They Are At It Again!


This falls under the category of scam artist at work.

Ann posted some items to sale on Craig’s List the other day (if you are interested in what they were, please contact us) and actually got a response with an offer to buy one of the items. Then the fun began!

She got one e-mail expressing interest followed by two e-mails asking for forgiveness in not quickly sending the payment. Today she got the check, delivered Priority Mail Express no less, and a fourth e-mail explaining that there had been a mix-up with the banker and that we needed to cash the check and keep the sale price plus a little something for our trouble. We were then to get a Western Union money order and send the rest back to the buyer. If we had done this, the buyer would have received something on the order of four figures.

Now, each of the e-mails that we received were very poorly written and this was the first of many alarms to go off. The fourth e-mail contained an address not related to the sender of the e-mails or the address on the check. At this point, can you say Nigeria?

Okay, now this check looks real. I mentioned because this isn’t the first time we have received such checks (the first time, it was even a good copy). As it happens, the bank and the company on which the check we received today are real companies but the check is hacked. When I called the company on whose account it was drawn and mentioned what we had, the company representative knew immediately what had happened and told me that whoever sent us this check had stolen the routing number and account number.

In speaking with the company representative, she noted that ours was not the first attempt to perpetrate this fraud. You could her in her voice a certain degree of sadness as to the number of people who have lost money because they were victims.

It is an old, old saying that if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t. And in this case, that is certainly the case.

Let’s just say that from the beginning of this little episode, Ann and I were expecting a fraud. When you send an e-mail that is poorly constructed, that’s the first tip-off. And then when you get an amount of money that is way out of line, that’s the winner.

The moral of this story, to borrow from a second cliché, is seller beware.

For other scams, look at “Couldn’t They Have Been A Bit More Subtle?” and “There’s A Sermon In Here Somewhere But First A Warning!”

And addendum – We contacted the company whose address was on the return label and were told that they had several of these letters.  It isn’t just a scam but postal fraud now.

What I Believe


First, I believe that there is a God and that He created the universe and all that is in it. I believe that we have been created in His image and given the ability to think and create as a result.

Granted, the way we think at times can be questioned and what we have created has sometimes done more harm than good. But even in times when our thoughts and creative acts have been directed towards evil and destruction, we still retain the ability to do good and create rather than destroy.

The history of society’s development, I think, can be traced to its ability to think and create, to ask questions and seek answers, to go beyond the horizon into unknown territories. While some may fear the unknown and not wish to see what is beyond the next corner, we understand that we cannot grow as people and a society if we do not venture to that new place.

Second, I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and that He was the Son of God and that He came to this world to save me from my sins.

I also believe that each person has their own understanding of who God is and may express that belief in a different way.

I do not believe that I have the right to tell you what to believe or how to believe. Rather, it is through my words, deeds, and actions that I can offer others a new way, a new life and a way to peace.

In accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I have also accepted the task of showing the world who He is. This requires that I use the ability that I was given when I was formed in the image of God to think and create.

In thinking, I ask questions, sometimes about my faith, sometimes about the world around me. The answers that I get may cause me to question my faith; they may also cause me to question the way the world around me works. But in answering my questions, my faith will grow and I will work to improve the world around me.

Transfiguration Sunday or Evolution Weekend?


Transfiguration Sunday or Evolution Weekend?

This was supposed to have been posted on Sunday February 15th, but things sort of got in the way.

On the church liturgical calendar, this Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. On the secular calendar, this is Evolution Weekend. Before I get into my thoughts about the nature and significance of this day, let me first identify three organizations that focus on the interaction of faith and science (I have put a link to each group on the side of my blog)

  • WesleyNexus
  • BioLogos
  • Clergy Letter project

While the title of this piece suggests that one has to make a choice about what to write about (or perhaps preach), for me, it really isn’t that way. As I hope to lay out before you, both are equally important for me.

Transfiguration Sunday focus on the change that Peter, James, and John saw in Jesus that speaks to the true nature of Jesus as the Messiah and the Christ.

