Friday, February 26, 2010


My grandson Jake is nearing his second birthday. We are quickly learning that he is quickly learning. He can clearly tell you when he wants you to leave and/or leave him alone. Jake already is an avid football fan. He has learned how to get his Daddy in trouble with his Mommy (or at least to try). He has a clearly defined taste in movies (Up and Wallee) He has mastered the speed dial on a cell phone (the 911 dispatcher can attest to that.) Jake even decided independently the other day that his Mom should call Grandma (He didn't yet know the number. He's brilliant but he hasn't learned to read a phone book --- yet.)

Jake has many good influences on his life. Christi and Tim are great parents. But Jake has got it all wired because he has a mentor - Talking Elmo. Elmo is a toddler's equivalent to Yoda - full of simple, yet pithy thoughts - intended to shape a life.

The other day Jake did something that earned the ire of his mother. (He has also learned to be a nuisance.) When Christi reprimanded him somewhat sharply, Jake was nonplussed. He simply responded with something Elmo had taught him, "Mommy - BE NICE!")

Never underestimate the power of a mentor.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


"Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day." — Henri Nouwen

Joy cannot be programmed. Nor cannot be commanded. But it can be generated. Tim Hansel in his wonderful classic Holy Sweat referred to it this way. "Joy is peace dancing."

Paul says in Philippians 4, "Rejoice in the Lord always ... do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

One of my favorite movies of all time was Sister Act 2 Kids living in a troubled community were challenged by their teacher, the fictitious sister Mary Clarence (played by Whoopi Goldberg) to express their hearts through their singing, choosing to rise above their surroundings and other people's incredibly low expectations. They ultimately chose joy because the alternative was no alternative at all.

When we choose joy there is a power that is infectious, contagious, powerful. I remember the end of the movie well and the other night I pulled it from my library. After you hear this, you may want to enhance your joy by going and renting it. But remember the message of this song. It is ultimately where joy is found.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Last Friday Tiger Woods apologized. Unfortunately the apology was packaged as an infomercial, staged on a Friday when it was certain to compete with the current PGA tour stop (ironically the Accenture Match Play, one of his sponsors who chose to cancel Tiger's contract rather than be identified with his moral difficulties). It was an act of controlled communication that seemed to be devoid of true contrition and intent on not making his mea culpa any more painful than it needed to be. It left many a person wondering if anything had really changed inside of Woods that might make them once again truly respect him. Tiger's approach to an apology didn't communicate that he respected the sensibilities of his fans or the golfing public. One wonders whether the absence of his wife from the proceedings was saying she didn't buy it either.

Where I live in southcentral Pennsylvania the talk again was snow. 40 inches due March 7th (I think they said they were quoting the venerable Farmer's Almanac. We did get 40 inches about two weeks ago. I'm hoping that Alamanac got the date of its prediction wrong. I'm more than a little weary of the abundance of snow. It can't melt fast enough for me. I want to be on the golf course sooner than later. At the current melting rate, I might not see grass until the end of March. One more snowstorm and I might have to wait until late April to tee off.

In church this Sunday I spoke about conflict resolution. Some of the most difficult people to deal with in conflict are perfectionists. They actually think they live in a world that can be whipped into shape instead of a broken one that needs patient healing. As a result, they create conflict by their unrealistic attitudes and inhibit conflict resolution until they get over their "mad" about the need to deal with problems in the first place. Then there are the people who believe if they ignore a conflict, it will simply go away. They are difficult to deal with in conflict because you have to catch them first.

With all this in mind, I put my hope in Paul's promise found in Romans 8.28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose." Tiger may remain unrepentant, but hopefully I will remember that humility is essential to real change. I may have that snowstorm nonetheless, and I will learn to live with the reality that "to everything there is a reason and a time to every purpose under heaven"(Ecclesiastes 3). The things that create conflict are bound to come. I can learn to do what is right in conflict instead of simply what is easy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


For sheer power and inspiration, my vote for Best Picture of the Year is The Blindside. The movie adaptation of Michael Lewis' compelling book surprised many, especially when it premiered against the Twilight Vampire sagas. Hurt Locker and Avatar are more likely to walk off with this honor; but the story is already out there and it has already changed many a life. Makes Christians look like real people, too, not those caricatures that the media is so found of.

