Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'm a bit late getting this posted but after my Christmas Sunday message on the meaning of "Savior" and "Immanuel", the names for Jesus in Matthew 1, Philip Wheeler developed this image and sent it to me. Thanks, Philip.

Monday, December 22, 2008

That's My Boy!

You are looking at a sonogram of my yet-to-be named little boy. He's due March 1st but it's not looking like he'll wait that long. The sonogram was taken on the older equipment of the crisis pregnancy center the birth mom is working with, so the picture isn't that great. I was able however, to personally confirm that he's a boy, "a well endowed boy," according to the nurse.

Although we'd told a few people already, we went "public" with the info on Sunday morning by sharing it with TFC. Erin was crying, the whole congregation clapped, it was a beautiful moment.
This may come as a shock to many of you but this decision has been several months in the making.

This is gonna be a long post...

If I'm going to start at the very beginning, I've gotta go back to Pastors and Spouses retreat last April, when I began praying that God would guide in getting more involved in my community. The next weekend, I found a flyer for The Music Man tryouts, decided to give it a shot not knowing how much my life would change because of that decision. But all of that is the subject of other blog posts...

Last September, a friend from The Music Man left an urgent sounding request for us to call her back immediately, "I need to come over and talk with you ASAP." I had NO idea what was happening but when I called her, I convinced her to tell me over the phone. She informed me her 22 year old niece was pregnant and wanting to place the baby in an adoptive family. Both Erin and my immediate response was "no way, we've made this plan for IVF and we've gotta stick with it." We promised our friend we'd pray but told her the chances of us adopting this baby were basically nonexistent.

So we started praying. A couple weeks later, we were at my good buddy Ryder's first birthday party and we asked his mom whether we should meet with the birth mother. We wanted Franci's opinion as a single mom because I was worried about letting down the birth mom. Franci encouraged us to just meet with her, that it wouldn't hurt. Well, it certainly didn't hurt...

We met with the birth mother and her aunt on Wednesday night, October 22nd at the Chili's on 151st St. We walked into this meeting expecting to find ways to tell this young lady we weren't ready to adopt her baby. We walked out of that dinner "in love" with the mom. She's a very smart, sweet and pretty girl and we suddenly became interested in the baby inside of her. But I knew we couldn't make this life-changing decision just because we liked her, so we were very honest with her though, telling her of our plans for IVF and that we didn't feel we were ready yet for adoption. We did however, commit to praying about the decision. In my own mind, I came away from that meeting thinking we should make a decision by the end of November, so she could find another family if we didn't adopt her baby.

We prayed. A lot. Every day. Asking God to reveal whether he wanted us to adopt this baby. I can remember once praying, "God, if you want us to adopt this baby, then you'd better make it very clear, but I can't imagine you'd really want us to do this." One night, I joked that if I came outside and the hubcap that had fallen off my car was back on, I'd take it as a sign from God. One night, Franci and Ryder were over for dinner and when Ryder grabbed an adoption book off our coffee table, I asked him what we should do; adoption or IVF. "If a one year old talks, I'll take it as a sign from God." He immediately let out some indistinguishable baby sounds. Franci however, was pretty sure he said, "do both." That was election night, we were still praying but not expecting much.

A couple weeks later, I went to see a friend from The Music Man perform in Spring Hill HS's production of Seussical the Musical. Alex, who had sang the lead MM's barbershop quartet, was playing the lead of Horton in that musical. Seussical combines several of Dr. Seuss' stories, including Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches an Egg. Over and over, Horton sings this line, "a person's a person no matter how small." I broke down crying in the Spring Hill auditorium. As clearly as I've ever heard God speak to me before, I sensed "Donnie, I want you to adopt this little boy." I cried and prayed during the drive home.

The next night, Erin went with Franci and Annie to see the play and Erin experienced the exact same emotion. It had been just over a month that we'd been praying for God to guide us toward the right decision. While it might have been more dramatic if a one year old had spoken to us, I'd say speaking through a High School's musical was pretty dramatic as well.
We waited another week or so, to solidify this decision, but when this unexplainable peace settled into our hearts, we knew we were going the right direction. My prayer changed to, "God, we think you want us to leap off this cliff, so we're running full-speed toward the edge. If you don't want us to jump, you'd better stop us. You'd better stop us SOON!"

