Thursday, December 31, 2009


2009 concludes within a few hours. It was a historic year as the first African-American in history, Barak Obama took office as the 45th President of the United States. Now 12 months later there are mixed reviews on that presidency although Mr. Obama is the most popular male figure to Americans.

But most of the rest of the year people would prefer to forget. Debate raged in our country over healthcare--and a Christmas Eve vote along largely partisan lines launched our country into an experiment that may deliver healthcare to more Americans but leaves a lot of uncertainty as the economic and social cost to our nation. A botched terror attack on a flight into Detroit on Christmas reminded us that nine years after 9-11 we still cannot assure the safety of our people from a determined terrorist. The re-emergence in Yemen of Al Quaida once again reveals the unabated hatred of radical Islam towards the US. GM, which has shed Saturn and Saab, and countless loyal dealers, seems once again poised for a government bailout in the name of saving jobs and the economy. And the most admired athlete of the 21st century, Tiger Woods, has been revealed as self-indulgent adulterer, humiliating his wife and disappointing kids who had seen him as their role model.

And those are just the "lowlights" of 2009--not even the worst.

This is why biblical Christians continue to believe that we live in a fallen world, where man's basic sinfulness is the default mode of life and values--without a heart transplant from a holy God. It's not a matter of negativity or judgmentalism. It is simply a confession of reality.

It is also why we believe that you do not change our world by self-improvement, or social legislation, or better education, or vigilant law enforcement, or political movements, or by appealing to humanity's better nature. Our world is changed by one life at a time being changed by the transforming power of the love of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Invictus rewritten by Dorothy Day

Out of the night that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.

I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Thought you would enjoy some Christmas fun as you clean up the wrapping paper, the remnants of broken toys, sweep up the cookie crumbs, nibble of leftover ham, plot the return of unwanted presents, and wait for the credit card bills.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


It is a little before 8:00 am. It is quiet at my house. This Christmas only our adult son Christopher has been able to join us. We have family coming around 12:30 as we host the Dunn Family Christmas, but those preparations are pretty much in place. It doesn't take that long for three adults to read the Christmas story, open presents, and eat breakfast. Since there are no little folks coaxing my family to get up--our Christmas morning celebration will probably wait until 9:30 (when I will coast the other two to get up so we can get on with our family Christmas.

For a pastor, after the hustle and bustle and intensity of Christmas Eve with its special services and a very special message to prepare--Christmas morning is almost anticlimactic. There's nothing really to do--no church projects to tackle, no meetings to attend, no sermons to prepare, etc. Just a morning of heavenly peace to embrace and to enjoy. And when they finally get up--you can have quality time with your family.

For me--the unscheduled, peaceful morning and an opportunity to spend time with my family is a wonderful gift. It is second only to another gift, for which we celebrate this day:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son ..."


Wednesday, December 23, 2009


"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one
another ...
And do this, understanding the present time.
The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber,
because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
The night is nearly over, the day is almost here.
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness, and put on the armor of light."
-Romans 13: 8,11-12


"The stocking were all hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there ..."

It is just two more days. Are you ready for Christmas? Personally, I finished my Christmas shopping Monday night, my Christmas Eve sermon yesterday. Today I took a day off to make sure that the house would be ready for family to arrive. But I confess, I still haven't taken real time to ready my heart for Christmas.

"Dear Lord, forgive me when the hype and the hustle of preparing for the Christmas celebration makes me rush past the reason for the season. Help me in these remaining hours to slow down, open my heart and my mind, to let You enter in. For the best Christmas present of all has already been delivered and it didn't come by Federal Express. It came in the person of Jesus. As I celebrate His birth,help me to allow His life to make a difference in the way I live. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


It's three days to Christmas. I actually finished my Christmas shopping last night, but this morning I received these words from Scot McKnight on his blog Jesus Creed.

"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh" (Matthew 2:10-11). Christmas, the original one, had gifts.

Some are torn about giving gifts at Christmas because they protest consumerism.
Some are torn about giving gifts because they are unemployed.
Some are torn about giving gifts at Christmas because so many are poor.

But giving gifts transcends a Dickens kind of Christmas. Giving gifts, regardless of whether or not we can offer the royal gifts of gold and incense and myrrh, are natural to Christmas because God "gave" his Son to us at Christmas. Christmas is gift and our gifts mirror God's gifts to us.

Perhaps we should see all of our gifts as "regifting."

We give worship to God at Christmas as regifting what God has given to us.
We give gifts to others as regifting what God has given to us.

