Sunday, 9 December 2007

Advent or Ad Vent?

As the Christmas season kicked off, I had to wonder. Once again on Thanksgiving weekend we could watch as the ad agencies unleashed a barrage of ads. Millions are being spent this season trying to convince us we cannot have a merry Christmas without more things. They tap into our fear of rejection and perhaps feeling left behind if we don't have HD, luxury, expensive rocks, and other possessions "everybody" else has, or at least desires.

For me, I have found some definite advantages to being closer to the poor category. Over 90% of the items advertised have zero temptation for me. I will be happy to just have warm water out of the faucet and perhaps a furnace in the winter.

But I certainly understand the temptations. I, too, have purchased things I rarely use. I have purchased things I probably couldn't afford.

And I am all for giving and receiving gifts. There is joy in both.

But what about Advent? I don't follow the church calendar much. But nearly everyone has some anticipation leading up to Christmas, Christian or not.

Kevin Korver from Third Church, my Iowa pastor, made a suggestion this past week. Select a hobby or something you will be doing this season. Perhaps hunting or shopping or baking or sports watching will be appropriate for you. The challenge is to invest as many hours preparing your heart for Christmas as you spend on that other activity. Can you do it? Are you willing to try? Am I willing to try?

Let every heart prepare him room...

Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Seek the great desire of Nations...

As with gladness men of old....So, most gracious Lord, may we evermore be led to thee

What Child is This? ...Let loving hearts enthrone him

Let me know how it goes.

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Freedom in Confession

It has been interesting reading the blog of a sister these past months. Writing things out is therapeutic in some ways. And, perhaps more importantly, there is a sense of healing and freedom in being honest about our true thoughts and feelings.

The healing power of confession has mostly been a Roman Catholic ritual. With Jesus as our High Priest, it doesn't require a human go-between to bring forgiveness. But still, I think it has been good for millions of people to confess to a person.

In church this Sunday, the PostSecret books were mentioned, along with a few samples. I had never heard of the book. So it was news for me. People have sent in anonymous postcards revealing secrets in their lives. They are honest. And getting some of those secrets out may prevent a suicide or two.

The books and web site are definitely not from a Christian perspective. But they reveal the huge need and, to some extent, real life of many. Without the intervention of God, we are a sinful lot with some wicked secrets. And yes, the Christians have secrets too.

One movie I have enjoyed over the years is Secrets and Lies. It is rated 94% (extremely high) at Rotten Tomatoes And I believe it was nominated for at least one Academy Award. The story is about a family secret that has gone on for years. Check it out some time. The movie could be a good introduction to a discussion.

As a webmaster and writer, I have seen some of the "other side" of the Web. Site visitors have come from Google searches with phrases like "never good enough", "unmet emotional needs", "emotional affair pastor", "Christian and depression", "relationship apathy", "how to stop an affair", "unfulfilling marriage", "my husband does not respect me", "unappreciated spouse", "what I do is never good enough", and many, many, more. It is all anonymous. And most likely, some of these people searching for answers and hope have never shared their situation with another person, including their spouse. I am thankful my writing has offered some hope for many. But I admit going through the search terms can be very heavy as I see the great need.

Is it time for us to confess to someone? Will we be good and trustworthy listeners?

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Playing the Cards You Are Dealt

One of the joys of our family Thanksgiving celebration is playing table games together. This year we played an old favorite, Sequence, and a new card game 3-13.

I only play card games a few times per year these days. As kids, we played quite often. One common theme in nearly all card and dice games is that success is a combination of skill and random chance, or some might call it "luck".

Because of the random factor, long-term enjoyment of these games may require not taking too much credit or blame for your success in any particular game. Even the most experienced players have turns when their options and chances for victory are extremely limited. And the beginners sometimes get a good hand or roll of the dice that makes victory quite easy.

Life can be that way too. And perhaps that is why these games are popular. Parts of our lives reflect our skill and choices. Other things are beyond our control, but not beyond God's control. Whatever hand we are dealt, we need to adapt and try to make the best of it.

Life may not seem fair at times. Some of the success stories, depending on how you define "success", are due to skill and wise choices. Sometimes they were dealt an easy hand with life experiences and relationships that were conducive to doing well. On the other side, not every person lacking in some way got into that situation entirely by bad choices. We have to be careful in our judgments of people, both positive and negative. Even in the most foolish of choices, most people choose what seems best at the time.

Most of us are dealt a mixed bag of circumstances and life situations. For me, some parts of my life have been a struggle. But I have had an easy "hand" in the areas of health and intelligence and some great spiritual teachers over the years. I severely lack in areas where others excel and have it easy - and perhaps vice versa. We have a great variety of personalities and sets of circumstances. We each have a unique story.

Whatever hand you are dealt, I hope you can choose to make the best of it. We cannot change the past. But we can make choices today and in the future. Give thanks for those parts of your life that have been relatively easy. And don't forget to thank God and any individuals that helped you along the way.

For any immediate family reading this, I am thankful for you and that a large family has consistently gotten along pretty well all these years. In that area, we got an easy "hand".

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Thanksgiving Exercise - Flash Movie

A few years ago I created a little interactive Flash movie related to Thanksgiving. For me it is good to periodically spend a little introspective time. This exercise looks at our attitude of gratitude, or sometimes a lack of it, in various areas of our life.

