Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Adding a new occasional feature ... LIFE MATTER (PHOTOS) Hopefully, it will remind of us the truth that your life matters to God.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Yoenpyeong Island is a non-descript piece of real estate off the coast of South Korea. It contains a tiny fishing village and a few South Korean Marines.  But last Tuesday a war that has never really ended was reignited with civilians in the cross-fire. North Korea, in a dispute over military exercises, rained down shells on this village effectively ending a quiet life for simple peasants.  Once again the unending enmity between North and South Korea reared its ugly head and threatened world peace.  No one seems to be able to control the brutal and paranoid leaders of the North who believe that if they threaten others enough we will rescue their devastated ecomony and insure their stranglehold on their people.  Once again, we are reminded that this is still a dangerous world where terror - either state-sponsored or religion-fueled - can shatter lives. Advent began yesterday, when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the One who will be called the Prince of Peace. The reality is that only when He reigns in the hearts of humanity will this stop being a dangerous and deadly world.

Black Friday came and went and once again Americans celebrated a "holiday of consumption."  Because I really would like to own a flat screen TV, I entertained thoughts of appearing at the nearby Walmart to try and capture one of a very few sets that would have been available for $179 at 5:00 am.  Somehow, camping out in a cold, darkened parking lot with a lot of sleep-deprived strangers, seemed a little over the edge even for a man who is generally awake each day between 3:00-4:00 am.  People claim they endure Black Friday because they want a bargain and to save money; but does our Christmas celebration really require new electronics and toys in order to be complete?  There is a movement afoot in some churches called the Advent Conspiracy, to try and change the emphasis of the season from a culture of consumption to a culture of compassion. Maybe the nasty state of our economy is God's nudging reminder that this is His preference for a season that will celebrate the birth of His Son.

CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia return to the wide screen in a week.  "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is another of the great story of good and evil and redemption and Aslan. This will be well worth your family's time and may help keep their focus on the "reason for the season."

Advent has begun and we proceed towards the celebration of the Nativity, when the Savior of the World entered the world essentially as a homeless person. Between 2.5 and 3.5 million people in America do not have a place to call home, to sleep at night.  This remains one of the glaring problems that our nation has failed to find a solution for. 1.35 million of these are children and at least 300,000 do not have a place to sleep each night.  There are five myths that actually keep us for doing more about homeless than we do.
1. Homelessness is a long-term problem.
2. Most homeless people have a severe mental condition.
3.Homeless people do not work.
4. Shelters are humane solutions to homelessness.
5. The poor we will always have with us.
To learn more about these "myths" and some solutions I would encourage you to go to this link: FIVE MYTHS.  I would encourage to learn more and maybe help with some of these solutions. I am sure that "the One who did not have a place to lay His head" would smile favorably upon you.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent is About Dreaming the Dreams of God

During Advent I will be sharing observations from other blogs plus my comments. This one comes from Nick Francis Stephens, chief cultural architect of Mosaic Lancaster, a faith community being planted by the Eastern Regional Conference of the Churches of God.

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas . . .”

by nick francis stephens

The sounds of the season are upon us, sounds that generate all sorts of conjecture and diverse response. For some of us they are fond memories of a childhood past, reminiscent of family, presents, cookies, and Christmas carols.

Yet for others the scenario is quite different. It's yet another reminder of our loneliness and unrelenting abandonment issues. A season of hope reveals itself to be nothing more than a season of despair. The little hope we have dissipates and contributes to the further deafening of our spirit and the continued paralysis of our souls.

I cannot say I’m a huge fan of holidays but I can say this, I’m a huge fan of humanity. There is just something about the image of God present in the human story. It’s fuel for my passions!

Humanity’s relationship with God may appear as a one-sided conversation, but to me, it is more akin to a dance between lovers: the creativity, the laughter, the lights, the music; it’s all the handiwork of God on display through God's most splendid grandeur . . . people!

I am captured by a sense of delight every time I hear the voice of Bing Crosby and the multiple renditions of his popular Christmas carol. Although we struggle through the hustle and bustle of the season, I’m certain we are moved by the genteelness and romance emanating from the words. . . “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”.

For some of us, I wonder if those words instill a sense of hope that this year things will be different, and for others perhaps it's simply the anticipation of the season. Whatever the response is nonetheless, the lyrics bring a stirring to our hearts worthy of overcoming the greatest of holiday humbugs.

My soul cannot help but wonder with the passing of another season, what really are the dreams that we hold onto, or perhaps better yet, what are the dreams that hold on to us?

When I meet people, I often inquire about their dreams (it’s a great way to start a conversation). I have come to realize through these interactions that so often our dreams are really all about us! Instead of having dreams that bring us to life, they bring us discouragement and hopelessness submerged in doubt.

Think about it? What are your dreams?

My tendency is to have dreams that are all about me! Accomplishing things by me for me! We all have dreams of belonging, becoming, and believing, but if we were to be honest with ourselves, how many of us leave God out of those dreams? Typically, we aspire on a daily basis to make our dreams a reality through egotistical ways, which to no avail only leads us on a cyclical journey of wasted effort, the hardening of our hearts and the loss of the dreams God has designed for our lives.

Given our human nature, it doesn't surprise me that we inherently focus on ourselves, but it certainly seems odd to me that we would choose a special day like Christmas to intentionally do so . . . Oh yea, that isn’t actually the reason for the season, perhaps our western ways of living have duped us while we were sleeping.

