Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Standing on the shoulders of . . . Ron Otto

Ron Otto stopped by this morning for a visit. My predecessor at South Lansing Christan Church, Ron was youth minister when he arrived here in 1993. When he left for Lincoln, Illinois sixteen years later he left behind a legacy of outstanding preaching, impassioned evangelism, and a new building near the corner of Aurelius and Miller Roads.

To be completely frank, and that is what Frankly Speaking is all about, following a man of Ron's stature was a bit intimidating to me when I came to South last August. The guy can preach! His people skills are without peer. He is able to inspire and motivate people to action like few other preachers I know. The cool thing is that Ron has done the same for me.

I never leave his presence without a couple new ideas that I am eager to try out. I know that he has been one of my biggest supporters here at South - both to me personally, and behind the scenes with those I know.

We often needle one another. Ron is just that kind of guy. He greases people and laughs when they dish it right back. But seriously, Ron is a guy that I respect and admire. And just in case I've never told you that, I thought you should know.

Your preacher wears pantyhose

Two decades ago I wore pantyhose. But only at Christmas time. It was not a fetish, just festive. I should explain; as a student at Great Lakes Christian College I participated in the Madrigal singers. Fellow GLCC Alum, Eric Sherman, dug up this old video of me and my fellow singers. This was shot for public access cable and, as it turns out, was sponsored by the church where I am now the preacher. Go figure. Oh. In case you're wondering, I am the one in the pink aluminum foil.

"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The Franklies are headed off to South Lansing Christian Church in a little bit for Christmas Eve service. We'll get home about 1 A.M. and crash, waking up six or so hours later to a breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon. Then, with our appetites sated and our hearts warmed, we'll gather around the fireplace to open gifts. I love it.

What will you be doing the next twelve hours or so?

What gift are you expecting to receive?

What gift are you most excited about giving?

The gift of God incarnate - timeless, priceless, and precious - of all the blessings we celebrate this time of year, He is the gift that really matters.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Our church rocks!

I started to write a lengthy post about how proud I am of the folks who stepped up today to meet the need I wrote about in this post. Then I got to thinking about the whole, "do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing thing" and deleted it.

You folks know who you are and what you did. More importantly, you know for Whom you did it.

Your preacher just wanted you all to know that I am proud of you . . .

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Two for the family . . .

My missionary sister sent a couple of photos from my niece, Laura's, birthday that I wanted to share with friends and family. Yes, that is a fan on the left of the photo. It is ninety plus degrees where they live - unlike here where there are ten inches of snow on the ground and the wind chill is in the teens.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A divine appointment . . . by patrol car.

My friend Dean Trune tells all of these astonishing stories about the divine appointments that God puts in his path. I've often wondered why I don't have more of those, or maybe I just am too dense to recognize them when they appear.

Last night I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had me right where he wanted me. As a volunteer chaplain for Lansing Police Department, I ride along with officers once a month (sometimes more). Yesterday I was riding with Officer Smith (I've changed the names here) when we received a call that a babysitter called 911. She had become overwhelmed, was holding a knife, and was threatening to hurt herself or the babies she was watching.

For the first time since I've been a chaplain we drove with lights and sirens. I stopped looking at the speedometer when it went north of 90 miles per hour. When we got to the townhouse, we were grateful to learn that the young woman had safely located the children to an upstairs bedroom, placed the knife in the kitchen sink, and was waiting for us to arrive.

As the officers talked with the babysitters, I went upstairs to play with the children. There was a little boy and a baby girl. The girl was crying and had a runny nose. She had spit up her spaghetti dinner all over her brother's mattress. I cleaned her up, puts some pants on her and gave her a teddy bear. The boy, who was three-years-old, was a lot of fun. Little Jonathon and I played with cars together. We read a book and rolled the cars back and forth on the hardwood floor.

After a while I took the children downstairs to watch some television. I asked the babysitter the little girl's name. (Little Jonathon couldn't pronounce it.) When the babysitter told me her unique name I realized why the little boy looked so familiar. Both of these children used to attend South Lansing Christian Church along with their parents. Their dad ran off about six months ago leaving mom to raise the two little ones alone. She moved a couple of times and our church lost track of them.

After I settled the little ones down to watch Bob the Builder I roamed around the townhouse. This three bedroom town house had no furniture. For the past six months, this family has been living with only a small dresser, a twin mattress and a baby-crib mattress. Aside from a television and a telephone, they have nothing else. Literally. Nothing else. No couches or chairs. No kitchen table. No end tables. No appliances. Nothing.

Now here is the thing that makes this such a divine appointment. Several months ago an apartment building around the corner from the church burned. Our church began collecting furniture to donate to people who had lost all their furnishings. With our pole building bursting with furniture we called the Red Cross to begin the distribution. The Red Cross told us that The Salvation Army had the distribution list. When we called The Salvation Army, they told us that the Red Cross had the list. The fact is, nobody had a list, and we had a pole barn full of furniture that we couldn't get rid of. And, we didn't know why.

Now I do. Sunday afternoon a team of deacons from South are loading up a trailer full of furniture and taking it to this family. Others are donating food. A Sunday school class is going to donate some funds that we can use to get some Christmas gifts (and maybe a tree) for the little ones.

All because I rode with a cop. At the exact time God wanted me to. Cool. Very cool.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Your sins . . . made public?!

A Florida church is catching flack for their elders' decision to publicly announce to the congregation that one of their members is having pre-marital sex with her boyfriend. The 49-year-old woman, who is divorced from her husband, was told by Grace Community Church to stop sleeping with her new beau. She refused. Under pressure from Grace Community Church, she decided to withdraw her membership and is now attending elsewhere.

On January 4th the church leadership plans, in accordance with their understanding of scripture, to "tell it to the church." The scripture the church references is Matthew 18:15-17:
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Church discipline is a sticky wicket. (Check out this Wall Street Journal article on the subject.) The fact of the matter is, there are plenty of Frankly Speaking readers that are considerably smarter than this author. So here are a couple of questions for which I would love to read your answers:

Is this a correct application of Matthew 18?

Jesus said, "If your brother sins against you . . ." How does that apply in this instance?

Finally, how does Galatians 6:1, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." fit into all of this?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hotcakes, cars and clocks: Weller's theory of time relativity

Yesterday I breakfasted with Brian. I explained my theory of why time seems to fly over a meal of pecan-raisin pancakes at Flapjack Restaurant. But first, let me explain how, between mouthfuls of steaming hotcakes smothered in (sugar-free) syrup, the subject came up.

