Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fans unite around their teams

We are going to have a Superbowl party at our house tomorrow. We've been doing it since 1995 when one of our church members won a six foot long Subway in a radio contest. It's always a lot of fun. It is even better when someone has a favorite playing in the game. In recent years we have had lots of Patriot fans and a few Giant fans. We've had Eagle fans and Packer enthusiasts. And yes, even one Steelers fan. Three years ago I put on my Rothlesberger Jersey and put my bobble heads on top of the television. It seemed to work for us. The Steelers won.

People get real creative when it comes to supporting their team. Fans go a little crazy and I've seen so much fun stuff including this video.

When I was in the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina last week, I was wearing my Steelers Sweatshirt and several people waved and nodded to me. Many of them were wearing team jerseys, hats and jackets. We all had this in common. We didn't know each other, but we shared a common bond.

This happens on occasion when someone is wearing a Christian t-shirt or people come together for a conference or rally. People come together, wave, share a brief word and immediately share that common bond which goes beyond race, culture and age. We are one in Christ. Unfortunately it happens a lot less than it does with our sports teams. Too often we focus on what we divides us rather than what brings us together.

Imagine if Steeler fans started arguing over whether Ben Rothlisberger or Neil O'Donnell was a better quarterback. Imagine if Patriot fans started disagreeing over whether Tom Brady was more important to the team than Richard Seymour. Then they began forming coalitions to debate and argue that members of the other opinion weren't really fans. It doesn't often happen in sports, but sadly enough, it does happen in the church.

Last week several representatives of the various Christian churches in town came together to pray. We didn't try to change anyone's mind about their basic beliefs. We came together to affirm Jesus as Lord and our common faith. It was great.

I think after the Super Bowl is over, maybe some of us can put some energy into rooting for Christ and bringing people together to honor him. It might just be fun. It might just bring a smile to the Lord's faith as his team takes the field.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kurtsi and Brenda, What a couple!

I got the email about Kurtis and Brenda and then decided to check it out to see if it was true. Sometimes these good stories are more fabrication than reality. I found this story by Dashiell Bennett which records the internet version as well as the true story. Amazingly enough, the true story is even better.

So enjoy it. As you are watching the Pittsburgh Steelers beat Warner and the Arizona Cardinals at the Super Bowl on Sunday (Sorry, I just had to add that because the Steelers are my team)you can give props to him for the faith that carries him through life.


Kurtis and Brenda

Sports is a cold and cynical world, but its nice to know that uplifting tales of goodness can be found in the abyss. Oh, look... your mom just forwarded you an email from 1999!

It's entitled "Kurtis The Stock Boy and Brenda The Checkout Girl." It's the kind of thing you might read in a "Chicken Soup For The Arena Football Player's Soul" and it's popping up in inboxes and message boards all over the Western world this week. Here's some exceptts::

In a supermarket, Kurtis the stock boy, was busily working when a new voice came over the loud speaker asking for a carry out at register 4. Kurtis was almost finished, and wanted to get some fresh air, and decided to answer the call. As he approached the check-out stand a distant smile caught his eye, the new check-out girl was beautiful. She was an older woman (maybe 26, and he was only 22) and he fell in love.

Let's skip ahead to "KURTIS" and "BRENDA"'s first date, where she explains that she can't go, because she has two kids and the baby sitter canceled.

To which Kurtis simply said, "Well, let's take the kids with us." She tried to explain that taking the children was not an option, but again not taking no for an answer, he pressed. Finally Brenda, brought him inside to meet her children. She had an older daughter Jessie, who was just as cute as a bug, Kurtis thought, then Brenda brought out her son, Zachary in a wheelchair. He was born a paraplegic with Down Syndrome.

Kurtis asked Brenda, "I still don't understand why the kids can't come with us?" Brenda was amazed. Most men would run away from a woman with two kids, especially if one had disabilities - just like her first husband and father of her children had done. Kurtis was not ordinary - - - he had a different mindset.

Are you crying yet? It goes on like this....

When her son needed anything Kurtis would take care of him. When he needed to use the restroom, he picked him up out of his wheelchair, took him and brought him back. The kids loved Kurtis. At the end of the evening, Brenda knew this was the man she was going to marry and spend the rest of her life with.

Those two crazy kids got married and had five more babies of their own. Have you figured out ... the rest of ... the story?

So what happened to Kurtis the stock boy and Brenda the check-out girl? Well, Mr. & Mrs. Kurt Warner now live in Arizona , where he is currently employed as the quarterback of the National Football League Arizona Cardinals and has his Cardinals in the Super Bowl. Is this a surprise ending or could you have guessed that he was not an ordinary person.


