Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Church Goals Update

At the beginning of 2008 I set forward some goals for my churches. I (we) have met with rather mixed success. Here is my end of the year analysis.

  • Make 2008 a year of prayer. This was an unqualified success. People are praying more than ever. We gather at the altar on Sundays for prayer. We have new prayer request and reporting opportunities and weekly prayer lessons and requests emails.
  • Increase spiritual sensitivity. This goal has been mixed. Many people are more in tune with God spiritually. But many more are not.
  • Reach 10 new, unchurched people. Almost is the answer on this one. Between the two churches that I pastor we have eight new people in worship each week.
  • Create and maintain peace and stability. We are on the way. There have been many changes implemented that are working toward this goal. Within six months I will be able to declare: Mission Accomplished.
  • Increase biblical literacy. I am not sure how to measure this. I think that we have not made a lot of progress on this one. People do not bring Bibles to church. I see very little evidence of outside Bible study, etc. I will keep working on this one.
  • Establish new groups and develop new leaders. We have established three Faith Teams. They are meeting on a regular basis. We are continuing to train new leaders. The leaders that are already volunteering continue to do excellent work.
  • Become "that" church in the area. I am not sure what I was thinking, but I know that it hasn't happened.
  • To complete the ramp/bell project at Pretty Prairie. The ramp and new entrance is finished. Now we just have to do the bell.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Favorite Books of 2009

As I continue reviewing and evaluating the year that was 2008, I offer these titles as some of the best books that I read in 2008. So let me begin with my disclaimers:
  1. These are not the best books of 2008. These books are the ones that entertained, informed, inspired or changed me the most.
  2. These books were not necessarily written or released in 2008. They were just read by me for the first time this year.
  3. There are not 10 books on my list this time around. I have some excuses for that. First of all, it was a bad year for the Miller family. There was a financial crisis, a couple of pretty serious health issues, a very busy schedule and a very silly Lenten fast. (I did not read anything but the Bible during Lent.)
  4. The list appears in no particular order. The first on the list is not necessarily my favorite.

Here are my favorite books of the year.

  • Candy Girl, by Diablo Cody
  • Red Letter Christians, by Tony Campolo
  • Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
  • Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
  • Robert Hardy's Seven Days, by Charles Sheldon
  • The Path of Celtic Prayer, by Calvin Miller
  • Sit, Walk, Stand, by Watchman Nee
  • The Annotated Godfather, by Jenny M Jones
  • Picasso at the Lapin Agile, by Steve Martin

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Movies I Still Want to See

I have gotten very far behind in my movie viewing. I am watching fewer movies and reviewing fewer films as well. I am hoping to make some adjustments to that in the new year. To that end, here is a list of movies that I would like to see, that I have not.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • Talk to Me
  • Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
  • The X Files
  • Get Smart
  • 21
  • 88 Minutes
  • Transsiberian
  • The Bank Job
  • Righteous Kill
  • Appaloosa
  • The Wackness
  • Henry Poole is Here
  • Kill Bill, Volume 2
  • Awake My Soul
  • Synechdoche, New York
  • Nothing Like the Holidays
  • Cadillac Records
  • Australia
  • The Boy in Striped Pajamas
  • The Secret Lives of Bees
  • The Duchess
  • Lakeview Terrace
  • Nobel Son
  • W
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frost/Nixon
  • The Visitor
  • Burn After Reading
  • The Reader
  • Vicky Christina Barcelona
  • Doubt
  • I'm Not There
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • Gran Torino
  • A Christmas Tale
  • Rachel Getting Married
  • Valkyrie
  • Young at Heart
  • Leatherheads
  • Snow Angels

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Practices of a Christian: Baptism

The Bible, particularly the New Testament, is filled with admonitions for followers of Christ to be baptized. In fact, the Gospels begin with John the Baptist preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River. He encouraged his followers to go into the water of the Jordan as a sign of their repentance and a “washing away” of their sins. A highlight in the story of Jesus is when he went to the river to meet his cousin and to be baptized. Although he was not a sinner, Jesus submitted himself to baptism.

After the resurrection of Christ, the meaning of baptism changed for Christians. There was still the washing element, but now we have the symbolism of being buried with Christ and raised again to new life. This becomes especially significant for those Christian traditions that practice adult baptism by immersion.

