Monday, April 30, 2007

Just finished reading . . .

A men's group I am leading and I just finished Andy Stanley's book Visioneering. It was a good read. Check out a couple of quotes that I liked:

". . . our secular pursuits have more kingdom potential than
our religious ones. For it is in the realm of our secular pursuits that secular people are watching."

"God's ultimate plan for your life reaches beyond the vision he's given you for your family, business, ministry, and finances. He has positioned you in your culture as a singular point of light. A beacon in a world that desperately needs to see something divine, something that is clearly not of this world."

"I've yet to hear a story of a Christian motorist being flagged down by another driver who was pierced to the heart by the sight of a fish on the back of a car. And our Sunday morning routines certainly haven't left the world standing in awe of our God."

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The kid cracks me up . . .

Jonah walked in the house yesterday and announced, "Dad, the house is peeing." Seems he discovered the sump pump discharge. The boy is a hoot!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Who are Gordon Gladden and Ethel Thomas?

Yesterday I mentioned that our church has received two prayer requests for Gordon C. Gladden and Ethel Thomas. Just who are they?

The prayer request was written anonymously, so I don't know who to call to ask for more information. So I Googled the names. It turns out that Gordon Gladden and Ethel Thomas have been on prayer lists all over the East Coast, Indiana, and points in between.

There are Methodists, Catholics, Church of Christ folks, and even Conservative Jews at Temple Beth Shalom in New York praying for these two.

Who are they? What is their need? I have no idea. But God does, so I'll pray for them all the same.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Please pray for . . .

Pastors hear plenty of requests for prayer. Its what we do. Someone has a need, so they come to us and ask us to intercede for them. It is humbling, really. James says that "the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. " That someone would place that kind of trust in me, or would hold me in such regard is a weighty burden.

We've had some strange requests at Butler Church of Christ over the years. A woman once asked our elders to lay hands on her car and pray over it. The car never did really run right prompting me to wonder if the men should have anointed it with 10W40 too.

This past Sunday little Jacob came up to me and showed me a scratch on his arm. He asked me to pray for it. I knelt there and asked Jesus to help him feel better and to help Jacob be more coordinated so he might stop falling down and hurting himself.

The oddest prayer request I've received recently, though, arrived in an unmarked envelope with a Kearney, New Jersey postmark. It came addressed to Butler Christian Church (not our name), and had the wrong street number. In a town our size street numbers are more guidelines than actual locations, and with my neighbor Bill as our postman, we got the letter anyway. Inside was a half sheet of lined paper - the sort that my kids use in school. The words, nearly illegible, simply asked us to pray for someone named Ethel

I shared the request with our congregation Sunday as I explained to the sacred responsibility that is entrusted to us when someone asks for prayer.

Today I received a second request from our mysterious letter-writer. More legible, the author asked us to pray for Ethel Thomas and Gordon C. Gladden. I have no idea who they are, or what their need is. But I'll pray for them. Perhaps you could too . . .

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Springtime Thoughts

Each year at this time my thoughts turn to a great little weekend getaway that Tracy and I took a few years back to Petoskey, Michigan. It is the summer home of the great writer, Earnest Hemingway. I was moved, after our trip to write a poem about our experience there. I present it here for your perusal.

Springtime in Petoskey

Naked ski slopes, their white robes cast aside,
Silent chairs await next year's ascension,

Water tumbling toward the inlet bay,
Beneath a verdant lawn where lovers stroll,

Dinner at Nick Adam's favorite bar,

His pen silent; his voice resounding still,

Among the rocks my lover and I walked,

Renewed friendship, whispering life and love,

Attentions restored and affections breathed,


Springtime in Petoskey, springtime in my heart.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Great New Haiti Pictures

Hey folks, I just posted some great photos of our Haiti trip on the Haiti blog. Check it out!

Easter Sunday

I loved Easter Sunday at our church. We put into practice something we've been learning, and it worked! For the last several months our staff has been studying Thom Rainer's book Simple Church. He suggests that simple is better. We decided to put his theory to the test. This Easter was simple. No sunrise service. No big cantata. No drama. Just a "normal" Sunday service - done with excellence, of course.

The only change we made from our "usual" format was to add an additional service to accommodate the crowd we anticipated.

The result of our simple plan?

The largest Easter attendance in my ten year ministry here at BCC. There were 292 people here on Sunday (312 if you count the worship team twice - which I was tempted to do.) That represents an 18% increase over last year, which is pretty consistent with what our attendance has been running.

Numbers are cool, but the real number that interested me from Sunday is two. That's right, two. There were two people who were immersed Sunday, becoming Christians. A twenty-something mother of two and a high school freshman who is the foster son of a family in our church both professed their faith in Christ and were buried with him.

That is what we're about at BCC.
The coolest part of these immersions is that they came, not as the direct result of our church staff (although we did meet and counsel with these two), but rather as the result of "laypeople" in our church embracing the church's vision to "connect with God and connect with people."

That is what cranks me up, not just about Easter Sunday, but about every Sunday!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

One more word on Hell . . .

I had to share this bit that I uncovered in preparation for my sermon on Hell. You can find it on the web by clicking here. It cracked up the engineering students at TSU last night:

A retiring pChem (Physical Chemistry) professor was composing his last exam for a graduate course in statistical thermodynamics. Being a bit bored, and with a well kept and wry sense of humor, he set a single question on the sheet:

"Is Hell endothermic or exothermic? Support your answer with a proof."