Brian mentioned that his oldest grandson is seventeen and carrying a newly-minted driver's license in his wallet. As it happens, the oldest of the Franklies is seventeen herself and has recently taken to the road. (She nearly spun out, in fact, on the way home from her High School Christmas concert last night, but correctly corrected and made her way home like a real life Michigan driver - which she is, of course.)

Anyway, both Brian and I were feeling a little bit sentimental as we talked about how quickly time has passed. Just yesterday my daughter was tooling around in a Little Tykes coupe with red fenders and a yellow roof. Made of plastic, the body resisted all attempts at dents and dings. Today she drives around in one of Detroit's finest. Interstate, inner-city - she does fine in any environment except perhaps dirt roads, which she has not yet had the occasion to drive on. (Except for those times when she was thirteen and I would let her drive our old Astro minivan the back way from Butler to the Koeppe farm - but don't tell her mother.)

Back to breakfast. Brian said to me, "I can't believe how quickly time flies."

"I have a theory about that," I replied.

"Let's have it."

"It is like this: When you're six years old and you're waiting for Christmas to come, or you're waiting for the big day when you finally get to ride the school bus, it seems like time drags on. That is because a month is a significant percentage of your total life experience.

"It seems like it takes forever for you to turn ten years old because one year, when you are only nine, is over ten percent of your lifetime. When you're forty-one like me, though, one year is less than 2.5% of your total life experience. It's not that time passes more quickly, it is just that it seems to because your perception of the future is compared to your experience of the past. It is the same reason why almost everyone looks back on their childhood as 'the good old days' when life seemed to move at a slower pace.

"In other words, I consider Christmas coming in just over a week and I think, 'it is just a blink away.' My four-year-old goddaughter, however, thinks it will never get here. We view time differently."

Consider that in light of eternity.

Earlier this week our church laid to rest a thirty-seven-year-old woman who passed away from cancer. Tammy left behind a loving husband and five children ages sixteen months to fourteen years. For her husband, Chris, and her children, I imagine it seems like it will be a very long time until they are able to see her again. And, for the youngest of her family, that time will seem to pass more slowly, especially right now. Chris enjoyed fourteen years with his wife. Their infant son knew her less than two. Sadly, they likely will spend far more time without Tammy than with her - at least here on earth.

Except for this - Tammy is a Christ-follower. So is her husband and their three oldest children. I expect the littlest two will be, too. And so I was able to say with confidence at her funeral:
You're going to spend far more years with Tammy than without her. Heaven is forever, friends. And even if all of us live to a ripe old age, living decades here on earth without Tammy, that time is only a fraction of a whisper of a moment compared to the time that you will spend with her in Heaven.
It seems like the time between now and when we are finally at home in Heaven ticks by ever so slowly. And yet, viewed from the lens of eternity, say, a million years from now, this life is "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." And, on freezing, snow-covered days like today, I am glad for that.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Lose the smile, you're in Indiana!

WRTV 6 is running a story that details my home state of Indiana's decision to disallow smiling for driver's licenses. Yes, you read that correctly. Hoosiers can no longer smile when their driver's license photos are snapped.

More troubling than the grinch-ification of the Indiana BMV, however, is their reasoning. Indiana's new facial recognition software recognizes specific facial features so that, ostensibly, identity theft becomes more difficult. More disconcerting to me, however, is how much the whole thing smacks of Big Brother. (The literary figure, kids, not the reality show.) Do we really want to record and codify the facial features of every person applying for a driver's license in Indiana? Makes for a handy database if government ever decides to become, say, intrusive or heavy handed. Not that government would ever do that - at least not any time soon, right?

I don't know. Maybe the folks at the BMV are right. Then again, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles was ushered into the "modern era" by Joel Silverman, the former Jock-strap salesman that Governor Mitch Daniels hired away from Galyan's, a failed chain of Indianapolis Sporting Good's stores. Silverman's brief bureaucratic career was, in many people's minds, accurately characterized by my then twelve-year-old daughter shortly after she heard him speak at a town hall meeting back in Butler, Indiana. When I asked her what her impression was of Silverman she gave a one-word answer: "Loser!"

The BMV systematically dismantled their delivery service over the course of the several years by closing local branches all over the state of Indiana despite the clear wishes of Indiana taxpayers. That the same BMV is banning smiling doesn't surprise the Hoosiers I've spoken with. Given the way the BMV has been administered over the years, they stopped smiling long ago.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Three dollars, and worth every penny . . .

I am reading Bob Greene's book, Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents. I came across it in Big Lots the other day while Mrs. Frankly was shopping for . . . whatever it was she was shopping for. I loved Greene's Once Upon a Town, so I picked it up. By the time Tracy found me reading in some recliner destined to become a Christmas gift for someone's lucky husband, I had already chewed through the first chapter.

Greene interviewed five former Presidents for the book: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush. It is the best $3 read I've ever bought. Here is a snippet from the book in which Greene considers the toughness of veteran combat pilots George H. W. Bush (41) and Geroge McGovern, who unsuccessfully ran for the office that Bush eventually attained:
I've always thought that there should be an unwritten rule for those of us who were born after World War II: Whenever you meet an old combat pilot from the war, you are automatically disqualified from thinking that your life could possibly measure up to his. He beat you before you blinked in the light. Yet somehow Bush - and McGovern - had been judged by millions of their countrymen, and by commentators who had never heard a shot fired in anger, as if they were lifelong croquet players, badminton aficianados, instead of men who, when it counted, piloted bombers against the enemy during the greatest war in the history of human conflict.
Both Georges, and millions of other men and women just like them, deserve our thanks. And, in a smaller - but no less sincere way - Bob Greene has earned mine.

Merry Christmas

Introducing . . . Dan Cameron

The folks at South Lansing Christian Church will be hearing Dan Cameron, professor at Great Lakes Christian College tomorrow morning. Dan, Fred Lab and I are "pulpit swapping" these next two weeks. As with every guest speaker at South, we have prepared a video introduction for Dan. This is the "uncensored" cut that won't be showed at South tomorrow morning. Between you and me, it is freakin' hilarious (to quote my son, Caleb). But alas, it didn't pass my Tracy filter, meaning I asked my wife what she thought. If you want to see the one we're showing at South, check out "Dan Cameron Church Cut".

Oh . . . make sure you hang in there after the intro . . . Kris added a couple bloopers. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

God, after all . . .

After hearing Paul Harvey, Jr. on the way to work this morning, I couldn't wait to get to his website and dig more deeply into the subject he illuminated. (Click on the Tuesday morning update link to listen.)

