Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Where The Sidewalk Ends

This poem fascinates me. You might have seen it before. Read it again.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.


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Monday, February 26, 2007

"The Darkroom Search" - Is love blind?

I'm trying to get my act together this week, so in the meantime enjoy this story from Soren Kierkegaard. What do you think about his question? I think it is a great comment on how we see relationships.

They say that love makes blind, and by this they explain the phenomenon. In case a man going into a dark room to fetch something were to reply to my advice that he carry a light by saying, "The thing I am seeking is only a trifle, therefore I carry no light" - ah, then I could understand him perfectly. On the other hand, when the same man takes me aside and confides in me a mysterious manner that the thing he went to fetch was of the utmost importance, and therefore he could do it blindly - ah, I wonder how my poor mortal head might be able to follow the high flight of this speech. Even if for fear of offending him I might refrain from laughter, as soon as his back was turned I could not help laughing. But at love nobody laughs.

(The Young Man in Stages on Life's Way, p. 51)


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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lent, 2007 - The Theology of the Void

This is the first year our family has done anything for Lent, but we thought it would be a great exercise in discipline and reflection.

My oldest son, Jonathan, and I are choosing to drink only water and milk, which has already been tough. I had a caffeine headache all day yesterday and this morning and kept thinking "You know, a large glass of sweet tea would be mighty fine right now". My daughter, Autumn, and wife, Nancy, have given up sweets and desserts. Autumn has already told me that it has been really hard because the teacher at school hands out little treats as rewards.

We had our kids do research on fasting a couple of nights ago, and Nancy and I told our kids the night before it started that whenever we think of these material things that we are giving up that we are instead supposed to think of Christ and how he is even more important.

It has been a great topic of discussion in our family, and you know what? I need to be weaned from these material things as much as anyone else in our family. I love that I have this constant "Christ is all I need" running through the back of my painful head. I hate that I had a headache, but the pain strangely makes it all the more real.

Anyone else giving anything up for Lent? What kind of reflection has the void caused?


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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Review of "Cultivating A Life For God" by Neil Cole, part 1 of 2

The subject of this book has been on my mind for a while, so I was excited to dive into this book once I knew more of what it was about. This may be one of those Christian practices that is somehow overlooked yet is instrumental for transformation and depth.

The book says that it is about discipling, and I applaud Cole for getting practical about what he calls our "prime directive" - the Great Commission to make disciples. Cole lays out a plan for groups comprised of two to three people that meet in order to confess and read scripture. Once a fourth person is added to the group, within a couple of weeks the group should then split into two groups of two people to keep it small. Cole's belief is that these types of groups will continue to expand out.

In another Cole book that I have read, I haven't found him to be the deepest theologian around (and he is admittedly a more practical focused person), but I thought he did a better job in this book and was especially interested in his exegesis of the blind man in the gospel of John. But the heart of the book is the functional plan and resources for starting these groups.

A couple of critiques and then we'll hit my discipline of recent fascination: I think discipling is more than mutual accountability. Discipling to me seems to imply more of a role-model intimacy, or mentoring/coaching to use more modern lingo, where one person in the relationship is living life in a certain way that the other person wants to learn, and does so through following and questioning. That doesn't seem to be what Cole is advocating.

A different criticism is that it seems through the overall language and implications is that the goal of these groups is multiplication of these groups, which will bring into them people outside of the faith; i.e., these accountability groups are for the main purpose of evangelism. I think that you can do these groups with the purpose of healing and mutual growth without stressing the evangelism aspect. This is just my opinion, but I think when your main point is evangelism a ticking clock forms in your head as to why these groups aren't working if new groups are not springing out all the time. Cole even mentions an example near the back of the book of a young man who had started a group and was disappointed when new groups had not sprung up within a month. What if the group just focused on healing, and invited new people when it seemed natural? Cole probably means this, but he is obviously a gifted evangelist and has a hard time not focusing in that direction.