In our tradition we have options. We believe that adult believers can be baptized. We also believe that it is a good thing for Christian parents to baptize their children. These children are brought into the faith through baptism. We baptize our children with the prayer that they will live faithfully and someday receive and accept the Christian faith for themselves.

Many traditions have various baptismal practices and methods. For me it is simple; if God calls you to do it, you should do it. Therefore, we practice baptism by immersion (dunking), sprinkling, or even pouring. The significance of baptism is not in the action, or the amount of water used, but in the grace of God that works miraculously.

Baptism is a necessity for those who follow Christ. It is not an option. We are not to get baptized if we feel like it. We must get baptized. It is an act of obedience. In Acts 2.38 Peter says, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The command to be baptized is a command. To be completely obedient to Christ, you must submit to his baptism.

Here is one final note: Baptism is a one-time event. Many Christians feel that they should be re-baptized because of some sin or experience in back sliding. Others believe that their infant baptism was not effective because they do not remember it. However, we should always remember that it is God that works in our baptisms. Whenever you were baptized, a miracle took place. God was at work and your baptism was effective and sufficient. Ephesians 4.5 reminds us that we have only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” When you feel that you need another baptism it may be because you question your own faith, rather than the grace of God.

Let me conclude with one admonition: Go and sin no more. Come and be baptized.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Christmas Thought

"Help each one of us to keep Christmas alive in our hearts, that it may continue to glow, to shed its warmth, to speak its message during the bleak days of winter."
Peter Marshall

This prayer spoke right into my heart when I read it. I cannot imagine how many times I have become frustrated with the commercialism and busy-ness of Christmas. I am sure that I cannot remember how many times I have been called a Scrooge, or been accused of being "grinchy." Christmas seems to do that to me.

First of all, Christmas comes at the wrong time of year in the northern hemisphere. It is hard to be happy and joyous when you are cold, all the time. I could be much more jolly if it were warmer out doors.

Secondly, the days are too short. When I get up in the morning, it is dark. When I am finished at work, it is dark. And in my neighborhood when it is not dark it is often gloomy, overcast or snowing. (It seems to snow everyday.) I need some sunshine. Now!

Third, there are just too many things to do. There are too many responsibilities, parties, concerts, church events. It is too much. By the time Christmas comes I am very tired.

But then Peter Marshall prays that we would keep Christmas alive. I am all for that. I will do what I can. I will be less scroogy and grinchy and a little more linusy. How about that?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Favorite Albums of 2008

Here's round two of my favorites of 2008. This time it is my favorite albums of the year. Again, let me preface my list by offering the following disclaimers:
  1. These are not necessarily the best albums. They are my favorites. They do not even have to be good. So there.
  2. These albums were not necessarily new in 2008. But, I heard them for the first time in 2008.
  3. I do not think that my opinions are better, more well-rounded, or more commendable than anyone else's. But they are mine.
  4. These appear in no particular order.

So, here is my list:

  • Amy Winehouse- Back to Black. (After hearing everything about Amy Winehouse I really tried to not like this record. I couldn't.)
  • Bob Dylan- Tell Tale Signs.
  • Bright Eyes- Four Winds.
  • Juno- Soundtrack.
  • Once- Soundtrack.
  • Eagles- Long Road Out of Eden.
  • Ray Charles- The Spirit of Christmas.
  • Psalters- Divine Liturgy of the Wretched Exiles.
  • Andrew Peterson- Behold the Lamb of God. (I have loved this album for several years, but just went to the concert and remembered how beautiful it is. It deserves to be on the list.)
  • Willie Nelson- Moment of Forever.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My 10 Favorite Movies of 2008

Its time to do my year-end evaluations. I know that I may be the only one interested in these lists, but they do help me to think critically about the ways in which I spend my time. So, here is my list of my best movies of the year. But first, my disclaimers.

These movies are not necessarily the best ones of 2008. They are movies that have moved me, entertained me or made me think more than any other movies this year.

These movies were not necessarily released in 2008. They are all new to me, however. I watched them all for the first time in 2008.

I try very hard to not be influenced by what is popular. Consequently, I may be biased against the Hollywood blockbuster. But then again, maybe not.

