The Spectre of Lost Potential

God doesn’t have a plan for your life.

Give that a moment to sink in because I’m guessing more than one of you wants to push back on that notion right away.  It probably runs counter to some of the very ideas you hold to be true.  But God doesn’t have a plan for your life.  At least not in the way we traditionally think of it.  When bad things happen to us, in a very well-meaning way, Christians try to offer support by telling each other, “God has a plan.” But when you take that thread and follow it to its end, you come out with a very mean God.  Because that means all the bad, horrible, nauseating things that happen to you are CAUSED by God.  That somehow his PLAN includes treating you in an abusive and harsh way.  With that kind of thinking we limit God and imagine our great God almighty wasn’t smart enough to think of a better way to teach you or equip you for life.  But that’s not our God.  Whenever I think about this idea that God has a plan that somehow includes pain and suffering, I think back to my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. McNally.  Mr. McNally was one of the nicest teachers we had. Everyone loved him.  He was well respected by both staff and students alike.  So it came as a shock to find out he was killed by a drunk driver late one night while he was in the car with his son.  They were coming home from a game or something when a guy broadsided his car, killing Mr. McNally.  The drunk driver?  He lived and walked away from the accident.  But Mr. McNally was dead.  Was that really God’s plan, to take him away from his family, his loved ones, and his students?  Or did Mr. McNally have to die tragically just so this drunk driver could learn some kind of life-changing lesson?  Or maybe this guy was just irresponsible, had too much to drink, and killed my high school chemistry teacher because he didn’t have enough sense not to drive.  I think the last one is the most likely.

PicMonkey Collage
Our lives may not be a Hollywood script but some of Deacon Mike’s creations have made their way into some pretty famous ones.

Our lives do not follow some script like a Hollywood movie.

There isn’t some plot twist that justifies the harmful things that happen to us.  Our lives are not meant to go down a specific path that’s been charted out for us.  God DOES have a plan for your life, but it’s the one that he shares with the prophet Jeremiah and through Jeremiah to all of us. God said in Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  So God does have a plan, but just not in the way we often think about it.  God’s plan for us isn’t a map to follow but a hope for a brighter future.  Your life is not pre-determined.  You have free will.  You have choices to make.  And those choices can lead you down a path that brings you closer to God and makes this world more like the Kingdom that he imagines it could be, or we can choose to drift away from God and get swallowed up by what the world thinks is important.

2011-05-15 - Amazing the colors in God's paletteLife is a journey. 

This idea of life and faith being a journey is one that is stuck in my mind, because I believe God is working in us and through us to help us grow closer to God. None of us are born fully complete.  None of us wake up one day with all the answers we need to live a perfect life or to have perfect faith.  It’s like John Wesley said, we are moving toward perfection.  But we aren’t there yet.  At least not the vast majority of us.  If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please find 1 Corinthians 12 beginning with verse 1.  God tells us he has a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future.  But we still have to choose to go down that path.  We still have to choose to take that journey.  Some of us willingly take that path, but others of us are more like Jonah, resisting the entire way.  If you remember his story, when God asked him to go to Tarshish, he ran in the opposite direction until he got eaten by a fish. And even then he only went reluctantly.  And when his mission to the people of Tarshish ended up a glorious success, Jonah got mad and moped about it.  Sometimes that’s what we are like, resistant to God’s will.  But if we ARE open to it, if we ARE willing, this journey is not one we have to make alone.  I believe with all my heart that God places people in our lives to help us along this path.  That if we are open to it, God will guide us and draw us closer to him.  God will not only place people in our path but will equip us for the journey. He gives to each of us gifts for us to use and the beauty of it is that each of us are given different gifts so that we can contribute uniquely to the journey.  As it says in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth this is what he writes.

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Have you ever really thought about what your gifts are?

Sometimes they are obvious, but sometimes we need people in our lives to help point them out to us.  You may think you know what your gifts are, but maybe you have even more gifts than you realize or you have talents that you never thought you could use in service to God.  It’s as Paul writes to us, “I do not want you to be uniformed” but YOU have a gift.  Some of us have many gifts.  Some have more obvious gifts and some more subtle gifts, but whatever gift or gifts you have they all come from the same place, from God.  And he has given you these gifts to make a difference in the lives of others.  And if God has that much faith in you and God has that much faith in me, then I know we can do great things if we have even a mustard seed size amount of faith in God and in the gifts he has given us.

01 Mikes
Mike in his career today (left) and in his comic book days (right)

Everyone thinks of Rev. Mike Friedrich as “Deacon Mike.” 

And even though he has been with us for many years before he became a deacon, how many of you really know who he is?  I thought I knew who he was until I began preparing for this message.  Turns out there is even more to Deacon Mike than he humbly lets on.  My first encounter with Mike was at Annual Conference at the NJAUMC luncheon.  He came representing our church and I was at the time serving in Dinuba.  We got to talking and he told me that prior to serving the church he had worked in the comic book field.  That interested me as I am a lifelong comic book nerd.  He only hinted at the number of works he did, never mentioned the people he worked with, or what kind of contributions he made to the field.  Only later did I find out that many of the stories I grew up with, many of the films I’ve seen in the theater, have been influenced either directly or indirectly by his work.  You may have heard of a few of them.  He worked on such titles as Iron Man, Batman, Justice League of America, and one of my personal favorites, The Flash.  He created or influenced the character history significantly of characters like Thanos (the big bad guy from Avengers: Endgame), Drax (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame), Ant-Man and Adam Warlock who I’m sure we’ll see more of in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3. But as impressive as that is, Mike is known for more than that.  You may have heard of a little gathering of comic book fans called San Diego Comic Con.  Over the years, they grew further and further away from being a comic book convention and became a multi-media convention.  So Mike and some of his companions decided to create a convention that went back to its roots called WonderCon.  Based up in the Bay Area, that convention grew and grew and grew until it caught the notice of an organization – Comic-Con International.  ComicCon bought out WonderCon and now runs it as its second biggest gathering of the year.  What I didn’t know was that Mike was also responsible for one of the first successful forays into independent publishing.  Before there was a thing such as Image Comics, there was Star*Reach.  Star*Reach was the flagship title as well as the company name and they published a number of different titles featuring such noted authors and artists as Jim Starlin, Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Lee Marrs.  For his work, he is being recognized this year at Comic-Con with the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing.  I love the way Mike conceptualized his career.  He said, he started out writing stories about men who put on costumes to bring justice into the world, now he puts on his own (religious) costume to bring justice into the world.[1] But what I think is one of Mike’s great gifts is not that he was a comic book writer, not that he was a publisher, not that he was a union rep for research scientists and technicians at Cal, and not that he founded his own successful comic con.  All of those are pretty amazing, but at least two of the gifts Mike brings to God’s table is a spirit of innovation and perseverance.  He is willing to try new things and comes up with unique ideas.  He’s the first to admit they don’t always work, but he doesn’t let that deter him from trying different ideas to achieve his goal.  For most of us, that kind of commitment to change and challenge is troublesome, but for Deacon Mike he embraces it.  And now that he is working directly for the church he is using those talents in new ways for Christ.

