Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A post for Halloween

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand"
- Eph 6:12-13

"And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."
- Col 2:15

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 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. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy."
Col 1:15-18

"But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
1 Cor 15:57

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. "
1 John 4:1-4

"Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever."

- Martin Luther

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Forgive the processing going on below

Once, a long time ago, I was pretty certain I knew the Truth about things. At least, I knew God, I knew the Bible, and I knew right theology from wrong. I had spent my time among the fundamentalists and knew all about Absolute Truth and correct doctrine and all. I'd also been trained by the Christian Reformed in their tradition (which is its own sort of fundamentalism), but mostly I'd come to see things from a good, Bible-Believing Fundamentalist perspective. Knew all about inerrancy, infallability, inspiration, creationism, predestination, penal substitutionary atonement, and premillenial dispensationalism.

Only two things made me nervous.

One, I knew that there were a lot of REALLY IMPORTANT theological things I knew nothing about, things like double predestination and superlapsarianism. The people I respected debated these things, and I really couldn't say much. So I felt like an inferior theologian. And I felt like I needed to study a lot more.

Two, the fact that so many of my fundy friends spent all their time debating theological intricacies and hunting out heresies, instead of taking care of the widow and the orphan in their distress. They were quite smug in their knowledge of dispensationalism, yet they feared going out and meeting their neighbors, lest they be smudged somehow by some un-named sin out there. It seemed an odd way to serve the Lord, but it was pretty much all I knew.

(note: I found myself in this place mostly because of the 2 years at Bible College and the 2 years I worked for a Baptist Church. If I'd paid more attention to my parents, I might have realized that there was more to life than lining up jots and tittles)

Then a funny thing happened. I started studying among the Pietists, and made an interesting discovery. They differed in significant ways from my previously held theological positions - in fact, they didn't even hold to some of the most significant fundamental positions. And yet, I could see they loved the Lord, and that he was working in and through them. Hmm. . .

Then I spent a year studying with the Quakers, and made an interesting discovery. They had their own theological base, but it didn't overlap very well with the fundies I'd learned from. They were worrying about a whole different set of issues. And yet, I could see that they loved the Lord, and that he was working in and through them. Double hmm. . .

Then I spent 4 years studying with the anabaptists/Mennonite Brethren. And I found myself in waters I didn't even know existed. They never even talk about inerrancy or infallability or double predestination or superlapsarianism. Instead, they talk about community, about the Word working itself out in the world, about being peacemakers, about discipleship whatever the cost. And I could definitely see that they loved the Lord, that he was working in and through them.

Along the way I've spent time studying with Wesleyans and Presbys and Catholics and Episcopalians and Baptists. Plus I had some discussions with Brad about the Orthodox perspective on theology.

And what I've learned is this - theology is a lot deeper, wider, broader, more complex and more beautiful than I (or the fundies) ever imagined, because God is deeper and wider and broader and more complex and more beautiful than I ever would have imagined. He is certainly bigger than our theological systems.

Now, I have good friends who stand on both sides of many of our issues - creationism, the role of women in ministry, inerrancy, the nature of the atonement, free will vs. sovereignty. . .and all of them love the Lord, and God works in and through them all.

I guess part of what I'm trying to get at is this - there are two ways to engage in theological discussion. The first is to do like the fundies and engage in heresy-hunting, spending every waking moment going after every perceived undermining of the Faith once and for all given to mankind (a la John MacArthur's recent diatribe against the Emergent Church). The second is to say "Wow, that's interesting. I've never heard that before. Can you explain it a little more?"

Of course, I think there is bad theology. Of course, I think some theological positions are just plain wrong. And a few are, in fact, dangerous and need to be corrected.

But I'd rather sit by the road and ask somebody else to describe their view than sit in the fortress shooting arrows at travelers who are moving along.

Putting on the Sports Commentator Hat

Was it just me, or was that the most boring World Series ever? No offense to the Red Sox - they showed up and played. But as far as the whole series goes? It was about as exciting as watching the leaves fall off the maple in my backyard. Where was the drama? Where was the nail-biter finish? Where was the other team?

They were saying on the radio that of the 7 playoff series this year (division championships, league championship) something like 5 were sweeps. This was the 2nd-lowest rated World Series, as far as TV-ratings go (second only to last year's).

I listened to the games off and on as I happened to be around, but it all seems like a big yawner to me. And, apparently, to most of America. (most of America outside of New England and Colorado, that would be)

End of sports commentary

Friday, October 26, 2007

Still reading

I'm still working through Scot McKnight's A Community Called Atonement. It's short enough that I probably could have finished it in a couple days. But my attention has been taken up by Tolstoy's Resurrection, which is a lot longer and deeper. And has a better plot.

But when I have a moment, I pick up Community and read a chapter or two.

One of my favorite quotes so far:

"This generation of students doesn't think the 'I'm not perfect, just forgiven' bumper sticker is either funny or something to be proud of. They believe atonement ought to make a difference in the here and now. . .If a previous generation was taught that evangelism and social justice were disconnected, even if one could (or even should) flow from the other, the present generation knows of a holistic human being in an interlocking society of connections where any notion of gospel or atonement must be integrated and community-shaped if it is to be called 'good news' at all. As God is missional (missio Dei) so the work of the church and individual Christians is also missional. To be missional means to participate in the missio Dei, the mission of God to redeem this world."

