I Can Only Imagine a Good Christian Movie


I saw Only Imagine yesterday for two reasons.

  1. Bart, the song’s author that the movie is about, is an old friend, and
  2. I had been up since 3:15am, done church and had a wonderful fish taco lunch, and figured the reclining theater seats would make for a fabulous nap.

I was wrong on both accounts.

First, I am Bart’s old friend like a White House substitute one-day groundskeeper is a friend of Obama. We met once, when I was at a Mark Matlock Youth Conference. Mark and I had run into each other before, and he at least knew my name. I once booked him at our church in Tucson for a weekend conference. Later JoLynn and I moved to Winnipeg, and we brought a youth group down to Fargo to see Mark and this band that was traveling with him, called Mercy Me.

They weren’t bad.

The conference was small and, for Mark / Mercy Me Conference, a little flat. Mark decided to spice things up by escaping from a strait jacket, while suspended 100-ft high from a crane connected only with a fast burning rope tied to one leg, over concrete and hissing cobras. Or something like that. Bert decided that the best way to spice things up was to sing a song he had written for his dad called I Can Only Imagine. It wasn’t released yet except on a CD that Matlock I think had produced.

We heard it first.

I still remember that night, and still have that early release CD of the song. Not sure there is a working CD player left to play it on however.

I also kept the hospital wrist tag that Mark wore later that night.

The lessons are these:

  1. If you ever say you are, “driving down to Fargo,” you are living in the wrong place.
  2. It’s OK to lie in blogs. Mark didn’t go to the ER. But I do remember him escaping from a strait jacket while hanging from church beams over a large organ. Not sure why he didn’t get the movie.
  3. There IS a good Christian move! Well, for anything but a nap.  I missed mine till after I got home.
  4. Go see Only Imagine.

By the way, it came in as the third-biggest movie in America last weekend, behind only Black Panther and Tomb Raider. Not bad for a movie about a guy who has forgotten he once knew Dan Cooley… for a day.

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My 5 Favorite Epitaphs

prepareEarlier this year I attended three memorials in eight days. Death has been on my mind – but in a good way. I’ve seen faith passed down from father to son to grandkids, and heard some amazing testimonies of lives well lived. It helped me remember an old truth.
God determines the dates on your tombstone, but your family writes your epitaph.
Here are five of my favorites, some good, some just fun:
1. From Nova Scotia: Here lies Ezekiel Aikle. Age 102. The good die young. So much for kind Canadians.
2. From England: The children of Israel wanted bread, and the Lord sent them manna. Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife, and the Devil sent him Anna. Ouch.
3. Another from England, probably the saddest: Tom Smith is dead, and here he lies; nobody laughs and nobody cries; where his soul’s gone, or how it fares; nobody knows, and nobody cares.
4. Can you guess who this one was written for? Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty I’m free at last. Beautiful.
Martin Luther King Jr.
5. Can you guess who this one was written for? Jesus Mercy.
Al Capone
I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes lately, for a future sermon series. It’s not a bizarre bible story, but it is a bizarre truth that we avoid talk of death, even though we are racing towards it. One take-away from the book for me is, it’s time to start living with our epitaph in mind.
At my age, better sooner than later!

What Would You Cut Out of Your Bible?

Jefferson Bible
Jefferson Bible Source books open to cut-up pages to show the missing pieces

Bizarre Bible Stories sold, in part I think, because the books included some of the Bible stories we would like left out of the Bible.

Did you know Thomas Jefferson made his own cut-and-paste Bible?

Well, not exactly, but close.

In 1819 Jefferson sat down with a bible, some glue, and a pair of scissors. He looked for the teachings of Jesus that he liked, and sliced them out. Then he glued them into a new book he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. When done, I suppose he trashed the left-over bible, attempting to eliminate all of Christ’s miracles and any signs of His divinity. You can read a complete copy of the Jefferson Bible here (with links to what he took out.)

If you sat down to make a cut-and-paste Bible, what parts would you take out? I certainly have some parts I don’t like. Maybe a bit less about judgment would be nice; a kinder, gentler entrance into the Promised land would be easier to stomach; and was Song of Solomon really necessary?


