Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

While on vacation I saw the movie Pan's Labyrinth. It's a Spanish movie with English subtitles. It's set in 1944. While brutally violent at times, it's a wonderful story that is beautifully filmed and well acted. The special effects are amazing. Best of all, the theme of redemption is prominent. I don't want to give away the plot, but there's a close, Narnia-like connection with the gospel.

Friday, July 27, 2007


I'm not normally a huge jazz fan, but I am a huge fan of this woman - a jazz pianist from Japan named Hiromi Uehara. She performed three nights this week in Daytona Beach (as part of the Florida International Festival), and I went last night with my son David and daughter-in-law Lindsay.

Hiromi and her band (featuring guitarist Dave Fuzinski, below) played in a little venue called The Bank and Blues Club. We had seats close to the band, and it was just inspiring watching Hiromi set the piano keys ablaze! Check out her website for some free music downloads.

What happened in Vegas...

My wife & I celebrated our 31st anniversary (Tuesday) with a 3-day trip to Las Vegas! We just got back yesterday. It was great! A lot more fun than I was expecting.

I've gotten all sorts of shocked reactions from everyone when we told them our destination. Things like...
  • "What?! You went to Sin City?!"
  • "A preacher going to Las Vegas?!!"
  • "What kind of shows did YOU go see?!"
  • "How much money did you lose?"

Well, for the record, let me say that Suzy and I did not put one quarter in a slot machine, and the only showgirl we saw was on a billboard. Sure, there was plenty of nefariousness to be had if one wanted it. But we had a lot of fun walking up and down the Strip on sensory overload, looking at all the shops and hotels we could in the time we had.

The main attraction that took us to Vegas was the Cirque du Soleil show, Love. I've blogged about this show before. It's built entirely around a collection of Beatles songs. I came up with the idea several months ago that Suzy would love seeing that show on our anniversary. I can't describe in words how good it was. Not only did the songs sound better than ever, but if you've ever been to a Cirque show, you know how good the performers are and how surreal and breathtaking the choreography can be. All the superlatives apply! We were in awe for 90 minutes.

We also saw the Broadway musical Mamma Mia! Suzy and I aren't big ABBA fans, but the show was good and fun.

What else did we do? Well, we stayed at the Mirage hotel, and they have this humongous swimming pool where we hung out for a long time on Tuesday. We spent time walking around and gawking in Caesar's Palace, Venetian, MGM Grand, Luxor, and Paris hotels. We walked a LOT. And to finish up our stay in Nevada, we drove to the Hoover dam on Wednesday. It was amazing too.

On the down side, it was sad walking through the casinos and seeing people wasting their money on such a grand scale. But, it's just one more reminder of the fact that everybody, including me, has that God-shaped vacuum in their hearts.

Say, maybe I could plant a church in Las Vegas...

Thursday, July 19, 2007


I'm auditing a week-long counseling class at Reformed Theological Seminary this week. It's called "Sex and Sexuality," and is being taught by a counselor from Colorado named Sharon Hersh. It's excellent.

Later I will post some of my reactions to the class. But the main takeaway so far has been one word: surrender. On Monday we listened to an audiotaped testimony of a man who struggles with same-sex attraction. He's a Christian. By God's grace his life changed when he came to a point of surrendering his same-sex attraction to Jesus. In the testimony he said this: "I surrendered my homosexuality to Jesus because Jesus asked me to."

It was a moving testimony and the highlight of the week for me. I've been asking myself, "What have I surrendered to Jesus just because He asked me to? Something that cost me as much to give up as that man's same-sex attraction meant to him?"

The Christian life is about many things, but one of the main things is surrender. It's what Jesus meant when He called us to deny ourselves, carry our cross daily, and follow Him. It's what He meant when He said we have to die in order to live.