Beyond this emotional experiences, there were also so many little coincidences that lead to us making this decision. From having some friends from GCT on the board of an organization that does adoption grants to being promised financial help we didn't expect, so many signs pointed toward this being the right thing to do. We could ignore some of them, but eventually there became too many signs to ignore. "Okay, God, we FINALLY get your hints" became another of our prayers. Strangely enough, we came to our decision just as November ended.

We spent the first week of December trying to set up a face-t0-face meeting with the birth mother, to tell her our decision but we kept missing each other. When we met with the social worker who is doing our home study a week later, she strongly suggested we call the mom IMMEDIATELY after leaving her home. We did so and she was very happy to hear the news. She had just started looking through the profiles of other potential adoptive families but was very glad she didn't have to continue that process.

So today we met with our adoption lawyer, saw the sonogram and ate dinner with the birth mom. The conversation was wonderful, we comfortably discussed all the topics and issues our lawyer has told us we needed to discuss. Our lawyer told us today that he has a strong sense this young lady will stick with her decision, which is coming from his years of adoption work.

The thing that struck me the most was how happy she is to have us as the adoptive parents. She told us how relieved she was to not have to meet with other families. She "fell in love" with us the first night we met, having a strong sense that we could provide for life for which she hoped her baby could have. She also said that she NEEDED this baby to be raised in a strong Christian home, to which I responded, "you obviously don't know me very well." Erin gets nervous when I crack jokes like that.

While I've hit the main points, I've barely scratched the surface of our emotions. Our fear, our excitement, our peace, our strong sense of God's guidance as well as our gratitude for that guidance as well as the excitement about getting to know this little boy. A good pastor friend, Russ Koelzer, told me that being a father teaches you so much about God. I'm excited to learn about God in those ways but I also know that adoption gives a whole new level of insight into God's love for us. Adoption means we've been chosen and God has chosen to adopt every single one of us.

Last Sunday, I read this passage from Ephesians 1. I don't know how many people noticed but I almost started crying as I read the passage. "God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure."

My yet to be named little boy, you have been chosen by God and chosen by your parents. We're so excited to welcome you into our family!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Love Wins Christmas

The following is from my sweet wife, Erin.

Its a very LOVE WINS Christmas!

I've come to the point when I know that something amazing is going to happen when Jaymie and I go into the clubs. Usually before we leave our house, Donnie and I start bickering about something stupid. That is my clue that something awesome is going to happen. I think that there is a possibility that we get irritated, annoyed, and grumpy with each other right before we have a "God moment". It happens when we pray before bed, too.
When we got to End Zone, our bouncer friends welcomed us, opening the door for Jaymie carrying the big box of treats. As soon as we saw our friend, who is always serving behind the bar, she smiled. We set the treats down and one of the girls that we've been chatting with lately came right over to see what we had brought. I chatted with her awhile and she was very gracious and thanked us for the treats. She also wished us a Merry Christmas. Jaymie was talking with another friend about some tough things that are going on. And she wanted to know where our church was and if we could get together to talk some time. She seems to trust Jaymie. Jaymie made sure she knew that she wouldn't be alone if she decided to come. We wished everyone a Merry Christmas before leaving.
As soon as we walked into Bonita Flats, everyone greeted us and I saw Guido over in his normal spot adding up some money in a stocking. We went to the dressing room and set down the box of treats and talked with some girls for a couple of minutes. Then I walked back out and and a couple of ladies had brought in clothes to donate to someone in need. So as Jaymie helped them load stuff into her car, I stood and talked with Guido who had something to give to me... Well, not TO me, I guess to give THROUGH me... He sat there while I watched and counted out the gifts given by all of our friends at Bonita's... It was three times the amount they gave to help people in need last year. THREE times! I stood there shocked. I couldn't think of anything to say except that they were amazing! Guido said, "Your program works. You come in here every month and you don't preach at us and it works." I just shook my head in amazement and said, "We do it to show the love of Jesus." And he said, "You are." Guido himself bought a gift card to a grocery store that is enough to feed a big family a wonderful Christmas dinner. One of the ladies got another gift card to help with toiletries and other necessities from Walmart. And then there were the ladies that cleaned out all of their closets to donate clothes that their children had outgrown. And if I add up all of the cash that came from a bunch of others, it blows me away to think of how much of Jesus' love will be shown because of the generosity of my friends.
So, if you know of someone who has a need, please come find me and let me know. Let's spread the love of Jesus around. LOVE WINS!

