Friday, December 25, 2009


Merry Christmas and welcome to our 2009 edition of "Whadja Get?" I am so grateful for the love of family and friends. While many of us are old enough and mature enough to know that the season is not about presents, it's still fun to give and receive gifts. I like the laughter and sharing about how the different presents were obtained and the thought processes behind them. But most of all, I like what the gifts represent: the fact that someone cared about me enough to take the time and expense to get me something. The love and caring is the central part…the gifts are just the gravy.

So here's some of what I got:

  • Bible commentary on Luke
  • Thumb drive ('cuz you can never have too many thumb drives!)
  • Comic collection on dvd-rom
  • Star Trek and GI Joe videos
  • Action figures (which I collect and also use for object lessons)
  • A 20Q Star Trek electronic game (think of anything from Star Trek and it will guess what it is in 20 questions)
  • Popcorn tin (and it even had popcorn in it!)
  • Hawaii Warriors shirt (from my sister-in-law who lives in…wait for it…Hawaii!)
  • A collector's edition Batman Pez dispenser set
  • Dutch Bros coffee gift card (from one of my daycare kids)
  • Spider-Man spin tooth brush (from one of my co-workers, because with great power comes great oral hygiene)
  • A very nice Denver Broncos jacket

It was an enjoyable Christmas day. May you and your friends and loved ones be blessed throughout the New Year. Thank you for reading my blog.

Friday, December 04, 2009


Bring on the music!

Some of my favorite music is played during the holidays. From great advent hymns to fun classics to pop twists, Christmas music inspires a sense of celebration, reflection, and unity.

Since 2001, Steve Tanner has been offering daily downloads of Christmas music. His 25 Days of Christmas Music is an eclectic mix of yuletide tunes from what seems like a vast bottomless vault of record albums (yes, children, music used to be etched into vinyl discs called "records"). Every year, Mr. Tanner centers his collection around a particular theme and provides commentary on each song via his web forum. And the best part? It's all free!

This year's theme is Trim the Tree Travels. You can find out more about it by clicking the link below, but let me just add that Steve's 25 Days of Christmas Music is on my "must do" holiday activity list.
P.S. You can also download previous years' music.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


December is upon us…and the whole world is having a party. While my favorite holiday remains Thanksgiving, I really enjoy Christmas. The lights, the decorations, the music—there is a festive atmosphere that permeates the air.

As I ponder the very real impact of the Incarnation upon human history (and upon my history), I am not above having a celebration, a party, a time of fun and enjoyment during December. But every year, there is at least one individual (or group of individuals) who wants to remind me or inform me of the “truth” about Christmas, in order to dissuade me from enjoying the holiday. Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to set forth some things I know:

I know that Jesus was probably not born on December 25. I am puzzled as to why the Scrooge patrol thinks this is a devastating argument against celebrating Christmas. If you have the exact date of Jesus’ birth, let me know and I’ll adjust my calendar. Until then, I have 365 choices, so I’ll stick with December 25.

I know that December 25 was appropriated from non-Christian observances. For that matter, so was Easter. For that matter, so are the names of the months and the days of the week.

I know that the wise men were not at the manger. And before you say anything, I know there weren’t three, they weren’t kings, and they were not from the Orient. But since they set out to find the One who was born King of the Jews, I’m willing to cut manger makers a little slack. As the old saying goes, “Wise men still seek Him.”

I know that bad people decorated and worshiped trees in Jeremiah’s day. The only creatures in my house that venerate our tree are the cats…and I wish they would stay out of the branches!
I know that Christmas is a time of great materialism. But I like the atmosphere of the mall at this time of year. I like gifts. I like the lights.

I know that Santa Clause does not exist (sorry, Virginia). But in my humble opinion, this make-believe fantasy character is not the epitome of all that is wrong with celebrating Christmas.

Christmas is a party. Part of my job--my commission--is to let people know about the One they are celebrating. I'm more than happy to share what I know, but please don't throw lumps of coal on my holiday fun! This December, I urge you all to relax...and have fun.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


I can’t stand Halloween.
I really don’t mind Halloween.

Yes, I’m conflicted. I guess when it comes to October 31, I have a love-hate relationship. Naturally, as a child, I looked forward to the annual foray into costumes, especially the plastic masks with the tiny eye, nose, and mouth slits that made me look like my favorite hero. I anticipated the sugar filled loot that would fill my bag after making the rounds of the neighborhood. We got freshly baked cookies, apples, and brownies with no fear of horrible people trying to poison us. One lady even gave out enchiladas! As I entered the teen years, I participated in church groups’ haunted houses and enjoyed the experience of passing off peeled grapes as eyeballs to unsuspecting visitors.

