Saturday, November 20, 2010

Stories from Confirmation #2

Another quick story here.  Our Confirmation class has 3 overnights that they attend throughout the course of the year.  But during the year we meet on Wednesday nights for our weekly class. Our first class deals with our Jewish heritage as I do a quick survey of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).  As we go through the historical time line I hit on some of the key stories throughout the OT.  As I was telling the story of David and Goliath, I explained how David was just a shepherd boy and Goliath was a trained warrior who was considered a giant because of his size.  I was interrupted by one of the 7th grade boys who corrected me by saying, "Goliath was not a warrior, he was a giant pickle."  Well, this got a huge laugh from the class along with the adults in the room.  Now if you know anything about Junior High boys, if one of them got a good laugh out of the whole class then we must beat that joke to death!  So when the Shadrach, Meshack and Abendigo story came up, a chocolate bunny joke had to be thrown out.  Daniel and the Lion's Den was met with an explanation that the reason the lions did not eat David was because they were not vegetarians.  

Thank you Phil Vischer for making my historical talks recall all the Veggie Tale stories that my class grew up on.  I am thinking that maybe next year I should just go with an all-Veggie Tale curriculum for Confirmation!  In all seriousness though it is awesome that these teens remember these short stories from the creative mind of Phil Vischer.  Veggie Tales really raised the bar of quality for Christian videos.  In a wasteland of cheesiness, Veggie Tales have stood out as a great product.  And especially when the stories would make an occasional nod to Monty Python humor I knew I would be a big fan of Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato!

Stories from Confirmation #1

Every year we get a new group of 7th graders who join our Confirmation Class along with a handful of other teens from all the other grades.  This year we have 46 who signed up for the class.  Well we just kicked off our Confirmation class and we are off to a great start.  To begin with, last weekend we had our Kickoff at Pleasant Vineyard Ministries.  I debated about where I should crash for the night.  Should I take the cabin that no one discovered and quietly keep it to myself knowing that I will get a good night sleep?  Or should I bond with my Junior High boys and deal with the strange smells of bodily emissions mixing together with Axe body spray?  Well my conscience got the best of me and I found a cabin full of boys with an empty bunk bed.  As we were getting ready to crash for the night the other dad in the room asked if anyone snores.  One of the boys said that he did not snore but he did breathe.  This struck me as very funny.  Duh, we ALL breathe! But then I discovered what this 7th grade boy meant when I woke up in the middle of the night.  It sounded like Darth Vader was in the room with me. The boy was not making a joke at all.  He was really breathing hard! That just made me chuckle again.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

This book will rock your world!  It reads like an action novel but it is actually true.  And the implications for what this book explains can have earth shattering results.  

To give just a very basic summary, Greg Mortenson is a mountain climbing enthusiast.  On one of his trips to conquer a mountain, he failed to reach the peak he set off to achieve.  In his decent down this mountain he took a wrong path and ended up in a small village in Pakistan.  He comes to know the villagers as they help him regain his strength and energy.  Greg discovers that the children have no school building.  In fact they use the ground to write out their lessons.  As a result of this unintended connection Greg is left with such an impression of these village people that he commits himself to come back and build a school for the children.  

Now that right there sounds like a nice story if it just ended there.  It was easy for me to assume that this guy cut a check and paid for a school to be built; end of story. But the rest of the story did not go like that.  In fact, Greg was not one who could throw around large sums of money.  He made a commitment to these kids knowing that he had very limited resources.  So as he was back in the USA he began writing letters and at times living very simply to raise the cash he needed to honor his commitment.  As he began this process, little did he know all of the up's and down's he would face.  People who would not believe in him.  Others who would take advantage of him.  He had to be persistent, determined and very, very focused to complete the task he set out to do.  He would face many obstacles in the states and over in Pakistan to make this school happen.  As he continued to fight for his dream, it eventually became a reality.  And then, that reality began to spread across a corner of a nation that is considered a dangerous place for anyone to visit or live, especially an American.  

