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A Resource by Mark D. Roberts

Archive for July-October 2005

Note: This archive contains all of my posts for that are not included in some other series. I really don't have the time to save things in more than one place. If you're looking for a specific item, use the "Search" button in the upper left hand corner. Thanks.

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2005 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.

A Couple of Fish Stories
Posted for Sunday, July 3, 2005

Did you know that Jaws just turned 30? Now there's something to make you feel old, if, of course, you're old enough to remember the opening day of Jaws, which was June 20, 1975.

Not surprisingly, Universal released a special 30th anniversary edition of Jaws. I doubt they did it because Steven Spielberg needs the money, however. This includes a new 2-hour documentary on the making of Jaws and a few other tidbits of interest. So you get a little more than was on the 25th anniversary DVD.

In the category of "you can't trust the media," check out what I found on Google today when I was trying to get some info about the news Jaws DVD. Wow! These headlines even rhyme!


The mechanical shark used in Jaws, named "Bruce" by the movie tech people, was 25-feet long. Actually, there were several "Bruces" used for the filming of Jaws, but they were unreliable. For this reason the young Steven Spielberg decided to film underwater as if from the shark's perspective. This turned out to be one of the movie's most eerie and compelling effects.

In the photo to the right, a youthful Steven Spielberg enjoys some personal time with one of the Bruces.



Speaking of giant fishes, did you catch the story that recently emerged from northern Thailand. Fishermen on the Mekong River caught a catfish that was 9 feet long and weighed 646 pounds. The headline at the National Geographic News website read, "Grizzly Bear-Size Catfish Caught in Thailand."

What's more, you shoulda seen the one that got away!

The Mekong giant catfish, one of the world's largest freshwater fish, is critically endangered, according to the World Conversation Union. The good news is that those who caught the fish tried to keep it alive and release it back into the river. Talk about catch and release! The bad news is that the catfish died while in captivity and the villagers ate it. If I had been their advisor, I would have recommended that they sell it to Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum in Hayward, Wisconsin.

I've actually been to this place. If ever you visit Hayward, which is famous as the location for the Lumberjack World Championships, you can't miss the Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum, because it includes a model of a Muskie (a north country game fish) that is over 100 feet long and 25 feet high. Now that's a big fish!

  P.S. If you're ever in Hayward, don't miss Tremblay's Sweet Shop. My children, pictured to the right, will agree. Tremblay's has enough candy, especially fudge, to feed a giant Muskie. And this is not a fish story!  

Fourth of July: Fun and Remembrance
Posted for Monday, July 4, 2005

Here are some of my favorite Fourth of July fun pictures:


All of these pictures come from the annual Fourth of July parade and picnic in my neighborhood.

It's wonderful and fitting to celebrate and to wear patriotic colors, but . . .

May you have a happy and blessed Independence Day!

Obituary Oddity: An Strange Combination
Posted for Sunday, September 11, 2005

I usually check the obituary page of the Los Angeles Times to see if anyone important has died. Last Wednesday's glance at the obituaries brought a shock. Not only was I familiar with both persons featured on the page, but also they had made a tangible difference in my life – though in vastly different ways. In fact, I can't imagine a stranger pairing on a single obituary page.

Who died? Bob Denver, comedian and television actor, most famous for his classic portrayal of Gilligan on the sixties' sitcom Gilligan's Island. And Robert Funk, the biblical scholar who made his mark as the founder of The Jesus Seminar.

Remembering Gilligan

As a boy, I remember watching with delight Bob Denver's portrayal of Gilligan on the TV sitcom Gilligan's Island. I have only a vague memory of his Maynard G. Krebs character on the show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis because I was pretty young when that show aired. But Gilligan came in the prime of my childhood. Besides, it was as the sweet but goofy sailor Gilligan that Bob Denver made his biggest mark.

Although Gilligan's Island was filmed for only three years in the mid-sixties, it has achieved eternal life in syndication. The combination of wacky characters and unbelievable situations makes the show work. But Denver's Gilligan is the kingpin. His lovable silliness continues to entertain viewers young and old.

