Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmastide!

The Star Marks the Place

I took this photograph on a tour of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This is the spot that marks the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Fitted into the paving, shines a 14 pointed silver star marking the exact spot surrounded by the Latin inscription: HICDE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST. 1717. (Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary). Of the 15 lamps burning around the recess, six belong to the Greeks, fiveto the Armenians and four to the Latins." [Description from]

UPDATE: I just ran across this beautiful carol by G. K. Chesterton:

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,

His hair was like a light.

(O weary, weary were the world,

But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,

His hair was like a star.

(O stern and cunning are the kings,

But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,

His hair was like a fire.

(O weary, weary is the world,

But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary’s knee,

His hair was like a crown.

And all the flowers looked up at Him,

And all the stars looked down.

– Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

O Immanuel

O Immanuel,
our Sovereign and Lawgiver,
desire of the nations and Savior of all:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Come, Lord Jesus.

The final O Antiphon is a straightforward plea for salvation. For saving. Saving from what? The news relentlessly portrays a world out of alignment. There is a pervasive sense that something isn't right. We try to cover that feeling up with shopping, endless marketing carols, and blinding displays of decoration, anything that can aid the process of distraction from the real problem.


Sin separates us from God. Sin causes broken hearts, broken families, abuses of self and others, mind-blowing narcissism and idolatry. All of this can be traced to that first fall, that brokenness which we inherit by virtue of our humanity. This is the thing from which we need saving. And God has given us a Savior, even though we did not and do not deserve him. But because God created us, He loves us. So much so, in fact, that He offers us the only true gift that has ever been devised.

You see, the gifts that we give always invoke a need to reciprocate. You may surprised to receive a gift you did not expect. How do many people respond to such a gift? "You really shouldn't have," is the common reply. And right away the seed is planted to respond in kind at a later date.

Our so-called gift giving should be referred to as an exchange, because that is what it is.

The only true gift is one that isn't deserved. The only true gift is the one for which there is no possibility of reciprocation. And that is precisely the gift we receive in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, a little infant born in a manger.

Are you weary and tired? Are you stuck in some kind of sin that you think is insurmountable? Do you wonder if there could possibly be a way out of the trap of putting on the painted smile every day to evade notice that something inside is deeply out of sorts? Jesus Christ came for people just like you. That is the Good News. And as you read these words, it is my hope that the Holy Spirit will move upon you and open your heart to Jesus Christ, that you may be adopted into the new family of love and forgiveness by submitting to his Word in a baptism of water and of Spirit. It is my prayer that you will receive the true gift of eternal life with Him. Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2008

O Ruler of the Nations

O Ruler of the nations,
Monarch for whom the people long,
you are the Cornerstone uniting all humanity:
Come, save us all,
whom you formed out of clay.

Come, Lord, Jesus.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil 2:9-13 NRSV)
That baby born in a manger? Him? He is, in fact, the universal Lord of all that is. How can this be? Because God's power is made perfect in weakness. By using what has been formed from clay to accomplish mighty acts, God ensures that there will be no confusion over who the real Saver is.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

O Radient Dawn

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light,
Sun of justice:
Come, shine on those who live in darkness
and in the shadow of death.

Come, Lord Jesus.

As I write this, the sun is shining brightly outside. We so often fool ourselves into thinking the light is something easy to grasp. We need only capture it and use it for our own purposes. Alas, such light is, in fact, the darkness of a lost humanity. What we really need is a Light that cuts us to the heart, so that the illusion of light, the light that we think we control and use to our own ends, might be revealed as the falsehood that separates us from God. And once that falsehood is revealed, let it be put to death, that we might receive the grace of the eternal true light of Jesus Christ. And may we, by our obedience, reflect the the true Light into the world.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

O Key of David

O Key of David,
Scepter over the house of Israel,
you open and no one else can close,
you close and no one can open:
Come to set free the prisoners
who live in darkness and the shadow of death.

Come, Lord Jesus.

The Key of David. The Shepherd who, by his mercy, admits us into the house wherein the Lord God lives. The Almighty King who gives unmerited grace to those who are prisoners to their sin, captives to their iniquities, convicted in their crimes. He comes for those who are so convinced of their unworthiness that the potential of release seems unfathomable. And yet, as Gabriel said to Mary, "For God, nothing is impossible." What has been destroyed by sin can be redeemed, because Christ destroyed the power of sin and sin's chief symptom, which is death. May be come soon!

