Monthly Archives: June 2012

Rush hour in Ballard

In between rain squalls this morning, we visited the Ballard Locks, or as they are officially known, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. Between the boats leaving Lake Union and heading for Puget Sound and the record number of salmon heading home through the fish ladder, it was quite a busy morning. The locks are a fascinating place to visit, and even better since it’s free.

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Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Seattle, Washington State



Summer has begun in Seattle. Yesterday was 56 degrees F, with .7 inches of rain. Last night felt like I needed my electric blanket. Didn’t we leave this behind in the winter/spring? Maybe it really is June-uary.

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Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Seattle


Get your facts straight

On Sunday, my wife and I were in church. During his message, the pastor used the following illustration.

The Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, climbed into a rocket and left the Earth’s atmosphere to become the first man in space. Upon his return to Earth, he was quoted as saying, “I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.” One Sunday, W.A. Criswell, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, remarked, “If he had stepped out of that space suit, he would have seen God!”

I joined the congregation in laughing at the story. Then I turned to my wife and whispered, the problem is that Gagarin never made that quote. Someone else, probably Nikita Kruschev, said it and attributed it to Gagarin.

One commentator gives the following explanation for the origin of the quote.

As quoted in To Rise from Earth (1996) by Wayne Lee; some websites quote him as saying “I looked and looked and looked but I didn’t see God” on 14 April 1961, a couple days after his historic flight, but the authenticity of such statements have been disputed; Colonel Valentin Petrov stated in 2006 that the cosmonaut never said such words, and that the quote originated from Nikita Khrushchev’s speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU about the state’s anti-religion campaign, saying “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.”

Another version adds this explanation.

When Yuri Gagarin, the first man who went into space, returned to Earth, there was a huge reception in his honor. As his close friend and cosmonaut colleague Alexei Leonov tells it, then-premier Nikita Khrushchev cornered Gagarin. “So tell me, Yuri,” he asked, “did you see God up there?” After a moment’s pause. Gagarin answered, “Yes sir, I did.” Khrushchev frowned. “Don’t tell any one,” he said. A few minutes later the head of the Russian Orthodox Church took Gagarin aside. “So tell me, my child,” he asked Gagarin, “did you see God up there?” Gagarin hesitated and replied “No sir, I did not.” “Don’t tell anyone.”

As speakers and preachers, we need to go the extra mile in checking the accuracy of our quotations. There will undoubtedly be someone in the congregation looking up the quote on their cell phone and will tell us later if we get it incorrect.

If we go the extra mile, we may discover an even better story, as Chuck Swindoll did when he researched the Gagarin quote.

But as I dug into the research, I encountered a sobering interview with Gagarin’s longtime friend Colonel Valentin Petrov. According to this 2006 interview, the words were not actually spoken by the cosmonaut, but attributed to him after a statement by Nikita Khrushchev in a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow.

While promoting the state’s official atheist policy, the premier said (according to Petrov), “Why should you clutch at God? Here is Gagarin who flew to space but saw no God there.” At the time, the Central Committee wanted the quote attributed to Gagarin, and he was in no position to contradict them! So the quote stuck.

None of this changes the impact of Dr. Criswell’s quip. The pastor, like the rest of the world, took the quote at face value and his response exposes a host of flaws in atheistic thinking. But my digging led me to a deeper, richer story.

According to Gagarin’s friend, the first cosmonaut was a humble, soft-spoken, reluctant hero and a man he knew as a believer (at least in the Russian Orthodox understanding of belief). The government blamed Petrov for “drawing Gagarin into religion,” but both men shared the same perspective all along, actively encouraging Orthodoxy among their younger students in the Air Force Academy, even taking them to visit monasteries. While the world saw him as a pugnacious atheist, he was, in fact, continually in trouble with his Communist leaders for his personal and deeply held religious beliefs.

While it may take extra time, it is worth the effort to make sure we get a quote correct.

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Posted by on June 21, 2012 in Preaching, Quotes


Loosening the tent pegs

One of the challenges of camping is knowing how deep to drive your tent pegs into the ground. If they are too shallow, your tent can be blown down during a wind storm. If the pegs are too deep, you can wrench your back trying to pull them out of the ground when it comes time to break camp and move on.

I imagine Israel faced this dilemma quite often during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. When they made camp for the night, they expected to stay there for a while. And yet, when the pillar of cloud/fire moved, they needed to break camp quickly and start down the road to the next camp site.

While God has not yet given us our marching orders or spelled out the location of our next camp site, he has certainly been loosening our tent pegs over the past four months. He removed my professional tent pegs when he surgically removed me from my previous church back in February. He yanked out those pegs in one quick, decisive motion.

God loosened our geographical tent pegs when he led us to put our house on the market in April. He further loosened those pegs when the three churches I applied to in Washington State all said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” It became evident God was leading us out of the Puget Sound region. He loosened our tent pegs even further when he provided a buyer for our home. Yesterday, we accepted their offer and signed the papers to sell our house. While our tent pegs are still in the ground, they are held in place quite tenuously. In a few short weeks, they will be removed completely.

