Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bible Reading 2007, Week 40

The year is 3/4th of the way through! We are entering the final quarter.

This week's Bible readings are in Ezekiel 33-39; Matthew; and Psalms 21 and 22. We enter a new theme in our readings: The Messiah Comes.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sermon: River of Life

(Click HERE for MP3 audio of today's sermon.)

Today's sermon concludes our look into John chapter 7. I focus on verses 37-39 where Jesus announces to the crowd at the temple during the Festival of Shelters that he can give living water to everyone who believes.

There is no children's story today because the whole sermon, or at least 95% of it, is a story. It's a story of an imaginary Jonathan who is attending this feast at the time of John 7. We explore some of the Old Testament passages that the festival-goers would have associated with the festival, and their longings triggered by the prophecies.

The sermon explores some of the ceremonies and events that would have occurred, and how that brings into even greater focus and importance what Jesus said in John 7:37-39.

I conclude with why the theme of the River of Life is so important and applicable to 21st century followers of Christ, today and here.

(Ir)Religious comic blog

If you're looking for a regular dose of humor (or is it humour...?) with religion thrown in, you might check out The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus. (If you don't know what "ASBO" stands for -- I didn't, it's a British acronym -- you'll need to look at the About + Comments link.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Harvest Moon 2007

We are in the middle of our autumn season. For the last couple of weeks, it's been mostly rain, quite heavy at times, like today. It's also been breezy and windy on some days, such as today.

But once in a while, the clouds break and the sky shows through... like today. Early evening, I noticed that the rain had stopped and there was even blue sky to be seen.

Tonight, as I was preparing to go upstairs to go to bed, I looked out the window and saw that the sky was quite bright. I took a longer and more careful look and realized that the moon was full (or nearly so) and visible.

(Full moon is supposed to be tomorrow, but does it count if what I saw was just 2 hours from tomorrow? Even the site that I checked to see if it was full or not says that the phase is 100%, even though actual full is considered to occur tomorrow. Perhaps because our time zone is so far west...?)

I quickly gathered up my camera and a tripod and proceeded to make a few images. The contrast of the bright moon against the dark trees made it difficult to see exactly how the framing was going. Most of the images weren't much to behold, but the following two were interesting enough to keep.


Experimental dinner

Last night I served two experiments for dinner.

The first was a potato dish. I wanted something other than baked potatoes, fried potatoes, a cheese and cream (or milk) potato gratin, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato soup -- you know, the usual dishes that come to mind when thinking about potatoes.

I did a search for potato recipes. Guess what? They were all variations of the above. I browsed a few of them, but none were quite what called out to me. I gathered a few tidbits of inspiration from some of them and set out to put together an improvisation -- an experiment.

What I came up with is what I might title, Herbed Mushroom and Potato Gratin. The recipe follows.

The other experiment, I put together the night before. Pears are on sale this week, so there are quite a few lying around with plans to purchase more before they go off sale. About a week ago, a bottle of pear vinegar was on clearance so I bought it. The back had a recipe, but I wasn't about to purchase two more bottles at $7 each.

Taking inspiration from the recipe, I fashioned something different using apple cider vinegar. This recipe also follows.

Herbed Mushroom and Potato Gratin

Serves: 6-8
Active prep and cook time: 25-30 minutes
Total cook time: 75-90 minutes

  • 1 tbsp. + 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced or crushed
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup wine (optional)
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp. salt (more if using unsalted stock)
  • 2 lb. potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • 1 or 2 large tomatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • Dried basil leaves
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Asiago or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. cracked or coarsely ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Thoroughly oil a 13x9 baking dish with 1 tbsp. oil. Using mortar and pestle, thoroughly grind rosemary and thyme.
  2. Heat 3 tbsp. oil in a medium saucepan or frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add and fry garlic for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add onions and continue to fry until the onions begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add crushed rosemary and thyme and fry for a few seconds.
  3. Add mushrooms and continue to stir and fry for a couple of minutes. Add wine, if using, and fry until liquid is reduced. Add stock and salt, bring to boil, and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off heat when done.
  4. While the mushrooms are simmering, assemble the potatoes. Lay a layer of potatoes in the baking dish, then sprinkle with cheese. Repeat layers until all the potatoes slices are used.
  5. Pour mushroom mixture over assembled potatoes, spreading the mixture out evenly with a spoon. Arrange tomato slices on top. Sprinkle basil leaves over the tomatoes. Grate (medium size) Asiago cheese over the top.
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 20-25 minutes, or until potatoes are tender all the way through.
  7. Top the gratin with parsley and black pepper.

Pears in Spiced Vinegar Syrup

Serves: 4
Active prep and cook time: 10-15 minutes
Total cook time: 40-50 minutes

  • 2 or 3 bartlett pears
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 6 or so fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp. corn starch
  • 3 tbsp. cold water
  • Fresh mint leaves (optional)
  1. Core and slice each pear into 6 or 8 slices.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine and heat cider vinegar, mint leaves, cloves, nutmeg, cayenne, sugar, and honey over medium heat. When well combined and all the sugar is dissolved, add the pears. Add enough water to mostly cover all pear slices. Increase heat and bring to boil, then lower heat to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. With a slotted spoon, carefully take out pear slices, taking care to keep slices intact. Remove and discard mint leaves in the syrup.
  4. Increase heat to bring liquid to boil. Boil until liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup. In 3 tbsp. cold water, dissolve corn starch. Add mixture to syrup, stir constantly, and continue to boil for another 30 seconds or until syrup thickens. Take off heat.
  5. Arrange pear slices on a plate and pour syrup over them. Garnish with fresh mint leaves, if desired.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sermon: For Life

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

The sermon yesterday was based on John 7:14-24 and Matthew 25:31-40. The passage in John 7 is where Jesus is once again confronted by the religious leaders about his credentials and once again and the issue of what Sabbath is really about comes up. The passage in Matthew 25 is where Jesus tells his disciples what it really means to obey him.