That said, I love the idea of these groups and think they may be a key to our mile wide and inch deep problem within the church. I agree with Cole that these groups are challenging to where we hold the bar for accountability, yet people want - need? - a place to be free of their sin and baggage.

I would love to go on, but this particular blog is turning into a book. I'll talk more about that and some interesting places found in the secular world that feeds people's longing to be free.


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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Do Something About This, Part 5

Revolution, by Barna, p. 35. Regarding family faith:

  • A large majority of churched believers rely upon their church, rather than their family, to train their children to become spiritually mature.
  • In an average month, fewer than one out of every ten churched families worships together outside of a church service; just as few pray together, other than at mealtimes; and the same minimal numbers study the Bible together at home or work together to address the needs of disadvantaged people in their community.
  • The likelihood of a married couple who are born-again churchgoers getting divorced is the same as couples who are not disciples of Jesus.
  • Apart from church-based programs, the typical Christian family spends less than three hours per month in endeavors to jointly develop or apply their faith.
  • Most Christian parents do not believe they are dong a good job at facilitating the spiritual development of their children.
What else is there to say? We aren't even helping the people that we spend the most time around. Why?


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Monday, February 19, 2007


Have you heard that joke that 99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name? I'm starting to get that feeling about Christians when I read news articles like this one, sent to me by my friend Jeff.

Excluding people who don't fit your standards for how they look on the outside? Please. Funny thing is, I wouldn't be allowed in that pediatrician's office because of my tattoos. I just don't get it. How is the way you look on the outside any indication of the kind of person you are? And even if it did, what about any kind of transformation that could happen afterwards?

What about the people who have the look, I'm assuming a nice trim middle-class look that really doesn't mean much is what he is after, and are not "Christian" on the inside? What if he started to exclude people who were materialistic, who had lied at some point, who had stolen something, who had looked with lust upon anything? He would deserve the patients that were left.

Why exclude anyone? Again, I just don't get it. Take a look at history to see where that path has led - excluding people based on their looks or skin color. Please, let's not go there again. Not only is it immoral, it certainly isn't the way of Christ. That person has lost his effectiveness to love a broken world, and has made it that much harder for those of us who want to.

True story: on a Saturday evening I was talking to some graduate friends about Christians who seem to think that if you don't look like a good American then you haven't made it to the top tier of Christianity. (Nothing against America, I love living here, and we have decided to make it our missional home. But God's kingdom knows no man-made boundaries.) The next day, Sunday morning, I was filling in for the preacher at a church outside of town. I met an older man who wasn't too impressed with my looks. During graduate school I decided to grow my hair longer. When I introduced myself to him, instead of saying "Howdy" or some other nice greeting, he just said, "Son, you need to get a haircut." I was a little annoyed, but I was the visiting preacher and so I didn't say anything. Except then he went on to tell me how people with long hair and tattoos need to get cleaned up before they can go to church. "Really," I said.

Here is where it got interesting. He went on to tell me:

People are like cows; some cows are bred better than other cows. Take, for instance, people in these other nations that are always fighting and we Americans are having to come in and fix it.
I was rather stunned at this point. I mentioned that Christ said that we are to love everyone. His response:
I know we are supposed to love everyone spiritually. But I don't think these people can be Christians. They just aren't bred well enough.
I said that it was a good thing that God didn't think that way, and his ancestors were at one time heathens. He said something else, but I excused myself before I really lost it. One of my angrier moments as a preacher. Next week I had a sermon on the Holy Spirit binding everyone together in love - he left early.

I know there are a lot of bigoted people claiming to follow Christ, and maybe some of them are seriously working through their issues much as I do on other things; but to see someone proclaim it so blatantly stunned me. Might as well have a sign on the door saying "No admittance for Christians who don't look like this".

My personal conviction: people like this wouldn't allow Jesus in the door because he would need to clean up his act and hang out with the right people. More "Christians" casting stones.


