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Posts Tagged ‘Flower Photography’

I consider myself somewhat of a manly man. I like to do physical things.  Admittedly, I am not the best at fixing things.  But give me a chance to hike, fish and hunt, and I am right there.  I have gutted my fair share of fish and deer and various birds and smaller game.  Like most outdoors men, I have had a chance to push the limits of my own endurance and then take pride in retelling the experience.

There is, however, one thing that cowers me into a namby-pamby girly-man. It is the site of my own flesh-and-blood’s flesh and blood.  The experience of being at the birth of my two sons was not inspiration for me.  It was traumatic.  The birthing instructor was a bold-faced liar when she cheerily told my wife and me, “Blood?  No!  There’s almost no blood involved in child birth.”  Yeah, right.  My wife screaming in pain and the sight of blood sent me into a shock that rendered me mute and useless to my poor wife.  Good thing her best friend was there.  She took over.

When our two daughters were born at home with a mid-wife, it was mutually decided that my wife would be better off with close friends and family at her side than her husband. And so it came to pass.  I do not think I missed anything by not being there to “play catcher”.  I enjoyed my newborn daughters shortly after their loudly proclaimed and bloody arrival.  They were handed to me clean and pretty as all newly born little girls should arrive into the world, not wrinkly and bloody like my two boys arrived (which, come to think of it, may be a proper portent of things to come).

Our oldest daughter arrived into the world with a sweet tooth. As soon as she learned to totter on her own two feet, she could easily be called to one’s side with the sound of unwrapping candy and gum.  Her acute hearing for such sounds was a marvel to everyone.  At the sound of any wrapper crinkling, she would come running.

Unfortunately, for the grandmotherly types in our little church at the time, her cuteness and irresistible personality caused them all to disgorge their purses of any gum or candy they had available every Sunday. So, my daughter would return home from church each Sunday looking like she had just gone trick-or-treating on Halloween.  For her, every Sunday was Halloween.  Church was not a place to find God as much as it was a place to find candy.  After she went to bed at night, we would find candy and gum wrappers under her bed and pillow as well as leftover uneaten pieces tightly gripped in her tiny fists as she slept.

This, sadly, did her no favors as she developed really bad cavities in her baby teeth by the time she was three. Several were serious enough to threaten the budding permanent teeth behind them.  Thus, we were advised by our regular dentist to take her to see a pediatric dentist to have the cavities taken care of as soon as possible.  We made an appointment with one in Gig Harbor, Washington.

I was still a young father then and had not yet learned my physical and psychological limits to familial pain and blood-letting. So, I offered to take my daughter to the dentist.  I figured it would be a good father-daughter bonding time as we had an hour-and-a-half drive to the dentist and back again.  I loaded her into our little red Subaru wagon and off we went.

After a long drive of noticing the passing scenery, singing to the “oldies but goodies” on the radio and chattering away upon childhood topics, we arrived at a beautiful brand new building. The pediatric dentist’s office was located on the second floor of the building, which had a large, airy open atrium with a glass ceiling and tiled floor with a coffee barista right in the middle of it.  As we walked into the main doors, the smell of fresh coffee hung in the air along with the sound of an espresso machine working overtime to satisfy the thirsty and drowsy morning customers.

I decided against the elevator, so we walked up the double stair-flight to the second floor. Soon, we were standing in front of the dentist’s office door.  I looked down at my daughter with her blonde golden curls and bright blue eyes.  She looked up at me and smiled her big, wide toothy smile full of confidence.  I smiled back and opened the door.

The large room we entered was made for children. Bright colors, big toys, cartoon pictures on the walls and balloons decorated the room.  There were children playing and parents looking on, smiling, and talking in whispers to other parents.  Needless to say, I was impressed.  What a great place to bring your very young child to have dentistry work done.

