Monday, April 23, 2007

This Just In!

I just found out that People Magazine has rated me #51 in this year's 50 Most Beautiful People Issue. Unfortunately, this means for the 38th straight year I didn't make the magazine, but hey, it's good to know that you almost made it.

Thanks, People!

Okay, so this didn't really happen. I'm not rated #51, and may not even be in the top 5,000,000. But, I know this, God loves me. He really does! He's passionate about me, and you, and everyone else on this earth.

Aren't you glad that God doesn't keep a 50 Most Beautiful People list? Aren't you glad that God's view of our worth has nothing to do with what we look like, who we know, how much money we make or what are what we do?

So, God, you are #1. You are the most beautiful. You are beauty. And, I am in awe!

Pizza and God Talk Updates

You won't want to miss Pizza and God Talk the next two times that we meet. This Wednesday night's (April 25th) Pizza and God Talk discussion will include a Stump the Pastor discussion. You will have the chance to ask Geoff Bohleen, Wooddale's Outreach Pastor, Fred McCormick, Wooddale's Adult Ministries Pastor and me any question that you want about the Bible, spirituality, religion, God, etc. We will do our best to answer those questions the best that we can.

In two weeks, May 9th, Paul Helseth will be with us. Paul teaches theology at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. He is the co-author of the book Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity with John Piper and Justin Taylor. He will be addressing the concept of Open Theism, and what you need to know about it.

Pizza and God Talk happens at Davanni's in Eden Prairie and runs from 9:00-10:30 PM. As always, if you would rather have your own discussion rather than talk about the topic of the night, there will be several open tables for people to talk theology.

Remembering Virginia Tech

It's been one week since life at Virginia Tech was changed forever. I was thinking earlier this morning about how fast life can change. Virginia Tech is a beautiful place. The serene setting of this campus tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains is incredible. I used to pass Virginia Tech several times a year as I would drive from my home in the suburbs of Chicago, to my college campus that was located in Lynchburg, Virginia. I remember gazing upon the VA Tech campus each time I drove by, thinking this is a beautiful place.

No amount of beauty can change the ugliness of what happened last week. And, in the ugliness, the new sort of beauty that arose. From the ashes of lives that were torn apart sprung up a new kind of hope. When the Virginia Teach family was too weak to stand on their own, a country surrounded them with prayer, words of affirmation, and offers of help. When the Virginia Tech family was in despair, a country reminded them that tears are okay, and hugs are important, and that all of humanity identifies with their pain. When the Virginia Tech family was in despair, we were also reminded about how small we really are. We were reminded about the uncertainty of life. And, we were reminded that God, who is debated in the public arena and mocked in plenty of university classrooms, is still there. He is there to go to in prayer. He is the source of healing. Prayer vigils sprung up on campuses all over the world on behalf of the Virginia Tech family.

Virginia Tech, it's been one week, but our prayers are still with you. Our hearts are with you as you start class back today. Our prayers are for the countless people who lost loved ones, and who have a huge hole in their hearts today. God has not forgotten you, Virginia Tech. He loves you. He wants to help bring hope and healing out of despair. And, we want to help.

I'd love to hear from fellow bloggers on what you think are some practical ways that we can come along side of the Virginia Tech family at this time.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tax Day Relief

Today is April 15th. This is the day that taxes are traditionally due for most Americans. Because April 15th falls on a Sunday this year, taxes are not due until Tuesday, April 17th. Procrastinators are engaged in a collective sigh of relief. For, this year, they have two extra days to get their taxes done. It's a two-day grace period, which allows them to wait until Monday, April 16th to get really stressed out.

I don't know about you, but I'm a big fan of grace. I loved when I was in school and was given an extension to finish a paper, or to study for an exam. I love it when I'm forgiven by someone, when I really don't deserve to be forgiven. I love it when I'm given two extra days to get my taxes done. And, I love that Jesus Christ has provided more than enough grace for me on the cross of Calvary.

