Friday, January 25, 2008

A Shout-Out to Student Wrestlers

Last night, my wife and I were treated to our first wrestling match of all time. It was quite an experience.

We watched Hesston High School take on Remington and Southeast Saline High Schools. The wrestlers we especially came to watch were high school youth group members Travis and Clint Janzen and Shawn Moffett. They were awesome.

This man is not Travis, Clint, or Shawn.

He does remind me of our pastor, however.

There were no pile-drivers. No men jumping twenty feet into the air off of flimsy ropes and then pretending to land with all of their force on top of their overly muscular opponent. No one smashed anyone else over the head with a chair. It was just good, ole' fashion "wrastlin'." The Greek way, baby!! (except the guys we watched were wearing clothes....the Greeks and Romans didn't. Good improvment on our part, I think).

Let me tell you: wrestling is tough work!! It hurt just to watch those guys go at it for three, two-minute periods. It takes incredible strength, technique, strategy, and patience to wrestle well. And it's not all about who is the strongest. Sometimes, it's a lot more about endurance and waiting patiently for your opponent to make a mistake that you are able to exploit.

Despite the incredible personal nature of the competition, the students from all three schools showed great sportsmanship and kindness to one another, even though one guy had just finished physically dominating the other. That was the best part, for me: watching the guy who technically lost show a humble, undiminished, and congratulatory spirit towards the winner, whose unrelenting body had just been used to smash him against the mat only seconds before. It takes grace to have such an attitude.

All three of our wrestling men were very good at what they did. The Janzen brothers have been wrestling since first grade and kindegarten. Shawn just started last year, but showed incredible skill despite his short career. It was enjoyable for Ellen and I just to watch one of the oldest sports in the world being played so well. It was intense and fun.

I wanted to throw out a public "great job, guys" to these three students who pursue a sport that largely goes unnoticed in our culture. In their honor, I want to request my own plastic Travis, Clint, and Shawn wrestling action figures modeled after those shown below. If anyone reading this knows how to make them, call me. Let's git 'er done.

I'm not sure why these guys are holding hands. Kind of weird. But I like their boots.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Great Ministry Tool, or Just a Great Excuse?

Alrighty. I've been silent for long enough, on this one. Most of you know, anyway. So it's time to just let it out.....Here goes....

A little over two weeks ago, I bought a Playstation 3.

There. I said it. (Or wrote it, I guess).

My sweet-dog PS3, baby!!

Now, there are three types of people in this world. First, there are those that think that all video-game playing is a complete waste of time. I've known such people. They're usually very successful and disciplined. They usually get up before people living in other time zones and read three different newspapers before their first cup of coffee, which they drink just for the taste, because caffeine is not needed for them to operate at any time, in any place. They sit at the head of their companies, own large houses, fancy cars, and take vacations for the purpose of seeing other parts of the world they might be interested in buying.

Okay. I lied. I don't know any such people. But I bet such a person doesn't play video games...(probably because he knows I could bring the spank machine in a game of NCAA College Football 2008 on my new Sony PS3).

The second kind of person is a type of person I really have known. They live for one reason, and one reason only...the complete domination of all cyber-space and virtual reality by means of the fictitious character they have spent weeks of play-time constructing on their favorite video game platform. I have literally known guys who have spent thousands (thousands!!) of dollars to attend Grace University (my alma mater, a private Christian school in Omaha, NE) and then failed to even attend most of their classes because they just had to know whether or not they could push buttons fast enough to get their medieval warlord into the dark castle of doom before lunch. I kid you not. I have known a few such college men who had to leave the school because the evil demons of the video game console had replaced their brains with a cool-looking controller (but not a controller as cool as my new SixAxis Bluetooth Wireless controller for my new Sony PS3...suckers).

Then there is the third type of person. I'm not as as successful or robotic as the first type of person. And I graduated Grace University without actually playing a video game, believe it or not. So you know that I can't be one of the first two types.

