Monday, February 28, 2005

Non-Christians and the Rules

In my last post, I spent a considerable amount of time showing how I love rules and why they are important to me as a Christian. As I wrote, the rules -- or the Law as the Bible calls them -- point us to God and push us to be the best we can be. But I would be remiss if I didn't point out the relationship between the non-Christian and the rules. That seems to be a love-hate relationship.

On one hand, the non-Christian has little use for rules which conflict with his or her own preferences. Actually we all have this problem. Don't like the speed limit? Put it to the floor! Ignore the rule. . . until you see the squad car up ahead. Face it, the easy way out of the whole "rules scenario" is to ignore the rules. Justify it to yourself and put it to the floor. It can be done by denial of truth or a preference for a lie. But there is an element of hatred to the relationship between the non-Christian and the rules.

But there is also a sense in which a non-Christian's best friend is the rules. He leans on the rules with wild abandon. How so? Because the if the non-Christian believes that there is anything awaiting after death, his only hope of reward is that he kept enough of the rules to qualify. The argument has been made that if there is a heaven and a hell, that hell is for the truly bad and that heaven is waiting for those who don't break too many rules -- at least not as many as the really bad folks. In essence, the non-Christian is hoping that keeping the rules is what saves.

Interesting, isn't it. The presence or even the quality of the afterlife being based upon how well you keep the rules. Of course it's completely inaccurate. After all, how do you decide how many rules you can break? 100? 2000? 1,000,000? Is there a cutoff?

There is a cutoff. It's one. One sin and you're hopeless to get to heaven by obeying the rules.

This is what Christianity is all about. Don't be fooled by anything you've heard growing up. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security that you can work your way into heaven. You can't do it. Neither can I. Christianity is all about accepting Christ as your "ticket" to heaven. His perfect record (sinless) is put in the place of our imperfect record (sinful). That's what Christianity is all about. It isn't about leaning on the rules, as so many uninformed people assume. It's all about leaning on the only One who kept the rules perfectly.

I don't like being a preachy guy on this blog, and I know this came out that way, so forgive me for that. But that is my heart. I don't want anybody operating on false impressions. If you think the rules are the key to heaven, you're sadly mistaken. And if you think that there are no rules -- no absolutely true moral standards -- then you are also sadly mistaken. There are many objective truths which tend to be pushed behind all the subjective opinions. And those rules are not there to be ignored.

I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it is at once so easy and so difficult. Easy to trust Him. Difficult to learn that you, yourself are not trustworthy. I came to understand this the hard way, kicking and screaming all the way. I know it's a tough journey. But finding the truth is worth the effort.

I Love Rules

The family sat down to play a new game yesterday. Actually it wasn't new, but we just opened it. Nobody knew how to play. When I came downstairs all I saw was a deck of cards, a bunch of red chips and a blue plastic doo-dad which, I figured, was to hold the cards. But what I didn't see was the rules. Unbeknownst to me, my 13 year old son was on the other side of the room with a white sheet of paper with the rules, trying to make sense of them. I, on the other hand, was staring at the blue thing, trying to make sense out of that. And I realized that without the rules, we might as well be playing poker or Old Maid or even tiddlywinks because there was no obvious point to these three pieces of gaming equipment all sitting together on the living room floor. Finally my son produced the sheet of rules and we sat down to play.

I love rules. Not because I'm a pastor and I like to control the lives of my congregation, but because without them we're lost. Think about it. Don't we appreciate it that we have laws to keep us from anarchy? Don't we like to have limits so we know how far we can push it? Isn't it great to have the law written out so that we can figure out how to cheat? From tax codes to professional sports rulebooks, we have standards spelled out and I contend we can't do without them. Sure some people cheat, but for the vast majority the rules not only keep us from going over the line, but it also pushes us up to the line. We are encouraged to live up to the rules.

The psalmist saved the longest chapter of the Bible to rave endlessly about God's Law. Psalm 119 reads almost like a love poem to a rulebook. "With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches." Now come on, have you ever felt that way about rules? Now consider that the Law the psalmist was carrying on about was the Old Testament Law -- not just the Ten Commandments, but all 513 or so laws given in the first five books of the Bible. It sounds too restrictive to rejoice over like getting a million dollar tax refund, but that's the attitude he sings about.

One of the big criticisms of Christianity is that it's simply a bunch of repressive rules designed to keep us in check. The psalmist disagrees vehemently. "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. . . Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them. The entrance of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands." This doesn't sound like a repressed man to me! He sounds thrilled silly!

Do we fully appreciate having the rules? Are we so busy worrying about what we can't do that we don't see how free we are? Do we not see how the rules push us toward Him? That's what Paul kept trying to tell us in his letters. The Law doesn't save. It shows us our sinfulness and points us to the Savior who lived up to the Law.

Many people set out to read the Bible all the way through, especially at the beginning of the year. Why don't most of those people complete that task? One word: Leviticus. We fly through Genesis, fueled by the excitement of a new task and the familiarity of many of the stories. Exodus begins with Moses and the crossing of the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds) and we get the stone tablets. Then in Leviticus, we start reading about burnt offerings and grain offerings and fellowship offerings and they all start to run together. Then we get the dietary laws which are exciting as reading a cookbook. Then it's disease and mildew and blood and about here we close up the book and turn on the TV. And we just can't go back to more rules about ceremonial uncleanness. The brain begins to scream, "NO! NOT THAT AGAIN! I CAN'T TAKE IT!" The way most people actually fulfill the pledge to read the whole Bible is with a schedule of readings -- one that doesn't let us die in the desert of Leviticus. We get a little more "meat" mixed in with the grain offerings.

I've been inspired (or maybe prodded by the Holy Spirit) to start a Bible reading schedule again. I haven't done this since I was in my twenties. As a pastor, I find myself in the Word a lot for sermon preparation and for teaching, but not nearly enough for devotional time. I've read biographies of pastors who at some point swear off reading all books but the Bible, and I think I understand why they would do that. I learn more from a passage of Scripture when I allow it to speak to me, instead of reading it to work it into a sermon. And I certainly need more of that in my life. And I know that the only way that's going to happen is if I have a schedule -- a set of rules which tells me what to read and when to read it. Again the rules come to the rescue!

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Lifting Up, Not Pushing Down

The Academy Awards are on tonight. From what I've been told, anyway. I'm not much into things like that. I don't need to see everyone in their new designer dresses, and since I haven't seen the movies I really don't care who wins. Plus there's something about movie stars giving awards to movie stars that really bores me. I could live without award shows just fine.

Same with political elections. The only way to get elected, it seems, is to sling mud. It doesn't matter what kind or how old it is (or even if it's true or not), mud is the weapon of choice. Most politicians feel they only rise to the top by pushing their opponent down. Most of the country is sick of it, yet it continues because it seems to work. Even candidates who run a "clean campaign" eventually either get smeared with dirt or respond with a return mud volley. It gets depressing to watch. Even with the outcry against it, many voters with a preference even resort to it. It's easy to put someone down. Much easier than singing the praises of your own candidate.

I shared this paragraph with the congregation this morning. It's from a comic named Brad Stine in his book, Being a Christian Without Being an Idiot. Cool title, huh? But he did a fine job of articulating many of the things I've been trying to say for quite a while.
Still I'm looking for the rise of the neo-Christian in this country. Educated in his faith, desperate for God, and daily sacrificing his flesh for the sake of the lost by being real, admitting his weaknesses; yet never ceasing from moving forward in the quest, not to ever demean other religions or ideologies, but simply, by education, reason, and practice to lift up the name of Christianity.