I think we in the Christian community treat this subject very superficially. When we talk of surrender it's usually in terms of surrendering our "hearts" to Jesus (synonymous with conversion), or surrendering our wills to Jesus (synonymous with consecration). But I wonder if Jesus is calling us to a much more specific, personal, practical - and painful - life of surrender. Examples that come to mind are:
  • Surrendering our wish for a different marriage partner
  • Surrendering our desire to be healthy
  • Surrendering our love of people's praise
  • Surrendering our addiction to gossip about people
  • Surrendering our love of TV watching
  • Surrendering our need for a new _________ (fill in the blank)
  • Surrendering our secret world of sexual fantasy
Surrendering one of these types of things feels like death. It's scary because what if God doesn't fix my marriage and I'm stuck for the rest of my life? What if I end up not being well-known or respected? So surrendering calls us to die. But isn't that how Jesus experienced surrender?

What have you surrendered to Jesus just because He asked you to?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What I'm reading...

Blood Done Sign My Name, by Timothy B. Tyson. It's a personal and very engaging reflection upon the racial divide that existed in the author's hometown of Oxford, NC, during his childhood in the 1960s. Tyson, the son of a Methodist minister, is about the same age as I am. His description of conditions in the south during his childhood brought back my own memories of growing up in the small textile town of Union, SC.

I clearly remember the many ways African Americans were demeaned and discriminated against in my hometown before the 1970s. At my doctor's office they had a separate (and much smaller and plainer) waiting room. In downtown businesses they had separate water fountains and bathrooms. They had to sit in the balcony in the Duncan Theater. They had their own funeral home, taxi cabs, and restaurants. Even their obituaries were announced on the radio at a separate time from whites. They lived literally on the other side of the tracks.

My parents always employed an African American maid, as far back as I can remember. I loved them. They washed and ironed our clothes, cleaned our house, and stayed at home with me while my parents were out working. I remember riding in the car when my mother drove our maids home at the end of the day, seeing the shacks they lived in. I remember feeling very sad. But, as Tyson points out in his book, it was unfortunately the accepted way back in those days. I even remember a Ku Klux Klan rally in the fairgrounds not far from my house.

One of my most vivid memories about the racial divide in my hometown is the time there was an uprising of black high school students during the days of integration. It would have been 1970 or '71. It was scary. One day they ran through the halls of our school smashing trophy cases and windows. Eventually things calmed down, but there were National Guard troops on my high school campus for several days in a row. The whites and blacks on my football team cried together and helped keep unity during very trying times. But I can understand the anger that fueled the emotion of those days. I have not experienced, as they did, my beloved high school getting turned into a middle school...losing my school mascot and having to adopt that of another group of people who didn't want me around...or growing up knowing that many people in my town thought they were superior to me.

I recommend you read this book to get a little bit of a feel for the African American experience. Granted, it's through the eyes of a white Southerner, but that makes it all the more important.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sermon preparation of another kind

I'm preaching this Sunday on what to do when you're stressed out. Well, God had a sense of humor today and wanted me to experience stress firsthand instead of getting my sermon done.

Here's what happened.

First, I was awakened at 3:00 a.m. this morning by the sound of our clothes dryer. It seems that one of our family members, who will remain unnamed, decided to do HIS wash in the middle of the night.

I couldn't go back to sleep.

So I decided to get up and work on my sermon a little bit. I had put 8 hours of work into it the day before. When I tried to find it on my computer, it had magically disappeared. I thought, "No problem, I'll go to the church later this morning and synch my documents with the server and it'll pop up." I didn't want to lose it.

But alas, it wasn't on the server either.

So I got our computer service company on the phone, and spent the next 2-3 hours doing everything he told me to do...to no avail. By noon today it was obvious I would have to start all over again.

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention is that earlier this morning I also played raquetball. I lost both games.

So now it's noon, right. I'm hungry. I go to Chick-Fil-A for a chargrilled chicken combo. When I walk into Chick-Fil-A it is crammed with people. There are these huge families that had emerged from big vans, and everybody's dressed up like cows. Seems Chick-Fil-A was doing a promotion of some kind today: come dressed like a cow and you get a free meal. Well, these moms brought their huge families, and the moms and all the kids were dressed like cows. It took forever for them to get their free meals.

And while I'm waiting in line to order, in behind me comes wave after wave of high school cheerleaders. They must have been at some cheerleading camp at UCF, and decided to go to Chick-Fil-A for lunch all at the same time. So after I get my food, I can hardly walk anywhere because of the throng of cheerleaders. I am not kidding, they took up every square inch of Chick-Fil-A.

