Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas for Savannah

Eleven-year-old Savannah has a very short Christmas list this year. No iPod. No DVDs or gift cards. No new-fangled electronic gadgets. This year Savannah just wants her mom to come home from the hospital.

Readers of Frankly Speaking know that I am a chaplain with the Lansing Police Department. Acting in that capacity I have encountered hundreds of interesting people and had experiences I never expected. Some have been a blessing; some have been heart rending.

Last week I was assigned with an officer to "sit on" a prisoner in the emergency room at Ingham Regional Medical Center. In the room next door was Samantha, a thirty-something mom that was in a lot of pain.

Nearly a year ago Samantha had a failed surgery on her bladder. She has been housebound ever since. Although she hoped to be able to stay home until after the holidays, the pain became too great and she found herself in the ER awaiting admission into the hospital.

I met Samantha and her mother, Linda. We talked about her struggle. She showed me pictures of her daughter, Savannah. We prayed together. She cried.

Earlier today I got a call that Samantha had a seven hour reconstructive surgery on her bladder two days ago. Though hopes are high that she will finally be able to get healthy, the surgery and a several day long hospital stay have put a major kink in her Christmas plans.

Naturally, Samantha has not been able to shop for gifts for her daughter. When I spoke with her mom (Savannah's grandmother) on the phone she told me that Samantha was upset that she could not get any gifts for her daughter for Christmas. She was discouraged because she was going to be spending Christmas in a hospital bed.

Any chance we can intervene in this situation? Is it possible that, even at this late hour, that we might be able to encourage this family an unexpected and unanticipated blessing?

I would love it if, when Savannah comes to visit her mom on Christmas morning, she would find a hospital bed covered in gifts and a mother smiling from ear to ear because she was able to do what moms do each Christmas - make her daughter smile.

This time of year you get lots of requests for this sort of thing. Maybe you're tapped out. That's okay. Just say a prayer for Samantha and Savannah. But maybe you've got five or ten dollars that you wouldn't mind sending their way. Maybe you've got more than that.

If you do, shoot me an email at Tomorrow I will head out to the mall and spend what you pledge to give and you can pay me when you see me, or send the money to:

Frank Weller
South Lansing Christian Church
6300 Aurelius Rd.
Lansing, MI 48911
(Put Christmas for Savannah in the memo line)

Lots of folks worship Jesus this time of year - as it should be. Thank you for also being Jesus. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

One and the same?

Left, Actor Cody Burger, a.k.a. Rocky from Christmas Vacation. Right, Chumlee from Pawn Stars. Same person? Hmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Remembering you, Grandma . . .

My sister, Tina, wrote this to remember our grandmother, who passed away earlier this week. It eulogizes her more beautifully than I ever could:

When I remember you, Grandma, the first thing that comes to mind is you in your kitchen. I can see you rushing around, lighting the stove to put on your homemade applesauce in your old enamel pan. Or, you’re poaching Grandpa’s eggs for breakfast, while the toaster does its job on the kitchen table. Or perhaps you’re pulling a Chef Boyardee pizza out of the oven, the ones you always covered with hotdog pieces and hamburger for us grandkids. Or, if we’re really lucky, you’ve just pulled out a rhubbarb custard pie or sugar cookies. Those recipes will live on in our family for generations to come. But your pickled beet recipe didn’t make the cut. Aunt Alice’s is so much easier and none of us can taste the difference. But we didn’t have the heart to tell you.

I can see your red cart right behind you. The one you kept all the newspapers on. Of course, you’re wearing one of your 50s aprons and your hairnet. I can’t see a hairnet without thinking of you or the lunch lady at the cafeteria. You did work as a dietician at Byran, you know.

I see you sitting down for a moment to read the Clipper or the Evening Star and have a sip of Coke. Of course, you don’t sit down for very long. There are dishes to be done, so you stack them up and carry them to the laundry room sink. Heaven forbid that you should wash them in the kitchen sink! I think I can count on one hand the number of times you let me wash them there. And that was only because I badgered you so.

We knew that we could always count on you for a great snack. Your kitchen frig also had a horn of colby in it from the Countyline Cheese Factory. You had the Nabisco saltines to go with the cheese in the tin in the kitchen cupboard by the toaster. The frig in the back room was always full of pop for us, right beside your Coke classics. Then there was the front room candy stash. You kept more than sufficiently supplied with Snickers midgits and Brach’s candy mix.

Remember when you used to babysit us? We’d work with you in the garden or collect eggs together. Peacock feathers too. We’d sort them all with you in the backroom, after a cold drink from the tin cup on the back porch. And, when I was really little, you’d put me down for a nap in the bathtub in the pink bathroom. That tub was only for naps, as far as I could tell. A child of the Great Depression, you were. So, we all took our showers in the basement, in the same room with your great stores of canned veggies, juice, and jams. I still use your pressure canner here in Guinea. It will undoubtedly out last us both.

I also still have the Mother of Pearl broche that you brought me back from Israel. Who would have guessed you to be a world traveler? But you brought home souvenir plates from Paris and a camel picture to prove it. You ate at the Varsity in Atlanta and rode on the train in the Florida Everglades. Cancun with Jerry and Alice. The Black Hills in South Dakota. It’s too bad that I never asked you about your visit to the Great Wall in China before you and Grandpa married. Not bad at all for a country girl from DeKalb County, Indiana.