What I really like about McKnight's work is that he emphasizes the real-world issues. Too often our theological discussions remain cerebral and technical, and don't spill over into the "what difference does it make in real life" realm. The atonement especially - it all becomes about what happened spiritually in Jesus, what happens in eternity. McKnight brings it back to earth, showing both that it can (and should) have a massive impact on how we live our lives today, and that, if it doesn't have physical, real-world impact, then it's not worth much as a doctrine.

Which, by the way, is part of the point Tolstoy is driving at in that other book I'm slogging through.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Way Up North

Up here, fall is beautifully upon us. Everywhere I look, I see the yellow of maple leaves outlined against the deep greens of cedars. We wake to fog in the bay below us, a fog that drifts through the trees and embraces us deeply. As I walk outside every morning I hear the call of ducks heading south. The smell of woodsmoke intermingles with the fog and the clean scent of rain-soaked leaves. People are back to wearing sweaters and flannel shirts. There was ice covering the puddles this morning. Our driveway is a blanket of fallen maple and magnolia leaves. We are surrounded by color, covered by fog and clouds. For those with eyes to see, the handiwork of the Master is breathtaking. Fall brings about a quietude, a simplicity, a slowing down. I look out my window and contemplate the overlap of fog and tide, mixed with knife-beams of the morning sun rising over Penrose Point to light the cove to our East. Nothing down there has changed in 50 years, and a simpler life calls us back. These are the times we must pay attention: we are in the midst of change. Summer is no longer here, winter has yet to come. Fall, like spring, is a transition. Transitions are good times to slow down and observe. The Spirit, like the world, is moving. We do well to prayerfully pay attention.

So do this: turn off the television, and go for a walk. Or sit at your window with a hot cup of tea and simply observe all that you see outside. Breathe. Pray. Light a candle and turn off the lights, gazing out at the moon shining upon a land that is closing itself up for the winter. And listen. The voice of the Spirit is speaking.

One more sign that fall is upon us: At Fred Meyer on Monday, I noticed they were selling egg-nog. But before you get too excited, it wasn't just any egg-nog. It was Pumpkin Egg-nog. I love Egg-nog, although I refuse to drink it before November, for convention's sake. But Pumpkin Egg-nog? That is just so wrong at so many levels.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

One Way You Can Help

"A special Covenant World Relief (CWR) fund has been established to help low-income residents who are being affected by the fires burning through much of Southern California."

Donate online here.

Also, River47 Covenant Church, pastored by my friend Frank Riley, has become an evacuation shelter.

Covenant-related News updates here.

On Public Reactions

It's almost a cliche to say "people just want to blame somebody for their problems." And it's also a cliche to point out the way politicians use everything to their political advantage.

Natural disasters have a way of bringing the best (or worst) of both out. We saw it after Katrina, we're beginning to see it now in Southern California. "If only the government had done more." "How come firefighters were over there but not over here?" "We fled our homes and didn't see one firefighter for miles." The fires aren't even out, and already the blaming is spreading like the embers ahead of the firestorm.

Perhaps I can have some grace toward those who just lost everything - anger, outrage, blaming are natural responses. They need an outlet. But as I peruse national media, I read comments from people in the Bay Area and Ohio and Florida already blaming it on the Republicans, on the war in Iraq, on rich white suburbanites, on Hollywood moguls.

It seems we have lost the ability to mourn with those who mourn. It seems we'd rather put in our $.02 worth, sharing our "opinion," as if it really mattered.

What we need to realize is that WE CAN"T CONTROL NATURE! Many are expressing outrage and disbelief, as if somehow our 21st Century Technology had done away with natural disasters. Perhaps we've become so insulated inside our air conditioned homes and cars, so surrounded by a virtual electronic world, that we forget just how potent the real world can be. So much of our day is spent in such relative, artificial comfort, that when the real world barges in, we get offended. How dare nature do this to my comfortable life? I pay taxes! This isn't supposed to happen!

Perhaps it is time to stop blaming. Perhaps it is time to reach out a hand in love and support to those who have lost so much. Perhaps, in time, cities and counties need to rethink the wisdom of building homes in fire-prone canyons. . .but for now, it's better to not blame the Republicans, the rich, the fire crews, the developers. It's healthier to not blame anybody. The question ought not to be "who's fault is this," the better question is "how can we help those who are hurting?"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Mark Baker recently gave a talk to a group of Anabaptist missiologists, working through how our view of the atonement affects our methods of evangelism. In other words, it's atonement through a missionary's eyes. You can download it here.

About 1/2 way down you'll see the link that says "Two Foundational Stories of the Cross. . ."

And in the interest of full disclosure, I, along with a few others, had some input into the final version of the article. . .

More on el fuego

I've been following most of the coverage on the LA Times website.

And it's all so familiar. We had friends who lived in Escondido. I ran youth retreats up at Lake Arrowhead every year.

Alpine Camp and Conference Center, the Covenant Camp near Lake Arrowhead, has been evacuated, with fires less than two miles away. At the moment, it appears they were spared, but now looting is going on. The Calvary Chapel camp was apparently destroyed. Mt. Miguel Covenant Village was evacuated last night.

Now they say over 1200 homes and businesses destroyed, and that's just the beginning.

Kyrie Eleison

Monday, October 22, 2007


Southern California is burning.