I took my daughter’s hand and we made our way over to the registration counter. After acknowledging our names and appointment, I was handed a clip board with a cord’s worth of firewood for paperwork.  I have never liked filling out paper work.  But I found a seat with my daughter and started on the hundred’s of questions.  Every page needed the same information at the top: name, address, phone number, social security numbers, emergency contact and their numbers and the VIN number of the first car you owned.

I returned the filled-out paper work to the kind lady at the counter and took my seat to wait. It was only a few minutes before a nurse called my daughter’s name and my name.  We were escorted into a small dentist’s work room with the same childhood decor that we saw in the waiting room.  I thought to my self that it would be fun to work in such a bright and cheery place.  Such surroundings couldn’t help but bring out the innocent child in all of us.

Soon, the doctor arrived. She was a very beautiful young doctor, well dressed in a bright yellow colored pant suit that accentuated her red hair.  She looked like she was dressed to go to a professional presentation for pediatric dentists, not about to delve into the mouth of my daughter or any other child’s mouth for that matter.  Her demeanor and look reflected a person who had it all together with her prefect hair, make-up and clothes.

She smiled sweetly to my daughter, knelt before her and engaged her in a friendly conversation. Soon, she easily maneuvered my daughter up on to the dentist’s chair and was looking in her mouth.  I thought to myself, “This lady is good!

I felt myself relax and more willing to place my daughter into her care. Shortly, she turned to me and explained to me what she was going to do.  Then she invited, “Mr. Almberg, you are more than welcome to wait in the waiting room or go downstairs and get a cup of coffee.  We will be about an hour.”  I thanked her and shook her hand, turned to my daughter with a reassuring smile and kissed her on the forehead, which was returned with that big toothy smile.

Confidently, I left the room, walked through the waiting room and headed to the atrium to the coffee stand. As I made my way down the stairs to the first floor, I crowed to myself how easy all of this was going.  The warm fragrance of coffee caught my attention and I was soon focused on getting some caffeine in my favorite latte flavor.  It had already been a long day.  The appointment was made for early morning so we had been on the road since 6:30 am.

I paid for my coffee and found one of the overstuffed leather couches located near by. I selected one that was situated with the sun coming through the window upon it.  I picked up several magazines lying around on various tables and finally settled upon an old dog-eared PEOPLE magazine.  I planned on relaxing and enjoying a few moments of solitude before the long ride back home.

Only into the second page of the first article in the PEOPLE magazine, I heard a faint scream come from a far away room.  “Wow,” I thought to myself.   “That must be what the Spanish Inquisition must have sounded like.  Poor person.  I wonder where that is coming from…who that is?”  There was another scream, but this one more discernible.

Suddenly, a sick feeling came over my stomach as if my latte had been served up with sour milk. I recognized the voice in that scream.  There was no mistaking it as another scream echoed through the atrium.  It was most certainly my daughter.  I looked around at the people scattered around the room.  They all looked at one another and then it seemed as if they looked at me with an accusing stair, “How could you!!?”  I stuck my nose deeper into the magazine trying to find some anonymity.

I tried to enjoy my latte but, with every piercing cry, it was becoming more difficult.  I had given up on attempting to read any magazine articles after the first fifteen minutes went by on the clock.  Fortunately, the screams grew more and more less frequent.  However, this only tended to add to the tension.  The silence in between led to an anticipation of when the next one would come.  Just about the time that I thought it would never come after all, there would come another crying echo throughout the building’s chambers.

Pink Wild Flower, Summer 2009

Pink Wild Flower, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Finally, I could not stand the suspense any more.  I drained my now cold latte and headed up the stairs to the dentist’s office.  After a half-an-hour, I was starting to think that they perhaps needed my help.  I did not consider what that help could possibly be, but I had to find out any way.  I entered the office, only to enter another universe.

As I came through the door, the same calmness that had greeted me the first time was still there.  The room had not changed decor, children were happily playing and parents were mildly watching and chatting with one another.  “Don’t they know that my daughter is being tortured in there?” I wondered.  I went to the front desk.

