Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Even More Vacation Pictures

David on his first wave runner ride
Sunset from the deck at dinner

Pictures of David never get old. At least not to me.

Taken from the wave runner by Benjamin

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pictures from Vacation

Benjamin driving down to the lake
This is why they call it Table Rock Lake

Friday, July 24, 2009

Methodism and Catholicism

This Sunday I am talking about Methodism and Catholicism. After this two week stint (last week I covered Mormonism) and when I have a few free weeks in my preaching schedule I will probably look at world religions such as Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.

Here are ten things I would say to a Catholic. (Sorry for the abbreviated notes. I'm on vacation this week and gave myself only 90 minutes to write the sermon.)

1. I admire the way you educate your children in the faith.

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. –Matthew 19-14-15

2. I admire the way you stand firm in your faith.

But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.” Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” –Daniel 3:12-15

3. I admire the way you emphasize confession in a day when talking about sin ranks right up there in social acceptability with talking about sex and money.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. –James 5:16

4. I admire the beauty and reverence of your worship.

Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. -Psalm 95:6-7

5. I like how you emphasize the Lord’s Supper.

So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. -John 6:53-56

6. Methodists and Catholics agree on most things and most important things.

The Church of England (The Anglican Church – The Episcopal Church in the United States) split from the Roman Catholic because Pope Paul III excommunicated King Henry VIII because of Henry VIII’s actions surrounding his divorce. The Methodists split from the Church of England because John Wesley took the church to the street corners and evangelized coal miners. This was not considered proper. Many of our differences to this day have more to do with form and style rather than beliefs.

7. We both derive our theology from the same four sources: tradition, experience, reason, and Scripture. As Protestants in the Methodist tradition, we elevate Scripture above the other three sources. This makes us a little different.

This one issue explains our differences in many areas: priests not being able to marry / pastors being able to marry, annulments, the Pope, birth control, the elevation of Mary, purgatory, etc…

8. We simply disagree on transubstantiation.

Transubstantiation - μετουσίωσις – metousiosis - means the change of the substance of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. This belief originated in the 11th century, became widespread in the 12th century, and continues today.

Methodists see communion as a sacrament – an outward symbol of an inward and spiritual grace.

For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” -1 Corinthians 11:23-25

9. We are close to believing the same thing about grace, but I’m still convinced the Catholic version of grace has too much to do with humanity and not enough to do with God.

Entire books have been written on this statement. Methodists see grace as a gift that only comes from God. Kindness happens as a response to that grace. Catholics often use the word charity. They would see faith as an active belief that is necessary for salvation.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. -Ephesians 2:8 (NIV)

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. -James 2:14-17

10. I hope for both the Roman Catholic and United Methodist Churches – that our rituals and our religions never emphasize form over power.

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out. -John Wesley

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Game of Life

I am on vacation this week. It rained hard all morning. No running, swimming, playing, investigating, etc… I was watching the Tour de France when our two year old son, David, overruled me. Within a few minutes we were watching Thomas the Tank Engine on the DVD. I’ve seen most of the Thomas videos before. The episode David was watching, Henry and the Elephant, was one I’ve seen a couple dozen times. Benjamin too.

So we found the game of Life. I hadn’t played it for years. It had been so long since I have played, I noticed the rules had even changed. It was Benjamin’s first time playing. We read the rules and started. Here are nine things I learned during those sixty minutes of losing to my son at the game of Life.
  1. It does no good to be the first to finish. I finished well before Benjamin and found myself wanting to play more. Sometimes I think we go so fast and are so focused that we miss out on life.
  2. It costs a lot more to send a kid to college than it does to day care. We should start saving for college when our kids are young.
  3. Flat tires, tornadoes, burglaries all happen. Jesus tells us bad things will happen. He also promises that He will always be with us. I’ll put up with #1 if I get #2.
  4. To do really well in the game of Life, it is better to be lucky than good. In real life it is better to be good than lucky. But getting a few good breaks (whether you call it luck, blessing, grace – that is up to you) can also be very helpful.
  5. In the game of Life, success and achievement are emphasized. People who emphasize such things in real life will most likely feel empty and wanting more. Significance is a higher virtue in life. It isn’t measured in a bank account, but on the impact that you are having in the lives of others.
  6. Giving is considered a bad thing in the game of Life. In real life, giving is the highest level of living.
  7. Competition is the order of the day in the game of Life. One person wins. Everybody else loses. In life, a little competition can be a good thing, but do we really want to live our lives based on how we rank among our peers?
  8. In the game of Life the one with the most money wins. This isn’t how things work out in real life. As a pastor who has spoke at retirement dinners and have done my fair share of funerals, the real winners are the people who have a deep faith in Jesus Christ and a servant’s heart toward God’s children. I have found no exceptions to this rule.
  9. The real point of the game isn’t winning. It is playing. I got to spend a rainy morning explaining mortgages, cosmetic surgeries, and what a mid-life crisis is to my son. It was a great morning even though I lost.
In Christ,


