My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Getting egged in the sanctuary: How God moves mountains for those who face them

Embrace this God-life. Really embrace it, and nothing will be too much for you. This mountain, for instance: Just say, ‘Go jump in the lake’—no shuffling or shilly-shallying—and it’s as good as done. That’s why I urge you to pray for absolutely everything, ranging from small to large. Include everything as you embrace this God-life, and you’ll get God’s everything.” Jesus in Mark 11:22-24, The Message

A mountain got moved this past weekend in the life of a family in our fellowship. Maybe it wasn't a Mount Kilimanjaro-sized one but as those things go, size is relative: whether you're a high school kid trying to raise a thousand dollars for a missions trip or a middle-aged man trying to raise a hundred thousand dollars to build an orphanage from ground-level all peaks loom large. In the case of the Hanson family, their particular alp was a $12,000-sized one, the fees they incurred when they chose to adopt a little boy this past fall.

Looks like a happy boy to  me
A few posts back, I wrote about their challenge (see Cartwheeling in the sanctuary: What the love of God can make us do). Last fall, they said “yes” to what they felt was the Lord's prompting to make room in their home for yet another orphan. They'd been down this road before adopting a set of Colombian preschool triplets several years ago but decided that if the need was there they would have room for one more. At the time, they figured that juncture was a few months “down the road”. In reality, it was but a few short weeks out and just like that little Liam became a part of their family. Since it was a domestic adoption the fees incurred were relatively low – only $12,000 – but in a single median income family that five figure number was a bit overwhelming to say the least. And the clock was ticking (they had less than five months to raise the money before interest began to kick in).

At our annual Thanksbringing event, Refuge's annual November service at which we bring thanks and then share it together with a turkey dinner and all the fixings, Tina, our treasurer announced that our $10,000 roof we had put on this past summer was now paid in full. Sometime in that gathering, Paula, a member of Refuge, shared publicly that now that we have the roof paid off our next project should be to help the Hansons raise what they needed for Liam's adoption. I'm embarrassed to say now that my response to that was to put a little bucket out on the back table for anyone who wanted to donate to the cause as well as welcome any tax-deductible designated contributions in our weekly offering (neither of which was very successful.) Gratefully, the folks who go to Refuge are far more creative than that.

Where there's a will there's a way
The first group to wade into the fray was a handful of elementary and middle school girls (also noted in my previous post). These girls got together on a weekend, brainstormed, and made food and craft items to sell both in the entryway at Refuge as well as at a holiday craft sale in Rice Lake netting a couple of hundred dollars for their efforts. Kale, inspired by my anecdote of what our daughter Emma had done to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief when she was in elementary school, cartwheeled twice across the front of our sanctuary and won the acclaim of everyone in our fellowship as well as $10 for the Hansons for risking life and limb. But something more than a stunt was playing out in front of us. Kari was watching and in that twirl of the cartwheel a germ of an idea began. Like a pebble dropped into a still pond, those two cartwheels began a ripple effect in Kari's mind. What if we could do something equally unique and laugh our way to the bank?

That's how the Taco Feed and Game Night benefit for the Hansons got its start: all because someone was goofing off in church for a good cause. Kari pooled her thoughts with a few others and Monica, who loves to host people around food, and the thing began to grow. In the meantime, the Hansons benefitted from other fund raising efforts through things like a pancake feed at Applebees in Eau Claire to donations and matching grants from other Christian fellowships and organizations. Within a few short months, $11,000 had been raised so that the Sunday before the taco feed and game night event Monica challenged everyone with this: “Let's put the Hansons over the top!”

We're a small fellowship: a little over 80 people all heads counted from little Aiden born December 27 on up. We live in a small town in which it seems that every weekend there are at least three things going on and this past one was no exception. A thousand dollars seemed like a high mark to get over. But the concept was simple: There would be games in the sanctuary – board games, bean bag and the like – face painting and popcorn, all for a donation. In the lower level, a delicious taco feed was on hand, again for a free-will offering, as well as a bake sale of donated goods and 13 baskets given by either folks from Refuge or local businesses that people could bid on silent auction-style. Flyers were put up all over town. A Facebook event page was created. And on the day of the event, despite Monica cooking up enough tacos to feed a small army, perhaps altogether a 100 people showed up between 3-7 p.m. It was, from my perspective, a bit disappointing for all the heart that had gone into the planning.