Evolution Weekend focuses on the fact that February 12 is Charles Darwin’s birthday; it is an event that has taken place for the past ten years or so and looks at the relationship between science and faith (or at least it does for me).

From that viewpoint, these are mutually exclusive events. But I see a common thread in the two events.

In the Scripture readings for this Sunday, Jesus is seen by Peter, James, and John to have been transfigured or transformed, covered with a bright line and seen by the three disciples to be accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Perhaps the meaning of this is to let Peter, James, and John know that Jesus is really the Messiah and things are going to be changing in the next few days.

This moment, first experienced some two thousand years ago by three men, is a moment that we all have in some form or another when we accept Christ as our personal Savior. It is a moment when we truly understand what Jesus did for us two thousand years ago and what He does for us even today.

But I fear that too many people don’t truly understand what this moment means. They fail to take advantage of this opportunity. They lived their lives totally unchanged, continue to believe and live as they did before Christ came into their lives. They may acknowledge that Christ is the Savior but they do not offer the proof. They still see things as they were and not has they might or will be (thinking of the G. B. Shaw quote that Robert Kennedy so often used).

Look at Peter’s initial response to build three monuments; this represented the traditional thinking of the time. Every encounter with God up until that moment is fixed in time and place by some sort of stone monument. This is not what Jesus wants His disciples to do; rather, I think that He wanted them to see their lives in a new way.

Our encounter with Christ and its life changing quality need not be like Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus (though there are many who would say that is the only type of valid encounter). But, however we encounter and acknowledge Christ, we have to understand that our lives change, as Saul’s did when he became Paul. If our lives do not change, the encounter with Christ may prove to be limited in its effect.

Early on in my teaching career, I discovered the work of Jean Piaget and its application to the learning of chemistry. Later I would discover research describing the “AHA Moment”. This moment is that singular moment in one’s life where a seemingly difficult item becomes easily understood. In Piagetian terms, it is that transition from one learning level to the next highest one (in chemistry, often times it is the transition from concrete, fixed thinking to a more abstract thinking process). You go from merely solving problems by rote memorization and application of previous solutions to actually creating new solutions.

For some, this never occurs. They are quite successful in their education experiences but they are lacking when it comes to creating new ideas. I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily a bad thing in itself but when it becomes the norm (as I fear that it is becoming in society today), then problems will arise. You simply cannot advance the nature of society if all you know are the same old solutions; they will not work with new problems.

For me, science is critical to one’s life simply because it pushes you to understand the world around you. Too many people of faith fear science for that very reason; it pushes people to seek better answers to their questions of faith. And yet, one’s faith cannot grow if it is not challenged.

Similarly, one’s secular life also cannot grow if you are not willing to look beyond the limits of your normal vision, if you are not pushed to (and excuse the cliché) think outside the envelope.

We live in dangerous times and our responses cannot be the traditional responses. There are too many challenges taking place that call on us to push our faith and our thinking skills together beyond the limits others have established.

Jesus began to push the boundaries of ministry outside the Temple walls and He encouraged His disciples and other followers to do the same. Charles Darwin pushed the boundaries of science beyond the traditional thinking mode and challenged people to see the world a little differently.

If we are to be transformed by Christ, our world has to change. And that means that we must see the world differently, through the eyes of Christ and with a better knowledge of what we do see. So that is why I see Transfiguration Sunday and Evolution Weekend as together and not apart.