Yes, I am Ron Almberg.  My daughter is being worked on right now and I am wondering if she is all right.”

The polite lady behind the counter smiled at me and said, “Let me check for you.  I’ll be right back.”  Then she disappeared around a corner.  I could imagine her going down the hall and into the little torture room that they were keeping my daughter in.  I waited impatiently for some news.

Finally, after only a few moments, she returned and said, “The doctor said that they have had some difficulty with your daughter but everything is going fine right now.  She said she should be done in about 15 or 20 minutes.”

OK,” I timidly returned.  “I’ll just wait over there.”  And pointed to a chair in the waiting room.

I took my seat. However, moving into the waiting room only made things worse for me.  Not only was the noise level louder, but one could hear the sounds of dentist tools doing their worst.  My hands grew clammy and I started to shake.

Just about the time I thought that I could not take any more, all of the noise stopped. After several more minutes passed by, the door to the way to the dungeon opened and out stepped my daughter.  Her mouth was stuffed with a few pieces of cotton, her hair mussed up, her eyes almost swollen shut from crying so hard.  Later, we discover that she had broken blood vessels in her face from screaming so hard.

I looked up at the doctor as she came through the door behind my daughter. She was the polar opposite of the picture of perfection that I had seen earlier that morning.  Her dress suit’s blouse was askew, her fair fell out in several places and the make-up on her face was worn and blotched like she had just come from someone’s funeral.  She smiled a crooked but victorious tired looking smile.

As you probably heard,” she began.  “We had some difficulty getting your daughter to settle down so that we could do the work on her.  We finally had to put her in what we call a “papoose”.  I was able to treat all the real bad cavities; however, we just were not able to get to the lesser ones.  I would recommend just monitoring them.  As long as they don’t get any worse, she will be fine until they fall out when her permanent teeth come in.”

Thank you, doctor,” I replied.

Without further comment she turned and disappeared behind the door.  “She looks terrible,” I thought.  “I wonder if she’ll take the rest of the day off.

I picked up my daughter with her swollen and Novicained face. We returned to the car for a long ride home.  I had planned on stopping in Silverdale for a treat, but she immediately fell asleep in the car and did not awake until we got home.  Then I laid down and slept the rest of the day.

The next Sunday, an announcement was put in the church bulletin and made from the pulpit.  “Please do not feed the Almberg’s daughter anymore candy of any kind!  She had to have cavities filled in her baby teeth this last week.  Anyone found doing so will be excommunicated and shunned.  May the Lord have mercy upon your soul.  The Almberg’s thank you for your help.  The pediatric dentists of America thank you.”

Except for one little church grandma lady who turned to sugar-free gum, we had no more trouble with church candy coming home.  Thanks to the pediatric dentist who saved her teeth, our daughter, to this day has a wonderful toothy smile.  But you will always find a piece of gum stuck in it.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Salvation By Works In American Evangelicalism

The Protestant Reformation demanded many changes in the theology of the Church. Perhaps one of the biggest theological shifts was the idea that one’s salvation could not be earned by any human work: penance, alms giving, purchasing indulgences, baptism or participation in the Lord’s Supper (i.e. the Eucharist or Communion).  Admittedly, these last two regained prominence and authority in some Protestant branches.

American evangelicalism developed in the later 18th century and matured in the 19th century. Influenced by Puritanism, then Scottish Presbyterianism, and later a Methodism with a uniquely American flavor, American evangelicalism gained astounding influence well into the 20th century despite Liberal theology’s attack on its basic tenets and Fundamentalism’s failure against scholasticism.  Perhaps its hold upon the American psyche was so strong because it appealed for a “heart-felt religion” vis-a-vis a rational Christianity built mainly upon propositional truths and tenets.  American evangelicalism aimed for a change of mind through the heart.

