Showing posts from October, 2009

Lucky Me! Mountaineers Play in Anaheim 76 Classic

Can you believe my good luck?! I love college basketball and have already been scouting out all the D-1 teams in the region here, hoping to catch a game at schools like St Marys, Santa Clara, Sacramento State, etc., and of course Fresno State. Fun, fun. I didn't figure on seeing any games with my WVU Mountaineers.

As I was recently perusing the basketball schedule for WVU, I saw they were playing in a Thanksgiving tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center. It's called the 76 Classic. That got my attention.
Now get this! Believe it or not, we had already agreed to be in the Los Angeles area over Thanksgiving weekend. What a confluence of events!
The Mounties are playing in a pretty cool tourney, one sponsored by ESPN. WVU is ranked #8 in the preseason poll. Here are the other teams in the field:
Butler, ranked #11 Clemson, #24
Long Beach State, unranked Minnesota, unranked Portland, unranked Texas A&M, unranked UCLA, unranked
WVU starts off against Long Beach State. Assuming they wi…

A Tribute to Mountaineer Football

A few people may have heard that I am a fan of the West Virginia University Mountaineers. This was the team of my youth. I lived in Morgantown, WV (NOT Virginia, thank you very much) from 1971-77, during the formative years up through 4th grade.

Though I lived elsewhere until 2001, I remained a fan as West Virginia football became something of powerhouse, yet something like a Boise State or Utah -- outside the mainstream. In spite of this underdog status, the Mountaineers played in national championship games (before the BCS system) after the 1988 and 1993 seasons. After the '88 season, they lost to Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Their star quarterback Major Harris was injured on the opening drive and WVU never recovered. After the '93 season, they got walloped by Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

With 678 wins, WVU is the winningest program in major college football to have never won a national championship, more than schools like Miami or Virginia Tech. They were close again in 2007,…

91 Years Since the Founding of Czechoslovakia

Today is October 28. Just an ordinary day here in the States. But in the Czech Republic where I spent nearly 8 years, this is a national holiday, perhaps the most important of the year.

It's a holiday kin to our July 4 commemoration of independence. On this day Czechs hearken back to 1918 when Czechoslovakia was formed out of the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Thanks to the diplomacy of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the right to self-determination was one of President Woodrow Wilson's main tenets. Wilson trumpeted 14 points that he thought would iron out the problems that created the First World War.
Czechs had enjoyed independence before but had never been united with Slovaks. Though Czechs and Slovaks speak very similar languages, their paths had always been quite different. The creation of a multi-ethnic state was awkward but successful. Czechoslovakia flourished in the interwar period (known in Czech as the "First Republic"). The gross national product of Czechosl…

Urban Christians and Poverty

Slightly over half of the world's 6.8 billion people live in urban areas. In 1900, only 1 in 7 people lived in cities. The enclosed map shows cities with over 5 million inhabitants. Wow! There are over 4,800 cities in the world that have populations of 100,000 or more. Compare this to the year 1900 when only 300 cities were that large. The world's cities are growing like crazy!

What about the church? Are Christians poised to reach out to new urban dwellers? According to David Barrett's annual data on Global Christianity (the overview of his study is published in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research), the trend toward urbanization is expected to continue in coming decades. He and his research team estimate that there are 151,000 new non-Christian urban dwellers every single day. That's 151,000 new city-dwellers per day who don't know Jesus!
To complicate things further, over half of the world's urban dwellers live in poverty. Nearly one billion live i…

San Joaquin Valley drought

I read Friday's San Francisco Chronicle. No, I don't usually read the Chronicle. It doesn't strike me as being that great of a paper. The LA Times is so much better. Even our local Fresno Bee has good coverage.

But I was in Columbia, gold-mining country, at the end of my exhausting (poor me!) three-day field trip with the Ft Washington 6th-graders. Not relishing the 2+ hour ride home on a cramped school bus, I was looking for a paper. And there, right next to the Sarsaparilla soda, was a stack of SF Chronicles. Best use of 75 cents ever. Made the ride home go SO much more quickly.
At any rate, they had an article about the drought here in the Central Valley. It wasn't by one of their own reporters. Just an AP story off the wire. It mentioned a tidbit I had never heard before. If the eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley were there own state just by themselves -- which many here probably wish for -- it would be the top agricultural producing state in the US. This is so…

I Don't Like Luke's Parables

Today, I preached the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This was the final of 3 Lucan parables I've preached this month. I had no real agenda here. Just knew that I needed three sermons this month & knew that I hadn't preached from the gospels for a bit. So I fairly randomly picked 3 parables in the 2nd half of Luke's gospel, trusting that God would speak His word for us at this time.