Harvey explained a recent article from Discover Magazine. Discover is a scientific journal. That's important to know, because the article has some pretty big theological implications. Were it published in . . . say Christianity Today, I have no doubt it would have been pilloried by naturalistic pundits world-wide. It may still be, however, because the conclusions that physicists quoted in the article have reached fly in the face of modern scientific thought. Consider these quotes:
"Our universe is perfectly tailored for life. That may be the work of God or the result of our universe being one of many."

"Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us."

"On the other hand, if there is no multiverse, where does that leave physicists? 'If there is only one universe,' Carr says, 'you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.' "
The multiverse theory suggests that there are other universes, with their own laws of physics - and that our universe just happened to have physical laws that support life as we know it. Whether or not there are multiple universes I cannot know. But the fact that this universe is so finely tuned leads me to believe that there must be a Being with a hand on the knob that does the tuning.

Consider these "Cosmic Coincidences." Author Tim Folger writes, "If these cosmic traits were just slightly altered, life as we know it would be impossible." A few examples:
Stars like the sun produce energy by fusing two hydrogen atoms into a single helium atom. During that reaction, 0.007 percent of the mass of the hydrogen atoms is converted into energy, via Einstein’s famous e = mc2 equation. But if that percentage were, say, 0.006 or 0.008, the universe would be far more hostile to life. The lower number would result in a universe filled only with hydrogen; the higher number would leave a universe with no hydrogen (and therefore no water) and no stars like the sun.

The early universe was delicately poised between runaway expansion and terminal collapse. Had the universe contained much more matter, additional gravity would have made it implode. If it contained less, the universe would have expanded too quickly for galaxies to form.

Had matter in the universe been more evenly distributed, it would not have clumped together to form galaxies. Had matter been clumpier, it would have condensed into black holes.

Atomic nuclei are bound together by the so-called strong force. If that force were slightly more powerful, all the protons in the early universe would have paired off and there would be no hydrogen, which fuels long-lived stars. Water would not exist, nor would any known form of life.
My mind is pea-sized compared to the scientists that Folger quotes in his article. And yet, the most important lesson I learned about physics was at the knee of Erma Kees in the first grade: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Bang! God spoke and it was so. At the risk of sounding smug (and I honestly do not mean to), it is nice to see that science is finally catching up.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Letting go of Abby

Our daughter, Abigail, got her license a few weeks back. It was a long time in coming. She completed driver's education when we lived in Indiana, but we moved to Michigan just a few weeks before she was eligible to get her Indiana license. Initially we thought we might let her just use our old Indiana address to get her license and then just transfer it to Michigan. After rethinking it, though, we thought it would be simpler to just make one transaction after we moved.

We were wrong. She had to get her Michigan driver's permit and then undergo a second driver's ed class. Then, she had to take her driver's test. She passed with flying colors and we headed into East Lansing for the MSU vs. Purdue football game to celebrate. The following Monday she and I went to the Secretary of State and she became a full-fledged driver.

The last couple of weeks have been about us taking the training wheels off. He first trip was to the Student Leader meeting for South's youth group. She drove her brothers to school several times. Youth group trips on Sunday night were part of the process, too. The real test, however, took place today when she and her brothers headed south to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Butler, Indiana. The two hour trip took them down Interstate 69 at 70 mph.

The thought of everything that matters to Tracy and I heading down the highway at any speed faster than a Huffy made me twitch. I had them call me when they left the house, when they got on the interstate, when they crossed the state line, when they got off the interstate . . . you get the idea. They arrived safely. End of anxiety, right?

Nope.

A couple hours after arriving in Butler Abby called to ask if she could go to a movie with her friend, John. Who is a boy. Who would be driving her. To the movie. And back to her grandparents. Her first official car date?

I said that this weekend's trip was about us removing the training wheels. The truth is, I think maybe it is more about me learning to let go. To be completely honest, it hurts because I know where this is all headed. Seventeen years ago my wife and I went on our first "post-baby" date and entrusted our little girl to a babysitter for the first time. Today we're racing toward Abby moving into a college dorm and, (gulp!) walking down a church aisle.

When I was about to become a father for the first time a wiser, older man told me, "Frank your children will break your heart." As he was the father of a great kid that made him proud then (and since with a great husband, career, and beautiful granddaughter), I was puzzled by his comment.

I understand now. . .

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Micki's Cats

Our church secretary, Micki, loves cats. Here are three of her feline companions. Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Where are you leading?

Just finished Andy Stanley's book Next Generation Leader with our Joshua's Men group. For the past twelve months I have been leading a group of seven emergent leaders through a series of books focusing on leadership - at home, at work, and in the church. We started work on the inside focusing on spiritual formation and, as it turned out, we ended there, too.

I love what Andy Stanley wrote on page 28: "We must never forget that people who follow us are exactly where we have led them."

A sobering thought for those of us who lead others . . .

Friday, November 21, 2008

Common sense, the Constitution and Scripture

A friend from South sent this video clip of Michigander, Ted Nugent, expressing his opinion on a person's right to bear arms. Ted is well known for his support of the Second Amendment, and his involvement with the National Rifle Association.

As I watched the clip, I found myself agreeing. The common sense part of me says, "Yes, a person should be able to defend himself or herself." Our founding fathers thought it important that we be able to do so. It seems that, if all of us are endowed by our creator with the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," that we ought to be able to secure those rights with a firearm. Nugent is obviously passionate in this regard - more passionate than me, certainly.

On the other hand, it is difficult for me to reconcile his comments with the Apostle John's: "Beloved, let us love one another. For love comes from God and everyone that loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." Herein lies the enigmatic tension with which I continue to struggle: the tension between living as a citizen of this nation, and as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Take a look at the video and see if you don't find yourself conflicted, too. Then, if you're inclined, comment and see if you can't help me wrap my head around the issue of dual citizenship. WARNING: Be advised that Ted uses some strong language - stronger than you're used to reading or hearing at Frankly Speaking.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jonah - 2001

A friend in Indiana was cleaning out her computer files today and sent me this picture of our son, Jonah. Though he is now thirteen, Jonah was only six at the time and was holding one of Emma's pups. Brings back memories . . .

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Introducing . . .

Chad Cronin, South's Youth Minister, spoke on Sunday while I was up north hunting. I've heard great things about Chad's talk. Here is the introduction that my daughter, Abby, and I filmed and Kris Bargen produced to welcome Chad to the stage for his first sermon at South.


Kudos to worshiphousemedia.com

Wally turned me on to these guys. Good stuff!


Daily Freebie Promo - "You Can't Say That" from Worship House Media on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So a preacher walks into a bar . . .