This is not to suggest that American evangelicalism threw out belief tenets and systematic theologies. Rather, these came to confirm what one felt was true.  Thus, Mormonism would appeal to the “burning in the bosom” and the material evidence that something was true or not.  It was only following the primary appeal of American evangelicalism at the popular level.  Later much of Pentecostalism and then the Charismatic Movement of the late 20th century would make the same appeals for one’s faith.

Maintaining its Protestant Reformation roots, American evangelicalism still claims the truths recovered for the Church: the priesthood of all believers, sola scriptura, sola fide and sola gratia.  Nevertheless, it seems to be a natural propensity for the Church in whatever form to religionize in order to control.  This is true within American evangelicalism too.  Perhaps no greater example within evangelicalism is the very thing that gave it mass appeal – “the heart felt” faith or religion by experience.

I am not advocating a hyper-rationalism. God made his human creation emotional beings.  Tying head and heart together is a frequent theme throughout Scripture.  However, it becomes dangerous when one’s salvation is determined by whether or not one has had a particular religious or emotional experience.

Flowered Crown, July 2010

Flowered Crown, July 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Recently reading about the life of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), I was struck by his experience within American Presbyterianism of the 19th century. Not only was one’s salvation in constant question so as to attempt to make sure (though one never really could) that he or she was a part of God’s elect, but it seemed that only a particular religious or emotional experience could really confirm to the seeker whether this was attained – assurance of salvation.  Without such an experience, one was left with the demoralizing thought that he or she was numbered among God’s predestined damned with no possible relief.

This was the conclusion that Samuel Clemens was to arrive at in his life after attempting all he knew how to guarantee his salvation. Albeit, he did so as to gain favor with the object of his affections, Olivia Langdon, and her family, particularly her mother.  This was long after his younger years when he and his brother, Orion, seriously considered entering ministry!  No doubt his upbringing with his devout mother played an important part in his life.  Nevertheless, Clemens seemed to forever feel that God had “elected” him for salvation.  So, he went on his merry way with his life.

This same drive to experience religion at the emotional level later came to define much of Pentecostalism. Rather than become the mark of one’s salvation, it marked one as being Spirit baptized and empowered, even Spirit-filled in some circles.  I have often remarked that it became the Pentecostal version of Confirmation; once one had the emotionally religious experience of speaking in tongues, then one had arrived spiritually; nothing further was needed really.  Those who for some reason never gained access to this emotional experience, no matter how hard they attempted it, were left to feel like second class citizens in God’s kingdom.

As a leader in Assemblies of God churches, I have been dismayed at the emphasis or desire to have some type of emotional release at a church altar or in a revival meeting without real life transformation. Like its spiritual roots in American evangelicalism, the goal has become the experience rather than the desired effect – life change.  The emotional assurance that one is at peace with God or experiencing God’s presence takes precedence over obedience to God.  In worship, emotional engagement becomes more important than whether worship engages believers to change their ways in the light of God’s grace and greatness.

It has caused me as a former church leader to consider whether American evangelicalism’s emphasis or focus upon an emotional experience or response is just another “salvation by works” trap. It would seem so if that experience becomes the litmus test of whether one is saved or, in the case of Pentecostalism, Spirit-baptized.  If it is truly a work of faith through grace (ala Reformation theology) that is available to the priesthood of all believers according to the Scriptures, then why attempt to push it through the sieve of emotionalism?

Probably no one thought through this better than Jonathan Edwards who preached and pastored at the birth of American evangelicalism during the First Great Awakening (1703-1758). His short writing, “Religious Affections,” does bring balance to the extreme intellectualism of his age and the emotional exuberance the Great Awakening revival was stirring in many people.  He still helps us today distinguish between what are reliable and unreliable emotionally spiritual experiences.

Both the human mind and heart are unreliable measurements for true spirituality in the way of Jesus. This is probably why Jesus used word pictures like “fruit” and “harvest” as the true indicators of spiritual knowledge and experience.  The Apostle Paul picks up on this also and emphasizes to the Corinthians and the Galatians that experiences are not an indicator of spiritual maturity, let alone authenticity.  Rather, a life changed that exhibits it in behavior and attitudes is the real indicator.  The Apostle John made the indicator even more simple by saying, “It’s how you love others.”