“Christmas Eve, 1968″


For one brief moment on Christmas Eve, 1968, we on the earth began to understand our relationship in and with this universe. I have even used a copy of the recording of the reading from Genesis that Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders read as the orbited the moon that evening to illustrate that relationship. Earthrise - 1968 And yet, in that moment of enlightenment and understanding, there were those who felt it was highly inappropriate and possibly illegal for three astronauts to read the words of Genesis while watching the lifeless void of the moon and the darkness of space. The documentaries of that time tell us that it had not been a very good year and it probably wasn’t. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated in Memphis in April and then, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in June. The Democratic National Convention was a disaster in more ways than one and the sum total of violence throughout that year pretty well made sure that Richard Nixon would be elected on a law and order platform buttressed by the “silent majority”. It seems to me that, with the singular exception of the Apollo program, all 1968 did was set things in motion for where we are today. And with the landing of Apollo 11 the following summer, even our exploration of the universe began to shut down. In the years that have come and gone since we first saw the surface of the moon up close, we have moved backward from the ideals that lead us to seek knowledge beyond the stars. And the violence that threatened to tear this nation apart then has not left and, perhaps, is even more present today. So on this Christmas Eve, I hope that we will pause for a few brief moments to ponder the birth of a child born far away from His home in a time of oppression, then think about the possibilities that we saw when three men from Earth saw the surface of the moon and reminded us from where we came. Let us take the time today to make sure that the Christmas story is told and that we will work for peace and understanding in the coming days.

“The Meaning Of The Christmas Story – 2014″


Here are my thoughts for Christmas this year.

If we are to give meaning to the story of Christmas that we tell this year, we ought to start with what we know.

For some, the idea that Jesus Christ was ever born is a fantasy or superstition. But something happened some two thousand years ago that caused some people to write down some stories and tell them to others and risk their lives in doing so. And while it may not always be possible to factually verify everything, that we are still telling the story today should tell us that there is a certain degree of truth in the story.

But let us start with the knowledge that we know Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th or in December for that matter. With the statement in Luke’s Gospel that the shepherds were in their fields that night, we can surmise that Jesus was most likely born in either March or early April.

But if we were to celebrate Jesus’ birthday at that time, there would inevitably be a conflict with Easter and that would probably not be a good idea.

We also know that those involved in the early church coopted a pagan holiday that occurred during the winter solstice as the date for Christmas. One supposes this was done to change the focus but, as we will see in a few moments, there was at least one other compelling reason.

But let me just say at this moment, if you profess to be an atheist, why are you disturbed by all of this? By your own declaration, you do not believe in any sort of god or gods, so the actions of one group to “steal” another groups holiday should have no effect on you.

And as an atheist or even as a pagan believer, if you participate in any sort of gift exchange because it is Christmas, then you are in it for yourself and that is not nor has it ever been the story or meaning of Christmas.

I would also add that those many self-righteous individuals who call themselves Christian but lead a life that does not contain Christ are also in it for themselves. Just because you put a sticker on the right side of your bumper that proclaims “keeping Christ in Christmas” doesn’t make you a Christian if you haven’t kept Christ in your heart as well.

You see the story of Christmas begins with an invitation, not to the rich and the powerful or members of the political and religious establishment, but to the outcasts of society. The announcement of the birth of Jesus was given to the shepherds, who by the very nature of their work, were considered ritually unclean and no self-respecting citizen in Jesus’ time would have anything to do with them.

Despite the profession as their King and his beginnings as a shepherd, the shepherd profession was not very well appreciated. I can only imagine what parents back then might have thought if one of their children were to come home and say that they wanted to become a shepherd or that they were going to marry one.

I don’t think much has changed in the past two thousand years. The people and professions change but we still exude an aura of exclusion when it comes to the people we bring to Christ or to whom we take Christ.

Yes, we have a food closet at our church; we hold food and coat drives; yes, we give food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas and we do all of that in the name of Christ but what happens the other days of the year. If we truly felt that no one should go hungry or naked, homeless or sick, why are we not doing something about that? Is that not what Christ said He came to this world to do and is that not part of the Christmas story?

Now, the one thing that I don’t want to do is mix up the Christmas stories in the Gospels but then again we have done a pretty good job of that on our own anyway. It may be that most people don’t know the reason for celebrating Christmas in December but they also don’t know that the story that is told is a combination of stories and that there really is no Christmas story in Mark or John.

And that makes the inclusion of the Magi all the more important. We also speak of the three wise men but we really don’t know if there were only three or if more may have been on the trip. We make the argument for three because three gifts were given. In fact, we don’t even know if they were all men (I think that we make certain assumptions about the nature of the position that are necessarily true). And we have to go to sources outside the Bible to get their names.