Friday, December 19, 2008

O Root of Jesse

O Root of Jesse,
rising as a sign for all the peoples,
before you earthly rulers will keep silent,
and nations give you honor:
Come quickly to deliver us.

Come, Lord Jesus.

The genealogies of the New Testament are important because they are the thread of the story of salvation. Obed's son would have David as a son. David would become king of the people that were called to be the instrument of salvation for the whole world (as first revealed to Abraham). There is but one Word, just as there is one name by which we are saved - Jesus Christ - the heir to David's throne, and the one in whom the promised role of Israel was perfectly fulfilled.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

O Adonai

O Adonai,
Ruler of the house of Israel,
you appeared in the burning bush to Moses
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come with outstretched arm to save us.

Come, Lord Jesus.

The Lord is the Ruler of the house. As adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Ruler, we are brought under the wings of Christ's fulfillment of the law through our baptisms into His death and resurrection. Only by His perfect fulfillment of the law are we set free from sin and sanctified by his Holy Spirit, so that we may not be found wanting when we are justly judged on the last day.

A Morning Offering


Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,
Where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
Hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
That the way down is the way up,
That to be low is to be high,
That the broken heart is the healed heart,
That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
That the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
That to having nothing is to possess all,
That to bear the cross is to wear the crown
That to give is to receive,
That the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
And the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty,
Thy glory in my valley.

(from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

O Wisdom

O Wisdom,
coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
pervading and permeating all creation,
you order all things with strength and gentleness:
Come now and teach us the way to salvation.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Wisdom comes from the mouth of the Most High God. The Almighty speaks, and matter comes into being from nothing. The Lord whispers, and by whispering saves.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Preview: Second Sunday in Advent

A Sermon on Mark 1:1-8

What Are We Waiting For?

Given on the Second Sunday in Advent, 2008
First Presbyterian Church
Jackson, Minnesota

Thursday, December 04, 2008

For Those Who Desire to Preach...

... here is a quote attributed to Bruce Theilman:
There is no special honor in preaching, there is only special pain. The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors. And like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest. To preach, to really preach is to die naked a little at a time and to know each time you do it that you must do it again.

A New Thing

Here is Brit Hume, on what he'll be doing now that he's retiring from his 40-year, wildly successful career in television news, and leaving his highly rated Fox News show behind:

Hume: I certainly want to pursue my faith more ardently than I have done. I'm not claiming it's impossible to do when you work in this business. I was kind of a nominal Christian for the longest time. When my son died (by suicide in 1998), I came to Christ in a way that was very meaningful to me. If a person is a Christian and tries to face up to the implications of what you say you believe, it's a pretty big thing. If you do it part time, you're not really living it.
About those implications, Paul wrote these words:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:17-21 NRSV)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Preaching Christ - Living in Christ

A Sermon on 1 John 3:1-10

Preaching Christ - Living in Christ

Given November 16, 2008
First Presbyterian Church
Jackson, Minnesota

Monday, November 17, 2008

On the Way

In the mail: The ESV Study Bible. I purchased the brown, TruTone version, and I'll let you know what I think once I've had a chance to look it over.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sunday Sermon Preview: 1 John 3:1-2 [Updated]

A Scottish Paraphrase of 1 John 3:1-2, courtesy of William Barclay:1

Behold the amazing gift of love
the Father hath bestowed
On us, the sinful sons of men,
to call us sons of God!

Concealed as yet this honour lies,
by this dark world unknown,
A world that knew not when he came,
even God's eternal Son.

High is the rank we now posses,
but higher we shall rise;
Though what we shall hereafter be
is hid from mortal eyes.

Our souls, we know, when he appears,
shall hear his image bright;
For all his glory, full disclosed,
shall open to our sight.

A hope so great, and so divine,
may trials well endure;
And purge the soul from sense and sin,
as Christ himself is pure.

I once heard Rev. Frank Harrington (of blessed memory) share what his mother used to say to him whenever he left the house. She would say, "Remember who you are. Remember who you are."

This is a passage about remembering who we are, and whose we are.

Verse two is particularly facinating and hope-filled:
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. [ESV]
John can only imagine...