We regift to God, not because we are cheap but because all we have to offer to God is what he has given to us: our possessions, our money, our lives, our very selves. Even our worship is participation in the perichoretic worship of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

I don't mean to sound cute with this idea that Christmas is about gifts and regifting. I mean only to say that all we have has been given to us and at Christmas all genuine gifts are participations in what God has given to us. We pass it on.


Last night I watched one of my top ten Christmas movies, George C. Scott's version on A Christmas Carol. During his visit from the ghost of Christmas Past, he is shown all of the things about his past--good and ill, finishing with a disturbing picture of love and life lost to Ebenezer's greed and obsessions. Scrooge demands the ghost depart him, but as it evaporates, the spirit cries out. "Truth will win!" Denial and rationalization does not change the consequences of our past choices. The truth will work through and we will have to live with the truth. We cannot change the past.

But we can change the future!

How so? First, by not holding onto the past but by learning from it. Are there persistent patterns of thought and behavior in your life that consistently fail and rarely satisfy? That might be the first clue as to what you need to face. Does your personal story always begin with the disappointments in your life, is your default mode a victim mentality? You may very well be holding onto the past. The only thing you are learning from the past is how to stay there.

Second, make a relentless moral inventory. What is there about your values and your character that create negative, self-defeating, destructive patterns? Don't trust simply our feelings (your feelings often lie to you). Don't trust your own capacity to see the truth. Find someone you trust and invite them to speak the truth in love to you.

Third, seek the help of God to see what can be changed and to empower you to be changed. Ebeneezer Scrooge wasted a lot of his life, and caused a lot of suffering to others along the way. But because he made those changes, he was honored because "he always kept Christmas in his heart."

"Behold, I am making all things new!" - Jesus

Monday, December 21, 2009


It is now four days until Christmas. Unless you have been swamped at work, or immobilized by depression, or just a major procrastinator; I suspect your Christmas decorating is complete, Christmas cards have been sent, presents to distant relatives have been sent, menu for Christmas dinner established, and you are preparing the house for a family time.

Let me ask a simple question. Are you ready for Jesus?

This is not one of those "turn or burn" evangelistic questions. It is a simple question about your focus and your openness. In our culture, it is very easy to let the reality of Christ to be lost in the observance of Christmas. Not totally so since researchers tell us this is the number one time people go to church--it's both a family tradition and politically correct. But are you making a point each day as Christmas approaches to remember the message, "God is with us." Are you thanking God for the most essential and awesome gift ever given--Jesus Christ? Are you going about your holiday business in the name of Christ?

And openness? How about this prayer ...

Heavenly Father, I know that You have loved us unconditionally and unasked.
I know that You sent Jesus into the world--first to the cradle and ultimately
to a cross-so that we might no longer be separated from You.
I know that You desire to make us a new creation, to give us a fresh start.
Help me to be open to what Jesus wants to do in and through me,
At Christmas and beyond.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is a beautiful place to live. Yesterday's snowstorm added to its beauty. It is also gave me an unexpected day off. Don't go me wrong, despite being a recovering workaholic, I enjoy a day off. But I confess, I don't like Sunday being that day. I live to worship God and live abundantly because I worship. I know theologically that I can worship God alone in a golf course on a Tuesday afternoon enjoying the sweet sound of a warm breeze passing through the trees. But I worship best in the company of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Sharing their joys, uniting our hearts and voices in praise to God, hearing read scripture and say "This is the Word of God for the People of God", feeling their hand upon my shoulder as they pray for me, listening to someone share their personal God story--these are the things that enrich my worship time and multiply its blessings.

Plus, I am a preacher and God had given me a message for His people. It's hard to be overflowing with the Good News of Jesus Christ and have to save it for next week.
Really thankful that Christmas Eve is Thursday. Won't have to wait a whole seven days before experiencing the power of worshiping with God's people.


Some of us try to keep our budgets under control. 70 channels of basic cable is enough. But I like sports, including professional football. I know it's a business, but frankly it makes enough money that it really doesn't need to reserve some of its product for a special network, for which it can charge even. It was bad enough my a meaningless game between the hapless Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers was scheduled on a Thursday night so only people who wanted to pay more for cable could see the game.(That stuck in my craw because my beloved hapless Browns finally beat the Steelers and I had to settle for a few clips from ESPN.) But when a truly important game like the unbeaten Colts versus the Jaguars on Thursday night and Saturday night's contest between the Cowboys and the unbeaten Saints was also denied the general football public because both were on the NFL Network.