But I might be of the Third Kind. The Third Kind is the kind who takes a really long time before he even purchases a video game console (my new Sony PS3 is the first console I've ever owned). Deep in his heart, he's always wanted one, but has been too embarrassed to admit it. He's never wanted one badly enough to get a paper route in order to save up, but doesn't mind blowing all of his Christmas money on it.

And here's the kicker. The Third Kind rationalizes the purchase of such a machine with an idea that rings with so much truth that it might actually be true. Here's the idea: "A new video game console could be used to bring more students over. When those students come over, they will be ushered to a new dimension of fun. In this new dimension, they will also have plenty of opportunities to have fun with other people, including their rad, bad, youth pastor."

You know what? That idea is true. It's already proven true for me.

But is that why I really bought the machine? I don't know. I'm not sure I ever will.

But whether or not my new Sony PS3 is a great ministry tool or whether or not I used that logic as a great excuse, you are always invited over for a good time.

Let the games begin...(in moderation, of course).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This one took a while

For this week, I want to refer everyone to a post that I began thinking about back in mid-December, before Christmas. It has taken a while for me to finish, but I wanted to make sure that my sources were right. The post is entitled "Meditations of an Ex-Protester Protesting Evangelical Protester-ism."

The post is not directed towards any one person or group of people beyond those represented by the poll numbers on plugginonline's website.

I hope it is challenging and encouraging for you. Please feel free to voice your ideas, even if they contradict mine. That's partly what a blog is for!!

in our Lord,
John Buerger

Meditations of an Ex-Protester Protesting Evangelical Protester-ism

Wow. What a dorky title. For some people it will come across as too academic. For others it will look oxy-moronic, since I have referred to myself as an "ex-protester" but have told you up front that I am, in fact, protesting by writing this blog post. For others still, it just sounds dorky. I think I'm in the latter category, myself.

("Mama Schrag, please feel free to let me know how dorky it is.")

Before I explain what this blog post is about, let me quickly note what it is not about. First of all, this is not a "coming out" post, admitting to all readers that I am a liberal. To think so is just not true. I am not theologically liberal nor do I agree with everything on the liberal political platform either (although they sometimes have some good points to make).

This post is also not about evangelical Protestantism, as a distinctive, historical movement within Christianity. Much has been said, could be said, and, hopefully, will continue to be said about how much of what passes for contemporary evangelical thinking is far from the theology of the Protestant Reformation. But this post is not specifically about that either (although some may find some indirect correlations). Maybe another day.

No. This post is about "Protester-ism," a word that I either made up or heard someone else use and thought was cool enough to steal. I'm not sure which, yet. I have thought about trying to define this word, but have chosen not to. Hopefully you will get the picture of what it is after you read the rest of the post. If not, please post a comment.

As a youth pastor, I believe that part of my job is to keep up on what is going on in culture. This is accomplished in a lot of ways. One of those ways is reading movie reviews written by Christians and non-Christians. One site that I look at occasionally is, a site maintained by Focus on the Family for the purpose of reviewing movies, books, TV shows, and other media.

On December 17, 2007, I logged on to that site and found that the folks at Focus on the Family had taken a poll of their readership. The poll sought to measure the evangelical community's response to the recent movie, "The Golden Compass," based on the book by Philip Pullman. Much of the evangelical community has been up in arms lately (especially Focus on the Family) over this book because of its purported anti-God theme. Evidently, the main characters in the story are led to believe that the best course of action at the end of the movie is "to kill God." (To me, the idea of killing God is hardly offensive, simply because of how non-sensical it sounds. It's like calling a square a circle, or saying that two plus two equals seven. I think that it is an idea so absurd that we should not choose to dignify it with anger). (For more, read Focus on the Family's review of this movie at, accessed last on January 15, 2008).

