Friday, April 30, 2010


My phone rang at 10:59 on Wednesday morning. It was a voice I heard many times before—one of the directors of a local funeral home. A few minutes later I was calling a woman much younger than myself setting up a time to meet with her. What happened to her just doesn’t seem fair. Probably because it isn’t. Friday morning she would have to say goodbye to her three year old son.

I met her a few hours later. She told me about her son. How he liked playing with his older brother. My two children are the same age as her kids. I pictured David trying to keep up with Benjamin.

I usually take work home with me at night. I didn’t Wednesday. I went home, played with the boys, gave them a bath, and got them ready for bed. That seemed a little more important than going through email, writing a column, or returning a few phone calls.

Friday morning, in a chapel packed full of people, I said this:

For those of you who were blessed to know Dayton, your world will never be quite the same again.
  • You touched his soft little cheeks.
  • You looked into his beautiful blue eyes.
  • You saw him playing fearlessly. Trying to keep up with the older kids.
  • You saw his excitement when he saw horses and tractors.
  • You saw the preciousness of human life.
We won’t take life for granted anymore, will we? We will cherish the moments that we have with each other.

I concluded the message with this:

I don’t say what I am about to say as a pastor. I say what I am about to say as a parent of a three year old: saying goodbye to a three year old is about as tough of a thing that anybody could ever go through. Yet you know and I know this truth of life: it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Cherish the relationships that God has blessed you with on this day.

During the funeral, AJ sang a song about grace. It’s a song we have all heard before:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
We have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

I pray for us all to cling to God’s grace and to cling to each other—which is grace as well. In the end it’s all we really have. Which as just as well since it’s all we really need.

In Christ,


Thursday, April 29, 2010

May Bible Reading Plan

May's Bible reading plan will focus on the Book of Genesis and Micah. The next 30 days will allow us to investigate God's Word and put into practice some biblical principles in major areas of our lives. I encourage you to use the SOAP method of reading the Bible found at the bottom of this post.

May 1 Genesis 27 (May 9th Sermon)
May 2 Genesis 28
May 3 Genesis 29
May 4 Genesis 30
May 5 Genesis 31
May 6 Genesis 32 (May 29th Sermon)
May 7 Genesis 33
May 8 Genesis 34
May 9 Genesis 35
May 10 Genesis 36
May 11 Genesis 37
May 12 Genesis 38
May 13 Genesis 39
May 14 Genesis 40
May 15 Genesis 41
May 16 Genesis 42
May 17 Genesis 43
May 18 Genesis 44
May 19 Genesis 45 (May 16th Sermon)
May 20 Genesis 46
May 21 Genesis 47
May 22 Genesis 48
May 23 Genesis 49
May 24 Genesis 50
May 25 Micah 1
May 26 Micah 2
May 27 Micah 3
May 28 Micah 4
May 29 Micah 5
May 30 Micah 6
May 31 Micah 7

Complete the "S" by reading the scripture. Don't just skim through it, but really think about what it means. Imagine what the people involved were experiencing. Write down a verse or two that really stood out to you in your journal.

Complete the "O" by writing down observations about the scripture you just read. You may want to write your own summary of the passage, but more importantly, think about what God has to say to you through this part of his word.

Complete the "A" by writing down how this Bible passage applies to you right now, in your daily life. For example, in the parable about the prodigal son, which character do you identify with most: the loving and merciful father, the son who squanders his life and then repents or the resentful older brother? Do you see similar situations in your life right now? How can you respond in the way Jesus taught?

Complete the "P" by writing down a prayer. This is a personal message from you to God, so don't worry about getting the perfect words down. Just make it honest and heartfelt. Remember that God always listens, and already knows your needs. He just wants to hear from you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hope and Vision

Last week I defined hope as the expectation that tomorrow will be better than today. I talked about hope in the context for us as individuals. If you missed last Sunday and are needing some hope, I encourage you to pick up a CD. I also want to encourage you to give a CD to a person you may know who may be needing some hope.