Like the dancing disillusion of holiday deception, is it possible that we have been deceived by our dreams as well? What if our dreams stopped being about us and actually began to focus on others? What if God created us to have dreams that inspired us to serve humanity? What would the world look like if all of us embraced dreams that moved us to live at our fullest capacity, celebrating the human spirit by serving humanity!

Jesus once said, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. Jesus' invitation wasn't about safety or getting to go to heaven, but instead it was so much more! It was about living an abundant life now! It was about empowering us to engage life at its fullest and help others to do the same!

Jesus wasn't saying come, follow me and I'll show you what you can have, he was saying come, follow me and I'll show you what you have to give. Jesus’ intention was never to move us towards self- gratification, consumerism and isolation! Rather, just the opposite takes place; lives are transformed, marriages are healed, addictions are demolished, isolation becomes a thing of the past and intimacy becomes our present reality.

I am convinced that God’s dreams for you and me is to give our lives away and to use our lives to inspire the world to live by faith, to be known by love and to be a voice of hope to the world. Simply stated, when we live the dreams of God, our lives will find that which we long for the most: intimacy, purpose and meaning!

Steve writes:
I remember the first time Nick came and sat in my office to get better acquainted.  This was exactly the question he asked me and I immediately began sharing my dreams.  Ironically, I had arranged the meeting because I wanted to hear his. (We did get around to that.)  I believe the reason Nick and I have become friends is that the dreams we share are God's dreams for the particular faith communities God has called us to lead.

Advent is an expression of God's dream that His people would no longer be separated from Him by the chasm of their sin.  It was  not because of self-gratification, but because He knew would never be the people He created us to be unless our brokenness was ended and a right relationship had been restored.  But He also knew that sin blinded us to our own brokeness or simply wrote it off to imperfection rather than a fundamental flaw in the human fabric.  Our mad-long pursuit of consumption in a season that leads up the celebration of a homeless infant's birth is a symbol of that brokeness. 

And perhaps most powerfully, God expressed His dream coming onto the planet and into our broken lives to seek and to save - to serve.

Maybe it is time to stop chasing after and holding onto dreams that simply continue our enslavement to self-gratification and to embrace a dream that exists to serve.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The election is over and in just a few weeks we will begin to do the business of the people with a Democratic controlled Senate and a Republican controlled House.  The big question after the election has been, "Did Mr. Obama get it?" Did he understand that the majority of Americans have apparently rejected the policies by which he was attempting to govern the nation?

Dana Millbank, writing in The Washington Post summarized the press conference held afterwards in this way, posted 11/3/10:

The president, facing the media in the East Room the day after what he called his “shellacking” at the polls, admitted it had been a “long night.” He confessed that it “feels bad.” He acknowledged “sadness” that so many friends and allies had lost their seats.

But what he would not acknowledge is that his policies had in any way contributed to the shellacking and sadness.

The Associated Press’s Ben Feller asked if he would concede that the midterms had been “a fundamental rejection of your agenda.”

Obama declined. “What they were expressing great frustration about is the fact that we haven’t made enough progress on the economy.”

NBC’s Savannah Guthrie noticed that “you don’t seem to be reflecting or second-guessing any of the policy decisions.”

“Over the last two years, we have made a series of very tough decisions, but decisions that were right,” Obama volleyed.

“You still resist the notion that voters rejected the policy choices you made?”

“Voters are not satisfied with the outcomes,” the president said.

No matter how many ways reporters phrased the question, the answer was the same. CNN’s ED Henry suggested there may be “a majority of Americans who think your polices are taking us in reverse,” and asked: “You just reject that idea altogether that your policies could be going in reverse?”

“Yes,” Obama said sharply.

This a clip from that press conference.

Scot McKnight began a thread on his Jesus Creed blog continuing the discussion:
"What the critics of Obama are not understanding is that he does get it, and what it means for him is “Stay the course.” Obama doesn’t think the election results means he has to change; it means he has to do better at what he believes in and is already doing. No backing down here at all.

The one thing all should admire here is that Obama believes in what he is doing. It may well cost him the 2012 election, but he’s a true-blue liberal and he knows exactly what that means. It means he will stay the course. Which means I don’t think there’ll be much change in the next two years.

One of the comments on his post followed with:
"The problem with democracy is that conviction in the face of popular sentiment gets you fired. While I’m on the fence as far as some of his decisions, I can respect his unwillingness to pander to the polls".

Comment by Jeremy — November 4, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

"I would prefer that Obama did change course since I disagree with many of his policies. However, I would suggest that his attitude of not backing down is even simpler than suggested above. I think he is taking a gamble and hoping that the economy will turn around. I don’t think the American people (or any people for that matter)are as deeply principled as we might hope. As a politician you can do pretty much what you want as long as people have jobs, are earning good money and are well fed. I think Obama is hoping this will turn around than he will have more freedom for his agenda."

Comment by Andrew Potter

With these observations I want to add my own reflection. 
President Obama is a far more pragmatic leader than we give him credit for. The left wing of the Democratic Party has mistaken his liberalism for their failed extremism.  The Republicans have allowed too much political capital to be lost be not responding to those who impugn his citizenship and those who play to the often surreal diabtribes of the the conservative extreme.