1Barclay, William. The Letters of John and Jude. New York: Westminster John Knox P, 1976. 72-73.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Sunday Sermon Preview

A Hymn to God the Father
John Donne (1572-1631)

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.

[Didst thou catch the priceless, beautiful pun at the end of the final stanza?]

Thursday, October 30, 2008

November's Preaching - 1 John

For the next four weeks I'll be preaching from 1 John. The text for this week is chapter one in its entirety:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:1-10 NRSV)
Why 1 John in the remaining weeks prior to Advent?

One reason is admittedly selfish: I have not yet had the opportunity to preach on this epistle.

But the far superior reason is that John beautifully lays out the essential importance of the Incarnation - the Word made flesh - and joy we have in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross - His saving work.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Month 1 at First Presbyterian Church

The first month has passed.

I begin this post with the gospel text from my service of ordination and installation that I originally promised to write about many days ago. My apologies.

The sermon text was Matthew 10:7-10. It was selected with the help of my good friend Michael, who I asked to preach.

Matthew 10:7-10 reads as follows:
As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. (Matt 10:7-10 NRSV)
I wanted to hear some words about the imperative to "proclaim the good news." Michael did an absolutely fantastic job from the pulpit, hammering home the necessity to preach Christ and Him crucified. A true word from God pierced my heart on that day.

The ordination itself was an astonishing experience. I'm thankful to have been called by God, from whom all good blessings flow. The laying of hands is a reminder of the yoke placed upon those whom God calls in ministry. The weight of the call was nicely accompanied by the warmth of those hands. I could visualize a chain of hands extending from those present - including my wife, my mother and father, my sister, and my in-laws - all the way back in history to that first anointing by the spirit in Acts 2. What an amazing day.

So what about the first month?

It was full! Full of visitation with brothers and sisters in various hospitals. Full to the brim with worship planning. Filled with firsts, too: First administration of communion, first funeral, and first baptism last Sunday (10/12). Everything is a first. More firsts will come, to be sure. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Day 1 at First Presbyterian

My first day at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota was very busy and very gratifying. We're in the midst of planning two worship services, one this Saturday and one on Sunday. Saturday is the service of ordination and installation, and Sunday is my first time in the pulpit and my first administration of the Lord's Supper. I'm very excited.

I'm also deeply grateful. One good friend is trekking to Minnesota from his home digs in Corpus Christi in order to give the ordination sermon. Family members and friends are flying in to witness Christ's work here in Jackson and to celebrate God's call on all who are claimed by Christ in baptism.

Two texts will be read during the ordination service. The Old Testament reading is 1 Samuel 3:1-10, the call of Samuel. I chose the passage for two main reasons. First, it is one of many stories of God intervening in history by calling someone into service. Second, it is the earliest story I remember learning about in Sunday school at Wasatch Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was probably eight or nine years old when I first heard it, which would explain why it might have had such impact, as Samuel himself is described as a boy. Here's the passage:
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam 3:1-10 NRSV)
The second passage is Matthew 10:7-10. I'll write more about why I selected that passage in a post tomorrow afternoon.

A quick postscript: I haven't posted in quite awhile due to our move to Jackson and travels to visit friends and family. Some have been checking in pretty regularly, and I appreciate your steadfast inquiries while I've been away from the blogosphere.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dad and I watching the Corpus Christi Hooks versus the San Antonio Missions. The Hooks are up 6-0 at the bottom of the fifth inning. Good times on our next-to-last night in Portland.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ordinary 17 - Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

A reading from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 13, verses 31-33 and 44-52.

Listen now to God's Word:
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matt 13:31-33, 44-52 NRSV)
This is the Word of the Lord.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I Like Matt [Updated]

The story goes something like this: Matt worked for several years, saved up his money, quit, and then started traveling the world. Matt now has a corporate sponsor that helps out with his travels.

Where the H**l is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

UDDATE: I'm reminded of this verse from scripture:
David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. (2 Sam 6:5 NRSV)
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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A New Preaching Tool

Here's Wordle. Below is my Wordle-ized sermon from last Sunday, entitled "Inadvertent Evangelism" (based on Matthew 10:40-42 - click to enlarge):

Seems appropriately Jesus-focused.

How about the Larger Westminster Catechism (top 500 words)?

Anyone else? Feel free to contribute yours in the comments!

