Southwestern College — home of the Mound Builders — is tucked away in Winfield, Kansas, a small school in a small town southeast of Wichita. And tucked away on one corner of this secluded campus is the Richard and Julia Wilke Institute for Discipleship.
A quick glance reveals nothing grand. It’s a fine building, but it’s relatively small, with three or four office spaces, one larger hall space for gatherings.
It looks like nothing special.
But looks are deceiving. God said as much to the prophet Samuel when the man was looking for the next king of Israel.
Just as King David started off small in stature, this small institute has blossomed. In fact, some mighty big things regarding relationships with Christ happen because of what takes place here.
There may be grander buildings, but what happens inside these walls reaches right to the hearts of people to help them meet Jesus Christ and to get to know Him better.
At the centerpiece is the Richard and Julia Wilke Institute for Discipleship.
The days of opening the church doors to find a waiting crowd eager to take their seats are long since gone.
Now, many other activities occupy people on Sunday mornings and throughout the week. So, how can you make a connection?
In this episode, we look at three churches — two in Nebraska and one in Kansas — that use a variety of techno-tools to connect with their congregations outside of Sundays while also reaching new people, even folks who otherwise likely would not willingly set foot inside a church without first making these kinds of connections.
In this episode, I talk to Rev. Richard Randolph and Beth Menhusen of Christ United Methodist Church and ConnectioN Point in Lincoln, Nebraska, about their radio show. I talk to Rev. Craig Finnestad and Michele Bonewell from The Water’s Edge church about Facebook Live! and Instagram. And I talk to Randy Green and Donna Karlen of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection about their church’s philosophies with their website, email communications and use of social media.
Click the logo below to hear this episode of the podcast.
In this premiere episode of my podcast, I tell a story about brokenness and resurrection of an entire town.
Back in March, the first of a series of devastating floods damaged hundreds of homes in Nebraska. In the spring, a massive tornado destroyed or damaged homes in several communities in northeast Kansas. And later this past summer, more floods ravaged parts of Kansas and Nebraska. The Great Plains Conference’s Disaster Response ministry has been going nonstop since around March 14, so leaders in the conference were concerned about pastors serving in these disaster areas.
We planned a workshop/retreat for these pastors, but only a very small number signed up, so we postponed the event. But we had prepared for it. And part of that preparation was an interview with the Rev. Terry Mayhew. His experiences are unlike any other in our conference. You see, Terry received the call from his district superintendent late the evening of May 4, 2007, that he was being moved from Plains and Kismet United Methodist Churches to the town of Greensburg. Less than an hour later, a tornado would nearly wipe Greensburg off the map.
Or at least the twister would have killed the town, if not for the hope provided by faith in Jesus, the determination of residents, and people from both near and far working together to serve as Christ’s hands and feet in a shattered community.
It’s Labor Day as I write this, and I have just completed what turned out to be a fairly relaxing weekend of reading about some rather heavy subjects.
These books – “Love Wins” by Rob Bell and “Isaiah 53 Explained” by Mitch Glaser – actually were quite easily read. Both authors used short sentences and avoided pin-sized typefaces, so even this slow book-reader could fly through them fairly quickly. But the subjects required pause for reflection, prayer for discernment and some good, old-fashioned Bible study.
I started by reading the book by Rob Bell, the founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. It was this book, which examines Heaven and Hell, as well as the fate of all humankind, that caused a rift that led Bell to leave a church that had averaged more than 11,000 in worship. Bell reportedly had a falling out with many in the congregation over this book.
Honestly, I didn’t know that story when I decided to read it, but based on some scripture study of my own of late, I decided to explore a different take on the subject of salvation, judgment and what happens to our eternal souls. In a nutshell, Bell argues that a loving God wouldn’t damn an unbeliever for all eternity without giving that person even more chances to repent after death.
Of course, that doesn’t jive well with my Baptist upbringing. And while my longtime church, the United Methodist Church, believes firmly in the concept of grace, many of us do still hold it important for a person to make a commitment to Christ in this life.
Still, I have to admit that Bell makes some compelling arguments based on a simple but powerful concept: God loves us. I found myself turning to Romans 8:38-39, which says that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us. I found myself pausing to contemplate what I really believe about salvation. I found myself praying for discernment so I teach the right thing to people who entrust me to facilitate a Bible study with them.
I reflected on John 3:16-18. Many people know the 16th verse by heart, but if we continue to read the chapter, we learn even more depth about this amazing gift of grace given to us.
After reading Bell’s book, I decided I needed a little inspiration by reading about the way Jesus sacrificed himself for all of us. That led me to a book I received free in the mail but that had been gathering some dust on my shelf. The book by Glaser, a Messianic Jew, makes the case that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah using the prophecy from Isaiah 53.
