Friday, June 29, 2007

Tate update

My grandson Tate is now 9 months old. Isn't he something! He's grown up a lot since my first post about him. I think this picture shows Tate's fun personality really well.


I'm reading Rudy Giuliani's book, Leadership. He published this in 2002, so it has a lot of information about 9/11 and how he responded to it as mayor of New York City. Whether you like him or not as a presidential contender, Rudy is a great leader and his book is very relevant to me right now.

I particularly like the chapter called "Develop and Communicate Strong Beliefs." Giuliani says, "Expressing ideology is one of a leader's most powerful tools." I've watched and listened to Giuliani when he speaks in public, and he's really good at it. It's true...those who lead must know what they believe, stick to their beliefs in the face of opposition, and communicate those beliefs with confidence and clarity.

Which brings up a question I've thought about quite often...why doesn't President Bush use his bully pulpit more often? I mean, it seems like -- with issues like terrorism, the war in Iraq, immigration reform, tax relief, and health care reform breathing down his neck all the time -- a President would WANT to go on prime time TV at least once a week and speak about the things he believes are right. Nobody listens to those Saturday morning radio broadcasts. So why not get before the public on TV and tackle the issues directly? Wouldn't he pick up some support? Wouldn't he at least be able to educate people about stuff we may be totally ignorant about? I mean, he could use charts, give us the inside scoop, quote the experts, answer questions people are asking, etc. That seems like a no-brainer to me.

If I were President (God forbid) it seems like that's what I would do.

Presidents are the civic shepherds of the people. Wouldn't it get Bush some much-needed capital to talk directly to his sheep a LOT more often? If he can't put together a good talk, couldn't his peeps prop him up with a well-crafted explanation of why he believes we need to fight in Iraq, why we need to reform immigration laws, and the like? I'm not talking about a speech to some gathering of veterans or a news conference...I'm talking about a 30-minute address from the Oval Office to us, the people, every Sunday night, on an issue about which there is a lot of debate. Maybe people will disagree with his ideas, but at least they'd know what he believes and why.

Take immigration, for example. The legislation that Bush favored went down in defeat in the Senate this week. News reporters said over and over again how much Bush wanted that legislation to pass. He lobbied senators hard. He talked about it to the press. His press secretary Tony Snow talked about it on news shows. But I can't recall a single time Bush himself got before the people of America and told us why we need immigration reform. Maybe I just missed it. But my impression is that the legislation failed because in the absence of his leadership, conservatives on talk radio won the hearts and minds of the American people. I still don't know what I believe about that legislation. Maybe Bush was right about it. But he never told me why.

Giuliani writes, "A leader must not only set direction, but communicate that direction. He usually cannot simply impose his will -- and even if he could it's not the best way to lead. He must bring people aboard, excite them about his vision, and earn their support."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I met a genuine low talker!

You remember Leslie, the low talker on Seinfeld (in that classic "Puffy Shirt" episode)? Well, I met somebody like that today. It was so funny! I could barely hear her! I had to bend toward her, and even then I had to read her lips!

So there really are low talkers out there. Ever meet one?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bible reading

I am enjoying a new Bible reading method. If you have struggled to read the Bible consistently, or stopped reading altogether, you should check out this website. It offers 13 different plans for daily Bible reading. The one I'm using takes me through the Bible chronologically in a year.

What's neat about this plan is that everyday I get an email with a link to the day's reading. I don't have to think about where to go in the Bible, I don't even need to have a Bible - it's right there on my computer screen. Also, the link allows me to pick whatever Bible translation I want to use. I'm currently using the English Standard Version.

It's important for us to be reading the Bible in some regular, systematic way - even in small portions.

Unfortunately, trend-watchers tell us that Christians are growing more and more Biblically illiterate. A few years ago, some research was done on incoming freshmen at Wheaton College. Most of these students had been raised in Christian homes and attended church all their lives.
  • 1/3 of them could not put the following in order: Abraham; the Old Testament prophets; the death of Christ; and Pentecost.
  • 1/2 could not put the following in order: Moses in Egypt; Isaac's birth; Saul's death; and the Exile.
  • 1/3 could not identify Matthew as an apostle from a list of names.
  • When asked to name the book of the Bible in which certain events are recorded, 1/3 did not know Paul's missionary journeys are in Acts; 1/2 did not know the birth of Christ is in Matthew; 1/2 did not know the Passover story is in Exodus.
George Barna has documented the rejection of key Bible doctrines by many professing Christians today. For example, only 35% of mainline Protestant church members believe that Jesus was sinless; only 34% believe the Bible is totally accurate; only 27% agree that works don't get a person into heaven; and only 20% believe that Satan is real.

The point is not that we should all make A's on Bible trivia tests. But if we don't have a basic working knowledge of the Bible we won't know Bible doctrine. And if we don't have a grip on doctrine, we won't be prepared for the dangers, heartaches, challenges, and tragedies of life.

What Bible reading method has worked for you?

