Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wildlife Watch for Holy Week (and some)

Welcome back to the wildlife!

As spring emerges, I've noticed the more conspicuous presence of my wildlife friends in the past week or so.

Last week, the does returned to the field behind the church; I saw them again yesterday, under the big oak tree by the playground. These days there are five of them. I still maintain my assumption that something happened to a couple of them, and either the group of five remains intact or they have united into one grouping.

I've also seen a lot of birds. I'm no birder, so I can't identify them easily. There have been some doves, though, as well as bluebirds.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sermon texts for March (updated)

I have been finding such delight in this series on the cross. I hope you have been, as well.

As we approach Easter, I am all the more encouraged as I see how the sequence for these sermons, which was determined by an orderly approach to understanding a theology of the cross (not simply by what message seems appropriate for a certain date), nevertheless is so fitting for this season of our year. As you'll see below, the sequence fits perfectly with Easter meditations (FYI, Palm Sunday is the 3
rd Sunday in March this year, and Easter is the 4th Sunday).

Here are the texts for the month of March:
Hosea 11:1-11-- The price of our sin
Exodus 12:1-28-- God's substitutionary atonement
Galatians 3:21-29-- Salvation for sinners through the cross
Luke 24:13-35-- God reveals himself through the cross (UPDATED 3/17/2008)
Colossians 2:13-17-- Evil is overcome through the cross

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book give-away: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

Yesterday I offered a review of Andrew Peterson's new novel, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. As I mentioned, Waterbrook Press generously provided me with an extra copy to give away here on the blog.

So, here's the deal: I'll give the book away to one person (randomly selected) who comments here, in response to the following question...

How often should a congregation celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and why should they celebrate it that frequently (or infrequently)?

I'll look forward to your answers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Book review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Andrew Peterson, who has become one of my favorite singers and songwriters, has written a novel, called On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. (No, that title isn't a typo.) By happy circumstance, I was selected to participate in a "blog tour" for the book, which means (among other things) that I was provided a pre-release copy of the book to review here.

If you've heard Andrew Peterson's music, you know he has a knack for spinning tales and telling stories. In this book, he's taken his story-telling to new levels, and developed a book (actually, a series-- this is book one in the "Wingfeather Saga") that fantasy lovers will find engaging and delightful.

Now, I have a confession to make: I'm not a fantasy lover. I didn't make it through the
Lord of the Rings books-- I didn't even finish the first volume. (I DID love The Hobbit. And I haven't really given the others a try since the Internet made it easier for the non-cartographers among us to follow where we are in the plot.... maybe I'll give them another chance.) That said, I've found Peterson's book to be very readable, and quite clever. Like a lot of fantasy, it comes across at first as if it was written for young readers, but deeper meanings and meta-themes emerge in this book that are great for all ages.

One of the best things about the book is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Just about the time when things get too weighty, they seem to lighten up quickly-- making for a good ebb-and-flow in the narrative arc. There's a good story here, and it should develop well as the "Saga" continues in other books. Andy
has built a well-kept alternate world (called Skree) where, unsurprisingly, many things are very much like our own, while others are smartly different. Perhaps as a nod to those of us who don't immerse ourselves into fantasy worlds easily, he's introduced his alternate world in a helpful overview at the beginning.

We then follow the adventures of the Igiby children-- Janner, Tink, and Leeli-- as they face the various aspects of their world. Here's the summary that the publisher provides:
"In the quiet land of Skree, the Igiby children—Janner, his younger brother Tink, and their crippled sister Leeli—stumble upon the lost jewels of Anniera and determine to return them. Unfortunately, the scary-bad Gnag the Nameless seeks the jewels for his own evil ends… and so our band of friends, accompanied by their trust dog Nugget, must escape with the help of their mom and grandfather (who happens to be an ex-pirate).

Their journey takes them through an inventively fantastical world of wonders, complete with memorable characters (like Gnag’s evil minions the Fangs and Peet the Sock Man), fanciful creatures (like sea dragons, snickbuzzards, toothy cows, flabbits, and bomnubbles), and captivating places (like the Books & Crannies bookstore, Shaggy Tavern, the Dark Sea of Darkness that divides the land of Skree from Anniera, the Glipwood Forest, Ice Prairies, and the Stony Mountains).

Through fast-paced storytelling, little ditties, songs, and poems, side-splitting asides, sensory descriptions of time and place, and characters rich in heart, courage, and smarts, Andrew Peterson has created a wondrous tale you’ll enjoy and treasure—just like those lost jewels."

Peterson clearly borrows on the patterns and traditions of other Christian fantasy writers-- J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeline L'Engle... but not too much, and not without good effect. I especially appreciated the quest for identity that the main character, Janner, engages in throughout the book: primarily, understanding the person of the father he never knew, who died before Janner was able to know him. This theme, which isn't developed to completion in this volume, promises to be a key part of future installments.

Andy Peterson blogs too-- with a community of bloggers at a site called
The Rabbit Room. You can get a copy of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness from Amazon (or by ordering through the Rabbit Room). Waterbrook Press, the publisher, also provided me with a give-away copy; I'll announce the way that you can enter your name to win this copy in the next few days.