It seems like a mark of our persistent falleness that someone is always figuring out how to make some people "haves" and others "have nots."

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I am Irish by ancestry and thought this little prayer would help you as you focus on your final preparations for Christmas.


The first major snow storm of 2009 hit Lancaster County (and the entire Middle Atlantic region) early Saturday morning. They had been watching it develop and storm track projections had it pretty much making where we live Ground Zero. Coming on a Saturday, most of us welcomed the event as it gave us an excuse to abandon work projects, the crowded malls and stores, and just cocoon without guilt. I went to the office before the storm had begun do its major damage and in the solitude finished most of my preparations for Sunday morning and completed a project or two that needed to be ready Monday.

I also sent out email on the "contingency plan" for the storm's impact on our Sunday morning worship schedule. Emails went to all the persons who have leadership responsibilities reminding them of our cancellation policies and letting them know we would not implement any plan until six a.m. Sunday morning. We posted (per our practice) initial information on the church web site.

By policy we do not cancel worship services unless a snow emergency is declared or our church parking lots are unusable. Too many of our people consider worship so important that they prefer to be at church honoring the Lord and encouraging one another if at all possible. In this church and others, we have always found people who came. When the weather is bad and cancellation conditions have not met, we simply ask them to use their best judgment. And many a time, given the unpredictability of weather and the efficiency of road crews, a cancellation made on a Saturday has turned out to be premature--as the wind died down, the sun came out, and people were out and about to the malls, to the restaurants, snowmobiling--just not at church.

As a pastor, I am always inclined to be available for whoever needs to worship instead of canceling and being available to no one who needs to worship. More than one time, although attendance was slim, it was that morning that some one who did make it church heard a message that was vital to their lives, or someone else desperately needed to connect with caring Christians for prayer and support. Or given the "changes" required by a worship service on those days--the Spirit prompted some important opportunities for people to connect.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Four of my top five are movies that I grew up on. They're what I watched on Christmas Eve until the television switched over to a Midnight Christmas Eve Service from places like St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.

5. Charlie Brown's Christmas was Charles Schulz wonderful portrayal of Christmas. Schulz was a wonderful Christian whose comic strip Peanuts often carried powerful theological observations. Charlie's Christmas was a whole lot more like mine, and certainly a cut above Ralphie's.

4. It's a Wonderful Life is generally at the top of most lists. Jimmy Stewart had a powerful portrayal of what life is like devoid of hope; but also how one life impacts another.

3. The Nativity Story is the one Christmas movie that actually compels me to worship. It is more than entertainment. In a few years of watching it, I suspect it will move to number one.

2. Miracle of 34th Street is a reminder of the simple joys of Christmas, especially for children. It is also a cautionary tale about trying too hard to take a scientific look at life instead of letting Christmas have some mystery. Plus, I love it when the US Post Office (which represents the "In God We Trust USA") recognizes Santa.

1. Next to the Nativity story, A Christmas Carol is the most spiritually redeeming of all Christmas stories. This is the one I watched as a kid (in black and white). My favorite scene is when Ebenezer Scrooge goes out of his mind with joy when he realizes he has a second chance in life.

And that's one of the most powerful lessons of Christmas - either in God's Word or in literature. God is making something new. He is giving us a second chance to live in the light, not in the darkness--to embrace hope instead of despair--to live the more perfect way of love.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Each Christmas we see some wonderful Christmas movies ... and we see some real "turkeys." Despite TNT's obsession with "The Christmas Story," I have great difficulty with this ode to a totally dysfunctional family. Ralphie's phobias are simply sad. If I had that childhood, I'd want to forget it and pray my adulthood had Christmases more worth celebrating.

Hollywood has generally stayed away from movies actually portraying Christ's birth. Until The Nativity Story (2008), most of our memorable Christmas movies are about the Christmas spirit rather than an explicit religious message. With that in mind, here are my top ten starting at #10.

10. Scrooged Charles Dicken's classic A Christmas Carol is perhaps one of the most powerful vehicles describing the conflict between the greed and self-serving of humanity versus good will, brotherhood, and giving. This crazy take-off starring Bill Murray was a glitzy, fast-moving and tongue-in-the cheek assault on the crass commercialization of Christmas that defied the humility of the babe in the manger,

9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the original antimated version--not the insanity of the Jim Carey version (my insanity quotient was used up with Scrooged) was Dr, Suess' classic reminder that Christmas is not about materialism, it is about a heart of generosity and the greater value of relationships.