Friday, July 17, 2009

Mormonism and Methodism

Here are the notes for this Sunday's sermon.
9 Things I Would Say to a Mormon
1. I admire the Mormon’s commitment to strong families.
But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands. -Exodus 20:6 (NLT)
2. I admire the Mormon’s zeal for sharing their faith.
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. –Philemon 1:6 (NIV)
3. I admire the Mormon’s perseverance.
Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand. -Psalm 37:24 (NLT)
I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature. –John Rockefeller
4. The Book of Mormon is much different than the Christian Bible.
With the exception of Brigham Young University, there is no institution of higher learning in the United States that tries to substantiate or support the Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith used the King James Version of the Bible—not the original Hebrew and Greek—to write the “Inspired Version of the Bible.” He added (including a verse that predicted his own coming) and subtracted thousands of verses.
And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. –Revelation 22:18-19 (NLT)
5. The Mormon view of the Trinity is much different than the Christian view of the Trinity.
The Mormon view of the Trinity involves three separate gods. Other gods exist as well.
Christians believe in one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. –Matthew 28:19 (NLT)
There is no other God—there never has been, and there never will be. –Isaiah 43:10 (NLT)
6. The Mormon view of Jesus is much different than the Christian view of Jesus.
Mormons believe Jesus progressed to the truth until He became God. Mormons do not generally worship Jesus or pray to Jesus. Christians believe Jesus is fully God. Christians also worship Jesus and pray to Jesus.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. –Matthew 1:18
Fifty-four Bible verses contain the Greek word proskuneo (which means worship) in relationship to Jesus: wise men, angels, a leper, a ruler, an anonymous woman, the disciples, a blind man, angels, etc… all worshipped Jesus.
7. The Mormon’s Eternal Progression is inconsistent with the Christian nature of God.
Joseph Smith taught, “You have got to learn to become Gods yourselves…the same as all Gods have done before you—namely, by going from one small degree to another.”
Christian teaching emphasizes that God is the one God and He never changes.
I am God and not a mere mortal. -Hosea 11:9 (NLT)
I am the Lord, and I do not change. –Malachi 3:6 (NLT)
8. The Mormon view of salvation is much different than the Christian view of salvation.
Mormon requirements for salvation: 1) Baptism in the Mormon Church, 2) regular church attendance, 3) consistent good works, 4)attaining worthiness, and 5) engaging in temple work.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. –Ephesians 2:8 (NIV)
9. The Mormon view of the afterlife is much different than the Christian view of the afterlife.
Mormons believe that all people end up in one of three kingdoms of glory:
The celestial – For faithful Mormons
The terrestrial – For non-Mormons who live moral lives and for sinful Mormons.
The telestial – For those who are carnal and sinful throughout life
Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn. –Matthew 13:30 (NLT)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Wedding Renewal

It was a typical fairly typical Monday. I went running at 5:30 a.m. I did some administrative stuff I needed to do. I dropped Benjamin off at a science camp. I started working on my sermon for Sunday and made a few calls and visits. Then Amber dropped the boys off at the church office. Benjamin, David, and I ate together at the VBS meal. I dropped the kids off at VBS. I volunteered for a little bit and then went to a staff parish meeting. I skipped out a little early on the meeting to drive out to Quarry Oaks to do a renewal of marriage ceremony for two friends.