I can’t say that I had ever read that chapter from the prophet in the era of the Babylonian exile with that much focus before. In fact, I know I had not read it in such a way. But Glaser’s purpose is plainly stated early on: He wants his fellow Jews – and any other non-believers – to consider the prophecy and, by doing so, accept Jesus as the Messiah.
As a Gentile, it was interesting to read this book in this way. And Glaser does a good job of explaining the text while also exploring such subjects as why atonement is needed, why Jesus sacrificed himself for us all, the validity of the New Testament and the importance of reading and keeping your mind open while exploring what we Christians call the Old Testament.
I can’t say that I agree completely with Bell’s book. But I can tell you that he challenged me in a way that I realize I need to study this subject more thoroughly. And I can tell you that even people who are firm in their belief about Jesus being the salvation for the world can benefit from reading about the Messiah from a Jewish perspective in Glaser’s book.
Reading these two books took some work on my Labor Day weekend. But it was time well spent.
I’m choosing to write this to work through the grief of having to put our beloved Yogi to sleep today. A fast-growing cancer had started in his spleen and appeared to have advanced to his liver and lungs. Our new vet – we just moved to Lawrence in late June – explained the very real possibility of the tumor rupturing, which would cause extreme pain and death.
My wife and I didn’t want to risk him suffering such pain, especially with both of us working during the day. We didn’t want him to pass away alone, in pain and, likely, scared.
He hadn’t really been himself since we moved to Kansas. We thought it might just be the stress involved with the move, but that proved not to be the case.
So I’m writing to thank our big, furry companion for choosing us.
It’s true. He really did choose us.
A little over eight years ago, my wife and I decided to give in and adopt a dog. Our kids had wanted one for a long time. So one weekend while our daughter was sleeping over at a friend’s house, and our son was on a Boy Scout trip, we decided to head to a pet store in St. George, Utah, where we were living at the time, to select a dog.
The reality of summer in the desert southwest is that it’s far too hot for dogs to be outside on pavement for very long. The nice woman there to help adopt out animals directed us to the shelter in the nearby town of Hurricane, Utah.
As my wife and I pulled up to the shelter, a man and two children were getting out of their vehicle with a large, blond dog. It was a particularly difficult economic time in that region, and we presumed that the family had to surrender their pet because they could not afford to keep him or because they had to move and couldn’t have pets in their new dwelling. We never really had the chance to ask.
As soon as my wife and I stepped inside, the big dog looked up at us and moved right next to us, almost as if to get a better look at us and so we could take a better look at him. The deputy on duty that day said if we wanted to take the large dog, there would be no charge for their family to surrender him and none for us to take him. It would be a private pet adoption. The man dropping off the dog said the big guy was 4 years old and that he thought the dog was a Lab-Chow mix.
My wife’s first reaction was “He’s way too large.” We decided to take a look at the other dogs in their kennels.
One dog was a 9-month-old Lab mix. He was really cute and reminded us of our beloved Sadie, a Lab-Rottweiler mix who passed away far too soon about seven or eight years prior. We decided we would see how active the youngster was out in the play yard.
It wasn’t very long before we realized that this puppy had way more energy than we could handle. And he had not been trained at all. While we came to grips with those realities, that large, blond dog walked across the yard, sat down by us and pushed his head under our hands as if to say, “Please pet me. I think I want to go home with you.”
That big dog’s name was Yogi, and he quickly became a big part of our family. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those first few days he was home. Our kids’ faces each lit up when they met Yogi. He was a little nervous about his new surroundings, so he slept on the floor of our daughter’s room those first few nights. (And our daughter slept on the floor right next to him).
I don’t know if it was his nature or some anxiety of being left behind by another family, but he did his best from that first day on never to leave our sight. He would squeeze into any room we were in, and he would plop down where he could keep an eye on us. He quickly gained the nickname “Roadblock.”
Over the years, the kids taught him how to shake, how to roll over and how to say “please” for his treats. But he never learned to chase a ball, much to our son’s disappointment. Yogi not only learned how to put up with our two cats, but even figured out how to nudge one in such a way that they could play a slow-motion game of chase (meaning a walking, follow-the-leader kind of game, not a full-on sprint). He let the kids take his photo with goofy glasses on his head. And kids in the neighborhood would pause and yell “Hi Yogi!” whenever they saw him.
And that tail! We talked often about how his tail wagging could single-handedly power our house if only we could harness the energy.
Even as we waited for the veterinarian to end his pain, he looked at my wife and me, gave us his toothy “smile” and wagged that darned tail. I like to think it was his way of trying to make us feel better.