8. Next comes the sheer fun of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Chevy Chase's obsession with the perfect Christmas experience to the hilt was a powerful parable of how we place too much pressure on Christmas to bring us happiness.

7. Loyalty and friendship are the wonderful message of White Christmas. Even two theatrical schemers like Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby exhibit their better side when a friend is in need. (Normally Christmas musicals are a little too syrupy for my tastes, but this one was worth the song and dance.)

6. George C Scott's version of A Christmas Carol gave a wonderfully artistic portrayal of Scrooge as he assesses his life and its consequences.

Now check in tomorrow for the top five. How about you, what are your favorites?

Monday, December 14, 2009


Just so you know, this is not my favorite Christmas movie. Actually, it wins my award for the Most Crass Christmas Movie That Gets Replayed Too Many Times. Actually, I'd be interested in which Christmas movies have taken a special place in your heart. Watch for tomorrow's LIFE MATTERS for my personal top ten, and my "Life Matters Reasons" for why these movies are worth watching over and over.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


A picture is worth a thousand words ... my caption is "Angels in Training." Any caption suggestions?

Monday, December 7, 2009


The Christmas season has been underway for some time now. Christmas carols have been playing over the radio and mall music systems for several weeks. We are now being inundated with Christmas movies and specials on the television, especially on cable. The Salvation Army Bell ringers are now positioned outside the stores (this year I understand with credit card readers since people don't carry cash). The stores are being jammed with shoppers who don't seem to think there's a recession going on.

There have long been two celebrations of Christmas in America. The first, the cultural one, I have pretty much described it above. The latter is the spiritual celebration, the Christian holiday that proclaims the birth of Jesus Christ and the message of hope He brings.

These dual celebrations, however, often spark a "Christmas war". Marketers, mindful of the cultural celebration, try to bleach the Christ out of Christmas. "Happy holidays" is the politically correct and market smart (so they believe) way of greeting people in the season. Christians, especially those who are frustrated by the loss of respect and influence in America for Christianity, bridle at anything less than a heart "Merry Christmas" (even in the clerk or service provider has no religious affiliation or values). Already my email in-box is filled with strident jeremiads that we need to fight to keep Christ in Christmas.

Frankly, I don't stress or obsess over this issue. A hollow declaration of "Merry Christmas" is empty of meaning and about as useful as a prayer ritualistically recited in a church service. The systematic de-Christing Christmas of references to the Savior does offend me; but making it a personal affront to which I feel the need to retaliate seems inconsistent with a follower of the Prince of Peace.

Christmas is really a celebration of the Incarnation, of God loving His people enough to come in the flesh to redeem us from our sin. Philippians 2.5-11 tells us about this and declares, "Let your attitude be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but humbled himself and took the form of a servant .."

To me--Christians would better serve God by not insisting that people keep Christ in Christmas by saying "Merry Christmas" but by being Christ in Christmas. The best declaration to the world that Jesus Christ has been born is not a holiday saying or manger scenes or overt religious ceremonies, but by taking a cue from Christ--by serving people with the same sacrificial love Christ exhibited--doing it in Jesus name--serving even those who despise Christ and Christians.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I've started to see Christmas trees. In fact, Black Friday is not the only noticeable event (or maybe we should say "madness") that is tied to Thanksgiving Weekend. A whole of people try to take advantage or the time and yet mild weather to at least get those outdoor Christmas decorations in place.

In the Christian church, Christmas is preceded by a less flashy and certainly less materialistic time called Advent. Advent can be translated as "coming" or "arrival."
It begins four Sundays before Christmas (this Sunday being the First Sunday in Advent) and is a time of preparing the birth of Jesus, but also to prepare people for the second coming or arrival of Jesus. The first time He comes is as an infant king born into humble circumstances. The first time is the Incarnation, "God becoming flesh and living among us." The first coming leads ultimately to the Cross on Good Friday where Christ takes the sins of the world into his grace and the resurrection where by we are giving a second chance to truly be the people of God.

The second coming is when he comes to put an end to the world as we know it and to establish a new heaven and a new earth where no one can deny that He is God and that we are under his authority. It is also the time when we once again live unashamedly and joyously in His presence, eternally.

NOTE: Tuesday we begin a set of blogs called "The Purpose of Christmas."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Many of us grew up with Judy Garland's hopeful ballad from the Wizard of Oz, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Dorothy, on the run in the not-so-merry old Land of Oz and on the run from the Wicked Witch of the West, comforts her uncomfortable present with a vision of a better time and a better place -- somewhere over the rainbow.

