Thursday, February 28, 2008

This is a first

I have been a pastor for over 6 years and I have never had the experience of the pastor in this video. He had been a pastor for over 25 years, and apparently he had never had it either. Well worth the 30 seconds it takes to see this one:

Customer Service

One of the gifts we received from our former church when we departed was the Cupcake Courier (see photo below). This handy little gadget makes it awfully easy for Karen to haul cupcakes to the school for various PTA things and birthday parties for our girls. Though it looks girly, I prefer to think of it as being akin to a "cupcake toolbox." At any rate, we've gotten a fair amount of use out of the thing, but one of the handles broke off soon after we moved (household gnomes again).
Once I finally got around to gluing the handle back on, I discovered that glue didn't work. So I wrote to the company to ask how to procure a new handle. I was shocked to get a personal email back from the product inventor and CEO, Jennifer Gunn, who promptly mailed me a new handle free of charge. In a day where "warranty service" usually involves paying $40 to ship your broken product to a location where it will take 12 weeks to repair an item that cost $30 new, I was pleased to see a company stand behind its product (and even to hear personally from the CEO!).

Friday, February 22, 2008

New boots

When I was a kid, I went deer hunting a lot with my dad (and later, my brother Steve). They are still my favorite hunting buddies. But for whatever reason, when I went with Dad, I never could find a way to stay warm enough on the deer stand. Somewhere between our arrival before dark and about 8:30 a.m., I would need to climb down out of my tree and walk around a bit to warm up my toes. As those who deer hunt know, this coincides with the peak time for deer movement, so I got to spend a lot of fruitless days up a tree fighting off hypothermia. Fun? Not so much.

Despite all this, I did manage to harvest enough deer in my youth that I developed a passion for it and still go every year. But now that I am older and wiser (and have a few more resources), I have made it a personal goal not to be cold on stand. So I wear heavily insulated bib overalls and a heavily insulated coat over my regular clothes and polar weight long underwear. Until this year, I also wore boots with 600 grams of Thinsulate insulation. These boots worked pretty well. I still got cold toes, but it took a heck of a lot longer than it used to, so my deer hunting success went up.

This year was my first opportunity to hunt in Illinois and one of my buddies asked me if my boots were going to be warm enough. I told him "yes," but then he told me about some boots he had with 2,000 grams of Thinsulate. I jumped at the chance to wear these and, wonder of wonders, I actually had sweaty feet on stand from being too warm. As anyone who has ever had really cold feet knows, sweat is a condition infinitely preferable to cold. But at the end of deer season, I had to return the boots. Which was pretty tragic, in my view, so I resolved to obtain my own pair with all possible speed.

This dream has been realized this week. My dear (or is it deer?) wife enables my obsession a bit each year. This year she gave me the wonderful Valentine's present of a Cabela's gift card. That, combined with a similar card from my grandmother and some Cabela's credit card points (did I mention that I'm a little obsessed with hunting and really like Cabela's?) resulted in the arrival this week of the most glorious cold weather boots ever created by man. If you could have seen me when they got there, I was "doing the dance" like Steve Carrell does in Evan Almighty, because I will never get cold again. (And no, you cannot expect to see any video of said dancing appearing anywhere soon).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The value of a theology degree

My friend Lynn's comment on my previous post brought to mind something that's been bugging me for a while...

I am the recipient of some truly rare blessings. As an American, I have both access and the means to purchase more resources to help me along my Christian journey than most people in the Global South are even aware exists. In fact, as an unrepentant bibliophile, I have purchased and read a few hundred books and thousands of magazine articles explaining various aspects of Christian living and thinking. I own at least 7 different translations of the Bible (from KJV to Amplified) and have read through the entire Bible multiple times (and some books, dozens of times). In over 30 years as a believer, I have heard a few thousand sermons between church, the radio, chapel services, and the Internet, and have delivered a few dozen more. I graduated from a top-tier Christian liberal arts college and possess a Th.M. in Systematic Theology from one of the world's most prestigious evangelical seminaries. And on top of all that, I have been blessed by God with an above average memory so that I can retain a larger than average amount of the information I take in, even years later. All of this has helped me immeasurably in my ministry and in my ability to know God's will for my life.