Both Brenda and Kurt are active born-again Christians.

Yes, this email is not without a purpose, but surely it made the rounds before, when Kurt was leading the Rams to two Super Bowls. There's long been talk that his inspiring story will become a movie someday, but the real tragedy is that this cheesy email actually shortchanges the Warners, because almost all the details are incorrect and not as interesting as real life.

This internet legend has already been chronicled by, which breaks down the inaccuracies and points out how the true story is even more sad and inspiring. Brenda was never a checkout girl. She met Kurt when he was still in college and before his career took its unfortunate turn for the worse. (She actually stuck with him, despite his many football failures.) They were together five years before they got married, not one. Her son, Zachary, is actually her oldest child and he doesn't have Down's Syndrome. His birth father dropped him on his head when he was an infant, leading to brain damage and blindness. (The trauma of that incident let to the father leaving Brenda, while she was pregnant with her second child.) Also, left out: the tornado that killed Brenda's parents in 1996; the spider bite that cost Kurt a tryout with the Bears; and Brenda's first career as a freakin' Marine. This family oozes perseverance.

So, yeah ... their story is pretty awesome—which is why I just assumed that everyone had already heard it before. But I guess maybe your great aunt just got her first MacBook so you should probably send it along just to be safe.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Love on display

The other night I was watching the television as President Barak Obama entered one of the inaugural balls. He came in and as he greeted the crowd he turned to look at his wife, Michelle and he said, "Isn't she beautiful?" Those words touched my heart. It was great to hear the most powerful man in the world complimenting his wife. It was also nice to know the words were sincere. It says something about the man.

The truth is that for the last eight years we have witnessed that same kind of love and devotion in President George W. Bush toward his wife, Laura. Those who know them best will tell you that their love for each was on display for all to see. It was an example for all to follow. Unfortunately it was often over shadowed by the tumultuous events that have gone on in our world since September 11th and the decisions made in its aftermath.

I received this e-mail today and I thought I would share it with you. I know that there are many who don't have a high regard for the job George W. Bush did as President. I'm not going to argue that. But when you look at him as a man, as a husband and father, he gave us an example that we can be proud of.

A Love like no other...

Who could have predicted that when Joe and Jan O'Neill invited their two single friends, George Walker Bush and Laura Lane Welch to a backyard barbecue in the summer of 1977 their efforts at matchmaking would end up making history? Who would have known the couple would not only be attracted to each other, but that sparks would fly and ignite so quickly into flames, that they would marry in a mere three months? And who could ever have imagined that eventually God would lead this same young couple to become the President and First Lady of the greatest country on earth.

George W. was admittedly "smitten" by the lovely young Laura. He said that she was "gorgeous, good - humored, quick to laugh, down - to - earth, and very smart." Laura thought that young George was "kind of cute, and funny" and liked how he made her laugh. Though they were opposites in personality - - he outgoing and sometimes outrageous, athletic and from a boisterous, energetic family, and she a calm, quiet and thoughtful reader, and beloved only child - - they found they shared the same beliefs and values - - " West Texas " values of an individual's worth and of personal responsibility. They discovered they had common interests - - they both loved to read and spend time with friends. They fell so quickly in love that they married on November 5, 1977. According to Laura, “It was a small wedding, just about 75 people. It was in the church I'd been baptized in as a baby. So it was really a wonderful way to start a new marriage." That was thirty - two years ago.

Their marriage began with a honeymoon in Mexico , followed by a congressional campaign trip throughout Texas . It wasn't politically successful, but both have said it was a good way to start their marriage because they got to spend every minute with each other and loved it. Rumor is, they still do!

After years of trying to have the family they so desired, the Bushes became proud parents in November 1981, of lovely twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, both named after their grandmothers. The family was deeply involved in church and community and in developing loving relationships with each other that have stood the test of time...through difficulties and triumphs, through a not too successful oil exploration venture, a very successful Texas Rangers baseball team, the Governorship of Texas, long and difficult campaigns, and finally to the White House as President, First Lady, and beautiful, mature and gracious first daughters of the United States of America .

The story of George and Laura Bush is a wonderful love story..... a song of delight and passion, humor and fidelity, steadfastness and grace. The President has said, "I saw an elegant beautiful woman who turned out not only to be elegant and beautiful, but very smart and willing to put up with my rough edges, and I must confess has smoothed them off over time." There really aren't that many couples who after 30 years display so openly their deep affection for one another - - in their embraces, kisses, whispers, playful pats from well - placed hands, touches, and looks that could melt the coldest heart. When they are together, they can be alone in a room full of people. They have allowed us to observe their love and to love them even more because of their adoration for each other, and even at times to be "twitter pated" and inspired by what we see in them...the intimacy, the trust, and even the passion of mature love.

