Friday, November 30, 2007

Computer Crash

Well, I'm slowly getting back up to speed after my four-year-old laptop crashed yesterday morning. I was just starting to work on a story for the local newspaper when the screen went black.

Fortunately, we we able to salvage the harddrive from the old one, so I believe at this point that all or most of my data files and pics are still there. I should be able to use it in a "receptacle" device I bought that has a USB connection to this new laptop. It's going to take some time to get the old files and photos tranferred over, so it may be a few days before I can do much posting.

I love the new laptop, but I wish I were more patient! I'd like to have everything "just like it was" much faster than is possible. Really, I'm just thankful I didn't lose everything.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Can’t Figure Out Presidential Candidates? Take This Quiz To See With Whom You Resonate.

Have you been having as much difficulty as everyone else in trying to figure out which presidential candidate to follow? Join the crowd!

I got this online quiz link by email from a relative in Chicago. It’s fairly short, but by answering the questions honestly, it’ll show you the candidate(s) with whom you resonate mostly.

I have no idea how these computer tests work, but click on the following link to take the quiz and learn a bit about yourself: QUIZ

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Break Time

Today we had nothing but errands to do, so I’m taking a break from any lengthy postings. Among our chores, my wife and I did go to the Belfair area to take care of some details on the purchase of our lot there. Pic above shows the Hood Canal and freshly snow-capped Olympic mountains as we would see them from our rear deck after a home is in place there. Btw, it appears all the potential obstacles have been removed as far as building the home we’d like on this particular lot. You can click on the pic to bring up a larger image.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Speak, Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening

Of late, the ancient story of the Israelite boy Samuel, who heard the voice of God in the living quarters of Eli the priest, has been coming to mind.

You know the story. Hannah, Samuel’s mother, had offered her son back to God’s service, after long years of praying for relief from her barrenness ended with his birth. In thankfulness, she gave him to God at a very young age, bringing young Samuel to live with Eli where the boy ministered to and for the Lord.

One night, Samuel heard a voice calling his name. Thinking it was Eli, he went to the priest. “I have not called you,” said Eli. “Go back to sleep.” Three times it happened, and then Eli realized it might be God speaking. He told Samuel to respond with the following if he again heard the voice. Say, “speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” instructed the old priest.

Well, it happened again, and Samuel responded properly. God revealed to the growing boy the ominous fate of Eli’s sons who were violating their duties as priestly offspring, and Samuel went on to be a faithful prophet of God.

He listened to the voice of God, and acted accordingly.

Over the past year or so, my wife and I have been increasingly sensitive to a recurring missive that, at this point at least, might be presumptive to assume is the voice of God. However, we don’t want to ignore the possibility, either.

We have become increasingly burdened about the almost obscene inequity of wealth between our western societies and third world poverty. We have so much, and they have so little. It’s not fair; it’s not just; and it’s not right. And for sure, it’s not God’s will.

Yet we do so little about it.

Of late, especially, we’ve been praying and realizing that of course, the two of us can’t solve the problem. But we’re also realizing that we don’t have to continue as we are. In our own way, we can at least begin to be a part of the solution, rather than exacerbating the problem by tacitly condoning it.

We don’t need all that we have. We can convert some assets. We can live on much less. We can use the proceeds to become more active in efforts to alleviate the inequities we see.

We can use our gifts in the myriad of opportunities that are there right now, many through our own church and denomination. We can do less thinking and take more actions.

Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Fun With Granddaughters

We were fortunate this year to have both sons and their families here for Thanksgiving. To say the least, a great time was had by all.

Yesterday, we went to a nearby harbor where our granddaughters (and all of us) enjoyed the gorgeous late fall scenery in the archipelago. Gregg took this picture of Hayley, Aubrey and Talli (l. to r.) enjoying a perch on a waterfront tree. And, btw, he used my new Canon Rebel XTi to do so.

We hope you and yours had an enjoyable holiday time as well.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wasted Effort

Here in the Seattle area, some 2,500 shoppers were in line when a Target store opened at 5:00 this morning. According to news reports, similar scenes occurred across the country.

Supposedly looking for “bargains”, as many of them indicated, these folks were willing to spend most of an overnight standing (or sleeping) in line just to make a purchase – likely something they really don’t need but just want.

From one perspective, what a waste of time and effort.

Give a thought to this: What if all of these people had invested the same amount of effort (money notwithstanding) in gathering just things we/they don’t even use regularly and making the items available to those less fortunate world-wide?

That would be effort worth expending.