You don’t have to become a deacon or a minister to serve God.

You can serve God in so many different capacities.  The best way you can serve God is naturally.  Finding a way to use your own unique gifts and talents in a way that helps to show the love of Christ to a world that needs it.  To be bold for God in proclaiming his love through the ways you feel God is calling upon you.  I know for Deacon Mike social justice is high on his list and he is gifted in that.  I imagine he will do some wonderful things for God’s kingdom by being an advocate for those who don’t have a voice and I believe he will use his gifts of innovation and perseverance to serve God in a way that will make a difference in a field he is passionate about.  What are you passionate about?  How does your passion fit into God’s kingdom?  How can you use your gifts, your talents, and your passion to challenge yourself to grow in faith, to move closer to Christ, and to serve his kingdom?

01 what if
What If? comic books delve into alternate timelines for our heroes

Growing up one of my favorite comic books was called “What if?”

And they explored alternate timelines where our heroes made different choices that would lead to different outcomes and I was always fascinated by what I would find inside. Sometimes those choices would lead to a vision for a bright future and sometimes it would lead toward the spectre of lost potential.  But it was always up to the author to decide what road to follow.  You have a choice as you always have.  Will you use the gifts God has given you to lead you to the life he has planned for you?  Or will your life be one of lost potential?  Pray this week for the Holy Spirit to open you up to his movement in your life.  Pray about being open to where God is leading.  And be ready to step through the doors God opens up for you, because if you’re willing God is waiting to give you the life he has promised.





The Lasting Power of Casserole

What do you think of when you hear the word “church?”

If you’re like most of us, you probably think of a white building with a steeple on top with a cross towering high overhead.  You might think about stained glass windows or pews or a preacher.  You probably think of pulpits and potluck dinners.  A lot of things with the letter “p.”  But none of those things are “church.” The church is really about a people instead of a place.  The word “church” comes from the Greek ekklesia or “assembly.”  It doesn’t by itself have any special definition beyond that.  But when Jesus asked Simon who he was and Simon said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus responded, “…I tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my ekklesia… my church…”  In that moment, the word ekklesia gathered a new meaning, because Jesus wasn’t talking about any old assembly of people.  He was talking about HIS assembly – the children of God.

2007-09-23 - Near the entrance to my office
One of the church buildings on the Roswell UMC campus had the classic church “look”

But don’t let that go to your heads.

Being the children of God and acting like it are two totally different things.  It goes back to what we’ve shared before, “Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car.”[1]  So what does it actually mean to be the church?  When we recite the Apostles’ Creed we say we believe in the “holy catholic church” and the “communion of saints” but to the outsider, it must seem like we’re kind of self-righteous.  I mean we call ourselves “holy” and “saints.” It doesn’t take a long, meaningful look into church history to realize there were plenty of times we didn’t act very holy or saint-like. But like most ideas, our concept of “holy” and “saint” has changed over time and we’ve added tons of meaning behind it that wasn’t there to begin with.  “Holy” simply means “sacred to” or “set apart for” and in our case holy means we are people who recognize we are set apart for God. That doesn’t mean we’re super-special or that God has a gold star next to our name. Being holy is our recognition that our lives are devoted to God and not the other way around. As Adam Hamilton wrote in his book, Creed, the church is holy “when those who consider the church home don’t ask ‘What do we want our church to do for us?’ but rather ‘What does God want his church to do for him?’”[2] The same thing is true for the word “saint.”  “Saint” is derived from the Greek hagios which is often translated as “holy.”  It simply refers to a person who acts as if their life belongs to God.

2018-10-31 - Halloween Giveaway
I love this pic of our church getting ready to serve the community on Halloween!

That is the work God calls on us to do as his people.

We are supposed to be the people of God in the world, but even our perception of “church” has evolved over the years. Today it’s more about a place than a people.  But that’s not at all the way God meant for it to be.  Back in the days of the disciples, they didn’t have a place of worship unless it was the temple.  By the way, that’s how much they loved God. Today a “regular church-goer” is someone who attends more than once a month but back then they would go twice in one day! First to the temple and then to the gathering of God’s people, usually in someone’s home.  God’s idea of church was something inside of us.  It wasn’t based on a location but anywhere the people of God showed up as Peter wrote in his letter to the church.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Our church family (and friends) at Easter worship here at BMUC

YOU are the church!