I am sitting at The Rockford, a watering hole in downtown Farwell, Michigan. They advertised "Free Wi-Fi" on the sign out front, so I stopped in to do a little online work between the morning and afternoon hunts. This is something new for me, I must admit. I've rarely gone into a bar, and I certainly never went in to have a bite to eat and answer email.

Quick quiz: A guy wearing an Indiana University sweatshirt and typing on a MacBook Pro is in a bar in Farwell, Michigan with a bunch of guys in camo and a dude setting up sound equipment for tonight's "Thirsty Tuesday Band Night." (There's a guy with a long beard - like the dude from ZZ Top, too.) Which of these does not fit? You're right, it's me.

Seems Jesus went to a lot of places where he didn't fit in either - not that I am Jesus, of course. My motives aren't nearly so altruistic. Hey, I just came for the free Wi-Fi.

I've seen tons of deer. Shot at three. Killed one, but didn't find it until the day after - and after the coyotes, I am afraid. I seem to keep missing where I am aiming. I'm beginning to think that I either stink at hunting, or I have bumped my rifle's scope. Tonight is my last chance. Nothing over 200 yards. 150 is better.

PS - They just delivered my burger. The condiments come to the table in a cardboard Miller Lite 6-pack carrier. Cool. I think.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Frankly Speaking selected for Alltop!!

Frankly Speaking was recently added to Alltop. Alltop is an online magazine rack that collects popular feeds about various topics. My blog was added to the "Modern Church" section. Browse on over and check it out!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Restricting literacy by choice. . .

When I moved to Michigan I left behind an amazing group of people who were working to bring library service to the entire county from which I moved. The place of my birth, elementary and high school years, DeKalb County, Indiana has a very special place in my heart. My family continues to live there, and when we talk about "going home," it is the place to which we are referring.

Shortly before I relocated to Lansing, I and a group of literacy advocates met with the County Commissioners in an effort to persuade them to extend library service to every township in the county. Now, for the Frankly Speaking readers that take their library cards for granted, an explanation is necessary. Indiana is one of a handful of states that does not provide taxpayer supported library services for all of it's citizens. 93% of Hoosiers have a tax-payer funded library card. 7% do not, and must purchase an annual subscription. While not a problem for some, many who live in a "unserved" area cannot afford a library card and thus are forced to do without.

At the aforementioned meeting we presented our case. The commissioners dismissed our request forthwith. Frankly, it appeared to many of us who were present that they went into the standing-room only meeting with their minds already made up. Sadly, DeKalb County - the county where I grew up, the county where I still own property and continue to pay property taxes - remains one of the relatively few underserved counties in the United States.

How did we respond? We licked our wounds and moved on. At Butler Public Library, a dedicated staff and board of directors are building a new library - with no tax dollars! The other libraries in the county continue to expand services and offer programming to all citizens regardless of their ability or inability to access materials that can be checked out and taken home.

Today I was blessed to return the Butler Public Library for a "topping off" ceremony. The last bit of structural steel is about to be placed at the new library and soon the structure will be buttoned up for winter so interior work can begin.

While there I inquired about the recent elections and how they might affect library service. I learned that County Councilman Larry Moughler had an interesting quote in The Evening Star. I respect Larry Moughler. He is a good Christian man. He has worked hard his whole life, raised four good sons, and served his country in the United States Marine Corps. His grandkids are friends with my oldest two children. What is more, as a Gideon, he promotes Bible distribution throughout the world. He is a great guy, really, that I'm sure I would agree with on most topics. But, if he is quoted correctly in this particular article, I couldn't disagree more.

When asked his position on bringing county-wide library service to DeKalb County, Larry said,
"I don't use the library service . . . I know to some people it's very important. To me, it wouldn't be worth it . . . I'm not a reader, I guess, so I wouldn't appreciate that."
For the life of me, I just cannot understand that mindset. It is akin to me saying, "I don't use centrally dispatched 911 service . . . that may be important to some people, but I don't like to talk on the phone and don't expect an emergency, so I guess I wouldn't appreciate that." These same folks say, "I don't have kids in school, so why should I pay a school tax?"

Some services, while not universally used, are necessary because they collectively raise the quality of life and intellectual tide of a community. Library service is one such service. I cannot imagine a world where a quality library of wide-ranging books, periodicals, and media from authors and artists with whom I agree and disagree are not available to anyone who wants them. I've read about such places. George Orwell wrote about one in his book, 1984.

As I was pondering my frustration with the "I'm-not-personally-using-the-library-so-I'm-not-going-to-support-it" mindset, I spoke with a ministry colleague on the phone who told me of a quote he read some time ago:
"Those that don't read are no better off than those that can't."
My fear is this: the former - those who do not read and choose to not support libraries, the very organizations that promote reading - are ensuring a greater increasing supply of the latter.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Staff nicknames

The Secret Service has selected code-names for President-elect Obama and his family. They are:
President Obama: Renegade
First Lady Michelle: Renaissance
Daughter Malia: Radiance
Daughter Sasha: Rosebud.
Very cool. I wonder . . . if we were to hand super-cool monikers on each of the staff at South Lansing Christian Church, what would they be? Here are my nominations:
Senior Minister, Frank Weller: Afterburner
Associate Minister, Wally Lowman: Strings
Childrens' Minister, Betty Allen: Paczki
Church Secretary, Micki Holmes: Woodstock
Youth Minister, Chad Cronin: Pomo
Administrative Assistant, Sue Bockrath: Scrapbook
Building Manager, Chris Adleman: Available
Alright, Southies, let's hear your suggestions. Oh . . . and keep it clean.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Does Jesus weep when he sees this?



Yahoo published a piece this morning about a riot that broke out in a Jerusalem church - the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in fact. (The BBC, AP and well, I guess just about every major news outlet carried the sad tale.) Seems that Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks got into a tussle. And what was the fuss all about? Which group "owns the rights" to the ancient structure built on what is believed to be the ancient site of Jesus' burial.

My friend Maceo alerted me to the event. An observant Jew, Maceo had this to say:
Unbelievable! To make it all even more unbelievable, it's not EVEN the site of his death, burial and resurrection. HELLO!

Golgotha, the place that looks JUST like a giant skull is just outside of Damascus Gate and a few blocks away from the old walled city of Jerusalem.

AND the GARDEN TOMB is just beneath the hill that stretches over Golgotha. Practically beside it, and it is CLEARLY marked with Crusader's markings
denoting its validity as the REAL tomb of Jesus.

I'm sure the "cross" they are fighting over is nothing more than
a byzantine fake at best.

These monks are fighting over a whole lot of nothing.

