Sunday, December 31, 2006

Small Group New Year's

Tonight at small group our kids played a game with Oreos. They split the cookies, stuck the cream side to their forehead, and then contorted their faces until the cookies fell to their mouths. The object: to catch the cookie in their pie holes without using their hands. Check it out:

Saturday, December 30, 2006

One Tough Funeral

My preacher friend, John emailed me this morning to ask if I "got the funeral" of Saddam Hussein. It's preacher humor, and unless you've been one, you probably don't get it.

I've conducted some difficult funerals in my day. There was a twenty-two year old young man who died when the trench he was working in collapsed on him. He wasn't a Christian, and his parents suddenly came face-to-face with the reality that, while they prepared their boy for life they left him unready for life after death.

Then there was the funeral of a fifty year old active-duty Sargent in the Indiana National Guard. Row after row of service men paraded by his casket, stopping to stand at attention and salute. There were three generals in the audience that day. One of them, who was offended that a chaplain hadn't been requested to preside at the service, refused to speak to me when we met prior to the eulogy.

Tough funerals. But none so tough as that of Saddam Hussein. What does one say at the funeral of an unbelieving, murderous, former-dictator? Good luck with that one, Pastor Who-ever-you-are.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Immunity Hanging on a Cross

Our family enjoys watching Survivor on CBS. Since the two tribes merged, each week features a battle between the castaways to win the "immunity idol" which prevents them from being voted off by the other contestants. Winning it is the only certain means of staying in the game.

The other night I noticed something that set me back a bit.

Survivor's immunity idol is hanging from a cross.

How appropriate. Our immunity was purchased on a cross. Immunity from sin's consequence, immunity from death, immunity from a godless eternity - all these were hung on a cross when Christ purchased our salvation.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hoosier Hysteria

Caleb, his girlfriend Bethany, and my buddy Fred trekked to Bloomington last night to see the Indiana Hoosiers defeat the Western Michigan Broncos. This was my first trip to the Assembly Hall. It was a great experience!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Wisdom of "Do-Over"

Yesterday was the faculty and staff party at my son's elementary school. Once a year the PTO calls on me to ride herd on 300 fourth through sixth graders. Yesterday I was stationed on the playground. It was an insightful experience that took my back to my childhood.

The children played "box ball," a timeless game that was called "four square" in my youth. A student stands in one of four equal squares that are all connected so as to form one large square. Students bounce a ball between the four squares. The goal is for you to pass the ball to another square without it bouncing twice in your own square, or without the ball going "out of bounds."
That is where it gets a little tricky. Apparently there is no rule to deal with what happens when the ball is "on the line."

No problem.

Enter the timeless tradition of school children everywhere: the "do-over." Ball hits a line. Do over. Someone walk through the playing area? Do over. Is there a dispute about carrying the ball rather than hitting it. Do over.

I wish "do over" was an option for me. I oversleep and missed an appointment. Just call a do over. My brain slips a gear and I buy my wife a kitchen appliance for our anniversary. Do over. My kid flunks her math test and I freak out like she's suddenly lost her scholarship to M.I.T. Do over.

Come to think of it, that's what grace is. It is a divine do over. And thank God for it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pulpit Plagarism

A few months ago a preacher in our area was "invited to resign," as they say, by his board of elders. Apparently the brother had been preaching Rick Atchley's sermons for the better part of a decade. The offense, as I understand it, wasn't so much the use of Brother Rick's sermons as the non-attribution thereof. I'm told some of Rick's personal illustrations even came off sounding like first person experiences rather than "I have a friend who . . ."

I'll admit to preaching another man's material on three or four occasions in the last ten years. (Okay, if you count 40 Days of Purpose, the count balloons to about a dozen times, but I paid good money for those messages and everyone knew it.) Each time the sermon was attributed to the original author, either from the pulpit, or in the accompanying printed material. On those few occasions, I did so because I was hammered for time. Once it was because of a grueling hospital- calling-funeral-during-the-week scenario. On another occasion there was a health crisis in my family.

Some guys tell me they do well delivering another pastor's sermon. Not me. I've never been able to "serve another man's bread" with any kind of authenticity or clarity. It always makes it to the table tasting dry and stale.