Congratulations to Andy on your new book! (I call him Andy for two reasons: first, we've met and talked a bit, and second, because hey, he has that sort of friendly feel about him.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

A book table!

When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.
~~Michel de Montaigne
As you may have picked up, I love to read. More than that, I love books, and what they represent: accessibility to knowledge and understanding of subjects that are unknown or less known than we want them to be.

Someone once said, "There is no such thing as a learning congregation without the pervasive habit of reading." Getting good books into the hands of the people in our congregation strikes me as one of the most helpful things I can do as a Pastor. It represents an extension of the teaching ministry of our church, opens doors for further discussion on a variety of important topics, and affords congregants an opportunity to fortify themselves and their faith with sound instruction.
Read not to contradict and confute, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.
~~Sir Francis Bacon
Toward this end, our Session has determined to set up a book table in the education wing of the church facilities where good books will be provided at affordable prices. Some books have already been purchased and made available; others will follow in the coming weeks.

Why sell books at church? A book table offers two unique benefits to our congregation. First, it enables me, as Pastor, to exercise discernment on behalf of the congregation by choosing which books may, at this particular point in time and in the face of the circumstances immediately facing us, are relevant and needed for growth and encouragement. Not everyone is familiar with authors, publishing houses, and topics enough to be as discerning as they need to be for the investment of time and money into a book. As a Pastor trained for ministry, I am in a better position to make initial judgment across a wide array of topics, presenting to the congregation a selection of options. (In other words, it allows me to exercise what one friend called my "spiritual gift of bibliography!")

Second, it increases the accessibility to good books for our congregation. The closest Christian bookstore for many of us is a good distance away. Further, we are more mindful of spiritual things while involved in church activities than we are at other times. Our book table increases access in both proximity and mindfulness for our congregation. It also makes more accessible books related matters that may come up in sermons, classes, or in individual counseling. Having these books ready-at-hand makes it possible to extend the impact of our church's teaching and counseling ministries.
In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.
~~Mortimer Adler
Philippians 4:8-9 encourages us for what our minds should dwell upon. Reading good books is a certain practice that helps us to think about "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable." The apostle Paul himself was a model of commitment to reading (even toward the end of his life asking Timothy to bring him his scrolls in 2 Timothy 4:13), even though he apparently struggled with his eyesight. Thus, when Paul says in Philippians 4:9, "whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me," he clearly meant also a life committed to reading.

We, too, might take up this example. It is my prayer, and that of our congregation's leadership, that reading might be a tool that God uses to teach and grow His people of Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church. As Les Parrott said, "A congregation that doesn't read is missing one of God's greatest means for providing personal and spiritual growth" (Serving as a Church Greeter, p. 49). May God bless our congregation as readers.
Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life.
~~Mortimer Adler

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What God has done in 10 years

Marcie and I celebrate our 10-year anniversary on March 7. (I'm not actually posting this on our anniversary, since part of my anniversary present to her is to turn all computers off for the day!)

Over that time, we have seen the Lord carry us through many amazing transitions. Here's a glimpse:
  • Seven moves. Yes-- we've lived in seven different homes over that time.
  • Eighteen jobs. Seven of them are Marcie's (including one stint as a stay-at-home wife-- in Roanoke and one ongoing position as stay-at-home wife AND mom). The rest are/were mine.
  • Four cities. For all of those moves, we've actually only lived in a relative few places.
  • Two children. That's not many compared to some of our friends-- but plenty for us! (At least for now...)
  • Two degrees. Both mine-- undergraduate and a master's. (Marcie already had both by the time we got married.)
  • Seven vehicles. Believe it or not, we still have one that we started with. (Long live the Bronco!)
  • A handful of "I'll never's" recanted. When we got married, we never thought we would ever own a minivan, serve as a solo Pastor, live in the midwest, teach school, or homeschool our children.

Through all of this (and so very much more), I could not have asked for a better partner in family, ministry, and life. Marcie, you are indeed my favorite companion and my heart's true friend. Thanks for 10 years of patience with me! I pray for 50+ more, and an eternity together in the New Jerusalem.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Finding fulfillment

UPDATE: I reposted this with the video embedded-- some of the feedback I got was that clicked through to another page was causing trouble. (Thanks to Eden Worship Center in Topeka, Indiana for the video montage you see.)

Tom Brady might be one of the greatest success stories of our day. (Okay, so he would be more of one if he had completed that perfect season a couple of weeks ago for his FOURTH Super Bowl victory...)

Yet, Tom Brady feels empty. In an interview just before the recent Super Bowl, Brady described his emptiness;
watch the video.

My response when watching this video was: you're absolutely right! There IS something more to life than reaching record-breaking heights in the first few years of your career; there is something more than being considered one of the best-looking athletes around; there is something more than dating an international supermodel; there is something more than having all the money and fame you could ever ask for.

Oh, and by the way Tom: you don't need any of those things to obtain that thing, that "something more."

I hope you can see this as easily as I can: the "something more" that Tom is seeking is only found in Christ.

Fred Harrell & Big Hair Preacher)