But as I got older, I began to see the other side of Halloween. I learned the murky history of the day. I discovered that some people take Halloween a whole lot more seriously than my friends or I ever did. The world that seemed so safe and innocent growing up had been transformed into a dark, ominous place full of strange grown ups who were very possibly and literally hell-bent on hurting children and puppies.

So how do I feel about Halloween now? Frankly, I feel like life would be easier if we could skip October 31. Unlike Christmas and Easter, Halloween has never shed its pagan pedigree. It has never been successfully transformed into a “Christian observance.” And even though Halloween in America is largely a secular observance, there is an undertone of scariness. I can’t even channel surf without being bombarded by commercials for gross horror movies. I can do without all that, mainly because there are enough real-life terrors around without the distraction of manufactured ones.

But do I fear Halloween? No. To be sure, as I said earlier, there are those for whom this holiday holds a deep and sinister significance. And we must be ever vigilant to protect our children as they roam the streets. But if we think that the devil is alive and active and on the prowl on October 31st, but ignore his schemes and devices the other 364 days of the year, we have, in my opinion, missed the point. The fact is, my God is greater than the devil and there is a plethora of Scripture to back up the fact that, through Jesus, we win the war! God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. I believe quaking in fear and hiding out on October 31 sends the wrong message that somehow this night belongs to the devil. No way! This is the day the Lord has made…we will rejoice and be glad in it.

I’m a big supporter of alternate celebrations. Let the kids have fun and show some creativity, but direct it to a godly end. While I personally enjoy recognizing the launch of the Reformation (and watching the blank stares on everyone’s face), I like to take advantage of Halloween to tell people about Jesus. While it would be easier not to even bring Halloween up, it’s there….so let’s hit it head on, let’s plunder the Egyptians (Exodus 12), and maybe we can do what the historic church failed to do: transform this day to something pointing to Christ.

End of sermon….time to eat some candy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I have a confession to make: I don't read a lot of books like The Dreaming Highway. My tastes run more toward Tom Clancy, John Grisham, and assorted non-fiction works. But Bryan Thompson has delivered a story that is refreshingly free of explosions, intrigue, tawdriness, politics, vampires, or Amish romance and instead paints a picture of a journey of hope.

Former seminary student Seth Reynolds is troubled by a recurring dream about a former flame. This dream propels him on a cross country journey, accompanied by his brother (who happens to be gay), a televangelist priest, and a young woman who is studying to be a rabbi. Although it may sound like the opening line of a joke ("a priest, a rabbi, and a minister go on a trip..."), each character is vested in a rich humanity that defies stereotype. The trip is infused with a subtle humor, which brings a smile at some of the odd situations in which Seth finds himself.

The Dreaming Highway wisely avoids the pitfall of pontification, while presenting the themes of following one's dream and holding on to hope in spite of circumstances. In fact, the novel reads like a movie--not the major studio summer blockbuster kind, but rather an artful indie film, the kind that wins the hearts of viewers and critics alike.

I recommend getting a cup of coffee and settling down with a copy of The Dreaming Highway. I'm looking forward to more from Bryan Thompson.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Food falling from the sky!

School is back in session. VBS and Kid's Camp are fond summer memories. So what do we do to kick off the school year, gather our kids from the "four winds of summer," and teach them at the same time?

We had a Roundup!

Last Sunday, we held the 14th annual Celebration Roundup at our church. Part pep rally, part family reunion, Roundup stretches through a two hour block. For the parents' part, it is an opportunity to fill out some simple paperwork to register their kids for our Sunday morning program. For the kids' part, it's a chance to...well, be loud! Oh, we turn the volume up a bit every Sunday morning; after all, kids are told to be quiet all week long. But there's something about an inflatable jump house and paper plate pizza and spaghetti flying through the air that tends to up the decibel label (and yes, I learned at the board meeting that we were heard in the sanctuary. Someone on our team forgot to shut the door in the hallway. Our bad. On the other hand, the congregation heard that our kid's ministry had some life!).

Our theme was "Roundup With a Chance of Meatballs." We learned that in the book (and upcoming movie) Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, food was falling from the sky for the purpose of feeding people. From there, we pointed out that rain does the same waters the earth and makes it grow. And God's Word does the same thing: it does not return to God void, but accomplishes what it sets out to do! It clicked and they got the point: "God's Word always does what it says it will do."

We've had some first time kids wanting to come back (some of whom realized that we weren't going to have all the bells and whistles each and every week, but wanted to come anyway). All the glory goes to God and all the credit goes to our amazing team of KidServants and KREW who weekly give of their time and talents to help build relationships with our kids. If you are reading this, thank you!

The line to the jump house...always a big event!

Singing praises

Praise in dance with Dance Praise

Waiting for the next thing.....

Sunday, August 09, 2009


G.I. Joe is back in a big budget action packed movie entitled G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. And if you have any fond memories of the 1980's cartoon series, you can forget about them. This movie charts it's own mythology in the Joe franchise.