That’s what he always did: brought us joy. To this day, I can only think of one thing he did “wrong.” While we were living in a rental house upon moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, he found a burrow of baby bunnies and killed one or two of them. As our son put it: “We’re so used to Yogi not really doing dog stuff that when he actually acts like a dog, it shocks us.”
Luckily for us, Yogi acted like the best part of dogs a whole lot.
If I’m honest, Yogi will never be inducted into any kind of Dog of Fame. But he certainly was special to us.
I’ll miss the parts of him that were Chow. He had little ears and a short snout – both of which helped him have the cutest face for a dog his size. He showed he was the defender the family wanted and needed by positioning himself between my wife or daughter and any strange man who entered the house, be it a dinner guest or repair person.
I’ll also miss the parts of him that were Lab. He had a loving demeanor, sweet spirit and genuine desire to please us.
Above all, I’ll miss the companionship. I’ll miss how he would be lying on the floor by the door when we got home. I’ll miss hearing him snore. I’ll miss the way he inhaled his breakfast.
I’ll miss him, period.
I guess you could say that Yogi inspired me. I know that sounds odd to some people, but our big friend exhibited everything that Christians should strive to be.
Like many dogs, he loved us unconditionally, just like God. Yogi put us before himself in every possible scenario, just like God does.
And he picked us, just like God does.
Losing Yogi really hurts, but it does so because of how much we loved him. I wouldn’t trade our time with him for anything.
We, as a society, tend to be critical of young adults. We older folks see many millennials and so-called Gen Z’ers as having a sense of entitlement, that they lack commitment to a career, or that they don’t understand how the world actually works.
That may be true for some young adults, but the same holds true for this group of people as for others: It’s impossible to paint them all with a broad brush. Many of these young adults are very conscious of helping people in need and making their communities a better place to live.
I saw one story recently on “NBC Nightly News.” Though I rarely get home in time to see it, when I get the chance, I prefer this show because I think Lester Holt is one of the most credible people on air today. He’s got the awesome broadcast voice and seems to me to take stories as objectively as possible.
Anyway, each week, the network has a segment titled “Inspiring America.” And the clip below really grabbed my attention. It’s about a group of college students who saw a need for food for people in their community. They also saw a supply: the food thrown away by restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores despite still being edible.
As you’ll see in this clip, the students wrote software that matches up the supply with the demand.
It’s good stuff. And you can’t help but feel good about the efforts of these young adults who are helping people they very likely will never meet in person.
Makes you ask “What can I do to help others today,” doesn’t it?
Few things inspire me more than reading something that leaves me feeling smarter than I did before that experience. It’s why I read books about history, subscribe to a daily newspaper and, perhaps above all of those publications, eagerly await my monthly edition of National Geographic magazine.
Let’s be clear about two things. First: I love science. Second: I am terrible at science.
But I love to learn, and my monthly science lesson arrives via mail in the form of National Geographic magazine. Whether it’s a graphic that shares something mysterious about birds (a yearlong project for the magazine in 2018) or a story about the balance between the needs of people and animals on the African continent or an in-depth piece about the importance of sleep – complete with what happens in each stage of sleep – I walk away smarter about my world than before I started reading.
And all of those things were just included in the most recent issue!
Some stories go on for pages and pages, likely reaching 10,000 words in length (I’ve never stopped to count). Some are brief but powerful, such a recent story that shared the story of health care challenges in the wartorn country of Yemen.
Geography, sociology, psychology, kinesiology, history, issues facing jam-packed urban areas and sparsely populated rural corners of the globe, religion, health and meteorology are all but a few of the subjects approached by skilled writers, talented photojournalists and the most amazing photographers you’ll ever encounter.
I must confess that though I am a huge sports fan and enjoy reading sports magazines and sports sections, I only subscribe to one magazine. And it’s because of the way it grabs my attention and holds it.
I won’t say that I read every issue cover to cover, but I ready about 80 percent of every issue. And, indeed, there are times when I read every single word.
If you’re looking to learn more about the world around you, I highly recommend a 12-month subscription to National Geographic.
One of the key components to inspiration, at least for me, is content that helps me learn and expand my horizons. I found such content recently in a book titled “Canoeing the Mountains,” by Tod Bolsinger.
The author – the former pastor of large Presbyterian congregations and now the vice president and chief of leadership formation and assistant professor of practical theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California – wrote “Canoeing” as a means of sharing some principles he believes are important to revitalizing churches and equipping leaders. While the book definitely is written to help churches succeed, the principles Bolsinger shares would be just as helpful in the corporate world.