My correction would be that we are to lift up the name of Christ, but aside from that Stine hit it on the head. Instead of marching to the tune of Onward, Christian Soldiers all the time, we as Christians need to lift up Jesus Christ by the way we live our lives. Sure, it's easier to take potshots at atheists and shoot flames at Hindus and talk down the Moslems and badmouth the Humanists, but our concern should be lifting high the cross of Christ. There is nothing wrong with debating or even calling a sin a sin. But tearing down in not the goal. The goal is presenting, living, learning, experiencing, and demonstrating the love of Jesus.

Jesus dealt with people, not with condemnation (except for the corrupt religious leaders) but with compassion, forgiveness and instruction to "Go and sin no more." My prayer that is all that I do -- explaining Christian doctrine, dealing with people I meet, playing with the kids, preaching His word and whatever else I do during the day -- will all be done in the spirit of lifting up Christ, and not pushing down others. It is also my prayer for all Christians world-wide.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Fighting Groucho

I love Marx Brothers movies. I realize many folks have little patience with old black and white movies, especially those folks too young to remember black and white television, but there is something about those movies. There were five brothers when the boys started out in show business, but "Gummo" stepped out of the act to run the business portion. Then after a couple of broadway plays and a few movies, "Zeppo" dropped out. To this day, you have to be a real hard-core Marxist to recognize Zeppo or Gummo. But the other three became true legends. "Chico" was not only an incredible pianist but became a lovable character, complete with fake Italian accent. "Harpo" the silent clown -- goofy and silly as possible, then suddenly picking up a harp and amazing you with his talent.

Oh, and ladies and gentlemen, the star of our show. . . the one, the only, GROUCHO! He of the greasepaint mustache and the endless supply of one-liners. Groucho could insult you, himself and everyone in the theatre in one instant and be completely adorable the next. The quotes are seemingly endless:

"One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."

"The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made."

"Those are my principles. If you don't like them I have others."

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."

I even dressed as Groucho one Halloween. Black suit, glasses, painted-on mustache and cigar and I was set to go. I would have loved to have been Groucho. Imagine always having the snappy comeback or the perfect thing to say. To watch Groucho is to watch a man who didn't pretend to be much of an actor or a singer. In the movies, from the look in his eyes you could tell he wasn't taking himself seriously. He seemed to be saying, "Look you and I both know this is just make-believe. Relax and have some laughs."

Near the beginning of the movie, Horse Feathers, Groucho breaks into his big number. Some of the lyrics represent well what that character was all about:

I don't care what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I'm against it!

Groucho was there to be the contrarian -- always disagreeing just to be difficult. And while it's funny to watch, those who are real-life Grouchos can certain foul up anything. Now there aren't many folks who will argue just to argue. But there are plenty of people who are so stuck in their ways that they will oppose anything new that comes down the pike. It doesn't matter how much sense it makes, they're against it.

One of the things I hate to see is arguing among believers. Don't get me wrong, I love a good debate. But when the local Groucho starts calling people heretics for having drums in a worship service or when Grouchette claims that people who use a Bible version not approved by King James, then I have big problems. I've witnessed fights over smaller items than this also, but among some folks there is no room for compromise or even study of the issue. It's my way or the highway! And it wouldn't be so bad if it was a simple debate, or they could agree to disagree. But no, it's a matter of life or death -- heaven or hell, and "those who disagree with me be damned!"

There are people within the family of God whose beliefs consist of what they were told while growing up. That wouldn't be such a big issue, but sometimes these things are just plain wrong. This is the same type of attitude which allowed discrimination against African-Americans in the South well into the 1960s. I still see this attitude where if John 3:16 uses the word "believes" instead of "believeth", then it's not really the Bible. If that mindset was based on actual evidence, then okay. But most always it comes from "That's not the way I learned it growing up, so it must be wrong."

Then there folks on the other side. I've read a few blogs of people who denounce everything the church is doing and has ever done. A church uses pews? Well, we can never use pews. Call a service "morning worship"? Well we'll call it a "worship party" or something like that. Small groups? No, let's do kick-back partners. Mostly it becomes, "If it's the way I learned it growing up, then it must be wrong."

In my denomination, we are in the midst of reorganization. And sure enough there are signs of Grouchos who are singing, "I'm against it!" about anything that isn't status quo and Grouchos who are singing, "I'm against it!" about anything that is status quo. Something's gotta give.

Why do we act like this? Most of us fit the bill every once in a while. Everything's all right or everything's all wrong. I've always been a logical guy. Maybe too much Mr. Spock influence from Star Trek. Whatever. I actually enjoy debating and tossing around issues because it helps sharpen my beliefs. I can learn from someone with the opposite viewpoint, even if he is completely wrong. It is easier to reason when we are reasonable. But within us is a rebellious streak. We don't like to be told what to do. We don't like to be told we are wrong. We are living in the Burger King generation -- we want to "have it our way." And far too often in our zeal to defend our own position, we condemn those who disagree. That is wrong, plain and simple.

Among Christians, not loving our fellow believers is a direct rebellion against the teachings of Jesus. Among all people, not loving another group is usually decked out in wrapping paper of selfishness, tied up with the ribbon of mistrust and wearing a big bow of laziness. "Those people? I'm against 'em!" No time or energy to find out about them. Just paint with a broad brush and be done with them.

This problem isn't going away soon. The Jews and Palestinians. The Indians and the Pakistanis. The Republicans and the Democrats. Cats and mice. We naturally take sides, and whatever the other side says, "I'm against it!" But my hope is for my Christian brothers and sisters. My hope is not merely for a spirit of compromise, but for a spirit of love. . . the same love that is supposed to be a badge for all the world to see. Stand strong for true doctrine, yes. But the hatred and condemnation of other believers must cease or the distinctive which is supposed to prove the truth of Jesus' message will be lost upon those who need that truth.

The Grouchos of the world must wipe off the greasepaint mustache, put out the cigar and learn to reason despite honest disagreement and learn to love before, during and after the debate.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Hounding God

We have two dogs. One is a stray who literally came to the door and adopted us. The other is a purebred. The stray we didn't know what we were getting. She was still a pup and we really couldn't decipher any specific breed characteristics from looking at her. Kind of like pot luck in the school cafeteria -- you don't know what's in there! But the purebred dog came with papers and a breed history featuring specific traits so we would know what we were getting ourselves into. But sometimes even that doesn't prepare you.

Harvey is a basset hound. In every sense of the words, he is a basset hound. Straight off the box of Hush Puppies. Long body, long ears, droopy face, too much skin, red around the eyes, short-legged, feet pointing outward, basset hound. Bassets were built with a purpose. They are built to track game, so that snout of his is extremely sensitive to smells. Any smells. Any faint odor at all. This dog will sometimes stand and sniff, apparently on the trail of a Brontosaurus or a Wooly Mammoth since I sure can't see any recent animal evidence. Everything with a basset is geared towards the nose. Even the ears are long so that they drag the underbrush to uncover more scents for the hound to sniff and follow. He is not ruled by brain, by heart or by sexual desire -- it's all about the nose. That also means that he's happy to come right when I call. . . as long as he isn't busy smelling something. And as I've said, he's ALWAYS smelling something!!