Black teenager Michael Oher (now with the Baltimore Ravens) is befriended by Leigh Ann Tuohy and her husband Sean and has his life utterly transformed. Leigh Ann is a Christian, who despite her machine-gun like verbal delivery (think Julia Sugarbaker as an agent of God's grace), has a deep respect for the person God created Michael to be and uses her considerable will to make sure others are giving Michael the chance she believes God wants him to have. A young man who is essentially homeless finds a supportive family, and in so doing transforms that family from what some might view as a shallow suburban Christian family, more nominal than committed, into a group of people who live out their calling from God as well. The trailer just gives you a clue.

Interestingly, Sandra Bullock, who plays the lead, says her she became a genuine believer herself through this experience.

It is one movie that when the DVD is released I intend to buy whether Oscar says it's the best film or not. If you have not already seen the movie, I'd encourage you to buy it - or at least, rent it.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I serve as the Lead Pastor for the Church of God of Landisville. We have two Sunday morning worship gatherings. One at 8.15 is traditional - pipe organ, choir, much of the worship tradition you may have grown up on.

The second service at 10.45 is very contemporary--high energy and powerful. We have a great Worship Band that rocks the house for Jesus.

At the 8.15 service on Sunday, February 14, 2010 - Valentine's Day--we put together an "old time gospel quartet" with our brand of humor and joy. At the risk of driving you away rom this blog -- here's Roger, me, Jerry and Bill with Barb on the piano.

Have fun! We did and so did our congregation!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


"So God created people in His own image. God patterned them after Himself, male and female He made them ... Then God looked on all that he had made and it was excellent in every way." - Genesis 1:27, 31 New Living Translation.

One of the fundamentals of the Christian faith is the belief that God is our Creator. He is the Master Designer, whose intelligent design is intended to bring wholeness, purpose, and fulfillment to his people. Part of that understanding is that humanity is created in the "image of God." This means that we are created to reflect His character, His values, His actions in the world. Humanity is good in God's plan--excellent in every way.

That does not mean man is God. He is below God and dependent upon God. Man lives by God's loving intent and is given power for living by God. If God were to cease to exist, it would have the same effect on humanity (on all life) as if the Earth's Sun died. Life on earth would cease.

God created us in His image and even gave us the gift of a free will. (What G.K. Chesterton called "the terrible gift of freedom,") Freedom always carries responsibility, but true freedom understands that it is responsibility that is dependent upon the empowerment of God.

Here is where original sin enters the picture. As the story of the Garden of Eden unfolds, we see the temptation to take responsibility for one's own life apart from the empowerment of God. "If you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will be like God" says the serpent. Read, "you will be free to be your own god."

There is no question that man no longer lives by God's design. The image of God has been lost in the mountains of sin that humanity has created. The doctrine of original sin is the most empirically proven truth in history. The world suffers greatly and all who are in it because we no longer live to reflect the character, the values, the actions of God in the world.

Such a restoration of God's image is beyond us apart from the intervention of our Creator also as our Savior, the one who redeems that original image by once again "creating anew" something we have lost. Humanity will never correct itself, improve itself, save itself from its own depravity because that is only accomplished by the empowerment of God. And to have that we must return to what we were before the Fall in the Garden--people who once again live freely under the authority and sovereignty of God - responsibly dependent upon His empowerment.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Sometime today you may see people walking around with a gray or black smudge on their foreheads. If you look closely you will see that the smudge is a cross.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a season that Christians call Lent. Most of know about Lent because that's what follows Mardi Gras. Early this morning the police in New Orleans shut down the bars and rolled up the streets to bring an end to the partying and serious Christians begin a vital spiritual journey.

That journey is to engage in prayer and self-examination, reflection on God's Word, and simplifying their lives so they can focus on the Cross of Jesus Christ and what it has given them. We believe Christ died on the Cross to release us from the power and penalty of our sin so we can live out our purpose, reflecting His glory as we seek to become and behave like Jesus. Without God's action on the Cross, there is no new beginning.

So Lent begins with a reminder of what the Cross means to us and a recommitment to make sure we are living like Jesus. The smudge, it's a mark we take at a worship time to give us a tangible reminder of this spiritual journey.


When I was growing my father served a church that believed that social dancing was a sin, so much so that they dismissed his predecessor for chaperoning a school prom and pressured my dad into pulling me from a square dancing exhibition at school. I came across this article in a recent blog from Scot McKnight.