I tend to agree with Andrew that the principles of too many Americans are about an inch deep, easily set aside when our prosperity and confort is threatened.  The policies espoused by both sides are rarely principled positions, consistent even at the price of personal self-sacrifice.  We want everyone to have the good life as long as we don't have to pay for someone else's good life.  The social policies of the left are often pursued with a the State knows best mentality that would have made the French Revolution proud - a revolution that destroyed many a life through the tyranny of those in power.  The deregulative polices of the right are often pursued with a sense of self serving that actually believes the lie that everyone can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and continues to doom more and more families to no health care or tort protection at all.

Unfortunately, I think Mr. Obama's policies still haven't addressed the two most critical issues facing our nation in the minds of most voters -- jobs and health care.  I am waiting to see what he is willing to do to provide substantive answers to these grave concerns.  And I am hoping Mr. Boehner will be concerned that his party will work with the best solutions that benefit all the people. I fear Ms. Pelosi has already revealed her lack of commitment to such a solution.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Alphabet Photography created a "must-see" flash mob video in a food court of the "Hallelujah Chorus."  This might make the Black Friday mania worth it all if this appeared at a mall near you.


One of the short-lived TV series I enjoyed was produced by Alan Sorkin called Sports Night.  A friend, Tammie Gitt, posted this video on her blog living3368.  I decided to repost and just ask, What did you learn from Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 25, 2010


A good friend of mine, Rich Thornton, posted this video on his Facebook page.  It speaks as to why I believe Christians celebrate Thanksgiving ... or should.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Note: On the road and I didn't get this posted Monday.  Sorry for the delay.

Friday evening I left from a one day Prayer Retreat with nine persons from my church. They headed back to Landisville. My wife Dianne and headed westward along the Pennsylvania Turnpike to spend  Thanksgiving Week with my children in the Midwest.  As we approached Somerset PA I saw the signs announcing gasoline prices.  Three dollars a gallon! (Actually it's $3.00.9 as you read the fine print).  At first I thought it was for diesel. No, regular unleaded.  My spirit of thanksgiving is being tested. One of the life's great mysteries and one of its great challenges to household budget-making is the formula for pricing gasoline and the exact timing for when gas will rise and lower. Even with our high gasoline taxes, we haven't seen three dollar gas in Pennsylvania in a long time.  Is the economy REALLY improving? Price hikes make me wonder.

Thursday of this week is Thanksgiving.  Although a national holiday, not a religious one, it seems to me that the only thankfulness comes in that often abrupt prayer around a dinner table (sometimes the only prayer at that table until next Thanksgiving.)  In America this holiday seems more focused on turkey, football games, and plotting your shopping strategy for Black Friday which will begin in some stores is 12:01 am the next day. I wonder what would happen if we in this nation would spend at least as much time counting our blessings as we go wolfing down turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie - not to mention Miller Light, Doritos and leftovers during the Dallas Game.  We have so much, even those of us who are poor, in America compared to the rest of the world.  And at times we think of those blessings in terms of entitlement instead of gratitude.

I started reading a new book this week by a Christian author known for his more radical (i.e., nontraditional) thoughts about Christianity.  His name is Shane Clairborne, who has spent many years as an advocate for the poor, for the fringes of society, and for simple justice.  The book is actually a prayer book called Common Prayer--A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.In it he and his writing partners observed about the Advent season which begins next Sunday. "(Advent) is the biggest frenzy of retail spending. More than half of it, hundreds of billions of dollars a year,is spent as we celebrate the homeless Son of God in that stinky manger ... hundreds of Christian congregations are now rethinking Advent as a time for compassion instead of consumption."

Karen Spears Zacharias prompted the thought in me about dangerous reading. (Warning Mental Health Hazard Reading)  People often treat the Bible as a piece of benign literature. Christians can even be guilty cof this.  My experience is that Bible is filled with command and challenges that as a Christian I would be better off not reading them because then I have to take this ideas seriously if I chose to call my self a real Christian.  Here are just a few:

The first is from James 4:17: "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them." New International Version

Then Galatians 5:6." The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." New Living Translation

I John 4:20     "If anyone clains he loves God yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."
Exodus 22:21    "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt."

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Testing a new blog feature that I ripped off from fellow blogger Tammie Gitt.  Here's my list of interesting blog sitings.  The first comes from a blog called off we go now ... encouragement as you go: The post is called "Don't let your attitude go into the toilet."

"I am playing plumber today.  Changing faucets, replacing toilets, fixing pipes and hoping I don’t discover other problems as I dig around the pipes and cabinets.  So far, I have found a few.  In case you did not know, my house was built in 1908.  That’s right, it is over 100 years old.  In 1937 our house was moved from Rocklin California to Roseville California and the big remodel took place in 1949 when they took the attic and made it an upstairs with a 6 feet 11 inch ceiling.  Can you say Hobbit Town? (right about now some of you are thinking of short jokes… STOP!

Can I confess something?  I love serving my wife by fixing things and making improvements, but plumbing is at the bottom of the list of things I ever want to do.   There is just not enough rooms for this body of mine where there are pipes and cabinets and it never fails that the pipe that came off what I bought in the 21st century does not fit the pipe from earlier days.  This requires an extra 23 trips to Home Depot for the elbow that bends both ways at the same time while remaining stationary for the tubing that fastens with gum and toothpicks, taped by a combination of blue tape and super glue.   So wanna guess what is this blog about?  Besides my ineptness as a plumber, it is about keeping my attitude out of the toilet while I fix one.  Here are a few quotes I thought I would share before I go back and install my toilet. Read those quotes at PASTOR LEONARD
Steve Mossburg leads my denomination’s Project Help in Haiti. He posted this comment on his Facebook page this week:
“Seeing is different than being told.” African Proverb. I’m often asked wouldn’t it be better to send the price of my plane ticket to help out rather than go to Haiti ? I always say ” no because once you come and see the poverty, homelessness and sickness you will send your money for a lifetime.”