Malibu Presbyterian burned to the ground. Their children's pastor has blogged about it. I can't even imagine, although my heart weeps.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Testing the Faith

Note 1: No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog post.
Note 2: The author of this blog post in no way endorses the the infliction of pain upon animals.
Note 3: The author of this blog post does not wish to compare his trials with the True Trials endured by those who truly suffer for their faith. Compared to their tortures, the author recognizes his pain as but a tiny trifle.

Say it's been a pretty rough week. The first 3 days spent at a retreat, which was good, but you didn't get too much sleep because the kids were having too much fun bouncing around the bunkhouse. The last few days have been really tough, because your wife and oldest daughter have become quite sick - fever, coughing, hacking; the works. And that has upset the sleep cycle around the house - they sleep all day and are up all night. You, of course, are up all day working, and then trying to sleep at night, which, of course, never really happens.

You stayed up late last night to watch a movie with your wife, even though you were exhausted. "Tomorrow's Saturday," you think to yourself. "I can sleep in."

All night the sick ones are up and about, making noise, taking showers, blowing their noses. . .and every time you awaken you think "it's ok. I can sleep in."

And then, around 6:30, just when you are entering that stage of deep sleep, the dog escapes. Your wife was letting it out to "do its business," but it runs off into the deep woods, barking at something. Your wife calls and calls, but the dog doesn't return. So she comes and gets you. After all, she's sick and can't be out in the rain.

Which is how I found myself deep in our woods, in my pajamas, under a pouring rain, almost completely blind (I didn't have time to put in my contacts; the baby broke my glasses a few months back).

I worked around a ridge, following the dog's barking. I climbed up through ferns and blackberry vines and downed limbs. Did I mention it was pouring rain? And I was wearing crocs?

I finally reached the dog. Well, it looked like a little brown blur with two bright dots reflecting my flashlight. And it sounded like the dog. I was cut up, bleeding, cold and tired, and missing my warm, comfortable bed. All because this dog ran away. Did I mention I was also nervous? He was barking at something, be it a deer, bear, or vagrant, and I was blind.

Question: What do you do?
Option A - pick up the dog and throw it as far as you can
Option B - kick the dog as hard as you can
Option C - gather the dog into your arms and say "Thanks for doing all this! After all, the Bible says to consider it all joy when we experience trials of many kinds. Because of you, little puppy, my faith is being perfected!"

I never got the choice. Because I told the dog to "STAY!" while I climbed over a log. And the moment my flashlight was off him, he took off like a rocket into the underbrush.

I worked my way over the hill, almost falling into a ditch, and emerged back on the road, soaking wet, cut up, and not exactly glorifying Christ with my attitude.

Karina, she was the smart one. She got in the car and started it, driving slowly down the driveway yelling "ride? Wanna go on a ride?" And the dog came right away, jumping into the car. And she brought him home.

Now you have the dog in your grasp. Do you
a) Kick the dog
b) Throw the dog into a wall
c) Give the dog a treat so he'll want to come home if he ever runs away again?

I took option D. Walk quickly away, lest you do anything rash.

I must confess. I did not do as James instructed and consider it all joy.

I did, however, crawl back into bed. And actually got another hour or two of sleep. And thankfully, the kids slept through it all. Otherwise they would have seen Daddy at his grumpiest.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Random 10

I think I need to create a new playlist for rainy fall days. Some of these fit, but some just don't. Somehow crashing power cords and upbeat drum cadences aren't appropriate on days fit for down comforters, hot chocolate and fires in the fireplace. Or maybe I'm just trying too hard to refrain from putting on Christmas music.

#1 is perhaps my favorite version of this song, especially when JD drops out and lets the audience since the chorus in his place. It takes on a poignant communal atmosphere, all the more meaningful ever since his voice was silenced. #6 - why is David Foster showing up so much these days? Someday I'll have to tell you the story of my depressing days on the Prairies. This is the perfect soundtrack to that cold, lonely place. #7 is the newest to this list off the most recent of these albums. It's a nice bluegrass pick, off an album that is growing on me. We listened to it a lot in Montana, so it makes me want to go on vacation again. And #10 is, like #1, a live version that is much richer than the earlier studio recording. And a good song for Thanksgiving, I think.

  1. Back Home Again – John Denver (The Wildlife Concert)
  2. Oh Lead Me – Delirious? (Deeper: The D:Finitive Worship Experience Disc 2)
  3. Family Man – Andrew Peterson (Love and Thunder)
  4. Wounded Soldier – Dennis Jernigan (This is My Destiny)
  5. Made to Worship – Chris Tomlin (See the Morning)
  6. Just Out of Reach – David Foster (The Symphony Sessions)
  7. Cazadero – Chris Thile (How to Grow a Woman from the Ground)
  8. Drugstore Jesus – Plumb (candycoatedwaterdrops)
  9. Lost Mind – Diana Krall (Love Scenes)
  10. Come and Listen – David Crowder Band (The Best of Passion (So Far) Disc 1)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Back and Busy

Stuff piles up when you're gone. I'll say hi when I've dug out of it. And when Sunday's sermon is done.