People, in the midst of trials or in the final stages of a deadly disease, sing of a better place, where there are no more tears, no more sickness, no more pain. For many of us that is God's promise of heaven and eternal life. We are thankful that our present circumstances will not have the last word, nor that they define us.

This is not to equate heaven with "somewhere over the rainbow." Heaven is a real place prepared for God's people. It is an eternal dwelling. "Over the rainbow is another temporary earthly dwelling, better than one address; but still earthbound and time limited.

CS Lewis once said that "because people are heavenly minded, they are more earthly good." For Christians who are confident in their final destination can take the risk and embrace even the hardships of the present with purpose and power. They have nothing to lose on this earth that they would need in heaven. Therefore they can invest all they have now in doing the work of God.

And in so doing, they can bring a little heaven to earth. They can look after AIDS babies, and feed the poor. They can rehabilitate the prison and sacrifice their lives for freedom. They can seek forgiveness and extend forgiveness. They can be thankful for the small things instead of pursuing material ones. They can humble themselves to serve and confront the proud.

True thanksgiving is thanksliving. It is living now in gratitude to God for the gift of eternal life by doing the work of God in this life.

PHOTO CREDIT:Michelle Houts

Sunday, November 22, 2009


The Bible tells me to give thanks in everything. That's not always easy. There are some things I am more thankful than others - like good health, a caring church, a loving wife. I certainly am more thankful for those things than asparagus or income taxes or the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On a very human level thankfulness is not always a prerequisite to necessity. My mother used to try guilting me into eating food that I found distasteful. "Think of all the starving children in Bangladesh." Initially, I tried not thinking of them at all, "Name one!" I'd declare defiantly. Then when she got a missionary visitng our home to actually name several dozens Bangladeshis, I resorted to "Then let's send it to them."

The fact of the matter is that I needed to eat--and to eat healthily. Being thankful that I COULD so did not impress my unregenerate little heart. There were some things that I refused to be thankful for. I still had to eat them.

But the ability to be thankful for all things is actually the mark of a person who has a new heart and new mind because of their encounter with Jesus Christ. When we realize that God's gift comes to us even when we do not deserve it, we begin to think that thankfulness comes because we have a life at all--and because we are blessed even before we understand the necessity of the blessing. When someone loves even before we love ourselves, and cares for us even when we care only about ourselves--we have been given a reason for thankfulness that is inescapable.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


What is a faith?

A lot of what is passed off as faith is really foolishness. Some faith is merely wishful thinking, rooted in our momentary desires rather than in God-focused reality.
It is foolishness for a kid to pray that God gets him an A on the test when he hasn't bothered to crack a book. It is foolishness to sleep around expecting God to protect you from unwanted pregnancy or an STD (sexually transmitted disease). It is foolishness to put God to the test, expecting Him to ignore persistent sin that you acknowledge (perhaps)and still not repent of it (turn from it).

Yet many people resist faith as impractical or unrealistic. Faith is for "spiritual people". Realistic people always have a Plan B--or so the logic goes. Or we exercise faith until we get an unexpected or undesired outcome, and then we take back the reins of our life.

Faith is recognition that God is at work for the good of those who love him and are called to His purposes (Romans 8.28). Faith is the trust placed in God that His way is not only the best way--but the only way to live. Faith is not blind. It is informed by His promises and reliant upon God's proven character. Faith is letting God give you new eyes and a new mind and a new heart. Eyes to see the world as God sees it. A mind to embrace and comprehend God's truth. A heart that is passionate to please God.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews describes it this way: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) Or as it is explained in The Message translation: "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worthy living."

The same writer reminds us, "Without faith, we cannot please God." (Hebrews 11.6)

And one more, "The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love." (Galatians 5:6)



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Friday, November 13, 2009


Almost everywhere I have gone these past few days, people have been talking about the massacre at Fort Hood. That persons who had put themselves in harm's way for their nation and the cause of liberty were the victims of this malicious assault only magnifies the outrage.

But now there are those inevitable news reports that the "authorities" were aware of the threat posed by the man now charged with 13 counts of murder and attempted murder. These were not merely rumors, but in some cases highly public statements made by the accused.

I strongly suspect that this outrage and the tragedy it created could have been avoided if someone in responsiblity (this time in the military) had actually taken responsibility. Taking, responsibility, however, is something people are reluctant to do. For that means being accountable.