Katie Marie Friedman wrote on her page:  “There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

Then there’s great cartoon I found while googling for one of my blogs.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel are political opposites, but I regularly read their column in USA Today.  I thought this post was particularly helpful to those in Washington who presume to lead us.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I am across this post re-posted by Scot McKnight on JESUS CREED.  I find I sympathize greatly with Mr Koppel's observations.
By Ted Koppel
Sunday, November 14, 2010;

To witness Keith Olbermann – the most opinionated among MSNBC’s left-leaning, Fox-baiting, money-generating hosts - suspended even briefly last week for making financial contributions to Democratic political candidates seemed like a whimsical, arcane holdover from a long-gone era of television journalism, when the networks considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust.
Back then, a policy against political contributions would have aimed to avoid even the appearance of partisanship. But today, when Olbermann draws more than 1 million like-minded viewers to his program every night precisely because he is avowedly, unabashedly and monotonously partisan, it is not clear what misdemeanor his donations constituted. Consistency?
We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly – individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship and who are encouraged to do so by their parent organizations because their brand of analysis and commentary is highly profitable.

The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.
And so, among the many benefits we have come to believe the founding fathers intended for us, the latest is news we can choose.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Brian's Question: Do you think that the integrity of the truth was interrupted when they cut certain books from the Bible, such as "the Gospel of Mary"?

Dear Brian,
Do you ever do a Google Search? The search engine will bring you immediately to Wikipedia. Some persons automatically assume that everything found there is true, but essentially it is a people's encyclopedia where anyone who "believes" they understand the topic can write and/or edit the entry in some form.  Some writers are experts and some are not.  The result is that you can receive misinformation rather than truth. The creators of Wikipedia understand, however, that allowing clearly inaccurate or erroneous information will nullify the integrity of their site; so they encourage the removal of that which is just not true or sufficiently inaccurate to be misleading for someone.

Not everything that is written or published is true, even though some people prefer to believe it or wish it were true.  The Early Church understood that they had to be discerning about what was included in the Canon (which is what they called the Bible). Here is a definition of that found in a reliable on-line dictionary:

"The collection of books received as genuine Holy Scriptures, called the sacred canon, or general rule of moral and religious duty, given by inspiration; the Bible; also, any one of the canonical Scriptures."

It was because they were concerned with the integrity of truth that they exercised some judgment in the matter of what to include. The Gospel of Mary was never in the Bible and therefore was not "cut out." It simply did not rise to the high standard for inclusion.

Generically, the New Testament canon includes those writings which were most universally accepted by the majority of the early church.  The most controversial (those which were adhered to by a few sects, but not a majority) were eventually culled out of the official 'list'.  Several books, including Revelation, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, were included by the end of the second century.  

The Canon was actually developed over a period of several centuries, not a one time, once and done meeting.
One of the most significant of those meetings was the Council of Carthage in 397 AD.

Four key questions were considered by the Council Of Carthage (397 A.D.) that declared the official canon of the New Testament church: 
1) Is the writing Apostolic?  If an Apostle either was credited with authorship, or with direct influence (as with Mark and Luke) the canonicity was generally assumed.  This is not a rigid requirement; for example, the book of Hebrews' authorship is still under question.
2)  Is the writing Orthodox?  If the writings conform with the early understandings of the faith, and do not obviously contradict another accepted canonical writing, it is generally accepted.
3)  Is the writing universal?  Writings that seem specific to a certain group, and apparently not intended for the Church as a whole were generally not considered to be appropriate to a canon of the Universal Church. 
4)  Has the writing had influence over the Church over time?  The proven ability for the writing to provide guidance, sustenance and inspiration for the Church is expected. 
Understanding these requirements show that the writings were not simply 'chosen', but proven to be inspired by their 'intrinsic authority and constant usage.'  (Adapted from Zondervan's Handbook To The Bible.)

Now as to the Gospel of Mary itself, you should note that the this would probably not even be on the table for discussion if it were not for a fiction writer, Dan Brown and a work of fiction called THE DAVINCI CODE. The words Brown puts into the mouth of scholars would not have been spoken by most reputable historian and scholars. Read more ...    Mention of this "gospel" does not appear until the third or fourth century when the four Gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were already several hundred years old and in wide use in churches.  The mention of the "gospel of Mary" actually also comes a later work that was also written 200 years after the Four Gospels.

In Nag Hammadi there is a fragment of this gospel which clearly shows it to be of gnostic not apostolic origin and it is very incomplete at best, containing ideas that were not current with the gospels presented by the direct followers of Jesus.