On one hand, I found this story to be amazingly inspirational.  Greg was an ordinary guy with an extraordinary vision.  Everything did not automatically work out for him once he caught his vision.  He came across may discouraging setbacks, yet he pressed on.  As a result he is transforming a culture in a very positive way.

The other message I got out of this book was the issue of war and our relationship to the Middle East.  We as a country have been on a military mission to try and change the culture specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the neighboring countries in general.  But the scary thing is that as much as we might try, military force does not change the hearts and minds of people for the better.  Mortenson's work to give Pakistani children a basic education and hope for a future will help to change the hearts and minds of a generation.  Attacking poverty instead of people. Attacking ignorance with education instead of using military force.  Bridging the gap with love, instead of using fear to polarize us even further.  

This is an extraordinary story that must be told. My hope is that it will spark a counter-revolution to the wars our country is currently involved in at the present moment.  This is the sort of stuff the churches, synagogues and temples should be involved in and actively participating in.  It took one guy with a vision, and now that vision is spreading like fire.  At the very least, may our prayers be a continual support to his efforts in transforming a culture for the better.

With Mortenson's story I believe that there is hope for a future of a Middle East that is at peace with the rest of the world.  His story also proves that stepping out of our comfortable little bubble we tend to create, and live extraordinary lives filled with risk, adventure and faith can and will make a huge impact, sometimes even bigger than we could ever imagine.  In John 14:11-14 Jesus said

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Jesus himself said that we have the power within us to do even greater things than he did!  He has empowered us to be just as transformational as he was.  Really wrap your mind around that thought for a while.  The question is, are we willing to step out in faith and take that chance for God to use us in extraordinary ways or are we too busy creating a comfortable life so we can ignore the problems in our world?  We are called to serve the poor and the downcast. We are told to love our enemies and those who persecute us.  Greg Mortenson certainly lives a life that demonstrates these ideals.  May we learn from his example and dream what God can do through us if we step out in faith and pursue the dreams that he gives us.

Hey, if you finished this blog then check out Greg's website at

Book Review: The Man Comes Around - The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash

I got to say that I am a big Johnny Cash fan.  I began to get interested in him when the movie "Ring of Fire" came out.  So it is without a doubt that a book exploring the spiritual journey of Cash would be very intriguing.  In fact, if you compared the movie to this book, sometimes you would wonder if they were portraying two different people, but, needless to say, the "bad boy / rebel" image is going to be more interesting to a mass market.  To be fair, this book did not sidestep the dark side of Cash either.  It portrayed him as very, very human with areas that he struggled with, along with a side to him that sought after God.  I was amazed at his close relationship with Billy Graham in particular.  Then again if you have ever read anything about Billy Graham this should not have surprised me.  The guy knew everybody.  I know that Graham had a big impact on many Presidents but I did not know that he had a strong relationship with Cash and even used him at times in his crusades.   

Cash was an incredible entertainer but even more so an incredible and complex man.  His life exemplifies how life can be very hard but God's grace overcomes.  He had a very deep and personal faith that was reflected in all of his music.  Themes such as bad decisions, poor choices and out-right sin will have consequences; forgiveness; redemption; love; anger; a hope longing for things to be made right.  Also, through his personal struggles he was able to really have a passion for the "nobodies" of society which is reflected in his prison recording.  He connected with his audience and fans on a very personal level. 

The only thing I did not like about this book was how it abruptly ended and then went into several quotes from a variety of people about their thoughts on Cash.  I thought that there should have been a chapter reflecting the spiritual impact of his legacy after his death.  Also, the quotes were from so many different types of people.  Some only saw the "bad boy" image of Johnny Cash and that was what was reflected in their quotes.  I thought that the quotes should have been taken more from those who had a larger appreciation for the legacy of Cash and his spiritual journey.

If you have an interest in appreciating the faith journey of Johnny Cash then this book is a great start.  I hope that God has put Johnny Cash in charge of music up in heaven.  There are all sorts of "Christian music" I have had to suffer through growing up in the church in which I would be thinking thoughts like: "Dear God, if this music is what we will have to listen to in heaven I'm gonna have a real hard time up there then."  Cash would have heaven rockin' with all the themes that make the Bible an amazing book.  I can only hope!