In the meantime, I'm glad to see Bremerton, our neighbor to the north, getting some love. For too long the line on Bremerton has been "drugs and crime and squalor." Things are turning around, and it's becoming a downright lovely place to visit. Go read the article and see what I mean.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Congregational Response to a Sermon on the Importance of Fellowship

Or as Wainer likes to say, "Family-ship"

God calls us to this: To love each other. To care for each other.
To enjoy each other. To play together, to worship together,
to share food and drink together. God calls us to
a Community, a Family, a Fellowship. The sign that
we are God’s children is that we love each other. The sign that
Evil is defeated is a common meal shared by God’s children.

To a world that screams in the loneliness of shallow friendships
and angry families, we respond:

God is love! God loves us! And as God lives in us, we love one another.
We will love one another; we will share our lives as fellow travelers with
one another. We will enjoy each other. And God will dwell among us.

Stupid Criminal of the Week

I only bring it up because I must be related to the police chief in this story. . .

Robinson Rivera robbed two convenience stores [in the Delaware area] — but made one crucial mistake during his third, according to Delaware police.

Rivera, 25, went to the clerk and brandished the same note he had used in the other robberies.

"Give me your money I'll shoot you,” the note said, according to Delaware State police Cpl. Jeff Whitmarsh.

According to Whitmarsh, the store’s clerk stared in disbelief at the note and said, “Are you kidding me?”

Rivera went to the register and grabbed some cash. But this time, he left his demand note behind.

The note, Whitmarsh said, sealed Rivera’s fate: It was written on a slightly torn pay stub from Rivera’s place of employment, a local bakery.

The stub showed Rivera’s last name and the name of the bakery, Whitmarsh said.

“We called him and said, ‘We gotcha,’” Whitmarsh said. “I don’t believe he put up much of an argument.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Random 10

(first a schedule note - I'll be at the Pastor's Fall Retreat at Cascade's Camp next Mon-Wed, so if this place is a little quiet don't worry about me. I'll be back)

Here's the Random 10. Did I ever tell you I met Jennifer Knapp once in Oregon? She was honest and approachable. Plus she is a mean lyricist - her songs like to reach out and grab you. #5 is from that wonderful "Symphony Sessions," which I love, but which also always takes me back to that time 20 years ago when I was cold and depressed on the Canadian Prairies. Do you know Jolie Holland (#9)? You should. A lot of interesting experimental stuff, but with a solid musical core. Much better than Bjork (hi Roshni!). She actually uses a saw in one song. And the bonus? Yeah, I used to play that one back in my APU days.

  1. Hallelujahs – Chris Rice
  2. Vivaldi: Domine Deus, from “Gloria” – Cecilia Bartoli
  3. No One Knows His Name – David Wilcox
  4. Lay it Down – Jennifer Knapp
  5. Time Passing – David Foster
  6. Scarlatti: Su Le Sponde Del Tebro – Kathleen Battle and Wynton Marsalis
  7. Raise Up the Crown (All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name) – Chris Tomlin
  8. We Shall Overcome – Bruce Springsteen
  9. Faded Coat of Blue – Jolie Holland
  10. Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation – Rebecca St. James

I’ll Fly Away –
Azusa Pacific University Choir and Orchestra

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Congregational Response to a Sermon on the Importance of Studying God's Word

We believe that God has spoken to his people in the past;
We believe that God still speaks to us today.
We believe that the story of our God is written within his Holy Word,
The Bible, God’s gift to God’s people.
We believe life is illuminated, Truth is revealed, Hope is restored,
God is known through his Word.

We commit, therefore, to the study of this book – the stories of our
spiritual ancestors, the history of God’s work in this world –
in order that we may live lives pleasing to God, obedient to his call,
worthy of serving him in our world today. Amen

On the Other Hand

I think I've mentioned the St. Olaf College Choir before. I first saw them on their PBS Christmas special and was deeply impressed by their spirit and musicality. Last year I bought one of their Christmas CDs, and their "Great Hymns of Faith, Vol. I." The Hymns CD been on my short list ever since.

In the same shipment that brought the Hillsongs Christmas CD (see yesterday), was St. Olaf's "Great Hymns of Faith, Vol. II." Let's just say I am addicted.

You could use words like Powerful, Enchanted, and Sublime to describe this recording. It carries the youthful exuberance of college students with the rich harmonic depth of a well-trained choir. This is not a "boring old hymns" album. It is a recording that brings new life and breath to these old standards of the Christian Faith.

Some of the selected hymns:
- All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
- I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry (Which I have never heard outside of Turlock. . .)
- It Is Well With My Soul
- Holy, Holy, Holy
- Jesus Loves Me (absolutely the best recording of this song I've ever heard)
- This Little Light of Mine

In addition, they included a few Christmas standards as well:
- In the Bleak Midwinter
- The Hills are Bare at Bethlehem
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Most of the arrangements are either a cappella, or sung to a simple piano accompaniment. This is the kind of CD you can have playing in your house in the evening, with a candle burning and tea on the stove, when you're relaxing at the end of the day and searching for some peace.

Mostly what impresses me, though, is the worshipful spirit throughout. Many Hymns albums are all about doing something new to impress and sell albums. Some have wonderful, classically trained musicians, but they come across sounding like concerts. This music reflects souls crying out in worship to their God, and, being familiar songs, inviting you back in.

Whether you are a purist, a traditionalist, or even an emergent, I think you'd find much to like about this CD.

p.s. I just looked at their tour schedule - turns out they're going to be in Seattle in late January, then heading south Oregon and California. I think I need to buy some tickets. . .

