Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Blessings of Commercialization

"'There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in a cloud" with power and great glory.
Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.'
Then he told them a parable: 'Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.'"

- Luke 21:25-31 (NRSV)

Jesus said to be on watch for the signs of the times, because when the signs are "just right", miraculous things will happen.

In Luke 21, he is primarily talking about that glorious Day when he returns to fulfill God's Promise to reconcile all creation to heaven.

But while we wait (sometimes rather impatiently) for the blessed return of Our Lord, we can also look for other signs marking other times, other miraculous seasons, other incredible opportunities to praise Almighty God and to reach out to others.

This is why I don't condemn the commercialization of Christmas, as many do; on the contrary, I revel in it.

Why? Because the signs are all around us! Trees, lights, bows, candles, greens, snow...and the wonderful music! The world is reminded during this time that we are about to commemorate one of history's greatest events, as God became incarnate in human flesh in a grand effort to save the world! (Why we evangelicals don't make a bigger deal out of the date of Jesus' conception is beyond, Christmas it is.)
Because the culture has decided to commercialize Christmas, we are given a great opportunity to share the gospel. Everywhere people look they are faced with the nativity scene...they are reminded in song of the miraculous birth from the womb of a maiden...they must deal with the beautifully powerful message of the greatest and most profound of all Christmas carols, "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing".

So, bring on the bright lights, the cookies, the candy, the presents, the reindeer, and the cocoa by the fire! For at least one more season, the world is faced with an opportunity to meet Jesus in his most vulnerable state - that of a newborn infant - and is given one more opportunity to consider (or ignore) the kenotic miracle of God's love!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NFL Rankings - Week 12

1 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 1)

2 - San Diego Chargers (last week 2...Tomlinson may keep Peyton Manning from winning another MVP award...he's the best back in the NFL by far)

3 - New England Patriots (last week 4)

4 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 5...a solid offense and outstanding defense crushed the last hopes of the Steelers)

5 - Chicago Bears (last week 3...with a more consistent QB, they could be a real threat)

6 - Seattle Seahawks (last week 8...they may come from behind and end up in the Super Bowl again, where they would likely lose to Indy, San Diego, the Pats, or Baltimore)

7 - Dallas Cowboys (last week unranked...Romo looks like the real deal, and they may go far, but are really building into next year's Super Bowl favorite)

8 - Denver Broncos (last week 6...they need to solve the QB issue)

9 - New Orleans Saints (last week 10)

10 - Kansas City Chiefs (last week 9)

Pittsburgh Steelers status:
Most mock drafts see the Steelers picking either a cornerback or offensive lineman with their first pick in 2007. Both are needed.

This Friday

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ambition / Success

"I am convinced that personal pastoral ambition, and a pastoral ethic centered around productivity and success is brutal to our souls and destructive to the souls of the people we lead. I believe there is a better way. But it requires us to walk right into the messiness of our own ambitious hearts, ready to die to those ambitions. We must become skilled at detecting the odor of personal ambition, then flee from it as if the church's future depends on it. For I believe it does."
- Kent Carlson
Thanks to Dying Church and Barry Clarke.

Monday, November 27, 2006

On Evangelicalism: Good quote

"Here is no unanchored liberalism—

freedom to think without commitment.

Here is no encrusted dogmatism—

commitment without freedom to think.

Here is vibrant evangelicalism—

commitment with freedom to think

within the limits laid down in Scripture."

- Dr. Vernon Grounds, Chancellor, Denver Seminary

(Thanks to Emergent Nazarenes.)

I like this quote because it concisely differentiates evangelicalism from theological liberalism as well as fundamentalism while also leaning upon Scriptural authority without a commitment to any particular hermeneutic. Good stuff.

Incidentally, a Nazarene brother recently emailed me and mentioned three Nazarene-related sites which deal with both sacramental theology and the emergent church conversation among our Wesleyan brethren; here are the links...

* Emergent Nazarenes
* Nazarene Round Table
* Sacramental Nazarenes

(Thanks to Nathan Zipfel.)

I Relate in Many Ways

Smart Quiz

"Intellectually" Intelligent

You're 'Intellectually Intelligent.'
That pretty much means that you're good with
theoretical ideas and concepts -
but this comes to you naturally.
More or less, you're a natural brainiac. Good for you.