One can easily see how much fun they have together and how much they enjoy each other's company. The delightful interaction between them can erupt at any moment in time, and the joy of the Lord and enjoyment of each other radiates in their faces.

Observers have noted that when Laura walks into a room, her husband is visibly calmed, while she has said that he has brought excitement into her life. But above all, they provide for each other comfort and refuge in times of need. Laura has said, "We have a very sustaining relationship. It's always been that way and we're lucky to have that relationship." George has said, "Laura brings me great comfort. It's very helpful to know that in this wonderful job, that I am not alone." And, "My wife is a rock."

The President, ever more effusive in his manner, has declared what we have all come to understand: "Laura is a beautiful person, inside and out." She is to him, "mi esposa...mi amore"... my wife, my love, and "the great love of my life." And in moments when she needed assurance and encouragement, he has been known to say, "You look beautiful, babe!" What a gift it is to the leader of the free world to have a woman by his side who has covenanted to be with him always in love and support! Laura has observed that in politics you have many enemies, so it's better if it's not your spouse. It's not difficult to see that these two are not enemies! In a rare unguarded moment when asked about the President's appearance, Laura expressed that "After nearly 30 years of marriage, I still think the President is the most handsome man I know."

There is no obligatory political handholding between them... it is the handholding of lovers; of two people who communicate that love through touch. Even the kisses on campaign stages can be filled with passion, and the embraces intense and electric. And, oh, the joy of seeing them holding each other close as they danced at the Inaugural Balls, sometimes gazing lovingly, sometimes teasing, but always enjoying the magical moment together!

What a blessing it has been for the past eight years to observe this exemplary relationship! It is so extraordinary and exciting, yet so normal...just like us, but not. This couple has been through tough times - and yet they have endured with an abiding peace and joy. They have endured through the grace of God and because of their faith.

I pray that Barak and Michelle Obama's marriage will be as strong, if not stronger, that that of George and Laura Bush. I pray it will set and example for all of us who are married from one end of this great nation to the other.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

No longer Lost with Lost

I'm watching the television serial, Lost, tonight. I rented the first season on DVD and catching up with the very beginning of the series. I've been watching it since somewhere in the second season. I saw a few highlights of the first season. Most of what I knew came from recaps. It is cool to go back and pick up all the pieces that I missed. Many of the gaps are being filled now. Some of the things I didn't understand are becoming much clearer.

It reminded me that the same thing is true about our faith. We learn as we grow. As we study the Bible and attend Bible studies we learn. Things begin to make more sense over time. As we attend worship and praise God, the Holy Spirit fills the gaps. The more time we spend with God, the closer we get with him and the deeper our faith.

So I am going to watch these episodes and enjoy them. Then I am going to get ready for our next Bible study so I can cozy up with God for a bit.


Friday, January 23, 2009

A common faith

Tonight members of the Christian community came together in a service of prayer for unity. Dr. Jeremiah Lowney gave the message and he spoke about the sin of indifference. He really gave us some food for thought as he quoted from the story of the Good Samaritan and Matthew 25.

Several members of the clergy participated including Bishop Michael Cote from the Diocese of Norwich, Father Peter D'alesandre, from Grace Episcopal, Rev. Ho Soon Han from Lee Memorial United Methodist, Rev. Michelle Madeen- Bibeau from Central Baptist Church, Rev. James Rowe from St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church and Rev. David Stickney, the host pastor at the United Church of Christ. Mr. Tim Smith of St. Mary's and Mrs. Millie Divine of Sts Peter and Paul also participated in the service.

I am always impressed when a group of representatives from the various Christian churches come together. There is always a chance that someone will ruffle feathers and do something to embarrass or offend another tradition. But people are usually pretty tolerant and forgiving. Well tonight I was the one who got a little lost. I was chosen to read the Gospel lesson.

Now in our tradition we always read the scriptures but don't make a differentiation between Gospel, Epistles, Old Testament or Psalms. In the Roman Catholic Church and a few of our sister churches the Gospel is lifted up and every stands as it is read. I was aware of this and wanted to be sensitive to the customs I asked the event's organizer for directions on how to read according to his tradition. He told me and I have to confess that I was a little nervous that I would get it wrong.

When my turn came I strode to the front and did it exactly as Rafael told me to do it. I was greatly relieved and the service moved towards its conclusion. Afterwards Rafael came up to me and I asked him how I did. He laughed and told me he forget to tell me that I was to present the Bible to the Bishop before I read it and then offer it to him after I finished.