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dreaming of Christmas

A couple weeks ago I asked some friends for some advice. I was looking for some new Christmas music to include in our worship at Lakebay. If you know me, you know I'm a pretty traditional guy when it comes to Christmas. You don't mess much with Christmas, if you want to keep me happy.

But, our church has a fairly contemporary feel, which means suddenly shifting to the traditional carols, done in a traditional manner, can be a little bit of a hiccup. I thought finding a new song or two might be worth investigating.

One that came highly recommended was the Hillsong Christmas album.

I checked it out, and discovered they have a couple Christmas albums. I ordered this one:

And I don't know. Maybe I bought the wrong one. I'm a little surprised, because Hillsong tends to be edgy. This is a lot more like Smooth Jazz Christmas. Seriously. I kept waiting for Kenny G to jump in with a solo. There's just way too much electric piano, 7th chords, and silky smooth jazz voicings. I don't mean to be mean. . .but most of this sounds like what you play in the background at your office Christmas party. I don't think there's anything on here I would want to use. I'm not sure I'll want to keep this album around once this year is over.

But there are a couple more on the way, so maybe I'll find a nugget or two in one of those.

On another note, the Fed Ex guy just showed up with a box that looks suspiciously like a new guitar. . .gotta run!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sometimes I need a reminder that I live in the boonies

Like yesterday, when I came home to find a massive maple tree lying across our driveway. Completely blocking it. We're talking 60-foot tall, 3-foot diameter trunk, lying solidly on top of my driveway.

And then this afternoon, when Doug and I walked down there to see what it would take to get it out, discovering two deer wandering through the woods. They paused to make sure we were okay, then meandered off.

They reappeared tonight when I went out to get some firewood - they stuck around long enough for me to go get Olivia and bring her out to see them. I thought that was considerate.

And truthfully the tree was a gift as well, since the news just said heating oil is going up 16%. Sometime next winter that tree will be burning in our stove, keeping us warm and keeping our oil bill lower. It's all good.

Can I just say I'm hating the word "relevance"?

It happened about five years ago or so. It was Sunday night, time for youth group. The band was warmed up and ready to play. Kids were outside throwing frisbees, or playing volleyball. I called the group together - and noticed, when they gathered, that there was a large chunk of kids missing.

"Hey - where is everybody?" I asked.

"They are all over at [somebody's] house. They were playing video games when I left."

And so I first learned about the addiction that is Halo. For the next few months I couldn't get these kids to anything. They were always at home, always playing Halo. "Well, we were going to come, but then we just got so into the game that we couldn't get away."

For the record - I've only played Halo - the original - twice.

Now Halo 3 is out, and youth groups across the nation are using it as an outreach tool. "Come to Youth Group! Play Halo! Smoke the Youth Pastor!"

And others are taking notice.

There's one article here, from the Christian Post.

This is perhaps the most, ahem, enlightening part of the article:

Youth ministries specialist Lane Palmer of the ministry Dare 2 Share says the game speaks to the very real spiritual war going on today.

"According to the Bible, after Satan was dishonorably discharged from his duties in heaven, he took a mighty army of fallen angels with him and declared war on the objects of God’s grace and love: human beings – and especially those who are in the Lord’s army as Christians," wrote Palmer in column.

"Make no mistake, the dark forces of the spiritual world have marked you for destruction, and no amount of quick moves, strategy, or teamwork will win this fight," he added.

Dare 2 Share encourages youth to use Halo 3 as conversation starters to witness to their friends.

Or maybe this:

"Teens are our fish," Gregg Barbour, youth minister of Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, told the Times. "So we’ve become creative in baiting our hooks."

Earlier this week, Ben Witherington blogged about the craze (note that he links to another article on the subject, from the NY Times). At the heart of his post is this thought:

Let's start with the fact that the maker of this game has quite specifically told everyone it is for adults, and has adult content. Imagine if you will using the tactic of show skin flicks to attract young men, or offering beer blasts in the church back yard. Doubtless you would attract a crowd, but would you have just vitiated your whole credibility as conveyors of the Good News of Christ in the process? The answer is yes.

If you read the article closely what you notice is the 'ends justifies the means' kind of arguments by the youth ministers in question. But frankly if the means are unethical, and indeed contradict the ends you are trying to achieve, aren't you guilty of using unethical tactics to attract people to Christ? Aren't you sending an enormously mixed message to youth--- "come to church, and after you've blown the brains out of the enemies, we will tell you about the Prince of Peace and how God so loved the world (even the enemies)!"

I'm sorry but this whole sorry approach to youth ministry smacks of absolute desperation and fear-- fear that if we are not relevant, we cannot attract a crowd. Is this really what Jesus would do? I don't think so.

And, of course, the debate now rages. Should youth ministries use things like violent video games to attract kids? Should they use Halo as an evangelistic tool? Should they use violent video games to create "community?" Those who say "no" are seen as boring, irrelevant fuddy-duddies who no longer get kids. Those who say "yes" are seen as shallow, irreverent, foxes in the henhouse.