So... here's the list:
  • Once
  • Waitress
  • Kill Bill, volume 1
  • Maria Full of Grace
  • Harlan County USA
  • Gone Baby Gone
  • Hard Candy
  • Dan in Real Life
  • Be Kind Rewind
  • In Bruges

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Christmas Thought

I have been reading some prayers written by Peter Marshall for my devotional times this month. In one of these he prays, "May we not spend Christmas, but keep it."

When we spend things they get away from us. We spend our money, and then it is gone. When we spend time, we are often wasting it. Spending is a losing, an eliminating.

Unfortunately, I have spent many Christmases. O, I convince myself that by my busy-ness I am fully enjoying the season. I attend all the programs, concerts and activities. I watch movies, read stories, sing carols, listen to the Messiah. I go shopping like a mad mad. I spend money that I do not have. I attend parties, reunions and celebrations. I add extra observances and services. On top of all that I want to serve others. I get all charitable at the holidays. I want to give. I want to provide. I want to help and do. And then Christmas is gone. And then I realize I have not enjoyed it at all.

Spending Christmas makes me think that for this year I must do more, give more, spend more and celebrate more than last year. I get all stressed out and in the end I have not enjoyed Christmas at all.  I have spent Christmas and it is gone.

This year I am going to try to keep Christmas. I will focus on it. I will think about it. I will ponder the incarnation. I will think about the gift of God to us, his son. I will consider the virgin and her husband, giving birth in a barn. I will ponder the mystery of the visitors, the angels, the dreams, the songs, the visions. I will do my best to keep Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thoughts on the New Year

Time flies when you’re havin’ fun.

Time waits for no man.

Time is on my side.

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Does anybody really care?

Times a-wastin’.

He’s got time to kill.

It’s the end of time.

The times, they are a-changin’.

Time heals all wounds.

Time is running out.

It was the best of times.

It was the worst of times.

It was the time of our lives.

It was the life of our times.

Do not squander time.

Live one day at a time.

And now it all starts again…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

United and Untied

I am a member, actually a pastor, in the United Methodist Church. One of my favorite jokes is that the Free Methodists are as free as the United Methodists are united. It is funny, but it is true. There is not a lot that unites our world-wide fellowship of churches, missions, members. We cover the entire theological perspective. We are loving and grouchy. We are open and closed-off. We are biblical and open to "fresh moves of the Spirit."

But, shouldn't we United Methodists be united? In fact, shouldn't all Christians be united? We all have the same faith system. We believe the same stuff (essentially, anyway). So we ought to have some generic affection for one another. We should be looking out for each other. We're all on the same team after all.

The key, for United Methodists and for all Christians, is the central point of our faith. As long as we all agree to focus on the story, the meaning, the message and the significance of Jesus, we should be able to get along. When we have Jesus in the right place we will be fine.

However, its hard to keep Jesus where he goes. We would much rather think of ourselves and our issues than to consider the will of God. Shame on us!

The old cliche says that there is "no 'I' in team." Likewise, there is no "I" in church or Jesus. We need to get over ourselves and our agendas and focus on Jesus and what it is that he wants for our lives, our families and our churches.

A while back I heard someone speaking on this very topic. He said that we should always keep Jesus in the center. He emphasized the importance of the cross of Christ and pointed out that the cross is shaped like a "t". This semantic memory trick also illustrates an important truth.

When we have the order correct, when I am in the right place and Jesus is in the right place, I can experience being united.

However, when I get out of order, when I put Jesus in the wrong place, that's when I am untied.

The Cold

The cold
gets old
must hold
in the fold
finding gold
to be sold
must be told
that the cold
gets old.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Funniest Seinfeld Episodes

Seinfeld is without a doubt (in my mind at least) the funniest television program of our time. The ensemble cast is perfect, the situations range from the mundane to the absurd, but what makes this such a great show is the writing. What follows is a list of my favorite episodes (in no particular order) (except that The Chinese Restaurant is the funniest half hour ever).
  • The Chinese Restaurant. I still tell the host at a restaurant that my name is Cartwright.
  • The Boyfriend. That was "one magic loogey."
  • The Parking Garage.
  • The Stranded.
  • The Outing. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
  • The Smelly Car. A scary thought... O can get separated from B.
  • The Marine Biologist. "The seas were angry..."
  • The Gymnast. I will still eat anything that is on "top of the doiley."
  • The Big Salad. This is a new way of thinking about who gets credit.
  • The Burning.
  • The Little Kicks. Even I can dance better than that.