The action centers on Duke and Ripcord, two soldiers who link up with the top secret G.I. Joe unit. Their mission: keep a new, dangerous weapon of mass destruction out of the hands of a ruthless terrorist organization. And that is pretty much it. The action moves at a steady pace and the stunt sequences are very impressive. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a very LOUD movie, with explosions, weapons fire, and high-tech aircraft screaming everywhere. If you can stand the sheer sound barrage, it's not really a bad movie.

What keeps this movie from being really good or great is the sheer weight of its own material. The G.I. Joe team has dozens of members, making it impossible to highlight more than a handful. The good guy/bad guy combos of Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow and Duke/Baroness are developed a little, as is Destro. But there is a limit to how many "biographies" you can showcase in one movie. The producers are left with little choice than to either ignore or kill off certain characters.

G.I. Joe also suffers from an identity crisis. At some points, it is like a classic military drama (albeit with some sci-fi undertones). But at other points, it becomes a live action cartoon. I got the distinct impression that it was trying too hard to "be like the toys" in some cases. In my opinion, the movie would have looked better if it dropped the franchise connection and stuck to one kind of storytelling.

This new G.I. Joe is not "a real American hero" either. Instead, it is a multi-national task force, with members from around the globe. Again, just an opinion, but I believe a subtle dose of patriotism would have benefited this movie greatly. Even so, there is a definite theme of camaraderie and working together that is cliche but effective.

At best, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a slam bang, action packed guy flick. It is not suitable for children due to the level of violence and occasional profanity. Most of the violence is action-adventure kind of violence, with a lot of explosions and crashes. Unfortunately, there is no depiction of the innocent bystanders and how they may have been injured or killed during the skirmishes between the heroes and villains. As for the profanity, it is contextual and (thankfully) limited. Not that I want to hear it at all, but I've known soldiers and sailors who can let loose with a lot worse far more frequently. G.I. Joe is more restrained, in spite of the intensity of action.

Aside from a few catch phrases ("knowing is half the battle") and inside jokes about lifelike hair (from the 70's Adventure Team commercials), there are no real nods to either the action figures, cartoons, or comics. This is a new G.I. Joe, almost a reinvention. Time (and fans) will tell whether this new Nato-friendly team will prevail over the "real American hero" version.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is rated PG-13.


You'll never guess what our lesson was about at Sunday Morning Celebration?'s the classic account of the battle between David and Goliath. It was several years ago that we asked a woman in our church to make a 9'9" giant in armor. Afterwards, we rolled him back up and stored him away. Unfortunately, in a fit of cleaning just last year, our life-size Goliath poster got tossed (reason #27 as to why I don't like throwing things never know when you might need that junior high term paper or a nearly 10 foot tall poster!). I discovered the fate of Goliath on Saturday, neccesitating some last minute artistic maneuverings. And as long as you don't get nitpicky about too many details, it came out pretty good!

The best part of the morning was not only retelling the story and seeing the kids' faces light up when I brought out my leather slingshot. It was making the point that we all have problems...sometimes big problems, sometimes little ones...but God is with us and He's powerful and the things that seem big to us are not big at all to Him.

Our 3rd-5th grade small group teacher stands up to Goliath.

Big giant, but little kids with bigger faith

Nine feet, nine inches!

Having fun and making the point

Sunday, July 19, 2009


This dock rocked!

Crocodile Dock Vacation Bible School was held last week. And what an incredible week it was! The church building was packed with kids each night, learning how to shine God's light. I'm sure if you ask any one of our volunteers, you would hear funny, moving, or challenging stories from the week. Here are a couple of mine:

Just a shout out to Group Publishing for their exciting, high quality VBS music. The dvd's are part of what made this such a high energy week. But also in that equation was our music team, a group of women (plus a couple of guys at times) that led the motions to the songs.

One night, one of our preschool girls wandered up on the stage. Nobody asked
her to do so, she just went up the steps and joined in the song we were singing. And she had every move, every motion, every bit of choreography down pat! Her crew leader tried to motion her off the stage, but our song leader let her stay to finish the song. It was a blessing to know that this girl...and certainly other kids...have got songs embedded in their minds that teach about God.

And speaking of the motions and our song leaders (affectionately known as "Swamp Stompers"), Friday night I made a mistake and called up a different version of one of our songs. Same tune, same lyrics, but different voices and graphics...and no on-screen motions! One would have thought it was perfectly natural, as the Swamp Stompers and the kids did all the motions perfectly as we had all week.