It can be frustrating. I've owned dogs most every day I've been alive. All kinds of dogs. And the common factor in all of them is that they love to be good. Pleasing me is usually high on the canine priority list. Maybe that's why I like dogs so much. But Harvey loves to be good. . . as long as isn't busy smelling something. That means he has other priorities. The basset list of importance begins with whatever is at the other end of the nose. It doesn't matter how much I work with him, the nose has to come first, even when I'm standing outside in sub-zero weather calling for him to get up to the house from the woods. I can yell and scream, jump up and down and call him names and he still smells every last inch of ground, thus slowing his re-entry into the house, and also delaying the beginning of my thawing. Why can't this dog work on my schedule, doing the things I tell him to do? He's MY dog!

It's odd. I go through this with my dog, getting him to do what I want, when I want it. Then sometimes I find myself doing the same thing with God. I tell Him what I want, when I want it, and I have the nerve to be surprised when it doesn't happen. Like God is my faithful retriever or something. And when I catch myself in this mindset I feel like Homer Simpson on a brilliant day.

In my teens group, we've been studying the temptation of Jesus. Before Jesus got started with His ministry, He was led out into the desert for 40 days. After a while Satan came around to test Him to see what kind of Messiah this Jesus was going to be. Can He do miracles? Is He into power trips? What makes Him tick? So Satan finds Jesus in extreme hunger and tells Him, "Why don't you make bread out of those stones? I know you're hungry." I've never been as hungry as a man who hasn't eaten in over a month. If I were, I just might eat my way through leftovers from Fear Factor just to get something in my belly.

But that's the situation Jesus was in. And Satan wants to see if Jesus will show him a miracle. "If you're really the Son of God. . .," that kind of thing. Will Jesus do a parlor trick to prove who He is? Not on your life. And He didn't. You see, Satan said, "You can't really be who You say You are if you can't do this to feed Yourself." Jesus put Satan on notice that you can't hound Him into doing something to prove His identity.

I know people who don't believe in God. Actually most of them admit that they just don't know or that they just don't want to think about it. But the major item holding them back is that God won't do what they want Him to do. "How can God be God if I have cancer?" "How can I believe in God if He won't get me out of debt?" "Why should I believe in God if my life is a mess?" "How can there be a God if there is so much evil in the world?"

Why would we think that God is only God if He behaves as we want Him to? Why would God have to justify His actions to us or to validate Himself to us? Why do we think that God should obey us like the family dog?

Doesn't God want us to be happy? Yes, but happy in Him. Sometimes when we ask God for something, His answer is "no" -- not because He's being mean or because He can't do it, but because in His wisdom He knows it's not the right thing. We can kick and scream and call Him names and it won't help. We can jump up and down like a two year-old and it won't matter. But the best part is that God will comfort us, even when He tells us "no".

Still I know that there will be times when God disappoints me. There will be occasions where God doesn't do what I think should be done.

I hate it when I treat God like a dog.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

My Head Just May Explode

God is good, my friends.

I began this blog mostly as an outlet for me to write. As a pastor I get to stand in front of a small group of people on Sunday mornings and preach God's Word, and it's an awesome responsibility. But there are times when I have 3 or 4 sermons rolling around inside my head with no place to put them. So, I figured, a blog would be a good way to get this stuff out. I used to be the same way years ago when I worked in radio. I would have 4-6 hours per day on the air to talk about stuff, but if I would take any time off then that stuff would bottle up until I could get back in front of a working microphone again to release the brain pressure. So that feeling isn't new to me.

But there are also those times when I am running low on ideas, thoughts, or most anything else for that matter. Sometimes it lasts for a week or two, sometimes longer. I usually have enough prepared ahead of time so that Sunday morning is still well taken care of, but by Sunday evening my brain is emptied out. These periods of spiritual dryness are a part of life. I'd be surprised if anybody got through life without them. And those dry times caused me a bit of concern when I started this blog. I figured I'd run full steam for a couple of weeks, then start to run out of things to say -- kinda like after spending 15 years as husband and wife, all the cute little stories about our childhood have already been told. In short, I figured this would dry up.

Funny thing. It's working in the exact opposite way. God has filled my head to the point where the National Weather Service may have to issue a warning about the high pressure area betwixt my ears. I see God in everything. Don't take that to mean my theology is out of whack, but that the signs of the Creator are found in the everyday tasks, the smile of a child, the pages of Scripture, Internet images beaming from my monitor, and everyplace else. It's reassuring to know that when we are in true need, that God supplies the need. Sometimes in ways we don't expect. Sometimes in quantities we don't expect. God is filling the "input" slot at record pace, and it's phenominal to experience.

While cruising around the worldwide web, I stumbled across this story at Effortless Grace. In it, Tom tells about reaching the low point of his life after being betrayed by a co-worker costing him his job, then betrayed by his wife costing him his marriage. And at that point of meltdown wondering where God was in all this, the phone rang. It was an acquaintance who felt led to call, although he wasn't sure why. Tom knew why. It was God's reassurance. Read the full story. Tom tells it better than I do.

But the point remains. God provides when we need it. The advantage to being a Christian is not just what happens to us in the afterlife. Christ isn't simply "fire insurance". Sure, that's great, but there are advantages to being in Christ before death as well. And one such advantage is His presence. He sees you when you're sleeping and He knows when you're awake, but it's much more special. God sees to it that our needs are met -- even the deepest spiritual needs that we are too afraid to share with any other human being.

God is good, my friends. But if I don't get some more things written and some new projects underway, my head just may explode.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Seeking some answers

I'm including this here for anyone who has wrestled with basic questions about Christianity. This is a response to another blogger who is wondering if her notions of Evangelicals are accurate. We've had only brief exchanges previously, so you're not missing much background except for the fact that this blogger is studying to be a lawyer. I copy my responses here along with her four questions:

Yeah, this does have the potential to be a long response, but I can deal with it if you can! Actually I'll try to be brief, be feel free to ask me to further explain anything you want. What you'll find is that I don't know all the answers. I doubt you'll find anyone who does. But we'll work with what we've been given for the time being.

I will make this preface: the fact that evangelicals are not alien to you may either be helpful or quite the opposite. I'm not into titles and sub-groups and the like. I'm into Jesus. Sometimes that puts me at odds with people who are more interested in the church than in the One we're supposed to be following. But then again, we're all sinners. I've got my own hang-ups.

1. Do you believe that I am going to hell because I do not accept the divinity of Christ?

First, I don't tell anyone where they are headed after death. That's not my call. That's God's call. I believe in hell because it is described in the Bible by Jesus Himself. I accept the divinity of Christ because Jesus made those claims Himself, and if He was lying then He is worthless to us all. How to avoid hell is pretty simple. It's realizing that you are a sinner (like the rest of us). Since you aren't perfect and desire to be in heaven with a perfect God, something's gotta give. That "something" is Jesus who lived perfectly and died. He takes the penalty of death for us, so that positionally we can be found "perfect" before God because we have Jesus' record as our own. (Your interest in law should make this easier to understand!)

So what I see in the Bible is that your eternal destination is based upon your relationship, not upon what you believe. That said, if your relationship is strong, then your belief will be brought toward the truth, just as my relationship with my wife became stronger the more time I got to spend with her during our dating days.

2. Do you believe that every word of the Bible is true? What about the parts that contradict one another?

Yes, every word is true. Please remember that the Bible was not written in English, but in Hebrew and Greek and occasionally things are "lost in translation" so to speak. The words in the original languages are true. As to contradictions, many people have tried to show me these, but their explanations don't wash. Even in the days when I was looking for any excuse to disbelieve the Bible, they didn't seem like contradictions, but the same story told by different witnesses. I'd be happy to look into any contradictions you may wonder about though.