It struck me that no matter how hard I tried to honor someone else's tradition, I probably would have messed something up. The truth is that being sensitive to it is the most important thing. It shows that you care and respect a tradition even if you don't follow it on your own. I think this is a good rule to follow whenever we enter into ecumenical or interfaith witness. We don't have to give up our traditions, but we need to be sensitive to others and try to accommodate our differences.

Rick Warren gave us a good example at the Presidential Inauguration the other day. He didn't come in with his own agenda. He simply prayer and in doing so he brought us all together in a simple,common prayer for the nation and our new President.

Tonight we came together with a single purpose... to pray for our common faith and to give thanks to the Lord. We each did it in our own way but we also did it together. That's what matters most. Praise God.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Making an adventure out of the waiting game.

I feel a little bit like Tom Hanks in the movie "Terminal." I have been wandering around the Charlotte, NC airport for almost five hours now. I got here late and my connection had left. My new connection has been delayed three times. I have been from one end of the airport to the other. I haven't had to set up a bed yet or build a room for myself but I am starting to wonder how long I will be here.

Spending the day here has been kind of fun. I know that I will eventually get where I am going so I decided to make an adventure of it. The thought hit me that living life should be the same way. Once we have accepted Christ, we know we are going to heaven when we die. So why not enjoy life and make it an adventure.

Jesus sends us out into the world to share the good news. Let's accept his challenge and have some fun, meeting and loving our neighbors and friends and sharing God's love. What else are you going to do?


God was ahead of his time

What else am I going to talk about today but the inauguration of President Barak Obama. Everyone keeps talking about this being an historic election. They keep saying this changes everything. For months I wondered why. Has everything changed just because he is a black man? That seemed silly to me because I have always judged a person, not by the color of their skin, or by their country of origin but what they say and do and believe.

The truth is that Barak Obama talks a good game. He is a man who brought hope to the country in a time when there was a strong sense that we needed to change some things. This came long before the economic markets tumbled. People had lost faith in leadership and were looking for someone who understood them.

The same thing happened in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected President and to a degree in 1992 when Bill Clinton took office. The American people want a President who understands them. I saw this in a new light today as the President took the oath of office. Standing around the television sets in the Charlotte Airport over 100 people had gathered to watch this event. Most of the people were either young (under thirty) or African American. When he finished the oath they cheered.

That's when I got it. Barak's election signaled to the African American community that someone like them could be the President. There was now going to be a man in the White House who understood some of what they have experienced growing up black in America. The same was true with the young people. They identified with a man who uses a Blackberry and communicates through e-mail, twitter and the web. He was one of them. And he was ready to work with them to build a better world.

It made me think about the fact that God was way ahead of his time. He did the same type of outreach that Obama has done. He became a man and walked among us. He showed the people that he bled, he hungered, he sweat just like them. His his heart ached just like theirs did and he lived with hopes and dreams. No wonder the whole world came out for him on that day historic day that he entered Jerusalem.

I wish our new President well. I will pray for him. He has captured the imagination of our nation and now he holds our future in his hands. I pray we will join with him and work together to build a better future. As for God, I will praise him and honor him and continue to share the good news that he has a hope and a future for us all.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Sharing God's love with our neighbors

In one week the church will be giving stuff away. We will pack up bags with a blanket, some laundry detergent, the ingredients for a vegetable soup, a bar of soap, bottle of shampoo, some white socks, hats and mittens, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and a whole lot of love. We will carry them up to the Martin Luther King Center and then share them with any of our neighbors who come by. We will have cupcakes and cocoa, hot coffee and a smile.

Why are we doing this? Simply because God loves us and told us to share that love. Our church is part of a neighborhood and the sad truth is that we don't really know our neighbors. So this is a first step in changing that.

The truth is that we are not alone. There are churches all across the country who have lost touch with their neighbors. We seem to be an island unto ourselves. So how can we be an effective witness for the Lord?

Well that is going to change for us in a week. We are going to get out there and meet them and let them know that we care. What are you doing at your church to meet your neighbors? Let me know so we can see if that's something we can attempt as well. Together we can bring God's love from the altar to the sidewalk.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

A miracle in New York

It was a miracle. I can't explain it but when you hear about an airplane that lands in the river after a run in with a flock of geese, there is not much else you can say. I don't know why or how it happened but over 150 people experienced the grace of God first hand. The plane came down and the pilot made a perfect landing in the Hudson River. One turn or twist and the story would have been tragic. Praise God.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Serving the leader of the free world

On Monday night I dreamed that I was a gofer for Barak Obama. There was a rally somewhere nearby and I was chauffeuring him around and making sure he had everything he needed. His wife and girls were with him and at one point I had to run out and get something for the girls. The problem was that once I left I had a hard time getting back in. I showed my credentials but there were so many people around him that I had to really work at making my way through the crowd.