This sermon explores what the above passages reveal about the theme of life and death as it relates to obeying God's laws.

Bible Reading 2007, Week 39

This week's readings are in Ezekiel 25-32; and Psalms 56, 57, 63, and 64.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Children's Story: Rules vs. Principles

This was one of the less successful stories/sermons that I've done. It didn't help that the only kids present were ours. And Amy drew a blank when I asked her the questions in the outline below. I suppose it's a positive thing that they don't consider as rules the guidelines and requirements we've asked them to follow. If they feel generally free and without restrictions in their daily lives, then I suppose we, as parents, are dong something right. On the other hand, it failed miserably in meeting my children participation expectations today.

Anyway, here's the outline that I used. Maybe someone else seeing this will be able to change and adapt the ideas and have better results in their use.

  • How many of you live with rules?
    • What are some of them?
      • Are rules good or bad?
  • What about a rule for most preschoolers, "Don't touch the stove?"
    • Is this a good rule?
      • Discuss… (when, why)
    • Is it a good rule for adults?
      • What is the principle behind the rule?
  • What about, "Don't run into the street?"
    • Is this a good rule?
      • Discuss… (when, why)
      • Is there any time when you might need to run into the street?
    • What is the principle?
  • What about a sign that reads, "Don't go beyond the barriers?"
    • Is this a good rule?
      • Discuss… (when, why)
      • What if a small child starts to run past the barriers?
    • What is the principle?
  • What about a speed limit sign? (E.g., 50 mph)
    • Is this a good rule?
      • Discuss… (when, why)
      • What if it's the middle of winter and the road is covered with ice?
    • What is the principle? (Basic speed rule)
  • What are some purposes of rules?
    • (To help explain the meaning of principles.)
    • (To apply principles in a specific setting.)
    • (To give us knowledge to help keep ourselves safe.)
  • Do rules themselves protect us?
    • (Actually, no. They often point us to where there is danger.)
    • (Only obeying the rules can protect us.)
  • As we've learned, rules can be good, but they have limits.
    • When rules are applied outside of the settings where they were made, they often don't make sense.
      • E.g., speed limit sign when conditions are bad.
      • Some people use rules to excuse actions that they know is bad.
    • Sometimes, you might be told to obey two or more rules that go against one another.
      • E.g., saving a child's life vs. staying within the boundaries.
      • Some people use rules to excuse themselves from obeying a more important principle.
    • Some rules go away once you've learned the bigger principles behind the rules.
  • Back in Jesus' time, there were people who believed that the most important thing was to obey God's rules.
    • They thought that God's rules would make the world a great place for them.
    • Because they wanted to make sure that they obeyed God's rules perfectly, for every one of God's rules, they might create ten new rules to help explain the one.
    • And then for each of the ten, they might create ten more rules to help explain all the situations that hadn't been properly covered by the earlier rule.
    • The rules, instead of making the world a better place, made it miserable for most people.
    • The teachers of the rules knew they were right and everyone else was wrong.
    • They were out to catch anyone caught breaking a rule.
    • Most people thought that if God was all about a bunch of rules, and if God was like the teachers waiting to catch them break rules, they didn't want to have anything to do with that kind of God.
  • It's not that much different today.
    • There are people who think that if everyone were made to obey all of God's rules, the world would be a much better place.
    • The Bible tells us what happened when people made rules the most important thing. (We call that an idol.)
    • Even when the rules are God's, when made the most important thing, the world turns into a miserable place.
    • The world ends up being a place where one group of people says they're right and everyone else is wrong.
    • The world ends up being a place where everyone is looking at each other to see if someone might slip up and break a rule.
  • Jesus taught the people, and us, something different.
    • Jesus taught that what God wants isn't blind obedience to rules.
    • What God wants is for people to love one another, to help people who need help, and to be of service to others.
    • In Matthew 25, Jesus told a story of what is going to happen when he comes back to earth.
    • Read vv. 31-40.
    • The principle behind all of God's rules comes down to just one word: love.
    • By doing the loving thing for other people, we are really loving God and really obeying all of his rules.

A benefit auction and an appointment

I had heard about the auction, but hadn't really planned to attend since I don't know the person. All I know is that he had been deteriorating in health and will be needing surgery soon, and the funds go towards the operation and travel.

The people we were with this afternoon were going, and persuaded the girls and me to go. Elise could not because she was working for someone who wanted to attend the auction. So we went. I figured I might find an item or two that might be interesting and useful. And I figured that it would be a good idea to be there to mingle and to show my face and show my support for the community, even if I don't know the man.

We browsed around the silent auction tables before the live auction. There were quite a few interesting things, but not much at the prices I was willing to fork out, even for a benefit. I bid for a couple of small tabletop clocks and a table runner, and ended with the winning bid on a clock with rosemaling on the face. I would have liked the table runner, and it was a wonderful work of art, but just couldn't justify what it would have taken to win that item.