It's "go" time
The climax of the event was a little stunt Kale had witnessed on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Falon: egg Russian roulette between himself and me. People would buy an egg for $10 a piece. In the dozen eggs, four would remain raw while the rest were boiled. One by one, we would each take a turn and smash it on our head. When either Kale or myself had smashed two raw eggs over our heads the game would be over. Earlier during the gathering, Ali, a high school student with an artistic flair insisted on painting my face giving me a bunny for my mien. When Kale saw that he made sure she painted a tortoise on his. It was “go” time. The tension may not have been palpable but it definitely was a show-stopper.

                                 This is what happened on the Tonight Show
Now everyone tells me I'm wrong but I'm pretty certain the whole thing was rigged for I managed to find all four raw eggs before the stunt was over. I picked the first one myself (which was raw) but after that Kale's three-year-old daughter, Lara, was choosing them for both of us. I think her daddy coached her well. There's nothing quite like seeing your pastor doused in egg to bring out hilarity in the fellowship. But what the heck, it was for a great cause and at the end of it $140 had been added to the coffer.

                                      Here's what happened at Refuge

We had all hoped for hundreds of people to come through that day to enjoy the food and the fun. Unfortunately, we fell far short of that mark. However, that night, when it was all through that little fund-raiser of ours had raised $1,600. Remarkable. It not only put that family over the top but it spoke in big large letters to all of us of God's faithfulness when we say “yes” to his leadership.

I love being a part of such a group of people - people who love the Lord Jesus, who love a good taco when they can get one, who love to play games and share with one another out of what means they have. It takes getting egged and turns it into a great honor to know it helped moved that mountain.
This picture tells a great story

Sunday, February 14, 2016

That beautiful weakness (Gideon's Story: Part 1)

His story starts sorta like this
Go in this strength that is yours. Save Israel from Midian. Haven’t I just sent you?”

Gideon said to him, “Me, my master? How and with what could I ever save Israel? Look at me. My clan’s the weakest in Manasseh and I’m the runt of the litter.”

God said to him, “I’ll be with you. Believe me, you’ll defeat Midian as one man.”
Judges 6:14-16, The Message

I will be with you. It is always so. No one who goes at the behest of God ever goes alone.
J.A. Motyer

Here's an epic landscape to go with an epic story
The tale of Gideon in the Book of Judges (Judges 6:1-8:35) is a story that is screenplay-worthy: a little-known farmer rises to prominence to lead the nation into a fantastic victory over those who are oppressing them. It's almost Braveheartesque, minus the copious blood (except, of course, for the big battle scene at the end). It has an unlikely hero (Gideon), it has ruthless bad guys (Midianites, among them Oreb and Zeeb) and it has an epic battle climax (Gideon's brave 300 against the horde of Midian). All it lacks is the girl and a Howard Shore soundtrack (the man who scored The Lord of the Rings).

His story begins much like all Star Wars movies do with a crawl letting us know that, among other things, it is a dark time for the people of God. Once again they've lost their way. Once again they have forgotten their history. Once again the Hun is not only at the door but comes and goes as he pleases. They live like badgers in mountain caves and strongholds doing what farming they can on the plains below before another Midianite raiding force swoops in on them on the latest in military hardware – the camel (v. 5) – a strike force that struck terror in the heart of the sons and daughters of Abraham.

When Israel planted its crops, Midian and Amalek, the easterners, would invade them, camp in their fields, and destroy their crops all the way down to Gaza. They left nothing for them to live on, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey. Bringing their cattle and tents, they came in and took over, like an invasion of locusts. And their camels—past counting! They marched in and devastated the country.” (vv. 2-5)

Dark days indeed. Things are so bad that it jolts their national memory and a collective cry goes up to the God of their fathers (v. 6). And just like in the Moses story in the Torah, God raises up a man to lead them.