How did I get this job? I think it was through my Rotary club connection. The Secret Service asked at the Club and someone told him how I had been doing a similar thing for the Miss Connecticut Pageant for years. So they called me.

I woke up and was kind of sad that it was a dream. Can you imagine volunteering for the President? But then a thought hit me. All of us are called to serve someone even greater than the President. We are called to serve God. He asks us to be his ambassadors in the world sharing his truth and justice, his love and grace. God invites us to be part of his team to transform the world. What's more he tells us that he will be with us throughout the whole process.

The difference between this and my dream is that God's invitation is real and it is there for all of us to accept and embrace. Obama may be pretty cool and he will probably do some good things, but God is great and his plans are eternal. So stop dreaming and pick up the invite and get to work.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

You have the power

Today I sat in on a meeting of the Steering Committee for the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Southeastern, CT. As I looked around the room I saw many of the movers and shakers of the region. Starting with a group from the United Way of Southeastern CT, the group had the presidents of all the local banks, representatives from the Council of Governments, a rep from the Governor's office, Lee Anne Gomes and Bev Goulet from Norwich Social Services and their counterparts from New London, reps from the area shelters, representatives from both Backus and L & M Hospitals, Tom Hyland from Martin House and reps from Southeast Mental Health Authority. I was there as one of the representatives of the area clergy associations.

I thought to myself that if this problem was going to be seriously addressed, they had assembled the people with the wherewithal to do it. Just looking around the room I knew that it was going to happen. Just wait and see.

As I left I couldn't help but chuckle to myself. I thought about the team that Jesus had assembled to conquer the world with a message of hope and love. The truth is that it helps to have money, political authority and connections. Jesus' men had very little of that. Yet he called them and sent them out with the power of the holy spirit. That allowed them to change the world.

The truth is that we have that same power today. Jesus has given us the holy spirit and sent us out. I think we sell ourselves short in the church. We look at the world's standards and feel inadequate. The truth is that when we follow God's plan we can do amazing things. We can change the world.


Monday, January 12, 2009

The challenge for the church in 2009

I found this column on the Ethics Daily Website and I thought I would pass it on. Actually there are a number of interesting items posted on there on a regular basis. You might want to go there and bookmark it on your browser. But here it is - the challenge for the church in 2009.

Enjoy! Cal

A 2009 Challenge to the Church

Michael Helms

Years ago I read in Flora Hicks' book, Time Gone By, how in the olden days a woman's work was never done. Not much has changed there, just the tools she uses and the types of work she does.

In the olden days there was the constant preparation of meals over stoves heated by coals from the fireplace; carding cotton or wool so thread could be spun; cloth woven for the making of clothes or quilts; roots, leaves and hulls gathered for the dying of the cloth. The list seemed endless. From before daylight until after sundown, there was work to be done.

Mrs. Flora wrote, "At night they worked by firelight. They would throw on a lightered knot."

As I read this it occurred to me that the work of the church is never done either. From Sunday to Sunday the church is busy feeding a hungry world what she needs most, the love of Christ. She proclaims from the roots of the gospel that although our sins be as scarlet, they can be dyed as white as snow by Jesus. She is busy weaving trust, forgiveness, hope and unconditional love to those around, creating a "bat" from which others might be able to be woven into her fabric.

The work of the church is never done. She never gets caught up. There are always seeds of love and mercy to plant and a harvest of repentance as prodigals come home. There are wounds to mend and souls to repair.

Often the church feels weary and at times she feels like giving up. She finds that her soul is willing but her flesh is weak. Then comes the Sabbath. God encourages her to find rest and through her worship she finds rejuvenation, like a sun-parched earth receiving a slow but steady, drenching rain. She opens her arms again to meet the weary and the downtrodden. She prepares to go the extra mile, love her enemies and do to others as she wants them to do to her.

Another year has arrived and there are great challenges that lie ahead for the Christian church in 2009. The world seems darker than ever. The darker the night, the brighter the light; so won't someone throw on a lightered knot?

The church needs to recommit herself to sharing the light and warmth of the gospel in a world that is cold and uncaring. The work of the church never ends. It's a good thing, too, because even though the church is made up of forgiven sinners, were it not for the church, the body of Christ would resemble a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle with no pieces connected.

As it is, the church, at her best, pieces together the face of Christ, his hands, his feet, his eyes, his arms. The church becomes the body of Christ to the world. So, it is our job as the body of Christ to work until Jesus comes. Only then will our work be done.

Let's keep the fire burning.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga.