You always used to scare Aunts Florene and Bernice when you’d “Shoot the Moon” in Eucre. Your style of dealing cards was scary too, almost as much as your driving when I was in high school. You liked to have fun. It makes me smile to remember your laugh. My favorite picture of you is the one with you and Grandpa laughing at Christmas. You still had on your apron from cooking the ham or baking the pies.

Remember all those hot summer nights, cranking homemade ice cream together on the back porch? My favorites were the peach and strawberry. Or, those times of eating corn-on-the cob and watermelon for supper. We wouldn’t go in until it was dark and the stars came out. You taught me to take joy in the simple things of life, like a good meal and a breeze blowing on my face. That lesson has served me well.

You loved animals, just like Grandpa did. I remember you feeding the calves and your old dog Pete. I remember you putting up your birdhouse every summer for the starlings, then hanging up tin pie pans in the cherry tree to scare the birds away. You always had a watchdog and usually half a dozen cats in the barn to eat the meal scraps.

I remember you getting all dressed up to go out. You might be going out to eat at the Factory with Grandpa. (I’ll never understand why you chose cottage cheese for your salad.) Or, maybe it was to church. Whatever the occasion, the process was usually the same: It started with your girdle and panty hoses. Why you thought you needed the girdle, none of us will ever understand. Then your outfit: it was usually a skirt, light colored blouse, and a jacket. My personal favorite was the rose one you wore for the 4 generation picture when Abby was a baby. Then you’d dig out one of your pocket books from the coat closet by the back door. Then it was to the back room to pick out your hair, if it had been too many days since you had it fixed at Donnas. Then lipstick, usually from an Avon trial tub. With no more than that, you always ended up looking great! There’s no more need for you to dress up now. You’re radiant in the glory of God’s presence.

Grandma, remember that I loved you. We all did. I’ll always remember Grandpa taking his wedding ring from the tray on top of the frig and popping in on before he went out with you. You were his wife. And the tombstone he picked out to share with you shows that he was sweet on you to the end.

You were Grandpa’s wife, Dad’s mother, and my Grandmother. And the next time that I get to talk with you, I won’t have to dial 357-3223. Nor will our reminiscing be encumbered by your memory loss and the many miles that physically separated us since I left home. We’ll be in heaven together. I’ll be the one with the can of Diet Coke from Guinea, and you’ll be sipping on your Coke classic.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Don't read this book . . .

If you comfortable with your faith and want to stay that way.

If you like your creature comforts.

If you would rather not be discomforted by poverty. By famine. By disease.

If you want to grab your piece of the American Dream.

If you have it all planned out.

If you want Jesus to be Savior but not necessarily Lord.

If you don't want to read words like these:
If Mark 10 teaches us anything, it teaches us that Jesus does sometimes call people to sell everything they have and give it to the poor. This means he might call you or me to do this. I love the way one writer put it. He wrote, "That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command."

So what about you and me? Are we willing to ask God if he wants us to sell everything we have and give the money to the poor? Are we willing to ask and wait for an answer instead of providing one of our own or justifying our ideas of why he would never tell us to do this? This seems a bit radical, but isn't it normal and expected when we follow a Master who said, "Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple"?

Once again we find ourselves back at what it means to follow the Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus we have created and are comfortable with. The rich man in Mark 10 didn't see Jesus for who he was. The rich man perceived him as a respectable religious figure, calling him "good teacher." However, Jesus was not, and never is, interested in being seen as a respectable teacher. He is the sovereign Lord. He doesn't give options for people to consider, he gives commands for people to obey.

So, then, what if he told you and me to sell everything we have? What if he told us to sell our cars for more modest ones - or for no cars at all? What if he told us to give away all but a couple of sets of clothes? What if he told us to empty the savings accounts we have been building for years if not decades? What if he told us to change our lifestyles completely?

Now, before you and I think of all the reasons he would not tell us to do these things, we need to think about this question first: is he Lord?

Are you and I looking to Jesus for advice that seems fiscally responsible according to the standards of the world around us? Or we are looking to Jesus for total leadership in our lives, even if that means going against everything our affluent culture and maybe even our affluent religious neighbors might tell us to do?

Jesus never intended to be one voice among many counseling us on how to lead our lives and use our money. He always intends to be the voice that guides whatever decisions we make in our lives and with our money.
Can't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Radical thoughts

Back in college I knew a couple, Brian and Joanna, that sold their car and bought bicycles. It made little sense to me at the time. As a newlywed man, it seemed like obtaining a car was the natural progression in attaining the American Dream.

Twenty-five years later, there seems to be some prescient wisdom in their two-wheeled decision. At least that is what I thought this morning as I read David Platt's book, Radical - Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.

Platt is challenging me in some pretty significant ways. Chief among them is the challenge to rethink how I view wealth and financial resources. Here is some of what he has to say:
Are we willing to ask God if he wants us to sell everything we have and give the money to the poor? Are we willing to ask and wait for an answer instead of providing one of our own or justifying our ideas of why he would never tell us to do this? This seems a bit radical, but isn't it normal and expected when we follow a Master who said, "Any of you who does not give up everything cannot be my disciple"?

