Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!



You can't celebrate Christmas without retelling the story and no one does it better than Linus. Every depressing Charlie Brown needs a steady Linus to give us the bottom line.


(facebookers go to markmiller.blogspot.com to check out Linus.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Must Have Holiday Gifts

Ever the creative comic, Dave Barry has compiled a list of must-have gifts of the season, compiled from his readers. Here is a sample...

Disaster Preparedness Activity Books

The holiday season is all about fun for kids, and if there's anything that will put a twinkle in a youngster's eye, it's a disaster-preparedness activity book from the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). There are several titles available, including Ready . . . Set . . . Prepare!


You can find the rest of the list at Dave's Miami Herald website.


Thanks Kelli for sending this one.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What if Starbucks Marketed like a Church?



A friend on facebook put this on his wall a couple of days ago and I thought it was worth posting. Thanks Dean.

Speaking of facebook, if you are getting this through a note in facebook, you probably will not get the video. Go to www.markmiller.blogspot.com to see the video.

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Do Your Christmas Lights Say About You?


The Tribune had an article today stating that psychologists say that your Christmas lights can say a lot about you as a person. If you have simple lights, that could be how you see the world. Or if you have shall we say an "abundance" of light and yard figures, well, you might need to see this next part.

They also highlighted a website called tackychristmasyards.com. The site comes complete with a list of violations. Here are a few of them. Have you violated any of them? If so, turn out your lights and step away (at least until the thaw).

--W.T.H. (What the Heck!?) Violation
Random, non-holiday decor has no place in December. Just because you were given a cool giant light up smiley face does not mean you should put it on the roof this month!

--Multiple Clauses Violation
There is one Santa Claus and only one. I repeat- you may not have more than ONE Santa in your yard at anytime. (The exception is this; if you have a Santa from another culture or a Santa of another ethnicity, THEN you may have another Santa among the deciduous forest that is your yard. This does not mean you may have an inflatable Santa AND a plastic, light-up Santa. Inflatable is not an ethnicity). The same rules apply for Mrs. Claus. Santa is not an adulterer. We must show Santa as an upstanding and moral citizen, despite the 3rd world wages he pays the elves.

--Fallen Figurines/Drive-by Shooting Victims Violation
These poor souls should not be illuminated. If you aren’t going to go outside to set them all back up, don’t plug them in. No one wants to see Mary and Joseph laying down as if involved in a deadly drive-by shooting.

And my personal fav,

--King Kong Complex Violation
If a giant polar bear is standing anywhere near a mid-sized Santa or the Abominable Snowman is lurking over the manger, do something, quick!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Whopper of a Fragrance


In it's continued quest for creative superiority and downright creepy-factor, Burger King has topped themselves once again. They have now introduced FLAME, a new men's fragrance that they describe as a "scent of seduction, with a hint of flame-broiled meat."

This meaty fragrance can be purchased for about the same cost as a BK value meal, and MUCH less fat and calories. You've got to hand it to them in the creative department, but is seems to me that the king is just getting a little too creepy for my taste.

But according to sales, this could be the "musk-have" gift of the season.

If you can handle the heat, check out the website at http://www.firemeetsdesire.com.

Warren is Pastor America


Rick Warren is Obama's choice for giving the invocation at the inauguration. This has angered many on the left because he is at odds with them on abortion and gay marriage. It is also the same pulpit that for a generation has been given to Billy Graham. It sounds like the torch is being passed.

This reinforces what I had said in July that Rick Warren has reached that rare place of transcendence in the religious arena. Rick Warren is to religion what Obama is to politics (at least at the moment). Of course a lot can change in 24 hours, or minutes for that matter.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's the Relationships Stupid!

For all of the talk about the financial meltdown or even terrorism that has cast a bit of a pall over 2008, there is a much greater meltdown that has occurred... trust. Our trust in our government has been shattered by a war that has questioned motives and honesty and continuous scandals from our "leaders", most recently Illinois's own governor. Our trust in our systems, financial or otherwise have also been strained.

Jim Wallis wrote these words in a Sojo eletter-

The heart of our faith is about relationships. How they are broken and how they are fixed. Righteousness is the term we use that means “right relationships.” It may sound like an oversimplification, especially in light of all of the complex market instruments that are in use today, but the root of all of this financial mess and turmoil are broken relationships, broken social covenants.

The relationship between employer and employee. The relationship between corporations and community. The relationship between stock holders and executives. The relationship between consumers and their creditors. The relationship between the businesses, the government, and our civic institutions. The relationship between people and the planet we live on. These relationships are broken, distorted, and even abandoned. All of them are in need of redemption.

Trust is the bedrock of relationships. When this has eroded, so has the relationship. And when we cease to have good-faith relationships, we are truly doomed. But it's in this season of gloom that I also take light in the fact that I have seen on a micro-scale trust being restored through the church. I have witnessed friends who have been through incredible heartbreak being comforted by their church family. I have seen those crushed by the economy who have been blessed by unexpected generosity, reminiscent of Acts 2 and 4. And I have observed people being loved on as they find their way back to God.

The universe began with relationships (God-three-in-one) and it will continue to be fueled by them as well. Forgiveness, redemption and restored trust is really the only thing that gives me hope for the coming year. And having witnessed what I have, I am hope(full).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The rich get richer

The New York Yankees agreed to sign free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett to a five-year, $82.5 million deal. The signing brings the total the Yankees have committed to pitching this week to $243.5 million after agreeing to a $161 million deal with Sabathia.

Sigh...

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Doghouse

You may have seen this already, if not, take the time to check it out...especially if you have XY chromosomes. It could spare you some serious pain this holiday season. Props to JC Penney (yes, JC Penney!) for some seriously creative comedy. I have been impressed with some of their creative projects lately, including one of their music releases that a friend of mine collaborated on (Ryan Lott- remake of "Don't You Forget About Me"- including a bfast club remake). Also, thanks to my sister Deb for sending me the link to the doghouse.




As always, facebookers, these are notes imported from my blog. To view the video, go to www.markmiller.blogspot.com.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Heading to Cleveland

Going to speak at Oak River tomorrow. Tonight will go to Todd Berger's record release. Love going to back to Cleveland and connecting again with lifelong friends.

It's hard to leave the cleve...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Miller Family is IN on the Advent Conspiracy



This year the Miller family is spending less on gifts and more on making a difference in the world. Our church is joining the Advent Conspiracy which is a movement dedicated to spreading the good news of spending less on stuff this Christmas and using that money to end the clean water crisis in our world.