Another Friday music blessing involved the song "This Little Light of Mine." Crocodile Dock had a hand clappin', fee stompin' bayou version of this classic song. During the week, the music team had tiny little lights hidden in their hands (little LED "God sight lights"...if you've done the Dock, you know what I'm talking about). At the phrase, "Even when I'm afraid, I'm gonna let it shine", the girls brought out their lights and waved them around in the motions to the song. It was highly effective and never failed to bring oohs and aahhhs.

On Friday night, each of the kids got to take home a "God sight light". The plan was to hand them out as they left, but someone decided to give it to them during the closing program instead. But when it came time for "This Little Light of Mine", out came the lights at "even when I'm afraid, I'm gonna let it shine." In the darkened sanctuary, it looked like dozens of fireflies swarming around...which is a cool visual effect, given the theme.

Thursday night (at least with Group's VBS programs) is a straightforward presentation of the gospel, facilitated by a moving object lesson or dramatization in the closing program. These presentations never fail to move me...even thinking about it now, I get a little choked up. I cannot describe the scene adequately, but the point was not lost on the kids. I gave an invitation...and 20 hands went up to indicate that they were professing faith in Jesus Christ! I've heard follow up reports from some of our crew leaders that they got to talk to some of these kids afterwards. In our staff devotions after the kids went home, one of our crew leaders announced that he had made a re-commitment of his faith that night. It was an incredible evening...and one that reminded a weary VBS team why we put ourselves through this every year.

Our station leaders and helpers, our bayou crew leaders, and our support team were INCREDIBLE. I'm reminded of the corporate management saying, "if you want people to think you're brilliant, surround yourself with brilliant people." I've received a lot of positive feedback...and I appreciate each and every compliment, but I always steer it back to the Lord, first and foremost, but then to those who served so faithfully during the week. If I look talented or brilliant, it's because of all the talented, brilliant people who did the hard work.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Up the Butte Falls Highway, past the quaint little mountain town of Butte Falls, is another portion of the Rogue River National Forest. Willow Lake is in this section, a camping. boating,and recreation mecca. If you are following twenty recreational vehicles, at least fifteen of them will turn on the road to Willow Lake. The rest will either proceed to catch Highway 140 or they will turn into the Big Butte Watershed and the pleasant campground & picnic area known as Whiskey Spring.

This camping adventure was the least adventursome so far. For me, it was a time to get caught up on a couple of projects, to think deep thoughts, to spend time in the Word and prayer, and to do nothing (not neccesarily in that order). I did not visit the beaver pond this go around...a place where in the early dawn you might catch a glimpse of furry beavers hard at work. In fact, I didn't wander far from the campsite. I was having too much fun just flaking.

Flaking is good sometimes. I remarked on Twitter that I had permission to leave on Friday afternoon a half hour early. Not only did I not leave a half hour early, but I ended up staying nearly a half hour later! "Getting away" for the weekend is a bit of a challenge. And come July, I will be on a marathon of VBS prep. But as I get more experience in this life, I'm finding that I must deliberately, willfully, stubbornly, and doggedly carve out time to do....nothing.
And I enjoyed it.

Dog on a raft?

Dog on a raft? Where? Where?

Nope...just a dog on an air mattress, soaking up the rays at the campsite (the mattress is on a blue tarp)

Sunday, June 14, 2009


One of the things I enjoy about southern Oregon living is the proximity of outdoor recreation. Above the mountain town of Prospect is a group of campgrounds that border the rafting haven of the Rogue River. One of those campgrounds is the "Natural Bridge" campground. Not as big or developed as Union Creek (see previous camping adventures), the Natural Bridge campground has...the Natural Bridge.

The Natural Bridge area was formed by a series of lava tubes, one of which actually bridges the Rogue River. The river simply disappears into the tube and then reappears a little further up. Pioneers would use this land bridge to cross over the rather dangerous rapids. It's really a remarkable sight.

Rain plus sunshine makes the campsite glow
The Rogue River runs past our campsite
The famous Solar Toilet. Using solar technology to "pump" the disagreeable odors away, this is a step above the ordinary outhouse.
One of the large lava tubes. Rafters like to zip in and out. Not for me, thank you.
The Natural Bridge. The Rogue goes underneath and comes out the other side.

One of the adventures on this trip was our hike. The Natural Bridge campsites are located on the east side of the river. The viewpoint is located on the west side. A very nice footbridge leads to a gentle, paved path with interpretive signs explaining the geography of the area. But once the paved path ends, the visitor can either turn around and go back over to the east side or take the trail that borders the west side of the river. We opted for the west side, because, after all, how hard could it be?

There is a reason why the trail is not taken much. Although technically classified as a "short, easy" trail, it is actually a couple of miles of narrow, steep grades that led us up further and further up the side of the hill. At one point, we could see our campsite far down and across the raging river. At several points, we wondered if we should have turned back. We had no idea how much further we were going to climb or how far down we would have to go before being able to cross over to the east side of the river.