Like the words to that classic hymn, “I am the church, YOU are the church, WE are the church together.”  And that’s what Peter was trying to make clear to the Christ followers of his time.  He told them God was building them up not from the outside but from the inside.  He was telling them, yes, God is building his church, but it isn’t a place but a people.  The spiritual house God is building starts with Jesus as the cornerstone and each one of us are the brick and mortar of this never-ending structure known as the people of God. In my head, I picture a sort of Winchester House for Jesus, a building always under construction, shaped by the people who comprise it.  If you’ve ever been to the Winchester House, you know that Sarah Winchester had the superstitious belief that construction on the house must be never-ending to appease the spirits of those killed from the rifles made by her husband’s rifle company.  Legend has it that Mrs. Winchester never stopped adding to her house, constantly adding new features, rooms, and adornments throughout her life.  That sense of never-ending construction of God’s house is how I picture each of us being worked on all throughout our lives; to become better disciples of Christ and to add to the beauty of the spiritual house we call the church.

2018-10-07 - Greg cleaning the stained glass window
It is a blessing to have a worship space as beautiful as ours is at BMUC, but it’s the people inside that make it our church

Too often church becomes simplified to a building.

Or worse, the people of God forget they are the people of God and place so much importance on the forms and functions of “church” that they forget that “church” is just the people inside the building. And when the people inside the building act in ugly and unforgiving ways, when the people inside the building are unloving, unchanging, and unwilling, then the church begins to crumble no matter how beautiful the outside is.  When I was in seminary, one of my fellow pastors told us about a congregation he knew of that had split over a couch.  By all measure, it was an ugly couch.  It was lopsided.  It had lumps.  It was an eyesore to most.  But it was donated by a beloved member who had a lot of family attending that place.  For years, no one said anything but finally someone suggested they replace it with a new couch and almost immediately people took sides – those who wanted to keep it and those who wanted to get rid of it.  In the end, they couldn’t resolve their differences and they split the church in two.  Over an ugly couch.  It’s one of the reasons why I am opposed to putting plaques on anything.  I don’t know why we feel the need to memorialize someone by putting a metal plaque on some object.  It just makes it harder to get rid of when it’s time.  You know the old saying about not naming your food?  It’s doubly true for the church.  It makes it that much harder for us to let go of the trappings of church, even when we know we should.

2014-03-11 - First cooked meal since we are back - tuna casserole
Who would guess you could find the love of Christ in a casserole?

For me, church became real in the power of a casserole.

Or many.  For all of the knowledge I had gained about what it meant to be a follower of Christ, it took on new life in a casserole dish.  When Cassie gave birth to Emma, the families belonging to our Sunday School group all took turns and brought food to us for the entire week.  THE ENTIRE WEEK!  And there was always enough for leftovers so I pretty much didn’t have to cook or make anything at all.  And they didn’t just bring casserole, but chicken and spaghetti and lasagna and other dishes so we had a variety every single day.  And it wasn’t just the main course either.  They brought salads, veggies, and even dessert.  Pretty much all I supplied was the milk.  We hadn’t asked for the help, but that made it all the more meaningful.  They anticipated our need before we even expressed it.  It gave me more time to just dote on Cassie and our new baby girl.  It gave me time to make sure Eve was doing okay and to spend time with her, too.  It was just a tremendous blessing to our family.  These people not only WENT to church, but they WERE the church.  And that’s what I believe God calls on all of us to do – to be the church in the world today.

That doesn’t mean what we do here isn’t important. 

Worship is the heartbeat of all we do.  I know if it wasn’t for a worship service that touched my heart, I don’t think I would have stayed around long enough to know that God wanted me, too.  Good sermons not only teased my brain about who God was, but gave me the confidence to keep asking questions.  Incredible music uplifted my spirit and revealed God to me in a new and different way.  Missions work is important.  If it wasn’t for the opportunity to connect to our community and our world, I don’t know if I would have had a broader view of what it meant to be a follower of Christ.  Volunteer opportunities were important to help me test my own gifts and see where I could contribute.  And obviously, small groups were important for me.  It was where I was best able to see how what we learned in worship lived itself out in life.  So what we do as a church is important.  But never forget this.  Jesus didn’t give his life for us just so we could GO to church.  He wanted us to BE the church, too.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.











[1] I wish I could claim credit for that snappy line, but I heard it from someone else and if I ever figure out who, I will give them full credit!

[2] Adam Hamilton, Creed, p. 108.

Equal in All Things

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. – Galatians 3:23-29

My mom when I was still inside her tummy

I want to share a little bit with you about my mom. 

My mom is great.  She is the kind of mom all the neighborhood kids knew.  My buddy Rick would come over and we’d play backgammon for hours at our dining room table.  My friend Jay would come over and we’d go a few rounds of Rummikub and often times my mom would join in. Whenever we had study groups, she would always offer for my friends to come over to our house.  In fact, when we were studying for the SATs and pulled a couple of all-nighters, it was at our home where my friends crashed. My mom would always bust out the popcorn and chips and soda for everyone, and there were times I wondered if my friends actually liked me or just my mom.  My mom was “the cool mom.”  She listened to top 40 music, watched the movies we liked to watch, and followed along with all of our TV shows.  But it was also my mom who got me into liking the Beatles.  We’d spend hours on Los Angeles freeways and my mom would often turn the radio to KRLA – the “oldies” station and there I would hear the likes of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  My mom was the one who got me interested in Star Trek.  She was a big fan and we’d watch them on KTLA channel 5 almost every afternoon. I used to do the Vulcan Death Grip on my sister Karen all the time and watch her wriggle to the ground in laughter.  My mom also introduced me to Tommy’s Hamburgers, a culinary haven for chili burgers.  My mom was such an important influence on my life on who I turned out to be, it’s hard for me to fathom how sexism continues to thrive today.

Ordinands on the landing
My fellow clergy – both men and women and all more than capable of serving God faithfully

What’s worse? It happens in the church. 