Or on the other hand, too many people want to be responsible for themselves only. They do not want to be accountable to others, and therefore resist someone else's discipline, boundaries, or intervention.

A nation where no one takes responsibility becomes leaderless, rudderless, and chaotic (to say the least). A nation where those who are responsible, dodge that responsbility or hope that someone will do the hard work of accountability--is a nation where tragedies come unnecessarily at the hands of irresponsible people.

As one who must lead, it is sometimes frustrating that more people would choose followership than shared leadership. As one who deals with people who do not want to accept boundaries and consequences for their unrestrained self-centeredness, it is an uphill battle to keep us all safe, secure and sane.



"In order that men may have knowledge of God, free from doubt and uncertainty, it is necessary for divine truth to be delivered to them by faith; being told to them, as it were, by God who cannot lie." - Thomas Aquinas

"Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God;
turn your backs on the world's 'sure things,'
ignore what the world worships;
The world's a huge stockpile
of God-wonders and God-thoughts.
Nothing and no one
comes close to you!
I start talking about you, telling what I know,
and quickly run out of words.
Neither numbers nor words
account for you."
- Psalm 40:4-6 The Message

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


This weekend I opened my email to discover a message from Facebook. Natalie Dunn wanted to be my friend. Natalie is my 13 year old granddaughter, who lives in Michigan. For all you grandparent types, that's more than 650 miles from Landisville PA and so I don't get many opportunities to get involved in her life. (Now I know she likes pancakes and wants to be a park ranger.) Facebook has its limitations and even its hazards, but I am grateful for the technology that allows me to have a stronger relationship with my granddaughter.

I am reminded of how computers and email revolutionized overseas mission work. Instead of being isolated and dependent on mail that often took weeks, missionaries were able to communicate back home in real time. Supporters and mission boards could now respond to needs with greater promptness and pray for real and specific issues at the exact time those prayer were needed most.

Cliff Lee was not as sharp last night but Chase Utley was devastating and the Phillies stepped back from the brink with a win over the Yankees. Chase is the new "Mr. October" (sorry Reggie). Four of my friends were at the game (one Yankees fan in the bunch)and each had his take on what made the game special (this time the Yankee fan saying "what it"?) So back to the Bronx. Can the Phillies win two more?

Election Day. Get out and vote.

Reminder - A Good Question meets tomorrow night from 7-9 upstairs at the Black Knight in Landisville. Join us.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Back in the 1980's, church researcher and consultant, Lyle Schaller coined the phrase "The Seven Day a Week Church." Schaller was reporting a trend moving from churches that basically defined themselves by their Sunday morning services and the work of a pastor to congregations seeing themselves as a church (meaning the people) engaged in ministry throughout the week--a church whose ministry was more than a pastor assisted by people to a people equipped by a pastor. In this new identity churches moved into a 24/7 mode.

As churches evolved into a more intentional and continual program of ministry, the ministry of the laity took on greater significance and the congregation's impact in its local community multiplied. Once the province of megachurches or large mainline congregations, "seven day a week" became the definition of middle size churches (churches of 200-400 members). Such churches are now open more often than closed. Parking lots can be as busy on a Tuesday as a Sunday. Like-minded civic and volunteer organizations call the church facility their home. The core leaders and staffs of these churches joke about "first shift, second shift" and sometimes "night shift."

Seven day a week churches, especially if they are committed to providing support for the community in which they reside make themselves welcome and even essential neighbors. Although some people complain about the increased traffic flow caused by any facility expansion, most of the population find seven day a week churches a comfortable reminder of the better side of society.

"Only on Sunday and Wednesday Night" kinds of churches, once the norm, are now largely ignored.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The Phillies have the Phanatic.

Do the Yankees have a mascot, or are the fans themselves fanatic enough?

Joe Blanton vs CC Sabathia. Charlie Manuel is a man of great faith, apparently. Maybe Blanton will make believers out of us all.

Well, it ain't over until it's over (I think Yogi Berra said that, or Casey Stengel ...oh rats, Yankees.)

All of you who have tickets for tonight and tomorrow--enjoy!

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Scott McKnight shares a book review that has me wanting to go out and read the book. As a Facebooker who uses it for social networking and a little pastoring, I am intrigued. More to follow. McKnight writes ...