To people on foot this would be a fearful sight

His name is Gideon and when the camera zooms in on him we find that he is threshing wheat in the most unlikeliest of places, a hole in the ground. I wasn't raised on a farm. I was raised in a suburb of Milwaukee so unlike several members of Refuge the rhythms of planting and harvesting are not imprinted on my soul. I have it on good authority, however, that wheat was never threshed in a hollow; rather, the work was done in a wide, open place where the wind could carry away the chaff. What's more, most farmers did such work with the help of a threshing sledge pulled by oxen. But instead, we find our hero toiling in a winepress, a carved-out depression in a rock, beating his meager harvest out by hand and hoping to keep a low profile as he does for fear a Midianite raiding force will spot and spoil him.

You're gonna need more than a Jedi mind trick
And then it happens: like a flash of silent lightning an angel shows up and interrupts his anxiously fervid work. But not just any old angel – it's “the angel of the Lord”. The last time he showed up an octogenarian minding his sheep on the backside of the desert was conscripted to take on the superpower of his day (see Exodus 3:1ff). It's always a weighty thing when this angel shows up. History is usually in the making as it is now. When he made his appearance to Moses a generation or more ago it was with lots of special effects – a bush on fire that didn't burn up and, at least in my mind, an eerie wind that caused the fire to burn in a ghostly way. But this time he shows up like Obi-Wan in his hut on the edge of the Dune Sea who greets Gideon like a long lost Jedi.

God is with you, O mighty warrior!” (v. 12)

I can never read that without imaging Gideon doing a double-take, looking over his shoulder in a “You talking to me?” kinda way. Something about that greeting, however, touches a nerve in him. Unlike most angelic encounters recorded in the Bible, he's not afraid. He's, in fact, peeved. “God is with us? That's a good one. Really. Then tell me this, wise guy: if God is with us why is all this happening to us? Where is the God of the stories our fathers told us, of Moses, of the devastation of Egypt and the Red Sea crossing? Nope. It can't be. The fact is we've been turned over so that Midian can have its way with us” (vv. 13-14). Admittedly, it's pretty bold talk for a guy speaking to an angel, let alone the angel of God. But clearly his sense of injustice has been awoken and he has no time for “back-in-the-day” kind of musings.

When this angel showed up it changed Moses' life

What I love about what happens next is that God likes this kind of retort. He's not offended in the least that an earthling has just taken him to task for something that is clearly their fault (they, after all, have been the ones who have been unfaithful). Instead, he commissions him on the spot to go and do something about it. It has something of the feel of Gandalf choosing Bilbo to be the lucky number while blowing smoke-rings outside of Bag End. “Good. There is strength in you. Go in this strength that is yours. Save the nation from the Midianites. I'm sending you” (v. 14).

Immediately, Gideon realizes he's gone and stepped in it and tries to defer with the oldest ploy in the book: “Me?...Look at me. My clan's the weakest in Manasseh and I'm the runt of the litter” (v. 15). All those years before Moses had much the same response when Yahweh had sought him out to deal with the Darth Sidius of his day: “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (3:11) God's standard response (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, ad infinitum) to such weaseling is always the same: “I'll be with you.” That's it. And apparently, that should be enough. There will follow a bit of a test (vv. 17-24) that will literally put the fear of God into Gideon, but the two-fisted promise remains: “I will be with you. Believe me, you'll defeat Midian as one man” (v. 16).

It seems God has a knack for always choosing the “wrong” people for his work – a moon-worshiping herdsman from Ur is called to follow Yahweh to a land he does not know and becomes the father of his people, a two-faced sycophant with a penchant for manipulating others wrestles with Yahweh and becomes Israel, a man in the prime of his life who failed miserably at delivering the nation from Egypt the first time is sent back to do the same now as an old man. Over and over the story is repeated: unlikely people are called by God to do unlikely things and the result of their obedience is blessing for God's people. Writing about Moses, J.A. Motyer says:

    If Moses lives in our memories as the towering leader of Israel in deliverance and pilgrimage, it is well to remember where he started – insecure, uncertain, unprepared, unworthy and un-almost-everything-else! (The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Exodus, p. 60)

Hannah before the run
Which leads me to ask this: What situation grieves you? What thing out 'there' is 'wrong' and causes you to mutter under your breath or in your car where no one can hear you, “Someone oughta do something about that”? Most of us hopefully have heard by now of William Wilberforce, the face of the abolition movement in Nineteenth Century England, but have you ever heard of a girl named Hannah Redders? In the fall of Hannah's senior year of high school a germ of idea was planted: to run across the State of Wisconsin and raise awareness about the reality of the sex trafficking industry right here in the heartland as well as raise $20,000 for a non-profit in Milwaukee which cares for survivors of such a hideous trade. It's pretty audacious for anyone, let alone an 18-year-old kid. In fact, when she shared her plan to make this 400-mile journey in ten days with her uncle (me), a pastor and a Cross Country coach to boot, I told her that maybe because of her injury history she should aim a little lower – like run from Madison to Milwaukee. She would have none of it. And six months later, on a warm day in June, there I was with her, her family, a couple of my kids and a few friends, outside of Superior beginning the journey. Her plan was simple: she would run 20 miles a day and then recruit others to run an additional 20 miles a day and by Day 10 cross the finish line in Milwaukee. So with a reading from a short devotional and a prayer and a picture it began – the Rescue Run.

Day 1 of the Rescue Run south of Superior

We all got our superhero on to help her get there

Day 9 of the Rescue Run just north of Milwaukee

Over the next ten days, she snaked her way south, accompanied by her family and with various friends and family members along the way. On Day 10, as planned, she finished her course in Milwaukee, having run 200 miles of the distance herself, with some fanfare and with the additional accomplishment of raising over $20,000 for Exploit No More. That's pretty cool stuff for anybody let alone an 18-year-old girl.

Go in this strength that you have...” Again, what cause moves you? There is plenty of wrong in our world and not all of it is in D.C. or in the Middle East. Some of it is right in our own back yard and God is looking for a man or a woman to say, “Yes, I'll go” armed only with the certainty that he will be with us. The weight of Scripture tells us that's more than enough to handle any resistance we may encounter as we seek to take on the Midianites in our neck of the woods. Relying on anything less than God's adequacy may, in fact, point to the reality that we really are not up to the task.

How do you defeat a foe clearly stronger than you?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mortal thoughts: An Ash Wednesday meditation

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Tonight for the very first time I received the imposition of ashes upon my forehead as a part of the Ash Wednesday gathering Linda and I attended at Chetek United Methodist. I was raised in Lutheranism and in those days I used to give up – or try to give up – things for Lent. We attended the Wednesday night Lenten gatherings religiously primarily because they were literally high drama – both our pastors had a flair for the dramatic and shared dramatic monologues that were so well presented I didn't want to miss a one. Most vividly I remember the night I was feverish and nauseous and scheduled to serve as an acolyte. I didn't want to stay home and in bed (where I probably should have been) because when you were an acolyte you had a front row seat to pastor's performance as he acted out the Word. But in all those years we never “did” ashes or if we did I don't recall ever participating in the act. Maybe it was an adult-only thing.

But tonight we decided to walk a block away to the Methodist fellowship and join them for worship. Chetek Lutheran had met at 5 p.m. at their sister congregation outside of town, Dovre Lutheran, and St. Boni's mass had been at 12 noon. So the choice was more or less made for us. We love Pastor Carrie anyway. We were a congregation of perhaps 20 people (in a sanctuary that easily seats 200) and all of us Methodist except, of course, for us. It was a simple liturgy: a few hymns out of the hymnal, a reading of Scripture, some written prayers that we prayed in unison, a message from 2 Corinthians 5, special music by Pastor Carrie and then “the imposition of ashes” (a phrase until tonight I was not familiar with). According to tradition the ashes come from the palms used in last year's Palm Sunday service (another little factoid I did not know about – I thought you just ordered them from a distributing house.)

