Friday, October 31, 2008

one dream to another....

When Sarah and I first graduated college, and moved to Iowa to begin our adult life, we decided it was time to roll like adults. My 1994 Saturn SL1 (Hermes) was not going to work on the highway much, and when I was gone, Sarah had to stay home. So we went car shopping. Sarah had always wanted a Honda Civic.

Neither of us had much of a credit history. Most dealerships wouldn't finance us for anything, much less a decent used car. Ironically, the only place we found luck was a Honda dealership. They were having a special where if you'd just graduated college, they would finance you, but only for a brand new car. So we did it. It was ridiculously new, and lost a ridiculous amount of value the moment we left the lot. But we've loved it for 5 years.

Alas, with the trappings of vacation packing for the Anderson family lately...we knew the Honda Civic simply wouldn't work much longer. So we went hunting again. This time, armed with a credit that....well, at least exists. And a simple dream this time: More room on wheels, and less money to pay each month. And a Honda Civic that was finally paid down to it's depreciated we could break even. :)

After spending many hours at home, hunting and researching for a few weeks. After spending 5 hours at the actual dealership, test-driving, poking around, and speaking with a great salesman...who was still a salesman...we finally found one.

We will now own the road. We will fit our suitcases. We will watch Dora at 70 MPH. We will open our sliding doors from 15 feet away. We will start our engine from our living room, so it has time to warm up. We will own a mini-van that most people haven't heard of, because they were only made between 2005-2007. But we will rock it like it deserves to be rocked....:)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

my friend...

I remember one of my friends growing up. He wasn't the brightest guy in the world, but he could always make me smile. I first met him at a summer camp, where he definitely changed the way many of us saw the grown-ups around us. It always seemed like he would accidentally get into serious trouble, but somehow got out of any serious consequences. He was awesome.

One Christmas, he had a particularly rough time, but it ended up being one of the best years ever in the end. That next year, he invited me to Splash Mountain with him. I totally wanted to go, but couldn't make it.

As we both grew a little older, I still valued our friendship. Even when he got mixed up with some friends in the "wrong crowd". He spent a small amount of time in jail, but was eventually released...once the truth got out. Looking back, it was kinda funny. He totally forgave society for that mess-up.

The next year, I remember was one of the scariest years for him. The stuff he went through that fall, I could hardly even bear hearing it all. There are very few things that truly frighten me, but some of the things he had to deal with still give me the shivers.

We kinda lost touch after that. I know he had some crazy rides, went back to school, played some basketball from what I've heard. He even traveled a bit overseas, and then joined the armed forces, though I didn't really keep tabs on how that went. Never really heard of him after that, although I think he passed away back in 2000...

I can't believe most local video places don't even carry him anymore....sigh.

Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain (1989)
Ernest Goes to Jail (1990)
Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)
Ernest Rides Again (1993)
Ernest Goes to School (1994)
Slam Dunk Ernest (1995)
Ernest Goes to Africa (1997)
Ernest In the Army (1998)

Know what I mean, Vern?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Twilight - yes or no?

So if you're involved with teenage culture at all, you've no doubt seen these books EVERYWHERE. Seriously, I didn't think much of it, until I began to notice it in the youth room ALL the time. I finally realized, it wasn't taking one girl a really really long time to read through the books. There were several girls who were reading it, and sharing copies.

If you have no desire to read the books, but are a parent or hang out with teenagers, and want to know the draw of the book; check out this article. (contains major spoilers) It's a pretty decent summary, with more grace for story-telling than you usually find in a Dobson-inspired publication.

Apparently, it's also a movie slated for release less than a month from now. Probably even just the first, in a series of movies based on the Novels. Who knows, if someone pays my ticket, I might even go see it with a bunch of my teen who are fanatics of it.

It's interesting that, so far at least, I'm not hearing/seeing as much parental upset as we did when Harry Potter first began to be popular. It seems almost embraced by the young teen culture, and their parents, even in the evangelical communities. Based on the article linked above, it does actually stand out from much of today's entertainment in it's decency/regard for sexuality; aside from the fact that it's about vampires.

As in any story that's told, especially for artistic and entertainment purposes, having open conversations with your daughters or sons about the book is encouraged. Heck, you may even want to grab a copy and read it along with your child. The themes of love, eternity, devotion, self-image, and over-all "reason to live/die" can be really good topics of discussion with your teen or pre-teen.

You probably don't wanna leave those subjects for fiction to inform.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Holiness: Integrated Streams...

Haven't blogged on the Holiness Manifesto in a while, because this next chapter was pretty long, and deserved a full reading. The chapter is called "Integrated Streams of Holiness", and was written by Don Thorsen, Professor of Theology at Azuza Pacific.

It was a really well written, though admittedly not exhaustive summary of all the branches and movements that have woven through the tapestry of the church and holiness over thousands of years. The ancient church, martyrs, apologetic writings, the Roman Catholic church, Protestant Reformation, Augustine, Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, Orthodoxy movements, Pentecostal connections, the "Holiness Movement", etc. He then goes into several different understandings of "Spiritualities" (i.e. Richard Foster's categories, etc.).

He briefly touches on each of the areas above, and how they all flow from and into this same stream of Christianity. How so many various branches of Christianity have so much in common. Enough, indeed, to unite in this discussion/pursuit of a living holiness that transforms the world by the Spirit of God. I'll leave you with his final paragraph about uniting the many aspects of Christianity that need integration:

"Integration does not occur at once; it is an ongoing process that continues among believers and churches from one generation to the next. As we come to understand and appreciate holiness more for waht i can accomplish theologically as well as ministerially, then perhaps we can become more effective in promoting its relevance for unifying Christians. May it support and unite them in their common goals of worshipping God the Father, who is holy, and correspondingly of living holy lives as modeled for us by Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit."

