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Archive for February, 2010

The Barbie Doll was introduced in 1959. She has gone through several evolutions over the past 49 years. Now, at long last there are some NEW Barbie dolls, to coincide with her aging gracefully. These are a bit more realistic…

1. Bifocals Barbie. Comes with her own set of blended-lens fashion frames in six wild colors (half-frames too)! Neck chain and large-print editions of Vogue and Martha Stewart Living.

2. Hot Flash Barbie. Press Barbie’s bellybutton and watch her face turn beet red while tiny drops of perspiration appear on her forehead! With handheld fan and tiny tissues.

3. Facial Hair Barbie. As Barbie’s hormone levels shift, see her whiskers grow! Available with teensy tweezers and magnifying mirror.

4. Flabby Arms Barbie. Hide Barbie’s droopy triceps with these new, roomier-sleeved gowns. Good news on the tummy front, too: muumuus with tummy support panels are included!

5. Bunion Barbie. Years of disco dancing in stiletto heels have definitely taken their toll on Barbie’s dainty arched feet. Soothe her sores with the pumice stone and plasters, then slip on soft terry mules.

6. No More Wrinkles Barbie. Erase those pesky crow’s-feet and lip lines with a tube of Skin Sparkle-Spackle, from Barbie’s own line of exclusive age-blasting cosmetics.

7. Soccer Mom Barbie. All that experience as a cheerleader is really paying off as Barbie dusts off her old high school megaphone to root for Babs and Ken, Jr. With mini van in robins egg blue or
white, and cooler filled with doughnut holes and fruit punch.

8. Mid-life Crisis Barbie. It’s time to ditch Ken. Barbie needs a change, and Fred (her personal trainer) is just what the doctor ordered, along with Prozac. They’re hopping in her new red Miata and
heading for the Napa Valley to open a B&B. Comes with real tape of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.”

9. Divorced Barbie. Sells for $199.99. Comes with Ken’s house, Ken’s car, and Ken’s boat.

(Author unknown.  But truly funny!)

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In Steven Spielberg’s film, Schindler’s List, at the end of the movie Oskar Schindler is leaving behind the forced-labor camp and all of the Jewish laborers that he helped save from the gas chambers and furnaces of Auschwitz.  The Jewish laborers give Schindler a simple expression of their gratitude.  At that moment, Oskar Schindler realizes an awful truth.  He realizes he could have done more to save more people.

Oskar Schindler recognizes what he did to save those standing before him, but he also agonizes that he did not do more to save more Jewish lives.  While he lived in luxury, innocent people suffered horrific deaths.  All the money squandered on himself could have bought more lives their freedom.  His fancy car in which he is about to leave was worth ten or twelve people.  His gold Nazi lapel pin was worth one or two.  Schindler cries, “I could have done more save more people!”

One of the most important aspects of Christ’s kingdom is the focus on redeeming humankind.  Everyone is redeemable.  God’s call to humanity to come and be a part of his great family and kingdom is why he sent Jesus.  Jesus came to call us to the heavenly Father.  Then he made a way for us through his death and resurrection.

No human being is worthless.  No human life is a castaway or a throwaway.  We are all valuable in God’s eyes.  No one is beyond God’s redeeming love.  As an old hymn so vividly paints it, “He makes the foulest clean.”  While all of us were still foul and far from God, he loved us and showed it by sending his son Jesus to pay the price to redeem us from sin, hell, and the devil.

While the cynics and nay-sayers of society cast about on life’s junk heap skeptically looking for something of redeeming value, God looks at humanity.  There he sees value.  There he sees hope.  There his love goes out and plucks us out of own our junk heap to redeem us for our full value as his creation, which he made in his own image.

Kelly's Slough, Grand Forks County, North Dakota, Fall 2006

Kelly's Slough, Grand Forks County, North Dakota, Fall 2006 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Now those of us who are redeemed and returned to full value through Jesus Christ are given the task of spreading the message of God’s redeeming love.  We are commissioned with the task of searching the highways and byways of life.  There we will find humanity’s forgotten castaways.  Those who feel left alone and worthless can be restored to full worth and value through a loving relationship with the heavenly Father.

This is a mission infinitely more valuable than discarded bottles and aluminum cans.  We are given the task of seeing human lives restored to their original intent and beauty.  Investing in the lives of other people – women, men, and children – is where true meaning and value is found in life.