Monday, November 15, 2010


They called him "Captain Hook." He was famous for pulling starters and a prolific use of the bullpen. Some consider Anderson the innovator of the way bullpens are used today. He once said he was the polar opposite of the real Captain Hook's antagonist, Peter Pan. "That SOB never got old. I've never looked young." In fact, his awkward use of grammar rivaled Yogi Berra. He was the skipper of the World Champion Cincinnati Red in 1976 and the World Champion Detroit Tigers in 1984. He was George Lee Anderson, known as Sparky, and passed away last week at age 76. One of baseball's greats in my lifetime, he created teams that I rooted for as a young man growing up in the Midwest and which helped imbed my love of the game. Thank you, Sparky. Read more at BECK

On Election Day 2010, while the nation was voting for its leadership in Washington and statehouses around the country, the Supreme Court took up a case on video game violence involving a law passed by the State of California and signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzennegger. Here is a video from USAToday outlining some of the issues, most of which revolve around the First Amendment and its protection of free speech. Warning: Even this news video contains some graphic images. So the question is, what should be the deciding factor? The answer to that is too complex for this brief blog mention, but here's what I will simply say this morning.
1. Retailers, enforce the codes at least as seriously as we do the prohibition of the sales of alcohol and tobacco to minors. I know those are laws and these are voluntary codes, but you set up these codes so enforce them.
2. Parents, learn about those games. Use common sense about the influences on your children before you buy them and confiscate what your kids shouldn't have purchased. (Playboy and Hustler are protected by law, but you wouldn't let your kids carry them in their back pack. Or would you?) Be responsible, assertive parents.

And today's word from Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30

Some assorted random thoughts to stimulate your personal reflections today as you think about how Life Matters.

* Too many children on this planet suffer because their parents act like children.  Parents want their preferences, prejudices, and unproductive patterns to be unrestricted and unrestrained. When they do this they tell the children, "It's really all about me, and when you get to be an adult you can make it all about you."

* Not all politicians lie to us, but we lie to ourselves when we don't hold them accountable for being truthful.  Unfortunately too many politicians tell us what we want to hear because they know if they told us the truth we don't want to hear, we'd never vote for them.

* Forgiveness is not over-rated, it is under-practiced. We set too many boundaries on what we are willing to forgive and forget that "all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory." In the end, it is God who rights the scales, He has the final say because He is the only one who will ever know all the facts. His punishment of wrong-doing is always just for that very reason. Our attempts at justice are too often self-serving and focusing one other people's sins instead of being honest and accountable about our own.


Saturday, November 13, 2010


My congregation supports Michael Brook and Sarah Sarver, church planting missionaries in this Southeast Asian land.  His blog is twoteneleven on my blogroll.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Going to church is not synonymous with being a Christian, but it is often the first step of exploring a relationship with Jesus Christ. More than once I have had someone say, "I don't go to church" or "I don't do church."  Maybe this video will help you rethink your position.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Brian’s question: “If we didn’t have the New Testament, would we be more like the Muslims?”

This is an intriguing question because it assumes we have a common understanding of Muslims.  Many of us in this nation have very little understanding of the Muslim faith that isn’t filtered through or framed by the nightly news about the jihadists. Just last night I heard another Muslim “spiritual” leader say that Muslims need consult no one about killing Americans. Just go ahead and do it. This is the dark side of Islam that many hate-filled and desperate people seem drawn towards. Christians have a dark side, too. And we have some so-called Christians who cause the every day Muslim to see us as a threat to them, as well.

Islam does not necessarily promote the idea of God as the source of love. Allah is more often characterized as Merciful.  That mercy is not specifically rooted in Allah’s love for humankind, but in something mysterious called Allah’s will.  Muslims accept the fact that life is struggle and that they will struggle because it is the will of Allah.  In fact, the word jihad means “struggle” and devout Muslims see that jihad is a legitimate way to be within the will of Allah. Jihad doesn’t necessarily mean violence against infidels.

Christianity, as expressed in the New Testament, speaks of love as God’s desire for humanity.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son that whoever believed on him would have eternal life.” That’s the well-known John 3,16 but verse 17 is tied to it. “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.”  God’s mercy is clearly a product of God’s love for his people and his will is to show mercy rather than judgment.

The Old Testament, particularly the first five books, tend to have some common themes also found in the Koran. The scriptural justification for the Crusades (which the Muslims consider our equivalent to jihad) tend to come from Old Testament texts. Whereas the New Testament promotes self-sacrifice as God’s modus operandi; God in the Old Testament has a more warrior approach to humanity.  So it is probably fair to say that if we did not have the New Testament that Christians might be more like Muslims.

What makes Christians different from Muslims is that we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is not merely among the holiest of prophets, as Islam teaches.  His death on the cross as an atonement for our sin creates the opportunity for our lives to be transformed into new creations – freed from the power of sin.  A book does not accomplish that, even our Holy Book which we understand to be God’s unique and authoritative Word. No, God’ intervention in human life in the person of Jesus Christ, an intervention made on the side of a sinful and powerless humanity, and our surrender to His love is what makes Christians, well, … Christians.


 Note from Steve: I am becoming a huge fan of an author/blogger Karen Zacharias (see my blogroll).  She posted this early Sunday morning, November 7th. I was up early, my sleep messed up by the time change, and read it 26 minutes after she posted.  I suspect its thoughts will be with me all week and beyond. I'd be very interested in your responses.

Saturday afternoon late, the doorbell rang. Ever since the kids moved off our doorbell doesn’t ring much. Tim and I lead pretty quite lives with our books and our demonic dog. Oh. Sure. Halloween is an exception but on the day-to-day basis, especially on Saturdays, the house is pretty quiet.