Baraboo man accused of using stun gun on 'sinner'

Published: Feb 10, 2010

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Baraboo man was accused of repeatedly shocking a male dance instructor with a stun gun, claiming the instructor was a "sinner" who "defiles married women." A Dane County prosecutor said the suspect, 59, hastily arranged a dance lesson at the instructor's Madison home and showed up with a stun gun and sledgehammer last Friday. The criminal complaint said the man told a detective that his church does not condone touching while dancing and that he was going to scare the instructor "and tell him to leave the women alone."

The Wisconsin State Journal said the instructor told police that the suspect phoned for private dance lessons, and when he opened the door to his home, he began to shock him repeatedly in the neck with the stun gun.


Information from: Wisconsin State Journal,

All I can say is that "they" - that church years ago and this year far too recently forgot that David danced before the Lord, and told us to praise Him with dance. Thankfully, most Christians today have a more spiritually sensitive (as opposed to culturally laden) understanding of God's Word, the Bible.


For those of you unfamiliar with the Ash Wednesday tradition, the pastor often says "from dust you came to dust you return" when making the cross on one's forehead during Ash Wednesday. Thought this cartoon was fun.

Who says Christians don't have a sense of humor?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


During the last presidential election campaign, I got into a discussion with a person who told me, "I'm not going to vote for that Obama person."
"Why not?"
"Because I'm not going to stand before my Maker at judgment day and tell Him that I voted for someone who kills babies."
"You have it on good authority that Mr Obama kills babies?"
"Well not him personally, but he supports those who do."
"Well what if God asks you a different question come Judgement Day?"
"Like what?"
"Like, what did you do for the poor, the homeless, etc?"
"He's not going to ask that?"
"I think you can count on it, read Matthew 25."
"Well, I'm concerned about abortion."
"You may be a single issue voter, but God is not a single issue God."

I'm pretty assure I did not persuade them, but as another election cycle begins to fire up, I would encourage you to remember that living for God in a complex world can never be reduced to the simplicity of a single issue to the detriment of the many. many things for which God has a deep concern.

Monday, February 15, 2010


This was the view from my window last Wednesday morning after the snow storm hit my community of Landisville. According to the measuring table in my back yard, 18 more inches had been added to the original 24 from the weekend. The winds had not yet kicked up, but by Thursday this would be looking even more like Narnia or Lake Wobegone or some other location of snowy reputation. When asked what my church was going to do with all the snow in its parking lot, someone quipped, "You could ship it to Vancouver!"

Remember all the controversy over the Tim Tebow Super Bowl Ad? It did not even mention the word "abortion," although the word "life" figured prominently. It appeared for thirty seconds early in the Super Bowl (I actually missed it) and the most controversial moment was when Tim playfully tackled his mom. The head of Right to Life, Terry O'Neill still felt it necessary to take a shot at this bit of playfulness, "I am blown away by the celebration of violence against women in it" I think O'Neill was the only person in America to see such a nefarious message in that little moment. The former head of Catholics for Choice (a group favoring abortion rights), Frances Kissling responded, ".It's absurd to claim that this is an endorsement of violence against women. These people (the Tebows) came across as affectionate, loving, funny and happy." In the end Boston Globe columnist, Joan Vennochi(another advocate of what some euphemistically call reproductive rights) was even more pointed about the Pro-Choice efforts to bully CBS into pulling the plug on the ad "No supporter of Roe v Wade could escape the truth. With one choice you could end up with a strapping son; with another choice,you don't. Demonizing the ad featuring this mother and son doesn't change that. It only help their cause." Maybe those Moms who have rambunctous sons were just allowed to reaffirm the sanctity of life, or at least its sense of humor.

Snowmageddon pretty much altered life (read paralyzed in some locales) in the Middle Atlantic region. It created a gridlock on Washington that is still yet to be unlocked. Don't worry, the Dems and the Republicans can get that grid locked up again in a heart beat. Maybe all those pols needed to camp out at the Capital and iron out our problems on jobs, health care reform. At least Mr. Obama got to catch the Georgetown-Duke game.