It would be a calamity to get to life’s end and realize all that we wasted on short-lived selfish pleasure.  Let us not get to the end of our days to only grieve that we could have done more.  What a tragedy to suddenly realize too late that “I could have done more to save more people!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Church Mission and Kingdom Mission

One of the 20th century’s great missiologists, Ralph D. Winter, identified the struggle between “church mission” and “kingdom mission” in the American or Western Church.  I came across one of his articles in “Perspectives On the World Christian Movement: A Reader” (4th Edition).  It captured my attention and provoked my thinking in regards to the local church and my experience as a church leader.

In the way Ralph D. Winter uses these terms, Kingdom Mission is the effort to approach and deal with broad social issues that effect society as a whole.  In other words, the mission is to change all of society, not just establish a church group focused upon personal sanctification and discipleship.  On the other hand, Church Mission is the work to establish discipleship methods that focus upon personal salvation and sanctification.

This struggle between what has been called in the past “the social gospel” and the “the salvation gospel” is nothing new.  It has been raging in the Western Church for more than 150 years!  Only recently has there been agreement that it is not an “either/or”” decision but a “both/and” one.  We need both the ministry to the body and ministry to the soul for the Gospel to be effective.  However, that discussion and resolution is still a difficult struggle at the local church level with limited resources.  Despite the high profile image before us of large mega-churches, the fact remains that the vast majority of churches in America and the West are churches of less than 100 people.

On more popular terms, the struggle is between being “outward focused” or “inward focused.”  Of course, almost all would agree that the local church needs both.  However, in practice it very rarely works out that way.  The vast majority of time and money is spent on Church Mission – ministering to and keeping those we have – and not Kingdom Mission – reaching out to and helping to transform the lives of those around us not yet among us.

As a church leader, I have always pushed congregations to “think outside its walls.”  This is harder than what it sounds.  The faithful hear the words but our church structures have conditioned them to do otherwise.  Almost every ministry of the church is inward focused on Church Mission and not outward focused at all on Kingdom Mission.  I have often tried to challenge a church’s leaders by telling them that, “Unless a local church can prove its value to its community, I believe it should pay taxes!”  So far, that has not been very motivating.

The culture of the church works against this type of effort from the top down when the majority of a pastor’s time is spent – and is expected to be spent – with parishioners instead of the least, last and lost of the community.  Pastoral time is consumed with administrative duties, particularly as the church grows, as well as keeping the sheep he has content and happy.

Heaven forbid he should miss visiting someone at home or in the hospital when he is needed because he is involved in a community outreach project or ministering to someone not a part of the church!  After all, what is he being paid for?  I have been told by someone that, “Since I pay my tithes, I consider the pastor to be my employee.”  That is definitely a Church Mission attitude, not a Kingdom Mission attitude.

Colin on the wreck of the Peter Iredale, Warrenton, Oregon, 2002

Colin on the wreck of the Peter Iredale, Warrenton, Oregon, 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Each of the congregations I served attempted to do things that served the community with “no strings attached.”  I considered these more than just attempts at community public relations.  I considered them a vital part of building relationship with our community as well as meeting a need.  However, in every congregation, I have faced and answered to a skeptical deacon or church leader who wants to know after it was all over, “But pastor, how many people started attending our church as a result of our efforts?  How many visited our church?  How much did this send us in the ‘hole’ in our budget?  Did anyone get saved?

These types of questions are endemic to the attitudes of many congregants.  Who can blame them?  After all, they have limited time and limited finances.  They want the most “bang for their buck.”  Nevertheless, it misses an important part of the Church’s mission; the part where the Church is to be a change-agent for transforming the world around it.  There is not quick-and-easy plan to do that in any community.  It takes a commitment to what I call “being vocal and visible” in one’s world, which requires commitment and consistency.  It earns the right to be heard and to minister to people’s real needs.

As Ralph D. Winter warned,

The Lord’s Prayer…becomes too often ‘Our kingdom come’ as the Church is concerned with the personal and spiritual fulfillment of its individual members, its building plans, etc., not the solution of problems beyond its boundaries.”

The trap in our local churches is “keepin’ busy for Jesus” but not at things that lead to real change in our communities.  What if more local churches released their people to volunteer at the local food banks, homeless shelters, clothing banks, pregnancy centers, sexual and child abuse agencies, adoption agencies, community children’s services, local family services, jail and prison ministries, and free medical clinics?  What if the local church focused on after-school tutoring, divorce and grief care, and volunteering at local schools?  If you are a church leader and reading this makes you nervous and sweat, then you understand the cost of what Ralph D. Winter is proposing.