I like that.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I don't like hell.

Watched a documentary last night called "Hell House", after reading a post about it on the "Re-Thinking Youth Ministry" blog. It's basically the story of an Assembly of God church in Texas that creates their own version of a haunted house. Instead of chainsaw massacre's and ghosts; there are scenes like: A gay man dying of AIDS because of poor choices, a girl having an abortion that goes wrong, another girl getting raped after getting drugged up at a rave, etc.....and finally ends with all of these people suffering in hell. All sorts of thoughts flood through my head as I try and figure out what to say. Here are just a few...

- It's a good reminder that even the people we disagree with in large ways theologically, are still human. The man much of the story follows and his family have a story that is very compelling. Single dad raising several kids, 2 with special needs, because his wife ran away with another man.

- Some scenes of the "hasha-baba-baba" sort of speaking in tongues. Kinda freaky. The pastor says, "Let's all speak to God in our own love language", then the entire congregation goes nuts with jibberish. I wonder if God hears this the same way I hear Addison when she speaks words that don't exist. I know she loves me, but I can't wait for her to use actual words. :)

- There is one scene where a few teens in Slipknot fan apparel argue with one of the men running Hell House. They don't understand why the church has such a "limited view". Too much cussing to be a useful scene in youth ministry, but might be appropriate fodder for an adult small group. Some of the questions the teens raised:
Why is everything so black and white with you? The world is more grey.

I have lots of gay friends, you say they're all going to hell?

The girl committed suicide while she was all drugged up, are you saying God holds her accountable for that suicide? (his response, God holds her accountable for the drinking that allowed her to be given the date-rape drug)

I have to say I don't agree with much of what they're doing/saying. At the same time, I do believe in Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life...etc. That a life lived without Christ will give you an eternity of the same, and that's not something you'd want.

Someone who turns towards God for fear of any depiction of what hell could be like, has still turned towards God...right? I mean, how many in our congregations are there simply because they don't want punishment and they want reward?

Guess I'm just not sure what to do with the whole hell thing. I don't like it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

there you go...

The sign outside our hotel said it all, "Days Inn - There You Go". We've just returned from an Anderson family vacation. It wasn't Vegas. It wasn't Hawaii. Nope, Wheel of Fortune played no role in this one. It was just a getaway from the routines of life to refresh and spoil our kids with a little one on one time.

Sure, we saw the Reindeer Ranch as it began to rain thursday night. A few minutes in the pool area. Spent time at the Mall in Champaign's play area. A couple hours at the Children's Museum in Champaign. Hit Curtis Orchard on the way home for a wagon ride and some fresh donuts.

But the spectacular wasn't found in activities this trip. It wasn't found in incredible scenery or entertainment.

We stayed at the Day's Inn in Rantoul. The city where you're not tempted to go out and do tons of fun things, because there's really nothing to do. In a hotel where many of the rooms are under construction, the breakfast is toast and juice, and they don't turn lights on in the main area until it's too dark to walk, to save money.

So where was the spectacular? Hearing our daughter sing to songs in the car she'd apparently known for some time now, but is usually too shy to let us hear. Taking Addison to a buffet for her first experience of "eat whatever you want" American gluttony. Reminding myself that Sophie does a WHOLE lot more than just eat and poop. Watching TV on the internet with my wife, even the episodes I've already seen.

Seeing smiles and hearing laughter in moments that usually life is too busy to enjoy. Being reminded that they're there throughout my week, right here at home.

It is good. :)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

happy fall...

In honor of a regular personal update, and to show you how stinkin' cute my daughters are....I offer this video for a blog post today. See, I am human. :)

So recently, we've discovered Addie knows more than she'll tell us. 1,2,3's and A,B,C's....but hardly ever will cooperate by saying/singing them. Here's a rare moment where she shares her knowledge....and it's freakin' cute.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

correction.... :(

So after checking a little bit, I learned something about running for a Congressional Rep. in the state of Illinois. A few days ago, I posted that you could write me in for the 17th District, because Phil Hare was running unopposed.

But according to this picture, you can't.

I live in the 18th District, right across the street from the 17th. (the green area is 17th)

So if I was actually desiring to run for Congressional Rep., I'd have to run against Colleen Callahan, Aaron Schock and Sheldon Schafer. I think that boat already has enough people in it to sink.

But thanks to a little site called "Run For Office", if I ever want to run for something again, I'll know exactly how to go about it. hehe. Go ahead and click it...see what offices YOU could be running for.

Monday, October 20, 2008

...but as for humanity...

In the past few months, there have been more than one organization or publication or story that I grabbed onto, and gave my 2 cents worth. 2 Cents that if someone from that group read it, would probably rather have me keep to myself. I wanted to remind my reader that as much as I am not a fan of some organizations, or some "things", I'm still very much a fan of the humans that are a part of them. I should also probably add, that I'm human...and totally imperfect.

I received a comment yesterday on my post about a Christian Video Game fundraiser. I immediately felt kinda bad, because it seems his company's efforts to produce family friendly educational opportunities that use today's media - got attached to someone else's attempts to turn a buck. After a short dialogue with Mr. Dotson, I gotta give the mouse a lil' love. And him kudos for even caring what my 3 readers thought of his stuff.

Let me clear it up - Charlie Church Mouse is from a pretty decent organization, LifeLine Studios, that looks like its purpose IS actually to partner with teachers and parents to education children. To educate them in a way that doesn't have to sell out to one worldly advertiser or another.

Unfortunately, they can't just "expect" for the general public to know about and purchase their product, so they have to use another company for that. In this case, Inspired Media. Who is trying also to push their "Left Behind" type games/theology on the younger generations...and offer churches the ability to fund raise while supporting it all.

So just to re-cap, LifeLine Studios = Good. Inspired Media = Bad, or at least just plain silly.

