Friday, October 12, 2012

Moving Day (for the Blog)

I have finally moved this blog to I hope you'll join me there, either as a subscriber or an occasional reader. New posts will appear on that site.

My hope is to add content to this new platform and integrate some already existing content, such as my sermons podcast.

Sometime in early January 2013, this blog address will be shut down.

Special thanks to Michael Hyatt for his screencast "How to Launch a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog in 20 Minutes or Less" and his book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, which I just finished.

See you at!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Go Joyfully About Your Work

Then go joyfully about your work.

That is how Martin Luther ends his instructions for Morning Prayer in his Small Catechism. For me, this is both a challenge and an invitation.

It is a challenge to bring joy to aspects of my work that seem, well, mundane.

But it is also an invitation to see the work I have been given for the day as God's work, as holy work, as meaningful work.

Say your prayers and then go joyfully about your work.

How does this challenge and inspire you today?

Friday, August 24, 2012

1000 Nos

Sometimes you have to say "No" to 1,000 things to say "Yes" to the one thing that matters.

Three summers ago, my wife and I took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. It is now a nine-week course that helps people focus on getting out of debt, building wealth and giving generously. (We are offering it this fall through our congregation if you are interested.) The explicit strength of this program is the debt snowball and sticking to a monthly budget. The implicit strength of this program is what I like to call 1,000 Nos.

Last August we finished paying off all our debt and are now working toward building our 3-6 month emergency fund. We still do a monthly budget, pay cash for everything and say "No" a lot.

I still joke about the discipline of 1,000 Nos. I say "No" to a lot of things I want but cannot afford. Saying "No" over and over and over again is actually... quite freeing. Because over time it allows me to say "Yes" to a whole new set of things.

What things have you said "No" to lately to say "Yes" to the main thing? 

One of Rob Bell's Nooma videos, "Shells," also does a nice job with this topic.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

7 Ways to Witness at the County Fair

Why is it that the only booths that scare the hell out of me (literally) at the county fair are the ones run by Christians? Can't we do a better job of spreading the Gospel?

Here are some suggestions for how the treasure that is the Christian faith might better be shared on the midway.

1. Spend some money on better tracts. Instead of handing out little booklets that cost a nickel each, or some gimmicky plastic toy or a balloon, how about a nice summary about what you believe on card stock with nice lettering? And, for the love of God, stay away from Chick tracts.

2. Give out a nice story book about Jesus. Arch books are wonderful. Don't invite my child in with a "free story" and then start the bait and switch about salvation. It's tacky... and a little creepy.

3. If you're going to give out a copy of one of the Gospels, give out any one but the Gospel of John. Don't get me wrong, John's Gospel is beautiful, poetic and very deep theologically. In other words, more suited to those mature in the faith. If you simply want to introduce someone to Jesus for the first time, Matthew, Mark and Luke are all winners. (Note: I had a difficult time finding much online, other than what Ignatius Press offers, so if anyone is looking for a niche market, here's a hint.)

4. Enter the multimedia world. Voice of the Martyrs has produced a cartoon film called Jesus: He Lived Among Us. There are countless options, from The Nativity Story to The Gospel of John (see #3 however) to The Passion of the Christ. Do your own YouTube video about what mission-minded things your congregation is up to and then hand out bookmarks with a link and QR code.

5. Set up a prayer station. Bring the best of your prayer warriors. Set up a booth that reads clearly, "Listening post"... then listen to all of the problems people bring to you and offer to pray with them.

6. Feed the hungry. Set up a hunger-awareness station with handouts for ways to combat hunger, locally and globally. Put out a shopping cart for donations of canned goods. Promote local food pantries and hunger advocacy groups. Have a simple sign: Because Jesus says so...

7. Enlist local artists. Artists are woefully underpaid and under-appreciated. Pay some local artists really well to create an amazing mural during the fair. Have them do a section each day, so that it is not complete until the last day of the fair.

All of these stem from my conviction, based on Martin Luther's explanation of the third article of the Apostles' Creed, that is the Holy Spirit who does the converting. We are called to introduce people to Jesus and to share his message in word and action.

Finally, some kudos to my brothers and sisters in Christ who showed a dignified witness to the Gospel:

Bowling Green Christian Academy had elephant ears for $3.50, information about their school and were promoting an upcoming Christian concert.

The Gideons simply handed out New Testaments to 5th - 9th graders.

What is the best form of Christian witness you have observed?

