Saturday, April 29, 2006

NFL Draft, Day 1

The Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers moved up in the first round of the draft today to select Santonio Holmes, a wide receiver out of Ohio State. A bold move! While no one can possibly replace Antwaan Randle El, who brought such excitement to the field with his diverse gifts, Holmes looks to be an excellent choice who will fit right in with the world's greatest football team. ESPN says he has, "...explosive speed and outstanding hand-eye coordination." I can't wait to see how he works out (especially since I'll be living 15 minutes from Heinz Field!).

The big story of the day has been that the Houston Texans organization has apparently lost their collective mind. Rather than draft USC running back Reggie Bush - as sure a "can't miss" thing as is possible in the NFL - they drafted Mario Williams, a defensive end out of North Carolina State. BIG mistake, and one that will cost their GM his job in years to come. Williams may well be a great pass rusher, but Bush could have won games.

This meant that Bush was available for the New Orleans Saints, who gladly took the Heisman Trophy winner. It's Christmas in New Orleans! Seriously, hasn't Houston given enough to New Orleans in the past year or so, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina? This gift wasn't necessary, but was awfully nice. A dreadful day for fans of the Texans.

In another surprise, two time national champion Matt Leinart fell to #10 overall, where the Arizona cardinals happily claimed him. Leinart may be the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning, at least in terms of being able to start and contribute immediately. Shame on those teams which passed him over; he may be just what the Cardinals need to become a serious football team (finally).

Friday, April 28, 2006

TNIV: Steelers edition

Today, I got myself a new TNIV Bible. It's a great looking black and gold duotone leather thinline edition. One of the reasons I purchaed this particular edition is the black and gold; I'll always have this Bible to commemorate this year's Super Bowl champion, the blessed Pittsburgh Steelers.

The TNIV (Today's New International Version) has taken a lot of heat from some evangelical leaders, notably activist/commentator Charles Colson, Focus on the Family's James Dobson, televangelist Jerry Falwell, Calvinist charismatic scholar Wayne Grudem, Calvinist pastor D. James Kennedy, Calvinist pastor John MacArthur, Calvinist great J.I. Packer, dispensationalist Charles Ryrie, and hyperCalvinist pastor R.C. Sproul.

Still, other evangelical leaders have been very supportive, notably D.A. Carson, Jim Cymbala, Gordon Fee, Adam Hamilton, Bill Hybels, Richard Mouw, John Ortberg, Ronald Sider, John Stott, Lee Strobel, and Philip Yancey.

With all due respect to the former group, many of whom I greatly admire, I give a bit more weight to the latter group. Packer is one of the most significant theological voices of the past 50 years...Colson has done a remarkable job for prisoners and their families...Dobson deserves much credit for bringing families and family issues to the forefront of society and ministry. But Cymbala, Hamilton, and Hybels are transforming lives today, as pastors and as resources for pastors.

More importantly for me, I have a healthy mistrust of folks who believe (falsely) that Calvinism is another word for evangelicalism or even Christianity. Calvinism is a flawed theological system, imperfect and at times unbiblical. I have many faithful sisters and brothers in Christ who are Calvinist, and that's fine; but folks (like Sproul) who believe it's the way often do more harm than good. So, God bless them...I'll trust the other group.

I also like the intent of the TNIV...trying to be inclusive (in the best sense of the word) while maintaining textual integrity. It's a good translation, and I'm glad to use it and to have my Steelers edition!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Open Minds...

The Gospel passage for this upcoming Sunday is Luke 24:36-48. What strikes me as I ponder this passage this morning is verse 45, "...he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Powerful words, but easy to skim over.

We hear a lot in the Church today about "inclusiveness", particularly in The United Methodist Church, in which I am humbled to serve. Inclusiveness can mean many different things; Webster's Dictionary says that it may mean "broad in orientation or scope" or "covering or intended to cover all items, costs, or services" or, interestingly, "comprehending stated limits or extremes, such as from Monday to Friday inclusive".

Inclusiveness has been determined by the Church to be so crucial that it has even been written into the Constitition of our denomination, specifically Article 4: Inclusiveness of the Church, which states:

The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking the vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection. In The United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition.

This Article is currently held up by our Council of Bishops as evidence that our Judicial Council erred in a recent decision, which affirmed a pastor's authority to confirm or deny church membership in light of the candidate's sincere penitence.

Inclusiveness is important, to be sure. As Jesus endeavored to include as many people as possible in the call to the Kingdom, so must we. There should be no barriers as we reach out to a broken world...all people should be our mission-field. We also need to practice inclusiveness by deliberately seeking ways to include women, minorities, the disabled, and any other marginalized groups in the life and government of the Church, as much as is possible without rejecting complete feasibility or sacrificing our covenantal understanding of the Christian Faith. I believe in the idea of inclusiveness.