In winter the snow falls from the sky.
Fragile flakes around me lie.
The snow mounts up in drifts so high,
While still falling from the sky.

In spring the rain pours down
Creating puddles on the ground,
'Til all the world is almost drowned
From the spring rains pouring down.

Summer brings the sunshine fair,
Shining 'round me everywhere
Filling the world with its golden flair.
Summer brings the sunshine fair.

In autumn brightly colored leaves fall;
Heaped in piles around us all.
The piles grow ever more tall
Because the leaves continue to fall.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Think Like a Christian

It is sometimes hard to be a thinking Christian. After all, we are admonished over and over again to "have faith," to "just believe" or to "trust God and his Word." I am not opposed to faith, trusting God, or the Bible, but am against anything that keeps anyone from thinking.

Here are some thoughts.
  • God is the one who gave humans brains. It is God who gave us the ability to think and to reason. We are the only creatures- so far as we know- with the cognition, rationality and discernment to think in the ways that we do. I think that means God wants us to use our brains.
  • The Bible is filled with admonitions for those who would follow God to study, to think, to improve their lives and their minds.
  • St. Paul, author of a huge chunk of the Bible, was one of the great thinker-philosophers of all time. He never had a conflict with his mind and his spirit.
  • There are no declarations in the Bible that anyone should diminish the importance of education, knowledge or even philosophy.
  • Historically, the church has been at the forefront of efforts to educate all people. 
There are some prejudices (some of them deserved) among people concerning Christians. Most of these have to do with our intellectual commitment. Consider the following:
  • Those who are not Christians, including atheists, agnostics, academicians and others, assume that all Christians are uninformed and apathetic toward world events or religious concerns.
  • Main line Protestant Christians, including United Methodists, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, Lutherans, Episcopalians, American Baptists and others, assume that evangelical Christians are less committed to pursuits of the mind than they are.
  • Evangelical Christians often believe that Charismatics and Pentecostals are not as bright, as informed or as interested in educational and intellectual stimulation as they should be.
Of course all of these are often false. But unfortunately they are often right. Christians have been afraid to think because it might challenge their faith. Additionally, we have been too lazy to engage our brains. It is much easier to let someone else think and then to let them tell us what to believe.

All Christians should reject stereotypes that are less than appealing. We should work hard at growing in faith and in intellect.

Christmas Spirit

I've been visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past

And he reminded me that

Things are better than they were.

In days gone by,

No matter how I tried

I always ended in some kind of err.


The Ghost of Christmas Present came

And showed me how I tend to blame

Someone else when problems come.

Now I know what I've got.

There are several faults

That need to be overcome.


The visit of the Future Ghost,

The one that I dreaded most,

Proved an encouragement to me.

Things can be changed;

I don't have to be the same.

A New Year's new leaf can be turned, you see.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Angel Said

The angel said to Mary,
“You’ll have a little boy.”
The angel said to Joseph,
“He’ll bring lots of joy.”
The angel said to the shepherds,
“Worship the King.”
The angel said to everyone,
“Lift your voice and sing.”
Sing Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
Sing Hallelujah. Glory to the King.

Weekly Prayer Thought

...praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints... Ephesians 6.18

I had just come to my prayer time when it occurred to me that I had no idea what to pray about. I did not have a list of concerns or needs that should be attended to. I was at a loss for what to thank the Lord for. I was not necessarily unprepared to pray. I just didn't know what to pray about.

There was another time when I didn't know how to pray about a particular situation. A dear family member, a faithful Christian, was deathly ill. The medical team attending to her needs had given up all hope for any recovery. However, I was not ready for her to die. Even though she had lived a full and happy life, and even though I was sure that she was going to enjoy eternity in heaven with her Lord, I wanted her to get better. I wanted to pray that she not die, even though I knew if she lived her quality of life would be greatly diminished.