We probably prefer an emotional spiritual experience to indicate our salvation rather than how we really live and get along with others. It makes us feel better about our selves because there is a touch of self-justification about it all.  However, God’s judgment and measurement of our lives is not going to be determined by whether we wept at an altar, spoke in tongues, was slayed-in-the-spirit, got teary-eyed during a song, laughed uncontrollably, had visions, prophesied, or felt a burning in the bosom.

No.  I think the good Lord is going to only want to know one thing about our spiritual journeys while we were here on earth, “Did you unconditionally love and serve others in my name?”  Answering, “No.  But I had a really good time!” is not going to cut it, I think.  Neither is defaulting to, “No.  I never felt that you were with me.”  To either response, God will hold up his son, Jesus, given for us and only want to know, “Did you believe him and so follow him?”  Then our lives will speak for themselves.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, (2010)

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Off Task

I had another one of those disappointing conversations with someone who used to go to church. I have had many of them over 25 years of leading churches.  However, in the last few years, my conversations like this have become more frequent.  I have also found that I have run out of answers or excuses for these very personal, heart-wrenching stories.

The experiences are as widely varied as the reasons for giving up on church as organized religion. Sometimes there was true spiritual abuse that scarred the individual.  Other times there was gross mismanagement of funds or responsibilities from the leadership.  Of course, the stories of petty in-fighting and ugly behavior come up too.  All of these things have not led the individuals to give up on God or their belief in the salvific work of Christ.  No.  They just cannot bring themselves to try church again.

Granted, there are those individuals who have caused their own problems. They brought trouble to the house of worship and left in a cloud of trouble.  They reaped what they sowed and left an unfortunate mess of weeds behind for others to clean up in God’s vineyard.  I am not addressing those individuals.  I am with the Apostle Paul when it comes to these individuals: “Let them go.”  I like the Apostle John‘s attitude, “They were from among us but were really not one of us so they went out from us.”  That is as it should be, I think.

No.  I am addressing those poor souls who really gave “church” a try; even multiple times. Perhaps they had just a run of bad luck in picking churches or they had anomalous experiences in otherwise great churches.  Not every church can bat 1.000 or even .333 for that matter.  No organization of people can.  We are all prone to make mistakes and miss opportunities.

Still, my conversation with this young man left me wondering.  Are most churches just “off task”? You know what I mean.  It is the same term a teacher uses for the student who is present but not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  They are “off task” and therefore are not getting their work done and turned in on time.  This usually results in a lot of extra homework and heartache for the parent.

In one blog article I wrote last year, I addressed the issue of the church needing to be “On Mission” – or “on task.” If we are not “on task” – fulfilling our mission as the body of Christ on earth – then we must be “off task” – present but not doing what we are supposed to be doing.  Like a poor performing student, this not only invites potential failure but a lot of heartache as well.  Thus the stories I run into time and again.

A young family in our apartment complex had been struggling financially with this economic downturn. The husband had lost his job and could not find another.  The wife had a part-time job with very few hours that barely kept food on the table.  Soon, the bills started piling up.  Then their car was repossessed, making it that much harder to get and keep a job.  Finally, they were getting eviction notices from the apartment managers.

This young family attended the largest church in our community; a church of a couple thousand. This growing congregation had recently finished building a new multi-million dollar facility and had just launched another campaign to build a 1.5 million dollar gymnasium.  It has all the marks of outward success.

Humbly, the young man approached the church for some kind of help. He figured they had been attending a number of years, had given financially to the church to support its ministries and had been actively involved in a few of them.  When he finally was able to talk to someone about his family’s needs, he was informed that the church had no resources to help them.  He was informed that one of the reasons was because the financial rough times had also hit the church and they were doing all they could just to keep the gymnasium construction going.