It is not a test. You may find it helpful. Printing or sharing the results is entirely optional. But it could be used to help others pray for you. Use the Print link on the Flash movie rather than your browser's printing for best results.

I have the thankfulness movie on a few different sites. Here is one:

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Celebrate Spamersity

This year I got to experience some truly unique Minnesotan things at the State Fair. The Sausage Sisters (keep it clean) were back with a Norwegian type of sausage that included lefse, if I remember right. I did like their Puff Daddy and Thai One On from previous years more though.

I was entertained by the Spamettes singing several songs about Spam. The Spam Curds were pretty good too.

People love to make fun of Spam - as millions of cans are sold each year. Many people doing the teasing haven't even tasted this variation of ham.

Besides the humor and musical talent, one of the things I enjoyed about hearing the Spamettes was that they sang with joy and pride - even as the product is perennially misunderstood and ridiculed.

So it's just a can of ham... But what about us? Many of us have been misunderstood, teased, and ridiculed. It can really hurt. Our life experiences have a big influence in how we can handle these situations. Do the opinions of others accurately describe, and perhaps determine, our identity? From where or from whom does our identity come?

What is our view of ourselves? Often it is very similar to the way we think God views us. How do you think God views you?

He is firm and righteous, yes, but also patient and merciful. He loves us with a passion and wants what is best for us, which may include saying "No" or "Not yet". And most of all he wants a loving, intimate relationship with him where we are partners with him in his mission.

Once we are in a right relationship with God, the Holy Spirit helps us not only have a right view of God, but also a right view of ourselves - who we are and who we can be. The words of others still matter a little bit. And they can still hurt some. But there is both power and peace when we can ignore the opinions of others and focus on how God sees us. That is whose opinion matters.

Be who you are. Nobody else can do it better. Whether you feel you are somewhat average or feel very special, be assured you were created for a special role in God's plans that only you can fill. If you are a rather unique creation coming out of Southern Minnesota or some other place, celebrate your uniqueness. Celebrate diversity. Celebrate Spamersity!

Even Me - GNFI Meeting

I attended a great teaching Saturday night sponsored by Good News for Israel. The man gave new insight into the role of the lamb, passover, the priests, and much more. Much Jewish symbolism is used in the Bible to describe Jesus. Good News for Israel is one organization helping Christians understand their Jewish roots. It adds depth to the meaning of many things in the Bible.

I enjoyed the official presentation. Enjoyed may not be the right word. It was enjoyable, but also very meaningful. Perhaps the strongest statements came after the presentation. The presenter told a bit of his personal story. After a background of drugs and prison and other things, God was now using him in mighty and unique ways to impact thousands.

There are some pastors and ministry leaders that are quite proudful. But the vast majority I know are quite humble. They are thankful for the accomplishments. But they are very aware of their own struggles and shortcomings.

These ministry leaders join me in feeling humbled and sometimes a bit overwhelmed by the thought that God is using "even me".

A couple of posts ago I mentioned God's desire to work through those who are available to serve his purposes. God can use you to impact eternity. After all, despite all my failures and shortcomings, God is using even me.

Dragon Boats in Saint Paul

For the past several years as I looked through Minnesota events, the dragon boat races in Grand Marais looked intriguing. I haven't been able to get up there yet though.

Dragon boat racing is popular and very competitive in some parts of the world. It may even be a demonstration sport at the Olympics in China. Here in the States, it is growing quickly in popularity. Quite often the races are linked with a charity fundraiser.

The boats are essentially long canoes holding 21 people with most paddlers sitting two-wide. In many cases the teams are corporate teams contributing and advertising at the same time.

Dragon Boat race in Saint Paul

This year I found out about a race nearby in Saint Paul. Along with the races, there were Asian music groups and miscellaneous entertainment with an ethnic twist.

The essence of dragon boat racing is learning to work together well as a team. A super stud with power and speed could try to compete on his own. But, like many other things in the world, it really does require a team to accomplish the mission, crossing the finish line quickly, in this case.

Perhaps you have seen a need or a potential worthy mission. It may look overwhelming, just as handling one of these long boats alone could be quite frustrating. But perhaps if you got a team of like-minded people to help, you actually could complete this mission and make a difference in the world. There may be others just waiting for an opportunity to help with skills or other resources.

We are not limited to what we can do alone. Join others or invite others to join you. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you can accomplish.

Dare to dream. Take steps forward. Watch with anticipation to see what is possible.

Summer and Fall 2007- Real Life

Numerous studies have shown that people these days, and especially young people, are looking for people to be "real". They are sick of the slick corporate-speak filtered through PR departments. The Clue Train Manifesto way back in 1999 made this clear.

The slick sermon rarely connects with people in the pew. And for me, I like the movies that connect with my emotions, and perhaps my brain as well. I don't need another superficial message with little relevance to my real life journey.

One of the beauties and one of the very risky hazards of blogs is that people tend to write with minimal editing. Pretty or not, personal blogs are usually real and genuine. And at least some people appreciate that. But, as a writer, it isn't always clear what I should share. Some people genuinely want to really know how my life has been the past months.

Here is a taste of real life:

God continues to bless me. Beyond circumstances, the greatest miracles are often ones of perspective and attitude. Only God can help some of those. In the midst of some "interesting" circumstances, I still overall have peace, joy, and hope for the future. I feel loved by God and there are still a few individuals showing care. And, to the best of my knowledge, God has kept me healthy through the years I could not afford any health insurance.