During the live auction, there were some items that seemed to go for far below their value, but these were things that we really don't need. Perhaps in a previous life I might have just bid for them because they were such great values (in fact, I have on many school auctions, done just that). After going through throwing out so much stuff in our move a year ago, acquiring stuff just because it's such a value has much less appeal.

The auction was great and it met my expectations, walking out with one item. But the real reason I was persuaded to go may be of far greater significance. Over a month ago now, one of the workers from Ukraine brought another person from the cannery to one of our Sabbath morning worship. I hadn't seen him since then. He saw me at the auction tonight and let me know that he would like to learn more about our church and what we believe. I have an appointment next week to spend some time with him.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One Year

Today marks our one-year anniversary leaving the Lower 48. Friday will be the one-year mark for our arrival here in Petersburg.

An anniversary seems like a good time to take a look back and do some evaluations. But is it really? How do I evaluate a journey where the destination and goals are unknown? Is it possible to measure any sort of progress in such an environment?

Looking at only the numbers, the obvious conclusion is that there has been no progress. Our church attendance remains pretty much the same from a year ago, although a few faces have changed. None of the member families that had stopped attending have yet to return on a regular basis. Although from the start, numerical growth was never an objective (and that's easy to say), the fact is that it is something that is always there in the back of my mind, wondering if there is anything that can be done to cause growth.

What were some of our objectives?

The primary one was simply to live a life of grace and trust in God. What is my own evaluation here? I think I can summarize by saying that this year was one full of extraordinary challenges to my trust in God's grace and faithfulness. There were times when I thought I wouldn't make it without completely breaking down. But I do believe that I have experienced growth and have come out stronger for it. I've spoken about it in some of my sermons and in conversations with individuals.

Another objective was to build relationships with the community, both as individuals and as a church. Elise is much better at the individual relationship building. Through her work and just being herself, we are beginning to know people here. As a representative of our church, I've participated in a number of events this past year. We've also offered a few events of our own. We want to let the community see that we are here to offer positive things and we're not just taking up real estate.

It's hard to know for sure how we've met these objectives. Not only are they ongoing, with no defined endpoints, but there is very little feedback available to measure effectiveness. We make efforts towards an elusive, distant goal and hope that we are on the right track. There are rare occasions when someone says something to us where we get a glimpse behind the scenes to help us realize that, yes, we must still be on the right path.

I think that this coming second year will continue to be much of the same. We'll be holding the previously mentioned meetings at the end of this month, just to see if there is any sort of interest. That's the one change from the past year. Otherwise, it's more of simply being visible in the life of the community, getting to know more people, and living a life of grace and trust.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Book: Victory of the Warrior King

Victory of the Warrior King: The Story of the Life of Jesus (War of the Ages)

This book is published by Review & Herald. It is marketed as a kid-friendly adaptation of Desire of Ages. It is part of The War of the Ages series. The target age is 10-14. It can be purchased at an Adventist Book Center or at Amazon.

Let's just get the one "bad" out of the way first. Since I don't live near an Adventist book store, I really have no way to find out what a book is like until I purchase it and have it delivered. The sample chapter available at the Adventist Book Center online site does help a bit, but not much. So what is the bad? The implication that this book is somehow a kid's version of Desire of Ages. Let me just say, it isn't in the way that the marketing implies. About the only resemblance to Desire of Ages is that this book is also about the life of Christ (and perhaps also that there are other books in the series that come before and after), and the main theme of both books is to help the reader see that God is love.

With that out of the way, my opinion of the book itself is all positive. The genre would be biblical, historical fiction. The story is told from the point of view of Mark, a fictional recording angel. Mark records the lives of (mostly) fictional children that come into contact with Yeshua (Jesus). The children grow older, and they continue to appear throughout the story. The reader sees the real-life struggles that face each of these human characters, how each of them make decisions, and how God works with each to try to bring them into a relationship with Yeshua.

I appreciated very much how the author brings in and describes cultural and historical details that expand the readers' understanding of the biblical stories. I think many adults would also benefit from seeing these details.

There is a reason this book's target age is middle and early high schoolers. The author does not paint a nice, pretty, sanitized picture of life. The characters in the story are made to face life as it is. The stories deal with issues that face kids today: existence of evil, premarital sex, false accusations, sexual abuse, abandonment, lack of self-worth, murder of family members, unfairness of life, bitterness towards God. Although some parents may be uncomfortable with these issues and with some (not all) of the direct manners in which the story describes them, I don't think any of these would be a surprise to the kids. I really think that most of them are already exposed to much more, whether we as parents want to believe that or not. And I would ask anyone uncomfortable with this: would you rather have your kids be exposed to them in another setting, or in a setting that is true and good, albeit fictional?

I think this is what I was most impressed with. These characters and these stories are ones with which kids today can identify. It brings the Bible stories into the 21st century. It shows that the first century had the same problems that the 21st century does. It shows that Yeshua (Jesus) who walked the earth in the first century can still relate to kids of the 21st.

Some of the events and situations in the book do seem contrived. Yet they could have happened. Stranger things God has orchestrated.

I spent about eight hours over this last Friday and Saturday reading the book aloud to our children. It was really hard to take breaks and pause to do other things. The stories are that engaging. We had to find out how the characters would grow and develop.

I highly recommend this book. I look forward to obtaining the other four volumes in the series to read more of the old stories in a fresh, new setting.

Sermon: Who Is Jesus?