And, oh yes, it started to rain. Wet and tired, we eventually found an older bridge that creaked a little as we crossed over, but returned us to the trail that led to our campsite. It was enjoyable, great exercise, fresh air, being out in nature.

And then I got to thinking...

Christian life and ministry is a lot like that hike. We don't always know what the trail will be like. As much as I'd like the path to be paved and even, the reality is that the going sometimes gets rough. And it rains. And a lot of times, I feel like turning back. But then the Lord reminds me that the best way to go is forward. The past is the past. The mistakes, hurts, and tragedies of yesterday fade into the distance as we keep going up and forward. And when we reach that bridge, when we "arrive", we can look back and rejoice that the path was taken.

Sunday, June 07, 2009


It was a good day.

The first Sunday of June is Promotion Day, in which our 9:00 a.m. Small Group Celebration kids are recognized and advanced into a new grade. For some of the kids, it means an actual move to a new group. For other kids, the transition is bigger, as they make the move from "children's ministries" to "youth ministries", joining the middle school group.

Earlier this year, we appointed a special committee to set up and develop the Promotion Day activities. They did a fantastic job, from coordinating "goodie bags" to making a special arch highlighted with bubbles for the kids to pass through.

The morning festivies were topped off with the jump house and refreshments. It was fun talking to the kids afterwords and seeing the excitment on their faces, knowing that they have spent the last school year hearing God's Word and growing in their faith. And the best part of all was being a link in a team that got to help do it.

Walking through the arch on the path to advancement

Celebrating Promotion Day by leaping in the jump house

But the day wasn't over with Promotion Day. The day also happened to be when our congregation moved outside for the 10:00 "Worship on the Lawn". What started as a periodic event (tied into a concert or barbecue) has become an almost-annual routine in which we spend the entire summer of Sundays on the spacious back yard of the church.

Since we are located in a residential neighborhood, there are quite a few folks who drive or walk by and wonder what is going on. We've actually had some families start attending because they saw the outdoor service. For those who don't care for the sun or the potential uneven spots in the lawn, the service is also broadcast on the screens indoors (okay, I know this is standard to my mega-church friends, but this is about as "multiple venue" as we get at the moment).
Gathering on the lawnOur worship team "bringing it" as they do every Sunday.

So the first Sunday of June is done. What a great way to start the month and to start the summer season!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Ahhhhh...tents, motor homes, roasting hot dogs over an open fire, waving off bugs, and watching chipmunks. Yes...our family's annual camping adventures have begun. And I have to say that for sheer ease, nothing beats going camping the weekend before Memorial weekend!

It had been a very full week, so we were looking forward to a break. Our anniversary was Friday, but my wife's sister was flying in from Hawaii the night before and wanted to go camping. So we had our anniversary dinner and movie (Star Trek, if you're curious) the weekend before and plunged into prep for the first camping adventure of 2009.

It rained on Wednesday. It rained on Thursday. It rained Friday morning. And then....sunshine! Clear skies. It was almost like a sign that as soon we were done with work, we needed to throw ourselves in the buggy and high tail it out of town. But we soon discovered that the "one more thing" syndrome hit. I felt guilty trying to get "one more thing" done before leaving, until I discovered my wife was also trying to get "one more thing" done as well.

But get done we did and soon we were zooming up Highway 62 to the Union Creek campgrounds. My wife's mother and sister were already there, with the fire going. And from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, we pretty much did absolutely nothing! And it was wonderful. I read a lot, I strategized for children's ministries, I walked around, I prayed, I napped whenever I felt like it.

The best part was that it was very quiet. Union Creek is a big campground and there were very few campers. We got our favorite site (#43, if you're ever wondering) and there was nobody next to us. Since the official opening day for camping is next weekend, I think we timed it just right.
Campsite 43: in my opinion, the best site at the Union Creek campground. It's big and roomy. The amphitheatre is just up the hill. And it is a short walking distance to the flush toilets!
Lots of room
Bridge over Union Creek. Water seemed higher this year than usual.
The Amphitheatre

No camping visit would be complete without a visit to the more traditional, uhhh, facilities. But these are brand new, spacious and clean. I took a pic of the inside, but it didn't turn out. But trust me, these are cadallac of outhouses.

What is Drea so fixated on? Let's zoom in and see....

It's a chipmunk. Union Creek and the other campgrounds in this area are full of them! We probably had fewer of the little guys because of our dog, but they are there. My sister-in-law, who lives in Hawaii, looked forward to seeing the chipmunks again because, as she said, "Mongoose are a poor substitute."

Thursday, April 16, 2009


The following video has had extensive play before on YouTube (and probably other sources). But to some of you (and to me), this is new. Please watch this before reading my comments.