There are still people today who believe women should not be leaders in the church.  There are people who believe women should stay silent.  There are people today who believe women do not belong as pastors and preachers.  And they use the Bible to justify their sexist, prejudicial attitudes.  It’s not enough they quote from Ephesians to tell women they should be subservient to their husbands and how they’ve used the Bible to justify the physical abuse many women have suffered over the years.  But they also use the Bible to tell women how to behave inside the walls of the church.  1 Corinthians 11 – women should cover their heads.  1 Corinthians 14 – women should remain silent in church and bow to the wisdom of their husbands.  1 Timothy 2 – women do not have the permission to teach a man or to have authority over him.  When I was at Candler School of Theology, I read a story about a Southern Baptist seminary that fired all but one of the female professors when they got a new president because of this passage of Scripture.[1]  He wanted to hold to what he believed was the Christian idea of the role of women.  The only female professor they kept was his wife who taught home economics.  She would teach classes on how to properly keep a Biblical household including of course the “biblical model for the home and family.”[2]

But the author of those passages is the same one who wrote the letter to the followers in Galacia. 

This is the Paul who said we are all equal before God.  That there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no man nor woman in Christ Jesus.  Paul says very clearly that in all things we are equal before Christ.  So which Paul was proclaiming the truth?  Those who are against women leaders in the church would have you believe that is not what Paul is saying.  They would tell you that Paul is saying that although we ARE all equal before God, we have different roles to play in the greater order of things.  That men are supposed to be leaders and women are supposed to be followers.  That men are in charge of making decisions and that women are fit for sitting quietly.  And yet.  And yet, I tell you that this very same Bible these fundamentalists are deriving their support from shows us women ARE to be placed in positions of leadership.  They ARE to provide guidance and instruction. And they are NOT to stay silent.

2014-06-20 - Me and Debra
My mentor and later my DS, Debra Brady, helped me in so many ways and taught me a lot about myself

The Bible has many examples of women in leadership.

Take for example, Deborah from the book of Judges in the Old Testament.  It was Deborah who held the favor of the Lord and to whom the Lord spoke.  It was Deborah who led the Israelites to victory against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite armies, and gave Israel their freedom.  And it was Deborah to whom Barak the leader of Israel’s armies bowed down in submission.  God had truly been working in Deborah as the leader of the Israeli people.  The Bible tells us, “Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until you, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.” (Judges 5:7)  But such role models weren’t limited to the Old Testament. We see equally strong examples of women faithful to God in the New Testament as well.  Even women in Paul’s own ministry who taught the Word of God.  Phoebe, Priscilla, and Junia are just three of the women who Paul NAMES as instrumental in starting the Christian movement.  Phoebe was considered a deacon and was likely the person Paul entrusted to deliver the letter to the church in Rome.[3] Priscilla joined her husband in teaching others about the fullness of God, and she even taught Apollos, a man who was considered a great follower of Jesus.  Why would Apollos listen to a woman if God’s Word was meant to be taught only by men to men?  Maybe Apollos, recognizing the gift of teaching in Priscilla as given by God, felt he had much to learn and ignored what society said and instead listened to God. And finally, Junia.  Although only recently discovered among the earliest of manuscripts, this person from the letter to the Romans (16:7) had long been translated as Junias, a male name.  Some scholars believe that men, threatened by the fact Paul of all people would consider a woman to be an apostle, could not bring themselves to believe it and substituted a man’s name in the place of this dedicated woman. For a woman to be called an apostle, especially by Paul whose writings have long established the role of men and women in the church, would be to marginalize Paul’s writings about women.

So why did Paul write the things he wrote in those letters?

Why did he make it seem he was against women as leaders if he actually made them leaders? Many scholars believe Paul was writing to specific ministries and addressing their challenges in their context.  He wasn’t writing to all women in all circumstances.  If you notice, each of the arguments used to suppress women in church come from Paul’s letters to specific people in specific ministries or to specific churches like the church in Corinth.  Unlike the Gospels which contain none of these difficult passages, these were letters written to specific people.  His instructions then applied to these select societies for their situations only and were never meant to apply for all time to all women everywhere.  Some argue these passages DO apply to all women and some even cite the book of Genesis as establishing the hierarchy of men over women.  Since men were created first, then men were obviously meant to set the tone for the human race.   But what about fish?  What about birds?  Since they were created before men, should we be subservient to them?  Some will argue that because it was a woman who brought sin into the world they should hold a lower place in society, but that is a constructed argument and not one you’ll find anywhere in the Bible.  And those same people forget that Adam sinned equally before God.  He ate of the fruit as well and of his own free will.  Instead, we should judge by the fruit of the Spirit as Christ commanded us to, instead of our own human interpretation.

Today, it brings me to think of a mother who embodied this fruitful spirit.

Susanna Wesley, mother of all 19 children in the Wesley clan, was a person that God used mightily in the life of young John and in the lives of the people around her. [4]  While her husband, Samuel was away in London she had begun to read to her children and teach them about the Bible as a supplement to what they heard in church.  Her servants told Samuel’s parents about this and they came to hear.  They were so impressed with her lessons that they told friends as well, and soon the number of people who came regularly to Mrs. Wesley’s lessons numbered in the hundreds.  Over 200 to be exact which upset the curate to no end who had fewer people attending worship than Mrs. Wesley, a WOMAN, was receiving.  He wrote in complaint to her husband and Samuel responded by telling Susanna that it was his desire for her to stop.  She wrote back, telling him “what good the meetings had done, and that none were opposed to them but Mr. Inman (the curate) and one other. She then concluded (her letter) with these wonderful sentences: ‘If after all this you think fit to dissolve this assembly do not tell me you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity for doing good when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.’”  Needless to say, Samuel didn’t send any such command.    You could say that Susanna was Methodism’s first female pastor.

2015-07-07 - Cassie and Emma with Minnie bows
Two special women who deserve all the dignity and respect in the world

Anyone who reads the Bible knows that women play an important role in the shape of our faith today.