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

I return to our journey through the Gospel of John. This week I take a broad look at John chapter 7.

I explore the themes of knowledge -- knowing and not knowing, and confusion -- that are present in this chapter. I think that the different actors in this chapter represent points in the spectrum of spiritual knowledge. The question for each of us is: Where are on the spectrum are we today, and which way are we headed?

Bible Reading 2007, Week 38

This week's readings are in Ezekiel 4-24; Psalms 36-41, 48, 49, 54, and 55.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Children's Story: Muddy Confusion


  • 3 or 4 clear jars (empty spaghetti sauce jars work well)
    • 1 prefilled all the way with mud
    • 2 empty
    • 1 with both mud and water, allowed to settle (optional, in case your mud doesn't settle very quickly)
  • Tarp (to protect the floor)
  • Mud or dirt in a container
  • Water in a pitcher
  • Spoon to spoon mud into jars and to stir water/mud mixture
  • Bucket to catch water and mud spilling out of jars


  • Show an empty jar
    • This jar is like our heart and mind
  • Pour water partway into a jar
    • God wants to fill our minds with everything that is good, true, and trustworthy.
  • Spoon some mud into same jar
    • But the world often doesn't like what is good and true, and the devil definitely doesn't.
    • So they bring in lies and other bad and nasty things into our minds.
  • Stir the water/mud mixture
    • What's true and what's not get all stirred up inside us and soon we don't know one from the other.
  • Pour water into jar until it starts to overflow
    • God wants to pour more of the good, true things into us.
    • By doing so, the lies start to get washed out.
  • Spoon more mud into jar
    • But the world and the devil offer muddy lies.
    • They want to keep our minds muddy.
    • If we keep accepting the lies instead of what is true, eventually all we know are lies.
  • How can we know what's true and what's not?
    • How can we know that what we're filling our minds with is true and not lies?
    • How can we clear up our confusion?
  • Leave the jar alone and let the mud settle
    • We need to take time to let the mud settle.
    • If we really want to know what is true, the Bible tells us that God will allow us to know.
    • We will be able to recognize what is true and what is not.
    • Once we do, we can begin to test everything we see and hear so that we can choose to let the good things in and keep out the bad.
  • Spoon out some mud and replace with water
    • We can even begin to remove some of the lies and replace it with what is true.
  • What happens if we don't?
  • Spoon more mud into jar
    • What happens if I keep spooning more mud into this jar?
    • Soon we end up with more mud than water, more lies than what is true.
    • And we can become more comfortable with the lies and what is bad than with what is good and true.
    • We might even begin to believe that the lies are actually true.
    • And when that happens, we might even end up hating what is really true.
    • When it keeps happening, eventually all we know are lies -- which isn't really knowing at all -- if you think about it.
  • Show jar filled with mud
    • Some people during Jesus' time on earth ended up like this.
    • They chose for so long to believe lies that they thought the lies were really true.
    • So when Jesus tried to tell them otherwise, they wouldn't believe it.
    • Jesus wanted so badly to help them see what was good and true.
    • Jesus wanted so badly to use the clean water to begin cleaning their hearts and minds.
    • But they didn't want it.
    • They wouldn't allow Jesus.
    • So Jesus had to let them go, to eventually die without him.
  • Show mud-filled jar, fill remaining empty jar with water
    • What kind of jar do you want to be?
    • What do you want to fill it with?

Upcoming church events

I've been feeling a tad overwhelmed the last few weeks. I'm working to put together a few things that will be coming to fruition over the next few months. It would be one thing if our church had sufficient numbers to let other people lead these things, but I have to live with reality which is that I'm the one that has to lead, plan, and execute all of them. It doesn't help that our most supportive church couple will be away for about six weeks when a lot of these things will be taking place.

First up is the children's choir. I've been procrastinating a bit on that because it is one of the more difficult tasks. With Elise working, with Shelley also working many evenings now, and with the couple out, I wondered how the choir was going to work out. It looks like Elise will be able to arrange her schedule to be present at the choir. So this will be starting up this coming Thursday. My plan is to work on a short Christmas musical, A Shepherd's Story. We did this at the Tualatin Church a few years back. I need to locate the accompaniment CD that I hope is somewhere in one of the boxes labeled, "CDs."

Next up is the four-night seminar at the end of this month on the topics of creation, evolution, God, and people (Out of Thin Air by It Is Written). I put up some flyers a little over a week ago, and about half of them had disappeared. I suspected there are some people that object to the topics. I put up a couple more this morning, and had my suspicions confirmed because one of them was gone just an hour later. As long as church events don't try to influence or challenge peoples' beliefs, and/or applicable only to church members, then those flyers seem to last for a long time. I am annoyed by it, but remaining upset over that isn't going to do any good. I'll avoid replacing the ones at locations where they disappear quickly and be persistent about keeping flyers posted in the other locations. I've also asked the Christian radio station, KRSA, to announce this event. I'm also purchasing a 2-inch ad in the local paper to run for in the next two, weekly issues.

Finally, starting mid-October for about two weeks, I plan to host in our home, another series of meetings (HeartQuest by Faith for Today). If I find that there are some who attend Out of Thin Air are ready to learn more, I want to invite them to HeartQuest. There are also a number of people in town that I would like to invite as a way to encourage them to re-engage in Christian fellowship. And finally, I think this series could be a good way for our kids to learn more about our beliefs in preparation for baptism.