Here's where we can make it up to them, and maybe even help them get the ability to separate themselves from the nuts over at Inspired Media. GO CHECK OUT CHARLIE CHURCH MOUSE on Lifeline Studios website. THIS LINK is to a few free demos they have available to let your kids mess with.

(okay so it's still a little creepy, but so is Barney, Foofa, and Brobee; and kids love them)

Living "Christian"

This past week or so, a new publication has launched in the Macon County area. It's called "Living Christian Magazine". I heard about it last week from a friend, but hadn't seen it until I saw a giant stack of free copies sittin' on our ushers' stand on Sunday.

I gotta be honest, when I first heard about it, I was kinda excited. Any local publication is kinda cool to see happen; not sure why. And then I saw a copy. I'm still not 100% sure what I think about it, but here are my first thoughts...

First, the cover price = $5.95 Seriously? For 28 pages of mostly businesses advertising to the entire County that they associate themselves with Christianity? (seriously, counting the back cover there's 11 full pages of advertising) You can subscribe NOW for "only" $3 an issue....but it doesn't seem worth it.

Second, the fact that it feels like a giant, expensively printed, church newsletter for the entire County. A "church profile" here (given to an audience that already attends somewhere, anyone smell church shopping?). An interview with a "senior saint" there. A witty "Christian" forward your grandma probably sent you (complete with recipes and church bloopers), and some pictures of quaint church signs from local churches.

Third, "Christian"? The word is in the title, and looking at the articles for the next issue (Christmas Traditions, Starting a Christian Band, Christian Funerals, Investing like a Christian) there an echo? I hope they find a Christian way to use the Christian word Christian a little less in the Christian future.

I can see it becoming a stumbling block to churches and pastors across our community who want their events, or their ministries to get a special feature in this high quality publication. They seem like nice guys, and my opinion is probably way off base and cynical, and the magazine does meet the goal they state on their website...

Like I said...I'm probably just cynical. I probably just embarrassed myself, and if they find my blog, I'll never be invited to talk about how cool my church is. Dang it.

I am a fan of community things. And if this publication ends up being a way for the body of Christ in our local area to actually "be" the body of Christ, and do Kingdom work across denominational, economic, social, political, and racial boundaries.....then awesome. But if it ends up being a Christian advertising magazine, to tell us how Christian certain Christians are, and how cool the new facilities are over at that other Christian Church....then no thanks.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Illinois Court Elections - Brief

Just in case you began looking around yesterday's posted links. You may wonder, what is all this about court systems, and do I vote for anything of that nature this year in my area?

If you're from Decatur, no. We have no open seats for either Circuit, Appellate, or Supreme Courts this year. But we do get to vote "Yes or No" to keep some current judges in place.

But if you're from other places in IL, check this voters' map to check on the openings in your area.

Basically, the Circuit courts are our local court systems. Civil and criminal cases by the millions are taken through these local level courts every year. If you live here in Decatur, you're part of Macon County, which is in the 6th Circuit Court. (out of 22) We have like twenty something judges at this level.

If there's an appeal to a decision from a Circuit Court, it goes to one of the states' Appellate Courts, according to which Circuit Court it came from. Macon County belongs to the 4th Appellate Court in Illinois. (out of 5) We have seven of these.

If someone believes an Appellate Court applied the law incorrectly, they can appeal to the IL Supreme Court. The Illinois Supreme Court is the "ultimate authority on interpretation of state laws". Usually, an appeal would have to go through the Appellate courts in order to appear here, but it's not always the case (death sentences, and some civil cases). There are 7 of these Justices, 3 from the largest Appellate District, and 1 from each of the other 4. The one representing our District is currently Rita Garman. Appeals that believe this court has made a ruling against the US Constitution would then go to the federal courts. (where Judges are named/appointed by the Presidential people)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Breakdown of Macon Co. Ballot

Already covered Constitutional Convention, and you probably know presidential stuff already. So we'll go in order with other stuff: (vote for one, unless otherwise stated)

US Senator: Dick Durbin, Kathy Cummings (her actual site was down), Steve Sauerberg, Larry Stafford, or Chad Koppie

Congress - Find your Rep. here
15th Congressional Dist. Rep: Steve Cox, Timothy Johnson
17th Congressional Dist. Rep: Phil Hare, Write in Me if you'd want. :)
18th Congressional Dist. Rep: Colleen Callahan, Sheldon Schafer, Aaron Schock

State Senate 44th Dist.: Bill Brady, No Opponent
State Senate 51st Dist.: Frank Watson, No Opponent

Rep. for G.A. 101st Dist: Bob Flider, No Opponent
Rep. for G.A. 87th Dist.: Bill Mitchell, No Opponent

MACON COUNTY: (no fancy websites for most of these people)
State's Attorney: Jack Ahola, No Opponent
Circuit Clerk: John H. Trusner, Lois Durbin
Recorder: Mary Tangney Eaton, Damon Cross
Coroner: Michael Day, No Opponent
County Auditor: Amy Stockwell, No Opponent

Macon County Board: (check here for which dist. you are, Dist.1-3 vote for 2)
Dist. 1: Melverta Wilkins, Linda Little
Dist. 2: William Oliver, Jerry Potts, Tom Greanias
Dist. 3: Jay Dunn, Tim Dudley, Dawn Hagan
Dist. 4: Joe McGlaughlin
Dist. 5: Gary Mathias, Phillip Hogan
Dist. 6: David Williams
Dist. 7: Edward Yoder (4 yrs), Michael Spent or Kevin Greenfield (2 yrs.)

REGIONAL SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: (Dewitt, McLean, Livingston Counties)
Mark Jontry, No Opponent - not quite sure why this is on our ballot, unless someone lives in one county, but attends school in the other. Our RS is this guy.