But "inclusiveness", like so many other fine concepts, is quite modern, and really doesn't appear in the least not "in the open". Theologians and scholars have really had to dig to find support for the idea in Scripture. I'm glad for their work, and I praise God for it.

In recent years, my denomination has engaged in a massive (and relatively successful) advertising campaign known as Igniting Ministry. In fact, two folks related to my Conference have been national leaders of the campaign (Conference Steward Rev. Larry Homitsky and Bishop Thomas Bickerton). The slogan "Open Hearts...Open Minds...Open Doors" has become a mantra of sorts for many in The United Methodist Church.

Now, I have been troubled by some who seem to elevate this advertising slogan to the level of official doctrine, as some have seemed to do in relation to the recent Judicial Council decision. It's a fine slogan, but it carries NO weight whatever in determining Church law or ministry direction. It's a slogan for commercials, and, at best an ideal. It's a vision. It's also so broad that it can mean almost anything, or nothing at all. Leadership means more than finding the lowest common denominator; it means standing on correct principles, which is, I'm sure, the intent of the slogan, regardless of how it's been interpreted.

Luke 24:45 teaches us a little about inclusiveness, or at least a little about "Open Hearts...Open Minds...Open Doors". In this fascinating Resurrection appearance by our Lord Jesus Christ, he actually does open the minds of the disciples. Note, however, that their minds are not simply opened in any generic sense, but rather they are opened " they could understand the Scriptures."

In other words, Jesus wants us to have open minds...for a reason. The reason is, at least according to this passage, that we might delve into God's word, discovering more about our Lord, ourselves, our story, our world, and our mission. Having an open mind to what the Spirit has for us in the Bible is a wonderful Christian practice, is rarely what we expect, and surely a faithful interpretation of "Open Hearts...Open Minds...Open Doors" .

Monday, April 24, 2006

My Ordination - 6/13/03


All were seated, except the Elder candidates and the Bishop, who stood facing
each other. The Bishop examined the candidates:

Ordination is a gift from God to the church and is exercised in covenant with the whole church and within the covenant of the order.

My brothers and sisters, you have been called to be ordained to the ministry of Elders. The church now confirms your calling through ordination. As Elders, you are to be coworkers with the Bishops, Deacons, diaconal ministers, commissioned ministers, and other Elders.

Remember that you are called to serve rather than to be served,
to proclaim the faith of the church and no other, to look after the concerns of God above all.

An Elder is called to share in the ministry of Christ and of the whole church:
to preach and teach the Word of God and faithfully administer the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion;
to lead the people of God in worship and prayer;
to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ;
to exercise pastoral supervision, order the life of the congregation, counsel the troubled, and declare the forgiveness of sin;
to lead the people of God in obedience to Christ’s mission in the world;
to seek justice, peace, and freedom for all people;
and to take a responsible place in the government of the Church and in service in and to the community.
These are the duties of an Elder.

Do you believe that God has called you to the life and work of an Elder?
I do so believe.
Do you believe in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
I do so believe and confess.
Are you persuaded that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and are the unique and authoritative standard for the church’s faith and life?
I am so persuaded, by God’s grace.
Will you be faithful in prayer, in the study of the Holy Scriptures, and with the help of the Holy Spirit continually rekindle the gift of God that is in you?
I will, with the help of God.
Will you do your best to pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ?
I will, with the help of God.
Will you, in the exercise of your ministry, lead the people of God to faith in Jesus Christ, to participate in the life and work of the community, and to seek peace, justice, and freedom for all people?
I will, with the help of God.
Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?
I will, with the help of God.
Will you, for the sake of the church’s life and mission, covenant to participate in the Order of Elders? Will you give yourself to God through the Order of Elders in order to sustain and build each other upin prayer, study, worship, and service?
I will, with the help of God, and the help of my sisters and brothers in the order of Elders.
May God, who has given you the will to do these things, give you grace to perform them, that the work begun in you may be brought to perfection.


The Bishop faced all the ordinands and called the people to prayer, using these words:

As these persons are ordained by God and the church for the ministry of Elders
to which we believe they have been called by the Holy Spirit, let us pray for them.