I also have hope for The Water’s Edge. I believe that tomorrow will be better than today. And today is excellent! With the addition of three staff members in the past few months, we are going to be able to do things we just haven’t been able to do in the past. Starting a new worship experience at 9:00 in the fall, we will be able to reach more people than we have reached before. My hope is that people will grow deeper in their relationship with God and that our relationships with each other will grow deeper as well: new friendships will be started and existing friendships will be strengthened. My hope is that people can bring our hurts and experience healing. I hope that we will serve more hurting people. I hope our kids will grow as followers of Jesus.

I believe that the church provides a place for people to experience joy and fulfillment in life while simultaneously serving God and the world. Here is where I see all of us fitting in:

Prayer.In the next few weeks we will begin offering prayer for people after worship. I am excited about this next step for us. Pray for The Water’s Edge as we serve and love our city. Pray for a spiritual breakthrough in your life. We simply can’t do God’s work without God.

Invite a guest to worship. Our worship attendance keeps growing and it is largely because people have been invited. The single best way to share our faith is to invite people to a worship experience. With a simple invitation you can change somebody’s life!

Join a small group. This fall we will be starting new small groups and reorganizing existing groups. If you want to join one sooner, email us to let us know you are interested ( I am so excited about our small group emphasis this fall. If you feel led to help start a new group—let Jill know.

Serve. It is my hope that everybody serves on a ministry team. We most look like Jesus when we serve. Serving is a great way for us to meet people and helps us to be part of a ministry that is changing people’s lives. With the 9:00 worship experience launching this fall, many new opportunities to serve exist. Contact Jill if you are not serving and she will get you started.

Share the joy! If you are currently in a small group or on a serving team—invite others to join you. God is blessing you and invites you to share the joy with others!

I’m excited and hopeful about our future together.

The best is yet to come...Craig


Friday, April 16, 2010

Environmental Club

Here is Benjamin's speech to his student body this afternoon. He wrote it last night.

My name is Benjamin Finnestad from Environmental Club. Today I am going to talk about some small steps to reduce the consumption of water, minimize air pollution, and use less electricity. Turning off faucets when you are not using them saves water. Taking shorter baths and showers is another way to conserve water. Car pooling or walking to school reduces air pollution. Planting trees and flowers helps the air stay clean. Watching less television and turning off the lights when you are not using them saves electricity. Using your heater and air conditioner less also saves electricity. These are some examples of small steps you can take to protect the environment. You can take these and other small steps. Thank you.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My April 15th Rant

I’m not against paying taxes. Sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes, etc…. They pay for schools, roads, police protection, national defense, etc… Government is necessary and taxes fund government.

My rant is this: The problem with our (assuming you live in the United States) government is its inability to put long-term objectives over short-term needs.
Exhibit A is the federal deficit / federal debt.

The current federal debt is approaching 100% of the Gross Domestic Product. Only one other time in the history of the country, World War 2, has the federal debt been this high. The debt to GDP ratio represents the ability of the people to pay back the government’s debt. The current national debt is around $15 trillion. As of today each American owes about $50,000. Considering about half of all Americans pay federal income taxes, each tax payer owes about $100,000. The government has been living beyond its means for years and our children and their children will have to pay for it. The economic and political issue has now become an ethical issue. The short-term benefit has been given preference over the long-term good.

With deficits hitting an all-time high ($1.42 trillion for 2009), a higher and higher percentage of government spending will be required to service the national debt. This does not even consider consumer debt which is also at historically high levels. Decades from now we will be paying for today’s consumption. Future generations deserve much better. (By the way, I want to comment on the $1.42 trillion deficit. That number is mind boggling. Each tax payer assumed an additional ten grand of debt last year.)