The stats are sobering. The leading cause of death in under resourced countries is lack of access to clean water. 1.8 million people die every year from water born illnesses. That includes 3,900 children a day.

The other sobering stat- We spend 450 billion dollars each year on Christmas. The cost to end the clean water crisis? 10 billion dollars.

If you haven't joined the conspiracy, visit their site www.adventconspiracy.org. And make this the most merry Christmas EVER.

And if you need some ideas on how to spend less and give more, go to www.rethinkingchristmas.com.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

God's Smiley Face


With all of the craziness in the world, the heavens gave the world a rare smiley face last night thanks to Jupiter, Venus and the moon. Of course it all depended on your vantage point. Asia got the smiley face, while the U.S. got a frown. Hmmm.

The Good News/Bad News about the Recession

Obviously, no one wants less money and no one desires to be fearful about employment, but there can be some good that comes from tougher times. I have noticed that this downtown has led to a lot of deep conversations that I probably would not have had without a recession. Christianity Today has an article called "Are Recessions Good?" from Rob Moll that highlights this mixed "blessing".

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"We need silence to hear God."

I read an article in the Tribune a few days ago about the shrinking number of nuns worldwide. They are particularly falling in the more "advanced" countries.

Sister Maria, 79, from Italy has a theory,

"The young in Italy have TV. They have cell phones. They have these laptops they carry around... when you are going to discos, how can you expect to hear the word of God? You need silence to hear God."

Is this not also true for all believers? We cram our ears full of sound from television, movies, youtube, gossip and increasingly... earbuds. Is there any space left for the still small voice, much less a loud booming voice?

Silence didn't use to take discipline, but it does today. And silence should be practiced as part of a Jesus followers journey.

Unplug, listen UP, obey. (repeat)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Proclamation... 1863

With a year full of drama, on this Thanksgiving day, I thought it might be good to reflect on a Thanksgiving past. The year was 1863, and Abraham Lincoln provided leadership and healing to a nation that desperately needed it during a tumultuous time. Here is Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day proclamation in that year of 1863. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

~Abraham Lincoln

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Eagles Are Still Flyin' High


I became a fan of the Eagles while I was a child because my older sisters listened to them. Much of my love for '70's music came this way. But by the time I became old enough to go to one of their concerts, they decided that the band was finished. Then came the "Hell Freezes Over" tour and my hopes were rekindled to see them again.

And that is exactly what happened last week in downtown Cincinnati. Stacey and I finally got to see Glenn, Don, Tim and Joe in person. After 40+ years of rockin' out, I was convinced that they could not sound as good as they did in their prime. And not only was I wrong, but I wonder if maybe now is their prime. They seem to be at peace with themselves and each other and making jokes about themselves and their past.

At 61, Glenn opened the concert by saying "Welcome to the Assisted Living Tour." He also dedicated "Lyin' Eyes" to his first wife, "Plaintiff". And he said that the band's wives think that "this next song is about credit cards", then proceeded to play "Take It To The Limit".

Dressed in black suits, white shirts and black ties, they played all of the hits that made them famous and some deep new songs from their new album from which they named their tour. "Hotel California", "Peaceful Easy Feeling", "The Long Run", "Take it Easy", with "Dirty Laundry"(great video primarily of FoxNews and Bill O'Reilly), "Life's Been Good" for good measure and ending with what else, "Desperado". And their "Long Road Out of Eden" song had a great rythym with deeply moving lyrics about America and the Iraq war. Showing that they still have great writing skill, here's a line from the song...
Behold the bitten apple, the power of the tools
But all the knowledge in the world is of no use to fools
And it's a long road out of Eden.
And for 3 hours and 45 minutes, these guys gave it all that they had. For someone just turning 40 (and I was one of the youngin's in the crowd), it was such an inspiration to see these men enjoying life and in top form at an age when most people would be playing parcheesi and counting their money.

So, my 40th birthday present (thank you Beard family) was one for the memory books and I can cross one more thing off of my bucket list. Next on the list, slightly younger rockers U2.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

American Grief

A new report came out yesterday that said that American influence around the world will diminish by 2025. It's rival at that time? China, of course. You can read the full story HERE.

It's a new world that we live in and it might take some getting used to. The age that I have grown up in took a lot of things for granted. Like...

  • Prosperity
  • Unlimited lines of credit
  • American dominance in the world
  • That when the market goes down, it must go back up
  • And that America always gets it's man

So much has happened over the last few weeks that has shaken many of these ideas. And a lot of soul-searching has begun for many Americans. It's almost as if we are entering in some sort of grief cycle. The reactions will vary greatly.

It is a great opportunity for the church to reassert the timeless truths of an unshakable God. Reminds me of one of the great songs that I've sung in church since I was a boy (and we will be singing it tomorrow as well). Markets, countries, kingdoms come and go but one thing is for sure...

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is
s
i
n
k
i
n
g

s
a
n
d.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Post-Election Thoughts- (please read this one!)

I had started several times to write some post-election thoughts and did not finish. I had a range of thoughts and emotions with this election as it was charged with fervor on both sides. Sadly, it pitted a lot of christians against one another and resulted in the opposite of Jesus' prayer in John 17 (summary- "Father make them ONE as we are ONE").

John Ortberg, who is pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California wrote an outstanding article that I read on Out of Ur's website that expresses better than I could my feelings about the election. So here is a shortened version of John's words and my heart in an article titled "The seven deadly sins of evangelicals in politics".

Messianism. The sin of believing that a merely human person or system can usher in the eschaton. This is often tipped off by phrases like: “The most important election of our lifetime” (which one wasn’t?); or “God’s man for the hour.”

Selective Scripturization. The sin of using Scripture to reinforce whatever attitude toward the president you feel like holding, while shellacking it with a thin spiritual veneer. If the candidate you like holds office, you consistently point people toward Romans 13: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” If your candidate lost, you consistently point people to Acts 4:10 where Peter and John say to the Sanhedrin: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” It’s just lucky for us the Bible is such a big book.

Easy Believism. This is the sin of believing the worst about a candidate you disagree with, because when you want them to lose you actually want to believe bad things about them. “Love is patient, love is kind,” Paul said. “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth.” But in Paul’s day nobody ran for Caesar. There was no talk radio.

Episodism. The sin of being engaged in civic life only on a random basis. The real issues never go away, but we’re tempted to give them our attention only when the news about them is controversial, or simplistic, or emotionally charged. Sustained attention to vital but unsexy issues is not our strong suit.