Here's how I see the problem, however:
1) The reality is, many teenagers are a little like mindless zombies, programmed by Hollywood to think that life is boring. "There's nothing to do in this town." And the only antidote to that boring-ness is shopping at the mall, smoking weed, watching the O.C., or playing video games. In addition, anything that is wholesome or healthy is also extremely "uncool." And "uncool" is the kiss of death. Offer many teens a "wholesome" activity - say, throwing a frisbee, playing Uno, taking up a musical instrument. . .and they look at you like you're an ancient uncool person from another epoch. Which puts youth ministries in a bind - the very answers that Hollywood has given to the pre-programmed state of zombie-ness are all antithetical to the Gospel. Offer kids the choice of Violent Video games or a Bible study on Romans, and you know which they'll choose. There truly is an insidious scheme at play, driving a wedge between teens and the Truth of the Gospel, and youth ministries are having a hard time finding ways to bridge that gap.

2) On the other hand. . .is Christ enough? Is the Joy of the Lord attractive? Is a place where people will love and accept you not the kind of place most teenagers would want to be? The problem is, nobody seems willing to try it. There's this huge pressure on youth ministries to get the kids in, to grow the group, to keep them interested and excited. And Halo is a quick and easy answer. And all the books, all the conferences, all the seminars tell you to be Hip and Relevant and Exciting. Almost none of them tell you to let all that slide, and instead create a community of kids who love each other, who love the Lord, and who love their neighbor. Everybody assumes the Relevant model, the model that uses Halo, is the best youth group model, just because so many youth groups are doing it. And hardly anybody is saying "hey - this isn't working! Maybe we need to try something else!"

Picture these two scenerios:
a) Billy comes home and says "mom - that youth group's the bomb! It's swell! We played Halo all night. I kicked the youth pastors A^%!
b) Billy comes home and says "It was kind of boring. They sang these songs, and then prayed, and then talked about Jesus." But he goes up to his room and realizes that nobody laughed at him, nobody picked on him; in fact, he got the idea that they genuinely liked him.

I don't know, maybe #1 will attract a bigger crowd. But when Billy gets kicked in the face by his parent's divorce, by the rejection of his crush, by not getting into the college of his choice, by not making the varsity baseball team. . .which will he need more?

And, as Billy heads off to college and life, which will cause him to decide to stick with Church - to go find a new one in his community? Memories of video games? Or remembering what it's like to be loved, to be a part of a group that is truly living out the Kingdom of God?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Trouble in the Bible Belt

Seems Oral Roberts U finds itself once again in the midst of a firestorm.

"Richard Roberts [Oral's son and current University President] is accused of illegal involvement in a local political campaign and lavish spending at donors' expense, including numerous home remodeling projects, use of the university jet for his daughter's senior trip to the Bahamas, and a red Mercedes convertible and a Lexus SUV for his wife. . ."

His wife "is accused of dropping tens of thousands of dollars on clothes, awarding nonacademic scholarships to friends of her children and sending scores of text messages on university-issued cell phones to people described in the lawsuit as 'underage males.'"

And apparently some professors who found out about it and questioned what was going on, and were subsequently fired, are now suing the school. I can hear the media salivating.

By the way, Pres. Roberts isn't worried. God told him it would be okay, and that this is just the result of living in a litigious society." Okay.

I read this story just after I read the article Kim linked to from Charisma magazine.

"That’s why I fear for many of the men and women who claim to be God’s mouthpieces today, particularly in the charismatic/Pentecostal movement that I serve. When I read Leviticus 10, I wonder why the ground has not opened up and swallowed some of the careless spiritual clowns who are masquerading as bishops, apostles and prophets.

It's going to be a good story one way or the other. And we'll end up having more mud slung on the face of Christianity because of these boobs. Lord, have mercy.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday Stuff

It's been unseasonably cool up here in the Puget Sound Area. They've already had an early snowstorm in the Cascades. This is what Mt. Rainier currently looks like:

The ski areas must be salivating. For the moment, we're just enjoying lighting a fire in the woodstove every evening, and curling up with a good book or DVD.


About 6 years ago I bought a guitar. It was the first guitar I'd ever purchased for myself. I told the guy "I use this for youth work, so I want one that sounds okay, but one I won't be afraid to take on a beach trip, or down to Mexico to play in the dirt." So he sold me the $100 special. And it served its purpose well, although I sure seemed to break a lot of strings on it. And it is impossible to keep in tune - usually after 10 minutes or so, it's no longer in tune. But I was using it for leading worship at youth group, where tuning is less important than loud. So, yes, it did what it was supposed to.

But, it's time for something new. I've developed as a player since then. And my desire to get better has only grown. So, like the day I turned in my $100 trumpet for the $300 one, it's time to upgrade.

Yesterday I went to my favorite online music store, and purchased this:

It's a Fender acoustic/electric, in case you can't tell. The Sonoran SCE, to be exact. Granted, it's not their top-of-the-line; the fender website still uses the word "Value" regarding this one. But it's certainly a step up, and, being a Fender, ought to be much better quality than the old Sunlight. So, yes, I'm excited.

Now, the day came when I traded in the $300 trumpet for the $1800 trumpet, so perhaps this won't be the final guitar along the road. But we'll let that day come of its own accord.

Friday Random 10

If anything, this list shows just how eclectic my music tastes are. . .a couple jazz standards, 1950s television, a hymn and a classical masterpiece, a folk tune and a pop song. Somehow, the bluegrass didn't show up this week.