I am thankful for some steady work with a construction manufacturer that is adapting well to the housing market. Even though I have yet to discover a Christian there, I have some good people on my team and throughout our office. I have had a just-right mixture of challenges and successes. The commute is long and the pay isn't what I had hoped for, but I feel blessed.

In many things in life, as you go on to something new, you are leaving other things behind. In some ways, the past months have been a time of mourning dealing with business disappointments and watching some business and ministry hopes getting reshuffled.

I found out about getting this long-term work the day before the foreclosure sheriff's sale. It was too late then. Like many others, I will be kicked out of my house in the coming weeks. Due to some other circumstances I may write about later, my take-home pay has not been enough to build up a good rent deposit. We have been watching The Pursuit of Happyness during lunch at work the last couple days. I can relate to many of the struggles of the characters with divorce and homelessness. It is a chilly time of year here in Minnesota. But camping or sleeping in my car are real possibilities for a period of time in December. You just adapt and move forward.

Even though I was making very good progress on catching up with the gas bill, gas was cut off. So we have not had a furnace or hot water for a couple months, so far. I do have a couple of small space heaters though. There is a major water leak also that I could not afford to fix. So even cold water is only turned on for a half-hour or so each morning. That has been true since May. Like millions of other people in the world, we can survive heating up water on the stove. And to have any running water in the house is a luxury many people only dream of.

I haven't been able to afford garbage or recycleables collection since February. It isn't quite as bad as it might sound. If you rinse food containers well, smell is minimized. If you can't afford to buy much, there is less garbage too. I buy gas and groceries and not much else. Adapt and move on.

And, oh yeah, with the water leaks in the basement, I also get to breathe in a fair amount of mold. Somehow God has kept us reasonably healthy through it all. Did I mention the big hole in the roof chewed by squirrels? And the garage door opener quit this summer too. I am thankful I have a garage. Are we having fun yet?

In a previous post I mentioned my computer having some time-consuming issues that kept progress on any projects to a minimum for many weeks. A month or so ago my 1995 vintage computer mostly died. It will not start up. It is the only computer compatible with my old scanner. So, until I can afford to buy a scanner, I need that computer for both client projects and personal needs.

The long commute and trying circumstances have left me just feeling tired many nights. It has been a challenge to enthusiastically spend more time with the computer in the evenings and weekends. But, right or wrong, I have mostly felt okay with some relaxing time too.

Paying bills has been hard enough this Fall. But I also had $600 in fraudulent charges against my checking account with someone paying their T-Mobile bill with my checking account number. I eventually got the money back. I am hoping a stranger was the guilty party. Because of the fraud, I had to open a new account and shuffle direct-deposit and other things that delayed receiving paychecks by several days.

Even though I had suspected it, I found out for sure in the past week that over $50,000 I had paid in surplus child support that could have gone for my son's college fund was instead spent by his mother on temporary pleasures. I am not saying anything negative about her here. She is proud of how she spent the money. I wasn't totally surprised. But still, it was disappointing.

Through this fun adventure, ideally a person would have a group of supportive people around them. I have been part of a small group through church that met weekly for seven years. The group that could have been supportive, instead kicked me out of the group a couple of months ago. The only reason given was that one person did not like something I said years ago. That is the only explanation I got. A couple of phrases come to mind: "And they will know they are Christians by the love they have for one another." And the old Don Henley lyrics seem appropriate too. "Kick 'em when they're up. Kick 'em when they're down." I will need to write about that episode some time in the future. Some of it reflects the culture of the church. If I do write about it, my intent is not to bash anyone, but to help other churches avoid the same thing.

I have been attending another church in Saint Paul. I certainly miss some of the people and things from the church I attended for nearly seven years. But at this new church the pastor was humble and they have a genuine heart for the nations (in the pulpit, not just people in the pews). Just to keep things interesting, the great senior pastor at this new church recently retired and other staff are resigning to make way for a new pastor and staff yet to be determined. So the church is in transition as well.

With the small group and church changes, many of my relationships have changed drastically with a few new ones beginning. Through the Internet, I am still able to get good teaching and encouragement to persevere in ministry. Sure, it's strangers. But I'll take what I can get.

And there are additional challenges I could write about too. But this is a start.

I am not getting bored. And the struggles with attitudes and perspectives are very trying at times. I don't always choose wisely. But God is patient and merciful with me.

I feel God still has some great plans for me. And I have some specific web applications waiting to be created by me this coming year. Until God is finished with his plans for me, I will survive one way or another. Keep looking forward...

Overflow and Stewardship - I Must Create!

"I must create!"

That is the phrase an acquaintance of mine used to describe herself. And I totally understand. For me, it is not just a want or preference. I can tell when I have gone too long without creative outlet in words and other media. I must create, or at least write, periodically.

We have each been given physical capabilities, both at birth and learned over time. We have unique personalities. We have skill tendencies we seem to have from birth, enhanced through experience. Some are natural leaders. Others are great followers. We need both! Athletic and mechanical talent are easy for some. Others are great at giving care and showing compassion. Some are great communicators. Some love to help. And I could go on. God intentionally created a variety of people.

On top of those natural and God-given abilities, we have a variety of spiritual gifts available for committed Christians. They often correlate with "natural" abilities. But they expand capabilities - sometimes in dramatic ways.