Alarmism. A friend of mine used to work for an organization that claimed both Christian identity and a particular political orientation. They actually liked it when a president was elected of the opposite persuasion, because it meant they could raise a lot more money. It is in their financial interests to convince their constituents that the president is less sane than Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Alarmists on both sides of the spectrum make it sound like we’re electing a Bogeyman-in-Chief every four years. I sometimes think we should move the election up a few days to October 31.

One Issue-ism. Justifying our intolerance of complexity and nuance by collapsing a decision into a simplistic and superficial framework.

Pride. I couldn’t think of a snappy title for this one. But politics, after all, is largely about power. And power goes to the core of our issues of control and narcissism and need to be right and tendency to divide the human race into ‘us’ vs. ‘them.’

What might happen if the world were to see those of us who claim to be the church vote, and speak, and campaign, and respond to the results in a humble and repentant spirit?

Thank you John. May we learn some valuable lessons and move together as ONE.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Homeless in the Suburbs- my trip to Lazarus House

Last week I saw firsthand how homelessness is not just an inner-city issue. We have a small group (Life Group) from our church that meets in our home on Thursday nights. We are currently reading a book called The Revolution that highlights many of the global issues that affect our world. The book has many contributors and provides some scriptural guidance as well as some practical things that we can do to "right" some of the "wrongs" in our world. Our group concluded that we didn't just want to sit around talking about God, but experiencing him as we serve. We spend one week learning about a topic and then the next week actually doing something about it.

Our current topic is poverty. The week after reading through the chapter on poverty, our group brought urgently needed hats and gloves to the Lazarus House in St. Charles. Lazarus House is located about 5 minutes from our home in typical suburbia, west of Chicago. This is not an area where you would expect to find a lot of homeless people. And yet as we toured the house, Donna, the volunteer coordinator, shared with us that last month they had a record 78 people at the home. She also expects more as the economic downturn continues to snowball.

We were all very impressed with how they discourage short-term help but encourage a 1-2 year commitment to receive education, job training, counseling and financial assistance with the goal of transitioning to a healthy and stable lifestyle. The House is divided into two levels. The lower level is for the newcomers who are in need of immediate assistance. On this level the people all stay in one room with many bunk beds with separate rooms for families. The second level is used for those who have completed their training and are transitioning into the world.

As I looked at the bunk beds in the downstairs area, I was struck by the 2 laundry baskets on the beds. This represented their entire possession...2 laundry basket. It was hard to even comprehend. And Donna said that the number one issue people face when they come to Lazarus House is their low self esteem. Many feel ashamed and stunned that their life has come to this and they need loving, caring people to surround them.

Our Life Group has committed to a regular night where we will cook and serve the people and continue to monitor the urgent needs listed on their website. The night reminded me of a quote from Mother Teresa who was talking to people in the U.S. when she said...

"There is plenty to do right around you... don't fly to Calcutta. Open your eyes and get to work!"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. In case you didn't know, it is on November 11th because on the 11th hour of the 11th month of the 11th day of 1918, WW I officially ended. I am amazed that there are still veterans alive from this first world war. But in light of the election of our first African-American president, I thought that we should remember those who fought in the Civil War. The Civil War was America's bloodiest conflict with casualties of around 1,100,000 and 620,000 deaths. Here is some incredible footage of civil war veterans gathered at the 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

How Storytelling Moved a Nation

We are a story culture; I think we always have been. The Master Storyteller (that would be Jesus) knew this as the Bible tells us that "he only spoke in parables (stories)." People relate to them, they are persuaded by them and they are motivated by them.

Drew Westen, Ph.D., professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University wrote about how Obama was able to use the power of story to captivate a nation and win the Presidency. He writes:

And in the last few weeks of the campaign, Obama finally began to control the four stories that matter in an election:

1. the story you tell about your yourself (that he was the candidate of change, fleshing out what he meant by change);

2. the story you tell about your opponent (that McCain was four more years of Bush);

3. the story the other candidate is telling about himself (McCain the maverick, which Obama countered by citing McCain's proud proclamation that he had voted with Bush over 90 percent of the time and parrying, "That's not a maverick, that's a sidekick"); and

4. the story McCain was telling about Obama (that he lacked the experience and judgment to lead, which Obama countered with his steadiness in the face of the Wall Street meltdown and his strong, steady performances in the debates).

Elections are won by candidates who control those four stories and in so doing inspire the electorate and channel their fears (in this case, fears about the economy trumping all else).

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I Was There!


I bought a button that had those words on it as I made my way to downtown Chicago to witness history. I've always been a bit of a political nerd and I could not resist being this close and not taking it in.

I am out of town speaking to young people (on justice) for a couple of days, but when I return I will post my pics and blog about the experience. Many of you shared this with me on facebook (both Republican and Democrat friends...proud to have both).

Whatever our political persuasion, I couldn't help but stand in a crowd of incredible diversity and look into the teary eyed faces of African-Americans and not feel a sense of history unfolding before my eyes. Racism will not end because of this election, but it does reveal to us that America truly is the land of opportunity and true freedom. And it shows that we can overcome our past sins.

I leave us with this thought. Let all of us be reminded that true power is not in a party or a country or any one person, true power is in the hands of the Lord. Let's pray that those who are now in power lead with this humbling reality as their guide.

Monday, November 03, 2008

WWJD with Election 2008? (yes, I pulled out the WWJD)

Yes, the tired and worn out four letter question is asked again. A friend of mine just voted and asked me if he had done WWJD. It made me think a bit. I have tried hard to look at both sides in this election and try to allay fears and combat misinformation with truth. At the end of the day, I hope I was successful. But back to the question, What Would Jesus Do on election day?

First off, big surprise, I'm not Jesus. Now that I came clean with that one, here are some thoughts...

Jesus would pray.

No surprise here, but ask yourself this- "have I prayed about this election?" I have heard several pastors from the pulpit pray that God would have mercy on their country and let their guy win. But I'm thinking more along the lines of "Father, give me humility as I make this decision. Let me not vote out of tradition, manipulation, fear or selfish motivation. Your kingdom come, your will be done. Amen."

Jesus would vote.

And he would probably bring some friends along the way to share in the experience.

Jesus would rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Emotions have been running high with this election. Whoever loses, there will always be those who take it very hard and some who will be so distraught they will mention moving to Canada (or an undisclosed bunker). Jesus would most likely lighten the mood and graciously remind them of a much greater entity than the United States...the kingdom of God.

Jesus would go on living life just like he had before.