  1. Room Song – Silers Bald
  2. Sanctus (from the Verdi Requiem) - Coro e Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
  3. Know My Heart – Sara Groves
  4. Sing to Jesus – Fernando Ortega
  5. Barney’s Hoe-Down – Original Television Soundtrack for the Andy Griffith Show
  6. Cheek to Cheek – Steve Tyrell
  7. Children of the Heavenly Father – St. Olaf Choir
  8. Let’s Fall in Love – Diana Krall
  9. Michelangelo – Emmylou Harris
  10. Cold, Cold Heart – Norah Jones


I'm still having trouble getting these blog posts to post the 1st time, what with that word verification thing. Yesterday I entered in the letters, exactly as shown in the picture, and it still rejected it three times before accepting it on the fourth. But I had to wonder - usually the letters are random combinations ("zlixhfzz," for instance). Yesterday, after the third try, the new list of letters came up as "dumazz." I had to wonder if it was trying to tell me something.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dearly Beloved

Perhaps by now you've seen the article about the couple who had their wedding presents stolen by the minister who married them. Since they were remodeling their kitchen, they asked for Home Depot gift cards. Only, after their many guests left, there were only three such cards in the gift basket. After some sleuthing, they determined that most of the cards had been lifted by one Rev. Shey-Rima Silveira, the woman who had married them.

Of course, the way the story is being portrayed, the emphasis is on a "minister" who would do such a thing. I think there's another point here.

This is what a police officer said: "If you can't trust someone to officiate over your wedding, who can you trust in this world?"

But you have to understand the context. This is not their minister. This is not the minister of the local church, even. I don't know that this minister is even connected to the Church. Instead, this was a woman who advertised her services on Craigslist, saying her specialty is "last-minute weddings." So now, the undiscerning public sees this as a case of another minister gone bad. But in reality, this has less to do with the minister and more to do with a gullible bride and groom. Imagine if I needed to have some remodeling done, and, rather than going with the licensed and bonded contractor I went with the guy who hangs out in front of the coffee stand in Key Center with the "Will Work For Food" sign. After he does a horrible job and costs me a boat load of money, would it be right for me to say "If you can't trust construction workers to fix your house, who can you trust?"

Or course not. This woman needs to be punished to the full extent of the law. And everybody else needs to learn, once again, that you can't believe everything you read on the internet. Plus, people might do well to learn that a relationship with a local church is much healthier than trying to buy their religious services off of Craigslist.

Sheesh. It can't be that time again, can it?

The CHIC '09 site is up and running. If you'll be a high schooler (or a just-graduated-type-person) the summer of '09, then this is the site for you!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Book Report

One of the nice things about a train ride is you have lots of time to read. . .

I started and finished Ernest Gordon's To End All Wars while on the way to Montana. Karina and I had watched the movie a couple months ago (be warned: it is incredibly brutal) and been moved by this powerful story. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the book and the move are not the same story. In fact, other than the similarity of the major premise (a British officer in a Japanese POW camp during WW2), they had almost nothing in common.

However. . .

That was only disappointing insomuch as I kept waiting for certain events from the movie to show up. The movie had colored my expectations for the book, which meant I couldn't take the book on its own merits. Which is too bad, because, upon completing the book, I would say it is as powerful as the movie, perhaps even more so. But you have to let the book speak for itself. The story is truly miraculous, as this band of prisoners devolve into a wild bunch of animals at the hands of their captors, only to be transformed by the Spirit of Christ into a true Community of compassion and care. Somehow, in the midst of hell, these men found the power to love each other, to care for each other, to even forgive their Japanese tormentors. When people ask "Does Christianity work?", the story of this book says "absolutely!" And in a day and age of spiteful attacks, divisive language, polarized religions and selfish money-grubbing politicians and religious leaders, there is a real lesson here about what being a True Follower of Christ is all about. In fact, I think it is a perfect example of what Scot McKnight is arguing for in his latest book. But more on that later.

First, a quote from Gordon: "We wanted to learn now what Christianity had to say about our redemption. Before we could do, we had to be. It was not only our minds but also our wills that had to be changed. We had to be called into being by love. That lonely figure on the Cross had redeemed mankind by His love and sacrifice. Yet while that redemption was a once-for-all event, it was also a fact that we had to be redeemed daily to be in a state of being redeemed. . . .We had two alternatives: we could choose the way of men, based on the sovereignty of the natural order, closed, sealed and impersonal; or we could choose the way of Jesus Christ, free and personal, based on the sovereignty of God the Father. The wind of the spirit had blown upon us; we could not prove how or whence it had come. But our experience pointed to a source beyond ourselves. We knew personal fulfillment, love, joy, peace, wholeness, as we committed ourselves to the One who had called us. Only as we responded to this Word did we receive the power to progress toward true humanity. Our life on the horizontal plane was made meaningful at the point where it met the vertical. At the point marked by the Cross we found ourselves."

Just before we left, I also finished Stephen Lawhead's "Scarlet," the second book of his Robin Hood trilogy. It's not fiction on par with, say, Tolstoy or Dickens, but as far as Christian fiction goes, it's about the best I've come across. Put it this way: I enjoy it, and I can recommend it without being embarrassed, unlike a lot of books in the Christian Fiction aisle.

And last night I finally finished Sara Miles' Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. You know, there are those books you read and quickly forget. There are those books that give you an interesting thought or two. And then there are books that get under your skin and completely and forever change the way you look at things. This is one of the third kind. This book is powerful, it is overwhelming. You can not read this book and approach the Lord's Supper the same way again. You can not read this book and think of Christianity the same way. This book will change you.