So, have you accepted God's grace? Have you placed your trust completely in Jesus Christ for your salvation? Unlike tax day, which only gives grace every several years, God gives grace every day. Every day that you are alive is an extension of God's grace to you. Like tax day, we will all one day have to make an account of the way that we have lived our lives before a holy and righteous God. Unlike tax day, none of us know when that day will come. If we fail to seek God's forgiveness and allow Him to take control of our lives before the end of our lives, no extensions will be given. Your grace period is now. Don't procrastinate.

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
-- Revelation 3:20

Friday, April 13, 2007

When Birds Attack

A couple of weeks ago I was preparing to go to church when I head this incredible racket outside of my home. The front yard was abuzz with the sound of this Coopers Hawk killing a grackle. Can you believe this picture?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Bible Literacy Project

Did you happen to catch Time Magazine last week? The cover story is about, Why We Should Teach The Bible In Public School. The article has caused quite a stir. What do you think? Should we use this textbook by the Bible Literacy Project in public schools? If you didn't get a chance to read the article, here is a good look at what people across the religious landscape are saying about it:

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Thank You For Praying

The funeral service for Daniel Olsen took place today. I really believe that God was glorified in this service. There was something so special about Dan's funeral. The full military honors that he received at both the funeral, and the graveside ceremony was something that was truly spectacular to behold. I've acquired a deeper appreciation for the brotherhood of the Marines.

Holly Collison's rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic sent shivers up my spine. It was hard not to want to jump out of my chair in applause. I felt a great deal of pride for our country. The Iraq war is an unpopular war, but the men and women who are fighting in the war are heroes in my book.

Please keep Wayne, Gwen, Shelcy and Shaina Olsen in your prayers as the emotion of this day now moves to the very sober reality that life goes on. Dan's body is in the grave. But, Dan is in heaven. Praise be to God for His unbelievable gift.

Dear Heavenly Father,
Tonight, we pray for all members of our armed forces. We pray for those families that are dealing with the pain that distance brings. We pray for wives who miss their husbands. We pray for husbands who miss their wives. We pray for children who miss their moms and dads, and for parents who miss their sons and daughters. We pray for protection for all who are in harm's way, and pray that you would bring peace to the waring regions of the world. We pray for courage and hope for those fighting in this conflict, and for peace, hope, and joy for the families that have lost loved ones. Thank you that You are the God of love, the God of reconciliation, the God of hope, the only wise God. To You be all praise, glory and honor. In Jesus' name, Amen.

There are some nice stories about the funeral that you can find by following these links:

A Little Bit of Bonhoeffer?

We had an incredible discussion at Pizza and God Talk tonight. We were talking about the issues that the church is going to have to deal with in the next 10-20 years. While speaking I shared a quote from Deitrich Bonhoeffer's classic, The Cost of Discipleship. If you don't own this book, go to Amazon and order it tonight. It's an essential for any library. I shared part of a quote from this book with our students tonight, and thought I'd put the complete quote in this blog. This is from a section of Bonhoeffer's book where he is dealing with the concept of cheap grace.

Bonhoeffer wrote, ". . .this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang. The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available at all too low a cost. We gave away the Word and sacraments wholesale; we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. We poured fourth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard."

I wonder sometimes if we are guilty of this. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Jim & Casper Go To Church

It's a fascinating premise -- a Christian hires an Atheist to accompany him to several churches and give his impression of Christians. Jim & Casper Go To Church is a new book publshed by Barna that is tough to put down. I'd highly recommend this book to any pastor, church leader, or sincere Christian that wants to understand how at least one Atheist views the church. Jim, the Christian, and Casper, the Atheist, visited such churches as Saddleback, Willow Creek, Mars Hill, Mosaic, and others, and rated their experiences. You can read about their ratings, and those of many other Atheists at The site causes one to pause, and really think about what it is that we are communicating to spiritual seekers. I'd love to hear your reactions to the book or the site.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Great Article on Billy Graham

The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a great article in yesterday's paper on Billy Graham. Graham doesn't give many interviews anymore. This was a beautiful glimpse about what his relationship with Christ, his wife, and his calling looks like now. Read it. I'm sure you'll be blessed.