One caution though, every word in the Bible is not meant to be taken literally. The earthly authors of Scripture use figures of speech freely, as does Jesus. Christ called Himself the door, but He was not made of wood, nor did He have hinges allowing Him to be shut!

3. What is your ultimate authority on the fact that the Bible is divinely inspired?

Oooh. Good question. Here is what I have found in short. First, books from antiquity exist only in copies of the originals. The works of Homes, Julius Caesar, etc. are available to us in pieces and copies of manuscripts. If a written work has 500 copies or pieces of copies around today for us to look at, critics have no problem agreeing that the copies we have are an accurate copy of what was originally written. Julius Caesar's works have a little more than 500 copies or partial copies extant today. The Bible has tens of thousands of copies extant today. So the manuscripts we have today are faithful to the originals 100 percent.

Second, archaeological discoveries have confirmed the details which are written about in the Bible, even though the overwhelming sentiment among scientists had been that the Bible's information was wrong. The Bible has not been disproven archaelogically despite many efforts to do just that. Simon Greenleaf and Josh McDowell are two who went digging to disprove the Bible and instead were convinced of it's accuracy.

Third, the Bible is filled with prophecy. The last portions of the Old Testament are filled with prophetic utterances detailing the futures of pretty much every nation in the Middle East at that time. Those prophecies came to pass. And archaeological dating has proven that these were not "hindsight prophecies" - in other words they were not predicted after they happened. Most of the time in fact, a couple hundred years passes between prophecy and fulfillment.

Of course Jesus was not only prophecied about, but He also made some prophecy Himself. All the prophecies of the coming Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus - even the ones He could not have fulfilled "on purpose". Plus it was Jesus who predicted the fall of the temple in Jerusalem, which was an unthinkable event at the time. That temple fell in 70 A.D. Those are just a few examples.With all this (and more) going for it, the inspiration of the Bible must be supernatural in origin. That pretty much leaves it to God. That is what proves it to me.

4. Does God offer only one path to salvation? If so, what about all those people in the non-Christian world? Did God allow their creation so that they can go to hell?

Jesus says that no one comes to the Father but through Him. Now I'm not one to argue with Jesus. So then we have to deal with what God does for these people.

Your last question under #4 is an interesting one. In effect God allows everyone's creation so that they can choose for themselves where they end up. God, being God, knows what we will choose. So He is fully aware that many will not choose Him. But He gives US the choice.

What about those who have never heard? First of all, God is a fair God and a just God. Paul explains in Romans that God gave us all certain signs to point us to Him. One sign is creation itself. The fact that there is so much beauty and design is supposed to point us to God. Another sign is our conscinece. We have been given a sense of right and wrong within us. Paul calls it "the law written on our hearts." We may learn to ignore conscience, but it remains.Now these signs should push us toward seeking God... the One who created us and everything else, and the One who gives us a sense of right and wrong. The Bible says that if we seek, we will find. In other words, if creation and conscience cause a person to seek God, God will provide more light. I beleive that many missionary journeys have been answers to prayer for people who were seeking God but didn't know where to look. God keeps His promises.

I also fully realize that it is very easy for us to be lazy and not seek God even though evidence is around us, opting instead for any other explanation to avoid dealing with Someone bigger than us. But that's all part of the choice He gives us. The rest is up to us. And in a sense, it's tougher to seek Christ in a country like the US, where churches are in every town. Americans hear a little about Christ, find something offensive, and run the other way without all the evidence. That's why I admire your search. You're trying to get the evidence.

There. That's the short version! Seriously, I'm up for any clarifications or challenges or whatever you'd like.

That same deal extends to anyone reading this post. Feel free to ask questions or make challenges.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


The line was funny. Maybe it wasn't theologically correct, but it was funny. The movie was Oh, God! and the line came from the title character, portrayed by George Burns. The discussion was about miracles, and Burns, as God, talked about how there aren't many miracles anymore. The line was, "The last miracle I did was the '69 Mets!" Now I really believe there were a few miracles in between the Miracle Mets of 1969 and the release of Oh, God! in the mid 1970s. But the line was funny - especially coming from the lips of George Burns.

I did a ton of driving today. It was one of those days when everything I had to do was miles away from home. As I drove, I heard over and over again about what happened 25 years ago today. An incredibly young group of college hockey players took on a team from Russia in the 1980 Winter Olympic Games and came away with the most incredible upset in sports history. The kids from America beat what was essentially the Russian professional team 4-3. There was no way this should have happened. The Russian team regularly beat NHL teams and NHL all-star teams. The only way a group of Americans could take them out would be if a miracle happened.

A "miracle" did happen.

I was a senior in high school. Going to school in Indiana in the wintertime meant basketball. On that Friday night I was at a home basketball game at my high school, playing in the pep band. My friends and I had been following the Olympic hockey games, but we understood we would miss the game where Russia would thump us so we could play for the basketball crowd. In the third quarter, the public address announcer was handed a note: "I have this score from the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. In hockey, Final score: USA 4, Russia 3." For a couple of minutes basketball was forgotten. The crowd began the chant which had been echoing through Lake Placid, New York, "U-S-A! U-S-A!" National pride was as swollen as a stream near the end of the spring rains.

The saga of the 1980 U. S. Hockey team has been pegged as the "Miracle on Ice." The recent movie about the team was simply called, Miracle. The term "miracle" sure seems to be tossed around in a cavalier manner. Do we still see miracles today?

May I share a miracle with you? It involves a 38 year-old woman named Sarah Scantlin. In 1984, she was hit by a drunk driver leaving her severely injured and unable to speak. The only way she could communicate was by blinking her eyes - once for no, twice for yes. Then, twenty years after she was run down, a miracle happened. There's no other way to put it. Last September, out of nowhere, Sarah spoke. Not just once, but many times. The staff didn't even tell Sarah's parents for fear it was some kind of fluke. But it wasn't.

Sarah Scantlin's story is just one miracle. I'm convinced there are plenty more where that came from. Some miracles go completely unnoticed by us. Sure some things that people try to pass off as miracles can be explained away by science and the like. But there are too many times when I've seen doctors shrug their shoulders and say, "I don't know how it happened, but everything is alright."

We don't always get the miracles we want though. People still die while friends and relatives pray for that elusive miracle. And sometimes the big miracle don't come, yet the miracles are found in the little things.

And there are times when a little miracle would be good enough. If you are unaware of the situation of Terri Schiavo, please read some of the things being written. The short version is that Terri is mentally handicapped after a medical episode a few years ago. Her husband, who now has started a family with another woman, wishes to take Terri "off life support" to let her die. The catch is that "life support" is Terri's feeding tube and water. So letting Terri die means that her husband wants her to starve to death. Why? Because he says she wouldn't want to live a life like she is living now. Tomorrow the feeding tube is scheduled to be removed. Terri won't last more than a week without nourishment.

While I would want to see a true miracle happen -- Terri regaining more mental capacity -- I would be happy with a little miracle. That little miracle which would allow Terri to continue her life in a care center with constant support from her parents. That's the miracle I'm praying for, and I invite you to pray also. Read more about Terri Schiavo here.