God is never taken by surprise and he doesn't need elections or democracies or countries to have his will be done. Jesus would not be shaken by the outcome of an election and he would continue his mission that God gave him from the beginning (see Luke 4).

Just some thoughts on election eve. Now don't ask, DO!

The United States of FEAR and MISINFORMATION

The one downside of our freewheeling, information society is how quickly fear and misinformation can spread. I have been amazed at the generous portions of both of these being dished up in this election. It's the one thing that unites us ALL.

But nothing like some humor to drive home this point and hopefully make us do something we really need to do...laugh!

note- facebook friends can see this video at my blog- markmiller.blogspot.com

Friday, October 31, 2008

CT- How to Pick a President

I have seen some very poor and very good arguments during this campaign for why people are voting the way that they are. Christianity Today, who I believe has tried to remain neutral and truthful in it's reporting, published an article late spring that laid out the main reason we should vote for a candidate- virtue. Here is an excerpt from the article's closing argument. I hope to add some thoughts before election time.

The issue is not that candidates have failures, but how they have dealt with those failures. For they are certain to have public failures while in office. If in private life they run from failure or cover it up or rationalize it, are they not likely to do the same in public life? The goal of seeking virtuous people for high office is not to find perfect people, but to find people with the greatest potential to provide, despite their acknowledged limitations (humility being a prudent quality in a leader), the kind of leadership a community needs to flourish. We are not looking for saints to lead us, but we should be looking for people trying to live virtuously and largely succeeding.

It matters little that people will not agree exactly on a list of key virtues. The question of what virtues are most important, and how they should be defined and expressed, should be a fruitful part of an ongoing discussion. But it matters greatly that such a discussion take place. Recent polls indicate a broad recognition that we have a virtue deficit in this country and in its leaders that makes budget deficits pale in importance.

When we are choosing someone to lead us, we do best to look for a "good human being." Such a person is not likely to be moralistic or pious or politically correct. But he or she needs to be virtuous. Because, over time, nations flourish only to the degree that their collective virtue sustains.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wired NextFest


I headed downtown via the train to catch Wired NextFest and it didn't disappoint. It was everything that I had hoped it would be- fun, informative, entertaining and inspirational. The creativity that was harnessed in the outdoor exhibition tent was palpable. From the interactive CG Dwayne Wade who commented on your shooting ability to the other end of the hall with the next generation People Movers, ingenuity was not in short supply. Curt and I played Pong with our fingers (he won), brain ball with...our brains (I won :-) and interacted with robots and computers all day long.

But the highlight of our time was the time spent with...humans. Yes, good old-fashioned communication with people as there were several of the inventors on hand to answer questions. And one person in particular was gracious with his time and inspirational with his words. He is Charles Greenwood, the inventor of the Human Car.

Charles has spent the last 4o years (since the year I was born) designing a car that could generate electricity simply by human power. And his dream is soon to become a reality with the Human Car, a car that can go up to 60mph powered by humans in a sort of "rowing" motion. Each passenger also can join in the fun, or just sit back and switch to all-electric power, your choice. Charles has been featured on CNN as well as Discovery Channel and Wired magazine to name a few.

But Charle's is much more than an entrepenuer out to make a buck. And it isn't about saving money from high gas prices. "When I started this project, gas was 32 cents. This wasn't about gas." He says that what fuels his passion is the human condition and what he calls "a broken infrastructure." He spoke with us at length about his desire to do something that lifts the human potential. This desire at first was from a purely humanistic view, but he later came to a crisis of faith knowing that there had to be something bigger fueling this passion. This led him to became an ordained minister. While our theology wouldn't match, our love for people and creativity was a perfect fit. Here are some of his thoughts...

On Ideas (after I mentioned the term "Big Idea":

"What we need are a lot of little ideas chaneled in one direction. For example, with the future of cars, we need all different types sharing information, brainstorming about lane sizes, regulations, technology etc."

On American Creativity:

"Some of the internationals who have come to visit my shop have asked themselves in my presence why their country is not as creative. I'm of Swiss decent and back in my home country there is a term that is common over there that means 'fit-in', or 'keep your head down and don't make waves.' I think in America there are number of factors that fuel our creativity. One of the best is humor, especially self-depracting humor. We laugh at ourselves and do not take ourselves too seriously. This allows us to take risks. And "different" is OK in America if it is connected to ingenuity."

He left us with quite a bit to think about. And if that was the goal of NextFest, then mission accomplished. Our heads were full of thoughtful, creative inspiration to fuel our next Big, I mean little idea that might just move us forward.

Bite-sized Proverb

Reading a Proverb a day has been a relatively consistent part of my routine. I will read a Proverb on the corresponding day (there are 31, how convenient) and then chew on one verse or two throughout the day. Starting a day with Godly wisdom is always a good idea. Here was the verse that stuck with me today ...
A tenderhearted person lives a blessed life;
a hardhearted person lives a hard life. (proverbs 28:14- the message)
my 2cents...

We live in an age of protection- from pollution, from crime, from terrorism, from STDs... from pain. We learn to build walls to protect, even around our hearts. A wall around the heart keeps everything out, the good and the bad leading to a lonely, shriveled up heart/life.

Stacey and I saw a funny movie on this very topic this past weekend called Ghosttown about a man (played by Ricky Gervais) who had been hurt so much in the past that he did not want to risk the pain again. The man lives a lonely, uncaring and unfeeling existence until something happens that opens a crack in the door of his heart. The result (spoiler alert) is that he not only allows love into his heart, but he then opens his life to love others.

And that sums up this Proverb- when we are loved and love others, we're blessed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pruney Hands


No these are not the hands of my great, great grandmother. They are of my 6 year old after some serious bath-fun. She's normally pruney after a bath, but this time she was beyond pruney.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Franciscan Benediction

I just stumbled across this again and felt it was worth repeating.


May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God’s creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbors who are poor.

Amen.

40









Stacey was in top form on planning a party that was exactly what I had hoped for- a casual event with lifelong friends and family with some of my favorite foods (La Rosa's Pizza, Graeter's ice cream and my mom's delicious cakes).

There was a time of "honoring" that was as much a roast as anything. I loved every minute of it. Although, when you hear those stories about what you did as a child, it makes you wonder "what was I thinking?"

Stacey got the ball rolling with her self-proclaimed "deep thoughts" as only she can write. Here's a sample of her strong closing...

You’re the coordinates in my GPS…the music on my iPod…my life-long facebook status update. In other words: Let’s do this for at least another 40 years.

To the man who laughs at most of my jokes…keeps all of my secrets…and thinks I’ve got the best singing voice on the planet.