Hanging out without any real plans yet is the Stop Smoking seminar that we would like to hold. The schedule hasn't quite worked out yet. We just might have to wait until January for this one. November could have worked, but with the Messiah performance at the end of the month, I won't have the time and energy to put into another event. December is, of course, out of the question with holidays and other related programs happening then.

So that's the rundown of most of the big things that are coming up in our lives for the remainder of this year. Now to take care of the little things, like tomorrow's sermon...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Clear, fall day

I understand some of the readers of this blog are still experiencing hot, summer days. Around here, we are already into the autumn season.

The way our bed is situated, when I open my eyes in the morning, I can see straight out to Petersburg Mountain -- that is, if it isn't obscured by fog. That was the case this morning. It might have been the densest that I've seen it this year. From about 5 or 6 a.m. until about 9 a.m., boats were going by sounding their fog horns because visibility was pretty atrocious.

This being Wednesday, I went down to Helse's for the weekly pastors' get-together. We discussed and solved all the world's problems. Too bad no one from Washington D.C. was around... By the time we broke away, the skies had pretty much cleared to show a nice, clear, blue sky. During the meeting, one of the pastors, Phil, asked if I was going out on the bike today. I wasn't sure if I was going to or not...

After I got back home, I did a few short tasks, and then decided that I should at least wash and lube my road bike. The last time I rode it was probably sometime back in February or so. There is something about a filthy bike that I just couldn't get myself to ride it until it was cleaned up. Washing was out of the question at the apartment as there was no place to hook up a hose. Now that we are in our own house and have a hose, I've been meaning to wash my bikes. I finally got around to it today.

After I got the bike all cleaned up, I went back inside and thought about all the things I should do. I did a few more things. And then I decided to stop my worship of the god and idol of utilitarianism and go out on my bike. I need to thank Phil for planting the bike ride idea into my head today.

Utilitarianism, Mark Buchanan suggests in The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, is one of those common and popular idols prevalent in the North American culture, but one which no one really talks about or recognizes. Basically, it's the idol of making sure one's time is always spent in the most productive (as in you should be working and producing something useful) manner -- and if you aren't, you should feel guilty about it. He suggests that one of the reasons for the Sabbath is a reminder to take a rest from being a slave to production (and which I might add is probably the true definition of "work" in the fourth commandment).

So I went out on my bike and had a short, mid-week Sabbath rest. I just went out about 8-miles and then back. It was an absolutely perfect day for pedaling along. The skies were clear and blue, it was high tide, so the Narrows took on the hue of the sky. There was no haze or fog obscuring any of the hills and mountains. On the way out, from the PFI cannery to almost the Petro Marine filling station (almost a mile), I drafted behind an SUV, easily going close to 30 mph. After that exhilarating ride I was on my own for the rest of the trip.

I took a slightly longer way back, around the airport. Coming back around to Hungry Point, just a few blocks away from home, my left leg cramped up and I had to stop for a few moments to loosen up the muscles before getting back on and finishing the ride. The total distance was about 19.5 miles at an average speed of 16.3 mph. My leg strength and cardiovascular endurance still seems fine, but it appears that the leg muscles no longer have the endurance and stamina necessary for a really long ride. I guess I won't be jumping into a century ride any time soon.

Shelley and I will be singing The Messiah this fall - Nov. 24 and 25. We have rehearsals every Monday evening. We had the second one a couple of days ago. The soprano and alto sections are quite robust, but the tenor and bass sections still could use quite a few more voices. There are a number of ladies who are also singing the tenor part.

I'm considering singing one of the tenor solos also, but the main one that is required is the opening recitative and aria. I've been practicing it, but still, the opening piece isn't one that I prefer. I'd rather something later in the work, after my voice has had a chance to warm up... We'll see.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Prayer is like my cat

Since I'm not giving the sermon, I thought I'd post a short reflection in its place.

In my sermon a few weeks ago, I spoke about the importance of prayer. I've been heeding my own title's advice ever since.

Most mornings I sit on the couch for my prayer time. Usually what happens almost immediately is that our little cat, Vivvy, jumps up and come to my lap. Almost always, she begins kneading my lap with her two, cute, front paws. (It can be a little painful if her claws are sharp.) While kneading, she will meow in a very distinct, loud voice, reserved for just this particular ritual. How long she keeps at it seems quite random. Some days it can go on for ten or fifteen minutes. Other days it may only last a couple of minutes.

Eventually, if she isn't disturbed in some way, she settles down into my lap. And then she'll basically cat nap for as long as I'll let her. She lies there quite and contended, just happy to be there. Occasionally though, something distrubs her and she gets up and restarts the ritual kneading, though it doesn't usually go on for much more than a minute or two.

Each time we go through this morning ritual, I am reminded that maybe this explains an aspect of prayer. In my sermon, I wondered how a person could pray for one hour, let alone three. Maybe that's because I don't quite understand this prayer thing, and there's something God is trying to show me through my cat.

Until just these past few weeks, prayer, I thought, was where I talk to God. And only that. For those that know me, you know that I'm not a very talkative person. Even if I had pages filled with things to pray for and about, I doubt I could go on for that long. I want to get out what I need to say and be done with it.

But what if prayer is more about communion than communication...? Hmm... What if the whole purpose of communication was to achieve communion? Hmm... I mean, if God already knows everything that I'm going to say, it seems like communication isn't the main thing. If God is already answering my requests before I even make them, then the words of my prayers don't seem to be the main thing. If my words (groanings) have to be translated by the Holy Spirit, then there must be something more beyond mere words and speech.