Friday, December 19, 2008

No Perfect People Allowed - Chapter 13

Recovering an Addicted Generation: Creating a Culture of Healing

I'm convinced addiction is the hidden secret in the church today. It's everywhere, but we hide it well.

Addictions drive people into a state of absolute helplessness, a state Jesus referred to as spiritual poverty. And he called it a "blessed" state to be in - why? Because it cracks our shells of denial (in which we all tend to hide) and forces us to recognize our deep dependence upon God. But isn't it ironic that those so close to this "blessed" condition, in need of grace and truth, would not be welcomed in church groups?

The Bible indicates we are all in this abnormal broken state of trying to "play God," and as the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector indicates - the only real difference between us is whether we recognize it or deny it.

First, we must not force those with addictions into hiding from God and running from the church community as happened in the past century with alcoholics - they need God and they need community before they get better. But we must also invite them in and hope for healing. We must be prepared with groups and programs or know of outside resources available to help set fee those enslaved to addictions.

True healing often requires a lengthy process of righting the wrongs and uncovering the lies of the past. God can heal us immediately, but more often he takes us along a difficult path that forces us to continually depend upon him, because only in him do we find true life. If he immediately healed us, we would immediately turn back to our independent, self-centered ways.

Unless churches and small groups address these very real struggles and give encouragement and spiritual direction to people suffering from addiction, compulsive behaviors, or abuse, they will soon feel they don't fit, or worse, that their faith didn't work since they will struggle. If self-defeating behavior is denied, ignored, or minimized, then our religion has become a shield to hide from life's realities, and we've missed our calling as a healing force in the world.

Dr. Patrick Carnes notes that at the core most addictions are fed by a cycle of shame.

When children grow up in families that are both rigid and detached emotionally, addiction often follows.

If a church does not have the resources for a full-blown recovery program, it's best not to try to take the place of recovery groups. Instead, provide referrals and Christ-centered support for spiritual growth that gets people into recovery and then beyond recovery. But to get people stated, leaders must assume addictions exist and creatively find ways to bring people out of hiding.

Tobacco Addictions: So how has the church helped addicts? I may be wrong, but it appears we have either made it clear that if you smoke, you're bad and not welcome here, or we've just ignored it. Instead, we need to provide both the grace and the truth along with spiritual direction and support that people need to overcome their addictions. Unfortunately, our culture does not provide the same support system necessary for recovery of nicotine addiction that it does for substance abuse, yet it requires a more concentrated effort to stop smoking since it's so socially acceptable and equally as enslaving.

It seems the best a church can do is help smokers grow spiritually and let them know God desires that nothing enslaves them. I challenge people to ask God, "Is there anything in my life keeping me from experiencing your life? Give me willingness to trust you with it?"

Sexual addiction: One of the main ways the church can help our sex-crazed culture is to begin to help people understand that lust and fantasy and pornography are just imposters of the real thing they desire.

As we understand both addiction and the path to recovery, we can better nurture a healing culture where God's grace and truth work together powerfully to set people free.

If you're struggling with an addiction, please check out this Celebrate Recover group that meets in Olathe- link.
I've met the leaders of this ministry and I believe in what they're doing.
There is also a Celebrate Recover group in Gardner at New Life Church (you'll need to click on the "ministries" link.

Truth is all about Jesus

I recently read an interesting interview with Will Smith in Newsweek. Will's ideas on "Truth" are similar to what I've been thinking lately.

Here's an excerpt from the interview.
There are also rumors about you being a Scientologist. Jada has spoken about you two studying many religions, including Scientology. So are you a Scientologist?