Consider health care. Any college freshman who has taken Economics 101 (or Economics 102 depending on whether they teach micro or macro economics first) knows that supply and demand determines cost. Assuming the supply of health care remains the same and the demand increases (baby boomers are getting older and Americans are becoming less healthy) then prices will increase. Thus, health care inflation will outpace normal inflation. In 1960 healthcare expenses were 5.1% of the GDP. In 1985 the number was 10.1%. In 2003 the number was 15.3%. The projected number in 2013 is 18.5%. Despite thousands of pages, passionate debates, and relentless media coverage—until the laws of economics change—health care will not be reformed until the supply and demand changes.

And then there is social security. The check I sent off today was to mostly pay social security. Both Amber and I are self-employed, so we get to pay the full fifteen point whatever percent. The Social Security system lost 28 billion dollars last year which means it paid more in benefits than it collected in taxes. The deficit wasn’t supposed to happen until 2018 when deficits will become the norm and one of three things will have to happen: benefits will be reduced, Social Security taxes will have to increase, or general taxes will increase and the deficit will have to be paid out of the federal budget. Read: deficits in the Social Security are not sustainable.

Practices and principles of the government must change and must change quickly in order to give our kids the same opportunities that our parents had. A balanced budget is absolutely essential for the long-term economic and political health of our country. It won’t be easy. But ethically and economically—it is the right solution.

A few hundred years ago, Patrick Henry said: “I know not what course others may take but as for me; give me liberty or give me death!” Tightening up our belts and living with fiscal responsibility doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice compared to those who have gone before us. It is also essential for true liberty in the future.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I’m finished. The dissertation is done. When I walked out of the conference room of the bottom floor of Asbury Seminary’s Beeson Center last Friday afternoon, I felt like I had finished a marathon. Actually, I felt much better and more fulfilled.

  • The committee saying yes was similar to me crossing a finish line.
  • I will get a diploma instead of a shiny medal.
  • My title is doctor instead of finisher.
  • It took five years and not three hours.
  • And I could even walk without pain the next day.

Many of you have asked about my paper. The official title is quite lengthy: The Use of Humor in Preaching and Its Relationship with Ethos, Relational Solidarity, and Affective Learning. In the early chapters I looked at the history, psychology, and philosophy of humor; I investigated the use of humor in the Bible; I developed a theology of humor; and I examined humor as studied in homiletics and communication theory. I discussed my research project in later chapters. In this research, I gathered information from hundreds of participants from five churches who filled out a ninety question survey about their pastor. With the help of a friend who is an actuary and an economist, I quantitatively measured correlations and regressions between the humor of the preacher, the relationship between the preacher and the listeners, the ethos of the preacher, and the affective learning of the congregations. In the final chapter, I made recommendations to preachers based on my written and numerical research. Although the paper is over 150 pages, I drew a pretty simple conclusion:

The review of literature discusses how the effective use of sacred humor can be used to build ethos, relational solidarity, and affective learning. The research project demonstrated what the review of literature suggests: Humor is potentially a very effective way to build a comfortable and unrestrained relationship of mutual confidence between preachers and congregations. The effective use of sacred humor also enables preachers to build ethos with their congregations and move the congregations to deeper levels of affective learning. Although the perceived humor orientation of the preachers and relational solidarity between the preachers and the listeners were important, the perceived ethos of the preachers demonstrated to be the highest predictor of affective learning. No substitute exists for the character, competence, caring, and compassion of the speaker.

I want to thank you as a congregation. You have been so supportive of me (and patient with me) as I worked on this project. I literally worked hundreds of hours on researching, compiling, writing, revising, and editing the paper. This has meant, at times, I have not been able to be the pastor I hope to be someday. Thanks for your understanding and encouragement. I am looking very forward to the next season of my life where I can give more attention to my family and to God’s Church.

Amber, Benjamin, David, and I will be driving to Kentucky next month where I graduate on May 22nd from the Asbury Theological Seminary with a doctorate in Church Leadership and Biblical Preaching. Your prayers and understanding have made this dream a reality for me. Thanks so much!