[HT - Anthony Sacramone]

Monday, June 30, 2008

And Now, A Word From Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A true prophetic voice speaks to us even today:
It is a theological error of the first magnitude to exploit the doctrine of Christ the Mediator so as to justify direct relationships with the things of the world. It is sometimes argued that if Christ is the Mediator he has borne all the sin which underlies our direct relationships with the world and that he has justified us in them. Jesus has reconciled the world to God; we can then, it is supposed, return to the world and enjoy our direct relation with it with a good conscience - although that world is the very world which crucified Christ! This is to equate the love of God with the love of the world. The breach with the things of the world is now branded as a legalistic misinterpretation of the grace of God, the purpose of which, we fondly suppose, is to spare us the necessity of this very breach. The saying of Christ about hating our immediate relationships is thus turned into a cheerful affirmation of the "God-given realities of the world." Once again the justification of the sinner has become the justification of sin.1
1Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost Of Discipleship. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995, p. 97.

Friday, June 20, 2008


The current fluctuations in our still-growing economy do not make for another Great Depression, by any means (via The Best of the Web by James Taranto):
No Starbucks in Hooverville

How dire is America's economy? The Associated Press reports on how our countrymen are suffering:

"For Michelle Hovis, that means refilling her husband's used soda container from a 2-liter bottle she buys on sale for 98 cents. She tweaked his daily habit of buying a 20-ounce bottle when the price crept up to $1.39."
For shame. And then there's this:
And this isn't the worst of it: "Taxis, mocha lattes and sports cable packages aren't even options for those who are suddenly out of a job."
They were not an option for me, either, in the days leading up to seminary. They aren't now either. In fact, they never really should have been. They are all "treats."

I don't deny that there are plenty of folks experiencing economic hardship. There always are, but having to cut back on $4 lattes is frankly just an exercise in self-control, which is character trait generally in short supply in an economy and culture like ours.

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Monday, June 16, 2008


After months of prayer and discernment, I am excited to announced that God has called us to Jackson, Minnesota. It is there that I will be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament and then installed as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church. The call was extended on June 8th, and I have not posted about it until now in order to give due notice to the congregation I currently serve in Portland, Texas. Our last day here will be July 31. After that, we'll be spending a couple of weeks moving, followed by a couple of weeks of rest and a visit to our new niece.

Jackson is a wonderful community of about 3,500 souls located in the southwest corner of Minnesota. As it turns out, the church is within my wife Sara's presbytery of Minnesota Valleys. We are happy to be moving to a beautiful town that is only an hour's drive east of Sara's parents, who live in nearby Luverne, Minnesota.

Here's a high-level map of the town:

View Larger Map

First Presbyterian Church is a small congregation of about 180+ members from all walks of life. Here's a picture of the congregation's building:

If you look carefully, you will see a bit of the two-story classroom building behind the church. The church office is there, as well as the primary conference room. The classroom building has a tremendous amount of potential. The rooms within are quite large can be easily customized as required for different events and activities. One of the rooms is devoted to food storage for a pantry mission program that operates throughout the week. The church also operates a community Clothes Closet for the in the same space.

Here's the sanctuary interior with its nifty curved pews:

A picture of Sara and me right after the congregational vote:

Over the next several days, I'm going to share with you how the Holy Spirit convinced us that this was God's call. I'll also speak more extensively about the lovely community of Jackson.

For all of you who have been along side me during this process, and who have prayed for God's will to be done, thank you. Your support and prayers have been a tremendous source of encouragement and strength for both of us. And a special word of gratitude is due to my amazing wife, Sara, who has prayed, cried, and searched with me. What a tremendous blessing it is, indeed, to be given such grace as I have received from God in my wife, my best friend for life.

Before all of that, however, all praise, honor, and glory be to Almighty God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - for setting me, a wretched sinner, apart for such a task as this, which can only be undertaken by virtue of His strength, power, and love.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

365.25 - Day 30

365.25 - Day 30
Originally uploaded by whatnext
Font and table and pulpit. There is, indeed, a certain poverty to the furniture needed for public worship.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:1-5 NRSV)

Monday, May 26, 2008

365.25 - Day 29

365.25 - Day 29
Originally uploaded by whatnext
It is Memorial Day, and the pookie is one tired dog.

We pray this day for those who have died in the defense of liberty and freedom, in particular the freedom to worship Almighty God.