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Movie Recommendation

I probably won't make many movie recommendations, it is just hard to do so these days. But we just watched "Born Into Brothels" - see it. I want to write more but it is just hard to put into words right now.


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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Untouched Food

Enjoy this story from Soren Kierkegaard:

What is the difference between faith and the profession of faith? (The Gospel of Suffering, pp. 141-42)

If there was a certain kind of food, an article of food which, for one reason or another, had such significance for a man that it was completely tied up with his most intimate feelings (we may imagine a national dish, or a food which has religious significance), and as a result of this it was impossible for him to remain silent if this food was scoffed at or even referred to disparagingly: then it would be natural that, if this happened in his presence, he would admit and confess his own emotions.

But let us imagine the relationship somewhat altered. We imagine this man gathered in company with several others, and this food is set before them. When it is offered them, each of the guests says personally: "This is the most excellent and precious of all foods." Certainly, if that man of whom we are speaking discovers with astonishment, or believes that he discovers, that the guests do not eat of this dish, that they leave it untouched, that they confine themselves to other foods, while they still say that the food is the most excellent and precious: is the man in that case required to acknowledge his own conviction? There is no one indeed who contradicts him, no one who says anything other than what he says.


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Thursday, February 15, 2007


I'm trying a few things out with the blog. Maybe you've noticed the different look; sometimes you just need to move things around to find out what you really like and appreciate. Maybe you've noticed the map - I like that it will show where people are visiting from, starting yesterday.

But, as usual when changing things around, something is bound to go haywire (does anyone know what that phrase actually means?).

The expanded posts went crazy like my 4 year old after 5 cookies and lemonade, dancing in all kinds of places that I wasn't expecting. I think I have it fixed, but I'm sure something else will be wacky before too long.

Changes always seem to bring some problems, or on the positive side I suppose you could say that it just brings fresh perspectives on what had become stale. I thought that an interesting practice may be to think about what questions you should ask when going through changes. A few might be:

  • What new opportunities are presented with these changes?
  • How could these changes help me become a better person?
  • What are some blessings in my life that I can now see with more clarity?
Obviously, I'm taking the angle of looking at the changes in a positive way. Difficulty comes when trying to assess a value, so I generally believe that one should look at changes in terms of character and relationships.

So what questions would you ask? Tell me what you have seen when making changes in your life...


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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day

So this isn't going to be the post where you read about what we did and then think, "Wow, that is truly amazing. I'm not sure I can top that. What an amazing couple." We are on the extremely tight waiting-for-the-real-job valentine's budget this year.

First, for the whole family we got a giant cookie heart, 'cause there just won't be enough sugar going around. Nancy got me the box of Tagalongs as previously mentioned (which I actually finished before today). The kids made their valentines for their classmates, and Autumn - who is always writing and drawing us wonderful notes - made this little valentine for us:

Nancy had a card waiting with my stuff that I found as I went out the door and I sent her an email late last night so it would be at her desk when she arrived this morning. I'll cook dinner, which Nancy will probably have to help so that it it's a real meal, and then we'll watch season 2 of Scrubs by the fire before we go to bed.

Why the not so big deal this year? Some things I go over the top, this year Valentine's just wasn't it. One, we're getting older and have been together for fifteen years; and two, this year we just have bigger stuff cooking right now that takes up a lot of attention.

I say that and then I realize - is there really anything bigger than those relationships that we have? It is so easy to take for granted my loved ones. Nancy and I were just laughing the other night at the Sonic commercial where the husband and wife are enjoying a moment because they were going to wallpaper after that, and they will then yell and scream and "Man is it going to be dark." Aaahhh, the blessings of family...

So, go ahead and show me up - what did you do for Valentine's Day?


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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Prayer for Invitation

Lord by thy grace, let the poor see me be drawn to Christ and invite him to enter their homes and their lives. Let the sick and the suffering find in me a real angel of comfort and consolation. Let the little ones of the streets cling to me because I remind them of him, the friend of all little ones.

