Thursday, May 19, 2011

Photo of the Day: Butterfly and Lantana

Lantana is fragrant and attractive to bees and butterflies. It seem to also give the neighborhood cats cover to hunt the birds.  Working on that.....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Review: Average Joe-A Book for the Tailgate

(Thank for reading this.  I need a certain number of reviews each month to stay In the program.  Would you do me a favor, read this and give it an honest rating on the above bar?    Thanks.)

Average Joe - Troy MeederAverage Joe: by Troy Meeder, is a book for the tailgate of a truck.   Spiritually forming books and events typically appeal to women.  It's a mars and venus thing, I suppose, but there is a perceived  disconnect between "Spiritual" stuff and men's spiritual needs.    Meeder is trying to build a bridge by taking a scriptural look at the needs and influence of the "average, ordinary and normal" men who can have an extraordinary impact on the world.  Wrapped in Christ, these Average Joe's escape the macho and the discontented life to be men of "honor, integrity and covenant"...

Troy is an Oregon cowboy and minister who tells the story of the life in Christ  from a cowboy's life.  He reinforces scripture through stories .  There is nothing resembling a sermon as he speaks of horses, airplanes, soldiers, friends and boys.  He writes plainly that a Christian man has tremendous influence while working on a car or cutting grass with someone. He does not gloss over God's testing but shares painfully transparent stories like working in a hole filling up with human waste and a moment of brokenness with his wife.  Moments that all men share but yet rarely share with each other.  Rather, we tend to "finish our eggs and go to work".  The strength of the book is that it leads a man to both GET AND BE a mentor.

  Pastor's and small group leaders-The book is only 148 very readable pages.  The small group study guide at the end is short and makes one scriptural point at a time.  It can be used by or taught to anyone who is willing. "Average Joe" would be a good small group or a "men and boy's" retreat guide.   It is geared more for working guys but anyone will benefit.  The book is jargon free, flexible and for people of all ages.  Women will enjoy these stories and insights too.  Often, they will be the only ones to get their men to pick this up and read it.  Buy a copy,leave it laying around and see what happens.  

I am struggling in starting a "Men's Ministry" at our church.  This book may be the sparkplug to get something useful going.  Check out an excerpt at  Multnomah press gave me this book for free in exchange for this review.  Thanks to them for risking a bad review and thanks to you for reading the thoughtfulpastor blog.  

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Essentials of Faith: What must we know?

Our confirmation worship service  last Sunday was very moving.  Fourteen excited kids confirmed with two baptized.  I hope that our young charges learned as much as I did.  Now that it is wrapped up, I am left with the questions:  What are the absolute essentials that all Christians must know?  And, how do we turn that head knowledge into faith?  This is a short list of what our kids taught me as the essentials.

1. Christ.  Everything  in confirmation teaches this one thing or the teacher got it wrong.  The crafts, illustrations, discussions, and activities all must point to that one bedrock starting and ending point, Jesus Christ-the foundation, God almighty who dwelt among us, on this we can build all of the other stuff .

2. The Church.  Church is what you do and not where you go.  Our "church" fits into the "Church".  Christ comes to us personally but is "caught" better in groups.  Church is where we worship as a family and are nourished by the sacraments.  This is where we learn to care and then live a life of caring.

3. The Holy Trinity is still a good framework to speak of the complexities of God.  We Plants, the sun, an apple and other things for illustrations which probably made more confusion than light.  We worked with the confusion of having one God and not three Gods.  Even with all of this,  the Trinity is still the best place to start the journey of knowing that it is all God, all of the time.

4.The Bible.  The Bible is confusing, relevant, leads to awesome wonder, a difficult journey and is worth the effort.  Basic skills in how to study and how to use the Bible in study must be taught and reinforced.  All ages need this important touch.

5. Personal worship.  Don't just do something-sit there.  Each of these kids understood quiet time and sacred space.  Granted, one of them found their sacred moments on the toilet.  Others had places in nature, in hunting, in their rooms or other places-but they have a space that reminds them to think of God.  So should we.  Where is your time and space for God?

6. Discipleship.  Don't just sit there-do something.  Faith is infectious and is both learned and taught by doing.  All of our classroom efforts would have been worthless without the kids participating in worship and going to the nursing home.  "Witness" is a noun and a verb.  You have and do your witness.  It should be a good one.  

7. Struggle is good.  The kids wore me out with unanswerable questions while standing their ground expecting answers.. My faith grew each week from my personal struggle.  (Next time I will have them WRITE THEM DOWN!) I had to struggle but didn't give them instant bumper sticker answers.  They need to know how to get answers. These kids are hungry for the truth.  All need to catch their spiritual hunger.  We all need to struggle to get the answers that God is faithful to give-by faith.

8.  Fewer words.  Barth said, "We cannot speak of God, yet we must speak of God."  or as one of our young men said, just "Keep it simple". (While I was making a cutesie quote)  Group discussion is harder to teach than a lecture to a group.  Lecture, for the most part, doesn't teach anything.Speak of God boldly but don't try to impress anyone with churchy language. Action speaks louder.......

9. The Beauty of spiritual youth.  The beauty of these young people bubbled up from a simple and honest faith.  Faith age is not our calendar age.  A disciple is not immature if searching for the things of God.  Even we who are older can learn to have a spiritual youth, not relying on what we know but in going where God leads us. God rewards the adventurer and not the "expert".  Maybe this is why so many of our grown up "kids" were drawn to this class?