I love the nature of humanity's search for meaning. For me I'm certain about my relationship with the model of perfection of human life that's laid out with the life of Jesus Christ. I'm certain of that. So I'm at home and not fearful when I sit in a mosque or a synagogue or a Buddhist temple, the same way that I'm at home in the Church of Scientology. I like anywhere people are searching for the truth, and I respect their path and I'm intrigued by their path. I think when you are certain in and of what you believe in, you can open your mind to seeing the ways of others. I'm not bothered when someone says "Allah" because they're talking about God - we are talking about the same person. I was in India recently and my hotel was near the Taj Mahal. Five times a day there would be a call for prayer, and it was the most beautiful thing. I was lying in my bed thinking, no matter what your religion is, it would be great to have that reminder five times a day to remember your Lord and Savior.
So you're not a Scientologist?

No, but when people are afraid of religion they have to go back and get in touch with the Good Book. Fear of other religions means you're questioning your own understanding, and that's just not where I am.

You were raised Baptist, right?

Yes, but I grew up in a neighborhood with all religions, and so I'm very used to studying and being around different faiths. So it doesn't bother me to look into different religions. My grandmother raised me to be a do-gooder in the church, and it was about doing what you can to help your community. So whatever religion does that - Jewish, Muslim, Scientology - it's cool because the end result is the same.

Here are some of my own thoughts:

In John 14:6, Jesus said "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." As a follower of Jesus, I base my life upon Jesus' claim.
But the whole point is JESUS! Jesus is bigger than Christianity and he's bigger than the Bible. Now, Christianity is a sociological group of people trying to live for Jesus (most of the time) and the Bible teaches us how to know Jesus making them VERY helpful in knowing what it means to follow Jesus, but Jesus still transcends Christianity and the Bible.

I believe salvation will come to people who aren't Christians and have never read the Bible. I don't believe, however, that salvation will come to people who aren't following Jesus.

I liked Will's comments about how it doesn't matter the religion as long as the community is being served. You could take that comment too far, I guess, but the point I want to make is that the point of following Jesus is serving others. If you read the Gospels, it doesn't seem that Jesus was too concerned about RIGHT THINKING, but rather RIGHT DOING. We can tell whether a person is following Jesus, experiencing salvation, not because they have the right theology but because they're serving others. Who did Jesus condemn to hell? The ultra-religious who had the right beliefs but were totally missing the point.

That's why people with "right theology" will miss out on salvation while some people with "bad theology" will experience final salvation. Our intellectual beliefs matter but they aren't the end-all for Jesus. If you don't believe that, read the last part of Matthew 25. link

Right now, there are people living for Jesus who have never heard the name "Jesus." But in their own way, they've responded to the life of salvation that Jesus offers. There are also people sitting in Christian worship services who hold "right beliefs" that aren't living for Jesus.

CS Lewis gives us a beautiful picture of this at the end of his Chronicles of Narnia series. It's at the end of The Last Battle. People who spent their lives in the false religion of Tash are still welcomed into Aslan's Kingdom, because Aslan saw in their hearts a search for Truth, though they weren't able to find the "correct" words.

Truth is a person and that person is Jesus. Truth is not a set of propositions nor intellectual statements. Truth is Jesus. So, as Will Smith is showing us, when we've anchored ourselves in the Truth of Jesus, we can go looking for reflections of that Truth in other religions, even Christianity. As long as we stay anchored on Jesus, we can see his Truth all around us, even in unlikely places.

When Adam Hamilton of the Church of the Resurrection preached a sermon series on the religions of the world, he pointed out all the good in other religions and then demonstrated how that good found it's completion in Jesus.

And one final idea, from the book The Shack. The Jesus figure in that book makes this statement about world religions, "Not every path leads to me but I'll go down any path to find you."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A special houseguest

So Erin and I are going to have a special houseguest this weekend, my good little buddy, Ryder. I'm quite proud of the fact that Ryder enjoys hanging out with me, I guest I just have a trustworthy face!

Besides getting the opportunity to watch football together, we're keeping Ryder for the weekend to give mom a break. She works her tail off going to school, working, directing all of our GCT stuff and raising Ryder, so we're glad to help her enjoy a weekend off.

On Friday night, I'm hanging out with Ryder and our other good buddy, Gabe. I'll be babysitting Ryder and Gabe's dad (who is there because my sweet wife doesn't think I'm qualified to watch a one year old all by myself - something about never having changed a diaper) while all the ladies go to the Nutcracker. It's so great that my wife gets to enjoy the Nutcracker and I don't have to be there suffering through it with her!