We each have 24 hours per day. And we each have some measure of purchasing and investment capabilities. And the big question is "What are we doing with what we have been given?" There will be a test at the end. Are we spending time, talent, and money primarily on ourselves? Are we making the world a better place? Are we impacting lives? For the Christians, will there be more people, and ethnic people groups, in heaven in part because of how we use what God has given us? What will be our legacy? Are we investing in things that will last - for eternity?

The phrase "Use it or lose it." comes to mind. It is true of our physical body and our minds. But it also true with things like spiritual gifts. There are many people with ability. But God tends to work through those people with availability. Those are a rarer find.

As God gives, the intention most often is to use us as a channel to accomplish his purposes. Like Abraham, we are blessed to be a blessing. And the risk is that if there is no flow out from us, some of that flow to us will also stop, just like the Dead Sea that has no outlet.

I realize not everyone will appreciate or understand all I write, especially those not yet believers. But I must start writing again... I need to let things flow.

Blogger MIA - 2007

The acronym MIA is probably dating me. But as a blogger I have been missing in action.

Even though I have very few readers at this time, I recognize that writing on the web is very public. So there are some unique concerns.

The primary reason I stopped writing was that I have had plenty of things on my To Do list, including requests from others, mostly unpaid. I am not sure if they will appreciate it if I spend some moments writing when I could be working on things for them.

Whether or not that concern is legitimate, I don't know. And I admit there could be a bit of fear or pride mixed in there too. But healthy or not, it was a concern of mine.

Secondly, my computer was unavailable for most of July and August due to maintenance and repair issues.

So that's my story. And I might stick to it. :-)

The next article will talk more about the need to write again.

And then there is the troubling question of how to handle some writing topics that are big in my life. I haven't been one to shy away from controversy if it might help some people. Stay tuned...

Monday, 27 August 2007

Stunt Kites

I haven't done much kite flying lately. I have only flown kites a few times in the past five years or so. Much of that is because my "good" kite needs repairs. And buying kite parts seems a bit frivolous when other bills need to be paid.

But I brought out my only "working" kite at a family get-together Sunday. It was fun for me. Even though I ripped one kite on the barn roof top, I had a good time. Even though good kites can cost a few dollars, once purchased, they require no gas or electricity. All you need is a fairly steady wind.

It was especially fun to see my nephews have fun with it. When the wind gusts pick up, it can give a person a pretty good workout. And it is just plain fun.

There are probably a few different symbolisms. But I tend to associate the wind with the Holy Spirit. It can be extremely powerful (think tornado or hurricane). But, still, wind is invisible. You may not see the Holy Spirit. But you might be able to see where it has been at work changing lives and circumstances.

One of the key things about kite flying is being aware of where the wind is blowing. First of all, is the wind blowing today? If so, what direction? And how steadily is it blowing? Once the kite is up in the air, the key is to work with the wind.

Most of us Christians have lots to learn in listening and discernment. But the most effective ministry is when the wind is blowing, when the Holy Spirit is moving. When the Spirit is moving, there are all kinds of possibilities. And power is available for internal and external miracles.

When I talk about internal miracles, I don't just mean physical healing. Although that certainly happens. And I have felt it go through me to others.

Sometimes, changing circumstances is the easy part. Even demons (fallen angels) can do some of that. Angels are powerful. But the bigger miracles are often the changed hearts. Being able to forgive or let go of bitterness, disappointment, resentment, etc. or simply have hope are often much bigger "miracles" in the grand scheme of things. The invisible force of the Holy Spirit, like the wind, can be very powerful.

Can you identify where the Spirit is moving in your community? Will you join in? If God is patiently working on internal miracles in your life, are you open to that?

When the wind of the Holy Spirit blows, will we fight it? Or will we join in and work with it?

Big Bog 2

Over the weekend, I briefly talked about Big Bog State Park with an unnamed friend. You can read a little more about the park in the previous posting.

Big Bog State Park boardwalkAs you can see, there is a nice boardwalk through the bog. This new boardwalk is about one mile long.

My friend immediately rejected the idea of walking that boardwalk. She would become claustrophobic and might stray off the wide walkway and sink a little bit.

Individually, and in general, I see how people sometimes feel that way about Christianity.

They doubt they could stay on the "straight and narrow". So why try at all?

But, the whole idea of the gospel is precisely that. We cannot stay on the straight and narrow on our own. We are all tempted. And we all give in to temptations from time to time. The "good news" is that the Holy Spirit is willing and able to help us do what is pleasing to God. And the blood of Jesus covers the sins of those who are repentant (willing to change their ways).

We are all weak. We are all bent towards straying. We all naturally resist doing things God's way. But the good news is that we have a helper and a way out to please God despite our failings.

The "narrow way" is an invitation to something better. It is not an impossible dream or a threat. With God's help, and only with his help, it is entirely feasible. The possibilities are limitless, if we continue to let God take control and show his power in us and through us.

The narrow way can seem insurmountable based on our own strength and past experiences. But, if we let God show his power, it suddenly becomes "doable". And the demonstration of his power can continue to grow as we get out of the way and let his kingdom/kingship/rule come into our lives and situations.

Don't let the impossible stop you. God is bigger than your doubts and whatever else may be holding you back from a reconciled relationship with him. The path awaits. Will you take a step or two down the narrow path?

Big Bog 1

Big Bog State Park boardwalk We visited Big Bog State Park last weekend. At least parts of the park are very new. And I commend the state of Minnesota for preserving this unique area.