From the woman who laughs at most of your jokes…keeps all of your secrets…and can’t wait to see your handsome self bald (if such a day arises).

I love you with my whole heart…forever and ever.

Stace
Wow! That started the "sharing" time and then it was all downhill from there. Actually, it was all very fun and even a bit enlightening. And it was a humbling to have so many of the people who have shaped my life in the same room. I shared with them (and I say this to those reading this blog who have impacted me), thank you all for being an important part of my story and for sharing your story with me. I have no idea what the next 40 years holds, but the older I get the more I realize that it is the relationships that matter most.

And to have an amazing wife who loves me deeply, incredible children who daily bring me joy and new lenses to view the world, wonderful family and friends who love me and keep me tethered to what is important and God who makes all of it happen, makes me one blessed, 40 year-old man!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

DID YOU KNOW?

YOU PROBABLY MISSED THIS ONE. YESTERDAY WAS THE INTERNATIONAL "CAPS LOCK KEY" DAY. YOU KNOW, THE KEY THAT MAKES EVERYONE THINK THAT YOU ARE SCREAMING AT THEM?

WHILE ONE OF THE MORE USELESS KEYS ON OUR KEYBOARD, SOMEONE WAS KIND ENOUGH TO GIVE IT AN OFFICAL DAY.

thanks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Race" to the finish

It seems that race is now beginning to be talked about more on the campaign trail. We are living in an age of tension between the ugly side of racism and the beauty of racial barriers and stereotypes being broken. I loved David Andersen's talk a few years ago about the beauty of diversity looking at Acts 2 and how all of the different tribes were speaking different languages and yet unified because they were all declaring the wonders of God.

2 stories recently show both sides of race as the campaign winds down.

Ugly election incidents show lingering U.S. racism

Surging Obama campaign suggests US racism on the wane

Which article is right? Probably both. Let's pray that whatever the outcome of the election, that the church continues to function in it's unofficial cabinet position of the minister of reconciliation.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Election Roast 2008

Now here are a couple of clips from the Al Smith Dinner where we finally see some humor from both sides. Enjoy, it will be the last moment of levity until election time.



This is Your Brain on D...igital


Ever wonder if your lack of memory is from the fact that you are getting older or because we live in such a fast-paced world? How about, are people not as good at social skills like listening? What about attention spans? And have you had the thought that maybe all of that time spent on a computer, or looking at screen after screen of information might be having some sort profound but unknown affect on our lives?

As a pastor, I have wondered about this a lot. It seems that the more we get into the digital era the more I see changes in behaviors and even to some extent belief systems, or how we come to believe something.

Newsweek has a story on this called "Are You a 'Digital Native?'" that is somewhat inconclusive but highlights a study by UCLA that is beginning to shed some light on where our brains might be headed.



And long before the digital era were these words...

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Unbeatable- My friend's new book about her struggle with cancer

While I was in Cleveland last week, my friend Laurie Frey and her husband Don came to hear me speak at Oak River church. At the end of the service, she hands me a signed copy of her just released book called Unbeatable. The book is a VERY honest look into her struggle with stage-3A invasive breast cancer.

Laurie wrote the book after the musical she created of the same name opened in Arizona and Houston. Unbeatable, the musical, is a story of Laurie's yearlong struggle with breast cancer but also a look into her fix-it, control everything personality that affects not just her outlook on the cancer but her relationships as well.

The book takes the story a step further and delves deeper into her issues during her struggle. It really zeroes in on her relationship with Don and her faith. I love how the book has a journal feel to it and how Don responds in his own words about what he was feeling at the time.

I was on staff at NewSong in Cleveland at the time and I turn up in the musical and in the book. I can still remember the day, 5 years ago from last month when Laurie told me that she had cancer. It hit me hard and I instantly felt God-sized compassion. It is interesting to see the events and our interactions through Laurie's eyes in the musical book. She writes about it beginning on page 28. This is right after she got off of the phone with her doctor who told her that she has cancer.

So who could I tell? I had to tell someone. I was heading in the general direction of the church office. Good. That'll do. Mark. Mark was the executive pastor.

We had been friends since he moved to Cleveland, and Don and I served as leaders for the youth group with him and his wife, Stacey. Mark's encouraging. He laughs a lot, he's athletic (I really didn't tell her to put that in), he's a "team" guy and he's encouraging. He's got to be in. He's got to. He is.

"Hey Laurie, what's up? Did I forget a meeting?" He was smiling. Of course he was smiling.

"No, I have breast cancer." Just like that. No plan. No clever phrasing. Right out of the mouth.

Now it was Mark's turn to be frozen in time. I was right there with him. His eyes staring into mine, concern flooding to the edges, mouth open a little.

"Wow." He paused. How long? A second?"... "When did you find out?"

"I just got a call while I was driving. I had a needle biopsy, and the tumor was as hard as a rock, so I thought there was a chance I had cancer. But you just never really think it could be possible."

I remember smiling. Smiling. And there it was. The first tear. Mark hugged me. Not a pastor hug. A brother hug. A truly human hug of another human being.

More moments passed, and I started to pull away, wiping my eyes. His hand was on my shoulder, and he began to pray, "Father God, You know everything that Laurie is facing right now. She needs You. I ask that Your arms come and wrap around her as You comfort her and guide her."

I know he kept praying, but I couldn't remember the words to save my life. I do know that when he was done, I could breathe. I remember breathing.

If you know someone who has gone through cancer (and who doesn't), this is an excellent look inside the world of someone who has been there. Cancer is a devastating disease, but there are stories of amazing inspiration from those who have fought against it. Unbeatable is one of those stories.

And since this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here are some links about unbeatable and how we can beat back cancer.

Unbeatable- the whole story- amazon.com


Unbeatable- the musical

Livestrong- Lance Armstrong Foundation

Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation

Monday, October 13, 2008

Miller Time...out

The schedule has been a little crazy. Will catch up on the blog this week.

But to make it up to you, I have a little gift, actually a re-gift from my brother-in-law. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Our Growing Debt


This is a blurb from an NPR story. The above image was taken just before the numbers grew too large.

It's official, the national debt clock has run out of numbers. The giant sign in New York City changes constantly as the federal debt increases. It was put up years ago by a real estate developer horrified that the debt was approaching $3 trillion. Some years ago, the clock stopped when the U.S. started running a surplus. But now it's running again, and when the debt struck $10 trillion recently, the owners had to improvise an extra number one.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What Would Jesus Say?

