Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kim Jong Il and Jesus

Kim Jong Il is dead. And some of us didn't even know he was ill. So goes one of the many forms of recent online mockery.

Today is the funeral of the "dear leader." It is a bitterly cold day in North Korea, a country some have called the world's last Stalinist state.

Mourners in parkas lined the streets of Pyongyang, waving, stamping and crying as the convoy bearing his coffin passed. Some struggled to get past police holding back the crowd. "How can the sky not cry?" a weeping soldier standing in the snow said to state TV. "The people ... are all crying tears of blood." The dramatic scenes of grief showed how effectively North Korea built a personality cult around Kim Jong Il despite chronic food shortages and decades of economic hardship.*
The cult of King-Herod-like personality shamelessly forced on millions of starving people is, perhaps, most clearly seen in the titles that have been bestowed on the the despot by the North Korean media over the last twenty years or so.

In addition to being the "dear leader" (the most common designation), he is the "wise leader," the "brilliant leader," "the Bright Sun of the 21st century." But wait, there's more: he is the "superior man" and "the perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have." Let it be known to all the world that he is "the Great Man who descended from heaven." He is nothing less than "the Savior."

Kind of a shame that he is still stone cold after eleven days of death. One would think such a savior would be able to deal with rigor mortis after two or three days. Maybe that's a bit much to ask. Still, the list of superlatives above almost makes one feel just a little sorry for his son and successor, Kim Jong Un. Kind of a hard act to follow. And besides, all the best titles have been used up already.

I'm loving going through Matthew's Gospel repeatedly every 14 or so days on my android with

A slice out of today's two chapters were right on the money (that would be the North Korean "Won").
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."  - Matthew 20:25-28.
What a contrast: King Jon Il who lived for the people's adulation and presided over a police state which regularly took people's lives on a whim. And Jesus who was so much more than the Son of Man but willingly gave up the power and prestige of genuine Godhood in order to give his life away.

Of course, "Son of Man" is only one of Jesus' titles. As a self-designating title, it is characteristically humble during Jesus' sojourn on earth. Others, however, reveal that He is "God with us" (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 2:23), that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things in the universe (Colossians 1:16,17), that "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9).

Jesus' Revelation to St John connects all the dots for us once the veil to the future is lifted. Jesus is free to reveal that He is, in fact, "the King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (Revelation 19:16). He is the "Root and Offspring of David, and the Bright Morning Star" (Revelation 22:16).
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. . ." - Revelation 22:13.
"I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." - Revelation 1:17,18.
 Now there's a Savior who really saves!

The little baby who was born in humility 2000 years ago is none other than the only Savior humanity could ever need or want. He gave his life as a ransom for many and rose on the third day to demonstrate his saving power. How astonishingly privileged am I to have been told that "good news of great joy that will be for all the people" (Luke 2:10).

May the people of North Korea fare better under their new leader. May the paranoia and closed borders loosen so that they will, one day soon, hear of the real Savior who is no longer dead but invites them into eternal relationship with Him.

- - - - - - - - - - -

* Quote from

Friday, December 23, 2011

Kiwi Atheist MP on Christmas [in New Zealand]

Dr Russell Norman--Member of Parliament, Co-leader of the Greens, and an atheist--does a masterful job of articulating both the theology and implications of the incarnation in the first seven to eight minutes of his speech to Parliament. It's well worth a look, though it takes maybe 30 seconds to load.

Proud to be a Kiwi, though why this guy isn't a Christian in light of what he says is almost as much of a mystery as the incarnation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Publishing Persona Contd (#2)

Continued from previous post. . .

. . . The temptation to "update my status" was made all the stronger by delivery the day before of my new $599 phone upgrade, the Samsung Galaxy S II, which I got for only 1 cent. I mean, even if I wasn't enjoying my anniversary (I was), a new gizmo at such a great price is the stuff of Facebook envy. "Take that, you rotten Apple people who delight to tempt and taunt me with your Iphone 4S's and Ipad 2s!"

But I have learned that playing with one's phone on a date is never endearing to one's spouse. The minute you type in the unlock code, you might as well delete "romance" or even much shorter words from your vocabulary.

Still stronger than the temptation to try out my new phone with a status update was the temptation to pad what I call my "publishing persona." The temptation to create an image of togetherness and fun and good times that I was enjoying and others were missing out on (except my wife who, alone, would be privileged to be with me and watch me type on my phone to the world about what a wonderful, intimate, private anniversary we were sharing together!).

And therein lies the absurdity of the culture which Facebook and other social media sites have created and specialize in.

The power of the status update is that it is in real time. It says, "This is what I'm doing right now!" It says, "You're at home watching YouTube updates of Kim Jung Il ponsing around in platform shoes before his heart attack, while I'm at the Melting Pot having a Samuel Adams and steak and chocolate-covered strawberries with my wonderful wife. Point: How tedious your existence must be!"

Even if a person can only scrounge up 20 people to agree to be their friend on Facebook (I've got 21 as of today), you can guarantee that at least one of them on average will be doing something fun and enviable each day. And if they're not, they'll spin it as if they are. They'll make some utterly mundane task sound exotic and noble: "Washed the car today but managed to limit it to half a cup of water to do my bit saving the planet. Bottled up the rest of what I would have used and sent it off to Somalia."