Voting to retain each of the judges found in the current Appellate and Circuit Courts? Check back tomorrow for a quick explanation of these court systems.

1 - Oakley to increase maximum annual road tax rate from .50 to .75?
2 - Blue Mound - for or against forming an official "Park District"?
3 - Blue Mound - if for, write in a Park District Commissioner (none running).
4 - Warrensburg - should Warrensburg continue to employ 3 full-time police officers?
5 - Warrensburg - Should Warrensburg spend $12,000,000 so they can build and equip an addition connecting the middle and high schools, and improve the sites?

Friday, October 17, 2008

fundraising with an eternal purpose?

...or just another way to make a buck. Or in this case, a lot of bucks.

I try not to make fun of the companies who solicit our offices on a regular basis. They're trying to make a living. But one that caught my attention recently, deserves a word or two. His e-mails tell me:

1. I can sell his product to my church family for TWICE what he makes me pay for it, so it's a money maker.
2. He confesses to selling it to the public for SIX TIMES the amount he wants me to pay for it, so even the church is getting "a great deal".
3. That I should be excited, because so far over 1,000 have "received Christ (or recommitted) as a DIRECT result of his product.

As grateful as I am that he allows me to dupe the church family I love, and that he confesses to duping the general public, all under the disguise of wanting customers to "receive Christ"....well, no thanks.

So what's his great product that has helped transform so many hearts, and made suckers of their wallets at the same time? Video Games.

Even though I am a youth pastor, I've never been a fan of using video games (even the actual video games that teens love to play) to just get butts to fill the youth room. But I think I'm actually "anti" this type of commercialism of the Gospel message and the Kingdom of God, even before adding the fund-raising aspects. Seriously, check the website (even though this might be a kind of "advertising"....even bad traffic is traffic...ah well). It almost seems like something someone would invent to make fun of fundamental Christianity.

Do I believe God CAN use something like this to transform a persons' life? Yes. In the same way that I do actually believe God can reach out to someone through the nonsensical rituals suggested by Peter Popoff - ripoff evangelist extraordinaire.

But I didn't know how to respond to this guy, other than "Seriously?" So I'll leave that to you. How would you respond? Or is "delete" enough? Or maybe I'm the crazy one. Maybe I'm missing how incredible an idea this is.

Note: I notice they also sell "educational programming" - with Charlie Church Mouse (clearly a ripoff of Charity Church Mouse) - I'll wager "secular" educational video games are way better, and don't threaten you with "H is for Hell, where all the sinners burn" type theology. :)

NEW NOTE: Please check out my updated knowledge on these companies in a more recent post. Thanks to Mr. Dotson for helping clear the perception.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Help for November 4th, 2008

You may be thinking in a panic recently, "oh wait, I'm going to be expected to vote for MORE than just the president on November 4th!!??" Like many Americans, you may be tempted to simply show up, and vote for the "lesser offices" based on who's name rhymes with silly words, or who's commercial you can vaguely remember, or even *gasp* what party they represent, hoping your grandma's e-mail was right.

In order to combat that event from happening, I wanted to give you a quick summary of places you can find more information on what you'll want to know that day.

#1 - Sample Ballot - (or Sample for Decatur Residents) Includes most of the main offices that will be up for a vote in your area. This link is specifically for IL residents, but if you're from elsewhere, simply select a different state from the drop down menu. Give them your friends address if you're afraid of being stalked, and you'll be given a sample ballot, with buttons to click to learn more about each office, candidate, and public action up for a vote. Or a similar site, but no sample ballot here - Vote Smart.

#2 - Who's Running - Very similar to the above site, but they don't actually tell you what District you're in according to your address. But just another site to learn about the candidates/issues/etc.

#3 - The Official Site - For Illinoisans only. It appears to be fancier, but from what I've tried it's not much. Funny, it's the actual site given to us by our government. God bless 'em. Still, if you know exactly what you're looking for, it may prove worth a read. Unless you're a part of the 18th Congress like me...apparently not worth providing info for just yet.

Seriously readers, take a few moments over the next several weeks. Shut off the TV late at night when you KNOW you're just flippin' to pass the time. Get together with your spouse, or a friend, and just spend a few minutes looking through some of these other offices/issues up for a vote. You'll be glad you did, and you'll earn your right to be proud or upset at the officials as our journey as citizen's continue...

ps. One issue that seems important to IL in particular is that of the Constitutional Convention. There are plenty of sites saying "YES" to it, you can check them out. And to be fair, one of a few articles I could find saying "NO" to it. (seriously, why don't they make cool websites like the "YES" people?)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

atheists respond to secret church shoppers...

...and especially as pastors, and people who care how our churches are could be a very important post for us to be aware of. Thanks to the Friendly Atheist for this post.

The language could use some censorship, but check it out....

A portion:

"Or maybe they don’t care about reaching people like me (atheists). Maybe they just want to bring in more Christians — those who go to competing churches. But I would hope those Christians are also not swayed by the weeds in the parking lot instead of what the church says and does.

I’ve been inside many churches that were gorgeous buildings, inside and out. The people I met when I visited were kind and sweet. The whole sermon was like a wonderful Broadway show. The performances was incredible. And, yes, the bathrooms were very nice as well."

Some good points throughout the article. Many, many things in our church will affect atmosphere, and unfortunately some people will choose/not choose our church based on that. Based on how the church appeals to their newborn/toddler/child/teen/college kid/themselves/their senior parents/etc. Even in context of youth ministry, where the desire to be everything the teens want you to be exists.

But our foundation, our source, our life - what we speak AND what we live as a community, goes much further than any "secret church shopper" could ever discover. And that is NOT an excuse to do ministry's a calling to be the Church God enables and calls us to be.

