May 9, 2018

Annual Interfaith Iftar

I am excited! I ordered 9 free tickets for my wife, my kids, my in-laws, and myself. We are going to the annual INTERFAITH Iftar of Ramadan at Maryam Islamic Center in Sugar Land on May 31st, 2018. Here is what is going to happen there:
6:30 PM – Arrival & Socializing
7:00 PM – Program Begins
8:15 PM – Fasting Experience/Iftar
8:40 PM – Prayer followed by Dinner

Amina Ishaq is the Lead for Maryam Islamic Center’s Interfaith Team. Which brings me to the question: Who is the lead of St. John’s Interfaith Team? How come we don’t have an Interfaith Team? Anyway here is her introduction on the importance of the holy month:

“Ramadan is a special and holy month of the Islamic lunar year for over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. It is a time for inner reflection, contemplation, discipline and devotion to God. As we fast and sacrifice food and drink during the daylight hours, we are reminded of Gods blessings upon us and are encouraged to be charitable.
Ramadan is a month of giving and sharing. It is an opportunity for friends and family of diverse faiths to understand one another and to show kindness to those around them. It is a time of renewal and recommitment to bettering oneself. It is a time for one to become closer to God through sacrificing ones most basic need in order to become more patient and disciplined. The holy Quran was also revealed in the month of Ramadan.
The month of Ramadan ends with the celebration of Eid-ul-fitr or the celebration of the breaking of the fast. On Eid muslims pray to God, greet one another happily, exchange gifts, eat delicious food, visit family and neighbors, give charity and have fun.
It is our hope that this Ramadan & Eid brings a sense of peace and hope throughout the world.”

So, don’t miss out. Please join me and my family this Ramadan. Get your free tickets over here. If you can’t make it this time, then at least talk to your church council members about getting an Interfaith Team started at our church. I’d love to help!

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May 1, 2018

Where does church fit into your life?

We count how many people attend church every week. But that’s not all: we also keep a membership roll of who “belongs to the church”. Then we also look at how much money ends up in the offering plates every month. How big is your church? We answer that question in terms of Sunday attendance, membership and income.

In all honesty, the three measuring sticks of attendance, membership and income are not as accurate as they used to be. Originally the idea was that members attend “their” church regularly and give regularly to “their” church. That is hardly the case anymore. My own son went to preschool at a United Methodist Church. We attended chapel there regularly. I go to spiritual direction in a Roman Catholic Community. My wife serves a Presbyterian congregation and I join them for special services as time permits. In many patchwork families children attend services with mom one week, dad another and grandparents on a third weekend. We have children in our own Sunday School who are part-time Baptists. A lot of children hit every Vacation Bible School in town. Faithful church members of our own congregation – now in their 70s – tell me that was commonplace even when they were little. We went to a First Communion Service last Sunday. It was a great moment for our friends. But the reality is the kids had had communion at our UCC church for years – only on the Catholic side of their identity can they call it “First Communion”.

Bottom line: Everybody is wearing multiple hats. Hardly anybody “belongs to” one particular church. We show up in places. We give when we find meaningful ministry that deserves support. For most people church does not fit into their life at all. So for those who show up and give, let’s celebrate them and not give them a hard time that they don’t abide by some rule of exclusivity. The church as the body of Christ belongs in all incarnations to the one God. Let us wear our human reflections of that lightly.

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Apr 9, 2018

Autism Awareness Month and the Church


I was wearing all blue last week because it was the beginning of Autism Awareness Month. As a church we need to keep in mind that faith is a very important part of life for so many families in the autism community. Many of these families often feel held back from becoming a part of a religious community because of their child’s diagnosis. They might feel excluded, or just assume that they won’t be supported or accepted.

Autism Speaks hopes that all families affected by autism may be welcomed in their house of worship, and able to become active participants in their faith community. They have put together a list of resources that families and faith leaders may find helpful. As part of their resource guide they share The Beatitudes of the Exceptional Child by Andre Masse, CSE, that were first published in the NAMR Quarterly, 1968.