The Olympics were marred with a tragedy opening day in the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvilli But the grand show of the Opening Ceremony was awe-inspiring in its majesty and beauty. You didn't have to be a Canadian to have your heart stirred by the powerful and proud bilingual singing of "O Canada" by Nikki Yavobky (Why do our people seem to feel the need to butcher the "Star Spangled Banner" like some arrogant contestant in the opening rounds of American Idol?) And there was something absolutely poignant listening to the Haitian immigrant Governor General of Canada, Michaelle Jean formally open the Games. It was the same dignity that I have seen in so many Haitians still digging out from the Earthquake.

And speaking of Haiti,in an insomniac moment I happened upon Anderson Cooper's report from the Day of Remembrance in Port au Prince. Noting that "prayer and praise and Bibles" were evident everywhere, Cooper was in awe of the strength of the Haitians. I am in awe of the power of faith in God.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Many years ago I served a church where I was the pastor of two professional golfers, PGA golfer Bill Kratzert and his LPGA sister, Cathy Kratzert Gerring. Professional golfers actually don't spend a lot of time attending church on Sunday mornings and if they are really good at their profession, are often teeing off about the time I am preaching my first sermon of the morning.

Most golf fans of today are more familiar with Billy Kratzert, golf commentator for TNT and ESPN. I have seen his weathered face, wry smile and listened to his informed, yet friendly interviews at the Masters and at the British Open. In fact, I still remember the Saturday afternoon when I was stretched on the couch, sleepily watching a golf match when I was aroused from my slumber by the sound of his slight southern drawl. The last time I had contact with Billy he was moving to Florida to prepare for a shift from the PGA Tour to the Senior (now Champions) Tour. It made sense to me. He was an excellent golfer, winning a million dollars in the days before the Fed Ex Cup and flirting into day three with the lead at the Masters (he ultimately finished 5th). But few people really understood golf--the game, its culture, its history, and his opponents as well as Billy.

Once I took a vacation to work at the Greater Greensboro Open. Billy was playing there during a time when his career was having some challenges. Because they had more volunteers than needed, I was freed after the Pro-Am Day on Wednesday just to enjoy the tournament; so I followed Billy. He was doing well that week and made the cut for Sunday, and he invited me to dinner Saturday night. I started to decline as I thought he would want to be free to prepare for that important final day. He insisted and so I met him for dinner at the MCL Cafeteria (Billy was not a big spender).

What impressed me, however, is who we joined in the cafeteria. I anticipated Fuzzy Zoeller and other convivial pros. We ate with the caddies. We ate with the caddies and Billy spent much of the meal talking with them, listening to their insights, learning more about the game and his competitors. It gave me a whole new perspective on Billy and also on a true professional.

True professionals are good at what they do because they are constantly learning, and humble enough to learn from everyone. They understand the wisdom of the little guy, the man on the line, the administrative assistant. They value them as persons and actually encourage those persons to participate in the leader's success by sharing their ideas and insights.

Approachability, listening, appreciation- the mark of an effective professional and of a successful leader. Thanks, Billy, for that life lesson to a young preacher.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Watch more ClipSyndicate videos on AOL Video

One of the men I have mostly deeply admired over the years was Dr. Victor Binkley. Dr. Binkley was a surgeon with the Markle Medical Center near Bluffton IN. He was the son of two Churches of God pastors, Carl and Catherine Binkley, the oldest of many children who have been faithful servants of God. Dr. Binkley would divide his time between his practice in the States and a clinic in Haiti he helped build at Pierre Payen, a small town between Port-au-Prince and Saint Marc. He was the point man in developing this critical service to that nation and the point person in mentoring the development of our Haiti Conference and its more than 40 churches (many of whom also operate schools.)

The medical ministry at Pierre Payen has been a well respected outreach of Project Help-Haiti since the mid 1970's. In 2001 the Churches of God built a new surgical hospital across the street from our 25 year old clinic buildings. A team from my own congregation here in Landisville went down in March 2002 to help finish its construction. Dr. Vic Binkley was the one most responsible for developing and sustaining our work there over the last 35 years and was instrumental in designing and getting our hospital built.

Seven months ago Vic was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was not able to return to his work there during these last 7 months as he was valiantly waged his own medical battle with that cancer. Though still fighting for his own life Vic and his wife Donna wanted to make a trip down here to see how well the work was progressing in helping with the medical relief efforts. They also wanted to help in developing a permanent orthopedic surgery wing there at the hospital. Getting into Haiti is not very easy and Vic's health complicated things even more but through the generosity of a donated corporate jet they were able to return to Haiti are once again last week. Last weekend, however, Dr. Binkley began to weaken significantly and returned to the US.

