Are You All In?


There are some great questions here and I would agree with Rocky, as a Presbyterian minister, I am calling my congregation to be “all in”.

Originally posted on YoRocko!:

A person whose family worshiped at our church for a few years came by this morning to inform us that the family has been attending a different church for awhile and that we won’t be seeing them anymore. It didn’t come as a total surprise, since they have been absent most of the fall and since two members of the family actually peeled off for that other church a year ago. And I respect the heck out of the move to come and tell us face-to-face, as well as the move toward church participation as a shared family experience and not one that is divided.

Something this person said about the difference between our church and the new one really hit me, though. After describing worship as “Christian Rock” and the sermons as “a little more literal,” she added, “Here it’s more of an intellectual experience. There you’re all in.”

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c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Big Hairy Audacious Goal”.

I just returned from a weeklong conference sponsored by the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (the denomination of First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City). According to its website a CREDO conference is designed “to help PC(USA) teaching elders [pastors] cultivate their spiritual, vocational, health, and financial well-being, as well as their leadership potential.”

CREDO is a Latin word that means “I believe” or, more specifically, “I give my life to”. There was a lot of that time away that was restorative and helped me to focus on being a better dad, husband, pastor, and community member. One of the things that we were asked to think about was a big dream that we had; they called it a “BHAG- Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal” or “Mi Gran Sueno”. I wanted to share my BHAG with you because it will affect you in some way and you have an opportunity to be a part of this big goal if you want to be.

Here it is.

I want to create a scholarship fund that ensures that any senior graduating from Nebraska City High School receive full tuition and fees to a Nebraska state public school or its equivalent, for four years.

According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln website that amounts to $8,169.50 (http://admissions.unl.edu/cost-aid/tuition-fees.aspx) a year.  That’s a total of $32,678 per graduate from Nebraska City High School. Last year there were 89 graduating seniors, that’s $2,908,342 over their four years.

Now that you’ve gotten up from fainting looking at those figures let’s talk about why I think this is important.

From Indiana University Northwest Chancellor, William J. Lowe, “According to new data, based on an analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute, Americans with four-year college degrees are not only equipped for a fulfilling adult and professional life but made 98 percent more an hour on average than those without a degree. And, the wage gap is only increasing, up from 89 percent five years ago, 85 percent a decade earlier, and 64 percent in the early 1980s.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-j-lowe/education-is-worth-the-in_b_5767518.html)

I know that college is not for everyone; I know that not everyone needs financial assistance, but I also know that education and access to education has always been valuable when increasing opportunities for all people.  According to the 2010 censes 17.8% of our population has a Bachelor’s degree or higher, the total for the state of Nebraska is 28.1%, the average for the United States is 30.4% (the first time in history that we’ve been over 30%).

As you can see we are way behind the average and we can do better.

I believe if we can offer great public schools and then guarantee everyone, regardless of merit or need, a chance at a four year degree not only will we attract residents to our town who are interested in better education, better opportunities, and better jobs, we will also offer an opportunity to students to break the cycle of poverty that can lead to poor health, poor decisions, and little, if no, hope.

Like the GI Bill before it, this Big Hairy Audacious Goal gives us an opportunity to invest in our young people and provide a model for how our neighbors around us can get back on their feet and be a part of the next great wave of US History, witnessing to the power of a small town of dedicated people.

“American history has proven that personal and public investment in college and knowledge yields huge dividends. During the past 150 years, the United States emerged as an industrial and economic giant, democratized education through the land-grant and public university system, and became a global leader in science. During this time, continued growth transformed American society and kept the nation strong. It produced a new class of wealthy industrialists, a prosperous middle class, and provided opportunity for all Americans, including generations of immigrants. It also created the world’s first sustained upwardly mobile labor force.” Vartan Gregorian (the president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and co-convener of the June 25 conference at the Library of Congress celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act and the National Academy of Sciences.) (http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2012/07/02/investing-in-education-is-key-to-americas-future-success)

It’s going to take a lot of time, energy, passion, and most of all money, but I believe this big dream is one that can be made a reality.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: The King of the Hill Basketball League, it is the most fun recreational league I have ever been a part of even though I am terrible at basketball.

Not Favorite: The lack of housing options for people in transition and in need of help in Nebraska City.

c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Nebraska City Helpers”.

I go to a lot of meetings. Sometimes I think my main role, as pastor, is to go to meetings.

Lucky for me I like meetings.

I go to meetings of other Presbyterians, I go to meetings of other pastors, I go to meetings of community leaders, I go to meetings of people just trying to respond to issues, I go to board meetings, I go to one on one meetings, group meetings, and conventions. I go to informal meetings, I go to meetings planned months in advance, I go to meetings that happen on the street, I fly, walk, and drive to meetings, I meet with principals, parents, executive directors, parents, and concerned citizens. Like I said, I go to a lot of meetings.