The last couple of weeks have shown us what a mixture of greed, fear and panic can do to the world. I was watching CNN at lunch as a famous psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz said that now is the time for everyone to take a step back and reprioritize their lives and ask questions like "what is really important to me?" and "can I live on less?".

The Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune had a front page article about how happiness is not dependent on wealth. It went on to give suggestions on how to have "psychological wealth." They were-
  1. Invest in relationships
  2. Take care of your physical and mental health
  3. Embrace spirituality (connect with something bigger than yourself)
  4. Be engaged (in what you do or find something to fully engage in)
  5. Adjust your attitude (it's not about the benjamins)
Great advice, and not really new. It made me wonder "what would Jesus say?" As I have been reflecting on this financial crisis and studied for a couple of messages I've given, I have turned my focus to Jesus' famous sermon on the mount in Matthew 6. It gives us timeless truth about taking a temporal versus eternal perspective on our possessions.

After Jesus teaches us how to pray, he turns to money and anxiety. Cliffnotes on what he says-
  1. "Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (vs. 20- it's the best return on investment and you can't take money with you)
  2. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (vs. 21- He knows that our weakness is consumption which will not last and will wear away at the soul)
  3. "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (vs. 22-23- how we view "things" is important. Do we see them as blessings from God to bless others with or more stuff that we need. The former gives light to us, the latter shuts it out causing an eclipse in our hearts.)
  4. "You cannot serve both God and Money." (vs. 24- In God we trust? Or is our trust in our bank account?
  5. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear...Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life" (vs. 26,27- worry does a body BAD and it reveals our lack of trust in God)
  6. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (vs. 33- it's all his in the first place, we're just taking care of it)
Ancient wisdom for modern living...now this is how to live The Good Life even when times are bad!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Rich Young Ruler

I am speaking tomorrow on consumption as we are in a series called "The Good Life". A few weeks ago Stacey, Raegan and I heard the song "Rich Young Ruler" live by Derek Webb and we can't get it out of our heads. It's been out a while, but with all that is going on in the financial markets, it just hit me fresh. I don't think he has a video on the song, but here is a video someone put together and posted on youtube.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chicken Soup for the Market

I was in the Cleveland airport yesterday when I checked my phone and saw the news that the bailout had failed and that the Dow had plummeted 777 points, its biggest one day points drop ever. It appeared that ALL stocks were facing the bear. But I learned today that on the S&P 500 (a stock market index made up of 500 large, widely traded stocks), 499 of the companies traded lower. There was 1 lonely stock that gained anything that day...

You guessed it, Campbell's Soup.

It reflects the state of Americans these days- sick. And mom knows that when you're feeling sick, it's time for chicken soup for the weary soul.

So my advice, at least until a deal is hammered out and the market gains some stability...

STOCK up on Campbell's.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Happy Google Birthday

So google turns 10 today. It's hard to remember what life was like before google. The internet was young and yes, there were search engines, but nothing so fast and so "on-the-money" with what I was looking for like google. It took me all of a day to switch my altavista allegiance to google as I was amazed and the speed and accuracy of the new site. Not to mention the "feeling lucky" button that was like some sort of mysterious role of the dice.

I have often wondered what affect google has had on our culture and subcultures. Take the church culture. You can google the meaning of life, any sermon from just about anywhere, blogs, wikipedia, youtube videos, all giving you spiritual information that 10 years ago would mean a trip to the library and a LOT of work. Now, it is all "just a click away". How does that change the way sermons are communicated? Or teaching about God? Spiritual formation? Does it confuse people to search and find so much information? Or does it help them on their spiritual journey?

And the same type of questions can be applied across the spectrum from politics to sports to education to finance to family, friend and dating connections etc. The only thing we know for sure is that life was a LOT different before Larry Page and Sergey Brin started their search page with a funny name 3650 days ago. Happy birthday google.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Am I in the Fastest city AND the most Stressful city?

So according to Fast Company magazine, the fastest city (which is their way of saying "coolest" city) in America is... Chicago.

And according to Forbes magazine, the most stressful city (no explanation needed) in America is... Chicago.

I guess that with fastness comes stress.

All of a sudden I feel my heart racing... /\__/\__/\/\/\/\/\_____




note- To be fair, I am in the chicagoland burbs...so I'm a bit removed from the urban jungle.

Palin to Meet World Leaders, Bono


This is the headline from abcnews.com and a variety of other news sites. World leaders AND Bono! They don't even mention the world leader's names or countries. Has there ever been an entertainer with more political influence than Bono? Not in my lifetime. Politicians all make their pilgrimage to see him for their pre-election photo op. Maybe U2 becomes the official band of the U.N. or the world...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Good thought for the day

My post yesterday seemed a little gloomy. So how do I sleep at night with such thoughts? It's all about perspective. I read these verses this morning from Psalm 46 and it was a great reminder...

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Selah (pause and think about it)


Monday, September 22, 2008

Social Networking and the Demise of Western Society as we Know it

So I am watching oil jump $25 a barrel today AND watching the market tumble again AND hearing that our deficit is going to soar to $15,000,000,000,000 because of these bailouts AND THEN I hear about the gas shortage in the eastern US and how there was a "run" on the gas stations. How does the last one relate?

It makes me wonder if our current financial crisis might be worsened by how interconnected we are. Here is my not so rosy scenario. Much like what happened to United Airlines when some website published an old story that said they were filing for bankruptcy (just a couple of weeks ago) and their stock plummetted, what if there is some misinformation that hits a website- something about banks failing, your money isn't safe etc...This then is texted, instant messaged, facebooked, emailed etc. instantly to family and "friends" everywhere. Then the financial "run" begins. Last one to the bank is a rotten egg.

My comments are not really about the likelihood of this happening, but more about how our interconnectivity (which I enjoy) could also hasten the anxiety, paranoia and even panic that could have a chilling effect. I was talking with a friend of mine in the marketing industry who says that they can tell simply by internet chatter what is happening in the world. There are waves of conversation that you can digitally view by plugging into search engines (or big brother). They say that there are spikes in the conversations where they can tell something happened and that people responded in turn. So, we act in waves, based on circumstances. The waves can be positive or negative. My friend tries to harness these digital waves to raise awareness for good causes. These same waves could be used to spur panic.

My hope (I am an optimist) is that there will be enough level-headed and good natured people to speak truth and hope to counteract fear and panic. And that's really how it is with any tool or communication device etc., they're only as good and/or bad as the ones using them.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My ESPN Moment


So this weekend I will be officiating a wedding of two good friends from my Cleveland days. The groom works for ESPN and decided to have some fun with what he calls a "screen shot". I spoke to them about how they can't blow my average on marriages, I'm batting 1.000. Of course that was a playful way of saying "I'm not kidding around when I have you repeat your vows".