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2 Cor 3:17 NRSV)

May be all rest in the peace we have received as a gracious gift from our Lord.

Memorial Day - The Story of Taps

Via RIP:

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

365.25 - Day 28

365.25 - Day 28
Originally uploaded by whatnext
I hear a voice from behind me. "Where are you?"

"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, 'Samuel! Samuel! and he said, 'Here I am!' and ran to Eli, and said, 'Here I am, for you called me.' But he said, 'I did not call; lie down again.' So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, 'Samuel!' Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, 'Here I am, for you called me.' But he said, 'I did not call, my son; lie down again.' Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, 'Here I am, for you called me.' Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, 'Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’' So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, 'Samuel! Samuel!' And Samuel said, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.' (1 Sam 3:1-10 NRSV)

And thus the fun began for Samuel.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

365.25 - Day 27

365.25 - Day 27
Originally uploaded by whatnext
Neil McCormick, author of Killing Bono, is a childhood friend of U2 frontman Bono. I found out about this book while listening to the excellent reformed theology podcast White Horse Inn. Michael Horton read an excerpt McCormick's experience at Mount Temple, a nondenominational school:

"A consequences of its being the only nondenominational state school in Catholic Ireland was that most pupils where drawn from Dublin's Protestant minority. The school itself, however, toed no sectarian line, offering Religious Education (RE) classes characterized by a kind of woolly Christian liberalism, presided over by a well-meaning but - as far as I was concerned - drippily ineffective young teacher named Sophie Shirley. There would be Bible readings and class discussions in which Jesus took on the character of a beatific hippie while God seemed to be personified as an avuncular old geezer who only wanted what was best for His extended family - if that was the case, I wondered, why was I being kept awake at night wondering if the torments of Hell awaited me when I died? I would fire this and related questions at my long-suffering teaching but I never received satisfactory answers, just platitudes about Jesus loving me."

Thus begins my new relationship with Mr. McCormick. I'll be interested to see how this ends up.

365.25 - Day 26

365.25 - Day 26
Originally uploaded by whatnext
A light shining in the darkness at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Matt 5:14-16 NRSV)

365.25 - Day 25

365.25 - Day 25
Originally uploaded by whatnext
Here I am, idling in the church parking lot, waiting for the car to warm up just a bit before the short drive home.

Alas, you can see how dirty the interior of my car got after a wind gust blew a bunch of dust inside. :: Sneeze ::

I decided to grab this pic because I was thinking about life's idle times. These might be times when we want big things to happen. Idle times are also the in-between times. How we decide to use these times can is critical to our lives of discipleship.

The old saying is said because it is true: Idle hands are the devil's tools. Idle time is often the times of boredom where we might be tempted into something we would otherwise never do.

But idle time can be invaluable time for reflection, prayer, and study.

And as I reflect further, I find myself wondering if there is such a thing. Just as a car at idle is, in fact, at work, so the human person will be doing something while at rest. The question for Christians is straightforward: What are we doing with the idle time we've been given?

Jesus actually said something about some workers who found themselves with lots of idle time:

“'For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.'” (Matt 20:1-16 NRSV)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

365.25 - Day 24

365.25 - Day 24
Originally uploaded by whatnext
Jodi has been exhausted with the excitement associated with our return home. You might say this is a picture of a dog's life, but it is instead a pretty good reflection of our need for rest.

"I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety." (Ps 4:8 NRSV)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

365.25 - Day 23

365.25 - Day 23
Originally uploaded by whatnext
If you look closely, you may see a double rainbow. The view is from the food court in the Concourse B at Denver International Airport.

Do you remember that the bow is an everlasting, eternal covenant between God and all living creatures?

"God said, 'This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.' God said to Noah, 'This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.'" (Gen 9:12-17 NRSV)

Monday, May 19, 2008

365.25 - Day 22

365.25 - Day 22
Originally uploaded by whatnext
As you head north out of Luverne, you encounter Blue Mound, seen here off in the distance.

We come home to the Coastal Bend later this afternoon.

"In the path of righteousness there is life, in walking its path there is no death." (Prov 12:28 NRSV)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

365.25 - Day 21

365.25 - Day 21
Originally uploaded by whatnext
This is Andy, Sara's brother, my brother-in-law. A great guy, he recently graduated from Augusta college in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He's destined to be a fine teacher and coach, and has taken his first-ever teaching job in Iowa.