I am not a fan of musicals. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of musicals I actually enjoy. Perhaps I should say that I enjoy the music of some musicals, but not neccesarily the story line. I'm too "stuck in the mud" to comprehend characters suddenly breaking into song and dance.

Having said that, I was completely fascinated by this video. Imagine being at that train station and seeing some guy suddenly start dancing? You would think it was odd. And then one more starts dancing. And another, then another. Two more, three more, and then flocks of people descend upon the middle and perform a synchronized routine (I understand there were two hundred dancers).

But the best part was watching the reactions of the crowd. Shock, amazement, and unabashed joy could be seen on the faces of the bystanders. Something big and amazing was happening right before their eyes. And the pains and the delays and the frustrations and the multitude of other "bad day scenarios" that the individuals at that station might have been feeling were suddenly set aside by a pocket of sheer happiness.

Can I live my life in such a way as to bring those pockets of happiness to those I meet? I'm not talking about singing and dancing (both of which I love to do, but neither of which would get me on American Idol), but by my word and actions do people see a bubbling over joy? Can I exude the peace and happiness that comes from a close relationship with God? Can folks see my good works and glorify my Father in heaven?

Just some thoughts.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


The furor over President's remarks in Turkey has once again raised questions about our identity as a Christian nation. Even granting our President the benefit of the doubt and figuring he meant to say that we have all kinds of religions in the U.S., the simple declaration that America is not a Christian nation has incited the fundamentalist right and inspired the fundamentalist left in our country. Blogs, opinion pieces, and talk radio and tv have been flooded with comments. Some of the debate has been very reasonable and well thought-out, a testimony to our capacity to agree to disagree agreeably. But sadly, most of the "stuff" I've read from both sides has been reactionary, vicious, and mean-spirited.

So in my own humble attempt to insert my own two cents, I offer the following thoughts in order to set the stage for better, more constructive dialogue:

First of all, President Obama's views, policies, and so on do not change anything about Christianity. Christianity has survived and thrived under governments of deep oppression and persecution for over 2000 years. To my brothers and sisters who are tempted to cast worried glances and bemoan the doom of the church as we know it, all I can say is: the church as we know it may be modified, but the church itself is built on the ROCK and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.

Second, with all due respect, President Obama's opinion is not the first or the final word on the subject of Christianity in the U.S. As my old aunt used to say, "Just 'cuz he said it, don't make it so!" The sentiment that "America is not a Christian nation" is an old and oft-repeated one that has been proclaimed long before the President was even born. My liberal friends have expressed their extreme pleasure that someone has come forward to clear up the question, as if my President's words magically settled a long standing controversy. They haven't…all they did was once again stir up the proverbial pot..

Third, those of us who proclaim faith in Christ should try to define our terms. When I am asked if America is a Christian nation, I usually say, "yes and no." Yes, because we can build a pretty good case for the Judeo-Christian consensus in the founding of our country. Yes, because we can document a stream of statements and quotes that demonstrate that. But no, because our country is not a branch of Christianity, it does not send out national missionaries, and, quite frankly, we allow a lot of things that are decidedly un-Christian. So perhaps as we start this debate, we need to take a moment and discuss exactly what we mean by "Christian nation", so at least we are all on the same page.

Fourth, many posters have used the President's words to launch into a diatribe against the Bible. Aside from the fact that most of the attacks are the same tired old stanzas that Christian apologists have addressed years ago, it still doesn't change the original question of whether America is a Christian nation. Your agreement or disagreement with the source material does not change the founding of the country on this source material.

Fifth—and I might add, the most incredible, amazing thing of all—in many parts of the world, we would not even be discussing this at all! The grand and glorious irony of our country is that her core belief system even allows beliefs that stand in opposition to her. And to that I say, "God bless America."

Sunday, March 29, 2009


So there I was, watching the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards, along with my almost 18 year old daughter. Okay, I think she was actually reading a book on the other end of the couch, but I’m sure she at least glanced up periodically to find out what all the screaming was about.
Like all things related to kids and kid culture, I found myself asking, “what can I learn here that will help in the all time goal of ministering to children?” Well, there were no surprises on most of the winners. When I-Carly was announced as best television show, I dutifully asked, “what can we learn from this in our ministry?” My daughter, not looking up from her book, replied, “Start a webcast for kids.”

Not bad.

There were a lot of lessons, applications, and even a production value or two I gleaned from this slime filled excess. But the moment that stuck with me wasn’t about flash and bang and wild cheering. The moment that defined it for me was when Miley Cyrus cried.

I realize the parental jury is still out on Miley Cyrus. But when this pop culture icon, this cornerstone of children’s programming, was named best female singer, her jaw dropped and the tears fell. It was a sharp contrast to the upbeat acceptance from everyone else. What caused this display? Her voice choking, her gaze down, she said, “I thought I was going to lose.”