I was engrossed in Tom Franklin’s novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Tim was grading papers.  When I opened the door, there was a pretty young girl on the other side. Long brunette hair, sweet face, pink sweatshirt. At the curb beside the mailboxes was an older model SUV.

Tim and I have a rule. If kids are selling something we are buying. Our kids did their share of fundraisers. We try to be the kind of neighbors who help the kids out, the way good neighbors used to help ours out.

She did indeed have two brochures and a manila envelope clutched in her hands.

She stuttered than started again: I am selling things to help out my father who has a brain tumor.

How does that work? I asked.

What do you mean? she asked. I don’t understand your question.

I started to explain that I didn’t understand how selling things help a dad with a brain tumor. But then I stopped, remembering another girl years ago. This one about the same age, only blonder and carrying a Mason jar, instead:

Grandpa Harve had moved back to Tennessee to live with Aunt Cil, just outside Church Hill. Cil was Grandma Ruth’s sister. Mama   had sent him there because she had to have surgery to remove uterine cysts during the summer of 1967 and couldn’t care for Grandpa while she was recuperating. Aunt Sue and Thelma made sure we kids were looked after while Mama recuperated from her surgery. Spurred by my concern for Mama, I took a jar and went door-to-door throughout Lake Forest, collecting nickels, dimes and pennies.

“Do you have change you could spare?” I asked one man who answered the rap on the door.

“What’s this for?” he asked.

“We’re buying flowers for a lady who had to have surgery,” I replied. My friend Sarah was standing beside me, not saying a word.

“Which lady?” the man inquired, pressing me for details, suspicious, I suppose.

“Shelby Spears,” I said. “My mama.”

The fellow studied me for a moment longer before dropping a dollar in the jelly jar cupped in my hands. The memory of going door-to-door, collecting money to buy Mama flowers shames me in ways I can’t explain. I was only 10. I knew no other way to earn money to do the things for Mama that I knew Daddy would do if he were around, like buy her flowers when she went to the hospital.  (After the Flag has been Folded, HarperCollins, 2006). 

We don’t want to buy anything, but we will make a donation, I said.

Tim handed me a bill from his wallet. I handed it to the girl and asked, What’s your daddy’s name? She told me. Does he have health insurance? I asked, truly concerned. Yes, she said, but this helps with other stuff.
I watched through the shutters as she walked over to the SUV. I couldn’t tell if it was her mother or her father behind the wheel.

Tim and I both felt uncomfortable afterwards.

Not about giving the money.

Unsettled that a child would be sent to collect money on behalf of a parent. When I had taken that mason jar through the trailer park collecting dimes and dollars to buy flowers my mother was in the hospital. She wasn’t encouraging me to do that. She didn’t even know I was doing it and when she found out later she was not at all happy with me.

But what’s even more unsettling is that a parent would be in a situation that would compel them to put such a burden upon a child.

These are hard times we are living in. Hard, hard times for many people.

Whatever the cause that compels them to do it, people are desperate for help. Her parents may not understand it, but I do know exactly how awful that was for that young girl to ask for help. This is a day she will remember for the rest of her life. It will shape who she becomes. I hope what she remembers years from now is not the shame but the concern & compassion others had for her.

Monday, November 8, 2010


November 15th is when Major League Baseball will announce the choices for Rookie of the Year.  Just thought I'd throw my two cents in now. (Hopefully I'' do better than my playoff predictions.)
Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers
Although he did not propel his team into the playoffs. Austin Jackson of the Detroit Tigers. He was one of the league batting leaders all season, batting over .300.  His stellar defense made most Tigers fans forget Curtis Granderson and most Yankee fans wishing they had kept Jackson.  When repeated injuries wiped out the Tigers' chances, Jackson kept them from descending below .500 and helped them beat the Twins and White Sox several times down the stretch.

Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
My choice for NL Rookie has go to be Buster Posey of the World Champion San Francisco Giants.  His skills as the field general in managing pitchers was truly awesome his bat reminded me of awesome catchers like Joe Mauer.  The Giants might not have made it down the stretch without Posey. He was every bit a key as their miniscule ERA pitching staff.

Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
Although the Texas Rangers came up short in the series, they overpowered the Rays and Yankees. Josh Hamilton was again the force that kept their pennant hopes alive throughout the year, and his rapid return from a September injury ignited the team's energy and determination.  Now if the bullpen could have held on, it might have even been a different story.  (Speaking of stories, Josh Hamilton is another one of those baseball players who learned character lessons the hard way.  His book Beyond Belief was one of my best summer reads.)

 Joey Votto WAS the reason the Cincinnati Reds pulled away from the Cardinals and never looked back. They unfortunately had to face the Phillies at a time when everything came together - but his bat and his glove made him truly an MVP for the National League.

Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
For Cy Young, my money (if I was a betting man) is on Roy Halladay of the Phillies (I mean, two no hitters) and Cliff Lee of the Rangers. I know Lee wasn't invincible in the Series, but the fact that the Yankees are already angling to sign him for 2011 should proof enough that he was the AL's cream of the crop.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Rains from Tomas begin to fall in camps in Port-au-Prince
Saturday morning in Port-au-Prince
Hurricane Tomas seems to have moved beyond Haiti without landing its full force on that beleaguered nation. The rains, however, added greatly to the misery there.  I have friends in Port-au-Prince. Lynn Byers from my church, a nurse working at Adventist Hospital and Steve Mossburg, who directs Project HELP which operates primarily in the Artibonite area where the cholera outbreak appears to have hit the hardest.  Both report that pretty much everything shut down beginning Thursday night and by Friday schools, government offices, and most of the street vendors and food stores simply closed. Even the hospitals struggled to stay open for the most critical of patients.  One wonders how much this almost inevitable natural disaster will multiply Haiti's woes. Right now the greatest concern is that flood waters will spread the cholera even more rapidly.
Children waiting for their mother to vote in Idaho
Then there was Tuesday mid term elections. What comes next? Will we finally take action to stop mortgaging our children's future?  And we will ever come to a moral consensus that will stop focusing so much on our rugged individual right to sin boldly so that children can live in a safer, saner, more God-honoring world?