We live in (and unfortunately, as Christians, buy into) a culture gone amuck. We’ve mistaken abundance of things for spiritual blessings. In contrast, Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” I need to do things differently this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Do We Really “Trust God”?

If you ask the average American Christian the question, “Do you trust God?,” you’ll get a “yes” almost 100% of the time. But, I’d like to ask, do we really?

Think with me for a moment, if you would. The same person who answered “yes” to the above question likely lives in a warm, comfortable home and has two cars, a good job (maybe two if both spouses work), a big turkey on the Thanksgiving table, piles of gifts under the tree at Christmas, all the latest electronic gadgets and is totally “connected” via the virtual world.

So, really, for what might this person be trusting God? Everything mentioned is self achieved and self attained.

Well, you might answer, “it’s God’s blessing.” Oh?

Do you mean that because by some stroke of birth luck (being born here instead of in Bangladesh, for instance) one is entitled to all this abundance? What kind of a God would favor some, and not others, in this way?

Just ponder that, because I’m not even going to try to answer this question now (I think the scriptures gives us some poignant pondering points, however). But instead I raise the question simply to entreat us to look at our priorities and examine in whom we truly place our trust (and fate).

As Kay Lynne and I ponder the steps just ahead of us in our “golden” years, we are sincerely looking to put things into the proper perspective. As we do, it becomes more obvious by the day that the very biggest obstacles to trusting God are things.

In our culture, it is admittedly difficult, if not almost impossible, to “trust God” when we have virtually everything. More and more, she and I are thinking that we must get rid of a lot of these things and learn to trust God for everything, including our sustenance, instead of looking so much at income or assets. Two posts ago, I alluded to some of the following words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?...

…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?...

…Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.”

It couldn’t be clearer. We’ve got to stop allowing our culture to define the difference between “needs” and “wants”. We've got to refocus our interests on Kingdom issues. Learning the concept likely involves giving away some things. And as we do, God may have some suggestions for us regarding the lessons of “equality” and “justice” (on a world-wide scale) as we listen and look to Him for guidance as to how we can best live out our part in carrying out Kingdom priorities.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Both At The Same Time

Our perspective has a lot to do with how we live our Christian life. Today, I got a fresh (Lutheran) perspective… on perspective.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how becoming acquainted in more detail with mainline Lutheran beliefs and thinking has turned out to be an incredibly wonderful and “freeing” experience. This morning one of our pastors, the Rev. Alison Shane, continued teaching her class on “Fundamentals of the Lutheran Faith” that we lovingly call “Reformation 201”.

Today’s class subject matter was not particularly about the point I’m bringing up; it kind of was said “in passing,” but it struck me and stuck with me. I wanted to get my thoughts “on paper” (metaphorically speaking) because that’s how I process concepts.

I must admit that my Christian perspective has been and can be quite linear. We’re born, we “get saved,” we die, and we go to heaven. It’s all consecutive, and occurs by the numbers (i.e., linear). What I’m learning from mainline Lutherans (I guess I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out on my own) is that God isn’t linear. He’s not limited by time, space, or dimensions of any kind.

With God, everything is in the NOW; it’s only our subservience to the time dimension that makes things appear sequential to us. And that’s what came up today in class.

We often think that when we are “being good” (behaving well), we’re acting “saintly.” And when we are doing less than the standard, we are being "sinners." My past perspective has separated the behaviors (in typical linear fashion), and it has caused no little consternation for me to try and live saintly most of the time. In honesty I pretty much had concluded it was hopeless.

This morning Pastor Alison pointed out that Martin Luther believed, and Lutherans typically believe, that we are both at the same time. When we are saintly while at our best behavior, we are still a sinner. And when we are sinning, we are still a saint. Simply, it’s a step toward a more freeing, non-linear thinking.

As I’ve thought about it through the day (non-linearly, I hope) this totally fits with the Lutheran concept of “saved to serve”. In other words, the provision of salvation by grace through Christ has totally freed us to live out our vocation in service to Him. And as we do so, we’re both saint and sinner at the same time.

Thanks be to God.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I Almost Feel Like A Turncoat

You’ve heard the sayings like, “I’m a Ford person.” Or “I’m a Chrysler person.” Or “I’m a Chevy person.” These are often life-long reflections that give clues as to who you are.

Yesterday I bought a CANON camera, and I almost feel like a turncoat. I’ve always been a NIKON person. As well as a FORD guy (although now my newer car is an import). And as well as a WINDOWS guy (rather than a MAC person). You get the picture.

So why did I come home with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel SLR XTi (photo) when I left home with the full intention of buying a NIKON D40x Digital SLR? I’m still asking myself that question.