In spite of her phenomenal success, this actress/performer thought that the kids of America would not vote for her as their favorite singer. She seemed genuinely touched that she won. And I had to wonder what would cause a kid like that to feel insecure about her popularity?

For that matter, what would cause any kid to feel insecure? Or fearful? Or full of doubt?

Suddenly, the Kids’ Choice Awards intersected with the real life world of Children’s Ministries. Children with far fewer privileges and connections have a hard time believing that people like them, love them, and value them.

And that’s where those of us in Children’s Ministries can do something that Nickolodeon with its tri-level stage, flashing monitors, zip-lines, and slime cannons cannot do: build relationships with these children and let them know they are loved and cared for by others and ultimately by the Creator of the universe.

Monday, March 23, 2009

LIFE AND MINISTRY BPC (before personal computing)

It may seem hard to believe, but there was an era BPC—“before personal computing.” I grew up in that era and I conducted my early ministries in that era. No, I’m not that old (really, honestly), it’s just that the information superhighway is actually a fairly recent innovation. I cannot imagine doing what I do today without a laptop, yet there was a day when I did.

What would I have done with computing technology in the early days of my ministry? How would it have been different?

1. Study. I was (and still am) a book guy. I have lots of books. And when I study and prep, there’s no substitute for having open tomes in front of me that I can flip back and forth, shuffle around, carry with me when I need to stretch, and (as needed) use to dispatch a spider or two to the afterlife.
Yet, there is no denying that some of my study and prep took a leap forward when someone gave me a copy of QuickVerse. Suddenly, I could compare Bible versions side by side, bring up a map of the region, and access a commentary. And with the internet, I could find illustrations, cultural connections, and a virtual deluge of info that could help me in getting ready for a sermon. These tools and more have not replaced books, but they have made finding and organizing the data a little faster.

2. Productivity. When I was younger, I remember the Sunday School lady coming into each classroom, count the kids, write something in her little book, and leave. I found some of those records when I later became the pastor of that same church. I admired the loving care and dedication of that dear saint, but I also wondered if there was a better, more efficient way of doing it, that at least would allow this woman to get to her own Sunday School class on time. Preparing bulletins, writing reports, and managing the sheer amount of basic paperwork was a task that took time and patience.
We have tools available now that would have helped, from simple and very basic spreadsheets to sophisticated attendance/security systems. Bulletins could be prepared, edited, and stored in advance. I could actually type a report, stop, save, and come back to it later, rather than have to invest a long period of time in typing it in one sitting.

3. Networking. The first church I pastored full time was a small church in Colorado, affiliated with a major denomination. Once or twice a year, we’d get together in our region and swap stories and get motivated about the latest denominational trend. But phone calls were not always practical and snail mail was, well, slow. And aside from the local ministerial alliance in our city, I had very little contact with anybody outside.
With the rise of the internet, that has changed. I can communicate in real or near real time with ministry colleagues across the country. I’ve met some in person, and some I haven’t, but I count them as friends and partners in ministry. This is tremendous, because it combats the feeling of loneliness that often swamps those in ministry.

4. Wider presence. Evangelism and discipleship are primarily “individual contact” activities. That will not change. But there are also other avenues that churches often use to spread the word that they are there. If your church had a big enough budget, you could take out advertising in the local newspaper or phone directory. You could invest in a bigger sign. And if you really wanted to be noticed, you could get a drive time spot on the Christian radio station or produce your own church broadcast. But if you didn’t have money, you did what our church did: try to get as many events mentioned in the paper as possible. And for a small church, that wasn’t very many. Our evangelism and discipleship were one-on-one, but we had no wider presence beyond that.
But with the rise of the internet, a church can create a website, have a podcast, and spread their message far and wide for little or no extra cost. It’s like having an instantly updated church flyer available to anyone 24-7! Many are the times I’ve thought about my early churches and what a website for these churches would have looked like.

5. Fun. Okay, I was not exactly cut off from civilization in these early ministries. We had cable. I listened to the radio. But there were few instant distractions available.
Since then, I have come to appreciate the internet as a place to read an interesting article from a newspaper in another part of the country, listen to inspiring music, or even watch an entire episode of a television show from my youth.

No, I did not have a personal computer or internet in those days. The ministries presented their own challenges and opportunities for growth and development. While I wish I knew then what I know now, I have no real regrets. But there is no doubt that the rise of computer technology has altered the way we do this thing called “ministry.” And another twenty years from now, I may once again be wondering what this era would have been like with the new technology.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


What is over half a century old, sounds illegal, and is one of the largest groups in the church?

The answer is Bible Story Time, the Friday afternoon "release time" ministry of the Eagle Point Community Bible Church (in Oregon). It is the second oldest children's ministry in our church, having started sometime in the early 50's. There are older members of our congregation who remember attending it when they were kids. Even though some of the methodology behind it has changed, the basic premise is the same: elementary school children are escorted from the school to the church building, where they spend time singing songs and hearing Bible stories, after which they are returned to school.