Giving our reports

Imagine if you had to do an annual report on what you did in the last year? We are gearing up for our 209th Annual Meeting at church. Many of our leaders are submitting their reports detailing the various ministries and activities that we have engaged in. It is a lot of fun to look back and remember. But it is also a time to reflect on where we have been and what we could have done better. There are some areas of ministry that we will discontinue this year. There are others where we will make radical changes in what we have been doing. When all is said and done, we will also acknowledge that we have failed in a few areas as well.

Most of us do a little bit of this around New Year's Day. The difference is that for us there is no outside accountability. Even if we make resolutions we figure no one is going to hold us accountable except ourselves. You can't do that in business. If you don't continually monitor what you are doing and make changes accordingly, you will be out of business.

Every year most business evaluate where they are and make the changes they need to in order to thrive in the coming months. So maybe we need to do that too. If we want to thrive, if we want to be the best possible witness for Christ, we need to examine ourselves and make changes.

I went to a leadership conference last week and the speaker suggested that we all have one or two confidants, people who have no vested interest in us, evaluate what we are doing and make suggestions. So maybe my confidant tells me I need to lose weight and get a haircut because I am not taking enough pride in my appearance and it is robbing me of my effectiveness. Or maybe my confidant tells me I need to read more so I can get a better grip on what is happening in my field. You see another person can help us see past our blind spots. They can help us see ourselves as others see us.

I liked what this man had to say. It rang true to life. I want to be the best Cal Lord I can be. I'm sure the same is true for you. So maybe its time we give our annual report so we can make those tough decisions that will us and the people we serve.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

It takes time to learn

We had our new pellet stove installed on Thursday and over the weekend we were busy experimenting with it. Lori read the instructions and watched the video. She played with all the settings and after two days we seem to have it operating well.

Lori commented that she thought it was eating the pellets at too brisk of a pace. We talked about the settings and I just suggested we keep trying different things.

It made me think about our first days of walking with Christ. We didn't know all there was to know. (The truth is that I am still learning every day.) It takes time to establish a rhythm and to figure out exactly what we need to do. A lot of it is by faith as well as trial and error.

The biggest thing I learned is that we need to trust God and lean on him. Sooner or later we will get it together and become more efficient in our walk and our witness. So I am trusting the same thing will happen with this stove. But for now, I'm just happy that it is warmer in the house than it has been in a year.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Who is in control?

You can plan. You can prepare. You can do so much to insure that which you are called to do really happens. But in the end you have no control over a lot of things. That is becoming quite clear this weekend.

Snow is pelting the Northeast and shutting down school activities, community programs and threatening to close many churches. I've already spoken to a couple of colleagues who have made the decision to cancel services. A few minutes ago I heard that two afternoon activities were canceled as well.

So much work goes into planning a service or a program. Many of us look forward to them. In the end we have to come to terms with the fact that we have to lewt go of things sometimes.

That's true in so many areas of life. We are under the illusion that we are in charge. Yet when illness comes, when an accident happens, when we lose our job, when our children grow up and leave home we realize it isn't true. It's then that we understand just how important it is to have faith and trust God. For God is the one who fills the gap between what we have planned and what actually happens.

Our verse of the week at church is from Jeremiah 29: 11. It says, "I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

Jeremiah knew something about disappointment and plans that failed to materialize and yet he gives us this great verse of encouragement as a promise from God. So take heart! When things seem out of your control, look to God and he will see you through.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Some thoughts on the conflict in Gaza

I try to stay above the political fray most of the time. Although I have my opinions, I don't push them on people. I'd rather they come up with their own take on things. But recently I have heard a lot of people criticizing Israel over the events happening in the Gaza Strip. So I thought posting this comment might give another side to what we are seeing and hearing. Read it and take away from it what you will. I think it is a thoughtful presentation.


The Necessary Response to Hamas
Dr. Earl Tilford
Center for Vision & Values

January 9, 2009

As soon as Israeli air strikes began striking Hamas-controlled Gaza, many American church leaders started calling for an immediate ceasefire based solely on human suffering rather than the political realities of the situation. Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s ongoing effort to end indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks on surrounding Israeli towns and villages, is necessary, morally justified, and legitimate, despite the calamitous cacophony from the loquacious Christian left.

Hamas chose not to continue the six-month cease-fire. When the ceasefire ended on Dec. 18, Hamas sent a barrage of Qassam rockets and Russian-built and Iranian-supplied Smerch (NATO codename “Grad‘) rockets into Israel. Short-range Qassams hit nearby Sderot and Ashkelon while Grads slammed into Beersheba 25 miles west and fell on the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv to the north. Neither of these rockets can inflict critical damage on hardened military targets. Grad anti-personnel missiles, designed to kill soldiers on the battlefield, can damage or destroy homes, apartment buildings, schools, automobiles, and buses. Hamas rarely attacks Israeli forts or military units stationed along the border. Rather, these terrorists fire rockets and missiles indiscriminately at nearby towns and cities to kill civilians. This is a war crime.