Once again, we find ourselves back at what it means to follow the Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus we have created and are comfortable with. The rich man in Mark 10 didn't see Jesus for who he was. The rich man perceived him as a respectable religious figure, calling him "good teacher." However, Jesus was not, and never is, interested in being seen as a respectable teacher. He is the sovereign Lord. He doesn't give options for people to consider; he gives commands for people to obey.

So, then, what if he told you and me to sell everything we have? What if he told us to sell our houses for simpler arrangements? What if he told us to sell our cars for more modest ones - or for no cars at all? What if he told us to give away all but a couple of sets of clothes? What if he told us to empty the savings account we have been building for years if not decades? What if he told us to change our lifestyles completely?

Now, before you and I think of all the reasons he would not tell us to do these things, we need to think about this question first: is he Lord?

Are you and I looking to Jesus for advice that seems fiscally responsible according to the standards of the world around us? Or are we looking to Jesus for total leadership in our lives, even if that means going against everything our affluent culture and maybe even our affluent religious neighbors might tell us to do?

Jesus never intended to be one voice among many counseling us on how to lead our lives and use our money. He always intended to be the voice that guides whatever decisions we make in our lives and with our money.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Communication in a common language

First-grader Fernando wouldn't leave Brian alone. He poked and pinched him until the two were on the floor of the school bus wrestling. I needed to speak with Fernando's mother. Problem is, she doesn't speak English, and my Spanish is the "mission trip variety." That is to say I can find a bathroom, order three different kinds of burritos, and ask for various hand tools - "Yo necessito un martillo, por favor." My grammar has always been lousy. (Probably my spelling, too.)

Still, I was up for the challenge.

We pulled up to the stop and Fernando's mother was waiting.

"Esta tu madre de Fernando?" I asked. I think that means something like "It is you Fernando's mother?" But I said it with a question mark, and her nod told me she was acknowledging the little guy. "Habla espanol?" A shake of the head.

I apologized for my poor Spanish and then said, "Los manos de Fernando es pick, pick, pick, pick," as I made poking and prodding gestures with my fingers. I think that means something like, "The hands of Fernando is pick, pick . . ."

I continued, "Yo necessito los manos de Fernando aqui," and then placed my hands on my knees. Admittedly, I had some concern about saying it that way. If someone said to me, "I need the hands of your son here," and then placed his hands on his own knees, I would be a little creeped out. Doing my best not to come across as a slime ball, I said, "or here," shoving my hands in my pockets, "or here," and sitting on them. Come to think of it, maybe that didn't work so well either.

Anyway, by now she was picking up on what I was laying down. So like any good tourist, I repeated myself just to make sure: "Los manos de Fernando es pick, pick, pick - no bueno!" "Los manos de Fernando es aqui, es muy bueno."

She shot a withering stare at Fernando and his eyes dropped to the ground. She looked back and me and, though she said not a word, I knew.

She didn't speak any English, and I didn't speak much Spanish. But we both speak parent. Fluently.

Fernando's gonna turn out all right.

Separation of church and state?

I got in trouble with some people that I care deeply about a few years back when I kicked up a fuss about mixing patriotic imagery with spiritual activity. Recalling something that my literature professor said years before - "When you put your hand on your heart, face a flag, recite words from memory, and sing a song with a tear in your eye, that looks a lot like worship." - I determined to love my God and love my country - but not necessarily to mix those to affections too closely.

Why? In a word - and a fancy word at that - syncretism. "The combination of two or more different forms of belief or practice," syncretism always dilutes faith. The first commandment forbids the worship of anything other than God. The second commandment forbids the fashioning of an idol. Maybe I am overly sensitive (a charge that has almost never been applied to me - just ask my wife), but I am simply uncomfortable with expressing fidelity and devotion to anything or anyone at a time set aside solely for the worship of God.

That being said, I have no problem with that door swinging the other way. That is, I believe that the more we inculcate the Christian values that our founders held into the marketplace, into the classroom, and into our legislative and judicial bodies, the better off we will all be as a society.

One might say I want to have my communion bread and eat it too.

I suspect Ken Paulson of the First Amendment Center would.

In a piece detailing the debate between the two Senate candidates from Delaware, Paulson reviewed their verbal sparring over the First Amendment as it applies to religion. Christine O'Donnell stated, "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" It isn't, of course. Some would say - most actually - that it is contained within the First Amendment which guarantees that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Therein lies the rub. Some read this to say that the church house and the state house must be kept completely separate. Proof of this point is a letter penned by Thomas Jefferson, our nation's third President, in which he wrote that the First Amendment created a "a wall of separation between Church and State." He is not alone among our nation's founders in expressing such sentiment. The Bill of Right's author, James Madison, expressed similar thoughts.

To better understand the thinking behind the writing, though, one must look only to the actions of the author. What did Thomas Jefferson do?