The poll that pluggedinonline took read like this:

Your family's approach to "The Golden Compass:"

We will avoid it because of its messages: 70%

We will avoid it because we're not interested: 14%

We'll see it and discuss its messages: 8%

We'll see it; it's just another fantasy movie: 8%

Now, the results of that poll bother me. Let me tell you why. This poll bothers me, not because I think every Christian has a responsibility to see "The Golden Compass." I think that the 14% who don't want to see it simply because they're not interested in the genre or the story-line are perfectly justified in choosing not to spend their money to see the movie, just as any one of us may not choose to pay to see an opera, a hockey game, or some other form of entertainment that fails to capture our interest. The numbers that bother me in this poll are the 8% at the very bottom and especially the 70% at the top.

The 8% at the bottom bother me because they fail to take into account the fact that every movie, book, piece of music, and TV show has some kind of a point. These forms of media are the dominant art-forms of our day and art forms communicate messages....always. Even if your piece of art is going out of the way to not communicate a clear message, that, in itself, is a message. You're simply communicating that you're tired of making serious points with your art and that pure entertainment is somehow more important at the moment. Like it or not, that is a serious message that carries serious implications. Communication always happens--sometimes even by those trying not to communicate at all. We need to get used to it. We need to start engaging our culture by learning how to interpret their messages. We need to stop leaving it to our pastor or favorite Christian author. We need to learn to do it ourselves, as well. It's not just the job of Christian leaders and theologians to look at cultural messages through a biblical grid. It is the job of Christians. We will never evangelize or minister to a culture we refuse to talk to.

The 70% of the poll-takers at the top bothered me the most. They bother me for the same reason as the 8% mentioned above, only their position has even greater weaknesses, in my opinion. These weaknesses go far deeper than the decision to watch "The Golden Compass." In all actuality, I don't really care who sees the movie and who doesn't. I am much more concerned with the heart-attitudes and the wrong-headed theology that is represented by the "Evangelical Protester-ism" of the 70%.

The thinking of the 70% is that the best way to change culture (including the film industry, in this instance) is to protest. If we just create another wall, another strong tower in our own evangelical sub-culture, and we all climb to the top of that wall, look down on those bad film makers and tell them that they are naughty, we will have done our Christian duty. And what better way to tell them that they are naughty than to keep from giving them our money? In fact, if we go and see the movie, and give them our money, doesn't that make us naughty?

One problem with this thinking and strategy is that we don't (and really, can't) apply it across the board. How many Christians will keep from buying a movie ticket to a film that they wish to protest but will turn around and spend a lot more money at Gap, Target, Wal-Mart, JC Penny's, and a whole host of other franchises that support all kinds of social agendas with which we disagree? If I buy some gas at Chevron, take out a loan at Bank of America, buy a hamburger at Sonic, or sell something on eBay, does that mean that I support these companies and their decision to support Planned Parenthood? (see for more; accessed on January 15, 2008). I don' think so. I think it just means that I want a hamburger or that I want a low-interest loan on my house.

And I'm pretty sure that Sonic, although feeding me a hamburger and keeping me alive another day, doesn't think that they're actively supporting a pro-life youth pastor, either.

Unless we're all willing to be Amish (and I'm not), we're probably going to have to realize that our money just has to go to people that don't look at the world the way we do. No where is this more obvious than paying our taxes to our secular government. But...wait...didn't Paul tell me to pay taxes? Yeah. He did (Rom. 13:1-5).

Another problem represented by the thinking of the 70% is the belief that we are somehow doing our Christian duty by protesting. Why are we surprised when a reportedly agnostic person, like Philip Pullman, declares that he hates Christianity? Do we really not believe our Bibles? Christ and His disciples told us over and over again that the world will hate us, because it hated Christ first (Matt. 10:22; 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17; John 7:7; 15:18; 17:14).