Hamas is guilty of other war crimes. It locates offices, munitions factories, and storage areas in and among the Palestinian citizenry. Combatants who use civilian populations as a shield are responsible for any harm inflicted upon them by an enemy. While the majority of casualties, even by Hamas’ accounting, are terrorist fighters, there have been and will continue to be regrettable loss of life among innocent civilians. Hamas alone bears responsibility.

Under international law, the occupying power is obligated to protect the occupied population. Claims by the Christian left that Israel is “the responsible occupying power” are incredulous. In 2005, Israeli forces pulled out of Gaza, forcing thousands of Jewish settlers out as well. Soon thereafter, Hamas conducted a coup d'├ętat, killing hundreds of opposing Palestinian political leaders. Hamas, which occupies all of Gaza, bears responsibility for protecting the population. Furthermore, Hamas’ rocket and mortar attacks forced the Israeli response.

Israel’s attacks focus on Hamas-controlled and security-related institutions, including the police and local security agencies. Claims that Hamas’ police are a civilian entity separate from Hamas are specious. Hamas’ Gaza police are as much a part of the same Hamas terrorist organization as were the SS and Gestapo in Nazi Germany. Killing them is no less illegitimate (or morally reprehensible) than was killing Reinhard Heydrich.

The Christian left continues to condemn any military action by Israel while ignoring Hamas’ conduct that compelled Israel to initiate Operation Cast Lead. It condemns Israel for a “disproportionate response” while failing to set the context in which Hamas, from its inception, has been—and remains—committed to the total destruction of Israel.

As for the “disproportional” response, on Dec. 30, a Grad rocket blasted a hole in the roof of a primary school in Beersheba. If school had not been cancelled, that Grad would have slaughtered a classroom full of children. Every such rocket fired by Hamas into Israel, whether a “little” Qassam or a Grad, is fired with the intent of killing and maiming Jewish civilians: men, women, children, young and old alike. Israel builds shelters and provides a warning system to protect its citizens. Hamas, by contrast, places weapons in its mosques, hides terrorists among hospital staff, locates its offices in apartment buildings, and places its munitions factories and storage areas in neighborhoods. Nevertheless, Israel uses precision-guided munitions and makes every reasonable effort to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties. Hamas, by contrast, almost exclusively targets civilians.

Israel undertook Operation Cast Lead as a last resort. Political realities in Israel compelled the current government to take action or face possible replacement by the more conservative Likud Party. Uncertainty over the level of commitment to Israel forthcoming from the United States after Jan. 20, 2009 likely played a role as well.

Israel must continue Operation Cast Lead to its culmination point. To inflict civilian casualties without destroying Hamas would be regrettable. Israel—and only Israel—can free Gaza from Hamas’ occupational stranglehold. Doing so will facilitate the peace process and make possible a just and lasting peace with an independent Palestinian state. And the world, including the Palestinian people, will owe Israel gratitude.

Dr. Earl Tilford, a fellow with The Center of Vision & Values at Grove City College, is currently working on a history of the University of Alabama in the 1960s. A former Air Force intelligence officer and former Director of Research for the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Decisions, decisions...

I woke up this morning to snow and ice on the roads. They had canceled school back home. Many of the schools in Boston, where I was staying, had delays. I was determined to get to the conference one way or another. My hotel was right on the subway line. It would be easy to just walk down the hill and catch a ride.

As I thought about leaving my car at the hotel I realized that if I took the subway I would have to walk in the rain, not only down the hill to catch it, but I'd also have to walk the half mile up the hill to Andover Newton at the other end. Life is never easy. So much of our time is spent trying to make the right decisions.

We agonize and lose sleep over them. The truth is that many of the decisions don't really matter in the long run. Today I could have gone either way. I didn't have to waste an hour thinking about it. But there are some decisions that do have a lasting impact.

How are you going to live your life? What are you going to use as a guiding principle? What will you set up as priorities in how you spend your time? These are the decisions that shape our lives and most of us spend very little thoughtful time on them. We just slide through life and focus on the deicsion of the moment.

This is where a regular devotional life can be so helpful. Spending time reading the Bible or in a prayer group or even attending worship services can help you put things in perspective. I know it works for me.