No wonder studies show that the more time people spend on Facebook, the more unhappy they are. We get bombarded by a spun version of reality and really start to feel we're missing out. Keeping up with the Joneses just got a whole lot more complicated. It means not only having the same (or better) house and car and spouse and job and dog and phone than them. It means you've got to compete with all the other experiences and realities of a whole lot more people who are spinning them every day and every which way.

Aware of this, and feeling compassion for the masses, I managed to stop myself from updating my status.

Until we got home, that is, and sat down with the kids.

I don't remember exactly, but they were probably watching Kim Jung Il reruns. Whatever the case, Doreen's attention was diverted.

I thought I could risk a quick post without her noticing. And, if she noticed, it would be a nice one about her.

I mean, that's the least she deserves. We're as different as chalk and cheese. And sometimes I can be a right pillock. And yet here we are, 29 years later, by the grace of God, still together. And still (well, most of the time) loving it. And each other.

At risk of being accused of spin, I think that's worth a post. Maybe even two.

The Publishing Persona (#1)

I just had my anniversary. Well, actually, I didn't have it on my own. Someone else showed up, which was a really nice bonus. And this is a pretty neat person. One of the nicest people I know -- except when she's mad at me. Which isn't very often, thankfully.

Getting ticked at each other over fondue (we had a coupon) is a waste of good fruit, not to mention somewhat dangerous. A strawberry just recently drowned in hot chocolate and expertly lobbed at your left eye adds new meaning to the expression, "his black eye ironically looked extremely bloodshot." (You did not read that expression in Shakespeare, or anywhere else for that matter, but I'm planning on starting my first novel with it.)

Thankfully, though, my bride and I were in wonderful spirits with each other (not alcoholic spirits, although I do confess to a single John Adams which I had merely to show my patriotic solidarity with his second cousin, President John Adams).

All in all, I can say it was a very pleasant evening. I think Mrs B would say the same. At least, she smiled at all the right times, and I didn't notice any tears. As a simple guy, I take those to be excellent omens.

The biggest dilemma of the evening was how to share this great event with the world. I mean, if people can waste my time daily on Facebook with inane posts like, "nothing much happening today, just chillin,'" then surely I can announce to the cosmos with great joy that Doreen and I have made it through 29 years without even one chocolate strawberry in the eye!

To be continued. . . 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Invisible God

I give you praise, O Great Invisible God, 
for the moon in the space of a dark night, 
for the smile on a face in the sunlight.

I give you praise, O Great Invisible God, 
for the sound of the storm on the window, 
for the morning adorned with a new snow, 
for the tears on the face of the old man 
made clean by the grace of the good Lamb.

And oh, I long to see your face, Invisible, Invisible God. 
All the works that you have made are clearly seen and plain as day, 
so mighty and tender. O Lord, let me remember 
that I see you everywhere, Invisible God, 
in the seed that descends to the old earth 
and arises again with a new birth; 
in the sinner who sinks in the river 
and emerges again, delivered.

And oh, I long to see your face, Invisible, Invisible God. 
All the works that you have made are clearly seen and plain as day, 
so mighty and tender. O Lord, let me remember, 
your power eternal, your nature divine. 
All creation tells the tale that Love is real and so alive. 
I feel you, I hear you, Great God Unseen I see you 
in the long, cold death that the winter brings 
and the sweet resurrection spring.

                                      - Andrew Peterson, "Invisible God" (Resurrection Letters, Vol II)



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cultural Superiority and Vacation Deprivation

This Amerikiwi really struggles to disengage from reading emails while on vacation. (I have to delete the account or the temptation is too great.) So it was with great interest (especially after my last post) that I read the following article in USA Today, titled: "Who Gets the Most Vacation Time? And Who Gets the Least?" (Clue: I've just decided to move to Brazil. Questions: Are they lazy? Or are we driven? Which cultural values are superior? Hmmm.)

The average working European earns 25 to 30 vacation days annually and usually takes them all. In 2011, the typical American employee earned 14 days off, but took only 12.

That's according to a survey out today commissioned by the online travel agency The wide-ranging 2011 Vacation Deprivation study queried 7,803 adults in 20 countries about how much vacation they earn – and actually take – and also about their attitudes regarding time off.

The results differ from another recent survey on the topic by, which reported that the average American leaves 6.2 days of vacation unused each year. (That survey was based on online responses from 2,000 workers.)

Other highlights from the survey:

Asians get – and take – fewer days than residents of other parts of the world. Japanese reported taking just five days out of 11 earned. South Korean respondents, who earned 10 days off, took seven. Brazilians outpace even holiday-hungry Europeans in using time off. They typically earn 30 vacation days and use them all.

Lack of money was the most frequently cited reason for not taking a vacation. Lack of planning was No. 2.
More Americans than other nationalities cite money worries as the reason for foregoing a getaway. However, 50% characterized their financial situation as "solid" or "good," reinforcing the idea that Americans regard vacations as a luxury. Brazilians, on the other hand, were least likely (6%) to cite money issues.

The Danish find it easiest to disconnect from work mode. Only 1 in 7 respondents said they check email while away and half said they never check it. Only 25% of Americans said they check email regularly on vacation; 75% said they check in sporadically or not at all.

How about you? Will you be leaving vacation time unspent this year? And if so, why?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cultural Superiority: Good or Bad?

When, if ever, is pride a virtue? When is it a vice?