Anyone, and I mean anyone, who can help us think about how the gospel and the church and life itself is being reshaped (or influenced or revolutionized) by social media like Facebook is worth listening to. Jesse Rice's new book, The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community , is not only worth listening to but it's worth church staffs reading together to discuss.

The Church of Facebook does not approach the subject with a holier-than-thou critical attitude, it doesn't bring in Bible and theology to make it sound Christian... the sort of approach that may sound right but be short on critical analysis. My summary statement:

Facebook is a spontaneous ordering of humans that both benefits us and is reshaping our sense of community and provides us with challenges ...

The Church of Facebook explains through (what I'd call) social psychology how the Facebook phenomenon arose (spontaneous order is his term -- great story to begin the book) and what it provides for 300 million people (connection, not to be confused with community) and how it is illuminating so many things about life (like relationships) and how we are adapting to it in so many ways ... and then he offers some warnings about how to live in a Facebook world as followers of Christ.

There's more to be said about Facebook, and more will be said over the next few years, but this is a fine book and one that penetrates deeply into the Facebook world and then comes out to explain to us what is going on in that world.

Read McKnight's original blog at ....

Friday, October 30, 2009


My grandson Jake went to the lake this summer-Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke VA. For the past several summers, my wife Dianne's family has spent a week together strengthening their family ties and building memories by sharing a house on this beautiful lake. Jake got introduced to fresh water, swimming with his Mom Christi's younger cousins, and being the center of many photos. He's a little young for the memories to be as complete as those of his grandmother, Dianne--but he will have one powerful memory--a family that loves him.

What kind of memories are you building into your families or your other relationships? Memories in childhood often plant silent seeds that bear fruit for decades. Abuse or neglect create painful memories. Laughter and love build precious ones. What kind of memories will those who have been part of your life and under your influence possess?


With apologies to my Associate Pastor Barry, but Cliff Lee simply dominated the Yankees in the opening game of the World Series. Only Derek Jeter's scrambling and Jimmy Rollin's "getting cute" allowed the Yankees to score at all. Game One goes to the Phillies.

NOTE: A.J. Burnette was more dominating than Pedro. Barry's a happy man this AM.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


The front page of the Lancaster newspaper Tuesday night featured a shot of a line of people winding for several blocks around the Carter-Macrae Elementary School waiting for flu shots. The flu season has begun, this year being heightened by a virulent strain of swine flu that has many people on edge as it has proven deadly in some instances. As the lack of anywhere near sufficient doses of the vaccine have yet to emerge from the governments pharmaceutical pipeline, people (especially parents of younger children) are restive and worried. President Obama's approval rating has sunk into the 30% range. People in a panic are not very forgiving.

Yet there are good people who care about others, and seek to make a difference for people whose lives are difficult. In the Hempfield School District, senior citizens are permitted to volunteer in the schools and get a credit on their school taxes for their time. (GREAT PLAN, HSD!) At our church, we have a Gym/Multipurpose Ministry Center--that we make accessible to support the community. For the last two several years (this year again), we have given practice space to the Hempfield Junior Varsity Cheerleading Squad as they prepare for November competitions (there is not enough gym space nd practice time in the schools.) A grandmother of one of the cheerleaders is now volunteering in the schools and anonymously donating HER tax credit to an older widow in our congregation who finds it difficult to pay mounting school taxes.

Not all is right with our world, yet there are more people trying to put it right than many of us believe. Usually because acts of kindness and sacrifical servanthood.

What does the World Series between the Yankees and Phillies have to do with all of this? Except for its record-breaking potential--not much. But a whole lot of people take joy from their baseball (I being one of them) so for about the next 10 days Fox Sports will bring some nightly joy into people's living rooms. PLus, the head line got you to read the blog today about some really significant good news that will not appear on a Jumbotron in Yankee Stadium or Citizens Bank Field. Forgive me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


The youth ministry at the Church of God of Landisville has taken a new direction. Under the leadership of Jeremy Moyer, we are focusing on teaching kids to be leaders and influencers in their generation. We emphasize the power to overcome instead of merely coping. Learning to take responsibility and engage in sacrificial servanthood. This past weekend 52 kids (many of them from our Agape Youth Center) had a weekend retreat at the church. Two service projects were built into the usual worship, fellowship, fun, food, and lack of sleep. One of those projects, which the kids carried out in the pouring Saturday rain, was to collect food for the nearly depleted Hempfield Food Bank. 458 pounds were collected. These are some GREAT KIDS.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