And that's where Vivvy comes in. I think she's a lot like me. If I try to pick her up, she might allow me for a few moments, but then she gets restless and whines and struggles to be put down. But when she chooses to come to my lap, she will stay there a very long time. Is prayer like that? I'm running around busy, and even when God tries to speak to me, or to pick me up, I resist, and I whine that I have so much I need to do. When I choose to make time for prayer, am I choosing to climb into God's lap? Am I becoming willing to sit, to be held, to be stroked, to listen, and to just enjoy being with God?

What is more amazing is that when Vivvy sits on my lap, I've wondered who is enjoying it more: the cat, or me? Is it like that with God? When I choose to set aside everything and rest in God's presence, who enjoys it more? Me, or God?

I've also noticed that when I begin my prayer time, I'm a lot like Vivvy coming onto my lap. At first I'm restless. There are lots of thoughts going through my head. I jump from one thought to another. It's like Vivvy kneading, moving around, trying to find a nice position in which to rest. And I kind of feel like that. And like Vivvy sometimes getting restless again later, I do that during prayer, too. I hear something or see something -- maybe one of the kids, or our other cat, Stripey; a car passing by -- something that disturbs my resting in God. And I guess that's okay, because like Vivvy, it's only a brief interruption before I'm back again in God's lap.

I also mentioned in the blog about a week ago I'm reading a book on the meaning of the Sabbath. I've been working through the idea that perhaps the time we spend in prayer is also a bit like Sabbath. Mark Buchanan writes that for the Jews, the three days following Sabbath is for remembering the previous Sabbath (Exodus 20:8) and the next three days preceding the following Sabbath is for preparing to observe (Deuteronomy 5:12) it. It is their way of integrating the Sabbath into every day of the week. I wonder if my time in prayer is a way of bringing the true meaning and purpose of Sabbath into each day?

If prayer is primarily about enjoying sitting in God's lap, then it would be easy to spend much time there. And as I sit there, my thoughts wander, but not really, because they are following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It can be as seemingly mundane as the fog outside, but in that I see God's enveloping presence. Or it could be reminders of some tasks that I need to get done, and through that I get a sense of the priority God places on my daily work. It might be names of people, those that live nearby as well as those from the past. The thought may simply be the wonder and greatness of God.

Or the thought could be as seemingly bizarre as how prayer is a lot like my cat.

A busy first week of September

Yeah, I haven't posted anything since this past Monday. I've been that busy. Doing what, you ask? I didn't even have much sermon preparation to do this week because Pastor Brown is here this Sabbath.

With running Shelley around town for her various appointments, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, a couple of hours in devotionals and study, bookkeeping, catching up on news and world events, working a bit over at the church, etc. -- time just seems to fly by.

We had our first Ministerial Association meeting for the 2007-8 year this Tuesday. I'll be the association's Secretary-Treasurer for this year. This work is mainly taking minutes at our meetings, scheduling the Manor devotionals, and doing other clerical work that comes up.

And then on Tuesday I got a call asking if I could switch the Manor devotional for Wednesday with my scheduled day in a couple of weeks. Since I was open, I switched and went up to the Manor this week.

For a couple of weeks now, Shelley has been dancing with Heidi Lee's Leikarring dancers. School starts up towards the end of August, but cruise ships keep coming through September. The performances have to go on, so home schoolers with their more flexible schedules are in much more demand. Shelley had a few practice sessions, and now she's performing with the group. This morning, she performed aboard the Empress of the North (the ship that ran aground a few months back). I haven't actually seen her perform yet, though I finally saw her in a borrowed dress this morning.

During the Ministerial Association meeting, one of the pastors mentioned a movie releasing towards the end of this year by the title, The Golden Compass. It is based on a book of the same title. This is the first of a trilogy.

Anyway, concern was expressed about how this book/movie portrays Christianity negatively, it is supposedly an attack at The Chronicles of Narnia, the author hates C. S. Lewis, and it was implied that the whole book is dark, devilish, occultic, and evil. The consensus during the meeting was that the theater manager should be asked to decline this film if there is a choice, and if not, to not show the film when it comes through. (As you might recall, we have one movie each week that comes through.)

Sounding like the furor over Dan Brown and his The Da Vinci Code, I opted to take what I heard with a large grain of salt and see for myself what the books contained as well as reviews and also primary source materials such as the author talking about his worldview. (Wikipedia entries for Philip Pullman and related entries contain quite a bit of additional links under References and External Links at the bottom of each entry. That's what I looked into.)

Our public library had the entire trilogy available so I checked out the first volume and read it straight through (about 7 hours) on Tuesday night. I sensed that the author hadn't fully revealed his worldview yet, so I went the next day to check out the remaining volumes. I am partway through the third volume right now.

I'll probably have more to write about on this topic later, but suffice to say that like with The Da Vinci Code, in my view, the harsh criticism is not warranted. Yes, the author states he is an atheist and he is very critical of organized and institutional religion of all colors. But underneath I also read a criticism of government and politics, business and greed, and a lot of other things that I'd agree with. I think the biggest irony is that when critics, in the name of religion, demonize works like this and try to prevent their distribution, it only goes to show that the author's thesis just might have some merit... It makes me wonder how many of these critics have actually read all three volumes...