30% theoretical intelligence
40% natural intelligence

Take this quiz at

Thanks to Chris Kindle (who is "All-Around Smart").

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christ the King Sunday

"Before the colonialists imposed national boundaries, the kings of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement on taxation in the border areas.

Those who ate short-grain rice, built their houses on stilts, and decorated them with Indian-style serpents were considered Laotians.

On the other hand, those who ate long-grain rice, built their houses on the ground, and decorated them with Chinese-style dragons were considered Vietnamese.

The exact location of a person’s home was not what determined their nationality.

Instead, each person belonged to the kingdom whose cultural values he or she exhibited.

So it is with us; we live in the world, but as part of God’s kingdom, we are to live according to his kingdom’s standards and values."

- Missionary John Hess-Yoder

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sunday's preaching texts

"Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, 'Are you the King of the Jews?'
Jesus answered, 'Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?'
Pilate replied, 'I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?'
Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.'
Pilate asked him, 'So you are a king?'
Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.'"
- John 18:33-37 (NRSV)

"Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,
and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.
'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
- Revelation 1:4b-8 (NRSV)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanks and Giving

What a wonderful holiday! Of all the great festivals of the year, Thanksgiving is the most distinctly American...not the notion of giving thanks, of course, but the turkey, the pilgrims and the Native Americans, the Macy's parade, the football...the way we celebrate Thanksgiving is very American; it's a great holiday!

But there is an angle to Thanksgiving which we sometimes forget. We who call ourselves Christians are fairly good at giving thanks...we pray the right prayers, sing the right songs, and speak the right words.

But, as the name implies, if we are truly thankful to Almighty God for all he has done for us, for what he continues to do for us, and for what he promises to do for us in the future, then we must allow our thanks to give way to giving.

Jesus said, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14:12-14, NRSV)

As we gather with family and friends to enjoy the feast, the fellowship, and the football, have we made sure that our poor neighbors have been invited? Are they sufficiently cared for? Have they enough for their daily needs? Thanksgiving isn't really about the turkey and the football; it's about the poor, and having a blessed opportunity to serve these beloved children of God.

If we fail to remember this, then we are simply playing a game with Thanksgiving. We need to remind ourselves of the mission statement Jesus claimed for himself, and make it our own...

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
(Luke 4:18-19, NRSV)

NFL Rankings - Week 11

1 - Indianapolis Colts (last week loss isn't enough to force them from the top spot)

2 - San Diego Chargers (last week may be the best RB since OJ, Rivers looks like the real deal, and WHAT a defense...they could upset Indy and go all the way)

3 - Chicago Bears (last week 2)

4 - New England Patriots (last week 3...Brady & Co. seem to be getting into postseason form, which is bad news for the rest of the NFL)

5 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 4)

6 - Denver Broncos (last week 6)

7 - New York Giants (last week 9)

8 - Seattle Seahawks (last week 7)

9 - Kansas City Chiefs (last week 10)

10 - New Orleans Saints (last week 8...slip slidin' away...)

Honorable mentions:
Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys (looking better each week), Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers (they'll miss the playoffs, but finally seem to be getting their act together after so many miserable years)

Steelers note:
Great come-from-behind win last week in Cleveland...a terrible first half but an inspired second half...Hines Ward was solid as always, Santonio Holmes had his best game yet, Troy Polamalu did what he needed to do, and, to quote ESPN, "Ben Roethlisberger did what great QBs need to do every now and again -- he simply took over and won the game for the Steelers."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dumb Hollywood

For years now, I have been absolutely convinced that the average IQ in Hollywood is dramatically lower than that in the rest of society. That's not to say that folks with lower than average IQs can't be talented actors or musicians; it's simply to say that, far too often, many (not all) entertainers seem almost supernaturally dense. It's not their politics; it's the things they say (and do) to support their views.

Here's some evidence...

"We are supposed to be liberated in America but if our President had his way, we wouldn't be educated about sex at all. Every woman would have six children and we wouldn't be able to have abortions." - Actress Scarlett Johansson

What an overly simplified view of the abortion debate! It's disrespectful to folks on both sides of the political spectrum who take the abortion issue seriously! How monumentally misinformed!