Seriously, I’m thrilled with the new camera. It has 10.1 megapixels (enough to create up to 12 x 16 prints) in its CMOS sensor and DIGIC II image processor (ask my son Gregg what that means). What it is, in layman’s terms, is a sophisticated computer that takes very high quality digital images in almost any situation.

It’s true that I’ve always been a Nikon person. In my business life, back in the “old days,” I used professional cameras for photo journalism, portraits and scenics. Back then, Nikon was king for professionals. I still have a classic Nikon “F” black body and a full “FM” system with lenses and accessories. Of course these were 35mm SLR film cameras, now considered to be virtually “obsolete.”

But yesterday, when I compared my current needs against both brands, the Canon comes out a clear winner. I no longer need “professional” usage. I want to be able to take great quality digital pictures at family gatherings, on trips and perhaps on short term missions ventures in the future.

For these usages, there is no question that the Canon offers significantly more in features and capabilities within the price range and category I was looking. Dave Guinn at Kenmore Camera spent several hours with me in guiding my decision with excellent, professional advice.

My Canon came with an 18-55mm zoom lens (the equivalent of 27-80mm in the old 35mm film format) for normal usage. This covers wide-angle to portrait focal lengths. I also got a 70-300mm telephoto zoom (105-450mm in old 35 terms) for long shot capabilities.

Admittedly, for the very high end professional applications, Nikon still may wear the ultimate crown, especially their lenses.

Soon, I hope to be spending considerable time outdoors in the grandeur of the picturesque Northwest, fortified with my new Canon armor. I’m glad, however, that my tech-savvy sons are going to be here for Thanksgiving so they can explain to me how to use this awesome, but intricate, contraption.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What Should A “Child-Like” Faith Mean For Us?

Jesus said some very interesting words in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, verses 16 & 17:

“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never see it.”

What was Jesus getting at? Is it a “trick” question? Is he serious? Must we re-learn how to think as a child? What good is our education? (I seem to always have more questions than answers.)

These verses were discussed today in an online daily devotional I receive by email. The particular thoughts were written by a Mike DeVries. To try to perhaps get a handle on what Jesus meant, Mike decided to observe his young kids over a period of time.

One thing he noticed right off the bat was that young children live in the present tense. What happened yesterday is no longer important, and they could care less today about what they will do tomorrow. What does concern them is what’s happening right now.

I have no clarity as to whether or not this is all of what Christ was getting at. But I think it might open the door to some interesting considerations for our faith-walk. Kay Lynne and I are spending considerable time these days trying to determine for us what it means to follow Christ today, in our world.

We’re thinking that what Jesus suggests with regard to having child-like faith points us in the direction of learning what it means to have complete and total dependence on God for everything. In fact, if we apply the above characteristic of “child-like" faith, we should primarily be centered on what is going on today. or at least in the present. Our past is behind us; our future is assured in the Kingdom, and our trust should be in God alone for today’s sustenance.

Easier said than done, you’re probably thinking. And, of course, you’re right. Perhaps, however, Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew at the end of chapter 6 can throw some light on Luke 18:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.”

Can we trust these words? We’re excitedly anticipating where learning to live by “child-like” faith might lead us.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Trying Times For My Allegiances

Tonight, here in the Puget Sound area, the Seattle Seahawks will host the San Francisco 49ers in an intra-league game that really only has significance for the Hawks.

Both teams have struggled so far this season, moreso the Niners. It was thought early that these would be the two teams who would knock heads for the NFC West title, albeit a weak division. So far no-one has exhibited a strong desire to take control. Seattle leads the division with a mediocre 4-4 won-loss record, while the Niners lag behind at 2-6.

Since the 1950’s I’ve been a die-hard 49er fan. I’ve seen Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie, Steve Spurrier, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jeff Garcia, and now Alex Smith all quarterback the Golddiggers. When we moved to the Pacific Northwest some years ago, I “adopted” the Seahawks as my co-favorite team. After all, Seattle does have some “ties” to the SF team, with coach Mike Holmgren and Linebacker Julian Peterson both having deep Red and Gold connections. And of course the Hawks have at least been to the Super Bowl within the last couple of years.

So for whom do I root tonight? I guess I’ll take the Yogi Berra method and “see it both ways.” In all honesty, the Hawks better win, because they are, on paper at least, the superior team. However, the Niners have a nasty habit of spoiling parties in the Northwest.