AJ, the musician for the night, and I drove out to the golf course together. We arrive at the scenic destination just after 8:00 p.m. The couple, their three children, another family, AJ, and I hopped in the golf carts and drove to the 15th green. Actually we made a pit stop at the 14th tee box and took photos. As the last of the golfers for the day finished the 15th hole, we all took our places.

It was about as scenic as a place as you are going to find. Simple, yet elegant. The Platte River served as the background. The wild prairie grasses and flowers of the Platte River Valley were in stark contrast to the manicured golf course. The rain this year made everything green. Of course the people were the most beautiful. The kids had a temporary playground. The adults were excited about the occasion. The pastor and the worship leader were grateful to serve in a wonderful setting with even more wonderful people.

It was informal. I talked for a little bit. AJ sang the song: “All I Want is You” by U2. The couple held each other as they listened to AJ sing the words, “…but all the promises we made, from the cradle to the grave…” The three girls read from the Bible. The couple couldn’t hold back their tears as they exchanged the vows they wrote for each other. I blessed the rings and they exchanged them with each other, just like they did twenty years ago. AJ sang another song: “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” You fill my life with laughter : And somehow you make it better : Ease my troubles that’s what you do : There’s a love that’s divine : And it’s yours and It’s mine like the sun : And at the end of the day : We should give thanks and pray. The words couldn’t have been more fitting.

After the song I simply placed my hands on their hands and prayed a prayer of blessing. Then the couple kissed and the service concluded.

It was getting dark. As we drove the golf carts back to the club house, I realized that each of us who was present received grace: the unmerited gift of abundant life and love from a benevolent God. It is something he gives to all of us—everyday.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Zipped: God and Gossip

Sorry for the abridged notes this week. You can listen here:

You must not pass along false rumors. –Exodus 23:1

Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow. -Proverbs 25:18

Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. -2 Thessalonians 3:11-12

And if they are on the list, they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t. -1 Timothy 5:13

They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. –Titus 3:2

Who gossips with you will gossip of you. –Norwegian Proverb

No one gossips about other people's secret virtues. –Bertrand Russell

In our appetite for gossip, we tend to gobble down everything before us, only to find, too late, that it is our ideals we have consumed, and we have not been enlarged by the feasts but only diminished. -Pico Iyer

A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends. -Proverbs 16:28

Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander. –Proverbs 17:4

Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops. -Proverbs 26:20
Questions for group study and self-reflection
  1. Who have you hurt by gossiping?
  2. Does gossiping have a self-destructive component? How does gossiping hurt the gossiper?
  3. Is listening to gossip bad? If so, what can you do to stop or limit this behavior?
  4. Why do we tend to gossip about destructive behaviors and not about virtues?


"Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire. -James 3:5-6


Who have you left in your path of destruction?


Therefore if you are offering your gift at the alter and thee remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the alter. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift. -Matthew 5:23-25


Who must you ask for forgiveness?

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Here is tomorrow's column for the church bulletin:

Frederick Buechner writes about Sabbath:

The room is quiet. You’re not feeling tired enough to sleep or energetic enough to go out. For the moment there is nowhere else you’d rather go, no one else you’d rather be. You feel at home in your body. You feel at peace in your mind. For no particular reason, you let the palms of your hands come together and close your eyes. Sometimes it is only when you happen to taste a crumb of it that you dimly realize what it is that you’re so hungry for you can hardly bear it.

Rest is not laziness. It is not unproductive. It is not a waste of time. Sabbath, rest, rejuvenation, reflection, restoration, recreation – it is a necessary part of a fruitful life. No exceptions exist to this rule.

About ten years ago, Amber and I were driving were driving 35 miles from the church I served in Spencer, Iowa to my mom’s house in Laurens, Iowa. I noticed a few miles into the trip that our gas tank was on empty. There were two small towns between Spencer and Laurens. I knew they had gas stations, but I didn’t know if they would be open in the evening. Gas station number one was closed. We never made it to gas station number two. My old 1981 Volvo 240 DL ran out of gas. She coasted off to the shoulder on the near deserted country roads. When a car runs out of gas we call it a crisis. When a person runs out of gas we call it normal.