Monday, June 25, 2007

A new motto for UPC

Most of the people who read my blog are members of my church, so I'd like your input on some work my leadership team has been doing to come up with a new motto for UPC. And if you don't go to my church, your input would be helpful too - maybe even more so.

First, some background. My team is called the Congregational Life Team. Our charge is to help UPC equip adults for spiritual maturity and create authentic community. One of the things that became apparent in our early meetings was that UPC has tons of good things going on, but that these things are not always connected with each other or aligned with the mission of the church. Many people do not even know what the mission of the church is. We have a long mission statement but we do not often refer to it.

Also, people who are new to the church often do not see a clear path to follow for spiritual growth or know what is expected of them. They may not know where to look to find places of connection and service. We need to do a better job of communicating what we want people to do and what we hope they will experience.

So my team thought that a new motto, or slogan, would be an important first step to help create an atmosphere where people "get" who we are and what we want them to do and experience.

Up until now, our motto has been "Transforming Lives in a Changing World." That's an excellent motto. But we think it does not adequately communicate a process for spiritual growth or tell people who we are. So we came up with two ideas. Each one consists of a headline with three bullet points.

IDEA #1: "UPC - A Community of Grace"
Knowing God...Loving Others...Serving People

IDEA #2: "UPC - A Family of Grace"
Knowing God...Connecting with One Another...Serving the World

Last night, my team hosted a meeting of UPC ministry leaders. We presented these two ideas to the group, and led a time of discussion and brainstorming to get their input. Out of that meeting came

IDEA #3: "UPC - A Community of Grace"
Knowing God...Growing Together...Serving People

Obviously, you can wordsmith forever, and no motto will perfectly say everything that might be said about an organization. But as you look at these ideas, what are your reactions? Which phrases do you like and dislike? Put yourself in the shoes of people new to the church and in the community. Do you see where we're trying to go, and do you think we're on the right track?

If we do come up with a new motto, my team believes it needs to be more than just words on a piece of paper. It needs to be integrated into and used consistently throughout the church. So what ideas do you have about how the motto can become an integral part of the life of UPC?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

So you think you're having a bad day?

I found this picture while Stumbling recently. Wouldn't you just love it if you walked in on this disaster?

Friday, June 22, 2007

An invention that shouldn't have been...

Touch-free paper towel dispensers.

It seems like every one I've ever tried to use either does not work, no matter how much I wave my hands over, under, and beside it, trying to find that elusive spot where it acknowledges my presence -- or it feeds out such a pitiful little piece of paper that I end up grabbing it and pulling to get more paper -- thus negating whatever benefits I was supposed to get from a touch-free paper towel dispenser.

Just give me that old-fashioned kind with the hand crank. It always worked just fine, and I never got anybody's germs.

At least I don't think I did.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ocean's 13

Suzy & I saw Ocean's 13 a few days ago. It was a good movie. Nothing special, but fun. Better than Ocean's 12, that's for sure. I liked the way the bright colors and other camera techniques gave a sense of nostalgia for movies of the 1960s. Al Pacino was a good addition. There were a few moments of suspense, when we thought the guys were going to get caught red-handed. But of course, they had the whole thing planned just right.

I think what people find appealing about these Ocean movies is that we all want to control and manipulate life's variables so that we reach our goals, stay out of trouble, make the bad guys pay, and all that. We all want to be the masters of our fate, to pull all the right strings, to come out on top. These guys make it look soooo easy, and we like watching them beat the odds.

The trouble is, life is beyond our control. God is God, and we are not.

Hebrews 2:5-7 talks about how God has put everything under our feet. He made us a little lower than the angels, and crowned us with glory and honor. But the reality of life in a fallen world is that "at present we do not see everything subject to [us]" (Hebrews 2:8). People and events resist our manipulation. The dice do not always fall in our favor. Our best-laid plans fall apart. Unpredictables happen all the time.

"But we do see Jesus" (Hebrews 2:9). He's the one constant in a world filled with change, pain, and failure. Over all of life Jesus reigns. So our anchor in this crazy world is not our clever planning or our intelligence or our friends. Those things got Ocean and his buddies what they wanted, but they don't work in the real world.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


It's Vacation Bible School week at our church. I love Vacation Bible School. I was thinking about it . . . I've either directed, taught, led music, and/or acted in some church's VBS every summer for the past 23 years! I think VBS is a great thing because it capitalizes on kids' love of fun and games and exposes them to the gospel in a creative way. It also reaches their parents and gives the church a great chance to work together.

This year at our church I'm once again the Bible story teller, which means I get to dress up in all these crazy outfits and teach kids the Bible. Even though it's a bit embarrassing to put on silly costumes, it's the easiest job of them all. I don't have to manage children, do crafts, memorize lines, or anything real hard - I just have to be gullible enough to dress up and act like a Bible character.

Here are pictures of two characters I've been so far this week. At left I'm Jonah just after his experience in the belly of the big fish, and below I'm Nashpenaz the repentant Ninevite. It's fun to get in touch with my hippie alter-ego.