We recognize and condemn it in arrogant individuals (other people, of course, not ourselves). We recognize and condemn it in the destructive nationalism of a Nazi Germany or a xenophobic Japan.

But does our sense of "American exceptionalism" (the decline of which I have heard lamented repeatedly since Obama's election) ever cross the line from appropriate self-awareness to hubris?

What about the nationalistic pride of other nations?

Whatever the answer, it is clear from the following that geographic and demographic boundaries do little to foster humility. A new study by the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project reveals that nationalistic superiority complexes, though robust, might be in decline. Commendable? Or lamentable?

The report:

About half of Americans (49%) and Germans(47%) agree with the statement, 
“Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others;” 
44% in Spain share this view. In Britain and France, only about a third or fewer (32% and 27%, respectively) think their culture is better than others.
While opinions about cultural superiority have remained relatively stable over the years in the four Western European countries surveyed, Americans are now far less likely to say that their culture is better than others; six-in-ten Americans held this belief in 2002 and 55% did so in 2007. Belief in cultural superiority has declined among Americans across age, gender and education groups.

For more go to:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Leaving Guatemala

Yesterday (Sunday) was full. A trip to the morning market, to Antigua, to afternoon church (so many work in the market or have to buy provisions), then debrief.

This morning, a 4:15 am rise, and here we are at the airport.

What an eye-opening, inspiring trip. It has been everything we've prayed for, and more, as we consider next steps and possibilities for ongoing partnership. There's more to share, but we'll get back to the States first. I've maxed out my international data plan and don't want to pay for another 50 meg, so no pics this post.

So for now, it's the three gringos signing off. Adios amigos!

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Two from our team with Reuben (youth pastor)
and Reuben (family pastor)
In this city of 35,000 there is only one basketball court and one soccer field. As the tallest and most athletic of the three gringos, you can imagine how I feel about this, personally.

Soccer is the main sport in Guatemala, so the church had a vision to provide a soccer field as a ministry to and gathering point for the community. The soccer field is pictured here (they are some pretty tough hombres to play on concrete). Actually, it will have astroturf on it.

There's not a single playground in Sumpango. So that's here too. This was built by the E-Free Church in Lodi, Wisconsin, partnering with Kids Around the World, with whom LakeView packed meals for Guatemala.


Through incredibly sacrificial giving, the church here has been able to purchase one of the few available tracts of land in Sumpango (this is the land that the student team from Lakeview helped clear two years ago).

One elderly woman, who was too poor to go to the doctor, and was dying, had her son give her "last offering" to the Lord of all she had saved. He brought her $25 to the church after her death.

Such selflessness would surely have been commended by Jesus in one of his stories.

But rather than start with a church building, they've begun with something to serve the community directly (see next post)

Sumpango viewed from the bottom of the field

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

El Gringos Stupido

Eric, Butch and I headed off to the church. The other time we had gone in a group, we were talking and not paying a whole lot of attention.

So we took off, talking. None of us was leading and we were all following each other. It was a beautiful thing. Till we got lost.

We asked directions in our special gringo dialect that we hope to trademark some day, and an elderly woman very nicely pointed us in the wrong direction. She probably said, "You three gringos better not head down this road, or you will be robbed and murdered."

We smiled and said "gracias!" And then headed down the road. It was the opposite direction from the church. After a bit of laughing and muscle-flexing (easier for some of us than others), we spied a few from our team walking up a nearby hill towards us. We hid behind a building to surprise them. Five minutes later they had not arrived. Eric peered around the corner; they'd vanished. "Ah," we said. "Oscar's house must be down there." It was, along with directions.

We were almost to the church when Marta, one of our translators, popped out of a sidestreet behind us. "I have been looking for you," she said. Three big, sheepish smiles, but nothing more. You may have heard about the famous "gringo code of silence."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Home Visits

Last night we divided up and went out on home visits with the elders. My small team visited a single mom whose boyfriend left her for the States as well as leaving her with a lot of debt. She said, through tears, that God was breaking her rebellion and drawing her to himself. I got to share, through the translator, a little of the parable of the prodigal son with her and God's unconditional welcome home. Then we prayed with her.

Our second visit was to a sick woman and her non-Christian husband and their twenty-something daughter. We had a great visit talking about the gospel and the 40,000 chickens he sells per year at the market.

Tonight we dispersed all over Sumpango with the youth group, distributing food packages to the poorest of the poor. Fourteen of us piled into the back of a small pickup and careened around horses, dogs and people and over speed bumps and potholes. It was a litigator's dream.
Living on the margins as these people do, they were so grateful for these gifts given in love and Jesus' name.

Sumpango viewed from Oscar's house

The Hairiest, Scariest Gringo of All

The Tallest Gringo

On land for the future Los Olivos Church

The Feminine Gringo

Cornstalk Houses

A few of the homes in the village are still made of cornstalks. Oscar grew up in one of these. He would get up at 4am, when it gets light down here, and walk an hour with his father to work in the field. It wasn't until he was 8 that his mother convinced his father to let Oscar start school. School is a waste of time if your family is perpetually hungry and your career path is assumed to be the field. So he would rise at 4am, work with his father till the last minute, then run to school. What a beginning for a guy who would become a Fullbright scholar and do research for Harvard University in Guatemala.