So here is the graphic he came up with.

PS- the sermons stat was his idea

Friday, September 19, 2008

Storytelling and the Election

Storytelling has been a big part of the election campaign so far. For all of the talk about tax cuts, the war and health care, personal stories have played as big of a part as policies. Here are a few sentences from some stories on the trail...

"And with his sandal on the dirt in the courtyard, he drew a cross. And he stood there, and a minute later he rubbed it out and walked away. For a minute there, there was just two Christians worshiping together. I'll never forget that moment."

"Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story -- of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren't well off or well known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to."

"My mom and dad both worked at the elementary school in our small town. And among the many things I owe them is one simple lesson: that this is America, and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity."
Personal stories humanize the candidates. It takes them from talking heads to real people who have real families, real problems. And with an emerging generation that resonates more with hollywood than politics, stories more than ever speak the language of culture. In settings where the candidates get to go beyond a sound bite, like the conventions or the faith forum, they have a chance to connect on a much more intimate, relevant level.

The LA Times did a nice piece on the story factor in the election called...

In Campaign 2008, the story's the thing

.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Palin and Pentecostals

A few weeks back I noticed a status update from one of my facebook "friends". It was from George Wood who is the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God. In an effort to stay connected with the emerging generation, he solicited friends on facebook who had roots in this tradition. His status said that "George is back in the USA, and excited that Sarah Palin, who attends an AG church in Alaska, has been selected to run as VP. Congratulations!" which was partially right. This was August 30th, and I knew at that time that this would mean a media magnifying glass would be aimed at the AG.

And good or bad, the AG has never received so much national press. The first of many stories had Governor Palin quickly making it clear that she no longer attends an AG church. Several network shows pulled out their stock footage of people speaking in tongues (not sure why any church would let tv cameras in to video this- it just looks weird and is an invasion of privacy), people waving banners around while they do the holy ghost hop to some old time religion music and then of course you have to see the token bodies hitting the floor after the tv preacher gives them the forehead slap. NPR interviewed my friend Margaret Poloma from Akron U about whether we should be worried about Pentecostals' end-time views and Palin's ability to lead this country, to which she replied that "yes, there is cause to worry." Even Christianity Today had a home page link to a story, All You Need to Know About Pentecostals. I'm waiting for someone at a town forum to ask her what her policy on snake handling is.

While I am the first to admit that Pentecostals and the AG have many issues that need to be addressed, I find myself defensive of the movement that I grew up in. When you remove the critical stereotypes, you find a movement of people who believe that God is not a distant force, but as close as a prayer. You find people who desire more of God through his holy presence. They want to experience God in every way possible. And you find people dedicated to the great commission, a cause bigger than themselves (estimates have 500 million people worldwide who identify with Penteocostals/Charismatics- with potential of 1 billion by the middle part of the century). And with the AG, there is a belief in the sovereignty of the local church which means that every church is unique. While some churches handle snakes, some wave banners, some stir up revival fires etc., many do not. In fact, many are shocked to see how they are depicted on television.

But this political climate has had this effect on faith in general; it has brought out the best and the worst. Rick Warren's faith forum was an example of showing faith in a positive light. Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee, misinformation about Obama's religious backgrounds and George W. Bush's unpopularity (while being cozy with evangelicals) are examples of showing faith in a negative light. And since Palin is such an unknown, Pentecostals have been caught in the jetwash of scrutiny.

The magnifying glass will soon be removed and what's left will be a continued tension between the media and people of faith. Maybe that's the truest "status update" of all.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Football Fantasy

I like football. To me it's just a feeling I get every fall that is hard to describe. Going home after church on Sunday, you eat a bite, then retire to the couch and hopefully see a good game.

I have many football memories...
  • Going with my dad to the freezer bowl in 1982 where it was -55 degrees below zero to watch the Bengals advance in the playoffs (something that will probably not happen again in my lifetime...the Bengals in the playoffs I mean)
  • Watching Montana twice crush our dreams, once with 34 seconds left...I had my heart ripped out from San Francisco (would make a great song)
  • Moving to Cleveland and watching with delight as the hated Browns had to leave the city, only to later root for the lowly Browns who had a fresh start with new owners. note-still root for the Bengals if they play head-to-head.
  • Moving to Chicago just in time to cheer them in the superbowl.
And my final memory is being "forced" to join a fantasy football league as a prerequisite for me joining the Life Church staff. I like the game, just not that much. I don't check the stats on my cell phone. I don't pour over the waiver wire. I don't have every game beamed to me simultaneously so I can keep up with my players. And I will never root against my team even if it means my player will do poorly.

No, I set my roster once a week, tweak it maybe here or there, then grab my spot on the couch and watch my game while my little ones climb all over me. And at the end of the season, I'll take my ribbings for being the last place team again. And it's ok, cause it's just football, and I like it...just not that much.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Praying Against the AIDS Pandemic

Last night I had the privilege of being asked to introduce the Prayer and Worship night and Princess Zulu which capped off a week of World Vision's AIDS Experience here in the western suburbs. Below is my intro.

Tonight we are coming together from many different traditions around some simple truths- that there is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

We are one body staring in the face of one great human tragedy, the pandemic of AIDS that has devastated our neighbors across this globe of ours.

The numbers are staggering- 8,000 people die every day because of AIDS. AIDS has created 15 million orphans worldwide, 11 million in Africa alone.

But the good news is that we are called to one hope and that is what this gathering is about…hope.

Tonight we stand united in prayer that God will intervene on behalf of those struggling with this disease. That he will awaken the church to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who scripture tells us was moved with compassion to bring a touch and healing to the hurting, the afflicted, the outcast.

Tonight we stand united in worship to sing praise to our sovereign God of compassion, love, mercy and justice. We worship him knowing that he alone can bring change and healing to this world as we are simply instruments of his peace.

Tonight we stand united to not simply come to a feel good service or an experience that breaks our hearts. But we stand united to develop compassion permanence that will move us to action to make a tangible and lasting difference in the battle against AIDS.

And we have with us a woman that knows all too well about the tragedy of the AIDS pandemic. Princess Kasune Zulu has not simply watched this tragedy unfold in her native country of Zambia, she has been personally touched when she was orphaned as a result of AIDS and finding out that she too is HIV positive. Her life now is committed to do everything she can to fight the disease.

