Saturday, January 28, 2017

Reaching out and crying out for Justice

As an Evangelical Pastor, (please check any pre-conceived ideas and baggage at the door before reading any further) I want to reach out to Ogden, with a message of hope and support.
These are trying times, and while so many are doing so much, there is so much more that we can do in the area of justice for every member of our community. Recent events in Utah and throughout the country have resulted in so many people feeling belittled and demeaned, marginalized, and even threatened. Other initiatives provide hope for some, but again leave others feeling that their voice may be being taken away.
After a particularly bitter presidential campaign season, many Muslims and Hispanics have expressed concerns which need to be addressed. And POTUS’ recent executive orders haven’t help those fears and concerns. The African-American community has expressed concerns. And yes, sometimes Evangelicals have concerns, especially when it comes to religious freedom and liberty, terms which we use frequently, and not always correctly.
 In many cities it seems that Law Enforcement officials are targets of violence, and so they have safety concerns. As do other first responders, and sometimes even cab drivers.  And let’s not forget the homeless and others who are often marginalized because of their circumstances.
Tolerance is a word which is thrown about, demanded by everyone, but not always offered in return. You’ve seen it often, an individual or group does or says something which may seem a little out of line, and claims that it’s their constitutional right, that’s it’s their religious freedom, that it’s freedom of speech, and everyone else is supposed to accept it as is. “It’s my right!”  But all too often these same individuals or groups, demanding that others tolerate them, see any pushback as something that can’t be tolerated, often trying to push it to the level of a hate crime.
This is a call for us all to work together, to push for justice, to celebrate diversity in our increasingly diverse community. It has to start somewhere, and so I encourage you to join me in expressing concern and solidarity with every member of our community. Speak up when you notice injustice—yes there are ways to do so that don’t call for violence. Be a voice for the voiceless
Some of you are brothers and sisters in Christ, some follow other teachings, or adhere to different religious practices. If you live in my community, you are my neighbor and, I hope, my friend.  You are valued and appreciated, for who you are, but also for the richness of culture that you bring to Ogden. As we celebrate the diversity of our neighborhood, we have to also give thanks for how each of you, each of us, contributes to the well-being of our neighborhood.
            My faith, as perhaps yours does, goes beyond a political affiliation, it goes beyond stereotypes, and it goes beyond the evil of the world that conspires to divide us.  Obviously, as a Christian pastor, I don’t agree with the various theologies that can be found in my neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean I hate you. It means we disagree over some fundamental issues. But disagreement never needs to mean lack of respect. In fact, it is often our differences that lead to even greater respect. Please don’t let your politics overrule your faith walk.
            In a recent letter signed by several Memphis area Evangelical Pastors, and published in the Commercial Appeal we find this sentiment which I hope is soon the norm throughout the land. If it can happen in Memphis, it can happen in Ogden.
         “"We desire and hope that we will demonstrate in more visible ways, to all in our city and particularly to those from diverse cultures and countries, our commitment to love our neighbors," the pastors wrote.
"Further, we reaffirm our commitment, as the Bible directs, to promote peace and to support policies that allow equal opportunities for all to flourish and fulfill their God-given potential."

            Christian Scripture, (and probably other Holy Books) is full of references to how to treat strangers, foreigners, and aliens in the land. (You can go to this page and download the free 40 day “I Was a Stranger” reading plan.) And then we have the Parable of the Good Samaritan which is a good reminder of who our neighbor really is. Jesus did not suggest love your neighbor, as long as he looks, dresses, talks, thinks and worships like you do. He said “Love your neighbor.” As a Christian, I am compelled to be reminded of the essence of Imago Dei—every human being is created in the image of God, and as such is precious in His sight, and deserving of dignity and respect.

            “Justice for all” is such an important part of who we are as Americans: citizens, immigrants, refugees, resident aliens and any other titles conferred by virtue of visa status, but until we treat each other as valued members of our society, treat each other with dignity and respect, celebrate our diversity, and work together for the good of all, that justice will never happen. We have the chance to make it happen, and it can start now- with you and with me. Please join me in in celebrating all that our community has to offer. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

the alternative to upside-down "killing us softly"

Earlier this year I was challenged to pick a theme word for the year, and then try to live that word, enjoy that word, learn more about the word, better understand the word and then model that word.  The word that I chose was justice, and this book helps me to learn more and better understand justice—not the way it is so often defined in human terms, or in terms of how it affects me, but in terms of what God was thinking, what God is thinking when he calls for justice throughout all of his creation.
            Efrem Smith introduced me to a new way of looking at God's justice: turning the world as it is upside-down. (Actually he re-introduced me to this concept—it appears in the book of ACTS.) If you’re looking for a fresh way to engage with the Kingdom of God, you’ll want to read this book. If you’re content with the status quo and maintaining the past, you need to read this book. Killing Us Softly: Reborn in the Upside-Down Image of God (NavPress, 2017) offers some ideas for what we should be doing to further the Kingdom, and why we should be doing it. 