So this weekend will be a test of my resolve; can I continue my commitment to never changing a diaper until it belongs to my own child? With my wife's help, I think I can pull it off... I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jesus' jacked-up family tree

Sunday's message was probably one of the more interesting one's I've ever preached. Which is pretty ironic, considering I was preaching on the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew. But the 'dullness' of the passage forced me to amp-up the creativity. I titled the sermon, Jesus' Jacked-Up Family Tree.

Josh Vance read the passage and just one verse into his reading, I jumped up out of my chair and interrupted him, "are we really reading a genealogy today...?" I then explained how Jesus' genealogy would likely be a list of upstanding, Jewish men. Everytime Josh read the name of a woman (some non-Jewish and rather shady), I interrupted and told her story.

I certainly kept people's attention on Sunday and there was even a nervous energy when I first interrupted Josh, "was that planned, what's going on?" I love that type of dissonance at the beginning of a sermon!

The last few minutes of my message was driving home the point that whether you feel like an insider who ought to have their act together or an outsider that feels judged by those who look like they have their act together, "there's room in Jesus' family tree for you."
I really let it rip toward the end of my message and I heard that Joe Kumor was walking around the kids area telling people, "Donnie's really preaching it today!"

You can listen to the message here.

Valerie Sass and the worship band played this song as our response:

Valerie Sass and our band did this song as the response.

By far, the BEST part of Sunday morning was that a good friend of Erin and mine, who doesn't have a lot of church background was there that morning and told me several times that afternoon, "church was great, I paid attention the entire time and got a lot out of it."

What really amazes me about Sunday is that the service (at least the passage and the response song) was planned in October of 07, during my sermon planning retreat. While I was seeking God's guidance as to what to preach each Sunday of 2008, God already knew the people that would be at TFC the morning of Dec. 14th, needing to hear this message. In October of 07, I didn't even know a lot of the people that were in worship on Sunday.

Wow, what a coincidence...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!

We successfully completed another great show for GCT over the weekend. Even though I didn't have too many responsibilities, it still wore me out. Not only was the show great (Sunday's crowd was really into it) but GCT's income exceeded expenses so we have seed money for the summer show, Bye Bye Birdie.

My official stance right now is that I'm NOT trying out for Bye Bye Birdie, at least not for anything major or minor for that matter, but who knows... I do love working with GCT, though. I'm so proud of our leadership and excited about GCT's future. The Christmas show being such a huge success demonstrates how good things are going right now with GCT.

It's interesting being on the leadership board of GCT without being the main leader, Dan Naden is our president. I believe in GCT but I don't have as much invested nor the same drive as Dan. I know there's a possibility for me to step up my leadership but I'm also a bit hesitant about over-comitting. Sometimes I'm content with letting other board members pull more weight than me. I'm not proud of that, just the way it is. I'm such a perfectionist that I always want to do everything with 100% and to the best of my ability, but the reality is that I can't give 100% to everything.

I'm actually pretty embarrassed by something I did yesterday. The whole cast sat around and ate pizza after the show. Over the next hour or so, most cast members left the PRMS cafeteria but a few of us sat around and kept talking. It was a good time. Franci (the director), Kevin (my fellow fireman) and Chris (the police officer and the dad of the about to be mentioned girls) were being thoroughly entertained by the Haag girls' story telling. A couple times I wondered, "where's my wife?" I thought maybe she had gone home.

Well, I didn't realize (though I should have) that my wife and the other board members were cleaning up. I had done some work right after the show but thought we were done. When I realized I was skipping out on work that needed to be done, I was pretty embarrassed. But I did pitch in for the final 1/2 hour of work.

And in more GCT news, we were advertising at all 3 shows this weekend the GCT/ TFC Variety Show on Saturday night, April 18th. Tryouts will be March 28th. Both will take place at PRMS. So, get your garage band, tap-dance act or your stand-up set ready because we're ready for this show. Franci Talamantez will be directing this show as well, so she makes the final decision as to who gets in the show. But as the main sponsor on the show, TFC's worshp band get an 'automatic birth' as the Variety's Show's house band.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Marriage lessons from "It's a Wonderful Life"

I can't believe I'm admitting this, but It's a Wonderful Life always makes me cry. I try to fight the urge, but I always lose. I want to live a life that impacts others, even in ways I can't see right now.