He went home desperate and broken. The one place he expected to be able to receive some kind of help and encouragement was gone.  There was no follow-up visit or phone call to offer helping the family connect with community resources.  They were on their own.  Well, not exactly.

The people of the apartment complex heard about this family’s needs. Some of them, complete strangers who did not know even their apartment number, chipped in to help catch up on rent.  One of the apartment complex repairmen, the young man I alluded to at the beginning of the blog, donated one of his cars to the family.  The family at this time is not interested in going to any church.  And it may be some time before they do.  I cannot blame them.

There is also an apartment with two women living in it. It has an elderly daughter taking care of her elderly mother.  Her mother has numerous health issues and suffers from the onset of Alzheimer’s.  They both looked forward to visiting church on Sundays because it was the one place they thought they could go, get out of their apartment and the about the only place the mother felt safe in a growing unfamiliar environment.  However, one Sunday they were pulled aside by the pastor who asked the daughter not to bring her mother to church anymore because her hearing-aides kept squeaking and disturbing the other parishioners around them.  Now they sit at home.  The daughter tending wounds from a church she and her mother had attended most of her life.

Bleeding Heart Flowers in the Mist, September 2010

Bleeding Heart Flowers in the Mist, September 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

As a former church leader, I understand that church experiences can be a mixed bag of good and bad experiences. I get that it is full of faulty humans who do not always behave in ways that are consistent with their beliefs.  I know all too well my own missed opportunities and bumbling mistakes that hurt others.  I also recognize those as times when I – when we – have lost sight of why we exist at all as the body of Christ: do his work and speak his words to reconcile the world to the Heavenly Father.

When the church gets off task, it becomes the worst of civil organizations. It would be better to become an Elks Club, Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club or some other club members.  We are the worst because we so violate the high ideals to which we profess and call one another.  In the world of business, companies that get off task and away from the main product that made them successful in the first place go bankrupt.

When church becomes more about our buildings, positions of leadership, preferences and comfort, then we have gotten off task. When so much is expended to keep so few at ease and comfortable, then we are off task.  When our message is made irrelevant because of the life we model, we are off task.  When the life we model for others no longer reflects the mission of our founder, we are off task.

How do we know when we are “on task”? When our life and words express sacrificial love for God and for neighbor.  This is, after all, “the first and greatest commandment.”  It is the mark by which we will be identified by the rest of the world (“they will know you by your love for one another“).  It is the test everyone must pass to show they truly love (“greater love has no one than this, that s/he lay down his life for a friend“).

The exercises and lessons of this life’s classroom all have to do with teaching us how to love God and others sacrificially. It is the example and standard that Jesus set for us.  It is the command that we are given.  It is the test we must all pass, especially as the body of Christ.

Too many things can take us off task. They are too numerous to count.  It is perhaps one of the main weapons the enemy of our souls uses to distract us from our original task as a follower of Jesus.  However, at the end of the day, whether we were “on task” or “off task” will not be determined by sizable budgets, comfortable buildings or the number of butts in the seat on a Sunday morning.  No.  I think we will be asked only one question on our final test:  “How well did you love me and others?”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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White Wild Flower, Deschutes River Trail, Oregon, April 2010

White Wild Flower, Deschutes River Trail, Oregon, April 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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There is an old church hymn that begins its chorus with the words, “I love to tell the story.” Sharing the good news of God’s work through his son, Jesus the Messiah, is precisely just that – telling the story.  It is his story and he is still writing it in and through the lives of people delivered from spiritual bondage and lostness.  It is a simple story.  And, when an individual’s life becomes changed by that story, it becomes a very personal story.

Unfortunately, like so many other things we do surrounding God, we have made this story really complicated. We cannot simply tell it as it is given to us.  Now we must qualify it and explain it to suit our own understanding of God.  The simple story of God’s message of rescuing humankind through the work of his son, Jesus, gets really complicated with layers of theology and prescriptions for spirituality.  I’m certain that if Jesus were to sit in many of our churches today he would be dumbfounded and caused to ask, “Are you talking about me?”  It is so hard to tell sometimes.