Yesterday I received this email from Don Dennison, who directs our worldwide missions effort for the Churches of God, General Conference.

"Dr. Victor Binkley went home to be with the Lord this afternoon around 1:15 p.m. He had grown increasingly weaker since returning from Haiti earlier this week. He passed peacefully. Pray for Donna and family members who gather with her this day. May they be comforted by the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

As you pray for Haiti today, remember those who grieve the loss of their friend and co-worker who poured his life into theirs so that Haiti might be a better place. May his dreams be fulfilled in them."

This video clip is courtesy of News Channel 15 WANE in Fort Wayne IN

Friday, February 12, 2010


I make no apologies about it, I enjoy sports. Nothing is more relaxing to me than a well-played game. I can sit for hours watching the minute strategizing carried out by two baseball managers, calling pitches and positioning players and shifting lineups like chess pieces to win a contest. The sheer athleticism of football players, especially those young men in college football, bring me great pleasure. Once while vacationing with my wife and daughters, I parked my bicycle and climbed into the stands to watch a Little League baseball game between kids I did not know, My wife said to my daughters as the three of them rode out of sight, "He needed his baseball fix."

I am not alone. Over half the American population watched the Super Bowl last Sunday night. The NFL and College Football are among the real growth industries.
Recently my region was hit with a series of massive snowstorms (more than 40-60 inches in various locations). When a news reporter asked the weary and beleagured highway supervisor in mountainous Perry County how he was holding up, the man replied "We are Pennsylvania people - we have our Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles. We'll survive."

Some people say that sports, and football in particular have reached the level of a religion rivaling things like Christianity. Mark Galli, writing for Christianity Today has done an excellent review of the issues and dynamics of both religion and football. But he also puts an observation forward that I find refreshing. Instead of bashing and smashing sports like some idol, he encourages Christians to see its consistency and focus in living as believers in the world. Galli writes:

"Sport—in this case, football—is not a quasi-religion or a civil religion or a form of idolatry as such. Like anything in creation, football can become idolatrous. But it is not football's sociological parallels with religious life that make it a possible rival religion—all of creation, all these sociological forms (speech, music, discipline, camaraderie, ritual, and so forth) can partake in and hint at transcendence. If we really were convinced that football was a rival religion because it shared these forms, we Christians would not only have to abandon football, but life itself. For we cannot escape God; his love overflows into all of life, and does so—mysteriously, elusively to be sure—in more forms than we can imagine.

Some Christians do practice civil religion, and for some, football has become an idol. Such is the nature of the human heart, that desperately wicked thing (Jer. 17:9). But one reason many Christians are not concerned about football as religion is that what seems to make it a religion to some scholars is precisely the thing that makes it another sign of God's presence in the world, a sign that comes in the most mundane ways—through ritual, physical sacrifice, a sense of brotherhood, shared joy and despair over little things (like if our team wins or loses).

This is the reason Christians participate freely and fully in all of life. For we, of all people, have eyes to see and ears to hear God's elusive presence, to discern his handiwork and love everywhere. The clearest revelation of God's love comes to us in the preaching of the Word and the sharing of the sacrament, but it is precisely because we've learned to make out the outlines of the God-man Jesus with repeated participation at these specifically religious events that we can spot him in a glass of fine wine, in the startling lines of a skyscraper, in conversation with friends, in a timely block or a well-executed screen play."

For a chance to read this fine article completely go to:

And God Created Football - Books & Culture

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


For the second time in seven days, the Mid Atlantic region has been hit with a winter storm. Snow began falling here in Landisville around 5:00 p.m. Tuesday night. We had already canceled all evening activities at the church. It's about 6:00 am Wednesday now. I estimate about four more inches have been added to the 24-26 from the weekend. Shortly, I will head out the door to shovel that so I can perhaps keep ahead of the estimated 8-11 weatherman Joe Calhoun says will fall between now and 2:00 pm. We have already been told that near blizzard conditions will occur after noon and that road travel is considered not advisable. (In fact, the roads themselves may not be clear until Friday.)