May our lives, and the life of our church embody the prayer Jesus taught his disciples...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

por que chihuahua?

The past few weeks - if you've owned a TV, gotten the newspaper, or even accessed the internet; it doesn't guarantee you've seen much news. Then again, I guess that was true before recently anyways. News is what they tell us, and lately that means politics, the economy, and smearing those who disagree with you on those issues.

But if you can sift through what's being pushed, you see other things. It's said that you can gauge things about society/culture by what they're paying/not paying to do. Not sure how good of a gauge that is, and what exactly it's checking, but it can probably tell us something.

In this instance, I thought it was interesting that not only for one week, but for TWO weeks, the TOP GROSSING movie in theaters for a weekend was the mindless childrens' flick, "Beverly Hills Chihuahua".

Maybe our culture is beginning to see the trends in fashionable dog-owners, who are able to keep rat-like versions of canines in their purses and carry-on bags. Or maybe it's how stinkin' hillarious George Lopez is. Perhaps just the fantasy that our dogs have any thoughts at all, more than "eat this, pee here, chew this, don't eat that again".

But I think I know what it is. Just look at your local movie listings to see what's playing in theaters right now.

You and I are most likely adults. We've been listening to what the news, and our bank accounts tell us. And they both tell us this: right now is no time to go out and spend $9 to stare at a screen for 2 hours, pay $5 for a drink, and $5 more for some popcorn. Now is a good time to save money, and prepare to live off less than we currently enjoy.

So who goes to see a movie? The top two movies from this weekend explain. Number 2 in the box office was the new, low-budget (and low intellect) thriller "Quarantine". If you don't think a lot about life in general, you'll probably enjoy that movie. Number 1 in the box office was the only kids movie in theaters right now.

We all know, even in the toughest of times, even with bad credit debt, and way past bed time....when our kids give us "that look", it's really hard to say no. The movie is most likely not very good at all, and the critics seem to say that. But it has great timing.

For now.... HULU it is. :)

Monday, October 13, 2008

God vs. Coincidence...

Back in early August, I posted a blog about the psycho-tv-preacher Peter Popoff, who wanted me to eat a tortilla cooked on dung, and send him $17 to receive an incredible blessing from God, etc. Ever since contacting their organization, I've been receiving a piece of junk mail last least once every 10 days, each containing a new ritual God wants me to go through to receive His newest financial blessing. It's scary, and kinda seems like he's training people to be religious witch-doctors.

In his very first junk mail piece to me, he gave me a date. Since then, he's given me about 15 more dates over the next year or so, that each are important to God's plan for my life, etc...and will only be fruitful if I follow the rituals involved and send him the "seed" of $17.34 or something for each one. Crock.

But the very first date I was given, just to be funny, I put it on the calendar. October 13th, 2008. I wrote it as "Financial Blessing Day", and walked away. Didn't think much of it. Last week we received news randomly that my parents had bought me an early Christmas gift, and that it would arrive sometime today, October 13th.

A funny coincidence, as I assure you my parents have nothing to do with Peter Popoff or his ministries. There are some who would say, doesn't even matter...a freezer is not a financial blessing. But there are others who would say, WOW, that is SOOO GOD.

But it does illustrate a larger point worth considering. I believe that God is. I believe that God is good. So when good things happen, it makes sense to thank God. But where is the line, and is it even important to find?

Back before Wheel of Fortune, I was in debt. Not just good, car/home/student loan debt. But actual, stupid choices over time credit card debt. Before the show, I had totaled up what I would need to get out from under the bad debt. That's almost exactly what I walked away with.

God? Or coincidence? If I say God, it also means God wanted the pregnant lady next to me whose story was just as needy as mine, and had a really nice husband/ lose. Seriously, she didn't even win a penny. Except the $1,000 they give everyone, but she spent more than that on travel to LA.

This two-sided coin pops up once in a while in all of our lives. I think it's enough to thank God when good things happen, but also in our praise to realize that in our unbalanced world that yearns for completion - not everyone has that thing to be thankful for. In that moment, may we pray also for/with those who suffer, that God may continue His work in our incomplete world.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

youth ministry

We walk through a dry land
hand in hand.
Or at least, nearby.
The cracked earth is not the only thirsty one here.
New faces join us sporadically
Most as dry and desperate as we.
Some for the journey
Some for curiosity
Not everyone stays
But every single one matters.

An unexpected, but thoroughly accepted moment.
We are thankful, each in a different way.

Either gushes forth uncontrolled
The few stare. Drink.
Or trickles past those near
The crowd watches.
And is lapped up like an Oasis.

Hope. Encouragement. Love.
A rock has been struck, and the Spirit has moved.

Whose staff can we be thankful for?
Probably not mine.
I'm the one running around
Striking any rock that looks like it might contain water
Spitting on the ground to make it look wet.
Just as thirsty as those I try to relieve.

But once in a while, the Spirit will use
Even me.

Gotta go for now, I see a rock I missed earlier...

(and I love this) :)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Kingdom Perspective...

(from a letter to Free Methodist Pastoral teams...from our leadership...)

In the current political and social climate of the United States, we must appreciate the truly global church that we have become as Free Methodists. We are sensing the profound responsibility this places on us—located in the west, in one of the wealthiest and most resourceful nations on earth. We recall that we are kingdom people, that God calls all people everywhere to be His, that our citizenship is in heaven first. In fact, we are bound to and have more in common with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world than we do even our fellow Americans who are unbelievers. We affirm that God does not need us or our nation to carry out His kingdom agenda. The gospel of the kingdom does not depend on the current or any anticipated political, social, cultural status quo.