I was kind of ignorant of bogs. But it sounded like something new and different. In 2005, the state built a mile long boardwalk into the largest bog in the lower 48 states. It is roughly 70 miles wide by 30 miles north and south. The bog is mostly a peat bog with lots of the peat moss found at gardening stores. If I understand correctly, the dead plant life just builds up over time because it is too cold to decay it all into "soil".

The bog is definitely wet - although that isn't obvious at the surface. In spots, the actual soil is up to 15 feet below the surface. At pretty much any point, if a person tries to walk on the bog, they will sink knee-deep or deeper. It is a very unique ecosystem.

So the boardwalk gives us all a chance to experience the bog without being bogged down or stranded for days.

Walking along the boardwalk is kind of like staying on the straight and narrow. Straying from the path laid out before you can have some negative consequences.

If only following God's will and desires was so obvious... Even with good intentions, sometimes the path is not very obvious at all.

But God leads us in a variety of ways. Sometimes the path is very obvious. We may follow willingly. Or we might try to go our own way. Or perhaps we will delay, hoping that path will remain an option if we come back to it later. Even if the path is clear, it does not guarantee that every person will take that path.

Sometimes the path is pretty clear. But we have a very hard time going down the path. Fortunately, God is pretty patient. If we seek to please him, he will honor even our baby steps as we tentatively move out in a new direction.

Sometimes a narrow path seems too limiting. God gives us free will. If you don't wish to have time with him and be on his team for his purposes, he lets you go (with a few tears). God won't force a person to spend millions of years with him and worshipping him. He will let them go to hell. It isn't God's preference. But he lets people choose hell on their own.

And sometimes, even for believers, the path isn't as clear as we would like. An obvious path through the bog/wilderness/life would sure be handy. Sometimes it is appropriate to wait for further direction. But more often, we are called to step forward in baby steps and more will be revealed later (perhaps when we are ready for it). We can't let fear paralyze us from moving forward into new things. Quite often, God is just waiting for us to take those first steps.

When the path is revealed, how will you respond?

Kum Ba Ya

And they all sat around singing Kum Ba Ya... (or sometimes spelled Kumbaya)

A couple weeks ago I sang Kum Ba Ya for the first time in perhaps 30 years. I admit I chuckled a bit when the song began. I looked it up later and confirmed it wasn't just me that considered that song in less than favorable terms. It is often used in TV shows and other media as representing a group oblivious to their surroundings and usually assuming everything is rosy.

Unfortunately, that fairly describes many Christian congregations and groups. They can easily slip into complacency and irrelevance. The gospel and Christianity are very relevant to life today. It is powerful and effective and can radically change lives. But the way it is communicated is often lacking. And I include myself in that judgment. I don't always communicate what Christianity could be.

But, back to Kum Ba Ya...

The phrase "kum ba ya" is translated "come by here". The song is extremely simple. Each verse just introduces one new phrase. So its simplicity makes it an easy target for jokes as well.

But what does it mean?

The song can be a genuine plea for God's presence. Someone's crying or praying or singing. Come here Lord.

The invitation for God's presence is honorable. I am hurting. I am crying. I am praying. I am rejoicing. Whatever is going on, come and join me.

If you are a believer, you have probably heard how God is present everywhere. And Jesus has promised to be with believers at all times (via the Holy Spirit). So our minds know he is present. But still, sometimes it is difficult to feel his presence. And then we might doubt.

Basing things on feelings can easily lead to straying as the presence of demons (fallen angels) and other lies and deceptions can begin to feel more "real". So feelings are deceptive.

But still, God has given us feelings as well. Personally, even though I know God is with me, it is still nice to feel his presence occasionally. Some people I know have felt the presence like a warm blanket or a hug. I don't recall feeling that. Elizabeth felt baby John leap within her when hearing of Mary's pregnancy with Jesus.

I don't think I have ever felt a leaping within. But I have definitely felt something physically at times. I feel it perhaps once a month. For me, it most often occurs when I hear a story or message that firmly aligns with God's desires (usually for the nations). I am not sure how to describe it. But it is basically like a wind blows through me for a second or two. It is usually just my upper trunk (heart and lungs area). The feeling doesn't "make" something true. But it is encouraging to feel and experience it.

So, as much as Kumbaya sounds simplistic, I understand the plea and desire.

For those feeling discouraged and lacking hope, make your presence and your power obvious.

For those who have strayed and feel unable to approach you, Lord extend your mercy and lift them up to move forward, with baby steps if necessary.

For those struggling and becoming weak in the battle, come and extend your strength and encouragement.

For those rejoicing, come and celebrate with them and help them be aware of how you have made that rejoicing possible.

For those singing and worshipping and seeking to please you, help them feel your appreciation and approval.

For those doubting your existence in their lives today, show your power and love in whatever way is appropriate for them. You know what they are ready for and what they can handle. Display your presence in unique ways for each one.

And Lord, we are thankful that you genuinely do care. And you are already present. So please just help each reader know and feel your presence and your love for them. Thanks. Kum Ba Ya. Come and be with us.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

New Game and Web Site - Unity Rocks!

Today I added another web site.

I like to come up with creative ways to communicate a message. Hopefully, I succeeded. The game isn't necessarily "complete". But it is usable as a first draft.