The next day we try to work harder or smarter or longer or all three. Yet we still run out of gas. That is why God has a different plan. Instead of working harder and longer, He simply says rest: Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don't do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day. –Exodus 20:8-11

Go to the gas station. Get energized. Enjoy life. Spend time doing something you love. Spend time with somebody you love. Spend time doing nothing. Connect with yourself. Connect with others. Connect with God.

I want to share with you a promise of God when we take Sabbath seriously: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly. –Matthew 11:28-30

In Christ,


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Zipped: Criticism Gone Wrong

Here is today's sermon. Listen here.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. -James 1:26

People who constantly criticize others often do not realize the damage they are doing.

Three Root Causes of Destructive Criticism

1. Jealousy

A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones.-Proverbs 14:30

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.
-Romans 12:15

Ask yourself the question: Am I truly happy for the good things others experience?

2. Negativity

What you say flows from what is in your heart. -Luke 6:45

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. -Philippians 4:8

Don’t be a critic; be an encourager.

We sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. -1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

Who are you going to encourage today?

3. Profane Humor

The cut down is the most deceiving of all types of bad criticism.

Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. -Ephesians 5:4

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. -Ephesians 4:29

Jesus’ Teaching on Criticism

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. -Matthew 7:1-5

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. –Theodore Roosevelt

In the face of unjust criticism we can become bitter or better; upset or understanding; hostile or humble; furious or forgiving. –William Arthur Ward
Questions for Small Group Study or Personal Reflection
  1. Why don’t we like to be criticized?
  2. What is the difference between destructive and constructive criticism?
  3. Describe a time in the past when you have been hurt by criticism from others.
  4. Describe a time when you have grown from constructive criticism.
  5. The Bible talks about the virtue of encouragement. In your life do ou find yourself offering more criticism or encouragement?
  6. What will it take for you to become an encourager starting today?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lots of Things

Here is my column for tomorrow:

I usually write my column on Thursday night. For some of you who know me well, that probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise since you know that I work best at the last minute. We print the bulletins on Friday morning. Well, it’s Monday night and I’m writing.

My brother is having his colon removed tomorrow. It is a seven hour surgery that will change his life forever. Hopefully the cancer in his colon is found nowhere else in his body. I’ll be with him and our family in Des Moines much of Wednesday to Friday. Thanks for praying for Scott and his recovery.

Here is what has been on my mind lately:

A few weeks ago I challenged all of us to invite a guest to worship this summer. Begin or keep praying about who this person is (or these people are) and when the time is appropriate, invite them to worship with us. I have been working on a few of my friends and have even made an invitation. A simple invitation can change a life.

Vacation Bible School starts next Sunday, July 12th. My kids are excited about it. I always look forward to volunteering each year. I always seem to work with the pre-school games. If you have kids and haven’t registered yet, I encourage you to do so. Also, volunteering is a great way to have fun, invest in the future, and serve God. I hope to see you this year at Vacation Bible School.

If you are new or fairly new, I would like to welcome you! I have had the opportunity to meet some of you over the last few weeks and look forward to meeting others soon! If I haven’t met you yet, I hope you will come introduce yourselves after worship!

Is it me or did the month of June just fly right by? It seems like it was just yesterday that Benjamin had his last day of school. I hope July doesn’t go by so fast.

A more random thought: I always enjoyed listening to 60s music when I was in college. That is like a college student listening to 80s music today. All the sudden I feel a little bit older.

Independence Day. Many of us think about a long weekend, fireworks, BBQ, and friends / family. I am a fan of all those things. I’m even a bigger fan of freedom. The sacrifice of many provides freedom for all. Take time to remember those who served and those who are serving.

The flag is a symbol of economic and political freedom. What a wonderful symbol it is. I want you to consider the two symbols of spiritual freedom: a cup and a cross. We have, through Jesus Christ, forgiveness from the past, power in the present, and hope in the future. Another word for spiritual freedom is grace.

In Christ,