The guys at have an interesting blog about the whole issue of pulpit plagiarism. The title is The 1.7 Million Dollar Sermon. I would be interested to hear your take on it.

What say you, fellow pulpiteers?

Cheaper than Rehab

Son number one came home earlier this week and informed us that he "needed a couple of bucks for bowling." His P.E. class is headed to the lanes, and each trip will cost us $2. A small price to pay, admittedly. But like most parents, we're nickel-and-dimed to death. Consider the recent "school related" expenses we've encountered:
  • $75 for team approved basketball shoes for Abby
  • $40 for Abby's "practice pack"
  • $35 a month for a trombone for Jonah (It's only $600 if we pay all at once)
  • $75 for Caleb's Junior High semi-formal dance (ticket, corsage for date, new shoes, slacks)
  • $290 for a class ring for Abby
I sometimes get frustrated, as I imagine my parents once did. But then I remind myself, "it's cheaper than rehab." A Health Services Research study indicated that the average cost for inpatient substance abuse treatment in the US is $3754, and that such treatment is only effective about 70% of the time.

If you believe Peter Benson's research on the 40 Developmental Assets at Search Institute (and I think it is some of the best out there), involvement in things like band, and sports, and positive peer relationships are the very things that help kids avoid destructive behaviors. The price you and I pay, $50 here and there, is small compared to the incomparable financial, physical, emotional and spiritual toll that results from trying to parent on the cheap.

At least that's what I plan to tell myself the next time Caleb hits me up for five bucks to go to the game.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Blazers Crack the Top Ten!

Eastside's boy's basketball team cracked the top ten with a number nine ranking in the IHSAA coaches poll. The Blazers are 6-0. This week they face a tough conference opponent in Lakeland. Go Big GREEN!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Forecast Foul-Ups

The weather man got it wrong again - thankfully so! Back in March, the internet weather service,, predicted “the Northeast is staring down the barrel of a gun.” 2006, they suggested, would be one of the worst hurricane seasons in the history of our country. Two months later they ran this headline: “One in Six Americans Could be Directly Impacted by 2006 Hurricane Season.” The hurricane season has finally given way to the holiday season and, as it turns out, 2006 was one of the quietest weather years on record.
This isn’t the first time someone pooch-kicked a prediction. In 1966 Arthur C. Clarke wrote in Vogue magazine that houses in 2001 would be able to fly, thanks to building materials made stronger than steel but lighter than aluminum. (Creating all sorts of problems for the family dog.)

In 1967 Science Digest predicted that by 2000, "discarded rayon underwear will be bought by chemical factories and converted into candy." (And what, exactly would such a candy be named?)

A 1981 book predicted solar-powered clothes that retain heat in the winter and coolness in the summer. People would be able to "press a button to formulate our clothing.” (Would one be naked on cloudy days?)

And then there is the grand-daddy of all blown predilections: Y2K. Experts anticipated problems ranging from VISA bills not being issued on time to entire power grids malfunctioning and plunging cities into blackout. I got my VISA bill right on time, and millions of Americans bought generators that have yet to be started.

That is what makes the predictions about Christ’s birth so amazing. Prophets writing hundreds of years before Jesus’ incarnation made some startling statements. Isaiah wrote that Jesus would be born of a virgin. Micah predicted that Bethlehem would be the Messiah’s birthplace. The death of Bethlehem’s infant boys at the hand of King Herod was predicted nearly six hundred years before by the prophet Jeremiah. So many prophecies, and all of them on target.

In his book "Science Speaks," Peter Stoner applies the modern science of probability to just eight Messianic prophecies. He says, "...the chance that any man might have... fulfilled all eight prophecies is one in 1017. That would be 1 in one hundred quadrillion. To understand the odds, Stoner suggests that "we take one hundred quadrillion silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state 2 feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly. Blindfold a man and tell him he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up that one marked silver dollar. What chance would he have of getting the right one?" Stoner concluded, "Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing those prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, providing they wrote them in their own wisdom."

There will be a lot you can’t predict this Christmas season: what you’ll get for gifts, what the weather will do, who will win their bowl games. One thing you can count on, however, is the love of your Heavenly Father. He sent His love wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Of that, you can be sure.