But it doesn’t take much to also know that women were often mistreated by those who claim to be faithful, let alone by those outside the faith.  There are many stories in the Bible that tell of horrible things having been done to women and more stories about how little society thought of them.  But in none of those stories does Jesus ever support that kind of thinking, nor did he ever treat women in that way.  In fact, Jesus treated women with dignity and respect and even though we expect that today, it wasn’t expected in his time.  If Jesus is the barometer by which we judge our own actions, then shouldn’t we model Christ rather than society?  To diminish a woman based on her gender is to do a grave disservice to all people everywhere.  We should respect people the way that Jesus did.  We should uplift people instead of forcing them down.  We should seek to encourage their gifts instead of denying them.  We should value all people everywhere as individuals and as God’s children for as God’s children, we are all equally loved by God.  As God’s children, we are all equally loved by God.  Far too often, the marginalized in society are treated as if they don’t matter.  They are treated like property or objects or tools to be discarded when used.  At one time, this group included women, children, people of color but especially those of African descent, and those who identify as LGBTQ.  If we spend long enough, we can add even more to that list. And still too often, society still excludes these groups. What’s worse is when the people of God use the Word of God to justify actions God would never want us to do.  I have a daughter, and that is not the world I want her to have to grow up in.  I have a wife who should never feel marginalized because of her gender or for any reason.  We must find a way to offer dignity and respect to all human beings and to modify what the great Dr. Martin Luther King said, to judge people not on the color of their skin, or their biological gender, or the way they identify themselves, or any other constructed way of defining one another, but instead on the “content of our character.”  On this Mother’s Day, remember the women in your lives who by the content of their character made a difference in yours.  Whether they are your biological mother, your adoptive mother, your grandmother, your friend who was like a mother to you, make sure you let them know how important they are and how much you love them.  And not just today, but everyday, honor, cherish, and value them for the people that they are.





[3] Archaeological Study Bible, p. 1860.


Craig’s Kitchen – Simple Fried Rice

No revelations here.

What you’re about to read will not shock you.  It will not change your life.  But maybe it will offer a new or different way of making fried rice!  It’s a favorite of my family and I thought I would share it so others could enjoy it, too.  I would also love to hear of your own variations to this simple yet tasty dish.

I became fascinated with fried rice when my dad made wienies and fried rice for me as a kid. It was a hearty, satisfying, tasty meal that pretty much involved seemingly two ingredients – hot dogs sliced up into diagonal pieces and rice all cooked up in a skillet.  The wiener goodness would mix with the rice and would taste so good.  I think my dad added a little oil to the pan to make it fry better but that oil would penetrate the rice and give it a slightly buttery taste.

But fried rice was elevated to another level when we ate at Sakura Chaya in Fresno.  Watching these hibachi artisans cook up a bowl of tasty fried rice was fascinating and I’d eat every last bite – and then some.  Everyone in our family loved it, especially Cassie, so I started watching and taking mental notes about how they did it.  The key seemed to be seasoning salt and butter.  Yummy butter.  The other ingredients complimented it and varied the flavor, but the key to good fried rice was seasoning and butter.  And really good soy sauce.  But you can classify that under seasoning.

The list of ingredients is simple.  It’s really how you mix them that makes a difference.

Fried Rice Ingredients
I’m a big fan of the gluten-free soy sauce whether you are eating gluten-free or not. The flavor is just amazing.


  • 3 uncooked cups of rice (by “cups” I mean the little cup that comes with your rice cooker.  They are about one full cup each)
  • Kikkoman Gluten-Free Soy Sauce – I love this particular brand because it’s not as dense as Tamari but has an even more impacted umami flavor than regular soy sauce.
  • Thick-cut bacon – We use Wellshire which I love.  Personally, I think this is the best brand because it has a nice thickness and the meat is flavorful without artificial additives.  Good bacon is just good.
  • Ghee or Salted Butter – I like ghee since it’s just clarified butter, but regular salted butter is just terrific.  I like using 4th and Heart Ghee, especially the Himalayan Salt version or if going with butter, I like Kerrygold since it’s made from grass-fed cows
  • Lawry’s Seasoning Salt – Use whatever seasoning salt you like best, but Lawry’s looks and tastes the most like the stuff they use at Sakura Chaya (I could never get them to actually tell me the ingredients)
  • Two Large Eggs – Depending on how “eggy” you like it.  Two is plenty and in fact you might want to cut back a bit if you don’t like a lot of egg in your fried rice.  But some egg gives it texture and flavor so don’t omit unless you just don’t like egg or can’t eat it.
Yum…it does taste good. Remember you can add whatever you like to it.

Beyond that, you can add whatever you like!  This is the base for my “Breakfast Fried Rice” but at times I like to add green onions for more added flavor or kamaboko (fish cake) for texture and depth or you could add different meats in addition to the bacon (but you gotta use bacon).  Really it’s whatever floats your boat.

  1. Cook the rice – However you cook rice just have it cooked by the time you put it in the pan.  Jasmine rice works great.  Seems to absorb the flavors well.  My favorite is plain old Japanese sticky rice (not the sweet rice, but the plain sticky rice).  Our family like Botan but that’s a preference thing.
  2. Cook the bacon – Cut the bacon (literally) into little squares.  Ideally, they should be as uniform as you can get it, but don’t worry too much.  Bacon is bacon.  I cut them with a pair of kitchen scissors – first into strips and then the strips into squares or rectangles.  I fry them up in a large pan with a non-stick bottom until they are just barely all nice and crispy.  Stir them around occasionally to make sure the pieces separate and cook relatively evenly.  The scoop them out onto a plate, BUT LEAVE THE BACON DRIPPINGS IN THE PAN!  Key.
  3. Put the cooked rice in the bacon pan.  Mix it up so that the bacon drippings coat the rice grains.  This should cause some separation in the rice grains, but that’s good!  It makes it even easier to mix everything.  This is where I add ghee.  I don’t have a specific amount I add because it depends on how well coated the rice is.  Some bacon is more “drippy” than others.  I always put some ghee because that butter flavor is awesome.
  4. Sprinkle the Lawry’s Seasoning Salt all over the rice so there is a good single layer of it and begin mixing it all up.  Once you’ve mixed it some, add the soy sauce liberally over the rice.  Most of the grains of rice should turn a brown-ish color from the soy sauce.  It’s okay if some are still white.  What you want is a good flavor without too much saltiness.  You’ll be surprised how much soy sauce the rice can take.  I probably use about 2-3 TBSP.  Mix well.
  5. Flatten the rice as much as you can in the pan and let it sit for about 3 or 4 minutes.  What you hope is to develop a little bit of crust on the bottom.  Not so it’s hard but with just a tad of crunch.  While the rice is sitting, beat the eggs together in a small bowl.  I like to add just a tad of milk (like 1 tsp) and salt and pepper with it.  Once beaten and mixed set aside briefly.
  6. Lift up the rice and fold it over so that the bottom comes to the top and you mix it up again.  Once mixed, move the whole pile to one side of the pan to make room for the eggs. Pour as much of the egg mixture as you want.  We use about 1 1/2 eggs (but since eggs don’t come in halves, I just mix together two and use about 1 1/2).  I scramble the eggs until they are just this side of fluffy (not overcooked) and start breaking them up.  Once broken up, I mix it together into the rice, add back the bacon, and stir well until it is all mixed together.  This is where I would add things like kamaboko or green onions or chicken (cooked) depending on what you want.
  7. Serve and enjoy!