Cutting truth out of the Bible doesn’t remove the truth. It just removes the Truth from affecting our lives. It cuts truth out of us, not out of reality.

I believe God spoke to us, and He spoke without error, through His Word, the Bible.

God had it written for our benefit, as the means to the end of a relationship with the Author. Removing parts of the book removes its impact. We lose. Truth is unaffected. Unfortunately, we are too.

Paul told Timothy, All scripture is profitable. (2 Timothy 3:15-17) That includes the bizarre stories as well.



Salvation Baby

My sister Janice is writing poems to go into my Bizarre Christmas Bible Story book for 2018. I LOVE this salvation poem…

How Can I Get to Heaven?

Does it take a village?
Does it take an offering?
Does it take good deeds
like food given to the poor?

Does it take religion?
Does it cost a fortune?
Does it call for auras,
yoga poses on the floor?

You could never do it.
You cannot achieve it.
All it takes is one small sin
to block you from the Gate.

All the good you’re doing
will not gain you entrance.
God demands perfection.
Do not fear, it’s not too late.

Baby in a manger,
in Bethlehem, a stranger,
came to life on earth
so that for you He could die.

He, the perfect Savior,
is your substitution.
He came down to this earth
to raise you up on High.

John 3:16

Janice Cooley Jones

Wise Men and a Sister

My sister wrote the poem below about the wise men, such a fun kids poem I had to publish it. OH, she is also the girl in the picture, with my brother David and our parents, when they were living in France, before I was. She is a bit older now.  So am I.

Wise Men

They plodded along between high camel humps
with food, clothes, and blankets rolled up into lumps.
Gold, myrrh, and frankincense jarred with each bump
as they twisted through mountains with bushes in clumps.

They lumbered along sitting high on the backs
of the beasts they were guiding and keeping on track.
Over-excited, they could not relax.
They were searching for Someone and would not turn back.

The light that first startled them was quite a sight.
It grew bigger and brighter than comets that night.
It must be a prophecy, what a delight!
It must be a new king. Those Wise Men were right.

They stopped at King Herod’s place, causing a stare.
Their questions upset him. He stifled a glare.
The Jews have a new king? You must find out WHERE!
In Bethlehem was the child. Wise Men went there.

Oh, how they honored Him. Oh how they praised.
And the joy that surrounded them lasted for days.
It lasted for years and it won’t go away.
Just listen to carolers singing today!

Janice Cooley Jones

Christmas: A Declaration of War

3 Christmas War Quotes from the Advent reading today. At church we gave away the Christianity Today Advent book, this one was written by Russell Moore. Excellent, but you be the judge…

He is bringing the story into focus from that first prophecy, when God tells the serpent after Adam and Eve eat the fruit; Ge 3:15 (ESV)  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”


1: The Virgin Birth is not simply a sweet Christmas story. . . The Virgin Birth is scary, because if we understand what is going on here, we will see that in the uterus of this little Nazarene virgin girl, God is declaring war.

2: God is saying to you exactly what God said in the Virgin Birth to the entire human race: You cannot fix this.

3: Perhaps what all of us need this holiday season is to cry out with gratitude to a God who fought our Enemy for us. Perhaps we need to say, “All I want for Christmas is a crushed snake skull.” That is the gospel.


Need a Kids Christmas Gift?

Need a kids Christmas gift? Here you go…

My Little Red Camper: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good: The “My Little Red Adventure Books” series are my favorite books to read to my grandkids, well, to read to the one old enough to listen. This is the second book in that series. With Leanna’s writing and Jose’s drawings, there is little not to love. The drawings have a cool retro look. I believe the stories are from Leanna’s childhood. So I suppose the artwork may simply accurate for the time… depending on Leanna’s age…

The Bad: This book takes you back to camping with your kids. It made me wish I’d spent more time doing just that, but also glad for the trips we did take.

The Ugly: My Little Red Camper may have the result of taking a chunk out of our budget. After reading it to our grandkids again and again, I became nostalgic for… Not the camper, which really is cool, but the blue pickup truck pulling it. Jose nailed it. I think it’s time to grab a kid and go old-truck hunting.

So – it’s a book for kids, parents, and old grandparents like myself. Just stay away from the craigslist truck and camper ads after reading it.