I have already closed the office today, and we have canceled all of today's activities. I may have to do so tomorrow, too. It looks like we are snowbound whether it is convenient or not, and I know that this will not be a welcome fact to many. Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that"to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." (Some of you 60's people thought the Byrds said that.) It is obviously the season for snowbound snow days.

So here's today's question. What are you going to do with a snow day or two? How will you use this serendipity of God? Me, since I am close, I will probably walk to the office at some time this morning to get in a couple of hours of uninterrupted work that have been bugging me. But then, a little relaxation with a good book like the new Sue Grafton novel that I have barely cracked since I bought in December. And of course, moving some more snow. What about you? This would be a perfect day to post a comment back to me.

Monday, February 8, 2010


This You Tube Video comes from Antwerp, Belgium.This video was made in the Antwerp Central (Train) Station on the 23rd of March 2009......with no warning to the passengers passing through the station,at 08:00 am a recording of Julie Andrews singing 'Do, Re, Mi' begins to play on the public address system.As the bemused passengers watch in amazement, some 200 dancers begin to appear from the crowd and station entrances.They created this amazing stunt with just two rehearsals!

When was the last time you and your neighbors banded together to bring a little joy?

Enjoy! (And then start thinking how you can bring joy)


Matt Stover missed a field goal last night in the Colt's Super Bowl loss to the New Orleans Saints. Stover, one of the oldest and most consistent kickers in the NFL, had made 16 straight field goals in the playoffs. He hit this one squarely, but it veered to the left just as it reached the goal post. After Matt had kicked the ball, he raised two fingers to the sky. Such a gesture is common among Christian athletes, especially football players after they have scored or made a key play. It is an action that expresses the thought "Glory to God!"

Stover, however, raised those two fingers heavenward long before the ball reached the goal. CBS commentator Jim Nantz noted that Stover had not thought he had made the field goal. Said Nantz, "Stover is a religious man. He does that whether he makes the field goal or not."

What a simple yet profound witness. Giving glory to God whether you are successful or not. Giving glory to God for the opportunity alone. A witness that says, "In all things I give glory to God." A reminder that I am more than an athlete in the Super Bowl. I am a person whose life exists to give glory to God.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


James Cameron has crafted a cinematic masterpiece in his now Emmy-nominated motion picture Avatar. The rich colors, the intricate design of his fictional planet Pandora with its many creatures, the elegance of the Nabi (the indigenous people of the planet) are well worth the ticket price and the two hours, fifty minutes you invest. For those of us who tend to be special effects junkies, the climatic battle scenes make The Transformers movie look like a cartoon and even edge out the hectic firepower of the original Star Wars movie. (Raiders of the Lost Ark still holds first place in this reviewers heart in the special effects department.)

The story and its message have captivated many, although the message is not that original. It carries the culturally popular themes of the brilliance and sensitivity of scientists, the arrogant greed of corporations, the destructive mindset of the military, the home planet-Earth--losing all attractiveness, as well as its soul as we have devastated our natural resources. These are cliches that do little for our human understanding except to make an effective "good guy--bad guy" tension that drives the action of the story. My one affirmation is the obvious comparison to how the European settlers and American Manifest Destiny politicians pretty much ignored the humanity of the original Native American inhabitants of this continent--perpetrating all manner of atrocities along the way. This latter is a lesson we have sometimes forgotten, but I believes behooves Christians to never forget as we seek to build redemptive and healing relationships today.

There is a strong spirituality to Avatar, but the spirituality is pantheism - all things in nature are connected and all things in nature are holy. Biblical Christianity is monotheistic - there is one God, our Creator, who is over all. Humankind and only humankind is made in the image of God. Humankind is above creation in that we are called to have dominion over the earth and its creatures. But the Bible teaches that dominion is for the purposes of stewardship not destruction or mere consumption. (In this sense biblical Christianity is more green than cultural Christianity-a reality evangelicals are finally waking up to.) The Nabi in the movie see themselves as stewards and even protectors of creation, an element of their spirituality that is worthy of imitation.

Prayer is clearly a part of the Nabi's spirituality. Prayer is accomplished by connecting (literally) with the tree that represents Eywa, their supreme being and allowing Eywa to read every part of their being. Although Jake, the human whose avatar becomes the story's hero, thinks he can get Eywa to "side with" with his campaign to defeat the evil earth corporation and its out of control mercenaries; he is reminded that "she" does not take sides - she just maintains the balance of life. And ultimately healing in this movie is not the result of mere medicine, but requires supernatural intervention supported by the intercessory prayer of "the people." Even the "enlightened" scientist has to face this reality.