We have conditioned our Evangelical churches to become individual focused on personal salvation and discipleship.  Even our outreach efforts are  most often measured according to what is convenient and what seems like a credible effort in our own eyes.  We want to be able to personally measure the results with “butts, bucks, and buildings.”  We want to focus upon what our own talents and interests offer instead of the needs around us.

I am guilty of this as a church leader, despite my best efforts.  I have been sucked into the vortex of “keepin’ busy for Jesus.”  Ralph D. Winter’s article provoked my thinking and a good amount of self-reflection.  I believe he sets before every church leader and local church a clarion challenge that requires our focus and dedication if we wish to be obedient to the mission of God’s Kingdom.  Let me leave you with his words,

Our obedience is certainly flawed if focused only on what the world approves.  Our obligation is to seek the expansion of the knowledge of the glory of God and His Kingdom, and this would logically require us each to prayerfully seek God about doing the hardest thing we are able to do in the most crucial task we can find.  First John 3:8 says, ‘The Son of god appeadred for this purose, that He might destroy the works of the Devil.’  To follow Jesus is to go to war.  This side of the Millennium that’s what the Christian life is.  In a war what needs to be done comes first.  And a true sense of accomplishment is not that you did what you wanted to do, or what you thought you were best at, but what you felt convinced was most crucial, most important.  Doing good things is the biblical way to portray God’s character and glory only if we are willing to act without personal conditions.”  (“Three Mission Eras: And the Loss and Recovery of Kingdom Missions, 1800 – 2000” by Ralph D. Winter in “Perspectives On the World Christian Movement: A Reader” 4th ed.)

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The parent’s greatest source of joy
may be the laughter of a child.
The giggley coo’s of an infant
learning to play peek-a-boo;
The cackley silliness of
a young child tickled and tossed;
The gurgley guffaws of
a young teen getting and playing jokes;
The open-mouthed joyful smiles
of young people at play with their siblings;
And the parent’s greatest source of joy
may be laughter born from a child.

Almberg Kids with Funny Hats, Seaside, Oregon, 2002

Almberg Kids with Funny Hats, Seaside, Oregon, 2002

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Until All Are Free, None Are Free!

Years ago, a movie came out about the famous Scotsman, William Wallace. It has become one of my favorite movies to watch.  The movie, “Braveheart,” is also a great story that reflects the work of power structures at work all over the world even today.  I am not recommending watching the movie because of the violent images.  Nevertheless, the story is a powerful one even if the history has been shaped to fit a Hollywood movie.

The ruthless king of England, Edward Longshanks, ruled with an iron grip, including the Scottish lands.  The Scots were unable to throw off King Edward’s rule because they themselves were warring with each other.  Plus, they were divided over the heir to the Scottish throne.  Robert Bruce was a prince of the Scots and an heir to the throne, but he was cowered by King Edward and refused to confront him.  As a result, other Scot clans wanted to put forward their own prince and heir to the throne to lead them.

The politics, land ownership, and multiple heirs to the throne make for a complicated situation that paralyzed the Scottish rulers so that they remained under the cruel and wicked rule to Edward Longshank’s court.  They were prisoners in their own lands while at the same time, lived in relative comfort and security apart from the common people who suffered more greatly under the oppression of unjust rulers.

William Wallace, a national hero in Scottish lore, was a commoner who stood up to the English rulers.  He challenged them by rallying his countrymen around a bigger picture of what true freedom could offer them.  He reminded them that at any time their enemy could return.  He painted for them the possibility of complete victory over the enemy.  He also challenged the princes of Scotland that their positions, lands, and possessions were not just for their own personal comfort and enjoyment but also for others’ freedom.

The tension between Robert Bruce and William Wallace arose when Prince Bruce wants to do everything to protect the rights and positions of the Scottish nobles.  He was careful to make the ‘politically correct’ moves and not take too great of risks.  On the other hand, William Wallace, who has no position and no power, raised his voice for the ‘common’ people and their bondage.  He challenged the nobles to not just consider their own relative freedom, but the slavery that their fellow Scots bore.  He cried out for a courageous leader, even believing that William Bruce could be that leader if he so dared.

Both men face risks differently and face different risks.  One had everything to lose, the other nothing.  One saw only what there was to lose, the other what there was possibly to gain.  One saw the pain and price to bring about the change; the other saw the pain and price to bring about a new future.  William Wallace challenged Robert Bruce by defining what “noble” really means.  He called him to make the ultimate sacrifice for others and to personally lead the charge.