Top 10 Reasons People Didn’t Come Back to Church

Thom Rainer, author of many books and an expert on church growth and decline, did an informal Twitter poll about why people didn’t return to a particular church. Mind you this is NOT scientific, but the results were worth pondering. Here are his findings (and his words condensed – you can read his full blog post here).  I used Disney theme park pictures for this post because Disney does it right!

  1. Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service. First, I was surprised how much guests are really uncomfortable during this time. Second, I was really surprised that it was the most frequent response.
  2. Unfriendly church members. The surprise was the number of respondents who included non-genuine friendliness in their answers.
  3. Unsafe and unclean children’s area. If your church does not give a high priority to children, don’t expect young families to attend.

    City Hall at any Disney theme park is the place to go for information. It’s clear, consistent, and always in the same location whether in Hong Kong or Anaheim
  4. No place to get information. If your church does not have a clear and obvious place to get information, you probably have lowered the chances of a return visit by half. There should also be someone to greet and assist guests at that information center as well.
  5. Bad church website. Most of the church guests went to the church website before they attended a worship service. If they attended the service after visiting a bad website, they attended with a prejudicial perspective.

    Trying to find a restroom? At Disneyland the signs are always clear
  6. Poor signage.
  7. Insider church language. “The WMU will meet in the CLC in the room where the GAs usually meet.”
  8. Boring or bad service. My surprise was that it was not ranked higher.
  9. Members telling guests that they were in their seat or pew.
  10. Dirty facilities. Some of the comments: “Didn’t look like it had been cleaned in a week.” “No trash cans anywhere.” Restrooms were worse than a bad truck stop.” “Pews had more stains than a Tide commercial.”

Does your church have any or all of these things?  If we hope to attract people for Christ, we should take into consideration that detail is important and perception is communication.  I would love to hear your ideas about how you are tackling these issues in your own context.

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Craig’s Library – Is Your Church Truly Welcoming?

Everyone says they are a welcoming church.

But (to modify a When Harry Met Sally Quote) not everyone could possibly BE a welcoming church.  If everyone were truly welcoming, church attendance would be much higher than it is today.  People wouldn’t just say they belong to a church, but would actually be part of the life of the church.  Would you like that?  Then read Thom S. Rainer’s book Becoming A Welcoming Church.  This should be on your list of “must reads.”

2009-03-20 - People pouring in the doors for Kate Gosselin
Are you ready for guests to come through your front door?

Title: Becoming A Welcoming Church
Author: Thom S. Rainer
Cost: $12.99
Age: Adult
Publisher: BH Publishing Group
Nutshell: Challenging churches to look at themselves objectively

Thom addresses the disconnect between how churches perceive themselves and how others perceive them.  Often the local church has a distorted view of how great they are, mostly because they’ve stopped looking at themselves objectively.  But Thom challenges those perceptions and spells out the real life consequences of ignoring issues of safety, cleanliness, insider language, and other topics we often do unintentionally.

Visitors make judgments about a church long before they ever hear a sermon.  Sometimes they make judgments based solely on your website (or lack of one).  Today’s consumers (and that’s what church seekers are) start online.  The web is the new front door.  Greeters, signage, and visual appeal all matter to a first time visitor.  It doesn’t matter if we think those matter – they do.  And Thom does a great job of illustrating that point with stories from real people and their real experiences with churches.

Becoming A Welcoming Church is a quick and easy read, but one that could change the path of your church from declining to growing. Thom even includes surveys and questionnaires in the back of the book to help you get started.  This is a must-read for any ministry in your church!

Craig’s Kitchen – Best Peanut Butter Cookies Ever!

Maybe “one” of the best peanut butter cookies ever.

I think it depends on your taste.  But I like mine heavy on the peanut butter and the right peanut butter is essential to great peanut butter cookies. If you don’t start with the right peanut butter, you’re doomed to failure.  Okay maybe that’s exaggerating, but it does make a big difference.  The problem with many peanut butter cookies (IMHO) is that they taste more like peanut butter flavored sugar cookies instead of actual peanut butter cookies.  When you taste these, there will be no doubt.  You are putting an authentic peanut butter cookie in your mouth!

Better yet, they are completely gluten-free!  That was a happy byproduct of my search for a truly good peanut butter cookie.  Thanks to the Internet, I found a recipe I liked and then added my own touches to it (like brown sugar – yum).  I do have to add a small warning – these peanut butter cookies are SO peanut-buttery that they need their own container.  Last Christmas I gave some away and we packaged them in a tin with snickerdoodles and chocolate chip pan cookies.  We came away with peanut butter flavored snickerdoodles and peanut butter and chocolate pan cookies.