What I’ve found in almost all of those meetings is that people in this town, in this state, across the country, and across the globe, for the most part, want to help make their situation and the situation of those around them better. Whether that’s better schools, churches, roads, towns, neighborhoods, etc. people are trying to make the world a better place, and I think that’s an admirable goal.

Here’s the problem.

A lot of the meetings I go to, especially here in Nebraska City are just like the silos that surround us, except for the grains of ideas held in them never get spread around to do their job or passed on to the next silo, or used in any way.

That’s a weird metaphor, but here’s what I’m trying to say. We do a great job of working to make our town the best it can be, we just don’t do a good job of working together.

Which means, that effectively we aren’t making our town the best it can be.

Here’s what I am hoping for: if you are on a board, a foundation, a panel, a council, or any other kind of organization that seeks to do good in the world or make a positive impact in Nebraska City, Otoe County, or anywhere else I want you to do a little research to see what other organizations are doing the exact same thing or have very similar goals. This shouldn’t take a long time. Talk to the people on your board, my guess is that they are aware of groups doing other things in town, or even are on other boards seeking to help out. Even better send me an email at (nebraskacityhelpers@gmail.com) about your organization and it’s goals and, if I get a good response I will profile your organization on my column and then we can start to not only work to make Nebraska City the best it can be, but also work together to be successful.

I’ve heard it said, “Many hands, make light work.” So let’s lighten the load and spread the wealth and achieve some of those goals we’ve been talking about.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: There are so many people in Nebraska City willing to give their time and energy to help out. The Royals making the playoffs for the first time since 1985.

Not Favorite: Mosquitos


More hope and help for diabetics!

Originally posted on Scott, Dana, and #DIYPS:

On Wednesday, October 8, 2014, I accompanied several other individuals active within the CGM in the Cloud community (John Costik, Ben West, Bennet Dunlap, and Ping Fang), and an invited guest observer (Mark O’Donnell from Medtronic) to meet with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to discuss the Nightscout project. Our goal was to begin a dialog with the FDA, in which we hope to educate the FDA on the Nightscout system and the open source development methodology behind it, to learn what concerns the FDA might have about the project, and to determine which efforts need to be prioritized to address those concerns and ensure the safety of everyone using the Nightscout system.

As most of you are aware (and as outlined so well in the recent front-page WSJ article), the Nightscout project started with John Costik’s early efforts to improve safety…

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c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Being a Daddy”.

I love being a dad.

Since I graduated college I’ve wanted to be a dad. I couldn’t wait to find a partner, create a life with them, and share it with a child. I have a great dad; he showed me what it means to be a role model, teacher, protector, provider, and disciplinarian, what it means to be a father. I was so excited to hold that little child and watch them grow into a little person with their own desires and dreams. I always saw myself as helping them to guide them, being with them through thick and thin, through laughter and tears, through smiles and screams.

It took me a while, but I finally found someone to share my life with and we have been blessed with two amazing kids. They aren’t perfect but they are amazing. As we were preparing for our first child, going to doctor’s appointments, reading parenting books, scouring the Internet for information, I was reminded of a cross-stitched sign that hung in my parent’s bathroom when I was growing up. It said,

“Any one can be a father, it takes someone special to be a ‘Daddy’!”

Which got me to thinking, was I going to be a father or a daddy?

I had always dreamed of little kids running into my arms shouting, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” So I decided I want to try to be the best Daddy, I could be. I’m certainly not perfect but I wanted to do my best.

For me, that means being there, always. I missed a total of two doctor’s appointments during my wife’s pregnancies; I’ve been at almost all of the doctor’s appointments since they were born. I’ve taken my kids to library reading times; I’ve picked them up from school, taken them to school; I’ve turned off my beloved West Virginia University games to play with them (that only happens when I can record the games, if I’m being honest); the other day I took my daughter out to lunch. I also, change diapers, wipe noses, cook dinner, give baths, wipe tears, wrestle with them on the floor, play trucks, play dolls, and put them in timeout. I try to be there for everything because I think it’s an important way for me to be the best daddy I can be.

Here’s the thing, I’m not alone, I’m not special.

I know dads who are stay at home dads while their wife or partner work. I know dads who are single dads doing the work of both parents. I know a ton of dads who are just as or more involved with their child’s everyday life than I am. There are certainly fathers out there that in my opinion are living up to the title daddy, but by and large we, dads, are doing the best we can. Trying to be there for our kids, trying to provide, trying to model what it means to make a positive impact on society, and hopefully passing on love and devotion to their kids.

946483_10154677188165444_2439208614738857045_nLast week, I was gone for a week on a business trip. When I flew back into Omaha I was expecting to get my bags, get my car, and drive home, but instead I came around the corner and heard my daughter screaming, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” Then I saw her. Her brother was right behind me. I squatted down and gave her a hug, while my son ran full speed into me knocking us all over in the middle of the airport. It was the best dog pile I’ve ever been a part of. It reminded me that I must be doing something right, and how thankful I am to have had a good model in my dad.