Anway, here'a great link on what we learn about marriage from that movie. Whether you're married or thinking about getting married, it's worth the read.

I also want a marriage like that! Thankfully, as the article talks about, I married person with amazing character, which helps keep our marriage thriving (even when I do stupid things!).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Going public with our dancing

On Monday night, Erin and I joined about a hundred elementary kids and their parents for a ballr00m dancing event at her school. The kids from several Olathe schools were able to show off their new moves while a live band provided the rythms.

The fun part for us was going 'public' with the swing moves we learned in our class this fall. The ballroom dancing class we took at Gardner Dance Studio was beneficial but since we learned a new dance every session, I don't feel comfortable in any of them. The exception being the West-Coast Swing, which we worked on in a few different sessions.

Here we are, showing off our moves. Not the most impressive pictures, I realize. I think we're just doing the basic steps of the fox trot in the first picture. In the second picture, we're actually swing dancing.

Here are a few more from the night. The couple dancing were some of the instructors, Erin went to High School with the lady.

While taking French and ballroom dancing classes at the same time, I've found that dance is a form of language, you learn a new dance in ways similar to learning a new language.


There is so much good and so much bad that comes with Christmas. Giving = Good! Consumerism = Bad! Advent is second only to Easter for the Church calendar but as one of my favorite preachers said last week, "Christmas is the time of year in which it's most evident that we're living in rebellion to the Kingdom of God (referring to consumerism)".

Now, let me be clear about this (if it's even necessary), Erin and I buy gifts for ourselves and family members at Christmas. We set aside money each month into savings so Christmas doesn't "sneak up" on us. The gifts we buy are not necessary (they're extra things we want) nor is spending money on ourselves or family members the type of giving talked about in the Bible. Some years we budget to give away extra money to charities or have family members give to charities rather than buying us gifts, but (like this year) we don't always give extra at Christmas.
But the reality is that buying an ipod for someone who already has all they need is not Kingdom giving. Now, it's not bad, it's generous, it invests into the relationship, if how we spend our money reveals what we value it reveals we value our family members, but it's not the type of sacrificial giving taught by Jesus.

With that disclaimer done, I'm going to share some thoughts I had while listening to message this morning. But first - here's one more disclaimer: What I'm about to say may make you mad! We're so caught up in what Greg Boyd calls "the thin veneer of a civil religion" (juxtaposed against authentic Christianity) that we think saying "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays" or having a Christmas tree in a school classroom makes us Christian. That little bit of icing makes us feel good when the icing is really just covering a bunch of crap underneath; the crap of misplaced priorities during Christmas. But, since we're so immersed in our culture and have been lead to believe that all of our Christmas traditions are Christian, we NEED a serious shove out of our comfort zone to make us think. What I'm about to give is a serious shove.

Christmas is a giving frenzy, but does it really honor the greatest Gift ever given - Jesus? Does running up credit cards or buying stuff we don't need miss the point? The cultural practice of giving at Christmas gives us permission to spend money we don't have on things we don't need. A greedy consumer free-for-all is somehow supposed to honor Jesus? How?

But we hide behind the excuse we're alloted a year, "but it's Christmas - this is what we do! We buy ipods for each other!"

Folks, this is using Jesus as an excuse to consume and go into debt. This is breaking the 3rd of the 10 Commandments about misusing God's name.

But it's way too often the case, even for Christians. A national economy dependent upon out-of-control-consumerism has jacked up a wonderful time of year.

This Christmas, please think about how you're spending money. When buying gifts, please follow this advice:

If you're struggling financially right now, we've got some hope for you. TFC is parterning with King of Kings Lutheran to offer Financial Peace University. If you can't afford the cost of the class, we've got some scholarship money availabe; money donated by people who have gone through the class and want others to go through it as well. You can find out more info or sign up here - link.

If you want to give a gift to Jesus, try Compassion International or Heart-to-Heart International.