IMG_5164The Ingredients:

  • Laura Scudder’s All Natural Smooth Peanut Butter – the number one key ingredient.  The 16oz jar is the perfect amount for this recipe.
  • Brown Sugar – 1 cup – Light brown is the best (never used dark brown for this recipe but my thought it it would be a little too rich)
  • Granulated White Sugar – 1 cup – If you’ve got some handy, I like to use baking sugar which is even more refined than regular white sugar, but either one is fine
  • Vanilla Extract – 1 tsp – I like McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract but just make sure it’s real vanilla and not imitation
  • Eggs – 2 large – I like to use cage free eggs, but any large eggs will do.  Extra large will be too big
  • Baking soda – 2 tsp
  • Salt – pinch
  • Chocolate Chips (optional) – 6 oz (half a bag) – I just started experimenting with this but everyone loved it.  If you want a pure peanut butter cookie, just leave this out


  1. Mix together the peanut butter until it is super smooth.  THIS IS THE MOST CRITICAL PART OF THE RECIPE!  If the peanut butter isn’t super smooth you won’t get the even peanut butter taste you’ll be craving.  Instead it will be unbalanced.  Laura Scudder’s (like any good real peanut butter) comes separated into the oil and peanuts. This is the most work, but the rewards are so great!
  2. While you are stirring, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Get a cookie sheet and line with parchment paper to prevent sticking
  3. Once your peanut butter is super smooth, pour your two cups of peanut butter into a bowl and mix with both white and brown sugar. Stir until it comes out well mixed
  4. Add eggs one at a time until mixed in then add the rest of the ingredients.  After stirring until well mixed, it will look like peanut butter!  If you want the chocolate chips, this is the time to stir them in – after everything else is combined
  5. Form about 1 inch balls in the palms of your hands.  It’s okay if it’s a little big or a little small – don’t worry about it!  Just place them on the prepared cookie sheet with enough space to grow.  I put about twenty on a sheet – five rows of four balls each
  6. Make the cute criss-cross with the back of a small fork, pressing down gently on the ball until you get that criss cross pattern.  I don’t know why this is done except that it’s the universal symbol of peanut butter cookies
  7. Place in the oven and watch them.  Cooking times will definitely vary by oven but for me about 9 or 10 minutes works best.  You want to make sure the cookie is cooked (eggs and all) without overcooking them.  When they are overcooked they start turning darker and darker.  Obviously if they are black, it was way too long!  If you’re unsure, lift one of them up off the parchment and look at the bottom (it will be flimsy so be careful).  If it is a nice, rich, dark color on the bottom it’s probably done.  It will start turning black on the bottom before anywhere else so you can usually tell this way
  8. Remove from the oven when done and let them sit for a few minutes just to firm up enough to move them to a wire rack.  They should be ready to eat in about 10 minutes (but yummy enough if you can’t wait to pull them early)

I hope you’ll enjoy this recipe and let me know if you love it!  Seriously great peanut butter cookies.


Craig’s Library – When Work and Family Collide

Everybody cheats.

That’s how Andy Stanley, author and lead pastor at North Point Community Church in Atlanta, GA starts the introduction to his book When Work and Family Collide.  “Everybody cheats.”  It’s probably not what you think, but Andy is right.  In the push and pull of life we make choices.  We choose work over family, family over faith, fun over everything.  Not always and not all the time, but when we fail to find a balance between these different aspects of our lives, we get in serious trouble.  And that’s what Andy explores in this book – that line between “enough” and “too much.”

Cover art for the printed version of Andy Stanley’s book – When Work and Family Collide

Title: When Work and Family Collide
Author: Andy Stanley
Cost: $12.99 ($9.99 on Amazon)
Age: Adult
Publisher: Multinomah Books
Nutshell: Practical advice on work / life balance

In typical Andy Stanley fashion (which is to say clear, concise, and with great storytelling ability), he examines the roles of work and family life, how easily we can ignore family in favor of work, and some of the tell-tale signs when we are in trouble.  My favorite example of his is the “rock” analogy (which you’ll have to read for yourself).  I’ve heard him tell this story in person and it is just as captivating then as it is in print.  It’s the power of the story itself to graphically illustrate the predicament we face when we prioritize work over family.

Sample of Andy’s book When Work and Family Collide

Now even if work / family balance isn’t a problem for you (are you sure?), this is a great read for balance issues in general.  Like with faith. We often put faith on the back burner for other stuff like kids sports, watching football with friends, or just plain sleep.  Do we really have our priorities in order or are we simply choosing what we like the most or what is most convenient for us?  Andy challenges us to look at these things as heart issues and not to ignore it.  Overall, this is a well-written book that flows smoothly.  It offers practical advice as well as ways to identify the balance issues in our lives.  And it is extremely relevant whether you are Christian or not.  Andy does use Biblical references and stories from the Bible to illustrate some of his points, but it is extremely friendly to those who have no background in Christianity at all.  So feel free to share it with your non-Christian friends.  They won’t get “preached” to, but they’ll see how faith can be integrated into life in practical ways.

Craig’s Kitchen – Simple Ahi Poke

Poke is such a funny word for food.  If you’re not used to its pronunciation it looks like something you’d do to someone’s tummy.  But it’s actually pronounced like “okay” with a “p” in front of it.  Poke or “pokay.”  As for what it is, poke is a simple raw tuna dish with some added flair and oomph.  It’s sort of like sashimi but with lots more flavor.  If you were to try and draw a comparison, it’s like the difference between a baked potato and potato salad.  One is plain and you add stuff to it, the other is a medley of flavors and tastes.

My friend Allison at the macadamia nut farm
My friend Allison at the macadamia nut farm while on my visit to Hawaii for the NJAUMC meeting

I first tried poke in Hawaii with my friend Allison who showed me around the big island.  It was my first time in Hawaii and Allison took me to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice (not shaved ice – shave ice.  There’s a big difference).  But she also took me to this awesome little poke place and I thought it was delicious.  I already liked sashimi, but this was on a whole other level.  Now, first of all there are many, many ways of making poke.  And I guess none of them are wrong, just different.  Mine is a very simple recipe based on something I found while perusing  Their recipe was good, but I made some tweaks and adjustments to maximize the flavor and bring back for me that taste I had in Hawaii.