And yet, despite all of these spectacular blessings, I think that very often I obey God less well than many Christians with far less information. In fact, knowing the right answer doesn't necessarily make me any more likely to obey God, it only makes me more cognizant of how far short I fall of fully following Christ. To say it another way, the struggles I have in my Christian life aren't primarily informational, so much as they are transformational. It simply isn't a lack of information that's the problem; it's a lack of submission to Jesus. There's no "magic" Christian book or sermon or "new teaching" out there, just waiting to be discovered, that will miraculously enable me to be "a man after God's own heart." Instead, I possess something better: the indwelling Holy Spirit who, if I will submit my will to His, enables me to turn knowledge into experience and thereby change me from the inside out.
Lord, help me to submit to the Holy Spirit you have given to me, your child. Help me to not only be a hearer of your Word, but an effectual doer. Amen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The God who comes during the 4th watch

I've been reading a book called If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat with the men's group I lead on Wednesday mornings. Each chapter reflects on Peter's decision to follow Jesus out onto the water. It's a book all about spiritual risk taking, about leaps of faith onto the everlasting arms of the Lord who calls us to follow Him to "a land I will show you" and pay everything we have to obtain a "pearl of great price."

We are nearing the end of the book now, in a chapter called "Learning to Wait." That's probably the hardest lesson for me, I think. I am an American after all, a product of the original Super-sized, microwaved, express-laned culture of impatient, constant change. Waiting comes about as naturally to me as flight to tortoises, so what I was reading today (in preparation for tomorrow) really struck me.

The author notes that Jesus didn't come to the disciples on the lake until the 4th watch of the night (somewhere between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.), even though the disciples had been out on the boat since sundown the previous day. Moreover, the disciples had been fighting against the wind and the waves for hours when Jesus came out to them. I wonder if any of them wondered during all that time where Jesus was in the midst of their struggle. Somehow, I'll bet they did, just like I sometimes wonder in the midst of mine. But learning to wait is a central part of learning to trust.
Faint hearts may have even begun to wonder whether the Lord Himself had not abandoned them to their fate, or to doubt the reality of Christ. They are to learn from this story that they are not forsaken, that the Lord watches over them unseen... [that] the Living One, Master of wind and waves, will surely come quickly for their salvation, even though it be "in the fourth watch of the night. -A. E. J. Rawlinson

Man cannot live by bread alone...

...he must also have coffee! Seriously, and as sad as it sounds, I'm not quite sure how a person gets going in the morning in the absence of a hot shower and a steaming cup of coffee. Summing up this view is a new vocabulary word sent to me by a friend (one which undoubtedly won't be appearing in Webster's anytime soon):
Decafalon: (n.) The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Monday, February 18, 2008

New sermon series

This week I launch a new sermon series through 1 Timothy. I love the fact that 1 Timothy is written to a young pastor. Since I'm a young pastor, it feels like my sermons will be like allowing the church to "overhear" what God has to say to young pastors. On top of that, I love the fact that it focuses on leadership, because I believe there's perhaps no more critical issue facing the church today than leadership. Where the church has good leaders, the church grows deeply rooted Christians and effectively reaches out to a lost world. Where such leadership is absent, it seems discipleship and evangelism are absent too.

In which, I do plumbing...

This morning we discovered that one of the household gnomes had broken the bathroom sink. It wasn't too badly broken, actually, only the little metal piece which raises and lowers the drain stopper. I did wonder how much force it took to shear the end off a 1/4" piece of steel, but neither my contemplation of such issues nor my inquiries of the children ("Which one of you broke the sink in your bathroom?") got me any closer to a working sink stopper.

So off I went to the hardware store. I found the parts I needed (complete with printed instructions on the back) and a tube of plumber's putty. Then I pulled the old parts out and replaced them.