There was first silence, then a prayer of contrition led by Pastor Carrie and then if you chose (and we all did) to come forward to receive the mark. For me, it was a normal, liturgical service. Nothing out of the ordinary going on, all the landmarks recognizable to me. Until that prayer and then quietly as I stood in line images silently moved across my mind's eye – images of the dead: my brother, Jim; my roommate in Bible college, Bob; my friend, Jill, from Lake Edge Lutheran days in high school; Denise, a young woman from Refuge; grandparents and aunts and uncles. My brother was 36 when he died suddenly. Bob was 27, Denise 21 and Jill 48 when they each in turn lost their battle to cancer. In that same moment, as Pastor Carrie placed the ashes upon my forehead and intoned, “Jeff, you are dust and to dust you shall return” I was reminded that sooner or later I will join them. That one day instead of presiding at the funeral for the dead someone else will be presiding at my funeral, committing me unto the Lord in sure and certain hope of the resurrection and of the life to come. Apart from the return of the Lord Jesus, this will certainly happen in due time.

The service concluded by praying the Lord's Prayer together. We said our good-byes and began our walk home. And as I walked the faces of the dead lingered there for a bit longer not in a morbid or haunting way but as a reminder that life is a vapor, that it swiftly passes and then it is over. Wisdom lies in making the most of the time we have been given. Psalm 90 came immediately to mind, admittedly not all of it just verse 12, but it's worth posting the entire prayer here:

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
4 A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
6 In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.
7 We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.

12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
    Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.
17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

It is good to be reminded that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19) and equally important to recall that God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (v. 21). But the thought that everything has an end, even me, invoked a sense of humility and contrition to treat life, specifically my life, as the gift it really is and to live whatever time I have left, with his help, to the glory of God.

I knew them all

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Seeds and secret ingredients: a life lesson from Mr. Ping and Jesus

Thank you, Mr. Ping
We are noodle folk. Broth runs through our veins.” Mr. Ping in Kung Fu Panda

 “Listen. What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it. Some fell on good earth and came up with a flourish, producing a harvest exceeding his wildest dreams.

Are you listening to this? Really listening?”
Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in Mark 4:3-9

Since 2013 I have led a quarterly class at the Barron County Justice Center entitled Courageous Living. Based on the 2011 movie Courageous by the Kendrick brothers (the minds behind other faith-based movies like Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and War Room), this six-week class seeks to challenge men on the issues of what it means to be a dad and leading your family well. In Week 1, we watch the movie and then in the weeks that follow we look at four stories in the Book of Joshua which apply to God's call to each of us to be “strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:9). On the sixth and final week for those who choose to an opportunity is given to take “the Resolution” that the five main characters in the movie take. Most of the guys usually choose to stand and make this solemn vow.

Sometime during last fall's class I was asked by a member of “the Breakfast Club”, the weekly gathering of ministry leaders at Bob's Grill in Chetek, how successful I felt the curriculum was. i.e., was it working? Were guys emerging out of that class better dads and more attentive to the spiritual needs of themselves and their children?

I told him frankly, I don't know. For one thing, many of them are in process. That is, they took advantage of the class while they were an inmate at the BCJC and prior to being sent to prison. Or the final class corresponded with their release date from the Justice Center. Or half-way through the class the prison bus shows up carting them off to their next destination. Unless they request a one-on-one with me, after they complete Courageous I may not see them again. It's just the way it is with that population.

But ultimately, no curriculum, however well designed or well written is the “deal-breaker” with the human heart. There is no magic pill that can undo twenty-five or thirty-five years – or more! - of bad living. I've written about it in a post a few years ago but most of the big hills on our personal landscape got there by our own doing one truckload of dirt at a time. To un-do the hills and remake the landscape takes focus, persistence, time and, of course, the grace and power of God. I've yet to see it done else wise.