The Beatitudes of the Exceptional Child
• Blessed are you who take time to listen to difficult speech for you help us to know that if we persevere we can be understood.
• Blessed are you who walk with us in public places, and ignore the stares of strangers, for in your companionship we find havens of relaxation.
• Blessed are you who never bid us to “hurry up” and more blessed you who do not snatch our tasks from our hands to do them for us, for often we need time rather than help.
• Bless are you who stand beside us as we enter new and untried ventures, for our failures will be outweighed by the time when we surprise ourselves and you.
• Blessed are you who ask for our help, for our greatest need is to be needed.
• Blessed are you who help us with the graciousness of Christ Who did not bruise the reed and quench the flax, for often we need the help we cannot ask for.
• Blessed are you when by all these things you assure us that the thing that makes us individuals is not in our peculiar muscles, not in our wounded nervous system, not in our difficulties in learning but in the God-given self which no infirmity can confine.
• Rejoice and be exceedingly glad and know that you give us reassurances that could never be spoken in words, for you deal with us as Christ deals with all of His Children.
• Blessed are you! Indeed!

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Apr 4, 2018

German Restaurants in Houston

Houston is well-known for its multicultural culinary options. It may come as no surprise to you but there are several good places offering German cuisine:


Charivari Restaurant is German style fine-dining. This upscale place offers fantastic cooking classes and seasonal events in a welcoming atmosphere. 2521 Bagby Street, Houston, TX 77006


Rudi Lechner’s is home-style cooking. On Wednesday nights they offer a German sampler buffet from 6:00pm until 9:00pm for just $16.95 per person. 2503 S. Gessner Rd, Houston, TX 77063


King’s Biergarten & Restaurant is your stereotypical Oktoberfest party place. They offer decent sausages and sauerkraut alongside a good variety of beers. 1329 E Broadway St, Pearland, Texas 77581

All three are good at what they do. At King’s you will not find fine dining and at Charivari you will not find Polka music. They all come in their own category. Guten Appetit!

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Apr 3, 2018

Walk against Hunger


Thoughts and prayers are not good enough! When in comes to human suffering action is needed. And you have a great opportunity to act in two distinct ways: You can walk and donate! The CROP Walk has raised awareness of hunger in our communities since 1969. By joining the West Fort Bend County CROP Walk you make our voice bigger and louder. The more people join the walk the harder it is to ignore hungry children in our communities. Please come out to George Ranch Historical Park, 10215 FM 762 in Richmond, Texas. Registration is on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and the walk begins at 8:00 a.m. It is a short, easy walk.

Besides your feet, you may also bring your wallet. Funds raised benefit Helping Hands, Needville Food Pantry and hunger projects around the world through Church World Service. Together, we can help end hunger in our community and around the world! You may donate even if you can’t make it on Saturday. Please donate online here.

Over the last 36 years St. John’s United Church of Christ has consistently been among the top fundraisers. This year let’s also be among the largest walking groups! In recent years we had extra support from Boy Scout Troop 309. This year Physical Therapy in Richmond has pledged to bring additional walkers. Join our team and give hunger no chance!

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Mar 19, 2018

The 10 most popular Baptismal Verses

Baptism marks the beginning of the Christian life. I usually have the parents pick a Bible verse for their baby. Grownups obviously get to pick their own. For many years taufspruch.de has helped German speakers to find a verse that matches their life situation. Here are the 10 most popular Baptismal Verses:

1: For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:11)

2: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

3: You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power. (Psalm 139:5)

4: for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you. (Proverbs 2:10-11)

5: for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

6: I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2)

7: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

8: I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. (Psalm 139:14)

9: Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:8)

10: God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:16b)

Do you remember the verse you were given? Or can you find it on your baptism certificate? A lot of times, people share with me how it has served as a meaningful motto that has carried them through their lives.