Sometimes it's not the flashy miracles which are the most important. The Miracle Mets and the Miracle on Ice are sure showy and worthy of celebration, unless it's your team getting beat. But the true miracles, like Sarah Scantlin's recovery are those which should have the greatest effect on us and on our faith. But don't be fooled. God is still doing miracles. He still cares about our plight. And where He doesn't provide the miracle, He always provides the strength to carry on. Believe me, He does not desert us.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Now how much would you pay?

I'm of the age where I remember the Golden Age of music. That was the era when all the big hits of Top 40 radio were included on one 33 1/3 rpm vinyl disc from a company called K-Tel. These days, that idea is done with better packaging, better engineering and frankly, a lot better sales. I won't comment on which has the better music. They call the series, Now That's What I Call Music, volume whatever - I think they're up to around volume 18 by now. But today that kind of collection is hip (or cool or whatever "good" is these days). Back in the heyday of K-Tel, well, I was a typical Anti-K Snob. "Oh, that's just the K-tel record," I would sneer in disgust. I would never buy the K-Tel version - unless my parents absolutely wouldn't give me the money for the real record.

The knock against K-Tel Records was that usually they were ordered from television commercials. Nothing made a product seem cheap and worthless like a cheesy tv commercial. These weren't 30 minute infomercials. Usually the spots were no more than two minutes long, mercifully. And perhaps what made the K-Tel Greatest Hits packages seem so lame were their peers from the world of commercial sales pitches. Who could forget the wonders of the Pocket Fisherman, the device which scrambled the egg inside the shell, the Ginsu knives, the Smokeless Ashtray, and, of course the Thighmaster! That stuff was so cheap that it made every other commercial seem cheap too.

But the King of the Useless TV Products was, in my opinion, the Clapper. You remember. "Clap on, clap off." Just clap your hands and the lights go out. That is if you clap your hands just right. The right amount of time between claps. The right cupping of the hands to make the right sound. You almost had to be a virtuoso to work the thing - at least that's what they told me. I never really had one. The closest I came to a clapper was a guy who lived in my dorm in college. He didn't have a clapper. He had a squeaker. It was a little thing that sounded like a weak dog toy, but it accomplished the same thing. The remote light switch. What a joke.

The truth is that most of that stuff advertised on television wasn't worth much. We always laughed at the ads, knowing that they were just trying to peddle junk. Now perhaps that stuff really worked, but I wasn't about to pay $29.99 plus shipping and handling to find out if they were being honest. Honestly it really didn't matter because that stuff had the reputation of being trash. I wasn't going to lower myself to buy a Smokeless Ashtray any more than I was going to invest in K-Tel records. Not even the Top SoftRock Hits of 1976.

I know plenty of people who have the same opinion of churches as I have of any product made by Ronco -- a waste of time that takes your money. Pocket Fisherman. . . Presbyterian -- they almost rhyme! They see absolutely no benefit to being a part of, or even being inside a church. To them, it takes about the same intelligence level to attend a church worship service as it does to order the Inside the Shell Egg Scrambler.

Some anti-church folk call themselves Christian. They may know Scripture and have their own ideas about Jesus, but reject involvement in a church. Why? One guy I know thinks the church stands more for organization and institution than for Jesus Christ. Another thinks that the church has changed Christian doctrine and that he's the only one who has the truth. Still another feels betrayed by the racism she experienced growing up in the midst of "church people." Some of the criticism has merit. Some doesn't.

Others reject the church just as they reject Christ. They call it a crutch or a way of fooling oneself. A sizeable number see the TV preacher/hucksters hawking autographed prayer cloths and it turns them off of any religion. Many just don't want to deal with church, maybe from a bad experience, maybe because they don't want to be told they're doing something wrong.

Now I certainly can't address all the problems and right all the wrongs committed by Christians and by churches. Even if everything could be smoothed over, the church would still be seen as "The Clapper" of the world -- sure it might work for some people, but it's really pretty useless. And that's sad. Sad because these folks lose out on living a true loving relationship. Sad because they miss the incredible experience of corporate worship. Sad because they don't get the opportunity to grow alongside brothers and sisters in Christ. And sad because they equate sinful, fallible humans with our sinless, infallible God.

I believe that a person can be a Christian without attending church. I also believe I could be a millionaire if I had 100,000,000 pennies in my pocket. But I wouldn't want to try to deal with either option. Staying away from a church is rarely anything but selfishness - a refusal to be a part of God's family. If we put God first, we can certainly put up with some of the extra-fallible church people in order to recieve His blessings and to serve Him by ministering through the church.

Maybe we need a set of Ginsu knives to cut through the bad reputation of the church in the minds of so many people. Or maybe we should do our best, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to transparently represent our God and Savior. Maybe we should reach out to those who have been burned by the church or by church people. And maybe we can stand for Christ Jesus instead of standing for the glory of the church and the glory of His people.

How much would you pay for that?

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Your Allegiance Is Showing

While watching the endless pre-race ceremonies for the Daytona 500 today, I noticed something that I should have noticed long ago. Maybe I've noticed before but put it out of my mind. Or maybe it was just too obvious. But after sitting through a program which looked like a watered-down Super Bowl halftime extravaganza (complete with an off-key former Beach Boy), we finally arrived at the National Anthem. As Vanessa Williams began to sing, there were the typical camera shots of race teams fidgiting while waiting for the song to end. We were treated to shots of crew members, some of whom actually stopped working for a minute to honor our country. There were the shots of guys fixing their hair which was out from under a ball cap for the first time today. But there were two shots which stood out to me today like never before.

One shot was of the crew around the #16 car which is sponsored by the
U. S. National Guard. The other was a satellite camera focused on a small unit of soldiers on the ground in Iraq. In these two scenes there was no primping. There was no one looking at a watch or looking through the crowd for women in tube tops. Not one person was getting ready to cheer for someone to yell, "Gentlemen start your engines!" You could tell that those pictured in these two scenes loved their country. The Anthem meant something different to them than to the guy with the Budweiser t-shirt and the Earnhardt cap. You knew by their actions that they were respectful of their country. It mattered to them. The Anthem wasn't just a pre-race tradition. It allowed them to express their allegiance to the U. S. A.

Those scenes meant something to me -- probably for a different reason that you might imagine. I began to think about outward signs of inward commitments. The troops in Iraq and the National Guard members at Daytona showed without a doubt that their commitment was real. What kind of outward signs do Christians have?

If I asked a non-believer about what Christians do, what would come to his mind? The things I usually hear are: intolerance, holier-than-thou attitudes, hypocrisy, judgmentalism, hatefulness and a few others I won't type on a family blog. Some of this is undeserved, but some truly isn't. I see far too much of this type behavior out of people who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ. Why are we like that at times? Well we're sinners, for starters. But that's hardly an excuse.

Jesus told us plainly how the world was supposed to tell us apart from the world. In the words of the old camp song, "They'll know we are Christians by our love." So why can't they know us that way? That is supposed to be our defining quality.

In the days of the early church, the believers were looked upon as great people to be around. "Sure, we may not want to be in their little cult, but they're good folks!" They noticed just how different the early Christians were. They were loving while the rest of the world was looking out for selfish interests. How things have changed! Too often Christians look just like everyone else. The only sign of our allegiance to Christ is a visit to church most Sundays.

There is an old question that preachers like to toss out to the congregation every so often: "If you were accused of being a Christian, would they find enough evidence to convict you?"