Flowering Tree in Portland, OR., May 2010

Flowering Tree in Portland, OR., May 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Recently, a gentleman approached me about doing the “preaching” portion of a service in a retirement center. He wanted to assure me that everything would be taken care – music, songs, prayer and even communion.  All I had to do was show up and deliver a sermon.  “After all,” he qualified, “I’m not a pastor or clergy personI don’t mind doing the song service or communion, but I can’t preach.  I’m not qualified since I’m not a reverend.”

I was speechless. Standing before me was an elderly gentleman who had a passion for serving the retirement community around us.  His manner and speech told me he was well educated and very articulate.  He was a seasoned person of the church, probably had been going for 30 or 40 years.  I thought it odd that he had no problem serving the Lord’s Supper as a non-clergy person since in many denominations that is a service only a clergy person can perform.  So, obviously his spiritual background did not come from such a heritage.  However, not able to “preach;” that is, share the gospel, tell the good news that is in Christ Jesus, teach the way of the Lord?

Since when did telling the story of God require theological credentials? I am often reminded of the apostles who were unlearned men – uneducated.  Yet, the people of their time could tell that they had been with Jesus.  They became faithful witnesses of Jesus and his ways.  Telling the story was a very simple endeavor.  It focused upon the life, ministry, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus the Messiah.  It was supported with Old Testament examples of prophetic fulfillment.

Have we made our Gospel too complicated when the average person in our church does not feel qualified to share it with others? I am not addressing shyness or an ability for public speaking here.  I am only talking about telling the story of Jesus.  What have we done with the story of God’s message in his son when those who sit in our chairs and pews for years cannot tell others – or do not feel qualified to tell others?  What have we subtly communicated to them about telling this story when we have only professional clergy share it week after week?

I gently prodded the man standing before me.Why do you think it takes a pastor to preach?” I asked.  “You sound like an intelligent and articulate person.  You seem to know your Bible and it sounds to me like you have quite a number of years of experience in your spiritual journey.  Why don’t you share the gospel with them?”

The elderly gentleman blinked at me like I was speaking Old Testament Hebrew.  “Well, because I don’t have the credentials.  I would hate to say something wrong and teach something in error.”

I attempted to counter his sense of insecurity with a suggestion.  “Well, it is true that there are some parts of the Bible that are harder to understand than others.  And it is true that there are some theological issues that can boggle the sharpest minds.  However, the story of Jesus about the things he did as an example for us and the things he taught us are pretty straight forward.  What if you just concentrated on those things?  That’s what the Gospel is really all about any way, isn’t it?”

True,” he answered.  “I just feel inadequate…like someone more qualified should be preaching.”

I’ve preached for 25 years and still always feel inadequate, even with a Bible School and Seminary education,” I offered as an encouragement, which is very true about me.  I’ve never had a sermon or Bible lesson where I felt completely adequate for the job or occasion.  “Anyway, it is not the vessel that gets the glory.  It is what is poured out of the vessel that everyone remembers.  So, just focus on telling the story of Jesus and see what God will do by his Holy Spirit in the lives of the listeners.

At that, my elderly friend seemed relieved.  “I think I can do that,” he offered.

I can offer you some ideas and moral support, but I think you are up to the task.  You probably have for a long time.  You just need someone to push you on to the stage.”  I smiled and offered a reassuring hand on his shoulder.  I could see that he was mulling this new idea over.  There was no doubt in my mind that he would do just fine or actually quite well.