Thank you, Ms. Johansson, for helping to prove the notion of "dumb Hollywood".

Monday, November 20, 2006

Women in Ministry

There is an excellent piece written by Stan Gundry reprinted (with permission) at Scot McKnight's blog. You can read the piece here.

I am a firm believer in equality for women, and recognize discriminatory practices as bigotry and gravely sinful, flying against the will of God in the moving of the Holy Spirit. This sin encompasses, sadly, most of the Church Universal, and it is something concerning which we need to repent and find transformation.

Read the post on Scot McKnight's's good, good stuff!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Labor Pains

This Sunday's Gospel lesson refers to wars, rumors of wars, nations, kingdoms, earthquakes, and famine. Pretty scary stuff!

But the point of the passage isn't to scare us. Jesus' powerful "mini-apocalypse" in Mark 13 reminds us - in extremely powerful language - of the reality of change. Other than God himself, what is the one constant in our universe? Change!

The movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring begins with the prophetic words, "The world is changing." And so it is. Change surrounds us...cultural shifts, political transitions, and the ever-changing seasons here in western Pennsylvania. Autumn is now nearing its end, and we have seen the green summer leaves transform into beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges, and then die.

But this change is not a bad thing...if we are aware of what is happening.

The leaves change, fall and die each year in order that the trees may survive the cold, desolate winter and be reborn in a lush, green springtime.

God himself - the One who never changes, who is always the same, forever - changed 2000 years ago by becoming incarnate in human flesh, that we may survive the cold, desolate winter of our sin and be reborn in a lush, green springtime. For though God is never-changing, he is never static; God is the definition of "dynamic".

The changes in our world, our culture, and our lives should not be approached or observed with fear or uncertainity or trepidation. Rather, we need to remember that Jesus said that the changes we see are actually "labor pains", and that God is using the dynamic state of reality to give birth to something wonderful and dramatic...something far beyond our hopes and dreams.

So, be alert! Look for the changes around you! Adapt! Do not fear! Know that though change can be daunting, God is still sovereign and has tremendously exciting plans for each of us, for his Church, and for the world he has created!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sunday's Gospel lesson

"As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!'
Then Jesus asked him, 'Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.'
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,
'Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?'
Then Jesus began to say to them, 'Beware that no one leads you astray.
Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!" and they will lead many astray.
When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of labor pains.'"
- Mark 13:1-8 (NRSV, adapt.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What I'm Reading

The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations
by Dan Kimball...

...this was recommended to me by a friend...aside from discovering that I am apparently "postmodern" (click here and scroll down to the term for a workable, if imperfect, definition), I am also discovering that my "ministry philosophy", which has at times looked "old", is actually pretty current and, excitingly, forward thinking...a good read so far - affirming and challenging...

The Pendragon by Catherine Christian...

...I actually read this Arthurian piece years ago and am taking another look at it now...a good distraction to settle my's one of the better Arthurian novels out there (though it can be difficult to find nowadays), and mixes Malory's take with a real Dark Ages flavor...highly recommended...

Luke 1 - 2 spiritually prepare for the busy-ness of Christmas, I've been prayerfully reading these two chapters in multiple translations.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Spider-Man 3

May 4, 2007

NFL Rankings - Week 10

1 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 1)...though their last win was ugly

2 - Chicago Bears (last week 3)...though their last win was ugly

3 - New England Patriots (last week 2)

4 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 7)

5 - San Diego Chargers (last week 8)...a very impressive come-from-behind win

6 - Denver Broncos (last week 6)

7 - Seattle Seahawks (last week 10)

8 - New Orleans Saints (last week 4)

9 - New York Giants (last week 5)

10 - Kansas City Chiefs (last week 9)

Honorable mentions:
Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers...I'm hoping they've turned things around, and that it isn't too late

Looking toward the Draft:
Washington Redskins...Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs just hasn't yet found that certain chemistry to turn the 'Skins into a productive team

Friday, November 10, 2006

Believing Jesus

"If you believe what you like in the gospels,
and reject what you don’t like,
it is not the gospel you believe,
but yourself." - St. Augustine

Thanks to Andrew Stoddard

NFL Rankings - Week 9

1 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 3)...the best in the NFL;
Peyton Manning will likely win ANOTHER league MVP award, and, I believe, his first Super Bowl championship

2 - New England Patriots (last week 2)...tough loss to Indy...several uncharacteristic mistakes by future Hall of Famer Tom Brady proved costly

3 - Chicago Bears (last week 1)...they lose their first game of the season to Miami? U-G-L-Y.