And so it goes on. (SIGH)
He's right, sadly. It does go on. Christians fight over the dumbest stuff. It is no mistake, I think, that the early Christians went out of their way to not identify the places in Jesus' life where the most significant events occurred. Apparently it didn't matter enough to the early church to document where Jesus died, or where his tomb was located. Clearly they knew the locations of these events. Why no atlas appended to the New Testament, then? Because it didn't matter. It still does not.

I would love to go to the Holy Lands and walk where Jesus walked. I can only imagine how much it would inform my faith and inspire my preaching. Nevertheless, geography is nothing without theophany. And, Frankly Speaking, I can experience God wherever I go.

Sadly, it appears that some who trod the same streets where Jesus once taught "love thy neighbor," fail to experience Christ's presence in spite of their holy surroundings.

Do we?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

And then James said . . .

My buddy, James Pahl, wrote an interesting post on his blog the other day. I agree with most of what he said (even the bit about Michigan needing a Sonic). I took issue with this, though:
" . . . I don't like it when people tell others who they are voting for. I can't explain it but something about it just rubs me the wrong way. My father is a county magistrate, and must always be impartial in all hearings and duties that he performs. He thinks it is inappropriate to discuss who he is voting for because it shatters that responsibility. I've always respected him for it and agreed with it. For me personally as an aspiring youth minister I've decided to place the same responsibility on myself. As a leader I do not want to use my position to sway anyone, whether intentional or not. Perhaps I've subconsciously forced that ideal on others. I mean, what is the purpose of sharing your decision? I don't mean this to criticize anyone who has done so, I'm genuinely curious."
My response to James? I tell people who I am going to vote for (after serious deliberation and contemplation) because I think the direction in which our country goes matters. I tell people who I am going to vote for because the sanctity of life matters to me; because I believe that our country faces threats from enemies outside of our borders and moral collapse within. I tell people who I am going to vote for because I am passionate about these things and I just might persuade one other person to join me in this quest. I tell people who I am going to vote for because I want people to know who and what I endorse. I want people to know that I believe in something; I stand for something; and there are things that I stand against.

There is no written or unwritten mandate for impartiality in Scripture. The closest one comes is in regards to a good soldier becoming entangled in civilian affairs. I suppose one can make a case, based on that passage, that all Christians should remain silent concerning their civic responsibility and duty. The case is stretched in my opinion.

I agree that we should not impose some "God's will litmus test" on a specific candidate. [To suggest that God wills we vote for one candidate over another is hubris.] I believe the American people get what the American people want with all the intended and unintended consequences that accompany that choice. God, frankly, often gives us what we want, too. Sometimes He does so knowing that we're not going to like what results from our choices.

I believe we can passionately disagree during a campaign, and still unite following an election. I am not one of these "he's-not-my-President" sorts. I will pray for President-Elect Obama and those who accompany him to the White House.

When I agree with him, I will say so. When I disagree with him, I will push back.

There is a tension that comes from being a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and at the same time being a citizen of the United States. I live in that tension and, admittedly, I don't always get it right. But as long as I pay taxes and as long as I continue to think elections matter, I am going to say my piece, and then do my best to live at peace.

Oh, and James, you owe me for driving traffic to your smorgasbord.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

For you, Dad and Mom . . .

Tina and Marty, were afraid you might have trouble opening the email, pop, so here is this picture for you. For those of you who don't know them . . . this is my sister, her husband, and my two nieces, Heather and Laura, outside their home in Guinea, West Africa.

The part that impressed me . . .

I thought President-Elect Obama's victory speech last night was amazing. While there were a couple of points on which I disagree - his affirmation of Roosevelt's New Deal, for example - I nevertheless thought it humble, genteel, and even inspiring. The portion of his speech that most moved me was when he said,
Let's remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.

Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.

As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

To those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

I am convinced that our 44th President is a good man, and there is no doubt that Obama is a great orator who has the makings of the best speech giving Commander in Chief of my lifetime. For my part, I will be praying that he is more than merely a good orator but, given that governing is so much more than making fine speeches, a good President, too.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Thoughts?

Witnessed history tonight. I agree with Bill Bennett who said he would be praying for President Obama. Bennett, he related was a great candidate who he now hoped would be a great President. Your thoughts?

Here's my story. What is yours?

Stopped by Sawdon School this morning on the way to work to cast my ballot. When I arrived, there was ample parking and no line. I made my way to precinct four. Sawdon houses four polling places and none looked overwhelmed. I showed my ID, signed a card testifying to my residence, and received my ballot. There were no people in line ahead of me. I filled out my ballot, placed it in the machine (I was the 127th person voting on that machine), got my sticker and left.

The whole effort took less than five minutes.

How about you? What is your November 4th story?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Lowering my ears

Finally got a haircut tonight at Great Clips in the Meijer store next door. The hair looks good. She even trimmed my bushy eyebrows and chopped the thatch out of my ears (Fred). Too bad they couldn't do anything with the rest of my melon . . .
Columnist Conrad Black observes that our nation is on the cusp on doing something extraordinary: electing a President that is ideologically far left of the vast majority of the people who will vote for him. The reason? The financial wreckage that has been left in the wake of the worst economic tsunami in my lifetime.

My frustration is that both candidates vying to become our nation's CEO have failed to place the blame where it rightly lies. They've blamed Wall Street, fat-cat CEOs, President Bush, even their own colleagues in congress - though they've carefully in pointed out that they, themselves, were Nastradamus-like in their prophetic prognostications of impending collapse.

They missed it entirely.

Though I am voting for McCain, I would be much happier if he had looked in the camera and said, "Who is to blame for this crisis? You are, America. You bought cars you didn't really need with loans you couldn't really afford. You took out home equity loans, and when they sent you a 'credit card' that you could use to quickly access your 'home equity line of credit' you went to the mall, bought a blouse and lost your house. You're to blame, America, because you cashed out your 401K in order to pay off your wife when you divorced her. You took trips to the Caribbean with money you didn't have to see places you couldn't enjoy because all the while in the back of your mind you knew you would have to work overtime in order to pay the bill. While the Japanese were industriously saving, you and your fellow Americans created a negative savings rate (which is to say you spent more than you made). You've at fault America because you fought a war that you couldn't afford, and unlike your grandparents, you didn't make any sacrifices to pay for it. You wanted your war, delivered nightly on television, just so long as you could sit at Applebees and watch it on CNN. (Drinks complements of your company expense account, of course.)