In case you're interested, here are couple of bits of Gilligan's Island trivia. Did you know that the Minnow set sail for its "three hour tour" from the mouth of Newport Harbor, only twenty minutes from my house? And did you know that there is some legitimate debate about whether "Gilligan" is the character's first name or last name? Apparently, the creator of the show, Sherwood Schwartz originally intended the character's name to be "Willy Gilligan." But then he changed his mind, and settled on "Gilligan" as a first (and only) name. Later, however, Schwartz appeared to re-christen the character "Willy Gilligan." Bob Denver insisted that "Gilligan" was his first name, however. You can decide who's right, the show's creator or the one who was Gilligan in the flesh. (To see the larger story, check out Willy Gilligan? on

Bob Denver as the irrepressible, charming Gilligan

I am grateful to Bob Denver for making my life happier, and for doing so without resorting to the sort of off-color humor that's so common today. Gilligan made me laugh in the good ol' fashioned way, through clever acting and lots of physical comedy.

Remembering Robert Funk

Robert W. Funk, on the contrary, did not make my life any happier, though he did make a small but positive contribution to the writing of my dissertation. Funk began his professional life as a serious New Testament scholar. In 1961 he translated the standard academic grammar of New Testament Greek from German (note 1) into English, an impressive achievement. His serious writings included a fine article on the Apostle Paul that I referenced in my dissertation (note 2). Funk was also highly involved in the Society of Biblical Literature, serving as its executive secretary.

Yet if Robert Funk had simply been a modestly successful New Testament scholar, his death would never have made it into the obituaries of the Los Angeles Times. Beginning in the mid 1980s, Funk's popular fame and impact grew exponentially through his founding leadership of the Westar Institute, and especially through his creation of the Institute's most famous collegium, the Jesus Seminar.

In tomorrow's post I'll discuss Funk's founding of the Jesus Seminar, including its purposes and methods.


Note 1: F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, translated and revised by Robert W. Funk,  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961)

Note 2: Robert W. Funk, “The Apostolic Parousia: Form and Significance,” in Christian History and Interpretation:  Studies Presented to John Knox, ed. W. R. Farmer, C. F. D. Moule and R. Niebuhr (Cambridge: University Press, 1967).

It's a Privilege
Posted for Sunday, October 2, 2005

Today I had the privilege of officiating at a memorial service. I realize this might sound like pastoral hyperbole. After all, is it really a privilege to give up a good chunk of a Saturday morning in order to do a funeral? Yes, indeed it is. Let me explain why.

For one thing, it is a privilege to be able to share with families in some of their most tender moments. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes these moments are filled with grief, as in the case of a service I led two years ago for a high school girl who had died in a car accident. At other times the grief is mixed with joy and thanksgiving, even laughter, when the one who died lived a long and full life and has surely gone to be with the Lord. Yet, no matter the tone, I am honored when families trust me with their deepest emotions and invite me to help them work these through in the context of a memorial service.

But I am also privileged to be regularly present in memorial services, not only as a presiding pastor, but also as a human being. I find that memorial services help me to re-center my life by remembering what really matters.

For example, the service I led today was for a man who lived a long, full, adventure-packed life. Leo, who was 85 years old when he passed away last Sunday, grew up in Canada. He served with distinction in the Canadian army during World War II, receiving several honors and medals, including the Military Medal from King George VI at Buckingham Palace in 1945. After the war, his professional life included a high-ranking ambassadorial position in the Canadian government. Then he moved to the U.S., where he owned a travel agency and a golf course, and sold real estate. In his spare time, Leo loved golf, fishing, traveling, and writing poetry.

But most of all Leo loved his family and his Lord. This refrain was repeated time and again by the family members who shared in his memorial service. I was greatly moved by the testimony of Leo's son, Marc. He noted many of his father's quirks and idiosyncrasies, and didn't pretend as if his father had been perfect. But Marc shared a long, wonderful list of his father's character traits, including persistence, courage, compassion, and faith.


As I listened to Marc, I wondered what my children might say at my own memorial service. Would they be able to stand up and say, as Marc did, "No matter how tired my dad was after a long day at work, he always had time for me"? Would they have "caught" my faith in Christ, just as Marc caught his father's? I sure hope so. The tougher question for me is: Am I living my life for what really matters? Am I leaving the legacy to my children that I really want to leave? Or am I squandering my days on lesser things? What will be the lasting impact of my life, especially on those I love the most?

Officiating at Leo's service also reminded me of the centrality of faith. After he passed away, Leo's family found a little, tattered slip of paper in his wallet. It's something he always carried with him. On this paper were three sentences:

The kingdom of God is within you.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

If God be for us, who can be against us?