            A basic premise is that Jesus did not come to rule, but to serve, and by the way, he came to serve even those people on the fringe, the people on the outskirts, the marginalized of his generation. As followers of Jesus, we are also invited to be a part of changing things to fit the vision that God had before the Garden, and still has, for His creation. And as the subtitle suggests God’ view of success doesn’t look like what we often identify with that word.
            And turning the world upside-down, from God's point of view, is a good thing. The world we live in is nothing like God designed, it’s already bottom-side-up, so as Jesus declared and demonstrated what the world could look like, he invited us to enter into the right-side-up world that He called the Kingdom of God. (p 40).  God, as Smith explains, is not interested in the world remaining as it is; God is interested in the deliverance, liberation, empowerment, and transformation of upside-down people and in the introduction of an alternative to an upside-down world. (P46).
            I highly recommend this book to anyone who is anxious to leave the status quo of upside-down behind in order to move into the Kingdom of God.   5/5

             Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

People of the Second Chance

Everyone deserves a second chance, and sometimes a third or a fourth chance.  Don’t take my word for it, read the Old Testament and see how many chances God gave Abraham, Jonah, and you’ll probably lose count trying to figure out how many second chances Israel had.  And it continues in the New Testament, but with a twist. Jesus gave lots of people a second chance—think the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. But when he went to the cross for us, he also gave us—you and me,—people in the 21st century our second chance.  
Mike Foster, ”Chief Chance Officer” at People of the Second Chance, talks about getting and giving those second chances. His book People of the Second Chance: A Guide to Bringing Life-Saving Love to the World (WaterBrook, 2016) is full of examples of those second chances. 

I really like the concept of the book, too many people are marginalized because of mistakes they made earlier in life. Instead of being defined by the way God sees them (and us) far too many people are defined by their past, by their mistakes. Society defines them that way, and far too often we define ourselves that way also.
The back cover copy calls this a “manifesto for prodigals, imperfectionists and hopesters” and that definitely came through in the book. It matters not so much what we have done wrong, but how we respond to the plan that God has for us.  The subtitle of the book “a guide to bringing life-saving love to the world” didn’t come across quite as clearly.
I enjoyed reading some of the second chance stories in this book, but in many cases they were a little ‘light’; and although the boating incident described early in the book was traumatic, my sense is that the author referred to it a few too many times, instead of integral to the point he was trying to make it became mere filler.
"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."


Friday, January 20, 2017

Shalom in Psalms

  Probably some of the most familiar words in the Christian church are “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Some people can even recite the 23rd Psalm in its entirety, or at least they are familiar enough with it to follow along if others are reciting it. But there are 149 other Psalms, just as beautiful and just as much a part of the canon of scripture.
                Many of us have a favorite Psalm, the 23rd or another one (mine is probably Psalm 138)  but other than reading them as we read through the Bible in a year, or when the pastor preaches on one or more of the Psalms, how many of us spend time savoring the richness of the Psalter?
               When did you study the Psalms, when have you prayed them, when did you set aside time each day to be quiet with the Psalms, to use them as part of your devotions, your daily walk with God?
              It’s tough, some of the are less than pleasant to read, they’re songs of lament, of bitterness; others are songs of great joy as the people approach the Holy City. Others have a different focus, but the Psalms are hymns of joy, they are prayers.
           If you don’t know where to start, may I recommend a starting point. A newly released book, Shalom in Psalms: A Devotional from the Jewish Heart of the Christian Faith (Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank, and Paul Wilbur, Baker Books, 2017), takes on each one of the Psalms and offers a short devotional message to help us get the most of the Psalm. I mentioned that I am particularly fond of Psalm 138.  The comments are so on track with why this psalm is so important to me. God doesn’t abandon me—or you—He has a purpose for each of us and He will fulfill that purpose.

            You might not agree with every devotional, I didn’t, but at least they encouraged me to think about what the psalms mean to me, what god wants me to hear and learn; and spending time with God is all about hearing what He wants me to hear, not what someone else thinks I should think

In the interest of transparency, I received a copy of this book from Baker Books’ blogging program. I was asked to read and review the book and post the review, which was not required to be a positive review.  