The people prayed in silence. The Bishop, with hands extended over the ordinands, prayed:
We praise you, eternal God, because you have called us to be a priestly people, offering to you acceptable worship through Jesus Christ, Apostle and High Priest, Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. We thank you that, by dying, Christ has overcome death and, having ascended into heaven, has poured forth gifts abundantly on your people, making some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up Christ’s body, and to fulfill your gracious purpose in the world.
Give to these your servants the grace and power they need to serve you in this ministry.
Make them faithful pastors, patient teachers, and wise counselors.
Enable them to serve without reproach, to proclaim the gospel of salvation,
to administer the sacraments of the new covenant, to order the life of the church
and to offer with all your people spiritual sacrifices acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Joining in the laying on of hands with Bishop Hae-Jong Kim were Rev. Dr. Deryl Larsen, Rev. Dennis Lawton, Rev. Robert Zilhaver, Rev. Frank Sherman, and Rev. Gerald Schmidt. The Bishop lay both hands on my head, praying:
Father Almighty, pour upon Keith the Holy Spirit, for the office and work of an Elder in Christ’s holy church. Keith, take authority as an Elder to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

My Boy Thomas

Yesterday's Gospel passage in the Revised Common Lectionary was John 20:19-31. It spoke of the St. Thomas the Apostle's first encounter with the Risen Christ.

What a wonderful text! I've always felt that St. Thomas has gotten a bad rap. How would you like to go through history known as "Doubting Thomas", or "Doubting George", or "Doubting Lucy", etc. Remember that in the account, St. Thomas did eventually affirm Jesus as, "My Lord and my God!"

BUT...St. Thomas maintained a healthy dose of skepticism and doubt. He wasn't afraid to ask difficult questions which plagued his soul. Of all the Twelve, St. Thomas is the one with whom I can most relate.

Why is it that in a world where the Risen Christ reigns supreme, we have bombs blasting in Jerusalem, bullets flying in Baghdad, airplanes used as weapons in New York City, children shooting at classmates in school hallways and libraries? Why is it that godly people suffer while miserable folks continue on? Why do I have to say goodbye to good friends who die too soon, while others seem to last forever?

I know that the "technical" answer is, "Because there is sin in the world, the world is fallen and broken, and Jesus has not yet returned to entirely transform creation." But that doesn't do much to assuage my curiosity.

Which is why I love St. Thomas. He gives us permission to ponder, to doubt, to ask the difficult questions. Even when people we know, love and trust give an answer (as the Twelve told St. Thomas, "We have seen the Lord!"), we can still ask these questions and wonder why things are not as they ought to be.

And how does Jesus react to these questions of our hearts? Sure, he wants our doubts to be answered...but he says, "Peace be with you!" As we walk these difficult roads of questioning and wonder, Jesus walks with us, holding our hands, leading us at times, and offering his peace on this most Christian of journeys.

I'm reminded of a modern day Christian, Bono, who in 1987 wrote one of the greatest songs of the 20th century, one which could very easily be in most church hymnals...

"I have climbed the highest mountains,
I have run through the fields...
Only to be with you...
I have run, I have crawled,
I have scaled these city walls...
Only to be with you...
But I still haven't found
what I'm looking for...
I believe in the Kingdom Come,
Then all the colors will bleed into one,
But, yes, I'm still running...
You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains,
Carried the cross and all my shame...all my shame...
You know I believe it...
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for..."

I praise God that through St. Thomas, God gives me permission to ask questions and to ponder, and to not always be satisfied with the "easy answer". And I especially praise God that while I'm searching for who-knows-what, Jesus offers me his peace and walks with me on the way.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Tomorrow's Psalm

"How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!

"It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down on the collar of his robe.

"It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore."

- Psalm 133 (TNIV)

Friday, April 21, 2006


Here are some good articles I found on the web recently...

"Leading from the Margins" by Len Hjalmarson. This article from The Ooze urges a new style of Church leadership.

"The Holy Spirit Calls Women to Lead" by Andrew Thompson, an Elder in the Arkansas Conference. This article (from The United Methodist Reporter) is a good brief overview of why we have (and should celebrate) female clergy.

"He is not here" by Fred Craddock, one of the greatest preachers of the past 100 years. This article from The Christian Century gives a fine brief summation of the account of Jesus' Resurrection found in Mark 16:1-8.

"Church Politics" by Andrew Odom, from Relevant Magazine, argues for a more relational, less program-oriented ecclesiastical polity.

"Saddleback Church celebrates 20,000th Baptism"
by Kristine Noelle,
in The Christian Examiner. Rick Warren may have several theological problems, but his sincerity and devotion have certainly borne much fruit.

"Betrayed Again" by John Wilson explains the bizarre nature of the so-called "Gospel of Judas". It's taken from Christianity Today.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Strategic Plan

Western PA Conference is developing a strategic plan tentatively called "Believe Again!", which, Lord willing, will restructure our Conference and, more importantly, refocus our efforts on disciple-making and world-transformation.