I finally got to a table, sat down and ate my pitiful chicken sandwich.

So I had to start all over on my sermon this afternoon. Hopefully it'll be ready by Sunday. What's ironic is that my sermon's all about trusting our sovereign God during times of stress.

Guess I've got a lot to learn about that too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

UPC motto, continued

A while back I posted, for interested readers, the early thoughts of my church's Congregational Life Team about a new church motto. The comments and feedback we've received since that time have been most helpful. So I thought I'd follow up that earlier post with an update. Again, I welcome your insights and comments, as this is a work in progress.

We think now that we'll stay with our old slogan, "Transforming Lives in a Changing World." That slogan has guided our church's mission for 16 years, and it still communicates well. But, like I said before, we need to make more clear to people what transformation really looks like, or how it happens. So we are proposing the following:

UPC's mission
  • Transforming Lives in a Changing World
UPC's strategy
  • Knowing God
  • Growing Together
  • Serving Others
You might be saying, "Big deal. We've rolled out slogans and models and approaches before. What makes this one different?" My answer is that this one is simple and clear. If we adopt this 3-point strategy (or something like it), our church will be able to offer a more concrete process for spiritual growth. We will also have a way to integrate our ministries and a tool to measure our effectiveness. Our plan would be to communicate everything we do in terms of this strategy. The worship folder, signs and posters in the church, ministry plans, and other materials would reinforce the words of this strategy. I would use the strategy to guide my sermon planning too.

We want those who attend UPC to understand why we do what we do, how things fit together, what they can expect to experience at our church, and how they can grow more mature in Christ. We believe this statement of mission and strategy will help.

Your reactions?

Thursday, July 05, 2007


As I've often said, Phil Keaggy is my favorite Christian songwriter/performer. He's one who has stayed the course for several decades as a faithful believer, family man, guitar virtuoso, and inventor of new things musical. He's an animal when it comes to putting out new records and touring.

I haven't enjoyed his more recent offerings all that much, but today while driving downtown I played some of my favorite Keaggy numbers on my iPod. I have just about everything he's ever recorded. Listening to him put me into a Keaggy frame of mind.

My favorite Phil Keaggy albums:
  1. Crimson & Blue
  2. Way Back Home
  3. Sunday's Child
  4. Find Me in These Fields
  5. Back to Nature
  6. Acoustic Sketches I
Below is a picture of Phil with his hero, Paul McCartney. I did not know the two ever met. In some of his songs, Phil comes closer than anyone I know to matching the sound and style of the Beatles...which is one reason I like him so much!

Good news, bad news

The (VERY) good news is, it's been raining a lot in Central Florida lately.

The bad news is, I have to cut my grass every 3 or 4 days!!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Nickel Creek coming back to O-town!

I'm excited that Nickel Creek will make a stop at Orlando's House of Blues on Monday, October 8! I've already bought tickets. NK will be on their "Farewell (For Now)" tour. I hope "now" will be a short time. They are too good to part ways!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Interfaith absurdity"

Check out this post on The Scriptorium Daily about a priest named Ann Holmes Redding in the Episcopalian Church USA. She says she is both a Christian and a Muslim. The post by Greg Peters quotes her as saying, “I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I’m both an American of African descent and a woman. I’m 100 percent both."

That's bad enough, but what's even more amazing is that Redding's bishop is quite OK with a priest in the Episcopal church being both a Christian and a Muslim. According to the Seattle Times, “Redding’s bishop, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, says he accepts Redding as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the interfaith possibilities exciting.”

In Pilgrim's Progress, the classic book by John Bunyan, there is mentioned a character named Mr. Facing Both Ways. Ms. Redding is like Mr. Facing Both Ways. She's an example of someone who wavers between two mutually exclusive opinions (1 Kings 18:21). A person cannot believe in Jesus, who claimed to be the one way to God, and at the same time adopt the Muslim faith.

But then such "interfaith absurdity" (as Peters calls it) should not surprise us, for in our day truth has been trumped by tolerance, and theology by ecumenism.