Update on Jan 27 release of "A Dog's Purpose"

                     A few weeks ago I posted about an upcoming movie: "A Dog's Purpose". read it here  It looked like a fun movie, and even though I don't currently have a dog living in my house and dictating my schedule, I have had several canine friends over the years. 

                   Since I posted that review, a video clip was released by TMZ that paints the treatment of Hercules (a German Shepherd) in a less than positive light. That has caused some concern for many of my friends, and so I reached out to my contacts at Grace Hill Media, and they provided me with this release from the movie's producer:

Statement from A Dog's Purpose Producer Amblin Entertainment and distributor Universal Pictures

Los Angeles, CA (January 18, 2017) - A DOG'S PURPOSE, produced by Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures, is a celebration of the special connection between humans and their dogs.  And in the spirit of this relationship, the Amblin production team followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals.

While we continue to review the circumstances shown in the edited footage, Amblin is confident that great care and concern was shown for the German Shepherd Hercules, as well as for all of the other dogs featured throughout the production of the film. There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts.  On the day of the shoot, Hercules did not want to perform the stunt portrayed on the tape so the Amblin production team did not proceed with filming that shot.

Hercules is happy and healthy.

 The movie is still set to release on January 27 and is described in a press release as:
Based on the beloved bestselling novel by W. Bruce Cameron, A DOG’S PURPOSE, is a sweet and lovable family film that shares the soulful and surprising story of one devoted dog (voiced by Josh Gad) who finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he teaches to laugh and love.  Told from the perspective of “everybody’s best friend” the film highlights the importance of familial bonds, and the unconditional love we have for our best friends.  The movie stars Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, K.J. Apa, and John Ortiz.

                  You can watch the trailer HERE

            Dogs have been described as 'man's best friend', and rightfully so. They offer unconditional love, and quickly insinuate themselves into the family.  Their human family becomes their pack, and the loyalty, faithfulness and protective nature are obvious.

       When we brought our son home from the hospital, our last dog had been with us for about 2 years. Shady laid down and we propped Nolan up against him.  For several months, Shady spent most of his time at the feet of who ever was holding the baby. And when an 85 pound dog is between you and the baby, you better make sure that Mom and Dad are comfortable with you being close to that baby. 

What's a dog's purpose? To love unconditionally, and to teach their humans to do the same. 

GFA 38 A Bicycle Helps

I serve a church in Ogden, Utah. Ogden like several other cities in the area is extremely ‘Bike friendly’: bike lanes along major highways, a major push to let motorists know that bikes share the road. Our Mayor rode his bike to work every day for a year (did I mention that during winter it snows in Ogden, and during the summer, temps can get close to 100ยบ).  But usually people ride bikes because they want too. They want to be environmentally friendly, it’s a good way to exercise, or they enjoy the flexibility of riding a bike and getting to see scenery and meet people.  Or maybe it’s because they can’t afford, or don’t want the expense of owing/maintaining/driving a car.

A lot of people here walk for many of those same reasons.

But, and here comes the flip side of the coin. What if you had to walk everywhere? What if you didn’t have a car, or access to public transportation, or even a bicycle?  What if every step of your daily journey was carefully thought out, because it might be several miles to your destination. I certainly wouldn’t want to get half way to my next stop, and realize that I’d left something behind.

What’s having to walk got to do with my Mayor choosing to ride a bike to work?  Well, there are a lot of people serving God in remote places of the world who have no choice but to walk. Gospel for Asia missionaries walk. It’s what they do because they have no choice, unless, they have access to a bicycle. 

GFA estimates that when their missionaries have access to a heavy duty bicycle, they can visit up to three times as many villages to share the love of Jesus.  For $110.00 GFA can provide a bicycle to a missionary. That may not seem like much to most of my readers, but when someone is living on less than $2.00 a day, it might take a while to be able to save that much money.

Read about how you can help here 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Yes, he IS MY president

I have a problem with the whole “Not My President” thing.  To be clear, I didn’t vote for President Obama, nor President Elect Trump (or Hillary).  But for the past 8 years Barack Obama has been the president of this country, and in just a few days Donald Trump will be the president of this country. By extension, because I am an American, President Obama has been my President, and in a few days, President Trump will be my president.
         Have I agreed with everything President Obama did? Absolutely not. Did he do some things that I think were beneficial for the country? Of course he did. Do I agree with everything that Mr. Trump has put forth during the campaign? Not in my strangest nightmares. Does he have some good ideas? Definitely.
              To put it in perspective, I was in the Air Force, and many of you have had jobs. I never had a say in who the commander was of my assigned unit. There was one there when I arrived, often there was a change of command ceremony while I was there, and nobody ever asked me for input. In fact, at one time I was appointed as the commander of a squadron, and I don’t remember that there was a vote before hand, but I was still the commander. And our military is the strongest and best in the world, because people learn to work together, and to follow the orders that are handed down from commanders that they may or may not like.  