As you can tell, our VBS this year is all about the book of Jonah. It's a great story about God's mercy.

The most fun thing about my role is that the kids get a big charge out of telling me that I'm really Pastor Mike. Then when I'm out of costume they think they're big stuff when they come up to me and say, "Hey, I know that was really you up there!!" It's fun playing dumb and acting like I don't know what they're talking about.

Tomorrow I have to be a worm. Read Jonah 4 if you don't know how that fits into the story of Jonah.

One of my favorite VBS memories goes back to my years as a seminary student in St. Louis. I was hired to be the student assistant to the pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church. The pastor asked me to revamp the church's Vacation Bible School program. Now this was a church with a rich history. Francis Schaeffer had been pastor of this church back in the 1940s when it was located in downtown St. Louis. In order to reach the kids of the inner city with the gospel, Schaeffer and his wife Edith ran a 4-week-long program they called Summer Bible School. Under Schaeffer's guiding hand the Bible School was enormously popular. He bused kids to the church from all over St. Louis.

Believe it or not, the church kept Schaeffer's 4-week Summer Bible School going every year even after Schaeffer left and the church moved to the suburbs. As time passed, it became more like a school than a fun summertime activity for kids. So when I took over I changed it to a 2-week program and some people in the church were aghast! We EVEN changed the name to "Vacation" Bible School, and made it (of all things) FUN! As people found out that we really weren't damaging the children, they got enthusiastic and we soon had a big VBS going with a new curriculum, music, games, crafts, and Bible stories.

And I've been a believer in VBS ever since.

Friday, June 08, 2007

FSU Orientation reflections

Earlier this week my wife and I accompanied our son to his orientation at Florida State University. It was a 2-day thing, mostly talks by various campus reps. It was well done. I appreciated the parent-friendly tone.

Some thoughts I thunk as a parent during my son's orientation:
  • The current emphasis on students' privacy rights was unheard of when I went off to college. I find it annoying and a little disturbing. But I'm glad to say that FSU at least says they want parents to be involved and in the know about what their students are into.
  • Dining hall food is pretty much as bad today as it was when I was in college.
  • But it's amazing to me that FSU students can go to Einstein Bagels, Chili's, Quizno's, Hardees, and a number of other eating places on campus instead of the dining hall. Call it Food Court U.
  • A word heard more times than necessary: "Diversity"
  • A sign I saw tacked up on the student activities board: "Full Moon Skinny-Dipping Friday Night." Oh boy. Time to start praying.
  • I think I figured out how to get around in Tallahassee.
  • Student orientation leaders are all the same no matter what college you're talking about.
  • Most impressive speaker: the woman who heads up the FSU Counseling Center.
  • Worst speaker: the man who heads up Financial Aid. He was no help.
  • Date my first check is due for Michael's room and board: July 1. Oh boy. Time to start praying.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Vacation over

I haven't been posting anything because my family and I spent a week at the beach last week. We stayed in two condos at Amelia Island Plantation. We had a great time! God blessed us with perfect weather every day of the week. It was sunny and mild. It didn't rain until Saturday morning when we were trying to pack up and leave for home...and then it rained like crazy, thanks to the tropical storm that blew through the area that morning.

On Friday, we all gathered on the beach for a family picture. Left to right: our son David & his wife Lindsay; me; my bride Suzy; our daughter Jennifer and her husband Tim; our daughter Rebecca holding grandson Tate; Rebecca's husband Scott with grandkids Tyler & Eben; and son Michael. Missing from the picture is my mother-in-law Nell who couldn't join us on the beach.

We try to get away together as a family once a year. Last year it was skiing in the Catskills. The year before that it was a week at Crescent Beach when Jennifer got married.

One of the things I most enjoyed this year was that each night, a different couple or group was responsible for the family meal. I haven't eaten so well in months! Sunday night Jennifer & Tim made kebobs. Monday night Rebecca & Scott made fajitas. Tuesday night David & Lindsay made an Italian dish with a name I can't remember. Wednesday night was Suzy's and my night; we grilled hamburgers. Thursday night was ladies' night; they made up a huge salad with all kinds of stuff in it. And Friday night was guys' night; we had steamed shrimp. It's hard to say which meal was best!

Some highlights of the week:
  • Most fun activity of the week: body-surfing
  • Most fun game played: Catch Phrase
  • Biggest surprise: It cost $20 to rent two beach chairs and an umbrella!
  • Least friendly person we met: the woman in whose private parking space we parked one day
  • Best read: Mere Christianity
  • Grossest activity: picking up garbage after raccoons got into the trash cans outside
  • Grocery store of the week: Harris Teeter (what a name)
  • Worst restaurant experience: the "Happy Tomato" in Fernandina Beach (inappropriately named)
  • Best time with my wife: riding bikes around Amelia Island
  • Biggest pizza ever: we got a pizza delivered for lunch on Sunday...I figure it had to be 3' by 3' square at least (see picture)