He attended church. But, with some notable exceptions - Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama included - most of our Presidents do. So where did Jefferson attend? He attended the church that met in the United States House of Representatives. The one where he had the Marine Corps Band play for church services each Sunday. It was, in fact, the largest church in our nation at the time. And it wasn't the only federal facility used for such a purpose. Songs and sermons reverberated each Sunday from the walls of the Supreme Court building and the Treasury, too.

What is more, as President of the D.C. School Board, Jefferson insisted that two books be taught in schools - the Bible and the Isaac Watts Hymnal. He even supported mission work, signing a bill to pay for the construction of a church building for the Indian territories and for the salary of chaplains to the Native Americans. The Congress, with the President's signature, even approved a bill for the printing and distribution of Bibles for Native Americans.

Say what you want about Jefferson - and there is plenty, what with his deistic ideas and his cut and paste New Testament - but Jefferson was not one to exclude religion from government and public life. Why then are we?

Admittedly, I am loathe to incorporate Americongraphy into my Sunday worship but am quick to incorporate God into public life. Accuse me of promoting a double standard if you want. You might be right. But I will stand with Jefferson.

Frankly speaking, I am, I think, in pretty good company.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Grand Ledge High School Marching Band

With thanks to Kelsey Fisher. My son, Caleb, is the tallest snare player. Near the end, he is in the lower left hand corner marking time for the D-line. My son, Jonah, is a trombone player. Love this band!

From the Rome (Georgia) News-Tribune

Terry sent this to me. It is pretty funny, actually.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Waitresses Watch

Something I re-read today reminded me of the impact that Christians have, and the potential for positive impact they can have. Bill Hybels, in his book, Just Walk Across the Room, writes:
Recently, I received a five-page letter from an area waitress who is part of Willow Creek. Before becoming a Christian, I learned, she waited tables at a restaurant where many of us would eat after weekend services - and where Christians from other churches would hang out as well.

"Please let me convey a few things about Christians from a non-Christian waiter's perspective," her letter began. "It's quite well-known among waitstaff that when tables of Christians get seated in your section, it will be anything but a positive experience. Christians are demanding. They tend to stay at tables for a long time. They often try and push literature. And they rarely tip generously." . . .

Her letter continued as my mind trailed off, dismayed over the indictment. She explained that the waitresses she worked with had finally landed on a rotation schedule so that a particular server wouldn't always get "stuck with the Christians." Five pages later, I reminded myself that this letter was penned by a woman right inside of our community. What does this say about Christ-followers when we neglect something so basic as treating a server with kindness, respect, and gratitude? I wondered.

How easily we forget that every person we come across is a person God loves. A person God has put in our path for us to be respectful toward. . . . Someone for us to serve by behaving with a Grander Vision Living attitude: "If you are scrambling and don't have time to refill my coffee cup just yet, don't worry about it. I can wait. I would be happy to wait, in fact." This should be our attitude, because last time I checked, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. . . .

I have a phrase that I communicate to servers on a frequent basis: "You have served me well." And when I find myself in the same restaurant consistently, after I tell them again and again that they have served me well, I typically add, "And if there is any way I can server you, please let me know."
That is great advice that I need to take to heart. If I can begin to see each person as a divinely appointed Christ-encounter, then I suspect that more people with whom I come into contact will come to know Jesus.

I would love it if I my fellow Christians and I were so well known for our kindness and generosity to those who serve us that I begin hearing, "Thanks for the tip. Are you by any chance a Christian?"

Monday, June 28, 2010

Last year, about this time, I wrote about my trip to the Secretary of State. It was a long day, that one.

It seems only fair then, to give some credit where credit is due.

This morning I stopped by the downtown branch of the Secretary of State to transfer the plate from my son's truck to my wife's car. My wife drives a 1998 Mercury station wagon with 160,000-ish miles on it. The car is valued at less than $2,000, but the plate costs $210 to renew! A couple years back, a helpful SOS employee told me about a frequently used loophole to save some money.

I simply transfer the least expensive plate I have to the station wagon, and then re-plate that vehicle. Here's how it works:

Option A:
Renew plate on station wagon: $210
Renew plate on truck: $54
Total cost: $264

Option B:
Renew plate on truck: $54
Transfer plate to station wagon: $8
Purchase new plate for truck $54
Total cost: $116 - a savings of $148!

Frankly speaking, the savings alone would have made me a happy SOS customer today. But even better than that was the efficient, friendly service I received today. It took 16 minutes from the time I parked until the time I pulled out of my parking place today. And, I was helped by a friendly professional named Nancy.

Today's grade for the Secretary of State: A+

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Things are not as they should be

"When a plane flies into a building killing thousands, we know that's not right.

"When a four-year-old dies from a brain tumor or a mother of three dies slowly of breast cancer, we know that's not right. . . .

"Whether we believe in God or not, most of us know intuitively that there are certain things that shouldn't happen in the world. It's that intuition that makes us want to ask why in the first place.

"But where does it come from? Why do we have this sense, not just that life is difficult, but that things are not the way they're supposed to be?"

Those thoughts are from a book I've just finished reading: Plan B - What Do You Do When God Doesn't Show Up the Way You Thought He Would?" by Pete Wilson.

And they're compelling.