Conventional thought says, "You can't get regular Americans to vote for you by blaming them." I disagree. I think regular Americans really do know they shoulder some responsibility. I know I do. I bought too much house in Michigan before I sold my home in Indiana. I chose wants over needs. I know my own culpability. If John McCain loses this election it will be, in part, because "The Straight Talk Express didn't make a whistle-stop in Realityville.

You see, had any candidate pointed out that we're all to blame, the golden opportunity would have been to remind us that, any mess Americans get themselves into, they can get out of.

Imagine McCain saying this: "Friends, we're all to blame. First, I and my colleagues in government are at fault. We let you down. We created a culture in which CEO fat-cats and predatory lenders caved into the pressure of their shareholders (including many of you who own Freddie and Fannie in your mutual funds). And you, friends, bought homes that cost too much even though you saved too little. You spent more than you made. You're to blame. I'm to blame. We all are responsible. But the good news is: we got in it together, and together, if we purpose to do it, we can recover together. The same country that put a man on the moon can put the economy back on track.

I would have voted for that candidate regardless of party.

Instead, I am left with voting for the guy who, I suspect, thought it but wasn't courageous enough to step away from his handlers and tell me what I really needed to hear. And I'm left to wonder if that isn't, at least partly, why I'll likely be watching Senator Obama become President Obama next January.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Aussies get it . . .

Received these political cartoons from my friend, Gary, today. They're from Australian newspapers. Seems they get it. Why don't we?

My decision . . .



I've made my decision - John McCain. You won't hear it from my pulpit. It is not an endorsement by our church. This is my personal decision. Certainly there will be many from South that will vote for McCain's opponent. Not me. My vote will not matter, I think, in Michigan. Nevertheless, I cannot vote for the most liberal Senator in the United States Senate.

It's not a black thing. Give me J.C. Watts or Thomas Sowell or Alan Keyes and I'll punch that ballot every time.

Its a position thing.

Abortion . . . I want a leader who doesn't think the issue "is above [his] pay grade."

Spread the wealth around . . . my kids mow lawn and shovel snow and babysit to earn money for the things they want to do. Should I force them to give their hard earned cash to their couch dwelling, Playstation playing classmates? Same principle.

Taxes . . . given this economy, why should we raise taxes on anyone? 95% of Americans will receive a tax break? I'm suspicious, but even if that were the case, isn't it the 5% that pay the most already? Don't the 5% invest in the companies that provide jobs for the rest of us? When we raise taxes, the economy suffers - just ask Californians. Their nation-highest business tax is running companies out of the state leading to a projected $10 billion budget deficit (more than double the GDP of the African nation where my sister lives.)

In my daughter's American Studies class (she is a High School junior) they have been viewing "American historical" movies. They've watched Roots, and Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, and The Last of the Mohicans among others. Recently her teacher announced, "You won't want to miss this next movie. It is probably the only one I will show that will make you feel good about America." Nice. I'm all for exploring our nation's faults, but haven't we gotten it right sometimes, too? When I watch Senator Obama, I hear him say one thing, but the fact that he can say it leads me to another conclusion. He talks about the politics of exclusion and two americas and "white man's greed runs a world in need." That an African-American, former Muslim is within a frog's hair of becoming President of the United States disproves his words.

I don't know if an Obama Administration will make me feel good about being an American or not. My ministry colleague David tells me Obama will restore our country's international standing. I hope he is right.

More importantly, I hope I don't get the chance to find out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Doc Doty

I saw a picture of Doc Doty on Eric's Facebook page the other night. It reminded me of a letter that Doc sent me over ten years ago. I had just arrived at the Butler Church of Christ as their new preacher. Just months prior, the church had undergone a difficult time. As I began my ministry there, I sent letters to dozens of Christian leaders. I asked Bible college presidents to pray. I sent a letter to Charles Stanley, even. (He responded personally that he would be praying for us.)

I saved all these letters. My most cherished is from Doc. It means even more to me now that I am preaching at Doc's "home church." I can't imagine what it must have been like for Ron to look out from the pulpit and see Doc sitting among the faithful. What a privilege. Here is what Doc wrote to me:
Dear Frank,

I have kept letter of last month on my desk here at GLCC . . and it has reminded me to pray again and again in your behalf.

Without knowing the specific situation and/or problems at Butler I have taken your name to the Lord, sincerely asking that you might find release from pressure / or tight situations . . or any other oppressive obstacle (or obstacles) confronting you.

It will be a pleasure and a relief whenn you are able to inform me that the matter of concern(s) [is resolved] . . and that you are again at peace in heart and soul.

Sincerely in Christ,

Doc Doty
I don't know whether or not they read blogs in Heaven, but I do know that "we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." Among that cloud, looking down upon us, is Dr. Brant Lee Doty. Doc, I still covet your prayers. Thanks for standing beside me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"May I have the rings?" - FAIL!!

I performed a wedding on a dock overlooking a pond this past summer that was just beautiful. I can't imagine something like this happening. I even caused my best friend Fred to step on his new bride's, wedding dress (sorry Mariah) tearing the hem, even. But this schlep takes the gold medal. Running away.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reflection on SERVE Day

I just watched the late news on WILX. They ran a story about our SERVE day that begin with, "Well, it's not often that you find a pastor encouraging you to skip church. But that's just what Senior Minister Frank Weller of South Lansing Christian Church did. Today the church skipped their worship service in favor of community service."

Well, I did encourage people to skip our 10 AM service. But I also urged them to come back for a special 6 PM service. And they did - about 300 of them, in fact.

In short, today was amazing. There were 338 people that volunteered to serve. Instead of a worship service, we had service worship. Southies . . .
  • . . . packed a semi-load of clothing for shipment to the Ukraine.
  • . . . prepped a garden plot for spring planting as a community garden.
  • . . . hosted a neighborhood carnival.
  • . . . watched lots of little kids so their parents could participate in SERVE day.
  • . . . decorated gift bags to be sent to Haiti (filled with food for hungry Haitians).
  • . . . took dessert to Lansing Police department's North and South Precincts as well as the Detention unit and the 911 Dispatch center. We even had enough for two fire stations.
  • . . . washed and packaged potatoes for distribution at a local assisted living apartment building.
  • . . . painted playground lines at North Elementary school.
  • . . . cleaned up Burchfield Park.
  • . . . painted a jungle gym at Hawk Island Park.
  • . . . sang and visited at the nursing home.
  • . . . sorted food at the food bank.
  • . . . cleaned the teeth of dozens of head-start kids.
  • . . . packaged enough meals to feed 11,000 people for Kids Against Hunger.
  • . . . built a porch and wheelchair ramp for a disabled man in Mason.
All told, there were over 1,000 "person hours" committed to serving today. Probably more.