Just add the right ingredients and see what comes from the ground
So what I've come to do at the conclusion of Week 1 after we've watched the movie is pull out a pumpkin seed (simply because a pumpkin seed is fairly large seed as seeds go) and remind them that a seed is potential. I plant it in the ground and if I water it and make sure it gets plenty of sunlight and breathing room nine times out of ten something is going to grow. In this case, a pumpkin vine is going to grow and in time produce, naturally, pumpkins. But there is a lot of things that can impede that potential: too little water or too many weeds (at least in the initial stage as a mature pumpkin vine is a pretty hardy thing) can inhibit growth or kill it altogether. The question is, what kind of soil are you?

This is what Jesus says. In the story usually referred to as the Parable of the Sower there are three characters – the Sower, the Seed and the Soil. The Sower and the seed are constants – one sower, same seed. The only variable is the ground on which the seeds fall. And of those four different soils, only one kind promises to produce a bounty crop of pumpkins, the “good earth” that in time produces a harvest “exceeding his wildest dreams.” So the moral of the story seems to be two questions: What kind of soil am I and do I have what it takes to grow?

What kind of soil am I?

There are always people who play at religion, who parrot what they think people like myself want to hear. But if their soil is baked earth nothing of substance will ever come of it. A place like the Justice Center is replete with “jail-house religion” stories, guys who “come to Jesus” while they're waiting for sentencing. Thank God it is. Jail-house religion and fox-hole religion are, after all, close relatives. But if no real root is put down after the crisis passes, after probation is granted rather than prison, after the bullets no longer zing through the air, a lot of times the fever passes and the former inmate returns to doing life as they know it. And then there's the guy who's full of good intentions, who makes a profession of faith but slowly but surely gets caught up trying to catch up with the life he's been missing while he has been incarcerated. Soon, just like everybody else “outside” they're as “busy” as the rest of us, full of promises to “get back to church” when life settles back down. They mean it, of course, but it's a cheat – life is what it is and I don't know many people who purposely take a step back from the “rat race” once they're caught up in it. But for those who do the hard work, weeding and watering, in time something good starts to grow.

Good life lessons within
I'm a big fan of movie clips as a teaching device. Over the dozen or more classes I have led since 2013, I have used clips from movies like True Grit (the John Wayne version), The Patriot, Master and Commander, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams and more. Last week, I used Scene 19 from Kung Fu Panda. Tai Lung is on his way to the Jade Palace to confront Master Shifu and Po (aka The Dragon Warrior). In preparation for this horrific confrontation, the valley is evacuated. Dejectedly Po goes to help his dad, Mr. Ping, move their noodle cart. According to Grand Master Oogway, he was supposed to be the Dragon Warrior, the kung fu master capable of reading the Dragon Scroll and defeating Tai Lung. But his short stay at Shifu's academy is a bust. He is able to retrieve the Dragon Scroll but it is seemingly empty, there are no hidden secrets of overcoming an evil like Tai Lung. Mr. Ping, in attempting to encourage his son, Po, reveals a secret of his own – the secret of his secret ingredient noodle soup.

Mr. Ping: The secret ingredient is... nothing!

Po: Huh?

Mr. Ping: You heard me. Nothing! There is no secret ingredient.
A moment like that can be a catalyst to real change

Po: Wait, wait... it's just plain old noodle soup? You don't add some kind of special sauce or something?

Mr. Ping: Don't have to. To make something special you just have to believe it's special.

[Po looks at the scroll again, and sees his reflection in it]

Po: There is no secret ingredient...

I love that. I've used that line on my Cross Country kids, too. There is no secret ingredient to success or greatness. It's just you. You putting in the hard work. You turning your attention to the things that really matter. You believing that by the grace of God a man can actually change the landscape of his life.

As I've already alluded to, I don't believe any curriculum is the key

to bringing about real change in a person's life. Whenever I hear that line – as I do from time to time when some Christian marketer calls my office excited about a new program that promises to “change lives” - I smell something fishy. But when the grace of God is at work in a human heart which is demonstrating a desire to grow and change, anything is possible. Even a panda like Po can take on a scoundrel like Tai Lung and with a deft use of the Wuxi finger hold skadoosh his way into a life beyond his wildest dreams. I sincerely believe that and have it on good authority – Mr. Ping and Jesus, no less – that these things are so.

I think the word is "skadoosh"