One of the needs here, besides stoves and latrines, is concrete flooring and beds. 60% of the houses have dirt floors. Most sleep on the dirt or concrete. At night in winter here it gets down to freezing.

Food for the Hungry

The mortality rate in El Yalu is shocking. Men work incredibly hard in the fields. Women work hard at childbirth, starting at 14 or 15. The infant mortality rate has been as high as 50%. Those who make it through childhood last only into their late forties.

Malnutrition is widespread, with many subsisting on a diet of tortillas alone.
Manu Con Manu has a program that has changed this trajectory. Three times a week, when the men are in the field, around 300 mothers and children come and receive a vitamin, a protein drink (pictured) and a high-protein meal.

Some members of our team who had been here a year ago said they noticed a major difference in the healthiness of the children. Additionally, some of their beliefs had changed, such as the rumor that the gringos would steal the kids, or worse, eat them!

Here's a link for more info on Mano Con Mano:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Let There Be Latrines!

The leading cause of death in developing countries is diarrhea. There is no sewerage system in El Yalu. You just go a little way from the house, maybe behind your favorite (or, perhaps, non-favorite) tree, and pick a number from 1-2.

Oscar talking about the latrine program
Los Olivos has been erecting latrines, which also double as showers (I know that sounds weird) for $250 all up, including the pipes that take it all away. I never knew the difference a flush can make.

Seeing these opportunities to serve in Christ's name and make such a dramatic and tangible difference, and how the people have responded, is heady stuff. The year-old church has many new believers, with 40 now attending and growing. God is at work in very practical ways in this subsistence-level village where ancient Mayan beliefs have been blended with Catholicism. But there is so much still to do.

Stoves That Save Lives

A grandmother with her grandaughter
next to their wood-burning stove
The second highest cause of death in developing countries is respiratory problems from cooking over open fires (and, in the cities, I'm guessing, from smog).

Government agencies have tried to bring stoves to El Yalu, only to have the metal stripped out of them for needed cash. Los Olivos has been able to install some of a different design for $250 each as they have the funds. They're made out of concrete, with 4 metal rings to cook on. Each family contributes something to the cost, so don't end up destroying what they've paid for.

El Yalu

After breakfast and hearing more of Oscar's story, we packed into a van and the back of a truck and headed into the lush countryside over potholed and sometimes precarious roads. Los Olivos church has partnered with Mano con Mano (Hand to Hand) in this small rural village of 2000 in some phenomenal ways to make a difference--often of life and death.
We're here now.

Sumpango By Morning

A good night's sleep, though the single blanket got thinner as morning drew closer.

Big Butch must have scared away the spiders, though Eric, in another room with Enrique, killed three. Paul, a youth pastor from Manitowoc, found one half the size of his hand. Luckily they're not on the menu for breakfast.

A busy day about to begin seeing the projects and ministry Los Olivos (the Olives) Church which serves the city of Sumpango (population 35,000) and the surrounding district (another 15,000).

Sumpango from Oscar's parent's top floor

Thursday, November 17, 2011


We flew through thick clouds that opened up to a gorgeous vista of green and sunlight, a volcano and Guatemala City. My first txt upon booting up my phone: you have exceeded a $200 voice limit. Strange that the text was sent before leaving the States! Aaaaarrrgggg to AT&T.

We drive to Sumpango, about 45 mins out of G.C. and enjoy dinner with the rest of the team. Orientation and introductions are made in English and Spanish. I try a bit of Maori, but no one can translate, including me.

We meet the elders of the church here and hear what God has been doing. It's inspiring and humbling. Other partner churches have had a lengthy and deep involvement with things like medical clinics. Wish I had a few more surgical skills. But it's cool to know we've had a small part too. I can picture my 2 kids and their team two years ago hacking a field here with machetes. Maybe one day they'll be surgeons.

It rains heavily and turns bone-chilling cold in the open but roofed top floor where we are meeting. Eventually we head to our digs to blog and to crash.

Guatemala Map

Houston, We Have Landed

Gracious God, Heavenly Father of all peoples who are called by your name, give us your heart for these wonderful people in Guatemala. As we look for ways we might be privileged to serve them, given how much you have blessed us, may we have none of the western sense of superiority which we confess so often characterizes us. Instead, may we be humble and teachable and open to the richness of their life and culture and relationship with you that often makes ours seem impoverished by comparison.

Here at Ohare

It was a 3:55 am rise after an evening of solving all the world's problems. Great to chat together about church and anticipate what doors God might open up for Lakeview to help make a physical and spiritual difference in Guatemala in the future.

The shoe boxes full of goodies for the kids are on the container in Rockford, and we've got a couple of big bags of baby things for Oscar, the missionary we're partnering with. They're on the plane beneath us, and we're almost ready to go.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Gringo" according to Wikipedia

File:Three Gringos by Richard Harding Davis 1896.jpg
This 1896 book deals with the pre-history of the
Three Gringos. Notice the foliage which, evidently,
functions as an umbrella in the rain shower.

Gringo is a slang Spanish and Portuguese word used in Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries in Latin America, to denote foreigners, often from the United States. The term can be applied to someone who is actually a foreigner, or it can denote a strong association or assimilation into foreign (particularly US) society and culture. While in Spanish it simply identifies a foreigner, without any negative connotation, in English the word is often considered “offensive” or “disparaging.”