So, now I am waiting to hear how he did his first few times. I am sure that in telling the story his life was changed in the telling of it and his listeners lives were changed in hearing it.  That is, after all, the most basic reason why believers and seekers all gather week after week.  We love to tell and hear the story of God’s great love in a Savior who died for us and rose again.  From this recent experience of mine, it seems that each of us needs more work on simply telling the story.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The State of Fear and Ignorance

Most of us do more out of fear and ignorance than we do out of courage and wisdom.  I know that my personal track record in that arena is not that good anyway.  Why is it that fear is such a greater motivator than courage or bravery?  Why are we so susceptible to acting in our ignorance before seeking wisdom and understanding concerning our circumstances?  Even the best of us can be taken down by these two imps of degenerate humanity.

I am constantly reminded of this in our current world affairs in the Middle East.  The West’s attempt to conquer the enemy of freedom and democracy as it appears in Al Qaeda and Taliban groups underscores this problem.  Instead of addressing the human equation, Western nations think that they are simply dealing with something that requires a military solution.  As history has showed us in all of our wars, it is never that simple.  There are many reasons why people go to war to protect their land or to force out a perceived invader.  Sometimes it is as raw and simple as “It pays the bills.”  Thus, it is another career choice and creates and military economy.

I just recently finished a book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin entitled, “Three Cups of Tea:  One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time” (Penguin Books, 2006).  It is so good that I purchases the follow-up book, “Stones into Schools:  Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan” by Greg Mortenson.  It is a remarkable book about how one man is changing the world through building schools for children, especially girls.  His personal story is so remarkable and well known among the Muslims of Afghanistan and Pakistan that he is accepted in some of the most hostile places to any other American.  It only begs the question: “How come more people are not doing this?  How come our American government is not taking more of this approach to defeating the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership in this part of the world?

Greg Mortenson’s story in Three Cups of Tea is not a tale of unbroken successes.  It includes many failures as well as starts-and-stops.  Nevertheless, Mortenson’s persistence and willingness to be humble and learn the ways of others wins the day.  The key is relationships; by willing to take the time to build relationships, which takes time and patience, Greg Mortenson gained permission to have influence to help tribal groups better the lives of their children.  Thus, the work of Central Asia Institute was born and given life.  This is the idea of the three cups of tea Greg Mortenson had to experience in every village with every leader:  “The first cup of tea, you are a stranger.  The second cup of tea, you are a guest.  The third cup of tea, you are family and we will die for our family.”

California Poppies, Spring 2009

California Poppies, Spring 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

What is discovered vicariously through Mortenson’s experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan is that the Muslim people there want the same thing that everyone in the world wants for themselves and their families: jobs, peace, and a secure future.  Poverty, warfare and instability drive even the most peace loving people to desperate actions for a different life.  We have witnessed that as Americans in our own history during and immediately following the industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Mortenson’s conviction is that education is a key to freedom from poverty, constant war and government instability.  The early results from his successes at building schools in the hinterlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to confirm this proposal.  The local people are willing to fight for themselves against the Al Qaeda and Taliban if they are given the right tools, starting with an education, then with clean water and finally economic development.  Groups like Pennies for Peace help advance this very simple premise.

The saddest part of the book, “Three Cups of Tea,” was the reaction of some Americans to Greg Mortenson’s efforts.  It would appear that fear and ignorance on the American side of the equation is just as dangerous as it is on the Muslim side.  There is still a state of fear and ignorance that many Americans hold to all Muslims; just witness the recent reaction of so many Americans to the idea of a mosque being built near the ground zero of the World Trade Center.  The assumption is that most or all Muslims are terrorists who want to kill, maim, and destroy anyone from the west.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The largest single effort to defeat radical, extremist Islamic Fundamentalists can only be through building relationships that bring about mutual understanding and respect.  By taking time to build relationships that binds the hearts and minds of people together, the world can change.  We must face the fact that there will always be haters and destroyers in the world.  We may not be able to change them.  However, we can change the state of fear and ignorance in which they hold everyone.  Let’s pray more Greg Mortenson’s arrive to help us get there.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Red Rhododendrun Flowers, Spring 2010

Red Rhododendron Flowers, Spring 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg (2010)

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