Hood Oranmentation, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, 2009

Hood Oranmentation, Cool Desert Nights Auto Show, Richland, Washington, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

This is a story that reflects the struggle of the most power structures at work in the world today.  It also portrays what goes on in many churches and denominations.  Those that have been around awhile are at times too comfortable with their present position and possession.  They have come to think that it all exists for their own personal comfort and safety.  Those who have gained positions of influence and experience are locked into doing what does not require much risk.  As such, they have lost sight of the threat of the enemy.

What the church needs today are courageous servants and leaders who are willing to take risks for the good of others who are suffering under bondage and slavery to the enemy of their souls.  It needs a bigger picture of freedom, not just for personal comfort and safety, but for those still under the rule of a cruel taskmaster.  This will mean using position of power and possessions enjoyed in the world to gain freedom for others.

Does your life reflect a Robert Bruce or a William Wallace?  Does your heart cry out for your brothers and sisters still in bondage to our common spiritual enemy?  Is your rallying cry, “Until all people are free, none of are free?”  What risks are you willing to take to bring someone out of slavery to poverty, addiction, and unjust social structures?  What cost are you willing to pay to help someone grow in their freedom in Christ?  Let the cry of God’s people be heard for all those in bondage to sin and Satan: “Freedom!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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A new and joy-filled season in parenting is when one gets to car shop with and for his or her teenagers.  Afterall, their unrealistic expectations are rooted in youthful optimism.  Any sense of the actual cost to operate a vehicle flies higher than a bald eagle on a warm updraft.  Who wants to worry at the very moment of selecting their image-maker-dream-come-true vehicle about such mundane things as maintenance, oil changes, tires, insurance, yearly license and registration fees?  Well, the parent, for one.   Therefore, one of the duties of parenting is to gently but firmly bring them down to the reality of terra firma.

My oldest daughter, Cara, has been so very fortunate to be saved from such painful developments.  We were saved from the excruciating painful process by a friend who gave her a 1980’s vintage Dodge Shadow.  Since I was a pastor – which meant an income just above the poverty line with no benefits – she knew the reality of getting any vehicle at all was slim.  So, she was overjoyed to have one to call her own.   It had been well-maintained and, while it did not rank high on the coolness factor, was her own transportation.  She had a certain amount of freedom that she would not have had sharing our family vehicle.  I was happy for her.

Unfortunately, the day came when the old Dodge Shadow ‘gave up the ghost.’ Its death could not be avoided.  Whether due to the mileage or the harsh North Dakota winters, it stopped running and became a driveway ornament.  This launched us on a mission to find another vehicle for her.  She had a job and school.  Coordinating those activities with her mother’s needs and my own was going to prove a nightmare.

One day, while her oldest brother, Gareth, who was on military leave from Afghanistan, and I noticed a baby-blue 1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a “For Sale” sign on it.  It was parked by the Firestone store on George Washington Way in Grand Forks.  You couldn’t miss it.  The seller wanted $1,000 for it.  It looked in good condition.  It had more chrome on it than 100 of today’s vehicles put together.  The bumpers could have been used to weigh ship anchor for the U.S.S. Enterprise.  It was, truly, a thing of beauty.  Gareth and I kidded one another about buying Cara THAT car.

Now, before you judge my daughter or my family of being to proud to drive around a 1971 vintage anything, there were some practical reasons for not considering it seriously.  First, the gas mileage would make operating it prohibitive.  The plus side would have been that she could never get very far with it.  But we could not really consider something that would take a budget slightly larger than the Lithuanian’s annual GDP to operate each month.

Second, my daughter is 5’6″ and 115 lbs.  It would have taken three or four Grand Forks phone books just to get her to be able to see and drive.  We did not have that many phone books.  The plus side was that she would have been surrounded by more heavy duty metal than our troops go into battle with today in their Humvees.  They just do not make cars like that anymore.  The number one cause for auto body repair in North Dakota is hitting deer crossing highways.  The bumpers on that vehicle would deflect a small buffalo.

Anyway, Gareth and I had a good chuckle talking about and picturing Cara behind the wheel that 1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.  The reality of it was that the car deserved to be owned by someone who would appreciate the cars vintage, make, and model.  It would not have gotten the respect in our family that it surely deserved.

Nevertheless, I could not help myself one day when Cara and I were driving up George Washington Way and saw the car parked alongside the road.  I saw a moment for some fun.