As soon as I began preparing for the first sermon from the parable of the Soils, I thought to myself, "Oh no, what have I gotten into?" I felt the demand of the text to discourage our desire to judge soils and instead to sow seeds. Are there people, I asked, that we would just as soon not sow seeds to? The sermon went well, I guess, though I felt angst in preaching it.
Two weeks ago, I preached the Good Samaritan. Jesus turns everything upside down in this parable, and I felt the need to follow suit. Who are the people in our lives whose help would shock us? Jesus calls us, howev…

Why I Am Not a Children's Minister

I get along okay with kids, I guess. I'm sure some of our church kids find me amusing. Others probably see me as the "preacher" man. For all I know, some may be terrified of me. I do work hard to learn children's names, but I admit that I don't always get them all.

Over the last couple days, I spent some serious time with 11- and 12-year-old kids. My mission? Chaperone the 6th-graders on their outdoor learning trip in the mountains above Sonora -- old gold country.
83 kids. 4 teachers. 14 parent chaperones. We signed up for this. Even paid for the honor. $171 per child and chaperone. That's a chunk of change that we weren't planning to spend. Clovis schools definitely have this way of constantly sticking it to you in one way or another -- anything for the kids, I guess the theory goes.
The teachers sat mostly together at meals and slept in special cabins. The parents were the ones who had to keep the kids in line. We slept with the kids in the bunk rooms. We…

Announcing RENEW 2010 Conference

We've all been saddened by Zoe's decision to scale back their activities. Finances are very tight during this economic downturn. Parachurch organizations and other non-profits have been especially hard hit as donors with deep pockets are suddenly unable to afford such discretionary donations. So we hurt for Zoe in their period of hardship.

Every loss, however, is an opportunity for something new. We have therefore taken up the challenge to carry on even without Zoe. We're planning our own "worship" conference for Feb 19-21. Here are some questions and answers about our plans:

Why have a conference? The conference we hosted for 5 or so years was a tremendous blessing to West Coast Christians who need a boost. For those who already attend large churches in the Bible belt, the need for a special time of encouragement is not so great. They get to experience high quality worship and teaching week in and week out. But for those in struggling churches far from the resourc…

A Smile a Day...

This clip is good for several smiles. I can't imagine what life must be like at this house, but this moment is one worth sharing.

Downtown Fresno

I'm sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Fresno for the first time. I've got a great view of the convention center, listening to jazz, sipping coffee as I finish up some things for Sunday. Julie's car is in a garage nearby where Tony from church is replacing a motor mount. A good excuse to be down here.

Fresno is not like other cities I've lived in, but I see similarities with other cities I know. The downtown is largely abandoned on the weekends and evenings. Government offices and businesses still operate out of the city center, but the center of influence and wealth has long since moved north. Many people who live north rarely if ever come downtown. Despite city efforts to revitalize the old downtown, not much seems to happen beyond the Tower district. All the major shopping, medical centers, professional offices and entertainment options are to the north. Plus, north is where most people want to live (like us).
Atlanta has a similar history of development. As crime a…

Christians and Halloween

I find Halloween to be an interesting discussion topic with other Christians. Some adults are horrified and the seemingly evil aspects of the holiday. Others simply don't like watching their kids collect and then eat tons of junk food. Still others like the holiday and enjoy the chance to decorate the house and hand out stuff to the neighborhood kids.

Almost no one, however, seems to know much about the origins of Halloween. This was originally a Christian holiday intended to replace some of the pagan rituals surrounding the onset of winter. Instead of the fear of the oncoming days of darkness and cold, Christians were encouraged to celebrate and remember the saints who had gone before and to recall that Jesus is greater than "elemental spirits" that we tend to worry about. Hallowed Eve was the night before All Saints Day.
We might have problems with some of the theology surrounding views of the afterlife that necessitated prayers on behalf of the dead, as New Testament sc…

Let Your Rain Fall Down

It's amazing how a little rain can lighten the spirits. Now, I know that not everyone rejoices when it rains. If you are in the midst of harvesting a crop, you're probably not too excited to see the wet stuff. But if you're like me, a lover of sprinkles, thunderstorms, showers, drizzles, mists, downpours -- basically all things wet that fall from the sky unfrozen -- then you love the sound and feel of this weather.