Christians will appreciate the clear incarnational theme. Jake Sully takes on the form of the Nabi in order to communicate with them how to save themselves from simply having their resources stolen by his compatriots. Ultimately Sully's incarnational form becomes the means to lead the Nabi to their salvation and restoration. (Unfortunately, in this story the Savior has to stay a Nabi in order to survive himself; but then I don't think Cameron was attempting to create an allegorical tale about the work of Christ.)

Personally I enjoyed the movie for what it was--a captivating story told very well. Not every movie needs to be seen as a way of educating oneself about "life matters."(I am still a fan of Mel Gibson in Die Hard but as a message it doesn't hold a candle to The Passion of Christ.) And if you view the movie's spiritual expressions with a critical eye (not a criticizing one) you will be surely entertained.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


It's now less than 24 hours before the Super Bowl kicks off in Miami (good thing they're not playing in Washington DC). Who do you think will win? Not, who are you rooting for? (I, for one, am rooting for the Colts because it is the "team that Tony Dungy built" and Peyton Manning is my favorite quarterback next to the now-retired Kurt Warner.) Who do you think will win--and what do you base your decision upon?

I am rooting for the Colts, but I think the Saints will win. Drew Brees is a great QB but mostly because the Saints are probably hungrier. They have never even been to a Super Bowl. They have symbolized a community that has hung tenaciously to its existence. After a difficult ending to the regular season, they seemed to have found themselves again. They believe they can win. It's those intangibles that often bring victory.

Having said that, the Colts have one tangible that rarely fails - Peyton Manning's comeback capacity (just ask the Jets. I have picked the Saints because of the intangibles (kind of a preacher mindset). In this case, though, I'd be very happy if the tangibles decide the game.

'ISN'T IT PRETTY?" Early Morning in a Snowstorm

It's 3:45 in the morning, a time I am often awake to stay awake. Saturday morning to be exact in the midst of a snowstorm that The Weather Channel says should last for in my location for 10-11 more hours before ending. It is being described as an historic storm of epic proportions. They are calling it the Winter Powerhouse, anticipating in some nearby locations as much as three feet of snow. The snow pile on my back yard table looks over a foot at this point.

For years I lived in northwest Ohio in an area that was the frequent recipient of the "lake effect snows" of the Great Lakes. At times we could have daily snows of 1-2 inches, which would begin to mount into feet as the cold climate rarely allowed the snow pack to melt. Grumbling about the snow was a favorite past time. One lady in my office (who seemed to love the snow) enjoyed agitating us by saying "Isn't it pretty?"

My wife Dianne would agree. Despite PPL's new rates, she turned on all the outdoor lights, opened all the blinds, turned off the indoor lights, and simply savored the serenity of this snow storm. Since the dawn still promises more snow and we have no plans to leave the house until later in the day; her snowbound heaven will persist, at least until the first kids decide to try tramping through our yard.

I knocked off from work early yesterday first experiencing the madness and mayhem of a supermarket on the Friday before a snowstorm and the Superbowl. A lot of money changed hands and a lot of milk, bread, and snacks went out the door. Then on to the drug store to get a prescription that would be needed precisely when I would be snowed in, followed by an impulse trip to another grocery and to Blockbuster. The storm had not even begun but people were driving with super caution as if they might have a major accident at every intersection or else slowed because they were constantly on their cell phones telling people how crazy it was. The gridlock certainly raised my blood pressure and aggravated my temper. I was very glad to get in the door of my house. "I am not leaving until tomorrow!" was my announcement.

There is something about a snowstorm that reminds us of how little control we really have over the universe. We have to stop everything, and that often is a reminder of our incredible busyness as we have to accept that we are going to slow down and settle in whether we like it or not. There is something that reminds us that being prepared for these interruptions is a wise thing. (I really would hate to be snowbound and run out of my comfort food at the same time.)

And there is something about a snowstorm that reminds us to savor the beauty. A fresh, unblemished landscape in all its serenity and symmetry can bring great peace to the human spirit. Sort of like the Holy Spirit when it touches our life and blots out all the gray and grime of our accumulating sin.