The term "Kringo" denotes a New Zealander ("Kiwi") who lives in the United States and who travels to a Spanish-speaking or Portuguese-speaking country in Latin America. 

The Three Gringos

You may have heard of, or seen, the movie The Three Amigos. Chances are you haven't heard of The Three Gringos, starring Eric Erickson, Butch Speth & Graham Blaikie (stand-in for Martin Short).

In this exciting sequel to the original Amigos movie, The Three Gringos head to Guatemala to encounter culture, adventure, and God--each in a whole new way.

Their entourage includes Rob Weise FLD Youth Director, who recently won an Oscar for directing Districts, the prequel to District 9.

Rob's first piece of cultural advice as the three gringos head to Guatemala is: "Bring flip flops for the shower, and an umbrella."

This particular gringo is already astonished by Latin American culture where one takes an umbrella into the shower. What surprises will tomorrow bring? Latin lessons?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Iran: 5 Nukes by April 2012

Hopefully, this won't put a crimp in our March 2012 LakeView-Israel trip. I don't mind getting a tan swimming in the Dead Sea, but prefer getting my radiation from the sun.

According to the briefing given to a closed meeting of Jewish leaders in New York Sunday, Nov. 13, the window of opportunity for stopping Iran attaining a nuclear weapon is closing fast, debkafile's sources report. It will shut down altogether after late March 2012. The intelligence reaching US President Barak Obama is that by April, Iran will already have five nuclear bombs or warheads and military action then would generate a dangerous level of radioactive contamination across the Gulf region, the main source of the world's energy.

More here:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Surprised by Sandusky

I have an innocent and unspoiled son, who has just turned thirteen.

And so I have been startled from my almost month-long blogging malaise by the sordid Sandusky scandal. Every blogger and his mother has been opining about the many evils of Jerry, and with good reason. I mean, the guy clearly needs chemical castration, if not castration by a rusty spoon (as some of my more out-spoken acqaintances would put it).

The case is cut and dried. Right? Or is it? Surely the whole world can't be wrong. Can it?

I'd like to (humbly) suggest it can.

I'm not talking about Sandusky's innocence. The investigation by the Grand Jury leaves little to the imagination (though imagining such evils is the last thing most of us want to do).

I'm talking about the monster we've made him.

Don't misunderstand me. He is a pedophile rapist. And as the father of three sons, myself, he makes my blood boil. He makes me want to vomit. He makes me want to direct all my anger and hatred at sin towards him. He makes me want to monsterize him. To dismiss him as the lowest of the low. To demonize him.

Only one problem. I'm not that much different. And nor are you.

That's the point we seem to have missed in all of our pontificating.

Now I'm not, for a minute, minimizing the horror of what those boys (and their families) have gone through, or will go through. It's not as if all sin is the same or that any other sin equates to the hell they've experienced.

What I am saying is that we are more like Sandusky than we'd like to think. That we are more like him than unlike him. At least, from God's perspective.

When I think of the revulsion I feel towards Sandusky's vile behavior, I perhaps get a little glimpse into how God views my sin. I mean, as a fallen human being like Sandusky, I am a whole lot more like him than I am like God.

God, who is utterly holy, other, and infinite is as unlike me as it is possible to be. My similarities to Sandusky, however, are many more than I want to admit. I, too, am a sinner. The difference is simply type and degree.

Put Sandusky on this line, and he is on furthest-left stroke of the 'P' that starts the sentence.
Put the infinite, holy God on the line above, and he is as far from Sandusky as possible--the period on the far right. So, where am I on the continuum? You? We are with Sandusky, somewhere on that 'P.' Maybe we're a little to the right of him, but the distance that separates us and God remains gargantuan. We have no absolutely no basis for pride. From God's vantage point, we're a lot closer to Sandusky than we think.

That is what I believe has gotten lost in this whole tragedy. Our shock and horror and revulsion at Sandusky has allowed us to demonize him and canonize ourselves. Our disdain for him has so easily morphed into pride in ourselves. Rather than thinking, "there, but for the grace of God, go I," we think, "I would never do something like that." Rather than trembling at his particular display of human evil, and searching our souls deeply to see what we might be capable of, and repenting of our own wickedness, we ask, "How could any one possibly do that?"

Sure, let's go after Sandusky and his ilk to the nth degree of the law. Let's put him in the slammer and even throw away the key.

But may we never forget that the evil which consumed him also crouches at our door desiring to master us (Genesis 4:6-7). That the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). And that the heart--yours and mine--is so desperately wicked, who can possibly understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Antipsalm 23

 I’m on my own.
 No one looks out for me or protects me.
 I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right.
 I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
 It’s a jungle—I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert—I’m thirsty.
 My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself.
 I stumble down some dark paths.
 Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
 But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out?
 I’m haunted by emptiness and futility—shadows of death.
 I fear the big hurt and final loss.
 Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
 but I’d rather not think about that.
 I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
 I find no lasting comfort.
 I’m alone . . . facing everything that could hurt me.
 Are my friends really friends?
 Other people use me for their own ends.
 I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
 No one is really for me—except me.
 And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
 I belong to no one except myself.
 My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
 Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
 Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
 Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
 Sartre said, “Hell is other people.”
 I have to add, “Hell is also myself.”
 It’s a living death,
 and then I die.

What a contrast to the hope of David's Psalm 23:1-6.