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Feb 27, 2018

Community Labyrinth for Lent

In the court yard at St. John’s United Church of Christ we now offer a labyrinth. Everyone is welcome to access it from the West Street side. We will maintain this temporary installation through Easter. If you are looking for a meaningful Lent experience, come on over and walk the labyrinth:

A labyrinth is not a maze. It has one way in and one way out. You cannot get lost in it. There are no dead ends. It is a symbol for life: It may seem chaotic but it moves forward steadily.
As you enter please imagine how you are descending into darkness. A labyrinth has dungeon qualities to it. Ancient cultures have imagined all kinds of creatures in those caverns. It can be a dangerous and deadly place.
Just like the path of life leads to death so is your way into the labyrinth. As you step in you step from light into darkness. The light fades away more and more the deeper you get into it. As you enter please imagine your journey as the challenges and hardships you face in life: the turns you are forced to make, the dirt you have to walk through.
A labyrinth has a center. Once you are in the center stay there for a while. Rest. Celebrate your arrival. You made it through all of life’s troubles. If you are a religious person consider this the end state of your existence whether you call it heaven or Nirvana or however you name it. Maybe for you it’s just the great emptiness.
When you are ready make your way out again. Take with you the strength of having been there before. As you walk out remember how you overcame all those troubles. After all you are walking back towards the light. Find signs of hope along your journey. Remember resources for personal strength that you can tap into. From my Christian perspective I call this part resurrection life. Out of death back to life. From darkness back to the light.
This is a spiritual exercise. If you have an urge to walk really fast get some physical exercise first and come back when you are ready to walk slowly. This exercise works best in total silence. If that does not work for you right now please come back when it does. Find your own pace. Some of the images that may pop up along the journey may make you slow down, some may make you want to speed up and run away. Find your own pace, yet be mindful of others.

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Feb 20, 2018

Texas Primaries are under way – What kind of Leaders do we need?

Today is the first day of early voting in Texas. I will be honest I have only today checked the ballots to see who is running for what. You can find the ballots for your precinct here. Our democracy depends on citizens who inform themselves and make use of their right to vote. But who should I vote for? What kind of leaders do we need?

Here are a few candidates that I found:

1. The incumbent – I have a proven track record of doing what I always said I was going to do. You know what you are going to get when you keep me in office. So I ask you to keep me in office.

2. The entrepreneur – I have had great success in my own company. I am an achiever and now I set my mind to achieving things in the political arena. Please join my fight.

3. The activist – I am very passionate about my issue. I have always been passionate about it and I know you are, too. Let’s move forward.

4. The anti-politician – I do not like politics. I do not like what politicians do. I want to get in there and tell them to stop.

You may recognize one or two or all of them. They also have powerful biblical precedents:

1. The incumbent – King Solomon had one major qualification for office. He was King David’s son. (1 Kings 2) This is what got him the throne: family legacy, dynasty. Not competence, not vision spirit but tradition. And it worked. Under his leadership Israel has seen wealth and wisdom like never before and never after him again. A solid choice.

2. The entrepreneur – Abraham was a successful rancher with huge herds a livestock. A wealthy business man for his day and age. (Genesis 13) That is why he was a natural leader. As such he became a blessing not just for his own family but for people from every nation. He understood the art of the deal and how to use relationships in business and family.

3. The activist – Dooms day prophets like Amos may not win elections but they sure shape public opinion. When they dig in and get a microphone and a twitter handle they will use them to fight injustice loud and clear. (Amos 2) A great prophet is one who may not get a leadership role, just plenty of enemies. We need their clear voices as a moral compass.

4. The anti-politician – The prophet Samuel warned loud and clear against government overreach: taxation, military service, forced labor, over-regulation. (1 Samuel 8) Politicians tend a amass power and influence and anti-politicians are in important counter weight-counter to balance things out. We need them to rock the boat.