--Mother Teresa, 1910-1996
From The Harper Collins Book of Prayers, compiled by Robert Van de Weyer (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993, p. 352)


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Risk and Life

I found this interesting quote from Hegel on freedom:

"It is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; ... the individual who has not staked his or her life may, no doubt, be recognized as a Person; but he or she has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-counsciousness."

I'm not going to try and interpret Hegel (a risky business for me), but here is a thought:

To live a meaningful life you need to risk it for a cause. Certainly "meaningful" is up for grabs, but I want my life to count for something and to do so means that I am sacrificing certain paths in life for something that I think is better. When I say Yes to something there is a whole host of No's that are included, many of which might have been worth something.

We make many such Yes' everyday, and many Yes' come as default when we fail to make a decision. But there is that Big Yes that looms out there that we may or may not hit if only looking at the everyday decisions.

I believe Freedom is knowing what that Big Yes is. Here is a conversation starter for you, try it out on your friends: "What are you risking your life for?"


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Monday, February 12, 2007

Delicious Treat

My lovely wife bought me an early Valentine's treat - a box of Tagalongs from the Girl Scouts. I love Tagalongs. I love them with milk, I love them with tea. I would eat till I was sick if only they were free.

What is your favorite kind of Girl Scout cookie?


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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Do Something About This, Part 4

Revolution, by Barna, p. 34. Regarding Servanthood:

  • In a typical week, only one out of every four believers will allocate some time to serving other people. Most of that time is dedicated to volunteering in church programs that serve congregants; little effort is invested in serving needy people outside the congregation.
  • Most churched Christians admit to having seen homeless or hurting people in their community or travels during the past year; a very small percentage says they interacted with any of those disadvantaged individuals.
  • They typical believer would rather give money to an organization to allow it to do good deeds in society than personally assist in alleviating the needs of disadvantaged people.
What are we so busy doing?


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Friday, February 09, 2007

The Global Church

I am totally stealing this from my friend Steve's blog, but it is well worth repeating. If the world was a village of 100 people (source):

If we could reduce the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, the demographics would look something like this:

The village would have 60 Asians, 14 Africans, 12 Europeans, 8 Latin Americans, 5 from the USA and Canada, and 1 from the South Pacific

51 would be male, 49 would be female

82 would be non-white; 18 white

67 would be non-Christian; 33 would be Christian

80 would live in substandard housing

67 would be unable to read

50 would be malnourished and 1 dying of starvation

33 would be without access to a safe water supply

39 would lack access to improved sanitation

24 would not have any electricity (And of the 76 that do
have electricity, most would only use it for light at night.)

7 people would have access to the Internet

1 would have a college education

1 would have HIV

2 would be near birth; 1 near death

5 would control 32% of the entire world’s wealth; all 5 would be US citizens

33 would be receiving --and attempting to live on-- only 3% of the income of “the village”


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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Stories from the substitute

I was eating lunch with the early elementary class that I was substitute teaching for the other day and we were talking about who grew up in Abilene and who moved here. One of the little girls told me about how she moved here from another town and her daddy was still in the other town. I asked why she moved and she told me about how her mother had to call the police and she told the police that daddy was hitting her. So they moved away, but the little girl still misses her dad.

That is one thing that I like about subbing. There are a lot of things that are strange or just plain different, like the fact that very few first graders seem able to say "Mr. Vaught" without coming up with something that sounds Martian (so kids all over the place just know me as "Mr. V"). There is the inevitable kid every other time I sub that gets sick and I'm dodging stuff, there is the knucklehead who tries to get laughs while I'm not looking, and there is ALWAYS the one sweet kid who is just annoying because she is constantly clamoring for your attention.

But the stories you just inevitably overhear keep it real.