From David Powlinson on Justin Taylor's Blog (it's well worth reading the rest):

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Don't Canonize Steve Jobs

Yeah, I've confessed to wishing I had some Apple products (all donations gladly accepted!). So it might sound like sour grapes (or apples) to point you to this very excellent article from titled, What Everyone is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs. It provides enough realism to temper our sadness, our adulation, and our near-deification of this remarkable, but deeply-flawed man. I think it's well worth a read, so here's an excerpt with the link afterwards:

It's the dream of any entrepreneur to effect change in one industry. Jobs transformed half a dozen of them forever, from personal computers to phones to animation to music to publishing to video games. He was a polymath, a skilled motivator, a decisive judge, a farsighted tastemaker, an excellent showman, and a gifted strategist. 
One thing he wasn't, though, was perfect. Indeed there were things Jobs did while at Apple that were deeply disturbing. Rude, dismissive, hostile, spiteful: Apple employees—the ones not bound by confidentiality agreements—have had a different story to tell over the years about Jobs and the bullying, manipulation and fear that followed him around Apple. Jobs contributed to global problems, too. Apple's success has been built literally on the backs of Chinese workers, many of them children and all of them enduring long shifts and the specter of brutal penalties for mistakes. And, for all his talk of enabling individual expression, Jobs imposed paranoid rules that centralized control of who could say what on his devices and in his company.
The article (perhaps unintentionally) raises a very important question for all of us: What price are we willing to pay for success? What virtues or relationships or principles are we prepared to incinerate on the altar of achievement? Jobs was uniquely successful. He's been compared to Edison and Einstein and called the greatest innovator of the last century. But as this article demonstrates, the cost was exceptionally high.

Here's where you can read more:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs' Death

Even though I'm not an Apple kind of guy (sadly, I just never seem to have the $), I have engaged in my share of ipad-envy and similar sins over the years.

And so, it was with sadness that I read about Jobs' [premature] death at age 56. I put "premature" in brackets because it seems self-evident that such a cool and gifted guy really has the right to be around a bit longer.

I mean, hasn't Steve Jobs made all of our lives better (if only by providing Microsoft's Windows and Google's Android a benchmark against which to improve)?

I know. That's rather a utilitarian and shallow perspective, even if I say so myself to myself.

But it's a great reminder of how easily we assign value to someone's life (and death) based on some ultimately meaningless criteria like giftedness or fame or wealth or royalty or relationship to ME. It's a distortion of the Christian Gospel which insists that every life is valuable and every death is a tragedy.

Which is a nice good sad segue to Justin Taylor's blog (where I stole the above pic) and his excellent post titled, "The Gospel According to Steve Jobs" which, in turn, takes us to the original article in Christianity Today
which was originally published in Culture Making, which I'm not going to provide a link to since this sentence is already way too long. Such is the stuff of blogging and borrowing and plagiarizing (hey, I steal, but always give credit; originality is nothing more than a poor memory).

Here's a little teaser--hopefully enough to get you to read it:
But the genius of Steve Jobs has been to persuade us, at least for a little while, that cold comfort is enough. The world—at least the part of the world in our laptop bags and our pockets, the devices that display our unique lives to others and reflect them to ourselves—will get better. This is the sense in which the tired old cliché of “the Apple faithful” and the “cult of the Mac” is true. It is a religion of hope in a hopeless world, hope that your ordinary and mortal life can be elegant and meaningful, even if it will soon be dated, dusty, and discarded like a 2001 iPod.

Friday, September 30, 2011


Came across a couple of interesting blogs touching on cohabitation from very different vantage points.

What Cohabitation Does for a Marriage:
  • If couples want to dramatically boost their likelihood of divorcing once married, few things so widely practiced will ensure that than cohabiting. This is just the opposite of what most believe.
  • If women want to significantly increase their chances of being a victim of physical, sexual and verbal violence from their mate, cohabitation is what they are looking for. Men with rings on their fingers are dramatically less likely to be abusers of any sort.
  • If you want to learn poorer problem-solving, communication and negotiation skills in your relationship, cohabitation can help you there also. This is because the lowered sense of commitment and relational clarity causes live-in couples to practice and learn fewer healthy interactions.
Read more here:

Mexico City Considering Two-Year-Plus 'Marriage Trial'

Posted 9/30/11 11:59 a.m.
MEXICO CITY (WLS) - Mexico City lawmakers are proposing legislation that would allow newlyweds to apply for temporary marriage licenses, instead of making the plunge into wedded life a lifetime commitment.
The change to civil code was proposed this week and would allow couples to decide the length of the commitment, with two years as the minimum. If couples are still enjoying wedded bliss when the contract ends, then they would be able to renew the license. And if they’re unhappy, the contract expires and they are both free without going through a divorce.
The legislation has proved to be controversial in Mexico, the country with the second largest Catholic population in world, after Brazil.
A vote is expected on the proposed legislation by the end of the year.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Iranian Pastor to Be Executed

Pray for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who is about to be executed for not converting to Islam.

Before his last hearing Wednesday, Nadarkhani had been given three previous chances to repent, and all three times he has refused. After his final refusal Wednesday, no verdict has been announced, but many expect that he could be put to death as soon as Friday
Read the full article here:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Four More Years of the Antichrist?

Not the best publicity for the Gospel:

Heckler Calls Obama "The Antichrist" At LA Fundraiser

The heckler was booed by the crowd when he began his rant with "The Christian God is the only and only true living God. The creator of heaven and the universe."