It's possible to give without loving but it's impossible to love without giving.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hey, unto you a Child is born!

This weekend is Gardner Community Theatre's production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It's a great show and I strongly recommend you catch one of the productions. I say that not as a GCT board member who needs to sell tickets but as pastor of a church during the Advent season.

The two main questions raised by the show are "what type of people are welcome in a church" and "for whom did Jesus come?" Both questions are answered in a way that brings tears to my eyes, both from the quality of the acting and the play itself. If you're looking for a unique and enjoyable way to focus upon the meaning of Advent, then come check out BCPE. A simple summary is that the local welfare family bullies their way into the 'proper' annual Christmas pageant and end up meeting Jesus and leading the church people to Jesus as well.

Show times are this Saturday at 2:00 and 7:00, and Sunday at 2:00. The shows will be at Pioneer Ridge Middle School and the cost is $5 per person. If you'd like to bring canned food to donate to the Gardner Food Pantry, you can do that as well.

To read a good summary of the play, click here.

I have a brief cameo of about 10 seconds as a fireman. After spending countless hours learning lines over the summer for Harold Hill, it's nice to just have this very easy part. In fact, my lines are actually ad-libbed, though I do read part of the Christmas story before the final curtain (I've gotta work on having a good "pastor" voice).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My left eye is twitching...

My left eye started twitching sometime late last week and it hasn't stopped since. It's the bottom part of my left eye, the muscle under my eye. This is making me a bit nervous. Erin wondered if it's stress related. I'm not sure...

I could use some prayer.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas County Spelling Bee!

Yesterday was an amazing day for TFC! It was our first (annual?) TFC Kidz Christmas musical. Just from a personal perspective, as someone who loves musicals and goes to a lot of theme, the production was high-quality! With Heather Tinker being in charge, it was what I expected, though. But when you consider that this was our first ever musical and the kids were only able to practice on the stage once, the whole thing came together quite well. The kids delivered their humorous one-liners well and they belted out their songs, too. The baby angels and all the animals in the manger scene were a nice touch. Toward the end of the musical, I went and sat in the back of the auditorium. It was nice sitting back there watching everthing unfold. It's great to be in PRMS, we wouldn't have been able to pull that off in Madison Elementary.

But beyond the production, the message of the musical was quite moving. The kids spelled all the names for God, leading up to "Immanuel/ Emmanuel" - God with us. It's the whole point of Christmas; God isn't far-off but he now lives among us. I just about cried during the musical, but I toughed it out...

Way to go Heather, Melissa and Pastor Andy! Way to go TFC Kidz!

You can see all the pictures Erin and I took here and here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Prince of Peace

I just watched an amazing move, Joyeux Noel. It was made in France but it has Scottish and German actors as well. It's about the Christmas cease-fire along the front during the first year of WWI (1914). It brought tears to my eyes on several occasions. Watch this amazing scene for yourself.

Following the lead of Scottish bagpipe players and a German Opera singer who 'escaped' from performing at the German HQ to be back with his unit at the front line on Christmas Eve, the French, Scottish and German soldiers left their hostilities behind, acknowledged the
enemy's humanity and celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace. The following days, both lines found ways to serve each other as well as finding it difficult to kill each other.

Obviously, this infuriated the upper levels of management. The priest who lead the mass got in trouble by his superior. The priest responded, "Doesn't following our Lord and Savior mean we stray from the common path?" To which the superior responded, "you're asking the wrong question. You should ask why we decide to keep you in the church." The superior then preached a message about how Jesus came to "bring a sword, not peace" and how they were fighting a holy war against the demonic Germans for the good of freedom and humanity. If that sounds familiar, it's because a church with screwed up allegiances (to Cesar rather than Jesus) has been parroting that logic since Constantine's first holy wars in the 4th century.

Of course, the men who had fraternized with the enemy were then worthless. The Germans were sent to the Eastern front, shipped through Germany without being allowed to see their family. The French were sent to their deaths on the battlefields of Verdun. The German Kaiser and the King of England were both very angry.

The movie is based on actual events, even the soccer game was a historical event. The WWI history book in which I first read this explained the great lengths the commanders went through to make sure this never happened again. If soldiers see the enemy as human, the war is over.