Why Doesn’t God Heal the Right People?

steve lacy b,w

I know, I need to accept that God knows what He is doing, and I don’t. Somehow that explanation always seemed too simple to me.

Until now.

Ann Voskamp has written a terrific blog on the topic – the best I’ve read.  THIS IS GOOD. I couldn’t find a way to share it, so I cut and pasted it below. If you click on her name above, it should take you directly to her site.

Here we go…

Why, in the name of all things holy, do You cherry pick one person to heal and another person to die?

Why in the world does one baby get to recover and go home to laugh loud and inhale life and another baby gets covered with 6 feet a dirt and hunk of granite gravestone?

You tell us—- Why does this cancer patient get to tout that You heard their prayers and that cancer patient gets a morphine pump for the devouring pain and an unwanted visit from hospice?

When The Picked and The Healed audaciously celebrate: “God heard our prayers!” — are the unpicked and the unhealed really supposed to assume that You plugged Your ears and flat-out refused to hear their wildly begging prayers?

Or when the healed flaunt: “God heard our prayers” — are the unhealed supposed to realize that their prayers were actually flawed? Is healing only granted to the superior, spiritual elites who know the secret launch codes for prayer — and the prayers of the rest of us sorry sops somehow fell short, so our loved ones ended up dead?

Do You not have power to heal? Or do You just choose not to heal?

Is God ultimately impotent— or just plain indifferent?

And God grabs our attention and cups our faces close.

Jn Bridges b,w

God is not impotent — He kept a young girl from death and raised a middle age man from the dead and His words gave eyes light and ears reverberation and the Wounded Healer can heal.

And God is not indifferent — He’s wept over a grave and He catches every single one of your tears in a bottle because God can’t bear to waste grief and the way Christ most moves, is to be moved with compassion. (Matt. 9:36) The One who stretched out His hands on a Cross, stretches out His arms to touch us. (Mark 1:41)

God is not impotent. And God is not indifferent. And God hates injury, infirmity and injustice. Jesus came to heal and relieve from suffering, and God calls us to alleviate and decimate suffering. So if God allows suffering — it must be to allow something He loves even more than He hates suffering?

Sometimes God allows what He can hardly stand — to accomplish more than we understand.


Sometimes God allows what He can hardly stand — to accomplish more than we understand.

“It is what it is” — isn’t the whole story. All is not what it is — it is always more. What seems like your story — is but a line in the wholestory.

In every one happening — Christ is happening to do one million other things.

grad hat

In every one happening — Christ is happening to do one million other things.

What ifGod’s purposes are not so much for me to understand His plans: His plan is for me to understand Who He is. And He is my Peace.

What if: Prayer isn’t about getting what you desperately want, but about getting more of the One Who desperately wants you.

What if: You discover Jesus is really enough — when you discover Jesus is really all you have left.

Jesus was the only man of perfection — and He was a man of sorrows. He perfectly understands your heartbreaking sorrow — and stands heartbroken with you in it. No one can truly withstand suffering unless they know God truly stands with them.

And — The Wounded Healer always writes a story that offers healing: the healing here or the healing of heaven.

When God gives healing here — all He’s giving is more time here. Healing only gives time.And we already have all of time, because of Jesus. We’re given forever, time without end. Love heals us all — with love that breaks the bonds of time.

Whether we get less time or more time, to receive all time as a love gift. What if we didn’t always want the gift of more time — but appreciated more of time as a gift?

What if we didn’t always want the gift of more time — but appreciated more of time as a gift?

What if instead of asking: “Why did God take her already?” — the awed question was: “Why did we get the grace of her at all?”

What if we bravely lived what we humbly pray:

Your kingdom come —-
not our kingdom.

Your will be done —
not ours.

Your story be written —
not our way, but Your way, because You alone are The Way.

Because you alone are God — and we are not. And when we say we could write the Story better than God — we are saying that we are better than God.

We are always loved with the gift of a tender choice:

We can live bitter — or we can live Beloved.

We can walk away — or we can walk The Way — and let Him who is The Way show us the way through.

We can trust our changing feelings alone — or trust in the unchanging love of God alone.