The church’s mission, no less in an electoral season, in cooperation with God’s Spirit in manifesting kingdom reality, challenges every this-worldly platform and ideology. No party will champion the cause of the kingdom in its entirety. We acknowledge that Christians in the U.S. have often been seduced by reductionist views of the gospel and morality and have thus given uncritical allegiance to partisan agenda that fall short of the Christian hope.

Therefore, we urge our members and adherents to weigh carefully and pray fervently over candidates, ballot referenda, and all political issues before us, and then seek to vote in ways that reflect as fully as possible the heart of Jesus Christ for the whole world. In so doing, we remind our people that the way of Jesus is the way of cross-bearing, of self sacrificing love, of costly obedience, and of giving all for the sake of others, especially for those on the margins. Indeed, this way of Jesus often directly counters the ideologies of this world.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

local news...Kingdom impact?

Saw a surprising story on the local news tonight. A local police officer at Stephen Decatur Middle School tased a 14-year old student. Of course this is going to make headlines, probably even beyond our hometown papers.

Is this just Decatur, IL? My guess is it's something larger? That a 14 year old student looks/acts like the twenty-somethings he sees in the entertainment industries; not so unique. That he doesn't respect adult authority, again - not unique.

But that the situation escalated to the point where he was tased? 14 year old? On school property?

I'm sure over the next several weeks/months, as the parent no doubt files suit against the police and the school itself; we'll learn more. I don't know enough about the situation to say whose side I would fall on....but it seems nuts on both sides.

Granted - totally better than shooting him. God bless non-lethal technology that allows us to silence and subdue any rebellious 14-year old we

It'd be great if this story was a wake-up call for many of the issues involved here. For the parent (and parents of teenagers). For the school systems. For the police. For the culture that promotes/raises teens like this daily.

But it smells like the beginning of a long legal battle, where the wounds will get even deeper for all involved. And in the midst of it all, a 14 year old boy, barely a young man. A mom who has lost the ability to trust her sons care to "the system". A police officer whose split-second decision will not be forgotten anytime soon...even by him.

As a youth pastor....who spends a lot of time praying/ministering to the 14-year olds' generation in this community; as well as an adult who wants to help better the society my daughters are growing up in....this is one of those situations. Prayer is needed for every person, and the community involved. I just pray, God....use this....please.

In brighter news, the local paper has finally discovered the gourmet hot dog stand I blogged about way back when...check the article out here, it's worth more of your time than who's being tased lately. :)

How to fix the economy. :)

I love hockey. A few years back, the finances of the NHL were crumbling. Poor financial decisions were being made, and the ones with the most money were ruling the League. Changes needed to be made. Leaders couldn't agree. There was a lock-out. They threatened to bring in cheaper players. Eventually it was decided...a salary cap was put in place. (small picture of a much larger story)

There's another professional sport that people haven't even realized exists yet. The sport of business/corporate success. There are team names/logos. There are HUGE fan bases (stock holders). People watch from the sidelines, and cheer on their team, and boo the competition. There are busy seasons, slow seasons, successful seasons, and seasons of failure. There is merchandise and advertising. There is public image. The players are changing on a fairly consistent basis...and the ones that have been around the longest, demand the highest pay.

How it's gone on unregulated for so long is surprising. But it's probably, in large part, due to the elements I posted yesterday. How dare we define for someone else what "happiness" is, right? If someone who determines their own salary decides they deserve several million dollars a year in order to be "happy"....they're allowed that freedom, right?

I say nope. I'm not talking about government regulation as a puppeteer, or even government-owned business...Lord knows our government can be just as corrupt as the corporate heads themselves.

But I think it's about time there was a salary cap for the sport of business/corporate success. Probably even entertainment industries while we're at it. The same elements exist there as well. The focus is no longer on serving humanity, and changing the world and communicating through art. It's on selling, growing, climbing, and building empires/idols to ourselves.

A salary cap is needed. And if they cry about what they're entitled to, bring in other people who CAN do the EXACT same job for much less, be quite happy to do it.

There. Probably a simple-minded suggestion from someone who doesn't understand enough about the economy to even speak a worthwhile sentence to those actually in charge. And I realize that no, this will NOT "fix" the economy. Neither will either president getting elected. Neither will if the American people "try really hard", etc. There are fundamental changes in what motivates us as humanity - world-wide - that need to be different.

Lord help us.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


It's surprising how surprised so many people are about this whole financial crisis. "What, the people at the very top of selfish corporations are just as selfish as the people trying to get to the top?" Is it so surprising, in the world we've allowed ourselves to become, with the selfish motivations, and the rewards for selfishness found throughout the business world....that those who arrive at the top feel entitled for certain "perks" for having achieved the "success" they've been taught to seek their entire lives?

In my brief 2-year stint in sales-type positions, I would guess that 99% of the people I worked with...if they somehow became a "higher-up" in the company...would have nothing but their own interests in mind. They would arrange to get the highest salary they could (because they're entitled to it), and live accordingly. But that's all they ever heard from the top anyways. We had an 8 day training in Atlanta, GA...where we learned about the products and the company. But we were also shown all the promises that success within the company would earn us. (even though the main "success" speaker was over 40, and divorcing because she wanted a family and her hubby didn't)

It's not uncommon to meet someone who feels they are "entitled" to something. Many Christians even, that I've met. If we experience difficult times at a point, or for a period of time in our lives, and then tables are turned, we usually soak up as much of the "good" or "success" as we can. We figure it's God "rewarding us", or somehow "making it up" to us for how rough we had it previously. Our lives can become quickly very selfishly motivated when we have this view...even if we throw a few bones to those who continue to suffer.

So what ARE we entitled to? According to famous documents, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"...but I think at the root of many of our issues, we find a discrepancy in what "pursuit of happiness" means. For the sake of the future, perhaps that term should find meaning in the broader happiness/wellness/justice of all humanity; as opposed to simply "my" happiness.