Hey, what do you think about that car?” I said pointing out the baby-blue Cadillac.

What?  That big one? It’s kinda’ cute.  I like the color,” replied Cara kindly but a little guarded.

You’re brother and I are thinking about getting you thatWhat do you think?” I said, pushing the idea a little more.

I don’t know,” she hesitated.  “It’s kinda’ big, don’t you think?”

Yeah,” I agreed.  “But you’d get used to it once you drove it around for awhile.”

There was a bit of a frightened look on Cara’s face now.  “I don’t know, dad.  I don’t think I want something that big.  It’s bigger than a boat!  I mean, what about the cost of gasIt’s going to suck a lot of gas.  I won’t be able to afford to drive it.”

My sweet daughter.  She’s thinking real practical.  Fear will do that to you.  But I could not just let this go.  So, I fibbed a bit to draw out the drama of the moment.

Yes, gas will be more but insurance will be cheap.  Well,” I continued, “your brother’s got the guy’s phone number and is going to get a hold of him today.  He’s probably calling him as we speak.  The guy wants a thousand dollars for it.  We’re going to see if he’ll take seven-hundred-and-fifty for it.

What!?” Cara exclaimed in a somewhat frantic voice.  “Dad, don’t let him do it.  I can’t drive that!

“Ah,” I thought.  “She’s taking the bait.”

“What do you mean, Sweetie?” I asked.  “You’re brother is offering to buy it for you with his military pay.  He wants to do this for you before he heads back to Afghanistan.

WHAT?!! Are you kidding me, right now?” came a more desperate plea.  “No, dad.  Don’t let him do it.  I’ll hate that car.  How will I drive it around town? I won’t be able to see over the steering wheel! How am I going to be able to park it?”

Of course, these were all good points.  But, at this point, I am having too much fun and I am having trouble not smiling or breaking out into laughter.

Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, 2009

Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Well, you better call Gareth,” I said.  “He’s supposed to try and take care of it for you today. He was really wanting to do this for you.  I think you better talk to him.  I mean, after all, Sweetie, it’s a free car.  He may be a little disappointed.

By now, I could tell Cara was conflicted.  She needed a car.  She appreciated the idea of her brother buying her a car.  But just not THAT car.

Now the tears flowed, “Dad, I can’t do it.  Can’t you talk to him? I won’t be able to drive it.  How about if you drive it and I drive your car?”

What?” I objected.  “No.  That would be your car.  Besides, you’d be way safer in it with all that metal wrapped around you.  I wouldn’t want to drive it.  I do too much running around.

But, dadWhat am I going to do? I’ll be scared to drive that thingPlease, won’t you call Gareth and explain?”  Cara pleaded.  “Please?”

No,” I calmly replied.  “That won’t be necessary.  I’m just kidding.  We weren’t going to guy you that car.  How would you drive something like that?”

WHAT!?” Cara exclaimed.  “Are you kidding me, right now? You are kidding me, aren’t youDad!”

By this times the giggles and guffaws had over taken me and now I was in tears from laughing so hard.  I am sure that other drivers on George Washington Way must have been wondering what was going on in our car.

Dad!  I can’t believe you!” Cara protested indignantly.  “You were pulling my leg all along?”

Through tears and laughter, I answered, “Yup.  And, boy, I really had you going, didn’t I? That was priceless.  You should have seen your face.

Wiping the tears from her eyes and with some relief, Cara replied, “Yeah.  Well, I wouldn’t have driven that thing.  You or mom would have had to drive it.

But, Sweetie, what about all that chrome, and those big bumpers, and all that metal surrounding youIt would have kept you really safe.  And, you know, your safety is my main concern.”

Now she looked at me with eyes that said, “You don’t think I’m going to take anything you say seriously from now on, do you?”

I wiped the tears from my eyes and continued chuckling to myself.  What a priceless father-daughter moment.  At least to my way of thinking.  She probably claims to be scarred for life from it.  I, however, will cherish it.

Still to this day, whenever I see a 1970’s vintage, lots of chrome, big-bumpered car, I think back to that moment.  Like this last summer when I visited the Cool Desert Nights Car Show in Richland, Washington.  There were so many beautiful old cars.  But the ones that made me pause the most were the 1970’s vintage Cadillacs.  There I stood smiling from ear-to-ear with a tear in my eye.  Some experiences are just worth living again and again.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Mayan Architecture, Chichen Itza, Mexico, 2003

Mayan Architecture, Chichen Itza, Mexico, 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Dear Walter:
I hope you can help me here.  The other day, I set off for work in my Volvo 1800 leaving my husband in the house watching the TV as usual.  I hadn’t gone more than a mile down the road when my engine conked out and the car shuddered to a halt.  I walked back home to get my husband’s help.