4 - New Orleans Saints (last week 4)...with a bye this week...oops, sorry; they play the Steelers

5 - New York Giants (last week 8)...the NFC will come down to the Bears, the Saints, and Peyton Manning's little brother's team

6 - Denver Broncos (last week 6)...they didn't look TOO impressive beating a Pittsburgh team that beat itself, but Mike Shanahan finds a way to stay in the mix year in and year out

7 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 7)

8 - San Diego Chargers (last week 10)

9 - Kansas City Chiefs (last week unranked)

10 - Seattle Seahawks (last week unranked)

Honorable mentions:
Atlanta Falcons (last week 5), Cincinnati Bengals (last week 9), Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets

Midseason awards:
MVP - Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Coach - Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Offensive player - LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers
Defensive player - Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos or
Shawne Merriman, DE, San Diego Chargers

AFC Championship: New England at Indianapolis
NFC Championship: New Orleans at Chicago
(but don't be surprised if NY ends up here instead of the Saints)
Super Bowl: Chicago Bears vs. Indianapolis Colts
Super Bowl Champion: Indianapolis Colts

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Misc. thoughts...

I think that...

...I felt blessed this morning to have the privilege of voting; I took my daughter Kate to the polls with me...

...regardless of how they are performing so far this season, I am so thankful that the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl earlier this year and that I was able to share that joy with my children for the first time...

...Jefferson Church is a voting station, and I hated seeing the building surrounded by signs promoting political candidates...I felt dirty when I left the office today...

...Christians throughout the nation need to be in prayer for Ted Haggard and his family, as late last week Haggard resigned his pastorate at New Life Church in Colorado Springs due to his confessed "sexual immorality"...we also ought to be in prayer for the man who made the allegations, and be careful not to react with spite or bitterness...'s Charge Conference season again, and I strongly dislike the paperwork we need to complete, as it emphasizes numbers more than ministry, figures more than transformed human lives...when we do that too much, we become the world...

...I will be very glad when the election is over; I am so tired of the mean discourse (from both sides of the political aisle) and the seemingly endless deceptions masquerading as television commercials, which I can't seem to avoid when all I want to do is watch a football game with my family... was somewhat cowardly for either the Judicial Council or the Council of Bishops (or perhaps both) to delay release of the recent decision regarding General Conference representation by Cote d'Ivoire Methodists until the Bishops were finished with their recent meetings in Africa; good way to avoid answering questions...

...personal character and integrity are the #1 factors in leadership, by far, and Pennsylvanians are blessed to have two decent men (Rick Santorum and Bobby Casey) running for U.S. Senate...

...this month, Rev. Andy Verner of Western PA Conference will lead in the launch of a new faith community in the Pittsburgh Mills Mall, and that seems like one of the neatest ministry settings around...

...the recently announced Genesis reunion tour would be much more fun if original singer Peter Gabriel were onboard...

...too often, when it comes to issues of justice, the Church takes a paternalistic "we'll take care of you" stand rather than a more Jesus-like, fraternalistic "we stand with you" stand, which would be far more difficult and demand a far greater commitment...

...this is the season that Peyton Manning finally gets his Super Bowl ring... I have been prayerfully preparing for the Advent and Christmas seasons, I am once again convinced that Charles Wesley's "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" is the greatest of all Christmas carols...matched with a beautifully majestic tune by Felix Mendelssohn, Wesley's text brilliantly and powerfully tells of the Christmas miracle...the Emmanuel message that "God is with us"...and that Jesus truly is God incarnate in human flesh; no other Christmas carol possesses the theological depth and power of this Methodist classic...