On another occasion, I was faced with a terrible decision. There was great conflict in my church and I knew that either way I went, there would be many feelings hurt on both sides. Again, I didn't know how to pray about the issues. No one seemed to be wrong.

There are times, as these examples illustrate, that we just do not know how we should pray. Our wishes and desires are not necessarily bad, but we do not know for sure that they are what God wants. It is in those times that we need to lay claim to "praying always in the Spirit." We need to just pray. Pray in whatever direction God takes you. Let the Holy Spirit be your intercessory partner.

Many people believe that this verse is an encouragement to pray in tongues. Although that is certainly a possibility, it is not required. We should be listening to God and open to his will for our lives and our prayers.

PRAYER: Help me when I don't know what or how to pray. Allow my relationship with you to be so strong and so intimate that I can always come to you, regardless of my state of mind or my desires. Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mary's Song: Luke 1.46-55

I worship the Lord,
and my heart rejoices in my Savior.
He has noticed me-
he knows how humble I am;
And from now on, everyone will call me blessed.
The great God has done a great thing in me-
Praise his name.
He is gracious to all who love him
in every generation forever.
He can be strong and punish the haughty.
He brings down the proud
and exalts the humble.
He feeds the hungry
and ignores the complaints of the rich.
God helps his people when they remember him
even as he did Abraham and our fathers
and all their seed forever.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mary's Doubts

My friends are gone.
They have left me alone.
I’m not sure motherhood is for me.
It seems that without friends
That the world will end.
I don’t think I want this to be.

My back is sore.
I can’t touch the floor.
I ache from head to toe.
One minute I need rest,
And I’m cranky the next.
All my problems no one can know.

All the people in town
They look and they frown;
They believe what I’ve said is untrue.
They’re not afraid to shout,
They sneer and they doubt.
And me? I’m feeling blue.

Classic Christmas Story Archetypes

The Bible says that there is nothing new under the sun. How true. I am reminded of that every Christmas time. We love the Christmas movie in our house. Yes, I said the Christmas movie. There is a very limited selection in the actual story that is included in Christmas movies. This is not unlike the Christmas album that every singer is obliged to release at least once in their careers. They sing all the same songs that everyone else has already sung. It is nothing new.

There are some actors that are associated with Christmas movies. Think about Bing Crosby. Bing made Holiday Inn, White Christmas, Going My Way. He was a Christmas institution. In recent years we have Tim Allen making a bid for Christmas movie immortality. Allen is in all the Santa Clause movies and Christmas with the Kranks. In the last few years we see Vince Vaughn in Fred Claus and now Four Christmases. But, by and large, most actors make the plunge to the Christmas movie genre.

The problem with Christmas movies is that there just are not that many stories in them. There is not a lot of creativity.
  • There are the stories about the "evil character who finally gets the Christmas spirit." This is where we get all the Christmas Carol and Scrooge movies. There are way too many variations on this one to name.
  • There are stories of "oppressed or poor people who survive and overcome" because of the true, giving nature of Christmas. Think It's a Wonderful Life.
  • There are all the "family is wonderful, and yet I hate them" Christmas movies. In this genre we can think of Christmas Vacation, Four Christmases, Christmas with the Kranks.
  • Then there are the "through the eyes of a child" Christmas movies. Here we can reminisce and enjoy A Christmas Story, Prancer and Meet Me in St. Louis.

Think about your favorite Christmas movie. Where does it fit in?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Four Christmases for Christmas

Let me begin by saying that Four Christmases is not the worst Christmas movie ever made. However, it certainly does not get into the upper half in terms of quality either. It is filled with pretty people doing silly things that are sometimes amusing. There are mishaps all around, everyone gets to spend the holiday together (whether they want to or not), and by the end a lesson is learned. It will not spoil the movie one whit if I reveal that everyone lives happily ever after. That's what's supposed to happen in Christmas movies, after all.

The film is not lacking for star power. In fact, there are rarely movies made with this many Oscar and Tony winning actors. Every scene reveals a new superstar.

The story centers around Reese Witherspoon as Kate, and Vince Vaughn as Brad. Kate and Brad are two very successful and good looking people who have worked very hard to have fun in life and to meet their own needs. Each year, rather than facing their dreaded families, they plan a vacation together. That is until this Christmas. This year the airport was fogged in and they couldn't leave. They were going to be stuck having Christmas with all four parents- in four different homes.