When I got home I couldn’t believe my eyes.  He was in our bedroom with the neighbor lady.  I am 32, my husband is 34, and we have been married for twelve years.

When I confronted him, he broke down and admitted that they had been having an affair for the past six months.  I told him to stop or I would leave him.

He was let go from his job six months ago and he says he has been feeling increasingly depressed and worthless.  I love him very much, but ever since I gave him the ultimatum he has become increasingly distant.  He won’t go to counseling and I’m afraid I can’t get through to him anymore.  Can you please help?

Sincerely,

Sheila

Dear Sheila:
A Volvo 1800 stalling after being driven a short distance can be caused by a variety of faults with the engine.

Start by checking that there is no debris in the fuel line.  If it is clear, check the vacuum lines and hoses on the in-take manifold and also check all grounding wires.  If none of these approaches solves the problem, it could be that the fuel pump itself is faulty, causing low delivery pressure to the carburetor float chamber.

I hope this helps.

Walter

(Author unknown.  Here is a picture of a newspaper copy.)

Marriage Counseling Appointment

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There is a story about a little girl who, on the way home from church, turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, the preacher’s sermon this morning confused me.”

The mother said, “Oh, why is that?”

The girl replied, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are.  Is that true?”

Yes, that’s true,” the mother replied.

He also said that God lives within us.  Is that true, too?”

Again, the mother replied, “Yes.”

Well,” said the girl.  “If God is bigger than us and he lives in us, wouldn’t he show through?”

Sometimes the simple words of a child can reveal such great truth.  Shouldn’t Jesus show through us?  Indeed, if we are living our life for him, we will allow his light to shine through us.  Matthew 5:16 tells us to “So let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.”

Too often, we dismiss the importance of Jesus showing through us through the good works that we do for Him.  However, Jesus made it clear that this is an important part of our witness to the world.  The things we do for others should be like a bright neon sign that declares, “Followers of Jesus here!”

Gareth and Cara at Sunset, Strawberry Point, 2002

Gareth and Cara at Sunset, Strawberry Point, 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Jesus is made real to the world – our children, friends, neighbors, and family – by the work we do in his name.  It is the type of fruit on the tree that identifies the tree.  It is the same way with the spiritual fruit born in our lives.

Unfortunately, the church culture has more “bark than bite” when it comes to the gospel.  We frequently do not “walk the talk.”  This is why it important that everyone who calls himself or herself a follower of Christ find the place where they are to serve.  A disciple cannot grow to be like his or her master if he or she does not do the same work the Master did as an example for us to follow.

Jesus’ example to us is most clear when he washed his own disciples’ feet.  Those who should have humbled themselves to wash their master’s feet and offer to wash other’s feet instead argued, stubbornly sat waiting for someone else to do what was necessary, and allowed the honored guest at the table do it instead.  How awkward.  At least Peter had the sense to protest.  The others seemed content to let Jesus do it!

Nevertheless, we can be guilty of the same servant apathy today.  The problem is not that there are not enough opportunities to serve and minister.  The problem is that there are not enough servants.  Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful!”

There are a great many opportunities for the Kingdom; more than anyone can count or imagine.  “But the laborers are few.”  The greatest need is willing servants who will humble themselves to do what is necessary to reap the rewards of the harvest.  “Pray…to send forth laborers…”

One of the strengths of a healthy, vital church is that ministry is not clergy driven.  It does not depend upon a “professional” or recognized “pastor” to be initiated or get done.  Everyone being a minister and serving others is a value embraced by everyone in such a fellowship of believers.  Everyone is a priest with a position to serve someone else for the glory of God.  God’s light of glory shines through them.

How does God “show through” you?  What good works do you do for the least, last, and lost around you that brings glory to God?  In what way are you personally engaged in the harvest fields of the master?  Does a life of serving others mark your life like it marked the Master’s?

I encourage you to let God be bigger than you.  Allow Him to do something bigger through you than you could ever imagine.  Who knows, someone may see what you do and give thanks and praise to God for it.  All because you allowed God to show through.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Distant and Silent God

American popular theology likes to focus on the joys of a relationship with God; and this is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, it has left many Christians with an anemic theology that does not adequately grapple with pain, suffering, death and times when God seems to be distant and silent.  We like to talk about the nearness of God, but not his farness or otherness.  We like to express the beauty of his revealed Word and share times when the real presence of God broke upon us in a difficult time.