  (And unless you own your own business, you probably don’t get much input as to who the boss is- that doesn’t mean that he or she is not your boss.)
           Even in the church where I serve today as Pastor, there is an election every year to vote in a new church board. Is everyone happy with the results? Maybe, maybe not. But we the church body learn to work together. I’ve never heard anybody say “that’s not my board”. And the church congregation can certainly vote to release me and call a new pastor, but in the meantime, I do serve as the pastor. How foolish to say I am a member of the church where he has been called to be the pastor, but he's #notmypastor.  It's divisive and disruptive to the well being of the church, the community, and the people who are interested in serving  and loving God,  loving and serving others. 
        BOTTOM LINE:  The duly elected president of the United States, whether or not I voted for him, whether or not I agree with him, is my president. If I am so strongly opposed to the process, I can work within the system to change it, or I suppose I could find a country that wants me, renounce my citizenship, pack up and move.  But when that happens we all lose.

          I didn’t vote for Obama or Trump, both of them have been or will be my President. I was born in 1951 so there have been 12, going on 13 presidents in my lifetime. Each of them is my president. I couldn’t vote for some, didn’t vote for others, and did vote for a few. Like the person or not, agree with policies or not, as an American, I am privileged to be able to say “Yes, he IS my president!”

Monday, January 9, 2017

You Carried Me- heartfelt and passionate.

Sometimes you pick up a book knowing, or at least thinking you know what to expect; but it doesn’t take long to realize that you were wrong. And by the end of the book you’re left wondering how you could be so far wrong. You Carried Me: a daughter’s memoir by Melissa Ohden (Plough Publishing House, 2017) is definitely one of those books. I would like to summarize the whole story, but I promise I won’t need to include spoiler alerts!

This is the story of Melissa Ohden, founder of Adoption Survivors Network, and an outspoken advocate for the women, men and children impacted by abortion.  Melissa has a story, and she knows part of it, that she was adopted, but suddenly she finds out that there’s more to it. She was the survivor of a botched abortion. She shouldn’t be alive to tell the story, but a nurse heard the child, supposedly dead, cry out and rushed her to the NICU.

The story is one of a search for answers, a growing process, redemption and forgiveness, and lots of surprises along the way. Her journey takes her to hospitals, schools, and even the floor of the U.S. Senate.

I consider myself pro-life, but recently I’m finding that pro-life is more than just being anti-abortion. It means being against the death penalty, but it also means giving people a chance to live. Pro-life takes on a new meaning when it goes beyond protesting at abortion clinics, to being willing to adopt a child that would be otherwise aborted. It means more than crying because of the atrocities being committed in other parts of the world because someone is a different race, religion or political persuasion- pro-life means being willing to support, sponsor, volunteer with and be a friend to refugees being forced to flee their homes.
          And reading this book gave me a different perspective on the feelings that are likely to well up years after an abortion. Not just the women who underwent the procedure, but the father and grandparents of the not to be baby.
       Melissa has a story that has been needed to be told for many years, and the fact that as she speaks around the world she meets other survivors, the fact that there is a network of survivors, means that this is one more reason that there needs to be changes to the way the public views abortion.  It’s about so much more than women’s health issues, it’s about the long lasting effects on everyone involved, effects that impact people for years or decades.
   Melissa is lucky to have undertaken her journey, it’s not one that everyone would be willing to take, but with the support of her adoptive family and her husband, it seems to have turned out well—for her, for the family and for countless others.
    I cried as I read this poignant story, the history of a woman who was not supposed to be her to write the story. But I also laughed, and prayed for this brave woman and her quest to help others heal.
     As we start a new administration in this country, an administration which has a stated goal of overturning or at least changing ROE-v-WADE, Melissa Ohden is sure to be a prominent voice. I wish her well.