A Couple More Issues To Think About

A couple of days ago in my post, What are the Top 10 Issues the Church Will Face in the Next 10 Years I spoke about a number of issues that the church is dealing with. In the post I mentioned that these are not the 10 issues that will make it into the book, but some of the issues that I see.

Here are a couple more.

1) Holiness - I was having dinner with a couple on Friday night. They are also involved in ministry at a local church. They talked about the seeming lack of desire for holy living that they see in so many people their age in their church. It's easy to get discouraged. It's as if we have a generation of people who want to be Christian, but be able to do what everyone else in society is doing. A challenge for the church in this and every generation is how do we live in such a way that pleases God and inpact society. How do we say, "No," to sinful desires and pursue righteousness. It's like the quote I posted by John Piper last week. "Sin is what you do when your heart isn't satisfied with God."

2) Lack of Credibility in Church Leaders - The trust level of those who lead churches has been damaged in recent years. Tales of corruption, unethical behavior, and church leaders who live anything but holy lives has hurt the cause of the church. Human beings are flawed. We are sinners. But, those who have the unique role of being leaders in the church of Christ need to live lives that are above reproach. This can only happen when the Holy Spirit is controlling us. One of the challenges that pastors face in this generation is the amount of time that it takes to earn credibility. So many pastors jump ship after just a couple of years in a church. We need leaders who are committed to serving for the long haul.

So, what do you think are some of the issues that the church has to grapple with in the next several years?

Nice Story on Daniel Olsen's Impact on KSTP Web Site

There is a touching story on Daniel Olsen's impact on children on the KSTP website. You can view that video here: Daniel's funeral will be at 2:00 on Wednesday, April 11, at Wooddale Church. He will be buried at Fort Snelling immediately following the service. A reception at Eagan High School will follow the burial.

Please keep the Olsen's in your prayer during this time.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

He Is Risen!

Have you heard the news?
In the middle of life's chaos
In the wars and rumors of wars
In the hustle and bustle of life on the street
Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today!

Have you heard the news?
In the family crisis
and school crisis
In the workplace struggle
and neighborhood squabble
Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today!

Have you heard the news?
In the homeless' plight
and widow’s tears
In the aged's pain
and the young person's indifference
Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today!

Have you heard the news?
In Hollywood's self absorption
and Bollywood's worldly fortune
In palaces and shantytowns
and everywhere in between
Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today!

Have you heard the news?
In the secret places of your heart
and mine
In the public faces on you and me
Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today!

No scholar or skeptic
No pastor or priest
No celebrity or star
No scientist or Atheist
No billionaire or pauper
No discovery or philosophy
No greed or philanthropy
No government or institution
No TV special or blockbuster movie
No book or periodical
No diversion or distraction
No boy or girl
No man or woman
Can stop the news
Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today!

Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today!
He is Risen, Indeed!

Friday, April 06, 2007

What are the Top 10 Issues the Church Will Face in the Next 10 Years?

I'm working on a new book that deals with the top 10 theological or ecclesiological issues that the church is going to face in the next 10-20 years. These are issues that currently hang in the balance. I'd be interested to hear from you about what you think that some of these issues are.

Here are a couple of the issues that I see:

1) Soteriology - I am so concerned as I read more and more people who would self identify as Christians who are saying that Jesus is not the only way to salvation. In a world that has become increasingly diverse, we are seeing more and more people, perhaps because they are afraid of offending, perhaps because they want to create God in their own image, who say that all religions essentially lead to the same place.

2) The Embrace of Open Theism - So many of the college students and young adults that I work with have bought into this doctrine, which among other things, teaches that God does not know the future. They would teach that God knows all of the possible futures, but not a specific future. This has a major impact on how we view the omniscience of God, what we believe about prayer, etc.

3) Homosexuality - How does the church respond to the homosexual community? How do you teach biblical principles regarding homosexuality and still love homosexuals?

4) Ecclesiology - House church? Emerging church? Traditional? Contemporary? Multi-ethnic? Homogeneous? Seeker sensitive? Seeker driven? Gather for edification, scatter for evangelism? Mega-church, bad? Mega-church, good?