The truth is, I’ll be happy with whoever wins. If the 49ers happen to have more points at game’s end, then the Hawks should not be believing the press clippings up here which have them virtually crowned as NFC West champs in a division that doesn’t seem to care. But if the Hawks win, it’ll at least give some small degree of progress toward ending up on top of a weak division. Hey, winning your division at least gets you into the playoffs.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Confronting Our Culture

One would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to notice the ills in our culture – especially here in the western world and more specifically in our own country.

Excessive wealth and opulence. Lust and greed. Immorality of every ilk. Deceit. Devaluation of life. We could go on and on.

For a Christian who sincerely desires to follow the teachings of Christ, and still be a functioning, contributing member in our society, he or she faces a dilemma of some dimensions. How do we live and effectively model Christ amidst a culture that could care less?

Our pastor, Don Jukam, in a recent adult ed class during our Sunday School hour, made this statement, that is affecting my thinking as I’ve contemplated it:

He contended, “We confront our culture’s value system by NOT conforming to it and letting GOD ‘do the battle.’”

Stop and think of the implications.

Pastor Don named Biblical characters like Daniel, Sampson, Esther, Paul the apostle and Stephen the martyr as obvious but effective examples.

As I’ve thought about it, when there has been effective, progressive change in a culture, the modifications almost always have occurred by this model. Legitimate civil disobedience in our own country over the past 50 years would likely be an example for our living generations.

The battle is not ours; God is sovereign. But our faith compels us to live counter-culturally to effect transformation, as did Christ.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What Is The “Good News”?

Yesterday at church in the late afternoon during our SPLASH activities, I had occasion to meet with Paul Davis, our Director of Faith Formation (photo). Being new to the Lutheran tradition, I’m always full of “theological” questions, so when an opportunity presented itself for a “one-on-one” with someone who knows the Lutheran perspective well, I took advantage of it.

We were discussing Lutheran worship practices but somehow got off on what salvation is all about. We were considering what it means to “become a Christian” – whether it’s a “decision”, a “baptism” an “actualization,” a “transformation,” or what.

“It’s really simple, but it’s also complex” Paul offered. “It’s God’s grace.”

“That’s all?” I asked (former “evangelical” vestiges starting to appear as raised eyebrows). “Don’t I have to do something? Like at least make a decision? Or be baptized?” I entreated.

“Let me read you a story from Mark chapter two,” he said.

He read, “When he (Jesus) returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around so that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

“That,” said Paul, “is the ‘good news’ (or Gospel) we are commissioned to take to all the world.”

He went on to explain. “When someone asks me ‘when’ I was saved, I tell them it was 2,000 years ago when Christ died on the cross and was resurrected.” The paralytic in the full house said or did nothing, yet Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.”

This is the essense of the Lutheran perspective on the Christian faith. We are “saved by grace (alone), through faith” was Martin Luther’s mantra. Of course church praxis includes the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, confirmation, and regular liturgical worship to provide sustenance for living the Christian life as a follower of Christ.

But at its roots, our salvation is the “good news” of the Gospel: “Your sins are forgiven.”

Thanks be to God

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More Reformation Implications

Even though last Sunday, October 28, was Reformation Sunday, in our adult ed class during the Sunday School hour today, we continued to focus on ramifications of this historic theological event.

As we know, not all of the (malpracticed) Roman Catholic faith was forsaken by the emerging “protest-ants”. Many liturgical worship forms have been preserved almost intact. This was true for most of the reformers and their followers.

Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, for instance, all brought the basic elements of liturgical worship to their respective Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist traditions. Of course that is why, even today, when you worship in any of these mainline traditions, the prayers, creeds and order of service are quite recognizable to each other.

In our Lutheran tradition, we observe more than a half dozen elements of liturgical worship, depending on how you categorize or identify them. First, there is confession. Then there is the asking for forgiveness of sin for absolution.

Following are the reading of Scriptures and the proclamation of the word (the sermon). After the sermon, worship continues with the offering in which we offer our thanks to God for his provision. We then recite the creeds and partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion. The benediction then sends us out into the world to serve and live out our faith.

It is very interesting to me that even though these rudiments of liturgical worship may vary slightly in content and/or order by particular tradition, they are all essentially there in most mainline denominational worship praxis. And it has been so, for the most part, for two millennia.

Both my wife and I are deeply moved by this kind of a worship experience, and we have learned to genuinely appreciate what we practice weekly in our Lutheran Church. We are gaining spiritual strength and finding continuing spiritual sustenance from it. Additionally, it is comforting to kow that we are participating in and observing the creeds and practices that go back a very long time, many to the origins of our faith in the first, second and third centuries.

For me, that works out to authenticity in the practice of the faith.