The real problem is not that the world hates us. The real problem is that we hate them. When we tell them that we are not willing to listen to their ideas, that we are not interested in engaging them in conversation, that we are not willing to be their friends in any capacity, and that we really are only willing to love people who are already like us and who live in our little evangelical sub-cultures, we are sending the world a message that sounds much more like hate than Christian love. When we turn to "Evangelical Protester-ism" as our chosen method of engaging our culture, we have chosen a method that poorly represents the core of our faith.

Yes, as Focus on the Family points out, Pullman hates C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia." Why? I don't know for sure. I've never spoken to Pullman, myself. Maybe he hates talking Lions. Maybe he hates trees that can move and maybe he really likes winter instead of spring. Or maybe he really doesn't like the message of the Gospel.

But I really wonder if he has truly been given the opportunity to hate the Gospel. I say this because the message he hears through the evangelical community that refuses to have anything to do with his book or his movie is definitely not the message of the Gospel. Call that message whatever you want. But we don't dare call it the Gospel. Maybe Pullman does hate evangelicals. But I doubt he hates us for the same reason that Christ said the world will hate us. And that should shame us.

Don't get me wrong. I really don't care whether you go see the movie or not. This blog really isn't about "The Golden Compass." If you were led to think it was, up to this point, I apologize. I haven't communicated clearly, then. What I care about is that we learn to listen to the culture. Not because I think they have found a way to God or because their sources of truth are better, more "edgy," more hip, or more accurate than the eternal, God-breathed words of Scripture. I think we should learn to listen to them for the same reason anyone decides to listen to someone else. We should listen to them because it is how you show love. We should listen to them so that when we engage their ideas in conversation or debate, we actually know what we're talking about.

And if we are scared that watching "The Golden Compass" or an episode of Oprah will ship-wreck our faith and make us want to kill God, then we really need to question whether we are Christians in the first place....or at least whether the pastors we listen to and the books we read are written by Christian leaders who love us enough to help us understand our faith and take us deeper in our relationships with Christ instead of just selling us pop-psychology, self-help for a price.

Have I seen "The Golden Compass"? No. No I haven't.

But if you have, I would love to hear your impressions and interpretations of it.

More on protesting "Evangelical Protester-ism" later....

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

It's Already Happening....

Well my friends, it begins. I really thought we might have a couple or three months yet, but we don't. The terror from the skies has already come upon many in the United States in the first of week of January, 2008.

The Midwest and Ohio River Valley have found themselves experiencing severe weather, the likes of which are normally reserved for early and mid-spring. Unseasonably record-breaking temperatures in the sixties and seventies in the upper-Midwest brought about the right atmospheric conditions for large hail, damagaing winds and tornadoes.

As of now, 32 or 33 tornadoes were reported, most of them occurring in Missouri and Wisconsin. Such widespread tornadic activity is certainly considered an official "outbreak." Additionally, large hail the size of golf-balls also accompanied the squall lines moving through these states.

The worst tornadoes were in Missouri and it sounds as if the most intense were F-2s or maybe weak F-3s (winds from 115mph to 160mph). Two deaths were reported in a trailer home park near Monett, MO. A cellular phone picture of this tornado is below.

It will be interesting to see if such an early severe weather outbreak is an indication of a really active tornado season. For those of us that live in tornado-prone areas (hypothetically, take the small town of Hesston, KS for example) let us hope not.

That's it, for now.

I've been needing to clean out my basement for a while. It's really dirty down there!!

Self-Centered Godliness

I am currently reading a great book by the well-known contemporary theologian, J.I. Packer (probably best known for his book Knowing God. The book I am reading is entitled Keep in Step with the Spirit, which is about how Christians should think, believe, and act in accordance with biblical teaching regarding the Person of the Holy Spirit. It is excellent and I would highly recommend it to anyone, clergy or lay-person alike.

It is theological, but understandable and practical as well. Theology is always practical, something we often forget (sometimes because we would rather be intellectually lazy and pretend that the important things are "easy" and "simple"). But gifted theologians like Packer don't let us forget.