So I am going to enjoy this snowstorm - and hope that I don't lose cable.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Tiger Woods is one more in a succession of high profile people, whose decisions and actions have gotten them into trouble. They have shaped how others see them and treat them. In Tiger’s case, it will be a long time until people forget—if ever. In many ways Tiger’s past defines his future. I am sure he has big-time regrets and if he has any sense of himself as a moral person—guilt.

Last Sunday I preached a sermon called “Beyond Your Past.” Often our past becomes a weight that holds us back from living with peace in the present, let alone even thinking about the future. The main reason is decisions we have made in the past, wrong decisions about which we feel guilt. Guilt defeats us because unless it is released or overcome it shapes how we see ourselves including who we can become. In one sense, guilt is necessary in order to break old destructive patterns. But guilt also keeps us stuck in our past, so that we cannot claim God’s transforming power and change.

Forgiveness is the remedy for guilt. That’s why it is important for us to accept God’s forgiveness and then use it as a foundation to forgive ourselves. (I am deeply indebted to Doug Hall in his excellent book Fresh Start for this observation.)

As God often sets it up, I had one man present in that worship gathering whose life has been mired in the muck of several years of bad decisions compounding themselves. (I am sure there were others present of which this was true.) But that morning he heard a word of hope rooted and grounded in God’s message of grace and forgiveness. “That was a wonderful message!” he announced, grabbing me by the arm at the door. He wasn’t talking about the sermon and its delivery, he was talking about its truth. I sincerely hope he follows the message’s application to its fullness.

The apostle Paul describes this reality in these words found in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” And to the Romans he wrote, “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (3:23-24)

God loves us so much he wants us to move beyond our past into the new, fresh life he offers. It is indeed a wonder to people who are burdened by their guilt. But it is also a great promise. John Ortberg sums it up very well:

“By grace we have been made alive. Now you are alive to God. You have strength to endure, power to serve, a reason to hope. Death itself has no holdover you. This is the wonder of grace.” Living the God Life, p. 27

To Tiger, to others with less high profile sins, and as I have learned myself—God can move us beyond our past when we accept His forgiveness and let it change us.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Here's Tim Tebow's response to his critics. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I went to the movies the other afternoon. I needed a break from some pretty intense situations and a relentlessly busy schedule. The movie I chose was Avatar, the science fiction blockbuster that has set all records for movie revenues. The movie had been recommended by family, friends, Facbook acquaintances, some of the guys at church. I didn't require much prompting because I love a well-scripted and cinematically creative science fiction story. In a future blog I will share with you my reflections on the story told in Avatar. There are some significant questions raised in the movie and some important perspectives to consider.

What I wanted to comment on today was something of a very different nature. The movie has been out for at least five weeks. I don't go to that many movies any more (the price is just too absurd in most cases). I wait for the DVD. But the grand nature of this movie begged to be seen on the big screen. I went on a Monday afternoon and the theater itself was empty. Seriously. I can't remember the last time I went to a movie and was the only person who was viewing it.

This wasn't a small side theater, it was one of the main ones. Surrounded by "surround sounds", treated to a constant barrage of fast-moving images on the screen, seeing absolutely beautiful scenery whizzing by in all of its color and glory--the two hours and 50 minutes went by fast.

Just before the end of the movie, a patron (I suspect from another theater screen) came in, walked to the back, munched on their popcorn and watched the climactic battle scene before leaving without a word. I confess it spooked me a bit because that additional person was a "presence" that disturbed my focus. And since I have seen just enough scary movies, made me wonder if I would get murdered if I returned to giving my full attention to the screen.

Many of us are perfectly comfortable focusing on ourselves and our own desires. The presence of others in the room is often a disturbing reminder that we are not as isolated as we would prefer to be. Others require us to account for their needs, their attitudes, their actions. In a world of Ipods and cocooning and anonymous chat rooms; we have often forgotten the reality of interpendence. We can no longer simply do as we please. We have to account for others.

An afternoon of isolation may be restorative and something to be savored; but living in isolation or as if we were the only people in the room, is often a formula for isolation, lonlieness and abandonment. Genesis tells us "It is not good for man to live alone." Alone may be safe for a moment, but it is patently unsatisfying as a lifestyle.