We can feel abandoned — or we can abandon ourselves to God.

And the kindest truth is: When you feel most abandoned by God, is when you most can just abandon yourself to God.

When you feel most abandoned by God, is when you most can just abandon yourself to God.

You can feel nothing and still be held through everything.

And in everything there is this:

We only think we might write the story different because we don’t know the same things the Storyteller knows.

We only think we might write the story different because we don’t know the same things the Storyteller knows.

Who knows why the Storyteller allows heartbreak, but the answer must be important enough, because the Storyteller allows His heart to break too.

And this heals a bit of our hearts:

There is a Storyteller who writes Himself into the story and makes our souls well, because He walks with us until the story is finished in His perfect time, and His perfect way, for His perfect glory — so our souls are always well.


Hurricane Harvey Homecoming

harvey.jpgJoLynn and I have some missionary friends home in Houston from Bolivia, just in time to be greeted by Hurricane Harvey. Here is their story…

Dear Friends,                                                                                   August 2017

        It has been a horrible week!  What an awful ending to a wonderful summer!  How can I describe what we have been through.  We have so much to be thankful for.  No loss of life or property, our home didn’t flood and our families are safe.  But to see the loss and destruction all around us is just incomprehensible.  Our home church is still 3 feet under water, and is only accessible by boat.  The school I grew up going to was also under about 4 feet of water.  It has receded there, and they have begun the clean up.  What may be hard to understand is that our church and my school are about an hour from each other by freeway!  That is how widespread the destruction is.

Last Friday was the last normal day we had.  Not exactly normal.  School was canceled, and everyone raided the grocery stores and the gas stations.  I managed to get the last thing on the bread aisle- a bag of hamburger buns that looked like they had been run over by a cart, but they were mine!  That day we waited all day for the rain.  And then it started.   That night as we went to bed it was raining, and then the alerts started- one after the other- tornado alerts and flash flood alerts.  Over and over again, my phone then Scot’s phone and then 15 minutes later my phone then his phone.  We got no sleep and finally just turned our phones off to have some peace.  We still didn’t sleep well though.  What we didn’t realize was those alerts were warning us of immediate threats of tornadoes, and that we should have gotten in the closet.  I just thought they meant there were some in the Houston area.  I found out the next morning when people from all over the world started calling us, writing on face book and emailing us to see if we were okay.  That’s when we found out a tornado hit 10 minutes away about 5 in the morning.  I guess we should have paid attention to the alerts.  Oh well!

We sat glued to the tv all day Saturday and Sunday.  I can’t remember the last time I watched tv for 2 days straight.  When we weren’t watching tv, we were watching the water rise and rise and rise.  If we weren’t doing that we were texting, emailing and connecting with people on face book.  “How are you?”  “Any water in the house?”  “Still have power?”  Over and over again.  It got so high here, we were really worried.  And the rain just wouldn’t stop.  The hurricane was long gone, but not its effects.

We couldn’t get out of our subdivision for two days.  The water in the streets got up mid thigh.  Some cars in our neighborhood flooded and a few houses, but not many.  Why we were spared, I don’t know.  It would rain, then drain off.  We watched with horror as did the rest of the world the evacuations that were going on.  Then we started seeing neighborhoods closer to us, and then started seeing on face book people we knew, and their parents, and their pets needing to be evacuated.  Our side of town survived the flooding from the storm, but when they began to release water from the reservoir to prevent damage to it, utter destruction was unleashed.  Our church, our mission’s chairman, and so many many of our friends and church family went under water.  In a matter of hours the water was waist high with very little warning.  And what’s so awful is that they will be underwater for another 1-2 weeks.

I was amazed at how the sites and sounds of the neighborhood have changed.  Walking Buddy in the morning I no longer hear the cheerful sound of the school bus, and the laughter of happy children waiting to go to school, or the garbage collectors as they whistle and yell to each other.  In its place we now hear military helicopters overhead, chain saws cutting up tree branches, and boat motors as they go up and down the flooded streets.  The sites we see are just bazaar- fish in people’s front yards, dead deer on the freeway, convoys of national guard personnel and boats everywhere.  Never in my life have I seen so many boats- motor boats, canoes, kayaks, inflatable rafts and air boats.  It has become the new norm.