Amos Allen, my uncle who used to be a church planter in Kenya, once told me that he was walking through a field with a Christian man. He had just led a Bible study there in his village. As they were walking, it suddenly started to rain. Amos quickened his step so they could make shelter before getting soaked. The Kenyan stopped him and said, "Why do you not like the rain? Don't you know that rain is God's gift to us? We should enjoy it as much as sunshine." So they actually lingered and walked normally through the afternoon shower.
Comments like …

Bitten by the Bug

Well, I made it over 9 months here in Fresno without a hint of sickness. Must be the special Valley air. Or the fresh, healthy food. Or the protective prayers of so many people here at College Church.

But it finally caught up to me. Wednesday night, I started feeling funny. Then Thursday morning I was miserable. I survived okay yesterday. But last night, I was worried that it might be the flu. I had that achey, feverish, head-splitting feeling that I thankfully almost never have.

I am happy to report that I'm feeling much better here on Friday afternoon. It's not over, but at least it seems to be a little bug, nothing major.

Be sure to check Julie's blog (the link is on the lower left). I'm once again amazed at the rabbit she managed to pull out of her hat with our house refurbishment. The pictures prove it.

Think Twice before Bungee Jumping

If you ever needed confirmation that bungee jumping is a bad idea, here's all the proof you ever needed. I didn't need such confirmation personally, but you might.

I'm not sure what language you can hear (maybe Portuguese?). The jumper is British. He's in Thailand. He had reassured his mother that bungee jumping was completely safe. I suppose it usually is.

Fortunately, this young man survived. He landed on his hips rather than headfirst. He has internal injuries much like after a serious car wreck, but the doctors expect him to recover. Just amazing.

Jericho & Jacob, your mother will never agree to let you bungee jump. Neither will I. So there!

Old Church and New Evangelism, cont.

In the most recent edition of the journal Missiology, Kenneth Ross from the Church of Scotland vividly describes the problems facing Scottish Christianity. The numerical decline of Christianity in Europe has been well documented by all kinds of scholars and writers. Canadian churches are experiencing a similar crisis. The US seems to be in a stronger position by comparison, but numbers in the US show a similar decline of church attendance. Even though Christianity seems to still play a prominent role in our society, many wonder if we aren't trending toward a crisis similar to the one in Europe in Canada where Christian church attendance is typically between 5 & 10%.

Ross describes the crisis facing the "old church," but he then goes on to express some optimism for a "new evangelism." Warning: His voice is one of MULTIPLE voices who express optimism over new ways of doing things without being able to point at many concrete results of what that actually looks …

Old Church and New Evangelism

An article in the October 2009 edition of the journal Missiology titled "Old Church and New Evangelism" speaks directly to Christianity's waning influence in the West. Author Kenneth Ross looks at his own church's decline. He heads the Mission Council for the Church of Scotland and is wondering aloud how the church can restart evangelism in areas have been assumed to be Christian for 1000 years or more.
In Scotland alone, the numbers are startling. A Church Census taken in 1984, 1994 and 2002 show the decline of church attendance. The census shows that in 1984, there were 853,700 people attending church on a given weekend. In 1994, it was 691,120. By 2002, there were only 570,130. This represents a decline of about 19% within 18 years. (The population of Scotland is a little over 5 million.)
Ross quotes Loren Mead of the Alban Institute: "The storm buffeting the churches is very serious indeed. Much more serious than we have admitted to ourselves, and much more …

Building Healthy Marriages

Men and women have different needs. Brilliant, eh?! Dr. John Gray (author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus) talks about the differing, primary "love needs" of men and women. He lists 12 kinds of "love needs" in most people:

Women need to receive
1. Caring
2. Understanding
3. Respect
4. Devotion
5. Validation
6. Reassurance

Men need to receive
1. Trust
2. Acceptance
3. Appreciation
4. Admiration
5. Approval
6. Encouragement

Men typically need to be trusted and admired by their wives. Some wives, however, believe they are helping their husbands by suggesting changes to the way he does things. This typical wife views her criticism as honest feedback to assist his "growth" toward becoming the man she thinks he can become. But men almost always resist efforts by their wives to change them. When a woman tries to improve her man, he tends to hear a lack of acceptance, appreciation or approval. But when she gives him his "love needs," he will likely grow and…