What kind of leaders do we need? Learn about your candidates and use your right to vote!

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Feb 13, 2018

Of Passion And Ashes

Skoreaandolympicflag

I am usually not good at watching sports. I don’t usually like sitting on the couch watching others move while I’d much rather move myself. There are few notable exceptions though. I will always try to watch the soccer World Cup and the Olympic Games. So, as the Olympic winter games in Pyeongchang opened, there I was on the couch, sitting down. Seeing Korea come together under one flag was in inspirational moment. As a matter of fact, it is those inspirations that bring me to the couch for the world’s super sports events. When international events call, they have a tendency to transcend national and personal identity. I love the stories how athletes grow up in all corners of the world and then come together for this one event with this one shared dream. From World Cup to World Cup, from Olympic Games to Olympic Games, it takes 4 long years of preparation.

For individual athletes preparation takes a lifetime. Most of them get inspired as little children and they keep practicing until they are old and fit enough to compete at the top of their sport. Are you on top your game? That’s the question of sports. It should also be the question of your spiritual journey. At some point you may have seen or heard or experienced the spiritual equivalent of a world record. Someone told you something, you did or felt something that was just out of this world. But then what came from that moment? Did you put it to work? Did you learn to walk the talk? Did you change you heart? Did you change your ways? Did you learn to inspire others? Or are you still – figuratively speaking – sitting on the couch – while others run the race for you? The Olympic Games in Pyeongchang inspire me to no longer be an armchair Christian, but to be on fire like the Olympic Cauldron.

Both the Olympics and the Church call us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. They both call us to a lot of effort, life-long training. February 14th will be Ash Wednesday. At 6pm we will burn the palms of last year’s Palm Sunday service. And there we will begin the intense 40 day training camp of Lent. The goal is not Olympic metal but more spiritual responsibility. All that passion that I have seen or heard or experienced, how can I put that to work in my life? How can you? Lent is not just about giving something up. Lent is about training the muscles of your soul. You have 40 days to grow stronger. In what spiritual discipline do you want to get better?

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Feb 7, 2018

Four considerations regarding cremation

Most of us will eventually die. The only recorded exception to that was Enoch “because God took him.” (Genesis 5:24). So let’s assume for now that we are all going to die. It only makes sense to think about what you want to happen with your remains after death. As a pastor I get frequently asked if cremation is okay with God. Let me give you 4 considerations regarding cremation:

1. Will I have my body in the resurrection life?
I sure hope not. I hope with Paul that things will be different: “There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another.” (1 Corinthians 15:40) Our heavenly bodies will be different. They will not be plagued by disease, they won’t die. Concepts like growing up or aging obviously do not apply in eternity. Yes, we will still be ourselves, but different.

2. If my remains are burnt won’t I be burnt forever?
No. Even when a body rots under ground it will still be renewed hereafter – not physically or literally, but in a way that is whole: “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

3. Are their any dangers in cremation?
Yes. As pastor I have seen too often that loving relatives have a hard time letting go of the deceased person. That is normal to an extent. But sometimes families will choose to take the urn home. Sometimes spouses will keep the ashes of their loved one on a shelf in the bedroom or the mantle over the fireplace. That can hinder closure and can delay the process of saying farewell.

4. What to do with the ashes after cremation?
Find a final resting place! I doesn’t matter whether you want the urn in a grave or a columbarium. You can scatter the ashes on designated sites and return your loved one to the circle of life. The main point is finality. Keeping the urn at home is not a good option. Because when you grow older, your children will have to go through your things and have to decide what happens to grandpa’s ashes. Don’t punt that to the next generations. All too often urns end up in garages or storage sheds.

Since 2016 the majority (50.2%) of Americans have chosen cremation. The National Funeral Directors Association has the projected rate of cremation reaching 78.8 percent of deaths by 2035. I suggest to make sure it doesn’t get in the way of the grieving process or puts undue burdens on following generations.

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