What would the evidence look like? It would start with love. Not the false kind of love that supports a friend no matter what bad decision she makes, but the true kind of love. Love standing for truth without condemnation. I cringe when I hear of homosexuals turned away from churches. Certainly Jesus didn't turn such people away. These are the very people who need the truth, spoken in love. We aren't the ones to be looking down on others. They are fellow sinners, after all. Our actions as followers of Christ should be modeled after Christ. Stand for love, not for acceptance of every sin. Stand for truth, not for condemning a fellow sinner.

As the National Anthem started today, the troops in Iraq snapped a salute. I could easily tell what was in their hearts. I hope and pray that as I go about my everyday life that my allegiance to my God and Savior is showing.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

14 years ago

Happy birthday, son.

Payton James
Feb. 19 - Feb. 20, 1991

You are not forgotten.

The Third Side

With all the recent discussion about organizational structure in our denomination, some of us have used the world wide web to compare notes. We do this via the web because, I believe, we're too cheap to buy gas to meet in person. And then there's the whole "Who's picking up the check?" deal. So we sit back in the comfort of our respective cushy chairs and compare and contrast what we've heard. One of my friends and I have exchanged multiple emails and countless words in discussion of the pros and cons of the current proposal. We had a pretty good debate going. Then we figured out that mostly we were saying the same thing. Sure he was coming at the argument from one side of the coin and I was coming at it from the other, but we've pretty much found out that it's the same coin. Of course my side is shinier!

Communication is a funny thing. One of my many mottos is, "Never assume that everyone shares the same frame of reference." We look at things from different points of view. I certainly know that, but I tend to forget it also. I forgot it in my discussion with my friend this week. Sometimes when we are sure we are communicating well, the other side still isn't getting the message. It may be our fault or it may be their fault, but good communication isn't guaranteed.

Never is that more evident than in the world of politics. I was reading this editorial by William Rusher in my local newspaper. Much of it is a lot of blathering about which party most religious people support. Interesting, I guess. But what caught my eye was part of this section:
This marks a major turn in our political history. America's Catholics, to take just one example, were predominantly Democrats until very recent times. Government aid to the needy was thoroughly congruent with Catholic interpretations of the Gospel message. But recently the passionate commitment of the Democratic Party to what amounts to abortion-on-demand has sharply eroded its Catholic support.

According to Rusher, Catholics sided with the Democrats due to social concerns until recently when the abortion issue moved those people to the Republican side. Now I don't want to get into abortion today. Politics either. But let's recognize that each political party has concerns for the poor. In general terms, the Democrats want the help run through the Federal government. We pay the government and they dish out the help. Generally the Republicans want help for the poor to come through private organizations, leaving the government out of the equation. There are pros and cons to each argument. The Democratic solution creates dependency to a faceless, unthinking beaurocracy. The Republican answer depends upon human beings who tend to be more concerned about self than about others. Simply put, if we want to help the poor (which is what we're supposed to be doing), we could really use a third side of the coin.

Christians seem to be as dead set in our ways as non-Christians. Too often we are unwilling to scrap our comfortable ways - even if they are not working. On the other side of the coin, some are willing to abandon everything as relics of the past in order to move into a new age. The ideal example is in the world of worship songs. Hymns or choruses? Piano and organ or guitar and drums? If you want to start an argument among Christians, music style is usually a good place to start. Of course the ridiculous part is that neither side is actually biblical. The argument has its basis in what we ourselves prefer. Jesus and the Twelve didn't have a pianist at the Last Supper. David actually played a stringed instrument and (gasp!) danced! We tend to look at worship as being for us instead of for the One to whom it is intended. We flip the coin from heads to tails and back, not realizing very often that it is the third side we need to focus upon.

If we start with what we are supposed to do then deal with the various ways we can accomplish those things, then and only then can we see the third side of the coin. We must start with the Bible and with prayer, then let the Holy Spirit lead us to the means to our end. We may convinced that "our side" is the shinier one. But have we taken a look at the third side?

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Dreams of the Everyday Househusband

The stereotypical standard was set by Michael Keaton in the 1983 flick, Mr. Mom: hard-working Dad forced to be a stay-at-home husband and father while his wife goes to work. Dad goes from being a clueless dolt to a well-meaning klutz, then eventually to a quality parent with a goofy sense of humor. It's the perfect fish-out-of-water story. What is a man doing at home with the kids anyway?

But despite the common stereotype, this Dad does just fine, thank you. Just like Michael Keaton's character found out, experience helps greatly. My church office is at home so I get the opportunity to be Mr. Mom quite often. The cooking, the dishes, the laundry. . . I can handle all that when I need to handle it.

As I write this, I'm all by myself. My three kids are asleep upstairs. My wife is two hours away on a shopping trip/vacation and won't be back until tomorrow night. She does this about once a year. She and a friend go somewhere to have fun together for three days or so. I don't mind much because she needs a little escape from the kids (and from me) and the housework (and from me) and the routine (and from me). She really doesn't even spend much money on these trips, so that makes it a win-win situation. But all of this means that I have to handle everything here at the homestead. Not that it's that tough; it's just that there's no escape!

I have reading to do. I have writing to do. I have errands to run and chores to do. I also have a three year-old daughter who wants me to play or dance or watch her play or watch her dance. She is very good and just plain adorable, but she isn't good background noise when I'm trying to comprehend a book or gather my thoughts to write a sermon.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I am so incredibly blessed by these three kids. My darling little girl is a child we never thought we could have, so that makes her that much more special. I love my two boys dearly. But I do understand why my wife needs to escape here on occasion. Bill Cosby used to say that wives are brain-damaged because they had to put up with the children's nonsense all day long. He just may have been right.

And all this just makes me appreciate my wife that much more. She puts up with a lot just from me, let alone the kids, but still she makes everything run smoothly. She is amazing. We don't celebrate Valentine's Day here at the house. I compare it to the heavy party crowd who stay home on New Year's Eve because all the amateurs drink on that night. We let the amateurs celebrate on February 14. What did we do this year for Valentine's Day? We watched what we watch every year -- the Westminster Dog Show on television. Picked the winner too. Who could ask for more? I have a Valentine every day and I love her deeply.

The Apostle Paul talked about having the gift of being single. I was not given that gift. I was made to be part of a team, and it's a mighty good team. I remember being single and I don't ever want to go back to that life again. Except maybe for a three-day escape.

I sometimes think of how much ministry I could do if I was a free agent with no ties to take up my time. It may sound good in theory, but in practice I know I wouldn't get much more done. God knows what he's doing giving me a wife and family after all. And mine are incredible blessings which are but a hint of the generosity of His hand. So as I head back downstairs to start another load of laundry and get ready to head to bed, I'll say a prayer for my wife who is away from me tonight and breathe a prayer of thanks for my wife who is always in my heart .

The Lost Ring

I wanted to share this cool story taken from Ravi Zacharias' book, Recapture the Wonder. He tells of seeing a picture in the newspaper of an older woman kneeling beside a flowerbed with one hand held high and a huge smile on her face.

The story was that this woman had been widowed for over a decade and a half. Shortly after her husband died she lost her wedding ring. She searched her house high and low but never found it. On this particular day, as she was gardening and digging up the soil to plant some flowers, she struck something. She dug her hands into the dirt, thinking it was a small stone, but saw something glistening. To her incredulous surprise, it was her wedding ring, lost to her for fifteen years. She grabbed it, held it high, and let out such a scream of utter delight that it brought all her neighbors out of their homes to see what had happened. A flood of memories bathed her soul. The ring brought back the feeling of decades of happiness spent with the one to whom she had committed her life, and she was filled with a joy that she could not contain.
What a great story! Can you imagine the feelings of this woman who had spent fifteen lonely years without her husband, to the point that some of the treasures of that relationship were lost in the recesses of her memory? It must have been like that vast separation was instantly removed and the one she had shared much of her life with was back beside her.