The best is yet to come…


Thursday, April 8, 2010


Here is my column for Sunday. I'll be leading a worship service on Sunday evening to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the merger of the two churches that created Faith-Westwood United Methodist Church, which The Water's Edge was created from.

The number 40 means something special in the Bible.
  • God made it rain for 40 days and 40 nights to cleanse the world. (Genesis 7:12) It is a story about hope.
  • On a mountain during 40 days and 40 nights of fasting and prayer, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:28) It is a story of God’s love.
  • For 40 years, one year for each day they explored the Promised Land, the people of Israel were stuck in the Wilderness. (Numbers 14:33-34) It is a story about overcoming.
  • Elijah strengthened by one angelic meal went forty days to Mount Horeb where the Lord passed by and he heard the voice of God. (1 Kings 19:8) It is a story about God’s provision.
  • Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:1-2) It is a story about perseverance.
  • Jesus was seen in the earth 40 days after His crucifixion. (Acts 1:3) It is a story about grace.
Forty is an important number this year at Faith-Westwood as well.

Forty years ago, this week, Westwood Heights Evangelical United Brethren Church and Faith Methodist Church merged to form one church—Faith-Westwood United Methodist Church. Great things have happened in those 40 years. People have received hope. People have received God’s love. People have overcome challenges. People have been provided for. People have persevered. People have received grace.

Noah built the ark. It took courage. People had to be laughing at the old man as he built the big ship. But he saved the world. Likewise, it took courage to build buildings, to send kids on mission trips, to give money when there wasn’t much money to give, to give time when there wasn’t much time to give. But people in Omaha and beyond have experienced salvation because of the people of Faith-Westwood.

Philip William Otterbein, the founder of the EUB Church, and John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, both have something in common—they had a vision to take the church to the people. A vision to build strong faith communities, to plant new churches, to help the oppressed and the marginalized. In Pennsylvania and Maryland and in London and throughout England, both these men gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel.

To the visionaries who dreamed new dreams to reach new people. To the people who have been the church over the last 40 years and have laid the foundation for the next 40 years—thank you for your example of what it means to be the body of Christ! You have inspired me and many others.

In the Bible, after every time period of forty day or forty years, God does something great. I know the same will be true of us.

The best is yet to come…


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Favorite Quote and a Favorite Picture

This is from Father's Day a few years ago. The boys have changed so much.
We have been playing soccer a lot in our backyard this spring and the lawn is starting to show some wear and tear.
"We're not raising grass. We're raising boys." Harmon Killebrew

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cain and Abel

Here is the text for this Sunday from The Message. It is from Genesis 4:1-16.

Adam slept with Eve his wife. She conceived and had Cain. She said, "I've gotten a man, with God's help!"

Then she had another baby, Abel. Abel was a herdsman and Cain a farmer.

Time passed. Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn't get his approval. Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk.

God spoke to Cain: "Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won't you be accepted? And if you don't do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it's out to get you, you've got to master it."

Cain had words with his brother. They were out in the field; Cain came at Abel his brother and killed him.

God said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?"

He said, "How should I know? Am I his babysitter?"

God said, "What have you done! The voice of your brother's blood is calling to me from the ground. From now on you'll get nothing but curses from this ground; you'll be driven from this ground that has opened its arms to receive the blood of your murdered brother. You'll farm this ground, but it will no longer give you its best. You'll be a homeless wanderer on Earth."

Cain said to God, "My punishment is too much. I can't take it! You've thrown me off the land and I can never again face you. I'm a homeless wanderer on Earth and whoever finds me will kill me."

God told him, "No. Anyone who kills Cain will pay for it seven times over." God put a mark on Cain to protect him so that no one who met him would kill him.

Cain left the presence of God and lived in No-Man's-Land, east of Eden.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rolling Stones: Easter Message

Here is my message from this morning. Listen here.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. -Matthew 28:2

God has been in the business of rolling stones from people’s lives since God created the world and God will keep rolling stones as long as people exist.