10.  Confirmation is not over at age 12.  This was a two year process for half of our kids, by accident, and need to be formalized into a 2 or 3 year process.  The basics need to be added to Each age level-nursery to senior citizens, all year long.

My final and most important lesson was that I am greatly blessed, that we are indeed blessed.  Now, let's go and be a blessing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cheap Meditation: "Green" Garden Projects

Living in a church parsonage means never really having your own space. We move a lot but need to make part of the place our own, even if it is temporary.   One of my needs and wants for Lent was a prayer Garden.  I know about vegetables but never really grown flowers.

This space was filled with bushes at one time.  It is 7' wide and 20' long, faces the north side of the house and has both full sun and full shade in places.  I have no time and no  money for this.  Going green can be translated as going cheap too and it will have to be done in fits and starts as time allows.

The waste brick is laid out on recycled plastic table covers over packed earth.  It isn't done yet and can be changed   It is a great place to wait for the sun to come up.

I am not an expert by a long shot.  For research, I read Butterfly and Bird magazines at a doctor's office and consulted with our local plant grower.  Everything I bought attracts birds, butterflies and bees.  Across the back are Hydrangeas which like the shade.  Buying smaller plants saves a lot of money and teaches patience.  Frugality as character building was not by design but it is there.  Notice the plants being started in recycled bedding plant holders.  I did well in getting plants from seed and cuttings.

 The one gallon containers have trumpet vine starts that I dug up in my alley way.  Lantana and other  local plants have been started also.  There are several online plant "propogation" guides on the web and at the library.  I checked one out for Texas with a chapter on our region.

Lots of great stuff is out there for the taking to start plants.

I did buy some mulch but in the future I have leaves to crumb up with my mower which are free.  The brick is all recycled, the birdbath was left by a previous pastor and the plastic ground cover was plastic banquet table covers from a covered dish dinner.  The bench is also made from scrap given to me by a man who was remodeling his house.  All FREE except for sheet rock screws and some Titebond II glue. .

the 1x4 herb planters were made with scrap and painted with paint that was headed to the trash at church.  I was about to give up on the seed but once it started the plants really took off.  The "Square Foot Garden" book is a great resource and I will be expanding to its boxes next year, Lord willing.

 The master bedroom window looks out over the garden and my wife, who loves cardinals is having fun with the birds.  We have three pairs of cardinal, lots of sparrows, blue jays, goldfinches, dozens of doves and a few migrants that we haven't identified yet.  The sparrows only eat from the feeder and  throw seed on the ground and the doves eat only on the ground.  Watching them interact is interesting and often hysterical.

The feeders are made from used cedar fence pickets attached to hackberry limbs from a tree I removed.  The dollar store bowls are left over from a daughter's wedding.  By putting the seed in a small bowl within the larger bowl there is very little waste-and less bird waste in the feed.    Send me an email if you want better instructions but the picture pretty well illustrates it.  It was all scrap and took me 30 minutes to cut and assemble.

This isn't about the garden but about making a connection with Christ.  This is a place where I can train body, mind and soul to pay attention to what God is doing all around me.  It is a place where anxiety can be turned into faith and God's Grace to become touchable....and it's fun.  I am really getting into the plants and the micro-environment that is coming together just beyond the back porch.  God grows in the garden as God grows the gardener.

I will add more pictures as it grows and fills in.  I have spent about $50 but the garden should be attractive far beyond that price.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Book Review: Radical Together-The Good Old Brand New Church

The Gospel's story is about the Basic truth of God intertwined in the human struggle to proclaim it.  David Platt in "Radical Together" offers us a place to take that struggle beyond the individual and into the local church.  "Radical Together" is an energized look at the personal mission  Through this book he takes the notion of mission to its proper scriptural end, forming a growing community of faith.
Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God
Those of us who came to faith in the "church growth" or the "seeker" movements might see this as a rant.  Rather I see it as a corrective to the many ways that the ark of faith has become a cruise ship.  The writer dissects the many ways that we have aggrandized our buildings and programs and taken our eye off of our  Biblical mission to,"transform people into the image of Christ and to get people in touch with the Holy Spirit of God,.." (49)  This is more of a motivational book than one of theology.  The desired outcome is to form small groups in the home church to proclaim and act on this mission, not to merely talk about it.

"Radical Together"  is a compact, very readable 165 pages.  Platt ends it with a simple and usable group study guide.  He does a good job of balancing personal stories, theology and motivating the reader to do-ing.  He takes some of the common misrepresentations of God and surrounds them around the loss of the dependenceon God  that many our local Christian communities seem to have .  Where the above mentioned "movements" have failed is in thinking that we can succeed by merely organizing, scheduling or speaking of Christ in the correct manner.  Platt proclaims "Constant Dependence" as the foundation of a satisfying life for a person and a genuine mission as a people.  He also gives some hands on ways to recognize and reclaim that dependence.

This is a good and solid book for individual motivation that leads to group proclamation.  Read it and "Give God no rest".   Thanks to Mulnomah press for giving me this book for free in exchange for this review and thank you for reading it.  You  can read the first chapter for free at