This past weekend our youth ministry (called "Burn") sponsored a retreat called "Catch the Flame." Under the direction of our youth director Jeremy Moyer and 14 volunteers, a 25 hour event was conducted for 52 teens. Worship, Bible study, games, and service projects were a part. One of the projects was to gather food for the Hempfield Food Bank, which they did in the pouring rain. One of the photos shows the collcted food at the altar of the church. I was deeply impressed by the maturity, involvement, and spirit of all the kids.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I admit it. I am a Star Wars fan. I know all the theological arguments about an "impersonal force" as a substitute for God and the dualism of the "dark side". I take Star Wars for just what it is--a series of great stories about a future where humanity and non-human races continue to struggle with the ideas of good and evil, freedom and tyranny, sacrificial servanthood and manipulative greed. A space western with a little philosophy thrown in.

My favorite character in the Star Wars saga is Yoda, the diminutive Jedi Knight. His appearance hides a powerful and penetrating intellect. The heart of Yoda's being and his purpose for living is WISDOM.

Wisdom and common sense are often confused in modern society. Wisdom asks the question, "Is it right?" Common sense says, "Does it work?" Wisdom presumes that their is a definitive answer,an authoritative response that we must embrace to be people of wholeness and integrity. Common sense says, "What are my options" and often results in a solution that serves first (and sometimes only) ourselves.

Wisdom is often rejected because it places boundaries on us. Common sense is often rejected because it is suspicious of our impulses.

The Bible has many, many things to say about wisdom. Perhaps the most important is this:'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom? Psalm 119.10

Andy Stanley once wrote about THE BEST QUESTION EVER. The question, "Is it wise?" By that he meant, does your action or decision reflect the will of God. If you think that you can be wise apart from seeing things through the eyes of God, life's Master Designer, you are ultimately destined to be unwise.


Don't forget to join us at the Black Knight in Landisville for the return of A GOD QUESTION. We will be in the upstairs room from 7:00-9:00 pm to talk about God, the Bible, Christianity, and our spiritual matters. I'll be there right after I eat a steak dinner downstairs. This is a SAFE PLACE to bring your questions and your friends who have questions--even if they do not see themselves as religious types. I promise you will not be asked to join anything or decide anything. We'll even make sure that no one else tries to hijack the conversation. There are no stupid questions, just questions for which you do not have an answer.


See you there - STEVE
Or as I am known to some of my congregation - DR STEVE


Monday, October 19, 2009


Jesus Christ has a good press these days. Even non-Christians admire him. Celebrities like Madonna appeal to him when declaring their positions on contemporary social issues. College students still line up to take courses about him and to debate his impact.

Yet often the cultural understanding of Jesus is a mile wide and an inch deep. Like so many other things, we use Jesus to baptize our positions and decisions instead of asking the a priori question, "What did Jesus say about Himself, His values, and the work He came into the world to do?"

In Colossians we read: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the first born from among the dead, so that in everything he might have supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross." (Ephesians 1.15-20)

CS Lewis once famously stated in his book MERE CHRISTIANITY that, "“I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”

This Sunday at the Church of God of Landisville during both the 8.15 and 10.45 worship services, I will be answering that question, "Who Is Jesus Christ?" I hope you will consider joining us.


John Maxwell says, "Leadership is influence." Jesus says, "You are the salt of the earth ..." (Matthew 5) meaning we are called to provide seasoning to the world -- seasoning that comes from God's transforming love exhibited in human lives. In that sense, the church---Christians--are called to be leaders in their culture--not by political power or position--but by the influence on their neighbors of Christ's love working in and through us.

Less than earth-shattering question, "Will the Angels settle down and stop the Yankees?" Maybe sunny Southern California will be friendlier to their ambitions.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Have you done something nice for your pastor lately?

I am gearing up for A Good Question, the religious discussion group I am leading at the Black Knight Tavern and Restaurant in Landisville on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of each month. The first is this Wednesday, October 21 from 7:00-9:00 pm. Even if the discussion is stimulating, they have a great special on steak on Wednesdays! (See my blog posting for October 13, 2009 for more details.)

My mother-in-law will be 80 years old at the end of this month. Still plays tennis, walks a couple of miles each day. We all should be as healthy as this woman when we hit fifty, let alone 80. Way to go Barbara Gordon!

I am on Facebook and have crossed the 100 friends barrier. Too bad I don't communicate with them more often, but you CAN waste some serious time on Facebook. Communication, however, is a key to good relationship--and Facebook is my attempt to have better relationships. If you are on Facebook, can you tell me your reason?