The truth is that I didn't spend an hour trying to decide what to do this morning. I had already made up my mind that I was going to the follow up session to the conference. How I got there didn't matter. I just got in my car and drove.

The roads weren't that bad by the time I left and it was a piece of cake. I got to hear the speaker talk about listening for the voice of God. Being there was what I was supposed to do.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A grounded faith

As I walked down the steps I had a flashback to 1982. Lori and I were newlyweds and had just moved to our studio apartment on campus. That summer I took a job on the grounds crew at school and learned how to strip and wax the floors in the halls and classrooms of my seminary. I also learned how to clean the bathrooms and how to clean the carpets. I did a little bit of everything that summer.

I thought of that today as I returned to the seminary for a two day conference. That summer on the grounds crew was every bit as important to my education as the classes I took over the next two and half years. They grounded me and reminded me that ministry has to be practical if it is to be any use to the people I would serve.

We can talk about the love of God. We can preach about the need for salvation. But if the people in the neighborhood around the church are hungry and homeless, then the words will fall on deaf ears. Ministry has to deal with the whole person and all of the needs and circumstances of life. Jesus understood this. When you read through the Gospels you will see Jesus interacting with people in very meaningful ways. He saw them as people and met their needs. Then he healed them or forgave them or did something to change their lives.

That is what we are called to do. Ministry has to be practical. It has to be real. So go out and feed the hungry or work to house the homeless. Go out and work for peace and justice. Stand up for the victims and stand with them if you can. Put your faith in action and you will find Jesus standing there with you.

Did I tell you that I met Jesus on the ground flooor of a seminary classroom I was cleaning? I had had some of my best talkes with him there that summer as I was working on the floors. May it be so for you as well.


Monday, January 5, 2009

The real Lords of Flatbush

While we were in New York on vacation we took a little trip into Brooklyn. My daughter is thinking about moving to Williamsburg and she wanted to show us a few of the restaurants. We got off the train at the Flatbush Avenue station and I couldn't resist taking this picture. I joked about us being the Lords of Flatbush.

You might remember that the original Lords of Flatbush came out of a 1974 movie that featured Sylvester Stallone, Henry Winkler and Perry King as a gang of Brooklyn teens who chase girls, steal cars, play pool and hang out at a local candy store.

We didn't really bear any resemblance to those guys but we did stop at a Chocolate Store. On the way home I thought about the fact that just because you claim the name it doesn't mean you can play the game.

I think about this in terms of being a Christian. What is it that makes us a follower of Christ? Is it what we believe? Is it the way we live our lives? Is it the way we treat others? Is it going to church and observing the ritual, sacraments and ordinances of the faith that makes us a Christian? It is something to think about. Maybe it is all of this and more. You tell me.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Just play the game

I'm watching the football game between Indianapolis and San Diego tonight and I have to chuckle to myself. All day long I listened to various sports personalities dissect the four play-off games this weekend. They talked about stats and past performances. They spoke about the strengths and weaknesses of each team and made bold predictions.

The first game of the weekend was an upset according to most of the experts I listened to. The Cardinals had no business winning that game. If San Diego pulls this second game out there will be a lot of sports casters with egg on their face.

The truth is that in any given game, past performance is not the best predictor of future results. There are so many variables that go into winning a game of any kind. The best players don't always win. It is the team that executes the best and minimizes mistakes that will usually prevail.

That's why they play the game. It is a battle that is waged in every possession of the football. Consistency is what counts. If you perform well over time you will prevail.

The same is true in life. Some people are more gifted than others. Some have an advantage over us. Yet if we faithfully live out our life, if we minimize our mistakes, we are more apt to come out ahead. We can't change what we don't have any control over but we can make the most of our opportunities.

I pray that God will show you the opportunities he has for you in the new year and you will take advantage of them and be blessed. Forget the past. Press on and God will be with you. Cal

Friday, January 2, 2009

There is a lot we do not know

I had to get some keys made up this afternoon. I ran over to the Hardware store. I figured I would be in and out in a jiffy. Boy, was I wrong. There was a line of people who must have had the same idea. As I talked to the salesman he told me that their busiest days are the first and fifteenth of every month. As people move in and out of apartments the landlords need new keys.

It struck me that this was a world I knew nothing about. As he told me that they do over 20,000 keys a year, I began to realize just how little I know about the every day activities in some places. We take so much for granted. We think we know about the minutia of every day life and then we meet up with someone who tells us something that we could have never guessed.

It reminded me that humility is a good trait for all of us to hold onto. We don't know it all. When we start making statements about some aspect of life that we are not familiar with, we only show how parochial our knowledge is.

I found out today that it is far better to ask questions and learn from others than it is to make like we know it all. It is a lot less embarrassing that way.