Coming tomorrow: How to fix the economy. :)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


So the NHL kicked off this past weekend in Europe. Yup, you heard me. Europe. The NHL is trying really really hard to gain it's American fan base back to where it was back in the ESPN days. The lockout and just bad press, and not much work on public perception has allowed one of the greatest things our country still somehow controls to become increasingly less popular.

So what do they do in order to increase their American fan-base?

The first 2 games of the season, were played with HUGE advertising, and HUGE Prague and Stockholm. Great idea.

I'm not stupid. Or at least, I realize a TON of players in the NHL are from these areas. But I just think they could have picked, or even created other "special" dates to play overseas. Are they actually teasing the European nations, tempting them to try and have their leagues rival the NHL? Do they not remember being sued by the Canadian leagues during the lock-out for Lord Stanley's Cup? (The cup goes to whatever league is the world's leading hockey league) Or maybe they're moving towards an "IHL" (International Hockey League).

Anyway, all that frustration aside, and still hoping they can build up to a ESPN level in the next few years so people don't have to pay extra just to see a sport they love...

I think Detroit stands to win another cup this year. Many hockey "experts" are predicting it as you know it's not just a blind fan saying it. Although I think we could have done without re-signing Chelios physically - I do think it was good for team morale. He's right up there with Lidstrom as far as leadership and inspiration for the team.

Chicago will do much better this year....and the year all around will be crazy. They've arranged the schedule so that each team will play against each team at least once. The past 3 years, they were on a year-by-year rotation - to make sure each team played each other once in those 3 years. This allowed more rivals to form, etc. Now that some of those rivals have been rekindled, they're gonna go ahead and change formats again.

Ah well....I'm gettin' tickets to Wings vs. Blues in Saint Louis on March 14th....anyone else in???

Monday, October 06, 2008

a special place in my heart goes to...

Pizza. Yup, among more important and more life-concerned emphases this month ( and some odd ones too). October is also National Pizza Month, and in honor of such I would like to spend some time telling you about my relationship with pizza. I could give you a history of my entire life with pizza, but instead will refrain to a simple "best of" from specific categories.

DINE-IN: Giordano's Pizza in Chicago. I first tasted this AMAZING pizza that truly reveals WHY it was originally called a "pizza pie" back in college. This pizza wins "BEST PIZZA I'VE EVER TASTED" award in my book as well. As with all categories of pizza, I am adamant that no vegetables (even mushrooms, Larry) be anywhere on the pizza. Even just on half. Because, as vegetable-lovers will not understand, the veggie juices are totally notice-able elsewhere on the pizza. Meats and cheeses are the only toppings allowed on my pizza's. Even the sauce itself shouldn't have too many chunks.

DELIVERY: Hungry Howie's in Michigan. Although apparently they're growing (not one here yet), I grew up knowing this as a Michiganders' privilege. They've changed a bit, but you can still select from a few different flavored crusts, always loaded with Parmesan and garlic flavors. Not long, and your smile will resemble that of Howie himself painted on the box.

FROZEN (high end): It'd be a tie between Freschetta and DiGiorno, depending on who has the better sale that week. Both are getting creative lately, making their pizza's on garlic bread and focaccia crusts...I'm enjoying it. But I still prefer the traditional cheese-stuffed crust pizza. Flip the oven to 425, and pop that thing in the oven fully frozen on a pizza stone, to cook as the oven pre-heats. It's the best way.

FROZEN (low end): Another tie between Jack's and Tombstone (interesting fact - DiGiorno, Jack's, and Tombstone pizzas are ALL made by the same company - KRAFT) depending on who has a better sale that week. I would say that Tony's used to be on this list, simply for having the pepperoni that curled up around the edges like little bowls of hot grease. But due to flat pepperoni, they're no longer competitors.

HOME-MADE: Corn-meal Crust, and on the grill. Check my wife's blog in order to learn more. This one goes not far behind some of the best DINE IN options out there. If you haven't, you need to try this at home. :)

All in all, as much as I try to avoid youth-pastor cliche's (polo shirts, bad music, etc.)...I've fallen for this one. I could eat pizza 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, and be alright. I'd rather have a frozen pizza over a full roast beef dinner any night of the week. But I'm trying to grow up....slowly.

And to close it all - check out this article with a brief history of pizza, which apparently goes a lot further back than even I imagined.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


So lately I've been wondering how all the talk of mansions in Heaven started. Because no matter how it started, you don't have to be in most churches long to realize it's everywhere. Current worship songs, classic hymns, and even just in the language we use. Our "mansion of glory", or old Joe that just passed away has gone to his "mansion in the sky", etc. I've even heard people talk in such a way that suggests that people who live "better" in this world are going to get larger mansions or somethin' crazy like that.

So I did some searching.

According to, "mansion" is not found anywhere in the Bible. However, the Greek word "monh" (mone) is found two times in the Greek. They are found in the book of John, chapter 14, verses 2 and 23.

It does appear throughout the Septuagint, but even then is usually meant as simply a "home" which needs a further descriptor in most instances.

The King James Version of the NT DOES translate ONE of the instances as "mansion". But it doesn't work very well.

Verse 2 - In my fathers' house are many dwelling places. The KJV throws in the word "mansion" here, although the connotation here most biblical interpreters would say is not a mansion. I'd say maybe the authors of the KJV wanted to emphasize how incredible this dwelling place would be compared to the world we currently dwell in. Mission accomplished, but to take it as far as we have may be damaging. The word here even goes the opposite direction, meaning a "temporary" place...a place you would stay on the way somewhere this case, the New Creation.

Verse 23 - ...and we will make our home with them. It would be odd to refer to us as "mansions" for God to dwell in. We're human. To call us a mansion, with everything that comes with that word would seem to contrast the humility found in John. So it doesn't. It refers to us as places the Holy Spirit would "a dwelling place with him (or her) we will make". To emphasis here is on God dwelling WITH us...not on US being a mansion.