He had little idea what to expect, or how to grade the results, but decided to reward any student who was able to come up with a reasonable and consistent reply to this query.

One "A" was awarded.

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law or some variant. The top student, however, wrote the following:

"First, we postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass. If they do, then a mole of souls can also have a mass. So, at what rate are souls moving into hell and at what rate are souls leaving? I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for souls entering hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and people do not belong to more than one religion on average, we can predict that all people and all souls go to hell on average. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change in volume in hell. Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the ratio of the mass of souls and volume needs to stay constant. Thus, there are two possible conditions:

1) If hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter hell, than the temperature and pressure in hell will increase exponentially until all hell breaks loose.

2) If hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until hell freezes over.

We can solve this dilemma with the 1990 postulation of Ms. Theresa LeClair, the woman who lived across the hall from me in first year residence. Since I have still not been successful in obtaining [a date] with her, I know that condition two has not been met, and thus it can be concluded that condition one is true, and therefore that hell is exothermic.

A "Hell" of a Sermon

I preached at Tri-State University's Christian Campus House last night. It was a great time of worship. I took my daughter with me, and she said I did "pretty good."

The topic: Hell.

We don't hear a lot about Hell from many pulpits these days. In his book, Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck, wrote about a rare sermon he heard on the subject:
It had been long since I had heard such a good approach. It is our practice now, at least in the large cities, to find from our psychiatric priesthood that our sins aren't really sins at all but accidents that are set in motion by forces beyond our control. There was no nonsense in this church.

The minister . . . reassured us that we were a pretty sorry lot. And he was right. Having softened us up, he went into a glorious sermon, a fire-and-brimstone sermon. . . . He spoke of hell as an expert, not the mush-mush hell of these soft days, but a well-stoked, white-hot hell served by technicians of the first order.
Now, I'm no expert preacher where Hell is concerned. But, there was something interesting that I gleaned from Jesus' story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16.

Twice, Jesus used the Greek word ὀδυνάω (odynao) to describe the anguish the rich man experiences in hell. "Anguish" is, in fact, how the NLT translates that word. (The NIV translates it as "agony.")

There are two other uses of this Greek word in the New Testament. Mary uses it to describe the emotion she and Joseph felt while looking for 12-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem following their Passover visit. After searching for Jesus for three days, a hysterical Mary said to her son, "why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic (odynao), searching for you everywhere."

The other use of the word is used to describe the emotions the Ephesian elders experienced during their seaside farewell with the Apostle Paul in Acts 20. "What grieved (odynao) them most was his statement that they would never see his face again."

All four New Testament uses of this word describe intense emotional anguish. Two reference Hell. Both of the other uses refer to intense relational pain. The point? Hell is going to be a place of, not just intense physical pain and suffering, but also a place where one experiences the intense emotional suffering that comes from abrupt relational separation, and the realization of the permanence of that isolation.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, "God's indignation is no trifle. The anger of a holy, just, omnipotent, and infinite Being, is above all things to be dreaded; even a drop of it consumes, but to have it poured upon us is inconceivably dreadful."

For those of us who value relationships, who love people, Spurgeon's words, are chillingly accurate. Just one more reason to come to Jesus.

Till My Trophies at Last I Lay Down . . .

I received this dandy new Dinn Bros. Religion Awards catalog in the mail today. Religion awards . . . hmm . . .

Now, I'm all in favor of encouraging folks. I'm a big advocate of bestowing "honor where honor is due." But there is something about giving a trophy with a cross on it to someone for, say, living the Christian life.

Of course, that was my first response. Upon further inspection, I found plenty more to object to in this catalog. For instance, why would a religion awards catalog offer on page 57 a scholastic recognition pin # 7c32, which is a prominent view of a horse's rear? (I'm not making that up. That is, in fact, the name of the item.) Upon which elder or deacon does one bestow the "horse's rear award?"

Then there is the "crossed pistols" richly colored emblem trophy. Suitable for the usher who "persuades" the most people to begin tithing. Ambitious finance committees might even consider ordering medallions with said emblem on them for their ushers to wear on Sundays as a gentle reminder of what awaits those who don't give.

Then there are the animals. I can order a trophy topped with a pigeon, a beagle, or even an Angus steer. Come to think of it, our preschool director's last name is Steere. Perhaps we might order her a trophy. Then again, if I do that, she's gonna buy me a trophy topped with a turkey.

And I will have deserved it.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

An Amazing Film

I first became acquainted with William Wilberforce through the writings of Charles Colson . Chuck seemed to hold Wilberforce in pretty high regard, but I knew little of the historical figure. Writing on Colson's website, Kevin Belmonte said,
Perhaps the most telling description ever written of evangelical reformer William Wilberforce comes from writer and philosopher Sir James Mackintosh. "I never saw anyone," Mackintosh wrote in 1830, "who touched life at so many points." Fitting words indeed for the man about whom it was also said: "No Englishman has ever done more to evoke the conscience of the British people and to elevate and ennoble British life."
I learned something more of that great abolitionist when Mrs. Frankly and I viewed the movie Amazing Grace last night.

I highly recommend it.