I can't help but be reminded of Luke 15 as I read that story. Luke 15 is a series of three stories told by Jesus about losing things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son. Jesus told those parables to illustrate how much our heavenly Father loves us. Even though we may feel like just another sheep in the fold, or just another coin in the purse, we matter to God. He stands with His arms outstretched, watching the horizon intently for our return to Him.

But the story of the lost ring puts the shoe on the other foot (or perhaps the ring on the other finger). It's the warning given to the church at Ephesus in Revelation -- repent and come back to your First Love. One of the saddest things that happens to Christians is that we get used to the Gospel. The stories become tales we've heard before. The worship becomes blind ritual. The relationship becomes stale and cold on the outside like a loaf of bread left outdoors on a November evening. All we have are our memories of how being a Christian used to feel, and those are buried so deep that they seem almost foreign to us. "How immature I used to be," we think, "back before I knew better."

Then something happens. Usually it's something traumatic like an accident or a illness. Sometimes it's just God getting our attention through a sermon or a poem or an old picture that has been stashed away for too long. But we hit on something. We may first think it nothing but a common occurance, but when we examine it closer. . . it's like precious gold! We realize that we have left God somewhere only to have Him buried in our lives by work, finances, selfishness, cars, children, and our pet sins that have accumulated over time. But in rediscovering our First Love, utter delight and pure joy flood our souls.

If you've never felt the overwhelming joy of rediscovering God, I invite you to start digging again. And if you, like me, have lived this time of joyfully finding God once again, don't allow the stuff of the world to cover Him up again. Take that ring. Shine it. Clean the precious stone set on top. Wear it proudly and let the love flow to your very soul. And never abandon your First Love again.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Pursuit of Knowledge

I was listening to the radio today and heard an interview with an author of a new book called The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest To Become the Smartest Person in the World. Catchy title, huh? The gimmick was that this guy named A. J. Jacobs felt like he wasn't pushing himself intellectually while writing for Entertainment Weekly about J-Lo, Cher and other such nonsense, so he decided to read. His reading material? The 32-volume Encyclopedia Brittanica! Light reading this wasn't. 33,000 pages. He said it took him about 18 months of reading six hours each day. Can you even imagine? He certainly filled his brain to capacity with all kinds of useless tidbits like the origins of ice hockey and the fact that lightning actually goes from ground to sky instead of the other way around. Unless Mr. Jacobs is trying to take on Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame, I don't see the point. What do you win by being the "smartest person in the world"?

Not that I am against knowledge for knowledge's sake, mind you. I have been gifted by God with a mind that remembers useless facts. I've mentioned this before. I know which group originally recorded "Muskrat Love" (America). I can tell you the capital of Portugal (Lisbon). I can name all 43 U. S. Presidents in order (Just trust me on that one). You don't want to play me in Trivial Pursuit. Knowledge is great. For that matter, encyclopedias are just fine too. My uncle sold World Book Encyclopedia for years and years, so I always had a volume at my fingertips. Knowing things is usually much better than not knowing things.

But knowledge isn't everything. Mr. Jacobs says he likes to drop these little informational gems at cocktail parties to impress people. Personally if someone started telling me about the invention of ice hockey, I'd be slowly backing away and looking for someone else to talk to. Knowledge puffs up, as the Bible says. The smarter we are, the prouder we are. We tend to look down on those who don't know as much as we do. Or at least those who don't know as much as we do on certain selected subjects which we deem "important" in our own subjective way.

Sometimes when I encourage a Christian to share his faith with someone else, he will try to back out. "What if she asks me a question I don't know the answer to?"

What a bizarre fear! Christianity doesn't automatically fill your brain with the mysteries of the universe. Principles of nuclear fusion aren't imparted to you at the altar. At least they certainly missed me. We shouldn't expect to know all the answers. If we knew all the answers, what would theologians have to argue with each other about? If we get a tough question, we just say we don't know, but we'll do some research and check back later. I've done it myself. There is a reason books are written: because we don't carry all knowledge around in our cerebrum, cerebellum and medulla oblongata. (I'm kinda surprised I remembered the parts of the brain!)

The truth is that knowledge is nice, but it doesn't save. There were some renegades in the early church who thought it did, but apparently their knowledge only misled them. That is no excuse to never learn -- especially about Christ. We are called to follow Him, but not from a distance. We are called to know Him. Not just know about Him; although that's a part of knowing Him. Knowing Christ is true Knowledge. I wish people would get that through their heads. I don't envy people who read the encyclopedia, but I do envy people who know Jesus better than I do because they have given themselves where I have held myself back. That is the knowledge I want. Oddly it is also the knowledge I can have simply by seeking Him.

Can you imagine what your relationship with Jesus would be like if you spent six hours a day for 18 months doing nothing but getting to know Him through worship, prayer, evangelism, discussion, Bible study and meditation on the Word? We don't have to set aside that kind of time, but that is the knowledge we must pursue. That is what we must make time for, even if it means missing The West Wing or Survivor or Hee Haw reruns. That is what I want my knowledge to be. Then just maybe I would be the smartest person in the world. But I still wouldn't be much fun at cocktail parties.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

"Guilty as charged, Your Honor!"

I'm a criminal. Guilty, plain and simple. I didn't know it until this week, but ignorance of the law is no excuse (so they tell me). In fact, I broke the law not even 48 hours ago. My weapon of choice? Banana nut bread.

It seems that back in 2001, the Indiana Legislature passed a law to require restaurants to use only "certified food handlers" which to me sounds like a bottom dollar circus act. But certified food handlers are those certified by the state to handle food meant for public consumption. Still sounds silly, huh? Well the idea is to make sure the food served in restaurants is not a public health hazard. Which, I guess, is good. Somebody running the french-fryer at Burger King should know when the things are done. The guy broiling my pork chops at the local greasy spoon should realize that pork shouldn't be served rare. I'm OK with that idea. But it seems the author of the law forgot to exclude churches and non-profit organizations, and nobody else caught it either -- until last week. Since our church is within Indiana's borders, this law, which took effect in January, has made me an outlaw; an attender and organizer of Pirate Potlucks.

Naturally, the Legislature is scrambling to amend the law to keep us church folk with green been casserole stuck between our teeth out of the pokey. I'm quite grateful. I get the image of the next church dinner being held speakeasy-style, with a secret knock and password to gain entrance, and two people stationed at the windows ready to warn the congregation in case of a raid. If I'm going to the slammer I'd rather be standing for my faith instead of for homemade chocolate cake. But I'll admit it's a close decision sometimes.

Most churches I have been a part of have an underlying and unspoken "food culture." The church I attended while growing up always had a breakfast for Easter Sunday consisting solely of . . . pie. Yes, a pie breakfast! Betty Crocker could have been our church mascot. The other congregations I have been a part of have thrived on potlucks and homemade goodies as well. The church I currently serve is certainly addicted to food. I tell other pastors that we don't even have a board meeting without bringing food. They snicker, not realizing that I'm not lying. The aforementioned banana nut bread was from our board meeting Sunday night. It was so good I almost finished the loaf! We actually had a family decide to attend another church because the husband had weight problems and couldn't trust himself around us. I'm hoping they aren't attending my old "Pie Breakfast" church.