My limited experience among American Christians has been that we avoid looking into the times that God appears silent and distant toward us.  We squirm in awkward silence when someone shares such an experience.  It seems to us to walk the edge of doubt and unbelief in the goodness of God and the rewards of following him; and we are afraid of falling off that edge.  Particularly among Pentecostals and Charismatics, who relish the personal experience of God’s presence and power, admitting to such a struggle almost comes across as a complete abandonment of the faith.

I have known the distance and silence of God.  Some spiritual fathers and mothers of the faith have called it “the wilderness.”  They have likened it to the wilderness experiences of others in the Bible; most notably Elijah and Jesus.  Elijah fled to the wilderness.  Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit.  For both, God does not appear, speak, or comfort until the end of the wilderness experience.  The “desert fathers” of the early Christian faith sought out the wilderness experience and what it could teach them.  Me?  I would rather avoid it.

Nevertheless, I have had my experiences in the spiritual wilderness where God is silent and distant.  One such instance marked me for life because of what I both experienced and learned through the ordeal.  A number of years ago, during my first pastorate at Quilcene Assembly of God, the Lord allowed me to go through a dark and terrible time where he seemed silent and distant.  Nothing I seemed to do appeared to help – no spiritual discipline, no trumped up spiritual fervor, nor any amount of crying out in prayer.  I felt abandoned.

I was warned of the coming wilderness event, however, by a good friend.  Ron Frantz and I had begun a close spiritual relationship and began speaking into each others life.  Ron had displayed great love for me and was interested in helping me grow spiritually as well as a leader of that small congregation of believers.  We both had a passion to see God glorified in the small logging community.  I not only knew that Ron prayed, but I also knew that he heard from the Lord.  One day, on his way to work for a few months in the Eastern United States, he stopped by the office to pray for me and say good-bye.

Before he left, he told me that the Lord had given him a word of encouragement for me.  I was excited to hear what the Lord might possibly say to encourage me and our small congregation.  With a small grin on his face and a look of compassion that expressed a genuineness that those who know Ron will know well, he told me,

The Lord wants you to know that in the days ahead you are going to go through a very dark time.  While it may seem like the Lord is not present, the Lord wants you to know that he will be with you and not leave you.

I was stunned.  “THAT’S the ‘encouraging word’!?  I’m going to go through a dark time?

No,” Ron said.  “That the Lord is going to be there in the midst of it.”

And you’re leaving town,” I noted.  “Thanks for the warning...and encouragement.  I think.”

Well, I’ll be praying for you while I’m away.  I’m sure the Lord has something special for you through it because He loves you so much.”

That is a typical Ron Frantz’ response.  He always focuses upon the goodness and love of God in all circumstances.  It is what makes him so endearing, such a great friend, and wonderful spiritual companion on life’s road.  I am sure that even as a child, when his mother or father spanked him, he must have turned around afterward and said something like, “Thanks for that.  I know you did it because you love me so much.”

We prayed and parted our ways.  Ron headed east and I headed went back to pastoring the folks of Quilcene and raising a young family.  Soon, I would forget about what Ron shared with me as time and activity erased the memory of it.  It would take being in the middle of a spiritual wilderness to jog it loose.

It was only a few months later that I found myself entering into unfamiliar spiritual waters.  It was a time of a spiritual wilderness that brought uncertainty about my call to ministry, my worth, and my relationship with God.  I slowly slipped into a period of time where God seemed remote and distant.  Prayers did not seem to go any farther than the ceiling.

The heavens seemed closed.  Studying God’s Word for personal devotions or for sermon preparation felt lifeless.  Preaching and teaching God’s Word was drier than the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I found no joy or satisfaction in any of it.  But the worse of it was how distant I felt from God and how silent he seemed to become.  Yet, despite all of this; strangely enough, the church congregation grew and prospered.

This brought about a real crisis of faith and torment of the soul.  Did I do something to displease God?  Did I sin and alienate God?  No amount of soul-searching brought any answers.  I doubted my call to ministry.  I doubted my ability to lead a congregation.  I wrestled with giving up and throwing in the towel.  Then, one day, Ron’s encouraging word before he left came back to me.  I had been forewarned about this experience!  This is what Ron must have been talking about and encouraged me to remember that God was present despite what I felt.