5) The Bible - Absolute truth? Inerrant? Infallible? I belive it is with all of my heart. I'm in the minority.

6) Social Justice, Global Warming, etc. - Creation care has caused quite a stir in recent months. Younger Evangelicals are passionate about social justice. Jesus was passionate about social justice. What would Jesus do?

7) Red Letter Christians - Are Jesus' words the most important in all of Scripture? Do we pay as much attention to the teaching of Paul, Peter, John, etc.? What about the Old Testament?

8) Infighting in the Church - Satan is having a heyday here. When does God want us to go to the mat with other Christians? Emerging church vs. Traditional Church? Prayer styles? Worship styles? Theological issues? Urban vs. Suburban?

9) Jesus Junk - The consumerization of the American church. When is enough, enough? What is too much?

10) Friend or Foe? - Is the Gospel a friend to culture or a foe to culture?

Some of these issues will make it into my book, many won't. I have several more, but wanted to get the discussion rolling. Tell me what you think. What are your top 10 issues?

Easter Gift from iTunes and Zondervan

The good folks at Zondervan have made The Easter Story available on iTunes this week for free! This is the Easter Story read from the pages of Scripture by a number of different actors, pastors, musicians, etc. I purchased the entire Bible Experience for my iPod in November. This is a great product. I use it all of the time when I am exercising.

To find the free Easter Story on iTunes, go to the front page of the iTunes store, and then scroll down to the Free on iTunes section. The Easter Story will remain free on iTunes until Monday, April 9th. Enjoy! And, when you listen, praise God again for His incredible gift to us.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Congratulations Phil and Naomi!

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of officiating the marriage ceremony for Phil and Naomi Horn. Their wedding was beautiful. They were married at the Como Conservatory in St. Paul, and the setting couldn't have been more fantastic. Picture walking down the aisle with thousands of flowers surrounding you. Pretty amazing, huh? Here is a picture of the happy couple!

Joel Hanson at The Gathering on Easter Sunday

Joel Hanson will be leading worship with David Olson and Elizabeth Honeycutt at The Gathering this Sunday night at 5:15 and 7:00 PM. Joel used to be the lead singer in the group PFR, one of my all time favorite Christian groups. Don't miss it! It's going to be a special night. We get to celebrate the resurrection of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and enjoy some incredible music and an awesome message!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Are We Done Yet?

I saw the movie, Are We Done Yet, with the Shortreed twins today. (Chris and Tim are two cool brothers). And, even though the Star Tribune only gave this movie one star, I thought it was really fun. Two thumbs up.

I'm telling you, I think Ice Cube and I could be twins. He needs me to be his new rap partner on his next CD.

Jamal Hashi and Chicken Fantastik on KARE 11

Many of you who hang with me on a regular basis have had the privilege of dining at Safari Restaurant or Safari Express in Minneapolis. Safari is owned by my good friend Jamal Hashi. My favorite dish that he cooks is called Chicken Fantastik. Jamal was on KARE 11, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis cooking this dish for Showcase Minnesota. Here is the link to that television appearance and the recipe for Chicken Fantastik! Bon appetit!


TV appearance:

'Twas The Sunday Before Easter

Leith Anderson preached a message at Wooddale this week called, "'Twas the Sunday Before Easter." It was my privilege to write an article for the Wooddale Week about the theme of the message. I wrote two articles. One was a poem, and the other was an inspirational thought. At the time I wrote the poem, I was unaware that there would be an amazing drama this week, using a poem with the same name. So, this didn't appear in the Wooddale Week, but I thought I'd share it with you.

'Twas The Sunday Before Easter

‘Twas the Sunday before Easter
And all through my life
Was anxiety, hopelessness
And a great deal of strife

When what to my wandering soul should appear
But the hope of our Savior,
Who loved the one in my mirror

A perfect life lived
He was celebrated
As He rode down the street
Knowing death He would meet

Celebration one day and rejection the next
The King given over, His followers perplexed

Anxiety? Yes. And, hope? It was lost
Because they knew not, just what was the cost
Of so great a salvation, that is the foundation
Hope lost on Friday, and found on that Sunday

So, where are you on this Palm Sunday?
Living on Friday or Easter Morning?
Remember, He conquered death and the grave
For you and for me, our lives to save

Another Book

I received word from Zondervan yesterday that they will be publishing my third book, When I. . . in January of 2009. What's the Deal With. . . comes out on December 7th of this year. The cover art for that book accompanies this post.