I bought the domain months ago. Even though I had plenty of other things to work on, it seemed like the day to finally get that off my To Do list.

I have plenty of room for improvement for working towards unity as well. So I need to play the game too.

One of goals of the Ethnic Church Directory and I Am Not a Goat sites is also about unity and Christians working together as a body.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Relevant Christianity in Mainline Churches

I finally got a chance to check out the Praise in the Park in Osceola, Wisconsin. It is on Sundays at 6 pm. And I usually can't get to any event at that time due to other commitments.

I am sure the event varies from week to week as different churches lead. At least that appears to be how it works. One unnamed mainline church was leading this past Sunday.

For the most part, it felt like a time warp back 30 or 40 years. Nearly all of the 20 or so attendees were 70 years old and older. Most of the songs that were familiar were ones I hadn't heard in a church or any Christian event since childhood (many years ago).

We all have different musical preferences. But my concern is that the church be relevant. Christianity is very much relevant for life today in America and any other country. But the way it is often presented is as something that hasn't changed since the fifties. I have heard people express concern that teens and young adults don't attend church much. Is the church presenting a message that is relevant for their lives? Is the music style approachable and reflecting the musical tastes of this century? Do the spoken messages address the issues and concerns of real people under the age of 30 or 40? Many people prefer communication via video and other visual media. Is the church using that effectively?

I had a good time at the park. A time of worship is nearly always good. And it helped me on my little project of discovering more of the church "body". It is helpful to discover and know other parts of the church so we can understands roles and needs so we can work together.

Even though I was okay with the Praise in the Park. I doubt very much an unchurched young family in their twenties would feel comfortable there. A Community Worship in Forest Lake the following night had a totally different feel with free food for outreach, songs from the past five years, and a gathering from several churches. We are learning there too. Attendance numbers have struggled over the past few years. We are not connecting as well with the community as we would like either. We are experimenting to see how it can have a greater impact.

If you are a Christian, is the message you are presenting via your groups, and individually, relevant? Are we presenting something people actually want? The "good news" of the gospel has great benefits. There are also great costs as we give up the throne (lordship, ruling) of our lives to trust God. But if the message of the Bible is presented accurately, it is very relevant.

What are we communicating? What are we hearing?

Next up, Kum Ba Ya - They all sat around singing Kum Ba Ya...

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Hiking on the North Shore

A few weeks ago, my son David and I had a great time on the North Shore. My sister Raylene and I had been trying to coordinate getting out on one of my spontaneous road trips. We finally connected. Thanks Raylene for suggesting the trip and joining us.

Her daughter "A" (protecting her privacy a bit) also came with. She took a day off the Bocce Ball pro tour to join us. She had tried to fool us into thinking she didn't know how to play Bocce Ball at an Independence Day family gathering. But she performed expertly. That was fun to see.

We bypassed Gooseberry Falls where "everybody" stops. We stopped briefly atop Palisade Head. It is a quick stop with a nice view - and a nice breeze many days.

We didn't have tons of time, but we headed for Tettegouche State Park with the highest waterfall entirely within Minnesota. I admit the falls aren't terribly high compared to many states. But any waterfall is kind of cool to be around.

Many of my trips up nort' have been alone. So I got to share a few trails and views with David too.

"A" had her doubts about hiking. But she did great (like I knew she would). She handled the rocks and hills just fine. And she crossed the swinging bridge both ways. At that spot you pretty much have to come back across the bridge.

Even in July, the Lake Superior water is cool. Rather than wading in the Baptism River water, we braved the cold water. Hey, it gives us stories to tell! And we were surprised how tender our feet were over the nicely rounded rocks. David did great skipping rocks. And nobody got hit by a flying rock. There were some close calls though.

They all did great taking alternate routes to the top of a little cliff. Why use stairs when you can risk your life?

Next we headed to Split Rock State Park. We skipped the lighthouse and explored other parts of the park. We had a picnic dinner sitting on a rock with a nice view. It was too early for a sunset this time.

So you want to be a rock star...

We stopped in Two Harbors on the way back. Here is a little industrial beauty:

I enjoy getting a little exercise while exploring God's creation most anytime. But this trip was especially fun as I got to share some of my favorite experiences in a few hours' time.

It was a little hot. And our legs weren't used to the off-pavement hiking. But it was fun to see people accomplishing things they had never done before - even with some smiles sneaking out once in a while.

Thanks Raylene for the trip!

Most of the time when we say we can't do something, what we honestly mean is that we are unwilling to do it, or even try it. Are there positive things you "cannot" do waiting for you to experience? You may be surprised at what you can accomplish, one step at a time.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Storm Approaching

It is a strange time to be blogging. For the first time in years, a potential tornado system is approaching within a few miles of my home.

But it is good. And in some ways I am at peace if this is "the one". Times like these are good occasions to consider what is important to us. What matters? What 1% of our possessions really matters?

I hope to retain some health. And I hope to have at least some of my "life" stored on my computer saved.

But ultimately, besides my son, my writing and creations may be my legacy.

What will you leave behind? How is the world different because you were here? How has eternity been effected through you? What matters? How will you impact the world in the days and years ahead?

It appears we might only get baseball-sized hail. So I will probably survive with minor damage. But the questions remain. What matters?

I realize this may sound strange to some people. But one of the reasons I was fairly content about the storm was that I had prayed. I asked for God's protection, including using angels, to guard the house. But, if more appropriate, do whatever would give him the most glory.