If you are a father, and don’t feel like a daddy I encourage you to find other dads and talk to them about how they do what they do, I’ve found talking to others about my frustrations and my joys about being a parent helps me to be the best dad I can be. Someone once said, “It takes a village.” I believe it; we need to stick together so we can help our kids become the people that God has called them to be.

If you want to talk to me connect with me on social media or call First Presbyterian Church.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: Getting surprised by my wife and kids at the airport.

Not Favorite: This was a pretty good week. I don’t have a not favorite.

c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Safe Ride”.
Last Friday night I had the opportunity to participate in one of the great things that is happening in our small town, I got to drive the Safe Ride Shuttle. It was great.

If you are unaware of the Safe Ride Shuttle let me tell you about it. It’s a free service that will ensure you have a safe ride to and from the nightlife in Nebraska City. All you have to do is call, or text, (there’s even an android app) and if you are within about 3 miles of downtown, one of the volunteer drivers will come pick you up, dropping you off at the destination of your choice. They’ll even take you to your friend’s house.

This was the brain child of Frank Trombino and Travis Gillespie. After some fits and starts they finally have all the permits and insurance they need to make sure every Friday and Saturday night from 8 PM-2 AM someone can fire up that old Chevy van (with the flashing light on top and all the logos) and make our streets are safer.

You’re probably thinking, why would a pastor and a father of two want to associate himself with the kind of people that wouldn’t be able to drive themselves home from a night out? I would remind you of that old adage about what happens when you assume.


I’m driving tonight. #saferideshuttle #innecity #whatpastorsdo

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All of the people that have taken the shuttle, when I’ve been on it, have made the smart choice to be safe. I can relate to being out too late, having a little too much fun, and I’m thankful that in Nebraska City no matter what your choices look like at the bar, you can make the right choice to get home safe. With companies and advocacy groups spending millions and millions of dollars to encourage safe choices and designated drivers, it only makes sense that we encourage and support things like this project.

One of the things I love about it, is Frank and Travis saw a problem, the streets weren’t safe, and people were going to jail. They saw a way to help people not end their night in tragedy or a jail cell and jumped at the chance to help out. They have received support from individuals, restaurants, and local businesses. It’s us, once again, coming together to make life safer.

I’ve taken one training ride, shadowing a driver, and I’ve been the driver once and what I can tell you of the folks that take the shuttle is that they are just like you and me. Some were celebrating birthdays, some were enjoying the Apple Jack festivities, some just were curious about what the shuttle was all about. All were appreciative, courteous, and kind.

In our short rides, I’ve had conversations gushing over kids, praising parents, excited about new opportunities, the Huskers, and just about anything else you can imagine. We even had one customer who wanted to ride around and offered to let us take everyone else home first even though he was first in line. I’m getting a little old to stay up that late but my experiences have been more than worth it.

One other obvious benefit, to me and to our town is that there are fewer people trying to drive home after a night out. It makes the roads that much safer, and according to reports DUIs are down about 30% since the Safe Ride Shuttle’s inception. Especially during events like Apple Jack where there are great events downtown and there are a lot of people here, it’s a wonderful option to keep cars off the streets and people safer.

It’s another way, that we, in Nebraska City, can look out for one another making sure we all get home safe, so we can continue to work together to make our town the best it can be. So next time you plan to go out on a Friday or Saturday night give the Safe Ride Shuttle a call (402) 873-7113 and see what it’s all about.

One more thing…don’t forget to tip your driver.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here’s my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: All the people descending on our town to celebrate Apple Jack, the parade, and apple doughnuts.

Not Favorite: Traffic associated with all those people.

Ever wonder what the fate of your beloved denomination will be in 20 or 30 years? Have you bemoaned the loss of loyalty to a particular church or to church at all?

You are not alone and this book will be a wonderful resource for you if you are looking to have conversations about how churches within mainline denominations can move forward and even thrive in uncertain times.

The writing style is accessible with lots of humor thrown in and the chapters are a good length if you wanted to do a weekly study with this book. Any member of the church could pick up this book and understand what the author is talking about. He addresses being inclusive, missional and technologically savvy and ways the church can embrace our history to help our future. He also explores some interesting correlations between our current cultural context and the church during post Revolutionary War times and how we might learn from our forebears.

I enjoyed this book but wanted more on a few occasions. It felt to me like the author avoided talking about how the relationship between the institutional church and local congregations is changing and will change. I wanted to hear more about how mainline congregations could work closer together to make an impact. And as a Presbyterian, I took issue with his characterization of some of our theology and polity as it relates to the formation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). But overall, this book is a great addition to the library of books addressing the future of mainline churches.

You can find our more about the book here: derekpenwell.net

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


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