He's giving a shoulder ride to one of the next-door neighbor's three precocious daughters. This one is named Kenedee.

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.'" (Matt 18:1-5 NRSV)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

365.25 - Day 20

365.25 - Day 20
Originally uploaded by whatnext
This lovely church is in southern Minnesota, not far from I-90. I was particularly drawn to the large Celtic cross behind the table.

A beautiful and peaceful place and a hopeful place, which is located at the top of a hill.

"You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession, the place, O LORD, that you made your abode, the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established." (Exod 15:17 NRSV)

Friday, May 16, 2008

365.25 - Day 19

365.25 - Day 19
Originally uploaded by whatnext
Our destination is Minnesota, but our flights terminate in Sioux Falls. On the way up, we connected through Chicago's O'Hare International. This fully articulated 72-foot long Brachiosaurus dinosaur skeleton casts its shadow far down the length of Terminal 2.

Airships and huge creatures take me into the Psalter:

"There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it." (Ps 104:26 NRSV)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

365.25 - Day 18

365.25 - Day 18
Originally uploaded by whatnext
Sara and I went away for the weekend to Minnesota, where I had a visiting preaching assignment at a Presbyterian Church.

Thanks to the limited flight availability at Corpus Christi International [?] Airport, we decided to depart from San Antonio (at significant savings). We stayed with good friends overnight on Thursday in anticipation for our Friday early morning flight to Sioux Falls. This sign was at the head of our guest bed.

Traveling mercies can be sweet, and our stop in San Antonio was no exception. Deepest thanks to our gracious hosts, Bob and Marcia.

"Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers." (Rom 12:11-13 NRSV)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Temporarily Absent

We have been away for a few days, and internet access has been minimal. Posts will resume soon. The 365.25 project continues, but the photos won't be posted until tomorrow. See you soon!

365.25 - Day 17

365.25 - Day 17
Originally uploaded by whatnext
Two minutes and 35 seconds: That's all the time it took for Jodi to wolf down her dinner.

I took the liberty of condensing the gluttonous debauchery to a mere 47 seconds. She sure does know how to get her eating on. Notice show she has the audacity to put her left front paw in frame. The nerve.

"From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, 'Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.' But she answered him, 'Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.' Then he said to her, 'For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.' So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone." (Mark 7:24-30 NRSV)

... Or perhaps Jodi's chowing-down represents amazing gratitude.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

365.25 - Day 16

365.25 - Day 16
Originally uploaded by whatnext
Indian Point Park is just off of Highway 181 as you leave Portland heading west to Corpus Christi. Over 36 bird species reside here at various times during the year.

I'm not sure about the identity of this wading bird, but I loved the long, multi-colored beak. It smoothly and slowly made its way through the water, more or less oblivious to my presence. I made this photo from the front seat of my car while returning home from a meeting in Corpus Christi.

It's now day 16 of the project, but day five is when the birds first came forth:

"And God said, 'Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.' So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.' And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day." (Gen 1:20-23 NRSV)

Monday, May 12, 2008

365.25 - Day 15

365.25 - Day 15
Originally uploaded by whatnext
My lovely wife found a recipe in her trusty Real Simple magazine for quick 'n easy chicken curry. Here it is:

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3/4 heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (optional)
1 rotisserie chicken
2 cups cooked white rice
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a large skilled over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes. Spinkle the curry powder and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the yogurt and cream and simmer gently for 3 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, and tomatoes (if using). Remove from heat. Slice or shred the chicken, discarding the skin and bones. Divide the rice and chicken among individual bowls, spoon the sauce over the top, and sprinkle with cilantro.

Darn good.

Spices come up several times in the bible, almost always portrayed as items of high value:

"Hezekiah welcomed them; he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them." (Isa 39:2 NRSV)

I think it is fascinating to consider how dull much our food would be without basic spices. Can we even imagine such a thing? We cannot.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

365.25 - Day 14

365.25 - Day 14
Originally uploaded by whatnext
Today was, of course, Pentecost. It seems fitting that the oft-cited "birthday of the church" would coincide this year with the civic recognition we accord by honoring our mothers. One birth alludes to the other.