I could go on, but I think I should wait until I finish the third volume so that I have the full picture of how all the different elements fit together. Otherwise I might misrepresent the author by writing something that isn't quite accurate. And I certainly don't want to do that. I had a very different impression at the end of the first volume than I do now. Don't judge too quickly...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Check out Spiritual Discipline of Receiving

Samir Selmanovic over at Faith House Manhattan posted some thoughts in regards to sharing our faith and witnessing.

He begins:

"On a steamy hot summer day, after our Christian worship gathering, a group of us went to one of the New York city parks with gallons of homemade ice-cold lemonade, offering it to anyone who wanted it—for free. But people did not want it. That is, until we asked them to pay for it. Only then they would take it and happily guzzle it down."

Click HERE for rest of entry.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Gorgeous sunset

After I had finished preparing tonight's dinner, I paused to take a look out the front window and I saw just wonderful reds and pinks reflected from the clouds scattered across the sky.

I took a couple of grab-shot images from our master bedroom window. I don't think there was time to go outside to the Narrows for a better shot. Just a couple of minutes later, the colors were already starting to fade. 

Elise did get back, but it was around 9 p.m. It was a long day and a very busy day at the hospital. She was out of the house at 6:30 a.m. and didn't have a break the entire day. The on-call nurse was there also the entire day.

In case you're wondering (or even if you're not), I gave Elise an Ulu and bowl set (item #7BBA).

Fall is here (and Elise's birthday)

Here in Southeast Alaska, at about 56'N latitude, the Fall season is upon us. I woke up this morning to a completely fogged-in Narrows. Throughout the early morning, as the larger boats (like the ferry) went past, they would sound their fog horns. Even though our heater is kept at 60F, it frequently kicked in as the temperature dropped below that. The morning flight could not land (although it did try) because of the fog.

Late afternoon the fog started to burn off. As it approaches sunset, the skies are partly cloudy, though Petersburg Mountain right in front of us still has low clouds around most of it.

Since tomorrow is Labor Day and all the stores will be closed, I made sure to go out and do some grocery shopping. Today is Elise's birthday so I also looked around for a card and a gift. Since she might read this before she opens the present, I'm not saying what it is quite yet.

Elise worked today - early morning until, well, until she gets back home in an hour or so. Shelley also worked today from mid-morning until this evening. Amy spent the greater part of the day over at her garden, doing whatever she does there... She called this evening to have me pick her up because she had so much stuff to bring back: 3 large zuchinnis, a large shovel, dirt sifter, tarp, buckets, some flowers... Way too much to fit into her backpack and come home on her bike.

While I was going out to town (I was walking because Elise drove to work), I bumped into the newly-arrived Catholic priest. I met him last Wednesday. He comes from, most recently, Chicago, and has spent his entire priesthood in urban areas. So Petersburg is quite a change for him. I don't think he's quite decided whether or not he likes Petersburg yet. He will be here for three years.

He invited me in to the church and parsonage for a cup of tea. I accepted the invitation, and got a quick tour of the building -- my first time inside this particular church. We chatted for a while, talking about home schooling, the community, and so on. I mentioned to him about holidays and stores closing. He thought it would be prudent for him to go pick up a few supplies today.

I can't help but believe that somehow this was my divine appointment for today -- to just chit-chat and warn him about stores being closed tomorrow.

I just finished cooking a from-scratch pasta sauce a few minutes ago. Amy is busily creating a version of minestrone soup. I thought about making my own pie, but after looking at the prices for pie filling and all the time making it would take, I decided that $8 for a pre-made 40 oz. pie was worth the cost. I also picked up some butter-pecan Tillamook ice cream -- just for Elise because she's the only one that really likes nuts in ice cream.

We are hoping that our Ukrainian friends who spent their summer working here were able to make it out on the afternoon flight. But the flight is going the wrong direction. They were supposed to go to Anchorage today. We are once again entering the time of year when travel is frequently at the whim of the weather.

Bible Reading 2007, Week 36

This week's Bible readings are in Jeremiah 26-29; Isaiah 58-66; and Revelation 19-22.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

LeConte Glacier

After church this afternoon, as we were getting ready to have lunch, we got a call inviting us to go out on the boat to view the LeConte Glacier. It's about 25 miles southeast from Petersburg.

We changed into some warmer gear and headed off to the harbor. The waters were quite choppy on the way there. The boat was bouncing up and down. Along the way, we saw a few icebergs floating about. Once we got into the bay, there were icebergs, small and large everywhere. The trick was to get through without crashing hard into them. The boat is able to glide over the small ice floes, but we did not want to hit any of the larger ones (note that only 1/8th of the iceberg is visible above the surface).

The day was mostly rainy and wet. But as we rounded the final corner to get our first look at the glacier, for just a brief moment there was a bit of blue sky and sunshine.

Our first attempt to approach the glacier ended up being blocked. So we backtracked up a bit, and a couple of us (I wasn't personally involved) used oars to row the boat around the ice and push away the larger ones to try to get the boat situated on the other side of the bay to try to make an attempt to approach the glacier that way. This attempt eventually succeeded. While paddling about, we saw a large number of seals, probably wondering what we were doing in their ice...

We finally made it to about a mile from the edge of the glacier. This is where we stopped to spend quite some time just watching the glacier and the surrounding area. We saw quite a number icebergs being calved away from the glacier.

There is tremendous power unleashed when a large hunk of ice breaks off and drops into the water. We didn't experience any that required us to make a quick getaway, but there were a couple that results in large swells - 2 to 3 feet in an otherwise calm bay.