Here is the history of the process.

Here is a copy of the preliminary plan (PDF file), to be distributed at District Conferences beginning this weekend.

Here is an online survey designed in order that the Strategic Planning Team (of which I'm a member) might get some quick feedback.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Guns in the Big Easy

Isn't this like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys?

The Easter Miracle

"When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, 'Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?'

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

'Don't be alarmed,' he said. 'You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, "He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you."'

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, for they were terrified."

- Mark 16:1-8 (TNIV, adapt.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

"Jesus" in Hollywood

Best Jesus movies...

* Intolerance (1916)...the film D.W Griffith made to atone for the sins of Birth of a Nation...this movie intersperses scenes of Jesus before the Sanhedrin with other scenes of injustice throughtout history...a true spectacle, magnificent for its day, it seems a bit trite now
* The Robe (1953)...Richard Burton as the centurion who crucified Jesus and gambled for his robe...neat movie, some good scenes
* Ben Hur (1959)...the greatest Biblical epic in movie history...a stunning film with great performances by Chalton Heston, Stephen Boyd, and Hugh Griffith...the power of the Gospel to transform lives is shown very effectively
* King of Kings (1961)...starring Jeffrey Hunter...excellent movie but hard to find...for some reason, it's rarely on TV
* The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)...a very solemn take on the Jesus story, with one of the most bizarre moments in film: John Wayne as the Centurion saying, as only he could, "Truly, this was the Son of God."
* Jesus of Nazareth (1977)...the definitive film Jesus...Robert Powell's portrayal of Jesus is probably the definitive looking Jesus for my generation...very reverent of the all-time best
* Mary, the Mother of Jesus (1999)...obviously focusing on Mary, Christian Bale plays Jesus...pretty good take
* Jesus (2000)...the "liberal" take on Jesus...very human, the divinity is less clear...some good moments...the best thing about this film is that Jesus often laughs and jokes around with his followers, which is great to see
* The Passion of the Christ (2004)...Mel Gibson's megahit...a great film, centering of course on the events of Good Friday...powerful stuff

Sunday, April 09, 2006


We announced today that we will be moving this summer. Effective July 1, 2006, our Bishop has appointed me to serve Jefferson United Methodist Church in Jefferson Hills, PA, the South Hills of Pittsburgh. The ministry seems to be a very good match, and, while we are saddened at leaving people we have learned to love, we are excited about the opportunities ahead. I'm sure I'll be blogging about the transition more and more. Please keep my family, the Dawson family, and the Jefferson family lifted up in your prayers.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Gospel of Judas

This article discusses the discovery of a "new" Gospel, the "Gospel of Judas". A second century Gnostic text, the Gospel supports the traditional Gnostic view that humans are spirits trapped in material bodies and need liberated through Christ. This idea is, of course, heresy, and has been denounced by "official" Church councils and documents for the better part of 2000 years. It still exists today, however, disguised in cherished hymns such as the Baptist classic "I'll Fly Away" and "Will the Angels Come" by the great Fanny Crosby.

I have long been interested in the so-called "Quest for the Historical Jesus". I find the suggestions of the "Jesus Seminar" to be fascinating, and have been similarly fascinated by the work of Albert Schweitzer, the theologian who inspired the modern quest.

Having said that, I am far more convinced by the works of Dale Allison, Luke Timothy Johnson, E.P. Sanders, and the great N.T. Wright (see here and here).

The bottom line is that no matter how fascinating I find this research and these theories, I am called (and ordained) " preach the faith of the Church and no other...", to proclaim the Risen Christ as he is portrayed in the New Testament, and not any interesting theories. Every Easter, we are inundated with "Jesus specials" on television, which teach that the Jesus we think we know may not be the historic Jesus. Hogwash. We can trust the Bible, the wisdom of the Church, and the witness of the Spirit.

Besides, the Jesus who appears in the Bible is far from a simple comforting figure. He challenges us in every one of our comfort zones to the very fabric of our beings. The Biblical Jesus is more than enough for me to try and handle this Easter!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Philippians 2:5-11

This Sunday, Palm Sunday, one of the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary is Philippians 2:5-11. This happens to be my favorite passage in all of Scripture, and I preach from it every Palm Sunday (also making reference to the Gospel account of the Triumphal Entry, of course).

I may blog a bit this week about why this is my favorite passage, but today I just want to post the passage itself. Of all the modern translations, I prefer the New Revised Standard Version's take on it, for reasons I'll elaborate on later.

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

- from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)