And we will be able to rehabilitate the political process so we can once again be a responsible and responsive democracy pursuing the common good so that future generations will not grow more cynical about authority and pessimistic about their nation? We are already ripe territory for the hatemongers and extremists. Years ago in the midst of a great Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared, "A nation divided against itself cannot stand."

Giants celebrate
The Yankees and the Phillies did not get to the World Series. In fact none of the darlings of the major markets in the East and ESPN made it at all. Instead we were treated to a relatively unwatched but exciting series as the Giants won for the first time in 50 years and the Rangers saw their first ever World Series, It was still great baseball even if I fell asleep before most games were resolved.

Note: Thanks to USA Today and AP for these great photos.  Check out USA'S Facebook page for more great scenes.


October was Pastor Appreciation Sunday. I'm a week late but here are some great images and cartoons that pastors will appreciate.
It's really so simple
You can't make everybody happy. nor should you try

Saturday, November 6, 2010


John Yoder pointed me towards this wondrous "Random Act of Culture" by the Opera Company of Philadelphia.  Enjoy! I did!

Friday, November 5, 2010

STOP IT !!!!!

All of us in the helping professions have occasionally just wanted to let go and say what Bob Newhart says in this video. Forgive me, but this is hilarious.

Find more videos like this on Missional Outreach Network for the Missional Church


A few years ago, when I was in the midst of the work on my D.Min., I essentially stopped reading. I was still "reading" but it was almost entirely what I needed to read for my coursework, or what I needed to be ready to preach. What I stopped doing was reading for simply personal enrichment, personal pleasure, or information that broadened my horizons about the world in general.

Before that, I literally read all the time.  I read novels and non-fiction, newspapers and magazines. Although long a fan of history and murder mysteries, I read very broadly. I read prolifically and often.  In fact, I was often reading several books at once. There might be a Sue Grafton or Tony Hillerman mystery on the night stand, a biography or book of history by my chair in the living room, the latest book by Eugene Peterson or Dallas Willard on the desk in my study. Joke books and Sports Illustrated in the bathroom and a prayer book and a newspaper tucked under my arm as I entered a restaurant for breakfast.

To be honest, five years later, I still have not recovered my stride in reading.  And at times I spend so much time reading news, commentaries and blogs on-line that it takes me even longer to get through a murder mystery and I have to go on retreat to read significantly on spiritual matters.  My wife, bless her soul, reads all the time; often turning off the TV or away from the computer to pick up a book.She sometimes even forgets to go to bed because the story she is reading "is too good to put down."

It is a sad thing when a man becomes such a public person or social creature that he steps away from the solitary discipline of reading. Maybe instead of saying, "Do you Twitter?" we need to start asking, "Read any good books lately?"

Recently I have reintroduced the discipline of reading for pleasure and personal enrichment into my rhythm for living. Hopefully, I will be richer for it.

By the way, a reader of this blog, do you have any good books you would suggest?

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I've always enjoyed Bill Murray and Robert Duvall, two great actors. Not every movie, but them as actors. They have a new movie out revolving around a man who wants to throw a funeral party so that he can hear what people would say about him. I've only seen the trailer, which is below. But here's a question.How would you live your life now if you knew the impact it was going to have?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The new Speaker of the House-elect, John Boehner R-OH
Mid term elections--the results are in. The Republicans once again will control the House of Representatives and the Democrats' majority in the Senate is much more tenuous. My own home state, generally a blue state because of the voting power of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, now has a Republican governor and Senator. Most of the political analysts note that the independents voted with the Republicans and a lot of Democrats moved away from strict party support because of their disaffection with Mr. Obama.
USA TODAY.  There are some takeaways from the 2010 elections that I would hope our country's leadership would take to heart.
1. Stop promising what you can't deliver and deliver what you do. The adjective empty now seems solidly connected to a definition of campaign rhetoric. You keep raising expectations in order to get elected and then encourage cynicism among the people when little is changed. People have a pretty clear idea of what they think the nation needs, but those ideas are often driven by personal preferences that doesn't bother to see the big picture or political ideologies that have no concern for reality.  Instead of pandering to either, how about speaking the truth - even when we don't want to hear it.  I, for one, have more confidence in a leader whose positions are driven by his core values and who is courageous enough to declare those core values. I know,  I know; you don't think you'll get elected if you would operate from a position of definable integrity; but maybe our nation needs for you to take the risk.
2. Character matters.  Yes, there are some "out there" politicians who manage to get elected because of the momentary idiosyncrasies of their district and the media loves to focus on the extremists. But those persons are more about sound bytes than substance. An incumbent loses elections when the people perceive that he or she is not genuine and when he embraces the assumptions of the powerful within the Beltway instead of the values that the ordinary American seeks to live by. How about not taking a raise when your district suffers from horrendous unemployment? How about refraining from living from one set of values outside the eyes of the voter and another when you're trying to male them believe you're "one of them"?
3. Help us solve some problems as a nation even if that means you'll lose so much political capital that you won't be making a career as a politician.  It doesn't do your nation much to get re-elected if your nation becomes more and more ungovernable because its problems multiply without solution. It's not about you. It's about the good of the nation.