I have printed a particularly convicting passage from his book below.

"Self Centered Godliness. Modern Christians tend to make
satisfaction their religion. We show much more concern for self-fulfillment than for pleasing God. Typical of Christianity today, at any rate in the English-speaking world, is its massive rash of how-to books for believers, directing us to more successful relationships, more joy in sex, becoming
more of a person, realizing our possibilities, getting more excitement each day, reducing our weight, improving our diet, managing our money, licking our families into happier shape, and what not.

"For people whose prime passion is to glorify God, these are doubtless legitimate concerns; but the how-to books regularly explore them in a self-absorbed way that treats our enjoyment of life rather than the glory of God
as the center of interest. Granted, they spread a thin layer of Bible teaching over the mixture of popular psychology and common sense they offer, but their overall approach clearly reflects the narcissism--"selfism" or "me-ism" as it is sometimes called--that is the way of the world in the modern West.

"Now self-absorption, however religious in its cast of mind, is the opposite of holiness. Holiness means godliness, and godliness is rooted in God-centeredness, and those who think of God as existing for their benefit rather than of themselves as existing for his praise do not qualify as holy men and women. Their mind-set has to be described in very different terms. It is an ungodly sort of godliness that has self at its center" (taken from Keep in Step with the Spirit, pg. 82).

May the Lord enable us to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Confessions of a Blogging Sinner

Okay. The shame has become too great. The scroll of people who have threatened to black-list my blog has become too long. All because I have long violated the one and only Cardinal Rule of Blogging:

"Thou shalt here and forevermore maintaineth thine blog by making frequent posts for thine readers."

It all began with the gentle urgings of a good friend and fellow blogger, Kayla Schrag, who reminded me almost three weeks ago that it had been about a month since the appearance of my last blog. She said it with kindness, but undaunted solemnity.

But a few days ago, a certain pastor who lives and ministers in our area (who shall remain nameless, but whose name rhymes with "Craig Roams") confronted me near my office and said, "John, did you know that you have a blog?"


Then, to make matters worse, my dear sweet mammy told me over the New Years weekend that she sorely missed reading my blog. Of course, such a comment could only affect the kind of heart-felt remorse that any of us feel when our dear sweet mammies bring any kind of embarrassment to our attention. For some of us, it might be picking our nose in public. For others, it might be the length of time we have allowed to pass by since our last shower. But for me, it was the blatant violation of the Cardinal Rule of Blogging (see aforementioned rule above).

And now the final straw has been placed upon the proverbial camel's humped back. A wonderful woman and deacon's wife in our church, who kindly refers to herself as Grandma Vonnie, has actually left a public post on my blog calling me out for the heinous crime I have committed against the online, virtual community.

I have thus endeavored to publicly write out my confession of web-based shortcomings along with a commitment of repentance:

"I, John Buerger, have taken my readership for granted for far too long. I have advertised my blog on Facebook without delivering on the implied promise of frequent posts. I have read the blogs of others and left comments without giving them a post to comment on in return.

"I have stayed up for long hours in my home, watching movies, TV shows, playing games, reading books, performing house-hold chores, talking to friends who live in other states on the telephone, staying at the bedside of those who are sick and down-trodden, fighting for the rights of all those who live in Hesston, staying up long nights in order to defend the weak against the criminals and evil-doers who relentlessly stalk our streets, while all along I could have been writing blogs for those to whom it is due.

"I have taken evil delight, cackling with a laughter only heard from villains on old Disney movies, whenever I have thought of those poor souls who are working so hard to keep their eyes open and their sleep-starven bodies awake while linking on to the Worldwide Web just one more time before the sun comes up in order to see whether or not John Buerger has written another blog post.

"From all of these things, I heretofore repent and promise that blogs shall once again roll down like the spring-time rains of Hesston. Posts shall rise up like Mt. Hesston's snowy peak in the center of King Park.

"So it is written. So it shall be done."