I should probably mention that this is a first on several levels: My first plumbing job, my first significant repair to anything broken in our house, and the first time I fixed something completely and totally on the same day I started. It is also notable for what didn't happen: No 2nd trip to the hardware store, no hospital ER trip, no leaks, and no leftover parts.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Want a Weekend to Remember with your spouse?

Years ago, when I was going to seminary and Karen was working to support both of us, we went to a FamilyLife marriage conference near our home in Dallas. It was a great time for us to focus on our marriage, get reminded of some essential truths, and reconnect as a couple. It was called the Weekend to Remember, and WTR conferences are held in cities across the country, both Spring and Fall. The Peoria conference will be at the Hotel Pere Marquette, February 29th-March 2nd. Attendees at the conference receive a discounted rate to stay at the hotel (which I highly recommend!).

This would be a great Valentine's Day or anniversary present, and as it happens, I have one certificate entitling its possessor to a highly discounted conference registration ($35 per person vs. $129 per person). Any takers?

A little less talk and a lot more action...

For those who can't get enough teaching on the Song of Solomon, you can get a longer, DVD version of the series of Tommy's teaching on it at Might be the best $200 investment you could make for your marriage if you watch it with your spouse and apply what it teaches to your married life.

Looking for some HOT love baby?

It often comes as a surprise to people who are new to the Christian faith, but as our Creator, God is intensely interested in every aspect of our lives, even the most intimate. Since Valentine's Day is coming soon, I thought I'd follow my friend Bill's lead and post a link to the best practical biblical teaching on love, romance and sex that I have ever found.

Tommy Nelson, senior pastor of Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas (and my former pastor) is absolutely outstanding on the Song of Solomon. I believe that it should be required listening for every Christian single and every Christian married couple, because I believe that God wants each of us to have a marriage which does not begin with passion and end with boredom.

Caution: Listening to this might transform your marriage!

An exciting elder meeting

A number of you probably read the title and decided that this post is meant to be ironic, since many times, "exciting" and "elder meeting" fit together about as well as "jumbo shrimp" or "tasty vegetarian meal." Yet last night I left our gathering highly excited about the future of our church and the things that we will be accomplishing as a board this year.

Each of us identified at least one man with whom we are going to pursue a one-on-one or small group discipling relationship. Unless it's sharing Christ with a lost person, there's nothing in my ministry I find quite as rewarding as meeting with other men and challenging them to follow the Master more closely. Seeing them each grow and embrace their calling and gifts is an incredible privilege, and being part of an elder board whose members are all going to do this together is simply amazing. We also made some strategic decisions about how to infect our people with a passion for evangelism and relationships with people who don't know Jesus.

And all of this while eating Cindy's marvelous homemade oatmeal/raisin cookies, drinking good coffee and sitting in comfy chairs in front of Rick's roaring fire.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Anti-Clutter Patrol

I'm a Spartan about some things, one of those being that I cannot stand to have an accumulation of unused, unorganized junk around, especially in an area in which I spend a lot of my time. At home we go through our stuff every year and purge the excess (the usable to Goodwill, the junk to the dump). Since we just moved, there's very little we took with us that fits into the junk category anymore, so my attentions have recently turned toward my work environment. The church office has somehow become the repository for all things that no one quite knows what to do with. Well this week I received a revelation: We have an attic! And not just any attic, but one which runs virtually the entire length of our very long building. Which means that it is now quite possible to organize and store all the stuff that has accumulated in the office for lo these many years.

Yesterday I went to Alco (the local equivalent of a mini Wal-Mart, for the uninitiated) and purchased some 66 quart clear plastic tubs. Into the tubs went a file drawer full of old bulletins dating back to 1968, a file drawer full of old church newsletters dating back to the early '80's, old photo albums and slides, boxes full of ancient sermon tapes and other miscellany. Which means we are now able to use the cabinets and files for things actually relevant to our daily operations, such as copier paper, current filing, rarely used office equipment like the comb binder etc.

I'm fairly certain that this task is nowhere listed on my job description and equally certain that this post is revealing far more about my advanced retentive tendencies than I probably should. Nevertheless, it feels like a small victory in my life.