The Magi are in the story because they have seen signs of Jesus’ birth, signs that were available to the scientific advisers of the Israelite political and religious authorities as well. How is it that they missed them? Could it have been they were more interested in preserving their own positions than advancing knowledge? Why was it that the signs of Jesus’ birth were given to individuals outside the religious and political establishment? Could it have been that the knowledge of Christ’s birth was meant for all and not just a select few?

Even today, there are those who seek to limit our knowledge, telling us that there is a limit to our knowledge. But if their counterparts two thousand years ago couldn’t get it right, how can we trust them today?

We know that Jesus will grow in wisdom and stature so learning had to be important to Mary and Joseph. So should it be today. And just as the Magi looked beyond the horizon, so should our learning process push the envelope as well. Say what you will about the science of the Magi, it was the foundation for the science of today. They sought answers to questions and that is what we need to be teaching today. The answer to the question will always be in what we do, not what is in some book.

It was never made clear to me when I was growing up what sort of society Jesus was raised in or what the nature of that time might have been. But I have come to know, because I have sought to find out, that though the time may have been called the “Pax Romana”, it was a peace enforced by brutal force and oppression.

Are these times any different? We still seek to establish peace through force and oppression but we are finding that it does not work. To paraphrase Patrick Henry, there can be no peace as long as war is used to accomplish it.

We are also reminded that even one of Jesus’ disciples questioned the validity of Jesus’ message because He was from Nazareth. Our own ability to understand people is often clouded by our own preconceived notions of time and place. We struggle each day to judge a person by the content of their character and not their outward appearance.

We live in a dark time, in part because the relationship between the earth and its journey around the sun. But the darkness that envelopes our lives is brought on as much by our indifference to the conditions of others and our own self-interests.

I would hope that when the early church authorities decided to co-opt pagan winter solstice ceremonies, they did so because they understood that there was more to the darkness in the people’s lives than just the position of the earth around the sun.

Christ’s birth was meant to be the light that could overcome the darkness and allow people to know that, no matter who they may be or where they come from, there was hope in this world. He came to this world to bring light to a darkened world and that is the Christmas story.

It was never meant to be a one-day event. It was meant to be the beginning of a story that lasts a lifetime and one we live each day. It was and need to be a story told by all and told to all. So, as you tell the story, remember how it began and how lives were changed.

That is the meaning of the story this year and in the years to come.

“What Can I Do?”


Mediation for November 16, 2014, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Judges 4: 1 – 7; 1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 11; Matthew 25: 14 – 30

I started this, then hit a “road block”, then got started again. I don’t know how good this one is.

A colleague and friend, in preparing her sermon for today, asked a very simple question, “What would you do if you only had one talent?”

Had a chance to think about what you were asking and came up with my own question, “What can I do?”

Do we do as the one individual in today’s Gospel reading did, take it and hide it away? Or is there some way that we can do something with what we have?

When I looked at the Old Testament reading for today, I saw that Deborah made one choice. Her single talent was to make the right choices; that’s why she was a judge.

Paul’s words to the Thessalonians speak of not knowing when Christ was coming back and that we probably shouldn’t be preoccupied with that notion but focus on what it is that we can do right now.

Each person has at least one talent; sometimes they know what it is, often times they do not know. But there are others whose primary talent is finding others. And that means that there isn’t a problem that cannot be solved.

But it also means that there comes a moment when our preconceived notions about time and space have to be cast aside. If we live in the present world, we will see things in only one sense. What was that George Bernard Shaw quote that Robert Kennedy so often used when he campaigned for President in 1968, “You see things; and say ‘why?’ But I dream of things that never were and say ‘why not?’”

That is where we are. We as a people are faced with many challenges and sometimes we think that we are unable to do anything. But we have been given the opportunity through Christ to see new ways to solve those problems. It changes the question from “what can I do?” to “when do we start?”