First there is Robert Duvall as Brad's father. If you can imagine a redneck family, this is where Brad came from. His two brothers are ultimate fighters and take great pleasure in beating up and humiliating Brad. They are jealous of his success, but no one seems to see this and they all are miserable.

Then Brad and Kate move on to Kate's mother's house. Mary Steenburgen has this role. She is self-absorbed and currently infatuated with her pastor. Kate has to endure one embarrassment after another at the hands of her family. Kate and Brad wind up playing parts in the church's nativity play which only bothers Kate more.

Next they move on to Brad's mother, played by Sissy Spacek. She is a new-age airhead who has taken up with Brad's best friend from high school. Brad is appropriately repulsed by their relationship and all their efforts to seem "normal."

Finally, they move to Kate's father's home on Christmas night. Kate's father, played by Jon Voight, seems to be the only normal relative in the family. He is calm, sensible and has even included his ex-wife and Pastor Phil to the celebration.

It is hard to believe that all this could happen in one day, but it is a movie after all. Things do not have to be realistic. But here is the real issue for me. Kate and Brad are so embarrassed by their families that they completely reject them emotionally. They do not want to spend time with them, nor be influenced by them. In the process, they miss out on many of the positive aspects of family life.

Many people I know are just like this. They want to run away from their homes, their families, their backgrounds. They want to invent new "cool" identities so they will not be saddled with the humiliation that is family.

Here is my suggestion. Rather than be embarrassed by and reject your family we all should embrace and redeem our families. There are good things in each family member. Let's focus on those. And even if there are not good things in our families, we should work toward creating good in them. And that's not a bad plan for this Christmas.

Winter on the Creek

The snow doesn't fall as often, or as softly there
As it does in romantic places like Aspen or Tahoe.
But when the wind blows cold, breath freezes in the air
And whispers ring for miles above the snow.

The sun shines brighter and more often in the arctic cold.
The bright morning glare on the mirrored snow and ice
Is unbearable. It all makes everyone a little more old.
But winter rages on while everyone and everything else dies.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A New Moral Code?

I have written often here about how Christians have their morals all messed up. We are not afraid to point to the sins of homosexuals, pedophiles and polygamists, but shrink back from the more common and problematic sexual sins of infidelity, divorce and sex trafficking. I do not want to be misunderstood, I believe that all sexual sins are bad. As a Christian I affirm that God ordained people to have sexual relationships only in the context of a committed, exclusive marriage.

But the bigger problem is that Christians have focused only on sexual sins when considering morals. This cannot be. This was brought to my attention this week in an article by Brian McLaren.

In an analysis of what he terms "economic fundamentalism," McLaren references "the kind of religious fundamentalism that equates morality with sexuality." It is sad that Christians have forgotten, or at least ignored all the other elements of a Christian morality except for the sexual parts.
  • Peace. Christians should be advocating for peace on earth (all year long).
  • Prosperity. I hesitate to use the word prosperity, but in this context I am meaning that it is ridiculous for people anywhere in the world, and certainly in America, to be in poverty.
  • Health. Can we be a moral people if we ignore the health care needs of large parts of our population?
  • Education. One of the fundamentals of success in life is ensuring that everyone is educated.
There are many more aspects to morality, but that should get you started. Do not be suckered into this idea that moral issues = sexual issues. It is way more than that.

Christmas Questions

Were you born in December,

Is that the right time of year?

Were your parents lonely

With all your family and angels near?

Did the shepherds come singing;

What did you hear?
Were you born in a barn?
The story is so unclear.

But you came and you gave

And you stayed

Before you went away.

The story begins

When God put on skin

To live and die in our place.


Was it cold outside

On the night you were born?

Did you come in the evening,

The afternoon or the morning?
I don’t know the answers;

I might never know the truth.

Except that I am certain

Of a few things about you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Consistent Christianity

Hypocrisy. It is a leading cause for those who are not Christians to stay that way. In addition, there are many who call themselves Christian who leave the faith because of the contradictions- real or imagined- in other Christians. There are even many Christians who recognize hypocrisy in others and try hard to avoid the tendency and the violator. It is one of our greatest problems.