What is the worst?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Prayer

One of the many things I love about the community in which I live is that it does Memorial Day well. Below are the invocation and benediction I gave today for the brief service honoring those who have died in service to our nation. I welcome your comments.

Memorial Day Service
Pemberville American Legion

Almighty God, we give you thanks for our nation, the United States of America. Continue to shape us into a people who work for liberty and justice for all people.

 We give you thanks for all who have served bravely in our military, especially those who did so at the cost of their own lives.

We give you thanks for all who serve as military chaplains, who do the work of speaking your Word to the courageous, the fearful, the suffering, the wounded and the dying.

Bless and protect all who serve in our armed forces, at home and overseas, especially those we name before you now…

Bless the peacemakers, in our nation and around the world.

O Lord, we long for the day when your Kingdom will come in all its fullness, when there will be no more need for weapons and warfare, and when we will enjoy the peace that your Son Jesus gives to us.

In the name of this Jesus, your Son and our Lord, we pray. Amen.

May the LORD of glory bless us and keep us and our nation in his care.

May Jesus, the Prince of Peace, rule in our nation and in our lives.

And may the Holy Spirit give us strength and courage to do battle against all forces of evil.

 May the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon us and remain with us, now and forever. Amen.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Daily Prayer in a Busy Time

Writing about the importance of daily prayer during this busy time of year may seem about as wise as paddling upstream, but here we go anyway.

A member of the congregation I serve runs regularly. She struggles with reading the Bible daily. My life is just the opposite: I read Scripture regularly, but I struggle with even doing a little bit of exercise every day. We joke with each other quite often about this and try to encourage one another. My guess is that she sees exercise as absolutely indispensable, just something you do everyday if you want to maintain the life and body that God has given. The more I have thought about it, I see daily prayer and Scripture reading the same way.

So here are a few suggestions for getting that practice going in your own life:

1. Set aside a certain time of day. If we don't plan for it, it won't happen. You will have plenty of opportunities throughout the day for spontaneous prayer, but this is dedicated time to listen to God through God's word and to speak to God in prayer. I like to set aside morning time, since that is when I have the most energy, so I can give my "first fruits" to God (see Deuteronomy 26).

2. Find a reading plan. Whether you use a one year Bible or find a reading plan online, there are plenty to choose from. I find that reading a portion of the Psalms, the Gospels, the Old Testament, the New Testament and a chapter from Proverbs works for me.

3. Pray. Pray for the church, the world and all those who are in need. Two indispensable parts of my regular prayer life are the Psalms and the Lord's prayer.

4. When you fall down, get back up again. There will be a time when you will miss a day, or two, or ten. Instead of dwelling on what you didn't get done, get back in the game. Start today. What is the old adage? The best time to plant a tree is 25 years ago. The second best time is today.

In case you're curious, the format I use is below. I have tried all kinds of different devotional books, prayer books, prayer guides, etc. and keep gravitating back to this same pattern. Find what works for you and stick to it.

Opening versicle: O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise (from Psalm 51).
Gloria Patri: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit...
Psalms: one or two
Opening prayer
Gospel reading: part of a chapter
New Testament reading: part of a chapter
Old Testament reading: usually a full chapter
Proverbs: a corresponding chapter with the day of the month
Intercessory prayer for the church, the world, and those in need
Lord's Prayer
Closing prayer and blessing

That may sound ambitious, but I think the whole process takes about twenty minutes.

Comment and Engage: So what have you found most helpful about reading the Scriptures and praying every day? What have you found most frustrating?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

It's What's for Dinner

Scripture: It's what's for dinner. And lunch. And breakfast. And snack.

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3b).

This is the table prayer we are using for all our meals during Lent this year. Its frequent repetition has forced me to consider my own practice of eating, chewing and digesting the Scriptures (distinct but related acts, by the way).

The more I pray about eating the Scriptures, the hungrier I get for them. (It's one thing in Lent we don't need to fast from.)

Sometimes it's a full course meal. Mine is usually for breakfast. But I'm also intrigued by the "snack" approach. My children love snacks. There's the snack before breakfast, the snack after breakfast, the snack right after lunch, the late afternoon snack, the before-dinner snack, the five-minutes-after-dinner snack, and then the obligatory bedtime snack.

Nutritionist say they are on to something: Regular snacking actually facilitates good digestion and overall health.

Before you head out the door, make sure you pack your Scripture snack.