  • What are the stones that are preventing you from being raised to new levels of life?
  • What are the stones that keeping you a prisoner; preventing you from experiencing freedom?

Confidence - Start Me Up

Fear keeps us in the tomb.

The most common command in the Bible is "Do not fear."

See Isaiah 43

Contentment – I Can’t Get No Satisfaction or You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you don’t have.

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. -Philippians 4:11

Clemency – Beast of Burden

Unforgiveness is a stone that will keep us in our tomb.

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. –Ephesians 4:32

The forgiven person becomes the forgiving person.

Character – Emotional Rescue

Who are we when nobody is looking?

Do we ever find ourselves asking: What if he / she finds out? If so, we our limiting how God can use us in the future by a lack a character.

Community with God – Waiting on a Friend

Our friendship with God is the one friendship that will never end.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What is Different about Tomorrow?

Here is Sunday morning's column...

Easter is the day death died. So what is different about tomorrow?

Our kids, some who will still be on a high from too many Easter eggs, will return to school. Most of us will go to work at the same job we did last Monday. A few of us might want to investigate about the possibility of getting our taxes done. We will be busy. The weather will be about the same, hopefully a little warmer and a little less windy. We will live in the same houses. The stock market will have good days and not-so-good days.

So what will be different? Well, for some the answer is absolutely nothing. For others, something will be different.

Death is natural. Loss is natural. Grief is natural. Pain is natural. But Jesus came to the world to trade places with us. Our sin became his sin. His life becomes our life. We have trouble with our life. Jesus is the carpenter who can construct us into the wonderful image of God that we are created to be.

When the stones were rolled away from the tomb, something really unnatural happened. On that day, the dead came to life. God planted a seed of life in us that cannot be killed and if we are blessed enough to have figured this out, there is not a whole lot that we can’t do: move the mountains in front of us, banish fear, love our enemies, forgive somebody who has hurt us, hope for a better tomorrow, get a good night’s sleep, laugh, experience joy, serve the hurting, grow closer to the One who wants nothing more than for you to grow closer to Him.

I believe that living has very little to do with a heart that beats and lungs that breath. The Greeks call the beating heart and breathing lungs bios. I believe that living has to do with relating, serving, caring, sharing, daring, dreaming, and loving. The Greeks have a word for this kind of life: zoe. Bios appears in the New Testament 5 times. Zoe appears in the New Testament 133 times. As God’s creation we are granted bios at our birth. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we are given zoe.

So take God up on giving you another chance. Know that today, because our God lives, can be the first day of the rest of your life. My prayer for all of us tomorrow is more zoe. I pray we live as we have never lived before. I pray for us lives full of faith, hope, and love.

The best is yet to come…


Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Comedy of the Resurrection

From my paper...

The Gospels are serious, but seriousness does not exclude the expression of joy or the use of humor. A better understanding of life, self, and God can be attained when a person is able to recognize humor in the Bible. Trueblood notes that new possibilities in understanding and applying the teachings of Jesus exist when the reader can understand that Jesus was not always serious (96). Jesus looked at his disciples and the multitudes, a group of people who needed grace, and said, “God blesses you who weep now, for in due time you will laugh.” (Luke 6:21, NLT).

Jesus knew that the end is not weeping; the end is laughter. Frederick Buechner writes of the humor of Jesus, “Nobody claims there’s a chuckle on every page, but laughter’s what the whole Bible is really about” (Peculiar Treasures 173)

History’s great comedy is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the early Greek Orthodox Church, the day after Easter, the people gathered to tell jokes and funny stories. The jokes and stories were told to celebrate the practical joke that God played on Satan. Satan thought that he had conquered the world, but on the third day the tomb was empty and Christ had risen (Demaray, Laughter, Joy, and Healing 35; Hyers, And God Created Laughter 25). The comedy of the Bible, specifically the story of Jesus Christ, is found in the fact that liberation and laughter come through God’s victory in Jesus Christ (Oden 405-06).