Because of her tireless efforts, she now speaks around the world to encourage people to make a difference for children and families affected by the virus. She has taken her message to the United Nations, international AIDS conferences, the national political conventions, to President George Bush and other global leaders.

Her story is powerful and her message is clear, we must all do something to turn the tide.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

7 years- still fresh

Stacey and I were reflecting this morning about the phone call I made to her 7 years ago. I had arrived at the office in Cleveland Heights and Andrea Mitchell, who was our Administrative Assistant at the time, said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I told her to turn on the radio and then I called Stacey to see if she could check the cable news for any information.

What a beautiful morning it was. Cool, crisp and clear. I checked my email and was preparing my to do list for the day when Andrea said that there had been a second crash into the building. At that moment, everything stopped. We knew- everyone knew. This was not good. Later that day my mother and father-in-law would take a walk and watch Flight 93 do a major 180 degree turn in the Cleveland sky. There was a nervous tension about everything and so many unanswered questions. What was this attack about? Who was behind it? How many people were in the buildings? How big was this attack? Should we get Raegan out of school? Should I stay at the office or go where I wanted to go-home?

The answers to these questions would slowly unfold over the next several minutes, hours, weeks and years. And so now we look back 7 years ago...7 years! Osama is still out there. A man with a name that rhymes with Osama is looking like he will be President. We've invaded two countries, set up secret prisons around the world, been embarrassed by Abu-ghraib. And we've had no other major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Iran is now a serious new threat. Oil is the other serious threat. A lot has changed and unchanged in 7 years, some lessons learned, many not.

But for now, we simply take a moment and reflect on that one blue-skied morning 7 years ago when the world as we know it changed forever.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Serenity Prayer for a Wired addiction

OK, so maybe I'm not an addict...wait a minute, that's just what addicts say. I need help...

Actually, I decided to power WAY down on internet time this past week or so. I was simply feeling a little too Wired. So, I took time off of facebook and didn't post a status update. And I decided to only post one blog for the week.

What would happen? Would I have curious people wondering what I was doing at that specific moment but unable to find out? Would some feel slighted that I didn't comment on their just posted picture of their creepy Uncle Festus? Would I be inundated with people asking for me to turn my status back on, to just eek out a word or two on my blog to get through another day? Would time as we know it stop?

No, no, no and no... I did receive a wallpost from a friend on facebook wondering if I was OK since I hadn't posted a status update. And that was pretty much it.

It seems that time actually continued to move forward, the earth continued to spin on it's axis and my facebook friends and blog reader(s) didn't skip a beat. And I actually felt a little more productive and fully engaged in other areas. Imagine that. So, if you are one of those people who feel a bit too wired right now, turn off your computer...it's ok...you can do it, and now do something unplugged, unwired and unpredictable. The internet will still be there when you turn your computer back on and the world will continue to spin while your off. And in the meantime, say this prayer...

God grant me the serenity
to accept that the world will still function if I go offline;
the courage to shut down my computer;
and the wisdom to know the difference between an internet "friend" and a real one.


Amen!

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Facebook Election

When George W. Bush won reelection in 2004, facebook was only in it's infancy and available exclusively to Ivy league campuses. Oh what a difference four years can make. In April of this year, Facebook took over the top spot of social networking websites, knocking MySpace from it's throne. The latest figures lists facebook with 132 million unique users and is growing at a blistering 150% clip annually.

Facebook has changed the definition of a "friend" and has been a conversation catalyst for unlikely connections. The water cooler is no longer just down the hall, it's now easily around the globe. And a Presidential election has never seen the likes of this social networking phenomenon. People are "superpoking" each other by "throwing an Obama". Many are publicly declaring their voting preference for the world to see by displaying "Mccain" flair (a fake button you can place on your home page)or joining a group that supports one of the candidates.

And I have to wonder how this new commmunication frontier will effect the election. Obviously the different campaigns will do all that they can to exploit these sites. But what does it mean for the average facebook user. Will they be more informed? Will they have some of their assumptions challenged? Will they become shocked to find out who their friends are supporting or leaning towards?

What I have observed is that there are many of the same polarizing arguments and talking points with quicker comebacks thanks to google. And while the dialogue and arguments may still be similar to the past, the ability to join a conversation and engage in a spirited dialogue has never been better. Things are only getting heated up in this first Facebook Election and I'm looking forward to observing it...and throwing an occasional Palin.

Monday, September 01, 2008

My New Orleans Memories


It was a year ago that a group of us made the trek straight south from Chicago to New Orleans to work with the Mennonite Disaster Services, an impressive organization targeting long-term disaster relief (a huge need). Their motto is "responding, rebuilding, restoring."

We were assigned to build a home for a pastor (Charlie) who lost everything in Katrina and Rita. It was in a fishing area on the peninsula.

As we approached New Orleans, you could tell that a lot of new construction had been done and on the surface things looked OK. Then we exited the highway ramp and moved into the neighborhoods and we began to see that all was not OK in the Big Easy. Entire blocks were simply gone or had a few dilapidated houses with the signature numbers on them. It was an eerie feeling as you drove through these ghost town that were now overgrown with weeds and dirt with potholes that were literally craters. I counted over 30 blocks of this...it was mind-blowing, something out of an apocalyptic movie.

We talked with one man who cried as he remembered the fear that he felt during that season. He decided to stay after Katrina to help people rebuild, but it took it's toll. He spoke of still having nightmares and fearing every rain storm. The anxiety was high then as I'm sure it is now.

Many ask the question "why should we keep building in an area that is at or below sea level?" I ask the same question, but I met one man who gave me a bit of perspective. He was quite the character with a quick wit and a thick New Orleans accent. He said that he had suffered from a bad bout of depression since Katrina and that Pastor Charlie had help to pull him through. He also said that his roots go back to French descendants who settled in the area some 400 years. He said, "I have a relationship with this land that most people don't understand. And to move would be more than just a simple relocation. It would be asking me to divorce this place that is all that I have ever known. It's all that my family for generations has known. And then he proceeded to name off his descendants going all the way back to the Frenchmen." He shared his story with tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat.

It didn't clear up my doubts, but it helped me to understand the people of New Orleans and how hard it is for them to give up on something so dear to them.

Please pray for Charlie and his new home that was meticulously built to hurricane standards with loving hands from Christian brothers and sisters from all over world (literally). And please pray for the people of New Orleans that they would be safe and protected from Gustav's fury.

UPDATE- Obviously Gustav was not Katrina. Thank God for sparing this region more heartbreak.