CT article on Passion

If you haven't picked up the current issue of Christianity Today and read the article on The Passion movement, you need to do so. They call Passion the most influential movement amongst young evangelicals. I would have to agree. Passion has decided to suspend all Passion conferences in the United States. They will be taking a world tour sometime in the next year. Louie Giglio's reasoning for this is right on. Read the article. It's worth your time. It's interesting to read what the article has to say about John Piper and Beth Moore's relationship to the Passion movement. It's also interesting to read about the passion that twentysomethings in the southern part of the United States have for God. The vast majority of twentysomethings that go to Passion are from the south. The article talked about the need to reach twentysomethings in the north. I'm not sure that is an entirely fair statement. Going to the Passion conference is not what makes you passionate about God. In a very real way, we are seeing a revival amongst twentysomethings in the Twin Cities. Here at Wooddale Church, Chad Erlenborn, our young adults pastor, has found that 20% of people in our twentysomething community have come to faith in the past six months. That's pretty cool!

Foreverandever, Etc.

The David Crowder Band is one of my all time favorite groups. And, now they have a new video for one of my all time favorite songs. Here is the David Crowder Band's foreverandever, etc. video. You've got to love Youtube.

Bookstores and Future Grace

I love bookstores. There is just something about standing in racks upon racks of books that motivates me. Each book on a shelf has a story behind it. There is the author's life experiences and education. There is the publisher's willingness to take a risk. There is the marketing team's creativity in artwork and advertising.

It amazes me how the same book can bring about such different responses in readers.

I spent some time in a used book store yesterday with my three boys. While there, I went to the religion section. I was perusing the shelves when I came upon a book by John Piper that I was previously unfamiliar with. It's called Future Grace and it was published by Multnomah in 1995. I just looked on Amazon, and it was republished in 2005, with a new cover.

I haven't read the book yet. I bought it, because on pages 9-10 you'll find this paragraph:

On the other side of the coin, the aim of this book is to emancipate human hearts from servitude to the fleeting pleasures of sin. Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. No one sins out of duty. We sin because it holds some promise of happiness. That promise enslaves us until we believe that God is more to be desired than life itself (Psalm 63:3). Which means that the power of sin's promise is broken by the power of God's. All that God promises to be for us in Jesus stands over against what sin promises to be for us without him. This great prospect of the glory of God is what I call future grace. Being satisfied with that is what I call faith. And therefore the life I write about in this book is called Living by Faith in Future Grace.

That's pretty profound. I was just having lunch with a student on Monday, talking about why so many of his friends choose sin. I wish I read this quote about sin earlier.

If you've read this book, I'd love to hear what it meant to you. I'm looking forward to taking the journey.

Prayer for Olsen Family

I received word on Monday that Daniel Olsen, a former student of mine at Wooddale Church, was killed by sniper fire in Iraq on Sunday.

Please be in prayer for the family of Daniel Olsen. Daniel's sister Shaina is a senior at Eagan High School, and an active part of our ministry. Please pray for Daniel's parents Wayne and Gwen, and his older sister Shelcy. You can read the Minneapolis Star Tribune account of Dan's death here:

Dan is the guy on the right of this picture.
One of the things that you won't read about Dan in the Star Tribune story is of his love for children. Dan volunteered in our children's ministry in his time in high school. The kids that he worked with loved him. When he left to go into the Marines, his class of first graders presented him with a Marines Bible and prayed for him. They laid hands on him as you would for a missionary, prayed that God would protect Dan. Please be in prayer for these children too.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Blog Silence

It's been several months since I posted an entry on Pass the Salt. I'm making a commitment to get back in the habit starting today. So, get ready. . .