In the meantime, we wait for God’s clear direction when to move and where to go. Since he led us to this spot, we are confident he will lead us to the next location.

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Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Home, Personal growth


A new approach to spiritual disciplines

Book Review: Living close to God (when you’re not good at it): A spiritual life that takes you deeper than daily devotions, by Gene Edwards

How do you develop a relationship with God when the usual formula of “read the Bible and pray” doesn’t seem to work for you? How do you learn to walk with God when you don’t have a contemplative personality? Those are the questions that prompted Gene Edwards to write his volume on the spiritual life.

The content of Edwards’ approach grew out of his own experience. An active person by nature, the normal practice of spiritual disciplines didn’t seem to help him grow deeper in his relationship with God. As a result, he tried to find what worked for him. What he discovered were four key practices that helped him develop more of a relationship with God.

  • Taking Scripture, such as the Psalms, personalizing it, and praying it back to God. For Edwards, it changed Bible reading into a two-way conversation with the Father.
  • Viewing the spiritual life as a physical walk with God. The author began to see God as his bread, his breath, and his life.
  • Giving God his first thoughts and moments each morning. This helped center his mind on God at the very beginning of each day.
  • Looking for ways to connect with God throughout the day, whether through singing, prayer, meditation, or other means.

Rather than give the impression that these are unique practices, the author closes his book by explaining how these disciplines were practiced in previous generations. He also includes a study guide for use in small groups or to think deeper on the topic.

The book is very short and easy to read quickly. It is a valuable addition to one’s spiritual disciplines. It adds variety to one’s practices as well as providing new ways to internalize the Scriptures and live them out.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Books, Spiritual disciplines


Candidating at the school dance

There are times when the pastoral search process feels like a junior high school dance. On one side of the room sit the churches. On the other side stand the pastoral candidates. The churches are dressed and made up, trying to look radiant. The pastors are wearing their best suits or rented tuxes, trying to look cool. The churches desperately want to find “the one.” The pastors are desperately hoping to be chosen by “the one.” The churches want to go home with the coolest, hippest pastor. The pastoral candidates want to be chosen by the largest, trendiest, most stylish church.

Some churches want a pastor who is a chaplain—someone to hold their hand, listen to their stories about the good old days, and preach nice, encouraging sermons that don’t step on toes. Other churches want the next Mark Driscoll, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, or Chuck Swindoll. Still other churches want a pastor who can attract and bring in the younger generation.

Some pastoral candidates want a church that will listen with rapt attention, agree with everything they say, and follow their every vision. Other candidates want a church that will launch them onto the national stage. Still others want a church who will let them do whatever they want, pay them generously, and not make too many demands on their time.

Some churches and candidates as well, want a dance partner who is looking for a good time, someone who can strut their stuff on the dance floor. They want to be the star of every church growth conference, the author of the latest best seller, and the model of the latest trend.

Other candidates and churches as well, are content to sit on the fringes and just love Jesus. “We just want to be who God wants us to be,” one search committee said recently.

Both the churches and the candidates put their best foot forward trying to impress the other. Each one tries to magnify their strengths and hide their flaws. Neither one wants to be disappointed. If a denominational matchmaker gets involved, you only hope you don’t get stuck with a dweeb.

With this kind of tension and pressure, I have to remind myself that God has chosen to work through the local church. It is his chosen organization to reach a needy world with the message of the gospel.

Instead of trying to impress a prospective dance partner, perhaps we need to pray that God will orchestrate the process so that each of us winds up with the right person, place, and ministry. After all, he is the Lord of the church.

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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Church


An implausible, speculative tale

Book Review: The Resurrected Ones: A story of life, death, and resurrection, by Richard K. Thomas, Ed.D.

The Resurrected Ones is certainly not the story I expected. Rather than being pleasantly surprised, I found myself disappointed.

The author’s premise is based on Matthew 27:51–53.

51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

In chapters 1-3, the author creates the story of three individuals who lived in the first century—a Roman Centurion, a Jewish merchant’s daughter, and an elderly Greek scholar. Each of them encountered Jesus during his earthly ministry and then met an untimely death. Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, these three were among those who came back to life and entered Jerusalem.

Rather than tell of how these folks told others of God’s power to forgive sins and raise Jesus from the dead, the author launches into a fanciful tale of speculative theology. Since Hebrews 9:27 says that it is appointed to men to die once, the author speculates that these resurrected saints will live to the end of the age. He further speculates that God gave them an assignment that winds up being a cross between a watcher documenting the history of the church, an evangelist sharing the gospel, and a guardian angel rescuing saints in danger.

The author says that he wrote the stories to explain to his children about God’s providence. Instead of feeling encouraged, however, I found myself put off by the implausibility of the whole premise. It just felt too far-fetched to be believable. Rather than read speculative fiction, it would be more profitable to read a missionary biography or a book of church history that documents true stories of God’s provision and protection. This is not a book I would recommend.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com http://BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Books