One of the things I have liked about my-cast (free on the web) is that I can put the locations I want on the weather map. So I have my family mapped out as I watch the weather patterns.

As you can see in the image below, the severest part of the storm that approached from several miles away, split just as it got to my house. Then the line of pink reformed again. About three miles away there was golf ball sized hail. There had been tornadic activity and baseball sized hail earlier in the storm. One place within an hour's drive had a roof blown off a house. Numerous trees went down. Water was up to car windows in some areas. I just got a much needed rain.

Radar Image

The words "witness" and "testimony" have become such churchy and religious words these days. But in reality, a witness that testifies just tells a story. "This is what I saw..." "This is what I experienced..."

So part of the evening's experience is my chance to tell a little story that gives God honor for the way he is working in our lives. And it was a fitting ending after having a good time of community worship at the park in Forest Lake tonight.

If the weather was God's favor and not just a coincidence, it was not because I deserve anything special. It is true that God does show favor and honor certain people and actions at times. But the vast majority of the time, God's actions are not because of who we are or what we've done. He acts in spite of who we are. Grace is undeserved favor. And even as I update this blog in the early morning hours, it is clear how much I need his mercy. Even before getting out of bed and doing anything, our thinking can stray to thoughts that do not honor God, or even ourselves. I need his mercy, badly. Fortunately he is patient with me. It is a new day to start fresh.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

35W Bridge 1 - Surprise

Living in the Twin Cities, I suppose any respectable blogger should comment on the 35W bridge collapse a week ago. There is all kinds of symbolism with a bridge. So I may have a few posts.

But I want to make clear that using an event as an object lesson does not necessarily disrespect those involved. For some families, the event was a traumatic tragedy. And I feel for those. Indirectly thousands of people have been effected. I indirectly see it as traffic patterns have shifted. I cross the Mississippi at least twice every day. And that morning, I ended up crossing three times in the morning as I checked out a potential route to work. I have used the bridge that collapsed many times. And if there hadn't been road construction slowdowns, I would probably take that route fairly often for work.

The following days, crossing bridges was a little different. And it is now a little more eerie sitting in traffic under a bridge.

The bridge collapse caught millions by surprise. But God wasn't caught off guard or by surprise.

For those unfamiliar with Teen Challenge, it is an organization that has great success radically changing lives caught in addictions and other destructive behavior. The key that sets them apart is that they advocate a heart change. By letting God work in a person's life, they have the power, and desire, for radical change to a healthier life, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

A staff worker at Minnesota Teen Challenge takes the bridge home every day after work. But she sensed that Wednesday that just for one day she should take a different route. She followed that Holy Spirit prompting and lived.

Separately, a van from Teen Challenge takes a group of guys to a class every Wednesday. They always cross that bridge on their route. But that day, the driver (or another staff person) felt that they should take a different route just for that one day. The van load of people survived and thanked God for his leading and protection.

Many gatherings of Christians include occasional prophetic words. Usually they are something related to a current situation. But once in a while they refer to future events. Three months ago an interesting word was given. During a staff meeting of a local ministry, a prophetic word was given about a disaster or destruction that will occur in the University, 35W, and bridge area. As prophetic words go, it was pretty specific about location.

At the time, the interpretation was that it would probably be due to terrorism. What else could bring a huge bridge down? And that could still come out as a factor. Although the NTSB has a history of covering up things like that.

But regardless of the cause of the bridge collapse, it is interesting that a group of committed Christians learned about the future event three months before the collapse. God wasn't surprised.

God is still very aware of what is happening in the world. He is also very aware of what is going on in your life, including your thought life. He doesn't seek to condemn. He longs to bring you closer and higher towards your destiny. He knows it all and is trustworthy, and merciful.

14 August 2007

Regarding the NTSB comment:

I believe with at least 99% certainty that the 35W bridge collapse was due to wear and tear and possibly some design issues. The main terrorist connection is that people around the world saw how easily major bridges can come down. Little or no explosives are required.

The National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, is made of people, sinful like you and I. Government is filled with politics and spin. That said, I know for sure there are some very honorable people serving the greater good through government positions.

The main event that made people suspicious of the NTSB was TWA flight 800 that went down in New York. Eyewitness accounts of things going up to the plane were ignored. John Kerry said on TV that a missile had hit the plane (before the spin doctors got the "official" story coordinated). At the same time, the Navy was having major war games exercises in the area. So it is even possible one of our own accidentally (hopefully) knocked it down. Read more details using the links below.

The eyewitness accounts of the plane going down in New York on Veterans Day 2001 were also largely ignored. The official conclusions ignore the explosion/fire ball accounts from people on the ground. The fear of the public after September 11th had to be controlled.

The NTSB probably does a good job with most investigations. I am just a little skeptical of some of their conclusions.

TWA 800 site with numerous links:
AA 587 articles:

ELCA Strays... Again....

As you may have read in the news today, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) once again became even more accepting of sin in their leadership. And quite possibly, hopefully, even more congregations will abandon the denomination and its course.

The ELCA will not allow congregations or synods to confront or discipline pastors in homosexual relationships. Although they were careful to avoid the word "condone", in practice they are essentially approving something God has clearly said is wrong and contrary to his design. I guess they feel they have more wisdom about creation than the Creator. They apparently know what is true better than the one who called himself The Truth. Pride comes before a fall.