It will also, probably, bother you. Sara is raw. She's rough. She uses language and lives a lifestyle that would make most Christians furrow their brow. She throws out statements like this: "You know," Swami Jeff told me once, "God couldn't care less about the church. We don't understand the Eucharist, or that bread and wine live within us, so we ritualize the things that hold the mystery. We focus on the container and formalize the mystery. But you can't do that." Which is, of course, so wrong in so many ways. God does care about the Church. The Church is God at work in the world. And there are so many other things about this book that are so bothersome. And offensive.

And yet, her voice is necessary, because she get so much right. She understands the radical, accepting love of Jesus Christ for this world. She gets that love for Jesus demands a love for all his children. She gets that serving Christ is more important than showing up to church and looking pretty. "Doing the Gospel rather than just quoting it was the best way I could find out what God was up to." She gets that feeding the poor is one of the essentials of following Christ. And she gets the fact that Christ is for the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, the hungry. She understands that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now, right under our noses, if we would only open our eyes to see it. She hammers home the idea that community is core to Christianity - but not the community we choose; it's the community God calls to us, and calls us to. She gets the Modern Church. "My suspicion was that committees in churches served the same purpose as committees in other institutions: They were holding tanks for people who professed interest in an issue but didn't always want to act." And, I've got to tell you, the story of her conversion, of how she walked into church, received Communion, and was overcome by God, is breathtakingly powerful. I wish all could read her story.

But, in the end, a lot of Christians will be scandalized by much of who she is. And there are parts that make me uncomfortable. Until I realize who she really is: a sinner saved by grace, on the way to holiness. And this book is simply one step in that process.

Now, it's onto the next book I've been excited about - Scot McKnight's A Community Called Atonement. The best part of this book - it connects doxis with praxis - what we believe with what we ought to be doing. It's about the atonement lived in daily life, not in obtuse theories and ivory-tower debates. It's about atonement working in our lives, which is the only place that it really matters

Monday, October 01, 2007

Montana Trip: Three Stories

Okay, first this. The trip was wonderful. Amazing. Truly one of the best we've taken. The fall colors of the Rocky Mountains were breathtaking. Glacier National Park is a must-see. And taking the train is always a great way to travel. So, yes, Karina and I celebrated our 10th anniversary in style.

Now, three highlights of the trip:
1. After a restless night of fitful sleep as we crossed Eastern Washington and Idaho, we awoke in Montana and headed to breakfast in the dining car. Somewhere between the Flathead Tunnel and Whitefish we were seated, sharing our table with another couple, probably in their mid-50s. We exchanged pleasantries about our lack of sleep, where we hail from, where we're heading, and then. . .the "and what do you do?" question.

Me: "I pastor a small church in Washington."
They: "Oh? What kind of Church?"
Me: "It's a Christian Church. With the Evangelical Covenant Denomination."
They: "So, what do you think of Jehovah's Witnesses? Are they a cult? Because we just went to a conference in Portland on Creationism, and the speaker said Jehovah's Witnesses are a cult."
Us "Well, good morning to you, too!"

And so it went. I suspected, and had it confirmed by the nature of their questioning, that they were JWs, and were trying to draw me into a debate. But I hadn't even had breakfast yet. So I remained civil and open, refusing to answer their questions, but instead spent most of the next 20 minutes explaining the orthodox view of Christ, and how the JWs differed in their interpretation. It was an interesting morning, to say the least. Thankfully, before they could start to argue too much, we realized we were 10 minutes from West Glacier, and therefore had to return and gather our stuff. And that was the end of that, thankfully, without any shouting or insulting (which, incidentally, is what the last JW I had the privilege of sharing with ended up doing).

2. On Thursday we hiked up Apgar Mountain. It's about a 6 1/2 mile round trip, with a 1600+ foot elevation gain to the top. The hike was beautiful, the weather perfect, and no bears were in sight. At the top, we met an IT guy with the Park service who was in the process of putting up a web cam, so that all the world can see the view from Apgar Mountain. He was very friendly and answered a lot of questions for us. We even ended up hiking back down together. But as he was installing the camera, coordinating via cell phone with his boss back at the office, he had to get a picture as a reference point. So he had us stand in front of the camera, and we became the first people to have their picture taken by the Apgar Mountain Webcam. Here's the picture:

Unfortunately, at last check, the camera had gone down. But you can check here, and see if it comes back sometime soon. And while you are there, check the Lake McDonald webcam. That will show you the view from our cabin. Or thereabouts, anyway.

3. On the way out, I had this crazy little idea, one of those thoughts that keeps pestering you and won't go away. So when we were in Whitefish, I went into the Amtrak station and asked about getting a ticket from Edmonds to Seattle - the last 30 minutes of the return trip. Turns out a kid can get on that for only $4. And thus it was that Saturday morning my dad drove Olivia up to Edmonds, where she hopped on the train and rode the last little jaunt down Puget Sound into King Street Station. We showed her our sleeping compartment, the dining room, the view along the way, and she was suitably impressed. Probably a $4 well spent, when you consider the treat it was to her, and the memories she'll carry of waiting at the station with grandpa, and the ride in mommy and daddy's personal compartment. I bet we just made an Amtrak passenger out of her. Here we are on the trip:
So there you have it. We have another picture or two to upload, eventually, but let this suffice for now. Glad to be back. . .wish we were still there.