Most sesame seeds are standard so no need to be picky.  I love this brand of sesame oil, but you don't have to have it.  And of course this is my favorite soy sauce.  The togarashi is just a great addition.
Most sesame seeds are standard so no need to be picky. I love this brand of sesame oil, but you don’t have to have it. And of course this is my favorite soy sauce. The togarashi is just a great addition.

The Six Ingredients

  • Ahi Tuna – for this you want the good kind – sashimi grade tuna.  If you’re not sure what it is, ask your local fishmonger and they should know.  A good piece to use is one that doesn’t have stripes of fat in it.  It should look like a solid block of raw fish.  Now there are fatty tuna that are solid without stripes of fat and that’s fine.  In fact those cost way more but are even more luscious.  But for this dish you don’t need to spend that kind of money.  The taste of the fish will really meld with all the other flavors so save your dollars.
  • Soy Sauce – any soy sauce will do, but my favorite is Kikkoman’s Gluten-Free Naturally Flavored Soy Sauce.  Even if you aren’t going gluten-free, I love it because it has a more rich flavor (loaded with umami).
  • Sesame Oil
  • Green Onions – chopped into small pieces
  • Sunflower Seeds – you can use most any nut and the recipe I first used said macadamia nuts, but those aren’t always readily available or as economic.  I love sunflower seeds and the purpose of having them is to add crunch, texture, and another layer of flavor.  With macadamia nuts you have to chop them up anyway but sunflower seeds are small enough you don’t have to.  Pine nuts also work well but again much more expensive.
  • Togarashi – Japanese dried hot peppers – this comes in a little glass tube that you shake sort of like salt or pepper.  It packs a punch but is not excessively hot.  I think it adds some oomph and flavor to the dish.
Notice how the sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and green onions are not overly obvious?  They are meant to enhance the flavor and not be the flavor.
Notice how the sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and green onions are not overly obvious? They are meant to enhance the flavor and not be the flavor.

Putting this dish together is super easy.  Make sure you have a non-reactive bowl to mix and store your poke.  It’s one of the few times I avoid stainless steel.

  1. Cut the raw tuna into small blocks maybe about 1/3rd to a 1/2 inch squares. It should be small enough that you can fit a few pieces at a time into your mouth but not so small that it looks like little pebbles.  A good block looking cut will work great
  2. Place tuna into a bowl (non-reactive) and mix in about a 1/4 cup of soy sauce for each half pound of tuna.  Play it by ear.  If you’ll eat the whole dish right away, that amount is fine but if its going to be sitting around for more than a couple of hours, you might want to dial back on it because the flavor will intensify with time as the tuna absorbs the soy sauce.
  3. Also add about a 1/4 cup of green onions, 1/2 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp sunflower seeds, a few shakes of sesame seeds, and togarashi to taste.  I would probably start out with about 1 tsp and just add more as you like.  The tuna is your star ingredient. If you have more of anything other than tuna, it won’t taste the way it should so add the seeds, onions, and togarashi as you see fit, but just keeping in mind balance is an important part of the dish.  Keep tasting if need be and just remember the longer you keep it in the fridge, the more the soy sauce will penetrate the tuna.

That’s pretty much it.  A very easy dish to make it will just take one or two tries to get the balance right in flavor.  Goes great with rice, can be a main dish by itself, or be a hearty and flavorful appetizer or side.  Enjoy!

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Craig’s Library – Making Sense of the Bible Makes a Lot of Sense (book review)

Adam Hamilton is turning out to be one of the clearest voices for compassion and reason within the church today.  He often tackles tough subjects with aplomb and sensitivity.  In his book, Making Sense of the Bible, Hamilton helps us look at the Bible in light of the 21st century.  Too often churches don’t bother to tackle the tough issues of the Bible or explore what it really has to say.  But in this book, Adam isn’t afraid to go there.

The cover for Adam Hamilton's book about tough questions from the Bible
The cover for Adam Hamilton’s book about tough questions from the Bible

Some of the topics that he addresses are things like science and creation; the violence of God in the Old Testament; homosexuality; and the reliability of the Bible.  He offers well-reasoned arguments for his thoughts on the subject but always with enough grace to make his words easy to read for even the staunchest of opponents.  What I love about this book is that it offers Biblically-based answers to questions people ask who are not part of the church.  Often these are the things they wrestle with that keep them from joining any faith community.

Love these chapters Hamilton adds to summarize what we read in Scripture
Love these chapters Hamilton adds to summarize what we read in Scripture

He also goes into depth about the Bible itself – how it was put together, which books made it in, and two of my favorite chapters, the Old and New Testaments in Fifteen Minutes.  He clears up for many some of the complexities about the Bible and helps both long-time church-goers and people exploring their faith for the first time to take a nice, long look at what we consider to be the most Holy book in Christianity.  There are many misconceptions about the Bible, about what it says, and about how it is interpreted.  Hamilton offers a compelling way to look at it that is grounded in sound theology AND a pastor’s heart.

I also appreciate the humble way he approaches the topic.  In the introduction he writes, “Am I right in everything I say in this book? I’m certain I’m not.  But the book is an attempt to honestly wrestle with the difficult questions often raised by thoughtful Christians and non-Christians concerning things taught in the Bible (p.5).”  His examples come from a wide range of experiences.  He talks about everyday people who have challenged his own perceptions of Scripture and admits that he too wrestles with its words.  Reading it, I found myself nodding my head so often, hearing my own questions being addressed.

Critical praise for Hamilton's book and writing from a spectrum of different people
Critical praise for Hamilton’s book and writing from a spectrum of different people

Making Sense of the Bible is a great book to base a sermon series on or for an indepth group study together.

Title: Making Sense of the Bible
Author: Adam Hamilton
Cost: $21.99
Age: Adult
Publisher: Harper One
Genre: Bible / Spiritual Growth

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