For almost a year, our church has been challenged to Seek, Study and Serve God. Today, I sense that our folks really embraced the challenge to serve. I don't know, for sure, the lasting effects of today's efforts. I suspect, however, that our folks are more excited about serving than ever.

Not only did I see a lot of people acting like Jesus today. I think I also saw many of them become more like Him, too. What a day!

Friday, October 17, 2008

One more from Dave Shiflett

Just finished reading Exodus: Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity by Dave Shiflett. (See previous post). Shiflett had one more quote I wanted to pass along. He interviewed Chuck Colson to get his take on the state of the Faith in America. Shiflett writes:
"The sixties were laudable in their efforts to bring social justice to society," Colson said. At the same time this was the period when Liberal churches did good things for many people. But they also became less spiritually relevant. "People want the real thing. They are not interested in a pale substitute, because it can never satisfy. It just doesn't answer the questions people have."

Today, he said, many churches that are presumed to be orthodox, at least compared with mainline churches, are making the same mistake. This is especially true in some of the large evangelical churches, which Colson said are the purveyors of "self-centered worship. You may get people to come to those churches, and you may have church growth. But you will not have church impact. The reason is that church becomes increasingly like the culture. People go in, see a skit, listen to some music, hear a soothing sermon, and think they've done their Christian duty. They are entering the exact precarious position the mainline found itself in in the sixties and seventies." As such these churches may eventually see their own pews empty. What churches should be doing, Colson said, is teaching believers that Christianity offers a sound and rational explanation of life and helping them to "see the world through God's eyes and govern their behavior accordingly."
This is particularly relevant on the eve of our church's largest service project ever. As we make an effort to serve the community we must not make the same mistake that mainline churches committed a generation ago. Service and theological liberalism are not necessarily tied to one another. We can serve while making sure that, in matters of doctrinal essentials, we have unity. And, we must do so.

The Weller "Bandos"

Every year the Grand Ledge School bands perform at the "Festival of Bands." The two middle school bands perform, and then the High School marching band files in the auditorium to the drumline's cadence. My son, Caleb, is the snare drum, second from the right. My daughter, Abby, is the flag in the balcony on the end. The locals call this event the "Park and Blow," because this is the one event where the marching band is not marching. Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Preaching that is relevant . . .

I have been challenged by a book I am reading. Dave Shiflett, in his book Exodus, chronicles the mass exodus out of mainline denominations like the United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Disciples of Christ churches. He observes that congregants don't want to hear political pablum from their pulpits:
Most people don't go to church to learn the minister's opinions on whatever happens to be in the headlines. They can get similar opinions sitting on their sofas watching television, quite possibly presented by someone much better-looking.

Most people go to church to get something they cannot get elsewhere. The consuming public - people who already believe, or who are attempting to believe, or who want their children to believe - go to church to learn about the mysterious Truth on which the Christian religion is built. They want the Good News, not the minister's political views or intellectual coaching. The latter creates sprawling vacancies in the pews. Indeed, those empty pews can be considered the earthly reward for abandoning heaven, traditionally understood.
I agree with Shiflett, I think, (except, perhaps about the better-looking part). That is why I've steered clear of politics in preaching. I do wrestle, however, with the tension of preaching what is relevant to the times in which we find ourselves. The headlines often have moral and spiritual significance. A recent issue of City Pulse, Lansing's self proclaimed newspaper, "for the rest of us," recently carried a cover story promising to tell us "What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality."

Where the headlines are so clearly in opposition to the Scriptures as I, our church, and indeed two thousand years of orthodox Christianity understand them, I cannot and should not remain silent.

So where is the line between personal political opinion and scriptural absolutes?

Oh, it turns out Shiflett is a pretty good songwriter, too.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Our youth minister, Chad, is looking to sell his Jeep Wrangler. The funny thing is, he bought it just a couple months ago. When he made the purchase, he was puzzled. The Jeep was a four speed, but the knob on the gear shifter had a 5-speed pattern on it. His solution? Go to the junkyard and get a knob with a four-speed pattern. (I think we all have some OCD tendencies, actually).

Come to find out, it actually is a five-speed. The real problem was with the transmission.

Frankly, I do the same thing a lot of times. There is a problem, but rather than deal with it, I buy a different knob and slap it on. My effort at redefining normal doesn't change anything for the better, it doesn't fix anything, but it sure makes me feel better. So here's to you, Mr. put-a-new-knob-on-it man. As my old friend, Terry Ulm used to tell me, "When confronted with something uncomfortable . . . try not to think about it."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hope for hurting pastors

I enjoyed an evening out last night with Tracy and two of our elders and their wives. We attended the PastorCare banquet in Grand Rapids. A ministry devoted to restoring wounded pastors and their families, PastorCare is meeting a significant need. Consider these statistics that were shared with us last night:
  • 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a closer friend.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 45% of pastors say that they've experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from their ministry.
  • The clergy has the second highest divorce rate among all professions.
According to the Ministering to Ministers Foundation:
  • Over 1600 pastors in the United States are forced out of their positions each month.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 pastors experience a forced termination at least once in their ministry.
  • Only 54% of pastors go back into full-time church related positions.
I thank God for John Smith, the Executive Director of Pastorcare.

After leaving our church in Indiana, I experienced some extremely difficult emotions. We poured our life into the church for a decade, and it just wasn't easy to say goodbye. We knew God was calling us to South Lansing - that was clear. But that didn't make the grieving any easier. The feeling that I was leaving home, family, and the church I loved overwhelmed me. People I loved didn't know how to talk with me about our leaving, so much was left unsaid. Friendships were strained; my best friend and I didn't even say "goodbye." My approach: suck it up and deal with it. Nevertheless, on the advice of a fellow pastor, I called John and sat down with him. He was able to help me deal with my emotions and keep from growing bitter or angry.

I am a healthier preacher today because of John Smith and PastorCare.

October is "Clergy Appreciation Month." Make sure you drop your preacher a card and tell him how much his work means to you. And, if you're so inclined, consider making a donation to PastorCare in their honor.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Heartbreak

Me thinks that tractor's sexy . . .

Came across a cool website tonight that made me think of my childhood. I grew up on the seat of a tractor - several different ones actually. My grandfather had an old Ford tractor with a wide front end - an 8N, I think. It had a push button starter right next to the gear shifter. He used it to pull hay wagons and haul manure. It was a dandy.

