a matter of course—be faithful in the future. In other words, just because we got the old issue of slavery right, that doesn’t mean we got today's issue of homosexuality right.

The phrase, "God is still speaking" may accurately bear witness to the UCC’s history, but it cannot prima facie validate that history as correct. God may speak, but we humans may not get the message or act on it faithfully.

When it comes to the legitimacy of homosexuality, we each have our convictions. And yet, the issue in the modern church is not yet forty years old. No one should act as if the matter is settled. Let everyone on all sides be warned against arrogance and absolute certitude (1 Corinthians 13:11-12).

Monday, September 08, 2008

Big Crowd Spends Night with a Dummy

500 people enjoyed a big night of laughs with ventriloquist and comedian David Pendleton this past Saturday night at the Little River High School gym.

David's characters--Mack, Buford, Aunt Tilly, and Vern--had us all in stitches in a high energy show that lasted two hours. David also brought up several members from the audience and turned them into characters. I was one of the "lucky victims" who turned became one of David's dummy's as was part of a trio that "sang" a medley of songs to close the show.

Thanks for coming David! We had a blast!

And thank you to the Little River Community Fund for their generous grant that made the evening possible.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Putting Words in the Mouth of a Ventriloquist

As a ventriloquist, David Pendleton makes audiences believe that a puppet really is alive. And when the veteran comedian takes the stage at Little River High School this Saturday night, September 6, at 7:30pm, he’ll entertain you with the notion that anything can talk. It’s Branson quality entertainment right in small town America! Tickets are free and available at the Garden of Eden grocery store on Little River's Main Street.

Given that David makes his living putting words in the mouths of others, it’s only fitting that the following interview isn’t really a true interview. Instead, we’re going to put words in David’s mouth. What follows then is an interview of what we think he might say, that is, if we actually did speak to him.

Living the Biblios: David, how did you get your start as a ventriloquist?

David: I was fascinated by puppets of all kinds as a youngster and loved television shows that featured them. One of my favorites was “Mr. Moose” on Captain Kangaroo, as well as all the creatures on Sesame Street. On my sixth birthday, my grandparents bought me a toy “Charley McCarthy” dummy. My grandmother was clever enough to include with the gift a record made by ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson. I listened to that record over and over and then sat in front of a mirror and practiced speaking without moving my lips. When I was eight years old, I performed for the first time on a real stage for a real audience.

Living the Biblios: We’re told that one of your puppets—Mack Elroy—is pretty special.

David: He was created in the 1930’s by George and Glenn McElroy. Their “vent dummies” are wonderfully crafted, very rare, and highly sought after. In fact, I once saw one on sale at a convention for $13,000. After doing a show in a church in 2002, a woman asked me if I was interested in seeing a dummy she inherited from her grandfather. It turned out to be a McElroy! After telling her about the doll’s history and value, the lady said, “I think God has been saving him for you.” We negotiated an agreeable price and ever since then I’ve been using the smart aleck in my act.

Living the Biblios: Your show is presented by the churches of Little River. Are you a Christian?

David: Yes. I trusted Jesus as my Savior during my high school years, but I didn’t know much about my faith. When I got to college, Campus Crusade for Christ gave me knowledge and training that helped my faith grow. Today, I get share with audiences my love for God by sharing my love for ventriloquism. You could say I get to proclaim the gospel without moving my lips.

Living the Biblios: We hear that you and Pastor Ted Weis knew each other during your college years.

David: Yeah, talk about a dummy! No, no, Ted is a great guy. Yes, we both attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio and were both involved in Campus Crusade. I haven’t seen Ted since our college days, so it’ll be fun catching up with each other.

Living the Biblios: You know, your show is being promoted as, “Spend the night with a dummy.”

David: That’s clever. It certainly can’t refer to me! Maybe it has to do with my puppets or the audience members I bring up on stage. Watch out Little River! I may not be an police interrogator, but I do know how to make people talk!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Folks Travel 2,500 Miles to See Comedian

Would you travel 2,500 miles to see a great comedian—one who will soon perform in your own town? Some people from Little River did just that!

Five people from my church congregation recently went on an Alaskan cruise. On the ship, they saw a performance by the very comedian who is coming to Little River on Saturday, September 6—ventriloquist David Pendleton!

Now these Little River travelers didn’t travel 2,500 miles just to see the comedian who is coming to our community. Actually, they joined a cruise hosted by popular radio Bible teacher, Dr. David Jeremiah of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California. It was a refreshing vacation, with lots of spiritual input. And David Pendleton was part of entertainment mix.

After seeing Pendleton’s show, one of my members said, “He really makes you believe that those puppets are alive. He’s a very funny guy.”

You don’t have to travel 2,500 miles to Alaska to see David Pendleton. Instead, simply take the short trip to the Little River High School gym on Saturday, September 6, at 7:30pm. Free tickets (a $10 value) are still available at the Garden of Eden grocery store on Little River’s Main Street.