For as long as I can recall, people have struggled with the problem of pain - the idea that an all-powerful, all-loving God is a divine oxymoron and, therefore, and impossibility. I'll admit, I've struggled with it, too.

Growing up, I watched my mother endure surgery after painful surgery in a series of failed fixes for a body wrecked by a teenage car crash. When I was little, I knew only that mom was "going to the hospital." As I grew older and the enormity of her pain began to sink in, I recall pleading with God for her healing. I begged. I made deals with God. But she remains, to this day, in constant pain.

So I know something of the inner tension one feels worshiping a seemingly enigmatic deity.

I've always heard the problem of pain touted as proof that God is, at best, absent or, more likely, nonexistent. Turn the problem-of-pain argument on its side, though, and the shifted perspective reveals something startling - at least to me.

Absent a deity to reveal to us the way things ought to be, how does humankind recognize that there, in fact, is a problem with pain? Apart from God, how did you and I come to realize that there is a way things should be and a way things should not be?

It is innate to us.

We view injustice - a young woman gunned down by Iranian secret police because she stood up for freedom - and we just know, "That's not right!" Nobody had to tell us. An inner script, an unspoken voice deep within . . . and we just know.

A forty year old mother sits in a lawn chair at her daughter's graduation open house, unable to walk to the kitchen and back because of the cancer she is fighting. Pride mixed with anxiety. Sorrow with joy. Unspoken by every person bearing graduation gifts is the knowledge that something is fundamentally wrong. This should not be happening to one so young, to a mom that is just now seeing the fruit of a dozen-and-a-half years of child rearing.

And how do we know?

I don't recall a single lesson from my parents, or in school, or in church where I was taught that getting cancer, or child abuse, or murder are not the way things are supposed to be.

And so, we are left with two possibilities. Either that knowledge is the result of an evolutionary process that was not just physical but also moral - that humankind became moral beings - or we were given that knowledge by God.

I choose to believe the latter.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Bible tells us that they became like God, knowing good and evil. In Plan B, Wilson writes:
Did you notice what the forbidden fruit was? It was knowledge - the knowledge of good and evil. Once Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate that fruit, they would know too much. They'd gain something they never had, something that would drive them crazy the rest of their lives. They would know when things are the way they should be and when things are all wrong.

That, of course, is exactly what happened. And because they had introduced sin into the world at the same time, they were now in a double bind. Because they ate the fruit, the "good" they now understood and yearned for would always be out of their reach.
I intuitively know when something is or is not right because, as a son of Adam, I have eaten Adam's fruit.

But this curse - and it is a curse - is also a blessing. Because the knowledge that things are not right, is a powerful apologetic for the existence of things, or The Thing that is right, namely, God.

C.S. Lewis wrote that the reality of hunger proves that there is such a thing as food. In this same sense, the reality of evil, of wrong-ness, proves that there is such a thing as good, such a thing as right.

Evolution cannot explain that. Secular humanism provides no clarification for the way things ought to be.

The only explanation I can comprehend is the One that is beyond my comprehension. The only sensible explanation for the way things ought to be is the God who will remove the curse. Who will wipe away every tear from every eye. Who will put an end to mourning. To crying. To pain.

In this world that remains less than it ought to be, that is enough for me.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Let the church be the church

When senior citizens at a retirement center near Savannah, Georgia were told they could no longer have a communal prayer at mealtime they were, understandably, upset. So was their mayor and their families. After all, this generation has been praying before eating since they first learned, "God is great; God is good; Let us thank Him for our food." Some of them were praying for their daily bread when it was a lousy Army issued K-ration wolfed down in a French foxhole.

According to a WSBT news report, the company that provides their meals is contracted with the federal government to provide subsidized meals. Seniors are charged only 55 cents for food that costs the feds $6.00 per person. Consequently, the food service contractor has grown jittery about the separation of church and state, and has replaced the community voiced prayer with a moment of silence - much to the dismay of those breaking bread together.

My question: now what?

In particular, how will the churches of Port Wentworth, Georgia respond to this decision?

I they're like many churches I've read about, they'll meet in their basements and paint picket signs. They'll mobilize for action. They'll call folks of like sympathy and prepare to march on city hall. They'll write their elected officials. Within a day or two of the story hitting the wire, we'll be reading about Christian organizations across the country decrying this decision. It will be on Christian television. Political action committees with right-leaning Christian sympathies will send out mailers to their faithful coffer-fillers urging them to "give generously to continue the fight."

Not that any of that is bad, necessarily. It's just that it doesn't work.

But what if the eighteen churches of Port Wentworth would take a different approach entirely? What if they told Uncle Sam to keep his lunch money and, instead, began providing the meals themselves? What if they said, "You know, there was a time when the church fed widows. Had a whole committee of seven guys set up to oversee it. Called 'em deacons. Didn't charge the old ladies a dime, and nobody went hungry." What if that happened?

Frankly speaking (that is the name of the blog after all), it should never have come to this. Twenty centuries removed from the first church we've abdicated our responsibility to care for our senior citizens to the federal government. The federal government? Shame on us.