We have been able to help in several ways.  Scot went to volunteer at a couple of shelters early on, but they didn’t need any more help those days.  One day we went to help some friends get their furniture off the floor in case they flooded.  The next day Erin and I went to a church to do clothing distribution.  You can not imagine how many donations came in.  Their entire children’s wing- left to right, top to bottom was covered in clothes.  The national guard came to get them when we were there and we made human chains to pass the huge bags of clothes to the cars waiting to take them to shelters.  Then I came home and made calls to help coordinate care for families that were affected by the flooding.  Then I went with Austin to get his senior pictures taken.  So random, but we had had that appointment for a while, but didn’t expect they were open.  They called and told us to come on in if we wanted, so we did.  Then that night there was a church meeting to plan for care for our church body.  The next day Scot and Austin went to help friends from church move their furniture while I went on a demolition team to knock the sheet rock out of some houses.  When I got to the subdivision I got all choked up.  One after another, house after house, there was furniture, appliances, carpet all over the front yard.  It was as if it was a giant garage sale, but everything was destroyed.  All I did was sweep up sheet rock- for 4 hours.  And that was just one house.  And the teams were going from house to house to help people get their sheet rock knocked out so that they can dry out.
Today our family went to help a friend from church pull up their carpet.  We had to park a ways away because of the flooding and she had to come and escort us in because the police are trying to prevent looting.  We walked through over knee high water.  This beautiful subdivision was just a lake.  They had 3 inches of water in the house, but even with that little it was devastating.  It was hard to see as this was the house that I went to every week this year for Bible Study.  And the water was still all the way up their sidewalk not far from the front door.  It was just surreal as I heard a noise and looked out the window to see two men in a boat floating by the house.  I just wanted to scream- this is all so crazy!  As we left there was a steady stream of people coming in on boats, carrying fans, dehumidifiers, huge boxes of pizza, packages of water and more.

Though we have lost nothing, so much has changed.  Austin had one week of his senior year, and now two weeks are canceled.  He was excited about being on the varsity football team, but now his first 3 games have been canceled.  The national guard has taken over his high school, and so we have heard he will be transferred to another high school while they are there.  I was so excited about being part of the MOPS ministry, but now our entire children’s wing is under water and so all is on hold.  A Sunday school luncheon, a luncheon with a high school friend and a get together with a Bible study group- all canceled.   Scot had worked so hard for months to network with pastors to share our ministry with them and had meetings scheduled with 3 different churches.  All have been canceled!

We need your prayers!  All of us need your prayers!  Pray the water would go down, pray for safety, pray for wise decisions, pray for peace, pray for finances, pray for outreach.  So many did not have flood insurance.  If you want to help you can come to Houston and be part of a relief team through Bayou City Fellowship at bayoucityfellowship.com  If you want to give, our church has a fund for hurricane victims and for their reconstruction.  Go to bridgepointbible.org

The other day during my prayer time the second verse of “It is well with my soul” came to mind.  “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed his own blood for my soul.”  I thought to myself right now we are being buffeted, we are going through trials, but we have the assurance that the Lord sees us, cares for us and has saved us.  Really that’s the most important thing!

In His Love,

Robin for the Ullriches



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How A Mennonite Buys A House: 4 Tips To Stay Married

I should write a blog. When Your Daughter Marries a Mennonite. But it wouldn’t be as good as this one…


FB_IMG_1502827331831My husband and I recently began the journey of buying our first home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. It would be easy to assume when you and your Mennonite spouse decide to buy a home, you’d both be looking for a house. That would be wrong. YOU are looking for a house. Your spouse is looking to restore the glory days of his upbringing and the values of country living.

Our budget is slightly above the affordability of shoe box. Combined with the stress of our different cultural backgrounds, remaining married is no foregone conclusion.

Here’s how Mennonite buys a house:

  1. They Are Looking For A Deal.

Ah, expenses. Mennonite kryptonite. We  have considered foreclosures where I believe the best remedy is burning it down or an exorcism. Channel your inner Joanna Gaines because you are moving into a “fixer upper”. They will NOT pay extra for frivolous things like a roof…

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