It is said that Mother's Day is usually the busiest day for the phone companies. For the first time in my memory, however, all of our Mother's Day calls where made with webcams and Skype. Sara and I bother spoke with our respective moms as well as with my sister Bethany (a new mom this year) and her hubby, Ken.

When I was born, we only had AT&T. Talk about a paradigm shift.

Today I found this remark by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:

“'Honor your father and mother'—this is the first commandment with a promise: 'so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.'" (Eph 6:2-3 NRSV)

The first occurrence of a divine commandment of God that carries with it a promise is about our parents.

Happy Mother's Day

Hi Mom-

I just wanted to let you know that I love you. May God bless you with a wonderful Mother's Day.


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Saturday, May 10, 2008

365.25 - Day 13

365.25 - Day 13
Originally uploaded by whatnext
The 30 Hour Famine on behalf of World Vision concluded this evening with the Eucharist. As you can see, there were a lot of smiles.

This is in contrast to the scene which usually accompanies the Eucharist feast in too many protestant churches. So often the celebration of the Lord's Supper takes on a maudlin, rather than joyous, character. The music will be somber. No one will smile. Voices are muted.

Indeed, this is the memorial feast where we proclaim the death of Jesus until he comes again (1 Corinthians 11:25-26). But the feast has with it a cosmic sense of time. By participating with Christ through the common loaf and cup, we not only join ourselves with Jesus and the twelve in the Upper Room, but we feast with the certain hope of the divine banquet of the Kingdom of God. That fact should cause many smiles to be seen amidst the sharing of the elements.

Interesting, isn't it, that these smiles jump out after having deliberately gone hungry? There is genuine thanksgiving here, a thanksgiving so profound and yet so often taken for granted in an affluent culture, with Whataburger's at every exit.

"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor 10:16-17 NRSV)

Friday, May 09, 2008

365.25 - Day 12

365.25 - Day 12
Originally uploaded by whatnext
I had a difficult time deciding what to say about this little fellow. He didn't appear to be caught on anything, which makes me think he simply starved to death while trying to keep warm on the window sill.

The eye sockets were empty, but he still had some skin.

He was discovered while I was taking pictures for, of all things, a youth group fast and fundraising event being led by by lovely wife. Together, her group is raising money for World Vision, an amazing Christian organization currently working very hard with the people in devastated Myanmar.

I can personally vouch for the fine work that World Vision does. Your donation will be deeply appreciated and will be a witness to the power of Jesus Christ in the world.

"The words of Agur son of Jakeh. An oracle.

Four things on earth are small, yet they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people without strength, yet they provide their food in the summer; the badgers are a people without power, yet they make their homes in the rocks; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard can be grasped in the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces." (Prov 30:1, 24-28 NRSV)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

365.25 - Day 11

365.25 - Day 11
Originally uploaded by whatnext
Some folks from my wife's church contributed work to a community arts exhibition in downtown Corpus Christi. This collage of self-portraits reminded me of the character of the church.

We're all over the map, to be sure.

A few months ago, I heard a lecture by Bishop William Willimon (North Alabama Conference of the United Methodists). During the course of the lecture, he reminded those present, mostly seminary professors, administrators, students, and pastors, that, "The church needs to be prepared to deal with whomever Jesus Christ drags through the door."

"Whomever" may include one or more of the individuals represented on this wall.

Perhaps it'll be Pablo? Or Hannah? Basil? Roger? Mallory? Wallis?

Good Newsing Quote of the Day

Alistair Begg on the suffering of Jesus via
Ultimately, the cross is not something to dangle around our necks as an ornament. The cross is not something ultimately to hang up on a wall and put flowers around it. The cross is the equivalent of an electric chair. And into that electric chair of the first century went a man who didn't deserve to die. Now, until we've understood that, the good news is an irrelevancy.
[iTunes Podcast Link]

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

365.25 - Day 10

365.25 - Day 10
Originally uploaded by whatnext
"The Station" is located directly across the street from the dismal Greyhound bus terminal in downtown Corpus Christi, Texas. All are welcome to free PB&J sandwiches, coffee, and other goodies. And, as you can see in the photo, everyone sticks around to be nourished by the Word. "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:3).

This place is a witness to Jesus' promise to be with us always through the Holy Spirit.

Tonight's study was from the good news of John:

“'If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

'I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.' Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, 'Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?' Jesus answered him, 'Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

'I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.'" (John 14:15-27 NRSV)