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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tragedy and little children

We told our children tonight about the recent tragedy in Abilene that I mentioned in an earlier blog. We asked Hunter yesterday about this little girl that had been in his class, and he said that she was his friend and he talked with her. Nancy and I have been looking at their class picture the last two days, frankly in disbelief that she is not here with us anymore.

We told the kids tonight. We just wanted to make sure that he heard it from us rather than having to ask tomorrow in class or being told by someone else, although I am sure they would have been thoughtful. We had no idea if our four year old son Hunter would even understand.

We sat in a circle in the kids' room. We spoke specifically to Hunter. We told him that his friend from class, the little girl, had passed away and she would not be in the class anymore. Hunter started to cry. We just took turns holding him, and eventually he asked if he could sleep with us tonight.

No matter how much we try to pretend otherwise, this world is truly fractured. Please pray for that family.


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Review of "Revelation And Violence: A Study In Contextualization" by Walter Brueggemann

I was very excited when I found this book because, one, the history of violence in the Hebrew Scriptures is disturbing and, two, I love Brueggemann. My favorite Christian book is Prophetic Imagination by the same (so far, he hasn't paid me to say that).

This conversation about the use of sanctioned violence by YHWH is especially pertinent for our day and age. Christians on both sides, and any other sides that can be found, of the political spectrum are talking about it through the context of the war in Iraq, as well as discussing the argument of "just war" and "non-violent resistance".

The book begins with a consideration of methods of interpretation, a synopsis that makes the book worth the read for that alone. For those not well-read on the ever changing art of hermeneutics, Brueggemann provides a window into the act of interpretation that seeks deep understanding: "Thus scripture as revelation is not a flat, obvious offer of a conclusion, but it is an ongoing conversation which evokes, invites, and offers" (6).

Brueggemann does not offer conclusive evidence of the will of God for the use of violence in this book. The express purpose is to discover "revelation in context" (7), which he does using the text of Joshua 11, coming at the question of divinely sanctioned violence sideways. Using this method, Brueggemann provides the seed of an answer and you now have a window to search the rest of scripture yourself.

So does God sanction or endorse violence under some circumstances? You will have to read the book yourself to get the answer (you didn't think I was going to give it away, did you?).

Without giving up the book, it does reaffirm that God is the god of the oppressed and marginalized, and encourages legitimate action of behalf of those seeking His alternative society - God wants us to be free! Brueggemann points to the source of the powers and authorities that seek domination and they are closer than you think. No, it is not your most hated politician (at least, by name). Surplus and Accumulation are the antecedents of the wrong kind of power, and they are knocking on everyone of our doors.

Can we overcome? How much do we need to conquer these enemies? YHWH is enough (43).


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Monday, February 05, 2007

Managing a project

I had the great pleasure of being the guest speaker in a business class on project management. We had some good discussions, especially some great back and forth from one of the school's staff in the IT department who sits in on the class. Before the class I had to sit down and think about what I wanted to pass along to the undergraduates. I had some fun stories, both good and ugly, and have been blessed to work with some great business people. Here is what I came up with on what a good project manager does:

Get the right job done with excellence.

I focused on these three words:

Right = staying focused on the agreed-upon need
Done = it's easy to start projects, hard to finish
Excellence = keep the standards high even when it takes a lot of energy

One of the interesting moments in the class is when the professor asked about keeping the team motivated. I think my response surprised him - I don't worry much about motivation. At the beginning of the project we paint the big picture, discuss why it needs to get done, and work on it. If someone isn't motivated to work even though they have agreed to it and are being paid well for it, we find someone who is and wants to do a great job and contribute. One of the perks to working for a great company was that if someone wasn't motivated to do the job, there were 100 people waiting in line.

If the person had problems with the job, we would try to help with that; for example, we would try to make sure that they had the right resources, training, or whatever else they would need. We would even help through personal issues. But being motivated was a whole 'nother subject.