One of the best books I’ve read in months!  5/5

             I received a copy of this book from Plough Publishing in exchange for my review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

miracles then and now

A lot of people believe in miracles. Some people see miracles all over the place: a parking space opens up just as they’re ready to leave the Wal-Mart parking lot after circling around 3 times. Some people see miracles when a loved one is healed of cancer. For others the miracle moment is the dream job, or the perfect baby 10 fingers and 10 toes, after years of trying to start a family. For others it’s the miracles of Jesus, 2000 years ago. And even then it’s hard to say if they really believe in them. For some people that Jesus kind of miracles still happen today, but for others, those miracles died out years ago.
The miracle that God has in store for you today may just be understanding that those miracles of long ago might just have some bearing on your current reality. Find Your Miracle: How the Miracles of Jesus Can Change Your Life Today (WaterBrook, 2016) is Kerry and Christ Shook’s picture of that ‘miracle map’ that gets you from point A to Point B—in other words a connection between the Jesus miracles of those long ago moments to “our needs today for revelation, transformation, and restoration.”
The book covers 9 familiar biblical miracles as performed by Jesus and recorded in the Gospels, and applies them to life circumstances such as when you’re stuck, overwhelmed or discouraged, afraid, hurting or longing for something new. And somehow this new ‘take’ seems to work. At least most of the time.
It was easy for me to get caught up in the miracle, and in the telling of the story and how it applies, but forget that I should be seeking Jesus rather than the miracle. That fact is mentioned, it’s pointed out, but I would have liked to see it accented a little more heavily.  We live in a world that doesn’t always want to see Jesus as the source. We live in a world that doesn’t want to conform to God's laws. We don’t want to do the work, just reap the reward.
I’m glad I got the book, and there is definitely good material here for someone trying to understand why we have to read about Jesus making a mud plaster out of spit and dust and using it to bring sight to the blind.
I received a copy of this book as part of WaterBrook’s blogging for books program. I was not required to write a positive review.


is your dream the same as God's

Do you have a dream? Of course you do. We all do? The real question is do you know what your dream is? And when we ask the question that may, the answers may be different. Philip Wagner, in his book Unlock Your Dream: Discover the Adventure You Were Created For (WaterBrook, 2016) offers some suggestions for answering that question.

            Like many of the books I buy or request for review, I found the title to be compelling. The brief synopsis of the book piqued my interest, I mean, who doesn’t want to discover and reach God's dreams for our lives. Almost everybody I know wants to achieve his or her full potential. The idea of being empowered and equipped to soar to new heights, to realize our dreams, and to live a life full of joy and expectation for an adventuresome future sounds almost too good to be true. 
Unfortunately this book didn’t quite take me to those dizzying heights. It’s an easy read, there are lots of good examples of making sweet lemonade out of the sour lemons that sometimes show up in all of our lives, but as a life-changer, for me, it didn’t quite work.
Each chapter offers examples of ways that dreams work—or don’t. Most of them are examples from the author’s personal experiences, or experiences of those with whom he has worked in the context of his ministry (long term pastor of Oasis Church in Los Angeles).  One of the highlights of each chapter is the conclusion: dream locks, dream keys, and scripture key. Basically a few sentences that describe some of the things that keep us from achieving our dreams, some effective countermeasures to those negatives, and then a scripture verse to back up the countermeasure.
This book is going to be a delight for a large number of readers, (my guess is that the 20th-80th percentile). Those at the top end of the spectrum will be happy and content already and so won’t really be motivated by, or need the motivation provided by this book.  Those on the bottom edge will probably not be able to see past their own hopelessness and disillusionment, and won’t be able to take hope in the fact that God really does have a plan for them. 
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Blogging for Books, book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Friday, January 6, 2017

A Dog's Purpose

         I know some of you have dogs. They quickly become a part of our lives, our families and our hearts. The movie "A Dog's Purpose"  looks like it's going to show how we quickly become a part of our dog's heart too. Based on the beloved bestselling novel by W. Bruce Cameron, A DOG’S PURPOSE, is a sweet and lovable family film that shares the soulful and surprising story of one devoted dog (voiced by Josh Gad) who finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he teaches to laugh and love.  Told from the perspective of “everybody’s best friend” the film highlights the importance of familial bonds, and the unconditional love we have for our best friends. The movie stars Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, K.J. Apa, and John Ortiz.

   Watch the trailer here

  And there's a fun part too. Does your dog have a purpose? If you're in his or her life, he or she does. 
So have fun, and Celebrate Your Dog’s Purpose!!! The movie’s website is creating a fun and wonderful collage from families who upload photos of their beloved dogs. We invite you to celebrate your dog’s purpose by uploading your furry friend's picture and telling the world how your dog enriches the lives around you. 

   Go here to upload your Dog Purpose photo and story

          There is also information about the film’s wonderful partnership with the non-profit Best Friends Animal Society, and photos of dogs available for adoption (Warning: you may not be able to resist! )

     Remember the movie opens JANUARY 27