Several years ago there were several high-profile cases of hypocrisy in the church. There were allegations and many of them were ultimately proven to be true.
  • Jim Bakker sold more time at his resort than was available and had an affair with a woman who was not his wife.
  • Jimmy Swaggart had mysterious liaisons with a prostitute and then refused the discipline and correction of his denominational leaders.
  • Oral Roberts claimed to have had a vision that he would die if he did not raise a large sum of money for his ministry.
  • Robert Tilton threw prayer requests in the trash after taking the money out of envelopes from supporters.
  • Larry Lea was accused of some shady fundraising to support his ministry and lifestyle.

Those are all terrible accusations, and if true are certainly a black eye on the face of the Christian church. But that's not all. Recent months have only seen an increase in the number of prominent Christian leaders involved in dubious activities.

  • Todd Bentley, a Canadian evangelist leading a celebrated revival in Florida announced that God had led him to leave the revival just before it was revealed that he and his wife would be separating. That came to light just before Bentley's admission of "emotional" infidelity with a female staff member.
  • Ted Haggard solicited gay prostitutes for sex and used drugs with them.
  • Randy and Paula White announced that they were divorcing (apparently for no good reason) just before Paula took a job at a church in another state. Since their announcement the church that they co-pastor in Tampa has filed for bankruptcy.
  • Victoria Osteen, wife of Joel, was accused of assaulting a flight attendant over insignificant issues in a first class cabin. (Osteen was acquitted of the charges.)
  • Thomas Wesley Weeks III, after beating his evangelist wife and being sentenced to community service for that crime, was led hand-cuffed from his church for being delinquent on mortgage payments.

I'm depressed. That is a terrible list. No wonder so many non-Christians are skeptical of the church. We have a checkered history, to say the least. But there is good news. For every Barry Bonds who cheats and alienates others, there is a Cal Ripken who plays by the rules and is very consistent. I am going to do my best to be a Cal Ripken. I am going to be looking for Cal Ripkens all around me.

Come and Worship

Come and worship. Come and worship.
Worship Christ the newborn King.

Come and worship. Come and worship.
Worship Jesus Christ the King.

Come and worship. Come and worship
The Prince of peace and King of kings.

Come and worship. Come and worship
The Lord of life and Almighty King.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Story Begins

Were you born in December;
Is that the right time of year?
Were your parents lonely
With family and angels near?
Did the shepherds come singing?
What did you hear?
Were you born in a barn?
The story is unclear.

But you came and you gave;
And you stayed before you went away.
The story begins
When God puts on skin;
To live and die in our place.

Was it cold outside
On the day you were born?
Did you come in the evening,
The afternoon or the morning?
I don’t know the answers-
I might never know the truth;
Except that I am certain
Of a few things about you.

Prayer of the Week

Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles. Luke 6.12-13

I have never been one who has been overly obsessed with a legalistic approach to prayer. That is, although I am a firm believer in prayer, I do not think that there are certain approaches, practices or formulas that are more important, or more effective than others. I think that praying is more important than how you pray. The fact that prayer is taking place is more significant than how much time you spend in prayer.

With that disclaimer out of the way, however, let's be certain that we notice this important principle illustrated in the life of Jesus. Sometimes there is no substitute for deep, personal and lengthy prayer. Jesus did a couple of things in this passage.

First of all, he went out to pray. There was a habit that Jesus was in his prayer life. He had a procedure, a place, a pattern where prayer was concerned. He did it so much that he developed a discipline.

Secondly, it appears that he went alone. Jesus often kept his disciples and other followers close at hand. But there were times when he went to pray, that he went alone. We could learn a lot from this example of solitude. We do not always have to be on display for others to see.

Finally, He prayed all night. There were no shortcuts to this prayer. It took time to accomplish what Jesus wanted in his prayer. Throughout the gospels we see that Jesus prayed all night here, before calling the disciples, and in other places- before beginning his ministry and before the crucifixion, for example.

You and I may need to pray for extended periods of time as well. Do not short change your prayers, or the Lord.

PRAYER: Help me to pray, Lord. Help me to know how I should spend my time in prayer. Give me patience and perseverance to pray as I should. Reward me with your presence and with the commitment to continue in prayer. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.