Monday, November 1, 2010


You and I live in a world of great challenge and contradiction. Tomorrow is Election Day and praying people, reflective people, people who care--are reminded of how much is not in our hands. It's in those moments that I take a step back and remember the One in whose hands I place my life.

Now to the World Series which is not all that serious a matter (unless you are my new friend James Nored).
Lee vs Freddie Sanchez in the Series opener
Who would have thought that Cliff Lee was so vincible? Lifted in the 5th inning during the opener, the ace showed us that anyone can have a off night. Even Superman.  Unfortunately the Rangers bullpen had two over the cliff nights as the Giants hitters buried the Rangers in a two game hole. Tim Lincecum was not unhittable, but I suspect as the thing gets to a fifth game, he'll still prevail.

When all is said and done, however, I like Nolan Ryan's strategy to eschew pitch counts and develop pitchers who can hold up in the long haul.

I have a good friend in Haiti named Lynn Byers. Our church helps support her as spends six months doing medical work.  Recently she posted on her blog some insights I found quite intriguing snd gave me some insights into praying for Lynn and Haiti. Lynn wrote:

      I am thankful for another week to be alive, healthy, and able to do the work You have asked me to do. I thank God for sleep and a joyful spirit. I pray for wisdom in making my decision to stay here or switch hospitals. I am so thankful for the wonderful time and people I've met here.
      My conversation with Dr. Marvelo has been on my mind. He said they have 4 free immunizations in Haiti. TB, MMR, tetanus, and pertussis. But the other ones, such as hepatitis, typhoid, etc are very expensive. I told him yes they are expensive. I paid at least $300 USD to buy them all. He said most of the doctors here cannot afford the immunizations, but they should have them. I think the conversation struck a cord because I remember complaining to myself back home that I had to pay so much for the immunizations. I was annoyed because my insurance wouldn't cover it. But, at least I was able to get them. It's a reality check to myself that I have no reason to complain.

     He told me there are 4 main sports played in Haiti- soccer, basketball, tennis, and ping-pong. That is because they are the easiest to set up and less costly than some sports. Those of you who know me well know my opinion on the ridiculous amounts of money spent on sports in America. He said they don't have a carnival like other Caribbean Islands, but they have concerts at the end of February for 3 days in PaP. He was saying PaP used to be beautiful and lots to do, but not anymore. I know it has to be hard to see the city you grew up in in rubbles. Also, he said the crime is much worse. He said he can't even talk on his cell phone for fear that someone might steal it at gunpoint.

     I love learning about Haiti and hearing stories. There's a lot of good and bad in every country. I lift up Haiti in prayer- the health care and education system; the upcoming election; the crime; the rebuilding; that your truth will be spread and accepted. 
Read more of Lynn's posts at MISSIONARY NURSE HAITI 
Then there's another friend Steve Mossburg, Director of Project Help-my denomination's mission presence in Haiti. Steve recently wrote about the cholera outbreak in Haiti.

"Shirley and I arrived back in Haiti on Sat. 10/23 I had been expecting this trip might be different and we could start establishing a mission routine not so filled with drama. That was not to be as I received an e-mail on 10/20 informing me of the cholera outbreak in the Artibonite valley where we live. As more and more cases were showing up at the hospital in St. Marc the largest city in our area we made plans to set up a cholera ward in our PH-H clinic in Pierre Payen. On Friday the day before we arrived they treated 20 patients by noon on Tuesday the number was up to 112. Fortunately we had already scheduled a medical team from Pennsylvania to arrive on Oct. 23 rd so we quickly asked them to resupply with IV fluids and antibiotic. Some reports are showing the epidemic is slowing down and from what I have seen from my travels this may be true.

Our medical team had been scheduled to do surgeries ( general & Ortho) , we also had two ultrasound techs come to train and do exams and a gynecologist. They have kept busy not only doing those things but with several emergency patients including car accidents, examining babies such as the little 15 day old who was born in the 7th month of pregnancy. The mother has been very sick so she was unable to breast feed but the baby has hung on by getting a little bit of formula down.

Perhaps the most disturbing was the 12 year old girl referred to us from the Mission of Hope at Titayian. She had fallen off a donkey 2 weeks ago and was not getting any better so they brought her to us for a possible surgery. Our lead surgeon examined her and felt she had a broken or fractured femur and possibly a lacerated liver. He scheduled her for an ultrasound and Xray. I told the ambulance driver and nurses who brought her to go on back to MOH and we would contact them later with the results. I had just finished eating lunch and someone came to tell me she was dead I at first couldn't believe it so went over to see for myself . I was shocked to see that someone who 15 minutes earlier had been sitting in a wheel chair eating a cracker had died. Our doctors felt terrible about this but suspect a blood clot broke loose during her 45 minute ambulance ride up to Pierre Payen. Even though we are able to do a lot of things to bring better health care to Haiti it is still disturbing for me each time someone comes to our facility with hope that we can help them and they die at our hospital."
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