You may not even like that answer right now. You may be thinking, John, aren't you supposed to be the motivator? Aren't you suppose to do that as a project manager or minister?

I love painting the big picture. I love describing how wonderful this is going to be if you look at the world in this way or participate in this community or be a part of this journey. But if people aren't interested, they aren't interested.

You've probably been on a group or committee in which one member just didn't want to be a part. Really, did it matter how much you cajoled them? Did it matter how much you pestered them about how this would affect everyone's grade or how it would let the team down? Some people just have to get there in their own time.

Which is why I want to work with leaders and people who are already committed, who get the big picture. The real way to affect change is to be the change and invite people along. I still will preach and teach and encourage and I still love to imagine with a group the Kingdom Life, but I'm not into Twisting Arms or Dragging Along; nowadays I want to shine with a group and hope it lights a way when someone really needs it.


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Tragedy and Prayers

We knew this little girl, she was in Hunter's class. This has cast a shadow over the day. We are thinking about what we are going to tell our kids. Please pray for the parents.


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It was definitely an entertaining game last night. Something that really caught my eye and I dwelled on for the rest of the evening was something that I think about quite often as a coach of little people, previously a coach of business teams, as a father, and as a voice within the church.

Dungy's, and Lovie's, style of coaching. It is so refreshing to hear about coaches who lead because they are leaders, not through intimidation or loud voices. It was great to hear Dungy express his love for his players and wanting them to do their very best as his own motivation. I think people know that this style is available, but for some reason think that we have to yell or create fear to really get people to do things.

Maybe this is because sometimes we have tried it and people haven't reacted the way that we want them to react. Then the volume and the anger go up a bit until the people (often children) finally move in the direction WE want. Maybe it is a refusal to believe that others may not think our way is best.

This gets into motivation, ours and the people around us. What has been your experience?


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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Do Something About This, Part 3

Revolution, by Barna, p. 33. Regarding resource investment:

  • Churched Christians give away an average of about 3% of their income in a typical year - and feel pleased at their "sacrificial" generosity.
  • Fewer than one out of every ten churched Christians donates at least 10% of their income to churches and other nonprofit organizations. (More than 1/3 claim to do so.)
  • When asked to explain their understanding of biblical stewardship, less than one out of every twenty includes resources such as time, relationships, ideas, or skills in their assessment.
  • Most believers are unable to identify anything specific they have ever donated money to that they would describe as producing life-changing outcomes.
When it comes down to it, do most people believe that the church really is making a difference? Is it because people are struggling with materialism, have not really been given a vision for a changed world, or maybe some of both?


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Friday, February 02, 2007

Podcasts That Are Worthy

I am a podcast junkie, probably listen to them more than I do music. I listen to them in the car, I listen to them while exercising, I listen to them while working around in the yard. I haven't tried while working yet, but maybe that's because I'm usually the one talking (probably others listening at that time on the sly). Here are some of my favorites:

Normal Stuff:
ESPN: PTI (sports stuff)
Knowledge@Wharton (ideas on business and management)
Science Friday (the best science podcast)
AskANinja (when you really just need to know how a ninja would handle it)
Strong Bad Emails (just plain funny)
Great Speeches in History (just started this one)
Princeton University (big variety of interesting topics)

Christian Stuff:
Mars Hill Bible Church (Rob Bell)
Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (John Ortberg)
Mosaic (Erwin McManus)
Napkin Scribbles (Len Sweet)
North Point Ministries (Andy Stanley)
PRCOCCast (Jeff Walling)
Highland Church of Christ (Mike Cope)

I'm always looking for new stuff, let me know what you think is the best out there...


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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Broken World, again

Did some more substitute teaching again, and more stories of children from broken homes. I asked another teacher about the one child who seemed to have the most problems, behavior and emotional, and she just said that the parents were going through a rough time and the father usually did not treat him very well.

I went home and hugged my children.

I would love to hear stories of families and young lives that have been transformed...


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