Here are a few photos from our outing. Click on the contact sheet to go to the image gallery.

And here's a 1-minute video from the trip. The quality isn't that great since it was taken using my little snapshot digital camera. It's a taste of what you can see in Southeast Alaska. You'll just have to come here to see all this in person. There are five segments: Our trip in, glacier and seals, padding about the floes, calving ice, and trip back.

Click HERE for video. The file is just under 1MB in size. The bit rate is about 100 Kbps. You might want to right-click and "Save Target As..." to your local disk if you're on a slower connection.

Sermon: Convictions

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Today's sermon looks into Daniel chapter 3. This is the story of Nebuchadnezzar's golden image; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; and the fiery furnace.

I discuss some of the historical and cultural background of the story, do a bit of speculating in filling in some details in the narrative, and then draw out a few principles that we might think about and apply.

The questions for which the sermon tries to provide at least some direction in finding answers are: What should a follower of God do when he or she thinks that his or her faith is being challenged? Is it necessary to respond to every perceived challenge? When are responses appropriate? If a response is appropriate, how should he or she respond?

Children's Story: A Flat Earth

The following is a work a fiction. Any resemblance to persons real or imagined are purely coincidental... you get the drift.

There was a man named George. He believed that the earth was flat. He believed that the North Pole was at the center of a disc that made up the earth, and the edge of the disc was ringed by a tall wall of ice which made up Antarctica.

Throughout the years, many people tried to convince George that the earth is really a sphere, more or less a ball, but George would have none of that.

The others would try to argue and explain how the turning of the earth is how we get days and nights. George would respond that it was really the sun that was going around the earth. At night, the sun would be on the bottom side of the disc, and in the morning, the sun would come up on the eastern edge of the disc.

The others tried to argue about the ocean tides. They tried to explain about the moon and how the gravity from the moon causes the tides to rise and fall. George would simply say that the disc tilted slightly on each end a couple of times a day and that cause the tides to change.

"Well, what about how objects disappear as they get more distant on the horizon?" the others asked. They used balls and toothpicks to try to get George to see how objects on a curved surface eventually disappear out of sight when they get far enough apart. But George simply said that mountains and waves simply ended up hiding the objects the farther away they got. And not only that but eyesight wasn't good enough to see things that far.

There finally came a time when astronauts went up, away from the earth, and took pictures and videos of the earth from space and allowed everyone to see what the earth looks like. The others thought, "Finally, George is going to have to admit that the earth is a sphere."

George looked at the pictures and the video and simply said, "They're fakes. Someone from Hollywood made those up." And then he asked the others, "Were you there? Did you actually see for yourself? How do you know these so-called astronauts are telling the truth?"

After so many years of trying to convince George that the earth wasn't flat, the others had reached the end of their ropes. They were exasperated. They went through all the earlier arguments, but in much louder voices. They began to make fun of George, call him all sorts of nasty things, let him know that he was an idiot and stupid for not believing that the earth is a sphere.

Soon, not only were they making fun of George, but they were threatening to do him harm unless George believed like they did. Some even began to physically attack and assault George, trying to force him to admit that the earth is a sphere.

Seeing that they weren't getting anywhere, they called the authorities who had George arrested for "holding to beliefs that undermine and threaten an orderly society." Those who had attacked George were questioned but let go because they had helped bring into custody "a person dangerous to society."

A trial was held and the judges once again attempted to force George to admit that the earth is round and not flat. For days this went on. They had him whipped. They made him go without food and very little water. They threatened to keep him locked up until he died. One of the judges even suggested that maybe George should be hanged for causing such a disturbance in society.

On the final day of the trial, the authorities brought in the astronauts that had brought back the pictures and the video of the earth. The authorities hoped that by hearing directly from the astronauts, George would finally be convinced that they were right and he was wrong.

The astronauts gave a detailed story of how they had traveled away from the earth and saw for themselves the spherical earth. But George was not convinced. He accused them of being paid by the authorities to make up the story. The courtroom erupted into a mass of chaos as the people tried to get their hands on George, to try to once again beat him into submission.

As order was finally restored and a bloodied George sat on the bench nursing fresh wounds, the astronaut commander asked the head judge if he could speak. The judge granted the request.

The commander got up and addressed the court, "Your honors. It is quite clear that no amount of logic, no strength of argument, no physical force, and no threats are sufficient to convince Messr. George to change his beliefs about the physical form of the earth. Even eyewitness evidence and testimony are not sufficient for him. May I request the court to allow him to accompany us on our next mission? Perhaps if Messr. George sees and experiences for himself, he might come to see the possibility that the earth is spherical. After all, Messr. George does have some valid points for his beliefs. And if afterwards he chooses to continue to believe that the earth is flat, what real harm is done?"

There was some grumbling and arguing and debate about this unusual request. But after some minutes, the judges granted the request.

Some months later, George found himself strapped in a seat inside the cockpit of a spaceship. The engines came to life. 5-4-3-2-1… The engines roared and they began their ascent, away from the ground. Faster and faster they traveled upward. George could see the ground getting farther and farther away. "The earth looks like a disc," he thought to himself. But as they got higher and higher, the disc started to warp around the edges, starting to take on the look of a sphere. Soon they were far enough away that the entire earth could be seen. Not all of the continents could be seen on the visible surface. And as time passed, he could see that the earth looked as if it was rotating… Continents disappeared from view while new land appeared. George looked at the stars in the distance and could see that the spaceship hadn't changed position…

The End.