...after ten years of pastoral ministry in Western PA Conference, I still avoid going to our Conference Center whenever possible, because I still get the creeps when I'm too close to the "institutional" side of the Church, and I'm not sure why that is; I'm theologically pretty "High Church" for a United Methodist, but still maintain this strange paranoia when it comes to the institutionalization of the Body of Christ...

...the Church really needs to be doing more for and with the poor...numbers don't matter at all unless we're being faithful to God and our sisters and brothers regarding this absolutely essential ministry area.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Jesus said, "I pray...for those who will believe in me...
that all of them may be one, Father,
just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they also be in us
so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
I have given them the glory that you gave me,
that they may be one as we are one —
I in them and you in me —
so that they may be brought to complete unity.
Then the world will know that you sent me
and have loved them even as you have loved me."
- John 17:20-23 (TNIV)

An important part of our disciple-making mission as 21st century Christians is to work toward Church unity. Actually, it's more than important; it's essential. Just as we need to be actively pursuing the spread of the gospel through verbal witness and social witness, we need to be actively pursuing ecumenical involvement with the aim of "complete unity".

Why? Because it was the prayer of our Lord that we be "brought to complete unity".

Why did Jesus pray this prayer? That the world might know the gospel. As the world sees a disunified Church, our witness is damaged. When United Methodists work against Baptists, or Roman Catholics work against Pentecostals, or Lutherans work against Presbyterians, we are hurting not only our effectiveness, but we are hurting our Lord, who desperately desires unity.

More than simply agreeing not to work against one another, we need to actively pursue working together. Folks in our communities need to know that the UM pastor, the RC priest, and the Episcopalian vicar are all "on the same page", and view themselves as part of the same team, not as competitors (deliberate "sheep stealing" is a grave sin, and one for which God will demand an accounting).

Today, I'm happy to say, I will be meeting with other local clergy...all good discuss how we might work together more formally. Our hope is, of course, to accomplish something for the gospel...and to proclaim to the people of Jefferson Hills and Pleasant Hills that we are one. We have our doctrinal specifics, to be sure, but we all share the same Lord, and everything else is subordinant to him.

Ecumenical work is not only the work of clergy. Our laity need to be actively engaged as well...or the whole thing is just a show.

How are you actively pursuing Church unity? How are you equipping others for this task? These are important questions as we seek to be faithful and fruitful.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

VOTE next Tuesday...

NFL Rankings - Week 8

Things are beginning to stabilize in the NFL this season. ..

1 - Chicago Bears (last week 1)

2 - New England Patriots (last week 2)...if they beat Indy this Sunday, they're the favorite to win it all...Brady has looked phenomenal

3 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 3)...if they beat the Patriots this Sunday, they're the favorite to win it all...Manning has looked phenomenal

4 - New Orleans Saints (last week 4)

5 - Atlanta Falcons (last week 5)

6 - Denver Broncos (last week 6)

7 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 7)

8 - New York Giants (last week 8)

9 - Cincinnati Bengals (last week 9)

10 - San Diego Chargers (last week unranked)

Honorable mentions:
Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams

Game of the Week:
Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts against Tom Brady's New England Patriots...what a game it will be! Michael Smith of ESPN, thinks that when their careers are over, Brady and Manning will be considered the two best quarterbacks of more here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All Saints Day

"Sing with all the saints in glory, sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth's dark story, to the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking, soon the storms of time shall cease;
in God's likeness we, awaking, know the everlasting peace.

"O what glory, far exceeding all that eye has yet perceived!
Holiest hearts, for ages pleading, never that full joy conceived.
God has promised, Christ prepares it, there on high our welcome waits.
Every humble spirit shares it; Christ has passed th'eternal gates.

"Life eternal! heaven rejoices; Jesus lives, who once was dead!
Join we now the deathless voices; child of God, lift up your head!
Patriarchs from the distant ages, saints all longing for their heaven,
prophets, psalmists, seers, and sages, all await the glory given.

"Life eternal! O what wonders crowd on faith; what joy unknown,
when, amidst earth's closing thunders, saints shall stand before the throne!
O to enter that bright portal, see that glowing firmament;
know, with thee, O God Immortal, Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent!"
- William J. Irons, 1873 (United Methodist Hymnal #702)