Bolsinger shares lessons he takes from the adventure of discovery from the Lewis and Clark exploration of the western United States from 1804 to 1806. As a history buff, I would have liked to have seen Bolsinger use more of the Lewis and Clark tale in sharing ideas on leadership, but the author does a good job of using just enough to give a lesson in history, in teamwork, in leadership and, yes, in adapting to change.
Bolsinger hits on four key points that Lewis and Clark followed that can be helpful to churches and to struggling enterprises today:
Start with conviction – The explorers knew what they were doing was dangerous, was unprecedented and would be among the most difficult things to attempt up to that time in history. But they believed mightily in what they were about to endeavor. They knew it wouldn’t be easy, but they knew it must be done.
Stay calm – Lewis and Clark had plenty of opportunities to lose their cool, not the least of which being when they looked into the distance and didn’t see a river but rather a huge chain of mountains. They could have panicked and turned back. But they recognized the problem, analyzed the options and turned the circumstance into an opportunity.
Stay connected – The explorers and their party could have broken up amid the strain and stress of traveling where no known white men had ventured up to that time. The men took detailed notes, continuously studied their surroundings and maintained a sense of unity. By sticking together, the grueling journey resulted in only one death – Sgt. John Floyd, who died of appendicitis.
Stay the course – When they could have turned back or deviated from their desired direction of travel, Lewis and Clark pressed forward, knowing there was significance in their mission.
I don’t want to oversell those points, because Bolsinger doesn’t harp on them. But every other point he makes in the book really hangs off of one of those four points.
As good as those four points are, what really resonated with me was Bolsinger’s statement that mission must trump everything. “Real transformation in a congregation is only going to occur when the mission (and decisions it inspires) begins as a clear personal conviction of the leader,” he writes.
In other words, the mission must be held sacred, and leaders must stay convicted by that mission.
A key to Lewis and Clark’s success is that they were able to lead when the expedition went “off the map.” Of course, the explorers had no reliable maps past a certain point in their journey. They thought they were going to find a water route all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But a little obstacle known as the Rocky Mountains put an end to such a dream.
Lewis and Clark had to adapt. The credibility they gained with their men while still “on the map” made it possible for their team to trust them enough to follow them into what was, literally, uncharted territory. And that’s where churches (and many organizations) find themselves these days. Difficult decisions must be made not just to help organizations survive but thrive – all within the framework of the mission.
For churches, that means identifying each congregation’s particular core ideology, determining the culture of the church (that is, what they actually do, not what they hope to do or once did) and then making “hard, often painful, decisions to fulfill the mission in changing contexts,” Bolsinger writes.
In “Canoeing the Mountains,” Bolsinger shares how Lewis and Clark fulfilled their mission and, in the process, modeled leadership skills. By telling the compelling stories from these brave explorers’ adventure, Bolsinger inspires churches to lead off the map and continue to adapt.
Wrote Bolsinger: “Leadership into uncharted territory requires and results in transformation of the whole organization.”
How would you describe it? For many of us, it’s something we feel, but we don’t really recognize it until we experience it. And the experiences that cause us to truly be inspired vary widely from person to person.
This site is dedicated to what I find inspiring, and I hope that you do, too. Let me share where I find inspiration on a regular basis. In many instances, it’s tied to the activities, passions and talents of my family.
First, I draw inspiration from the scriptures that tell us about the abundant love of God and the salvation available to all through Jesus, the Christ. I am a United Methodist, and I don’t apologize for this site being home to my studies of the Bible and my thoughts on contemporary, scholarly work of others on what the scriptures tell us in the 21st century.
I draw inspiration from great stories. I had the privilege of serving as a journalist for 20 years as a copy editor, page designer, reporter and editor. I’ve seen some of the worst of humanity because of that profession. But I’ve also seen some of the very best — people who rose above tremendous obstacles to achieve their dreams. As I see those stories, I’ll share them with you here.
And yes, those stories are out there.
I also find inspiration in competition and music, especially those exhibited in the athletic competitions and artistic performances of young people. They aren’t being paid for their talents, yet they put in hours upon hours of work to improve in their sport or to push their creative talents. One of my favorite things to do is take photos of young people participating in their activities. Their on-the-field successes and defeats prepare them for the adulthood that is closer on the horizon than they realize.
Finally, I draw inspiration from nature. God’s gorgeous earth has evolved over millions of years. And now we get to enjoy the beautiful landscape as we hike, bike, swim, boat and relax in meadows, amid mountains and alongside lakes. I’m not a great nature photographer, but I do my best. I hope you enjoy the images that inspired me enough to take the photo and post it here.
If you’re inspired, please send me an email with your photo and/or story. Please understand that doing so indicates, unless otherwise noted clearly, that you give me permission to share by posting your story or image either partially or it their entirety for others to see.