So it seems odd that we would take one vague connection to a mansion, and make it such a prominent theme in our theology. But if someone knows of a verse that I've missed, where Jesus says "make this important"....let me know. I'm open.

I'm not against using the word here and there, just like the KJV probably used it to contrast how incredible what comes next will be compared to this world. But let's realize what it is, and what it isn't. :)

Saturday, October 04, 2008


If you, like me, have done anything on the internet with most larger religious organizations, you've learned what I've learned. They're as bad, if not worse, than most larger corporations at sharing your e-mail with all the companies that they do business with.

Because of this, I get e-mails all the time from stuff I have no interest in, telling me I should be interested. The most recent of which, is a doozy.
Dear Friends,

In the coming weeks your vote is going to play a crucial role in the battle for the hearts and minds of all Americans -- and it is not your vote in the Presidential election.

On October 3, 2008 -- Hollywood is holding an election -- where your vote is the price of a movie ticket -- and your participation is key to the emerging culture war. Two films will be released on October 3 with two very different messages. The militant pro-atheism documentary Religilous and David Zucker's pro-America, pro-faith comedy An American Carol.

Bill Maher has said: "We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that -- I think religion stops people from thinking. I think it justifies crazies."

On the contrary, David Zucker set out to make An American Carol a film that celebrates America as a country founded on the principles of faith. If you are one of the so-called "religious" crazies who wants to be heard LOUD and CLEAR by Hollywood -- come out to the theater on October 3rd and buy a ticket for An American Carol.


Stephen McEveety
Producer of The Passion of the Christ

I'd actually have to agree a little with Maher on this one, and the fact that I received this e-mail kinda proves his point. Religion CAN unfortunately be something that stops people from thinking, and CAN be something that people use to justify doing crazy things. It might even make someone think the "battle for the hearts and minds of all Americans" could be won by me buying a movie ticket.

They both look like movies I wouldn't pay money to go see. Although honestly, I'd rather see An American Carol because it looks like it might have a plot, even if it's not a very good one. Religulous looks like it might actually be beneficial for some of us to watch, simply to be aware of how many of our faiths and others can come across to the world we're called to reflect God in.

Friday, October 03, 2008

where's the deal?

So last year, as most of you should know by now, I did a little song and dance on Wheel of Fortune, that netted me a few bills paid off, a couple vacations, and a dishwasher. It was stinkin' awesome, and our lives are different in many ways because of it.

You may also remember earlier this year, I attempted to get my next "fix" by trying out for "Deal or No Deal". The goal this time is to actually get money we can use to put us in the positive, as opposed to simply getting out of our already accrued debt.

Unfortunately, these auditions are a little more vague in their results.

For Wheel of Fortune, it was - "If you hear from us within 2 weeks, you've made it!! If not, we're sorry, but thanks for coming." You knew what to expect, and when to expect it.

With Deal or No Deal, it was - "Thanks for coming!! Someday, you might hear from us!!!" Sure, some people were immediately called back to Springfield. Someone was even asked to be a briefcase girl, from what we heard. But so far, to our knowledge, no one from the area has been on the show.

I'm not answering the phone everytime there's an unknown number thinking "could this be Hollywood?"...but at the same time...I can't honestly say I've forgotten about it 100%. Every time I hear the muffler on my 1994 Saturn. Every time we shell out for another GIANT pack of disposable diapers. Every time we wish we had an official "guest room" as opposed to the dungeon in our basement with a queen sized bed. In those moments I briefly think, "maybe they'll call soon."

But until then, and/or even if "then" doesn't occur, it's all good.

The banker couldn't give me even half of what I value in life these days.

(but if he calls....I'm totally answering.) :)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

humanity meets the church...

So earlier this year, our church had a baptism service. There was one older man being baptized who needed assistance in and out of the giant tub, and I was asked to help. His name was Richard. He had entered our church body through our Monday morning food pantry service. As it turned out, he needed more help than expected...and as I helped him change out of his wet clothes post-baptism, our brief friendship began.

He was a quiet man, with a crippled arm, and a handicap that impacted his ability to speak well. I never got much more than a few words, several grunts, a "yep", and a smile. He came to services here and there, and always seemed pleased to be around.

Our church had an outdoor service/BB-Q back in September. Richard showed up early, while we were still setting up things. He just sat and smiled, grunting a hello to anyone who greeted him. As the crowds gathered, he lent his good arm out to moving tables as he could. He collected a mound of food, and sat purposefully by himself. At the end of the event, he gathered as many leftovers as one arm could carry, and smiled on his way.

A week or so later, he came in asking for any food we could spare from our pantry. Through a short discussion, we learned that Richard had been living out of his vehicle for a few months now. I was more than a little ashamed on our behalf for not knowing this ahead of time. We began taking up collections for Richard, as well as working towards finding him housing through a local organization.

Last Friday, things came together. It looked like we had found a place. Unfortunately his representative had Friday's off, and the lady in charge of the apartments was out of town for the weekend. We had to tell Richard to wait a few more days in his car, and come back monday. Which was really hard to do, knowing how many couches we have in this church.

Monday morning, we learned Richard had suffered a stroke during the evening.
By Tuesday morning, he had passed away.

The money we've gathered will help cover the costs of his funeral arrangements (this Friday, 11am). But what Richard has offered to those who will grow from this experience is worth more than money.

We have opportunity to show love to someone God loves today. People are without food. People are without shelter. There are people who cannot speak for themselves, and need an advocate.

Thanks Richard, for sharing yourself with us for the time we had with you. Sorry I didn't offer you a couch, for whatever reasons. Enjoy paradise....we love you. (grunt, smile)