"Jesus Christ is God! Jesus Christ is God! Jesus Christ is God! Jesus Christ is the son of God!" the man continued.

"You're the antichrist!" the man said. The crowd responded with an enthusiastic cheer of "four more years" afterward.

"First of all, I agree Jesus Christ is the Lord. I believe in that," Obama said to tepid applause.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rob Bell To Leave Mars Hill

September 22, 2011
To our community of attendees, listeners, and supporters:
The infamous quote “change is the only constant” certainly holds true at Mars Hill. We have experienced ongoing changes that have improved and transformed—as well as at times unintentionally created tension or heartache within our community. And now, we have another significant change to hold together.

Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience.
                                                         You can read the rest here:

Einstein Wrong About the Speed of Light?

One should always be careful about wacky claims made by fringe loonies. And when a foundational "truth" that has been the basis for modern physics for the last 100 years is called into question, one is right to be just a little skeptical. Still, CERN scientists are not really fringe loonies. This could get very interesting, very fast.

The Telegraph:

Speed of light 'broken' at CERN, scientists claim

It was Albert Einstein, no less, who proposed more than 100 years ago that nothing could travel faster than the speed of light.

But last night it emerged that the man who laid the foundations for the laws of nature may have been wrong.
The science world was left in shock when workers at the world’s largest physics lab announced they had recorded subatomic particles travelling faster than the speed of light
If the findings are proven to be accurate, they would overturn one of the pillars of the Standard Model of physics, which explains the way the universe and everything within it works.
Einstein’s theory of special relativity, proposed in 1905, states that nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. But researchers at the CERN lab near Geneva claim they have recorded neutrinos, a type of tiny particle, travelling faster than the barrier of 186,282 miles (299,792 kilometers) per second.
The results have so astounded researchers that American and Japanese scientists have been asked to verify the results before they are confirmed as a discovery.
Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the researchers, said: “We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing.”
Scientists agree if the results are confirmed, that it would force a fundamental rethink of the laws of physics.
John Ellis, a theoretical physicist, said Einstein’s theory underlies “pretty much everything in modern physics”.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I'm re-reading some of Yancey's superb book. He is a man born out of time. Like David, he is a man after God's own heart. Perhaps he is even ruddy, though handsome might be a bit of a stretch. But who needs handsome when you can think and know and write about God like he does. . . 

"It occurred to me one day that though I often worry about whether or not I sense the presence of God, I give little thought to whether God senses the presence of me. When I come to God in prayer, do I bare the deepest most hidden parts of myself? Only when I do so will I discover myself as I truly am, for nothing short of God's light can reveal that. I feel stripped before that light, seeing a person different from the image I cultivate for myself and for everyone around me."  - p 33.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Pain of Ministry

I haven’t written anything for a couple of weeks. Avoidance perhaps? Not really. How about guilt? Ah, now you’re getting a little warmer.

Psychologists have a specific term for this: “survivor’s guilt.” After any traumatic event, like war or a fatal accident, those who are still alive and return home feel guilty. Sure, they may have wounds themselves. But at least they’re able to hobble back to the place they call home; others don’t have even that privilege.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been through a pastoral transition that has been really painful. Not ugly, like they can easily be. But really painful. The most pain is shouldered by a great family who has made LakeView Church their home this last year. Good people who invested their energies and entwined their lives into this spiritual community in the belief that it would be their home for a whole lot longer than a year. We all shared that belief and hope. And now they’re moving on. To where, they do not know.

And that’s incredibly painful for them and for many of us—for different reasons and in different ways.

While there’s so much I love about the church, I hate the reality that things like this ever happen anywhere. More than that, I hate that this has happened on my watch in our church with people I really do care for. It’s not that my pride is wounded that I wasn’t able to navigate us to a better outcome (well, maybe it is, just a little). It’s that, while the leadership has been walking lockstep together through all this, at the end of the day the success or not of the staff is my responsibility. And I have to wear that and eat it and live with it and submit to it. But I can still hate it. And I can still dream: if only our church was a little bit bigger and we had an Executive Pastor who handled personnel and I could stay above the fray!

So now you can add survivor’s envy to survivor’s guilt.

I never heard about either of those conditions in seminary.

But I did hear about one painful leadership situation. Ok, Scripture has way more than one. But one in particular comes to mind. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas have been enjoying doing effective ministry together but something almost unthinkable happens between the Great Apostle and the Son of Encouragement:
36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
One can only imagine all the angst and turmoil that accompanied this rupture. It must have been one of the lowest points in ministry for both of them. It must have just devastated everyone who was part of their “circle.”  And yet I am so glad that it happened, and that the Spirit of God, through Luke, recorded it for us.

I’m so glad for this passage, not for justification, but because it’s a God-given reminder that ministry is often attended by pain. Certainly we should never seek to create pain. And when it seems unavoidable, we should try and ameliorate it. But we should never be surprised by it, as if such a thing is never possible in the church or among Christians. Paul and Barnabas show clearly that it is.

They also show that our Sovereign God can ultimately bring about his good purposes from circumstances that are less than ideal. What had been one mission, was now two. Paul headed in one direction with Silas, Barnabas in another with Mark. And the work of the kingdom spread.