Comments are at

There were a wide variety of opinions on MSNBC. I didn't read them all. Jesus is loving. But he is also righteous and holy and just.

Here is my post from page 28 over there:

This is sad. But at least the ELCA has made it even more clear how little they regard scripture. Jesus was accepting in some regards. But he also spoke of a wide path to destruction, division within families when one chose to follow him, and other teachings that some will go to heaven with him and enjoy a relationship with him in this life. And some will be separated from him in hell.

Even though some Lutheran pastors believe all people are going to heaven, Jesus never taught that or even implied that. Throughout history, God has always wanted a chosen people set apart for a close relationship with him. And integral in that relationship is living a life that pleases him. As the Bible puts it, "And this is love for God, to obey his commands." It is a faithful loving relationship that is in some ways similar to wanting to please and honor a spouse.

And that relationship with God is closely tied to the concept of marriage. It is designed as a man (symbolized by Christ) and a woman (the bride represented by the Christian church that seeks to love and please him).

Despite what the official reading may be, when a group cannot confront their leader about wrong-doing, that is a crippled organization. When a leader is likely headed for hell, how can he or she teach through knowledge and example the way to a deep relationship with Jesus and a future in heaven?

My prayer is that God will stir hearts and do whatever is necessary to get the attention of those ELCA leaders before they bring greater punishment upon themselves. The people in the pew deserve better.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

National Night In

Last night was the National Night Out. I see some good value in it, especially for security purposes.

My suburb of about 17,000 people had 55 official block parties yesterday. I was impressed by the number. My street hasn't had one in August in the 13 years I have been here. A few years there were neighborhood get-togethers later in the fall. But there haven't been any of those in the past five plus years.

I guess the people in my neighborhood don't see the value or perceive a need for those parties. So nobody organizes it - including me. Most of us have been around for several years. So the need to get acquainted with new people is less urgent here. I did go for a walk last evening to see if anyone was out. I only saw one couple on bikes.

So how important are physical neighbors these days?

I admit I am more introverted than some people. I don't have a huge need for frequent social gatherings. Others thrive on that. But the question above is more than just about being social. The world is different now with easy transportation and communication.

I really haven't felt a great need to be best friends with my neighbors. I don't have a lot in common with them. The people I care about most are several miles away. If I need something or wish to help someone, that can be done with family and friends and coworkers within an hour or so.

I don't have close relationships with my neighbors. And I really don't feel like I am missing much. How about you? Are relationships with physical neighbors important for you? Why or why not?

Football Camp

It was fun to join my sister Robyn and her family at a scrimmage between the Minnesota Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend. I'm not a huge football fan. But my son is.

It was interesting to see how they do things. And we did get to see some good plays from fairly close seating. A key point for us this year is that the scrimmage was much more affordable than a regular game. Overall, I was glad we went.

I was disappointed they seemed to end early. A little fight broke out at the end involving a Viking player that needs to control his temper better. I am not sure if that was coincidentally at the end or they ended an hour early. Anyway, it was all kind of fun to watch them practice and scrimmage.

I am not big into celebrities. And that topic could easily be a whole article or two. But people do pay big bucks and dedicate many hours to view professional athletes, whether live or on TV.

Those professional football players we saw do have some special skills way beyond what most of us could do. And it is easy for us to start viewing life with a spectator mentality. Watching the professionals celebrates their abilities. But it can easily subtlely influence us into an attitude that the pros and stars are "better" than us.

God has created you uniquely. We share much of the same raw material. But the package called "You" ("Me") is special. Your physical abilities, your personality, your skills, your talents, the things you do more easily than others, your appearance, your voice, and many more things make you unique. And, for those committed to following Christ, additional giftings are available, consistently and "as needed".

All in all you have something unique to offer. You are designed to complete some tasks that no one else can do better. Your combination of who you are and what you have experienced has prepared you to impact the world and eternity in unique ways.

We have all seen how someone with experience can better help another person going through a similar situation. And even the painful events and struggles can help us empathize and serve in ways we could not without going through those upleasant times.

So celebrate who YOU are. Maybe you aren't a pro athlete or movie star. You actually get to be home most nights and weekends. Maybe you can do bookkeeping or run a machine or manage people or care for chidren far better than most of those pro football players could. They are good at their role. You are good at your role. Other than pay, there isn't much difference. They just have a different job.

There is no need to follow the crowd or try to be someone else. God created a variety of people. We can find things where we excel. And we can learn to say "No" to some tasks that are not a good fit.

Celebrate and embrace the special creation that is "You".

Tuesday, 7 August 2007


Welcome to my blog. Although I have done a fair amount of writing on the Web, this blog is something new for me. I anticipate some of my writing here will be a little more personal. And some of it may be more news than an "article".

To some extent this is one of the last things I need. I already have plenty on my To Do list. But we'll see how it goes. I know I probably won't be able to write daily. But I hope to contribute regularly.

Although blogging has been around for quite a while, I didn't see a need for me personally since I already have places where I can write for the Web. But it will be good for me to learn more about this type of publishing.

It is kind of interesting that this is partially triggered by a couple of sisters recently starting blogs. My first Internet domain, RTimeHas.Com, was started nearly ten years ago. The name has multiple meanings. But one thought was that it might be a place for the "R" family to write and share thoughts and opinions. Several years later, it is good to see two of the R sisters (so far) sharing their writing.

Thanks for reading.