Many of you will recognize the source of these three sentences. They come from the New Testament (Luke 17:21; Philippians 4:13; Romans 8:31). Here was the true center of Leo's life: his faith in Jesus Christ, his confidence in God's presence. This is the faith that got Leo through the trauma of World War II, including a life-threatening injury. It's also the faith that enriched his later life, which he fondly referred to as his "golden years."

So, as a pastor, I was honored today by the trust and openness of a dear family, as they shared their hearts with me and allowed me to help them remember both a dear loved one and the Lord. And as a man, a husband, a father, and a Christian, I was privileged to be reminded of what matters most in life. I hope and pray that, at the end of my life, I can look back and know that, like Leo, I lived with eternal purpose and loved with Christ-like compassion. I am grateful to Leo and his family for helping me to remember and refocus. Like I said before, it's a privilege.

Saying "I Do" All Over Again
Posted for Sunday, October 30, 2005

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to officiate at a ceremony for the renewal of wedding vows. A couple from my church was celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary and decided to up the ante by renewing their commitment to each other. It was a special event indeed, marked with lots of joy and thanksgiving. The fact that it happened to be in Hawaii didn't hurt. But the best part came when two people, after twenty years of marriage, chose to pledge even deeper love and commitment to each other.

As a pastor, I'm pleased to be able to officiate at weddings. Not only do I get the best seat in the house, but also there is something precious about sharing in such a watershed moment in the lives of two people. Yet, for me, wedding renewal services have a tenderness all their own, one that can exceed that of a wedding.

When I officiate at weddings, I lead people to commit themselves to one another "in weakness and in strength, in sickness and in health, through conflict and harmony, through tears and laughter, whether we be rich or poor . . . ." Yet, even as grooms and brides eagerly repeat these words to each other, I sometimes wonder: "Do you have any idea what they're saying?" The answer, of course, is "No!" I hope and pray that they will find the courage to stay together even in weakness, sickness, conflict, tears, and poverty. Yet, when folks are getting married for the first time, nobody really knows what will happen. I'm sad to say, lots of romantic ideas and hopes end up on the junk heap of failed marriages.

After twenty years of marriage, however, people have a pretty darn good idea what they're doing when they renew their vows. Chances are good they've experienced plenty of weakness, conflict, and tears. Perhaps even sickness and poverty. Nobody knows the faults of a man like his wife. And nobody knows the faults of a woman like her husband. So when two people, with full knowledge of the deeper realities involved, nevertheless want to renew their vows, this is a profoundly moving and celebrative event. It may not be quite as romantic as a wedding, but it's usually more loving. I'm talking here about real love, the kind of love that lasts.


Top: Lihue Lutheran Church on the island of Kaua'i.

Bottom: During the ceremony, as a local musician sings. (I'm a lot mellower about photography during the service when I'm doing vow renewals.)

I would encourage my married readers to consider renewing their marital vows at some point. Key anniversaries are likely moments (10, 20, 25, 30, 40, even 50 years). But the renewal could take place at any time. One of the most moving renewal ceremonies I ever led was for a couple that had been as close to divorce as any couple could be, with all papers completed and signed but not filed, when God pulled them back together. After a long, hard road of healing, they had finally come to a place where their marriage was better and stronger than it had ever been. To celebrate how God had healed their relationship, they asked me to help them renew their marriage vows. It was a truly blessed service, let me tell you.

There aren't any "rules" for what needs to happen in a renewal ceremony. Some churches have official worship orders; most do not. I've done some services that were almost verbatim copies of the original weddings. The one I did a few days ago looked very little like the couple's first wedding. Sometimes people invite lots of friends and family. Sometimes it's a much more intimate experience. Couples sometimes have their children involved; sometimes not. On more than one occasion, the "best man" and "maid of honor" were the son and daughter of the folks who were renewing their vows.

The one thing I strongly encourage people to do in the ceremony is to read a statement they've prepared in advance. I ask both husband and wife to write a statement, usually in the 250 to 500 word rage, in which they explain plainly why they want to renew their vows and what they mean in doing so. These are usually extraordinarily intimate and wise professions of deep love and commitment.

If you're interested in renewing your wedding vows, I'd urge you to talk to your pastor (or priest, or rabbi . . .). If you choose to have a "big event" with lots of festivity, that's fine. But, most of all, use the occasion of the vow renewal to think and pray through your marriage. Let this be a time, not merely of saying new vows, but of letting God renew your love. In all of life, there's not much that's better than this.