Perhaps most significant of all is that, about a decade after this event, Paul writes an astonishing line to Timothy from his prison cell. At the end of his life, he asks Timothy to “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is useful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

What I love about this little snippet tucked away in the pastoral epistles is that it says there is hope. There is hope that even in the midst of the pain that invariably accompanies ministry, there can be healing. There can be forgiveness for the hurts. There can be restoration. There can be a recognition and even a celebration that God works in and through us all in diverse and amazing ways.

In others’ pain, and in my own, that’s what I’m praying for. With one exception. Let’s not wait a decade. Let’s let it start now. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How Easily Words Hurt

Words are wonderful things. 
The Word is the most wonderful thing (John 1:1). 
Words are what I do as I study and read, preach and teach, counsel and converse. I try and choose them carefully. I need to, as they are incredibly powerful, often when I least expect them to be.

Our week at Cedarly was spent with our wonderful hosts, Andy & Nancy Hagen, and six others involved in various types of pastoral ministry. It was a joyous mix of Reformed and Pentecostal and E-Free and Lutheran and Presbyterian heritages, all gathered around the dinner table. 

In passing, I was asked about differences between the church in New Zealand and the church in America. And so I waxed eloquent about some cultural differences as exemplified in the divorce rates in the two churches I have been privileged to serve. My spiel was unnecessary. Worse, it was stupid. Worse still, it was unkind. One of my fellow-pastors had recently been through an incredibly painful divorce, and felt judged, I later discovered. 

In that later discussion, where apologies were offered and grace was kindly extended, I was reminded again of the potency of words to heal or to hurt. I realized again, to my shame, that intent and impact are not always related. 

But best of all, I learned afresh that the Word made flesh, who was full of grace and truth (John 1:14), can, if all parties let Him, bring his truth and His grace to our less-than-graceful (dare I say "graceless") words.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pastoral Retreat

Mrs B sits cross-legged for long stretches
in a manner impossible for Mr B
 Had a great week away with my favorite woman at Cedarly Pastors' Retreat in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin: (click for more on Pastors Retreat Network). I get out there myself for a day of prayer and contemplation every month or two, so it was great to take Mrs B. to this place that has become an oasis for me. The emphasis was on sabbath rest, so that's what we did. I also got to read three books, one, a novel, just for fun. Shhhh! 

Mrs B says, "How
uncomfortable" &
snaps a pic
A slim volume that was really challenging was David Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health (NavPress, 2001). It's worth another, even slower, read, so I'm gonna have to get a copy.

It's interesting how, as pastors, we are called to diagnose and treat others' spiritual health, and yet give so little attention to our own. Maybe that's one reason why 1,700 pastors leave the ministry each month (for stats click here).

Also did some journalling, praying, canoeing, playing "Monopoly Deal" and we even broke the media fast to see the "The Help" (powerful movie).

Last, but not least (perhaps even best), meditated on Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

"Now you look comfortable," says she, with a click

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Text For Sunday with Sick Pics

"You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you" - James 5:5,6

USA TODAY reports: Terror Group Blocking Aid to Starving Somalis
The worst drought in decades is affecting several countries in the Horn of Africa, but the famine is worst in southern Somalia, where al-Shabaab, an Islamist terrorist organization with links to al-Qaeda, is preventing aid groups from helping nearly 3 million people living under its control, according to the State Department and aid groups.

Our beloved country is home to nine of the ten heaviest people ever documented. But Suzanne Eman's goal is to be the world's heaviest woman ever. "I'd love to find out if it's humanly possible to reach a ton," she said. 
Eman visits the grocery store with her two sons where she said she usually spends up to eight hours filling multiple shopping carts with enough food to sustain her 22,000 calorie-a-day diet.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mark of the Beast Ain't What It Used to Be

A hair-thin electronic patch that adheres to the skin like a temporary tattoo could transform medical sensing, computer gaming and even spy operations, according to a US study published Thursday.
The micro-electronics technology, called an epidermal electronic system (EES), was developed by an international team of researchers from the United States, China and Singapore, and is described in the journal Science.
"It's a technology that blurs the distinction between electronics and biology," said co-author John Rogers, a professor in materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"Our goal was to develop an electronic technology that could integrate with the skin in a way that is mechanically and physiologically invisible to the user."
The patch could be used instead of bulky electrodes to monitor brain, heart and muscle tissue activity and when placed on the throat it allowed users to operate a voice-activated video game with better than 90 percent accuracy.
"This type of device might provide utility for those who suffer from certain diseases of the larynx," said Rogers. "It could also form the basis of a sub-vocal communication capability, suitable for covert or other uses."
The wireless device is nearly weightless and requires so little power it can fuel itself with miniature solar collectors or by picking up stray or transmitted electromagnetic radiation, the study said.
Less than 50-microns thick -- slightly thinner than a human hair -- the devices are able to adhere to the skin without glue or sticky material.
"Forces called van der Waals interactions dominate the adhesion at the molecular level, so the electronic tattoos adhere to the skin without any glues and stay in place for hours," said the study.
Northwestern University engineer Yonggang Huang said the patch was "as soft as the human skin."
Rogers and Huang have been working together on the technology for the past six years. They have already designed flexible electronics for hemispherical camera sensors and are now focused on adding battery power and other energy options.
The devices might find future uses in patients with sleep apnea, babies who need neonatal care and for making electronic bandages to help skin heal from wounds and burns.