When I read about the church's very first "meals on wheels," I can't help but notice what happens next. Right after the amazing description of how the early church cared for it's senior citizens we read, "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith."

Maybe if the twenty-first century church would follow the example of our first-century fathers and mothers we would see similar results.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

William Willimon on growing churches . . .

Making disciples is the job of disciples in Acts. Mainline North American Protestantism, faced with steady decline in membership over the most recent decades, tends to waver between superficial techniques for church growth or unconvincing alibis for church death – “We are not really dying; we are tightening our ranks for service.” “Only the reactionary, conservative churches are growing. We are too liberal and socially progressive to attract new members.” Luke would not know what to make of a church no longer in the business of making more disciples. While the mission of the church is more than growth, it is not something other than growth. It is certainly not decline. We live in the gracious interim for witness (Acts 1:8). In Luke-Acts, any church bold enough to preach the Word, which dares to challenge the cultural status quo, which refuses to accept present political arrangements as eternally given, which is convinced of the truth of its message, which is willing to suffer for the truth will grow. God gives growth to such churches.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An open letter to Marion Jones,

Dear Marion,

I read on Yahoo Sports this morning that you signed a contract to play for the WNBA's Tulsa Shock. Good for you.

We all make mistakes. And while there are plenty of people who are quick to pile on with phrases like, "We're all under pressure, but we don't all take performance enhancing drugs," I'm not one of them. None of us can understand the stress, the weight that led to your taking PEDs. I've not walked a mile in your shoes, and God knows that there are plenty of reasons why you and many others could point an accusing finger at me.

I taught our congregation last week that "God deals in paragraphs, not periods."

It is human nature, I suppose, that causes us to punctuate people's lives with one final, and seemingly irrevocable period. With a what-have-you-done-lately attitude, we assess one's most recent failure or media-exploited blunder and assign to them an undeserved finality.

God doesn't do that.

If he did, Moses' life would have ended, "Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand." If God punctuated solely with periods, King David's biography would have concluded with the Prophet Nathan telling David, "You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites."

But God deals in paragraphs. And, unlike periods, paragraphs signify the beginning of something rather than the end.

Because of God's predilection toward paragraphs, Moses led the children of Israel to freedom. David became known as a man after God's own heart. (Leading, I might add, to big things for Cecil B. DeMille and Michelangelo.)

And because of that, Marion, you, too, can make a new start.

There will be plenty of people who will insist on reminding you of your previous errors in judgment. They are the same small, petty people that sit on the sidelines of life offering unsolicited criticisms. They're the people that choose the longer line at the grocery checkout so they can peruse the covers of gossip magazines and wag their fingers at the others' mistakes. They're the same people who, with barely disguised smugness, smirk as they gawk at Tiger Woods on the cover of People Magazine.

Ignore them, Marion, and remember that God deals in paragraphs and not periods.

And because of that, the last chapter in your story - and perhaps the best - is just beginning.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mid-Michigan High Schoolers For Haiti

When the Student Leaders from our High School Youth Group, Modified, decided to challenge one another to a little peanut butter competition, I’ll bet they didn’t expect this to happen.

Their original plan: for Grand Ledge High School to challenge Everett High School to see which school could collect the most peanut butter to send to Haiti. Our students talked to their respective administrators and student councils and began collecting Jif and Peter Pan.

Then one student decided to call 97.5 Now-FM to see if they would be willing to donate a prize to the winning school. 97.5 called back and asked, "If two schools can do this, why can’t all 28 high schools in the Tri-County area do it?" An idea was sparked and soon Mid-Michigan High Schoolers For Haiti was born.

Here is how it will work. Beginning tomorrow morning, Citadel Broadcasting will begin talking about Mid-Michigan HS4Haiti on their flagship station, 97.5, as well as their other five affiliate stations. They are issuing a two-fold challenge – to give money to the American Red Cross, and to give "hard goods," from the list that we have printed on our church’s website.

Here’s the thing: all of the hard goods that are donated by the 22,000 high school students AND Citadel Broadcasting's 400,000 weekly listeners will come through our doors before being sent to Northwest Haiti Christian Mission. Yes, you read that correctly.

It is entirely possible that we will be looking at over 100,000 jars of peanut butter and Tylenol and anti-biotic ointment and . . . well the list is pretty long actually.

In other words, this is going to be huge.

97.5 will run the contest for the entire month of February, and they are making a substantial contribution to seeing that it succeeds. The winning schools (there are three categories based on enrollment) will each receive a cash grant that they can use to bless a not-for-profit in their own community. In addition, the winning school will play host to an exclusive live concert in their own gym or auditorium hosted by 97.5 morning deejay Josh Strickland and an up-and-coming regional band.

They are also planning to visit school assemblies, and have live broadcast remotes planned throughout Mid-Michigan to promote this event.

This is going to be huge – did I mention that already?

What can we do? Soon we’re going to be buried under an avalanche of Haiti supplies. We’re going to need a massive turnout of people on short notice to count, sort and repackage these items to ship to Haiti.

This Sunday we will give you specific instructions for how you can help with this effort.

Until then, please pray. God is already doing "immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine," with this project. (Let me just add that I am so proud of our Student Leaders and our Youth Minister, Chad Cronin. Their out-of-the-box thinking is going to save lives in Haiti!)