For a few months, the words Ron spoke into my life were the only thing I had to hold on to.  Sure, I had the promises of God’s Word.  But whenever I read God’s Word, there seemed to be no life in them.  Sure, I had personal communication with God, but fellowship through prayer seemed dead and to be only one-way.  I would often repeat to myself, “Lord, you promised your presence at all times.  You even sent Ron to personally tell me.  I choose to believe that you are here even though it seems that you are not.”

Soon, however, that personal confirmation did not seem to be enough.  I could not talk myself out of the dark despair of what seemed to me to be God’s absence and silence.  My prayer became singular and focused upon only one request, “God, I am human.  I need to know you are here and that you are pleased with me.  If I know that, I can keep going.”  For many weeks, that was my only prayer.  I shared it with no one.  Few people knew the cry of my heart.

Mount Rainier, 2002

Mount Rainier, 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Months later, Ron Frantz returned from working out east.  He was anxious to go to a conference in Moses Lake, WA. with me and a mutual friend of ours, Ray Canterbury.  I was not as excited about the conference as much as I was looking forward to time away with two good friends.  The Lord had knitted our lives together spiritually and we were learning a lot from each other.

The last meeting of the conference, we sat up front and were anticipating the return trip home.  The speakers and worship had been good.  However, for myself, I did not enjoy them as much as others appeared to be around me.  My soul was in anguish.  God seemed to be distant and silent.  I sat in my chair and prayed only one prayer.  I went to the pre-service prayer times and prayed only one prayer:  “God, I am human.  I need to know you are here and that you are pleased with me.  If I know that, I can keep going.”  I had no other prayer.  I could pray no other prayer.

As the meeting was wrapping up, and we began to look at each other to check on whether it was the right time to exit, one of the speakers came over to us and said, “Do you guys all know each other?”

Yes,” we replied.

I believe that Lord has a word for each of you.  Why don’t you come up here for a moment,” he offered.

At this, I have to admit I was not spiritually minded at all.  My first thought was, “Great!  This is all I need.”  Truthfully, I just wanted to head home and was anxious about getting back on the road.  We had a long drive ahead of us.  Plus, the fellowship and discussion in the car would be much more invigorating than whatever this guy had to say to us.  I am more than a little skeptical of strangers who do not know me, and whom I do not know, giving me “words from the Lord.”  My experience has been that more often than not, they are good intentions that completely miss the mark.

As the guest speaker was talking to each of my friends, I felt my spirit shrink.  “All right, Lord,” I prayed.  “If you want to speak through this person to me, then I will receive it.  But the only thing I am really interested in is what I have already been asking you for these past months.  God, I am only human.  I really need to know you that are here and that you are pleased with me.  If I know that, I can keep going.”  Then, I waited.

Soon, this spiritual stranger was standing in front of me.  I shifted me feet nervously, wondering what the outcome of this chance meeting was going to bring.  My main worry was that it was not going to be too embarrassing.  I was suspecting that “the word from the Lord” was going to be some meaningless, generic pabulum spoken over countless lives before me.  My expectations could not have been any lower.

He stood in silence a few moments before me as if to examine me.  “You are the pastor of this group, aren’t you?

Good guess,” I thought.  I was dressed very unpastoral, but something must have given him a clue, I thought.

Well, the Lord wants you to know that he is with you.  That he has never left you.  And that he is pleased with you.”

I was shocked.  These were the only words that he could have spoken that would have meant anything to me.  It was as if he read my mail.  Of course, he did not, but the Holy Spirit at work through him did.  He said a few things after this but I heard nothing else.  I broke into tears and weeping as the realization of what I had just heard hit me.  God had heard my hearts cry, spanned the distance I felt, and broke the silence by speaking directly into my life and situation in a way that was unmistakable.  Ron was right.  The Lord did have something special for me in it all.  He does love me very much.

As you can imagine, the ride home was very lively as we all shared our impressions and experiences of the conference.  It went much faster than we wanted.  I shared with Ray and Ron my experiences over the past months and the impact of my experience as the speaker at the conference spoke into my life something no one else could have possibly known.  From that time on, there was a freshness to my spiritual journey I had never experienced before.

I cannot explain to anyone why God sends us through periods where he seems to be distant and silent towards us.  I know some who have had an experience like this last years instead of months.  I know some who came through these times scarred instead of healed.  I know others who have come through wilderness times more spiritually empowered than ever before.  God does not seem to need to explain himself.  He is God – even when distant and silent.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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