Yes, it happens during school hours. The public school teachers actually dismiss children from class to go to church!

"But how is that possible?" one may ask, while casting a nervous glance for the "separation of church and state" lawyers hovering in the bushes.

The first answer has to do with Oregon state law, which allows students (with parental permission) to be released from class for the purpose of "religious instruction." I am not a lawyer or the son of a lawyer, but I know that there are equal access laws that cannot discriminate on the basis of faith. The Oregon law is actually a recognition that parents can arrange for religious teaching time for their children, even if that religious teaching time is during school hours. It's been on the books for decades. Other organizations, such as Child Evangelism Fellowship, have successfully conducted Good New Clubs during school hours for years. Bible Story Time is part of the legacy of release time ministries.

The second answer has to do with the nature and makeup of our community. Even though Eagle Point is one of the fastest growing cities in the region, it still retains a "small town" charm and feel. Since the church has been around since just after the turn of the century (the last one, not this one!), it has grown and developed with the city. In short, we have a "presence." School officials come and go, but Bible Story Time keeps going.

Public school students gather to hear the Word!

Because our church is nearly across the street from one of the two elementary schools we serve, the mechanics of Bible Story Time are fairly simple. A group of "walkers" go to the different classrooms with their lists of kids whose parents have given signed permission for them to attend Bible Story Time. The kids are walked over to the church for the session (which lasts approximately 20-30 minutes) and then returned to their classes. To serve the other elementary school, a bus is driven to and parked by the school. The kids are retrieved from class and escorted to the bus for the session.

Of course, there have been challenges along the way. As administrators have come and gone, the amount of "recruiting" the church has been allowed to do has changed. At one time, the schools would automatically include a Bible Story Time flyer in the parent packets sent home with the kids. Nowadays, the church is allowed to set up a small table in the corner of the gymnasium during registration/orientation, where parents are free to pick up a registration slip. While most teachers have supported the release time, there have been a few that have left no doubt as to their loathing for having to disrupt the kids' academic day. One teacher even complained about having to “de-program” her students after they attended. Thankfully, those teachers are by far in the minority.

Another challenge occurred a short time ago, when one of the two elementary schools within walking distance of the church was closed down in order for a new elementary school to be built about a mile and a half away. The Bible Story Time team prayed about and evaluated whether or not to continue the ministry with just the one school or try to find a way to include the second school. The solution came with the purchase of a full size school bus. The bus parks near the new school and the kids are walked from class to their portable "chapel."

Kids listening to the Gospel as one of the story tellers shares

The surprising thing about the Bible Story Time ministry is that it is decidedly "old school" in its approach, yet attracts nearly 150 children each week. The songs are a mix of vintage Child Evangelism Fellowship and 70's Maranatha. The Bible stories vary by the teacher and range from flannel graph illustrations and puppets to object lessons and full blown mini-dramas. For many children, it is the only “church” they get.

Obviously, the most wonderful aspect of Bible Story Time is the dozens of children over the years who have professed faith in Jesus Christ through this work. But also significant is the individual ministry that happens with a child who asks a profound question, requests prayer for a sick relative, or mentions a deep need. In the short amount of time in which Bible Story Time takes place, there is a tremendous and profound connection.

For 50 plus years, dozens of walkers and story tellers have helped children hear the Good News during the week. And as the Lord directs, there are no plans to let up.

Teacher Tim and Dyzzee take a turn at telling the Bible Story

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I have a confession to make: I did not vote for Barack Obama.

I have fundamental disagreements with some of our new President's expressed philosophies. And that's okay, because I have that freedom as an American.

And that's okay, because others have that freedom as well. And they exercised that freedom by electing Mr. Obama as the 44th President of the United States. And my heart is soaring as I write this because....Mr. Obama is my president too!

He did not get there because of a violent coup. He was not installed by a government dictatorship. No matter what our political leanings are, it's worth noting that Barack Obama was elected by a process that has endured for over 230 years. Very few places in the world can claim the peaceful transfer of power like our country.

The news mentioned some critics of all the inaguration day pomp. But this is a party...a party to celebrate one of the things that make this country great. I don't care for campaigns, but I love the fact that we can hand off the presidency with warmth, with excitement, and with a sense of newness. Presidents Bush and Obama embraced...the sharp divides set aside for this grand celebration. It is a day unlike any other.

And so I will pray for my new president. I will pray for Mr. Obama's health and safety and for great wisdom. I will support him and honor him. And yes, I will express my disagreements with him and avail myself of the system that allows me to disagree. And that's okay, because I have that freedom as an American.

God bless Barack Obama. And God bless the United States of America.