That’s all for now. Just get the word out. Listen to 97.5 tomorrow morning from 6 AM - 10 AM to get the early word on what is happening. Facebook this information. Find the links on the 97.5 webpage and put them on your Twitter and your blogs. Get the word out, and then watch what God does.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

There is a woman sitting behind my wife and me as we pull into the driveway of our home. She has a job, her own car. Is headed off to college in the fall. Just the other day she sat in our mini-van munching on a Happy Meal and dumping her Hi-C on the floor.

Not anymore. She's a woman now.

I pause at the garage door and switch the headlights off. I press the opener, and the door rises like a curtain on opening night. When my wife, Tracy, asks, "What are we waiting for?" I tell her, "Just look at that garage. Have you ever seen a nicer garage?"

"Um, sure. No. Whatever. What are you talking about?"

"I swept the floor and mopped yesterday."

From the back seat my daughter deadpans, "Nice. Can we pull inside the nice clean garage now?"

We do. Like every other day, our hands are full. Book bags, grocery sacks, mail and dinner - McDonald's again - are balanced carefully as we labor to get in the house. Abby sets her drink - no longer a 12 ounce Hi-C, but a 32 ounce Dr. Pepper - on the frost covered roof of the car and reaches in to retrieve the suit she just bought for the scholarship banquet she'll be attending next week.

The soda slides, slowly at first, then picking up steam it careens off the car and explodes on my clean floor. Mother and daughter glance at one another, and then at me. I smirk; they giggle. Soon we're belly laughing at my obsessive need to keep a garage floor clean and the obvisous silliness of it all.

And yet, hidden in my laughter is a tear, knowing that my daughter has nearly completed her journey from Abby to Abigail.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti Relief

The unprecedented events of the past week have challenged everyone that has watched the events unfolding in Haiti. None more than the brothers and sisters at South Lansing Christian Church that have prayed for, supported financially and served alongside ministries in Haiti.

Nearly two years ago our church collected 9,000 jars of peanut butter to send to Haiti. It was distributed within about six weeks. Imagine how desperate their need for food is now, with transportation and distribution crippled by the devastating earthquake of earlier this week.

How can we respond as a church? Let me detail some of what is already taking place:

First, our church has been designated a Regional Collection Location by Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, one of our partner ministries. Next week NWHCM will be placing a 40 foot shipping container in our church parking lot. Together, with Christian Churches from all over Michigan, we intend to fill that container with high protein food and medical supplies. For a complete list of details on the items we are accepting click here.

On Sunday we are going to be asking you to sign up for a shift to help load the container. In the meantime, begin to get the word out that South is collecting items for Haiti. We need to work fast. Talk to your friends and co-workers. Connect with Christians in other cities. Let them know that time is of the essence. We need to fill the container in seven days.

South will also be doing what we can to make a financial commitment to our partner ministries in Haiti. In addition to NWHCM, GO Ministries , a ministry in the Dominican Republic, is crossing the border into Haiti to minister in the Capitol City, and Waves of Mercy, is planning to bring 50 children that lost their parents in the earthquake from Port au Prince to their campus in Port-de-Paix.

In addition, Jeff Badgero, the father of South’s own Brenda Glinke, is traveling to Haiti on January 26th. A veteran Haiti missionary, Jeff is fluent in Creole, and will be working directly in rescue and recovery efforts. The best way we can help Jeff help Haitians, is to make sure he goes to Haiti with his pockets full of dollars.

Sunday night, at 8 PM, I will be moderating a meeting of our elders, deacons, missions, and finance teams. Our first order of business: to pray for Haiti. After that, we are going to put our heads together to figure out how we can best help our partner ministries help Haitians.

You are invited to this prayer meeting too.You are invited to this prayer meeting too.

I believe God is calling us to do more than just write a check. That’s too easy. Earlier this week, Tracy and I started listing items on eBay. We believe that we can use those dollars for Kingdom purposes. What would happen if we all began sacrificing our "want items"? Something amazing, I believe.

All we really need to know is this: Haitians are hurting. We can help.

Pray, friend, and come prepared to do something this Sunday.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Trading Stuff for Ministry Money

We've been studying the Bible book of Acts at South Lansing Christian Church. The deeper I go, the more I think it has the potential to ruin my life. Last week I challenged the congregation to have the same attitude that the early church had - that the return of Jesus Christ was imminent. Following his ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and, while they waited for the promised Holy Spirit to arrive, they contemplated Jesus' return. They expected it, even.

You cannot read the rest of Acts without recognizing that the first Christ followers anticipated Jesus return. That is why their priorities were so radically altered. That is how they were able to rid themselves of material baggage the sale of which could do good for others in the here and now, but that would be useless once Jesus returned.

Sell your land and put the money in the offering plate? No big deal. Jesus is coming back. Loan you the stuff that belongs to me? No big deal. It all belongs to Jesus anyway. Shed myself of possessions and use the money for ministry? "I can do that." was the reply of the first believers.