Dad had an Allis Chalmers WD. I loved that tractor because it had a hand clutch that made it easier to drive. I could gently pull back on that clutch and start rolling without killing the motor. She had four levers on the steering column. Two were pull levers - one on the left that was the choke and one on the right to start the motor. Two others controlled the throttle and the hydraulic bucket on the front. Dad had every imaginable add-on for that tractor: front-end loader, cultivators, two-bottom plow and even a sub-soiler.

When I got older dad bought a Farmall Super-M and later a Farmall 400. Those both had road gears that made them fly - or at least it seemed that way to a fourteen-year-old.

My favorite tractor by far, though, was our green Oliver 1600. The steering wheel was adjustable - two ways, in fact. (Its pictured there in the corner.) You could swivel it upward and raise it so you could drive the tractor standing up. It also had big wide fenders. I would sit on them while dad cultivated corn and beans with the three-point mounted eight-row cultivator. Years later, when I missed the school bus one morning, I threw "Ollie" into sixth gear and drove it the three miles to school.

We have a green John Deere lawn tractor in the garage these days. I've left the farm, but the farm has stayed with me . . . and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Choosing Mickey over missions

This is a true story. It was relayed to me by my missionary sister earlier today. This is a story about a church's priorities gone askew. It is a tale of an unreached people group that may very well never read the Bible in their own language because an American church decided, among other things, their children's church needed more "pop." I have changed the names, and some of the details.

Eight years ago, Mike and Tracy Goeglein rejoiced when they learned that a Midwestern mega-church had decided to adopt the Kaputo people group in African. Bible translators, Mike and Tracy have devoted their life to seeing that people who don't know Jesus Christ have the word of God in their own language. Together, along with other missionaries from their organization, they signed a lengthy covenant with the Independent Christian Church that agreed to be their partners in this monumental endeavor to bring the Bible to the Kaputo.

It was a win-win. Mike and Tracy would have the resources necessary for their work; the church would accomplish its goal to evangelize an unreached people group; the Kaputo would receive God's Word in their native tongue.

Mike and Tracy returned to Africa and threw themselves into their work. Two years passed and a new pastor arrived on the scene at the mega-church. Changes were instituted. The most significant was the church's determination to be more "elder-led" and less "staff driven." As a consequence, a significant number of the church staff was fired, including the mission's minister that was the architect of the covenant between the church and Mike and Tracy.

An ocean away from these changes, however, Mike and Tracy felt relatively secure that their partnership with this Restoration Movement megachurch was stable. After all, they had signed a covenant, and that word meant something. So, they confidently continued in their efforts to bring God's Word to the Kaputo. Then, just two years ago, the church announced that their mission's ministry had "received another calling" and sent "Dear John" letters to more than fifty of the missionaries they supported. Of the church's seventy-one missionaries, only seventeen would continue to receive financial backing. Some were cut off immediately. Others, like Mike and Tracy, were given two years notice so that they could find other streams of revenue for their work.

Of course, the Goegleins were in Africa, so finding other supporters - especially those with pockets as deep as the 6,000 member church that was abandoning them - was particularly difficult. Mike and Tracy's stateside colleagues visited the church and implored them to reconsider. They were told, however, that the church's new mission strategy was more short-term in its approach. Their new "calling" was to send short-term missionaries or teams that would be in and out of a country within five years. With the average Bible translation requiring an investment of twenty or more years, the Goeglein's work did not fit the new parameters.

Eventually the Goegleins themselves returned home to ask the church's elders to reconsider. They did not. In the course of their meeting, however, Mike and Tracy were treated to a tour of the church's new facility. They were shown the multiple large-screen video projection units that the church was in the process of installing. The tour guide explained that the congregation had recently contracted with a Disney consultant to develop an animated Noah's ark theme for the children's wing.

Mike and Tracy are back in Africa now. They and their children survive on beans and lentils. There is not much protein in their diet - maybe a chicken to eat every other night. The mission support they have counted on from the megachurch ends in December. Just after Christmas. What then?

While children in the heartland will be treated to an amazing children's facility that boasts animatronic giraffes with heads that sway above the roof of a cartoonish Noah's ark, the Goegleins wonder if the Kaputo children will ever be able to read about the real Noah. While the elders of this megachurch set aside the covenant they signed in which they agreed to partner with the elders of the Kaputo tribe, one has to ask: if the Kaputo ever get a Bible in their own tongue, and if they learn to read that Bible, are they not going to ask, "If God's people can so easily jettison a document that they call a 'covenant', will not God do the same with His?"

Shame on us.

When a house of prayer becomes a house of beer . . .

I was disappointed to see that a church I pass on my way to work every morning was just purchased by a bar. The Red Salamander, a business for those seeking homebrew, brewing supplies and cigars, just relocated to the former Covenant Christian Reformed Church building.

I do not criticize moderate drinking. The Bible clearly condemns drunkenness, but the occasional brew, if done with self-control, is alright by me. Nevertheless, it saddens me that a church, which is supposed to bring life, would sell its building to a tavern, which for some, leads down a different path.

Am I being melodramatic?

UPDATE: MIKEV writes that the church was not aware that it was being sold to a pub. Apparently the law does not require commercial real estate transactions to disclose the use for which the building will be used. Looks like there are no winners in this one. Except maybe the beer drinkers, that is.

Caleb's first deer

My son, Caleb, shot his first deer during last weekend's Michigan youth hunt. Admittedly, this isn't the biggest deer in the woods. When the adrenaline is pumping and the deer is out there all by himself, though, it's a bit tough to estimate the size - especially when its your first time looking at brown through a scope.

This little button buck will taste pretty good, and Caleb is hooked on hunting for life, I think.

Jonah got a shot at a nice 6-point, but the jitters took over and he missed. It was a great weekend that primed the Weller men for November 15!

When pumpkins drink . . .

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Dave said . . .

During last week's Bob Russell retreat we had a chance to sit down with Dave Stone, the Senior Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. As we introduced ourselves, Dave asked each of us what was one issue we were currently working through in our church. I told him we were transitioning to become a church that "seeks, studies, and serves God." I explained that inculcating the congregation with this mission and paring away everything that was not "Seek, Study and Serve," was our highest priority.

I really like it when Dave said, "I noticed your email. Seekstudyserve.org - very cool." I confessed to Dave that we developed the mission after hearing about it indirectly from Southland Christian Church. I told him that we purchased ".com", and ".net" as well as our website's ".org." Dave frequently has contact with Jon Weece, the Senior Minister at Southland, so I jokingly told him, "When you talk to Jon, let him know we'd be happy to sell him one of the URLs we're not using." Dave retorted, "For just a week's worth of offering, right!"

A week's worth of Southland's offering? I'd say that oughta 'bout cover it . . .