Which is the whole point of the movie. 1) Jesus stops wars and 2) the Kingdom of the world hates what Jesus does. Jesus came to turn the world upside down, to turn our swords into plowshares, to humble the powerful and raise up the humble (read Mary's Magnificat prayer in Luke after she learns she's pregnant with the Messiah). Jesus came to jack up the world's value system. If the powers that be view the Church of Jesus supporting their agenda or a minor nuisance (rather than a threat) than the Church of Jesus Christ has been castrated!

Those living in the Kingdom of Jesus are to be 180 degrees different than those living in the Kingdom of the World! NOWHERE is this more clear than in our willingness to lay down our lives in service to those who would destroy our lives through violence; phsyical, emotional, economic, verbal, political or any type of violene. Followers of the Prince of Peace respond to violence with loving service even if it costs them everyything they have.

The first Advent has already happened. The second Advent is nearing. In which Kingdom will the Son of Man find us living?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gaither Family Christmas...

We changed up our stage and worship feel on Sunday, going with a living room/ acoustic feel and sound. I was pumped about the change of pace until someone mentioned it looked like a "Gaither Family Christmas" video. Ouch, I was ready to take it all down right then. But that was just one perspective... But I think last Sunday will be forever referred to as the "Gaither Family Sunday." After piecing together a set-up crew, experiencing holiday travel and fighting the snow, I'm glad we could laugh at ourselves on Sunday.

We did offer a different way of responding on Sunday. I preached on the parable of the 10 virgins from Matthew 25 and we passed out invitations to "the feast" that is one day coming. Alicia Brush designed them and dated the time of the feast as "unknown, but certain." We had people turn in their RSVP's to the feast.

We also installed Scott Sidusky as our Youth Pastor. Scott has been leading our teen ministry for awhile but on Sunday, we went "official" with the title. In giving Scott his local license, our entire Point Team affirms Scott's calling and gifting for pastoral ministry. Congrats, Scott and Debbie!

Friday, November 28, 2008

I love Thanksgiving!

On Monday morning got on the scales to realize I'd lost a few pounds over the weekend - which gave me some extra room for the best weekend of the year! Here's what I do over Thanksgiving weekend; eat LOTS of food and watch LOTS of football! Both of which I've done A LOT this weekend.

We left Tuesday evening to come up to my parents' and we'll be leaving Saturday morning so I can spend Saturday afternoon preparing for Sunday. On Wednesday, I worked on Sunday's message and took my Grandma to this little hair salon in Denmark for her weekly hair appointment. My 93 year old Grandma was glad to spend some time together.

On Thursday, all of us got up early to help prepare meals for shut-ins and anyone who needed a free Thanksgiving meal. We worked with more than 300 other volunteers at Burlington High School. Josh and Ashley Vance showed up about the time we were leaving, to serve the meals in the cafeteria. Our job was preparing the boxed meals that others delivered to shut-ins. It was an impressive undertaking, feeding about 1,200 people. It was a good way to spend Thanksgiving morning. To read more about that event, click here.

We spent the afternoon with the Miller family and I was able to spend a few hours with some of my favorite cousins. One cousin is married to a pastor, so we swapped stories about the stupid things we've done and the stupid things done to us. The only person that can really understand the pressures of pastoring is another pastor. It was a great afternoon spent with cousins I rarely get to see.

My dad switched shifts, working in the morning, so he could spent Thanksgiving evening "watching football with my boy." As nice as that was, my dad can only stay awake in front of a football game for about 20 minutes, so most of the night was spent hanging out at my sister and brother-in-law's, which is also something I RARELY get to do.

After sleeping in a LONG time this morning, I spent most of the day doing French homework while watching Pitt-WVU and Nebraska-Colorado. We're now about to go to Fort Madison for the parade of lights. I was not forced to join my wife and sister on their 11 hour shopping trip, thank goodness.

As you've likely noticed from the pictures, Pastor Andy came with us this week. He wasn't able to go home to Alabama so he came along with us. It's been a good week hanging out with him and it was nice driving his brand new car up here. On Thanksgiving night, he was talking to his family on his cell phone while they were looking up my parent's house on Google maps.