I went home Sunday afternoon after preaching Acts 1:1-11 and my wife and I began listing stuff on eBay and Craig's list. One of the items I listed was my collection of The West Wing DVDs - you know, the television series with Martin Sheen. I love that show, but the fact is I haven't viewed the discs in months. They just sit there on the shelf. I thought, "If they're still sitting there when Jesus returns and I could have sold them and used the money for ministry, how will I explain that to Jesus?"

So tonight, in about 45 minutes I'm going to hand them over to some guy and take his 50 bucks and do some good with it. . . .

UPDATE: Just left the grocery store parking lot where I exchanged my DVDs for $50. Felt like we were doing a drug deal. Got home and walked in to find out that Haiti just had an earthquake. The quake is the most severe in the country's history. The damage is significant. One of the missionaries our church supports, Jose Castillo, is in Port au Prince and cannot be located at the present time.

That $50 will make a difference invested in ministry. The DVDs would not.

What else can I sell?

If I get serious about being an Acts 1 Christian, it might ruin my carefully thought out and scripted life. But then, maybe that is what God wants to happen. Maybe his plan is better off.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Should I sell my DVDs?

I read this interesting article on Yahoo tonight: 10 Things Not to Buy in 2010. My personal experience validates what this article reports.

Tops on the list: DVDs. Mrs. Frankly and I had a conversation just the other night about the futility of buying more of them. We probably own about a hundred, including all seven seasons of The West Wing and the first four seasons of The Office. I considered asking for season five this Christmas. But why, when I can watch it on Netflix. For many, opting for online delivery or delivery by mail rather than purchasing DVDs is a matter of convenience.

As a follower of Jesus it ought to be more than that for me.

It ought to be a matter of stewardship.

Why do I need to own a movie when I can rent it or borrow it from the library. I can only watch one flick at a time, after all. For the same price I expected to pay to round out my Office collection, I was able to buy nearly four months of Netflix. (Of course, there is another question entirely of whether or not movies are good stewardship of my time and mind.)

I am surrounded, it turns out, by stuff. Collectibles. Books. Tools. My son said just tonight, "Dad, you really have a flashlight fetish." And he's right.

I plan to preach this week from Acts 1 about how the early church anticipated - no, expected - the imminent return of Jesus Christ. This expectation affected their entire lives. I somehow doubt, for example, that the first Christians would have collected every episode chronicling the Josiah Bartlett administration on Digital Video Disc.

Rather, they pared down their possessions. And why wouldn't they? Why collect stuff if Jesus was due back any moment?

The history of the early church records:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:32-35, NIV)
Author and preacher Ed Dobson told in his book, The Year of Living Like Jesus about giving away his clothes. He took John the Baptist's suggestion, quite literally, to give away half of his clothing. He gave away more than half of his suits to young men at a nearby seminary. Dobson is living like the early church lived.

Will I?

I'm not sure I can really preach that sermon without having a conversation with my family about our attachment to possessions. About our willingness to let go of some things. But if our church is going to become the church God intended, if I am going to be the man God intended, there will probably be many more uncomfortable talks.

And also a few changes.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Dick Clark, if you only knew . . .

Dick Clark was there tonight. I assumed he would be. New Year's Eve wouldn't be New Years without Dick Clark.

The Grahams were there. Jeff sat on the end of the sectional beside Beth. Becca was sprawled on the floor and Megan was in the recliner hammering away on her brand-new Blackberry. Caleb was somewhere playing X-Box. He showed up just in time to see the ball drop. Jonah was there, too.

The only one missing was Abby. Having worked yesterday, and needing to be at work tomorrow, she had to stay home.

For the first time in eighteen years our family was not together for New Year's Eve.

I was listening to The Forest Gump Suite on my iPod when that reality hit me.

There are a lot of reasons to look forward to 2010. I have such hope for this year - heightened, I think, by being able to close the book on a brutally difficult chapter in my life. And yet, 2010 will be a year of mixed emotions, I think.

As the ball dropped, I couldn't escape the milestones our family will realize in 2010.

10 . . . my 25th high school reunion. Are you kidding me? 25 years?!

9 . . . Abigail graduates from Grand Ledge High School. She just learned to walk and talk and.

8 . . . In two weeks, I teach my first college class. I am a little terrified, to be honest.

7 . . . My son, Caleb, becomes a high school Senior. By this time next year, Tracy and I will be looking at a second graduation open house and a nest with only one "egg."

6 . . . Our baby becomes a high school Freshman. And joins the "real" Grand Ledge football program.

5 . . . Twenty-three years of marriage to Mrs. Weller. Wow!

4 . . . My daughter moves out of our home and becomes a college Freshman. Un-be-lievable.

3 . . . One last family vacation together? Maybe.

2 . . . A final marching band season with my son on the drum line.

1 . . . Caleb's last Christmas (and we just went through this).

I know. Nobody's dying. I imagine they're all going to be there next year even though they are not "in our home" so to speak. Somehow, though, I imagine it just isn't going to be the same.

By the time the ball came to rest on its sparkling "2010" and the last strains of The Forest Gump Suite had faded I was pretty melancholy. I still am.

And though I expect to smile a lot this year, I suspect that, in 2010, I'll weep more than a handful of tears.