Now don't misunderstand. There is no concession stand on Sunday morning, but food is a part of fellowship at most churches. It's easier to get to know someone over a sweet roll and coffee than simply standing around asking awkward questions. But is it the right message for a church to send?

I was reading this week where a Christian author compared homosexuality and gluttony. He made the argument that both were sins, but fat men weren't kept out of the pastorate like homosexuals were. Of course he has a point to a degree. Gluttony is a sin, but eating is something we have to do to survive. The sin comes in our desire for food coming before our desire for God, and in not taking care of the body we have been given. Homosexuality is not something we are called to do in moderation. Hence the difference in my book, as far as ministry is concerned. Still, food can become an idol just like anything else we devote ourselves to. And I know that I'm not taking care of my body like it was a precious gift from God. So again I'm guilty.

The law should be amended in the next week or so, but tomorrow night when we dish out the snacks for the youth group we'll be rebels and renegades. We will be thumbing our collective noses at the law and licking our collective fingers. But I want to make sure that I'm taking better care of what God has given me. Lord, help me through the next board meeting!

Monday, February 14, 2005

What are you willing to die for?

Steve at whatever posted about the current situation in our denomination. After a proposal to disband our denomination and join another failed, we are faced with a problem of direction. Steve asked the question, "What do we really care about?" He points out that we believe in many things, but questions whether we can truly say we care about them as a hallmark of our brotherhood. I agree with what he has posted. If you aren't familiar with our denomination, it's not necessary to know much more than I've stated, for this is something that applies to Christian and non-Christian alike. But I think it goes beyond what we really care about. I think we must all ask ourselves, "What am I willing to die for?"

Now before you start thinking I'm rounding up a suicide cult or something, let me explain. Is there something in your life which trumps everything else? Many would give everything for the safety of a child or a spouse. Hundreds have given their all in Iraq to help protect the USA and to liberate the Iraqi people. A bodyguard is paid to take a bullet for the person he is protecting. What about you? What's the trump card in your life?

The "correct" answer for a Christian is that we'd die for Christ Jesus, but most everyone has wondered deep within if they would really stand strong or deny Christ to save his own skin. The example of the martyrs makes for inspirational reading, but could I make that same sacrifice? Do I mean it when I call Jesus, "Lord"?

Maybe all this is rumbling around in my head because of the current state of the denomination. A majority of the membership voted down the chance to join forces with another group, and I know there were many who seriously prayed and considered if this was the move God wanted us to make. Hey, I was in that group myself. Some of these people voted to approve and others voted to reject. But I also heard from people who voted to reject the proposal simply because it meant that the denomination they loved so much would cease to be the way they wanted it. In short, these folks either believed that the denomination was more important than God's will or that God would never call on us to give up our denominational identity. Or maybe both. I had no problem with a "no" vote based on serious consideration of the implications of the proposal. I had big problems with a "no" vote based on loyalty to a denominational label.

I'm certainly not going to preach here, but the statements Jesus made call us to sacrifice. He gave us the example. He said He would divide families. I know that is true. He said we must be willing to deny ourselves. There's no getting around that either. I don't think we fully appreciate the call we've responded to as believers. It's not a call to health and wealth as so many TV huckster/preachers claim. It's a call to drag around our own cross -- for Him. It's a call to give everything on earth -- for Him. But still there are people who will stay home from Sunday worship if the church air conditioner is acting up. Can't be expected to break a sweat, after all.

Probably all the head rumbling is because I have my doubts about myself. Do I have idols I've put in front of God? Am I willing to give up my other business for Christ? My lifestyle? My family? My denomination? I'd sure better be. And I'd appreciate it if someone catches me putting something before God's will, if you would just give me a solid kick in the back pockets. If pastors in China are being thrown into jail for preaching the Gospel, I'd better be prepared to do the same.

The leaders of my denomination are meeting as I type this. I pray that they are willing to put Christ and His will ahead of everything else. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me strength to break down the idols in my life and focus upon giving myself for Him -- even to the point of death.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


Sometimes, you just gotta shake things up. Hope you like the new colors on the blog. I got a little tired of the plain white, myself. So I'll deal with blue for a while.

Lots of changes around these parts. My almost-eleven year-old son came home with his brown hair highlighted with blond streaks. We knew it was coming, but it's still pretty freaky to look at. My thirteen year-old had some milder highlights put in too, but they are apparently too conservative for him so he's going back for blonder ones next weekend. So how are the pastor's kids being allowed to be so, um, un-conservative? Hey, it's just hair. And it's not pink, green or any other mutant color not naturally found on the human head.

I never dyed my hair (notice that I speak of my hair in the past tense). However I was always up for a new style. I picked the crew cut in third grade when I tired of the "schoolboy" cut, as my barber called it. I waxed it up and was ready for anything. It was a couple of years before anybody else tried it, but I was done with that style by then. Mostly I wore it long by 1950s standards -- even though I was living in the 1970s! I added a beard as a junior in high school, back when nobody was allowed to wear one at school. (So I got a little preferential treatment, provided I didn't abuse it.) The weirdest thing I did was let my wife talk me into getting a perm. It was fun for a while, and it helped cover my ever-increasing bald spot. Temporarily anyway. So I guess letting my boys mess with their hair may be hereditary.

The universe around us keeps changing anyway. No matter how much effort we put into forcing things to remain the same, it never works. A criticism I've often heard about many churches is that we are strategically positioned to take on the 1950s. As humorous as it may sound, it's dead-on accurate in far too many churches (and denominations). In what other building do people sit on pews? Maybe the bleachers in the ball park come close, but even those are fading away. How many times outside of church do you hear an organ played? Again I'm thinking ballpark. But then again, baseball is often accused of being a game from another era.

Realistically I have no problems with people sitting on pews -- as long as it's not me! My back can't handle those things! I figure I have a seat reserved up front and I rarely get to use it on Sunday anyway. I have no problem with a church organ or any other relics of traditional Protestant worship services. But I fully realize that it gives us a bit of a perception problem. Are seekers expected to go back in time fifty years to attend a service? Is there a subliminal message about relevence there? It might not be an accurate message, but Christianity has the reputation of being for those who haven't kept up or can't keep up. Sure it's a backhanded slap from the overtly proud and self-proclaimed intellectual crowd, but it has become an acquired stereotype.

So the problem is that we are in a changing world with an unchanging message. And many people see it as trying to sell hair gel to men like me who are follicularly challenged; too late and hopelessly out of date. What do we do? Worship the God of the unchanging message and crucify our sanctification of the means of worship. We must proceed without the "only way to do church is like this" mindset. Boy, that's tough! But it's not the hymn we are to worship, but the Originator of music. It's not the Communion cup we should revere, but the One who gave His blood for us which is symbolized in the contents of that cup. It's not the pulpit, it's the God who gave us the Word which is proclaimed from pulpits and rooms everywhere. It's not the church building we are to worship, it is Almighty God who is worshiped inside that structure and inside the hearts of His people.

God is eternal. He'll be around forever. Gregorian chants, although extremely popular at one time, have dropped off in general acceptance. Furniture styles, musical genres, white blog templates and blond highlights can be "hair today - gone tomorrow" but the message remains constant. Jesus saves. Thank God He still does.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Love and Acceptance

I saw it coming. It was as plain as the Garfield balloon coming down Broadway toward Herald Square on Thanksgiving Day. And I winced, awaiting the final dramatic climax of the plot. It wasn't going to be pretty. Sure enough, I was right.

The show was er, one of my wife's favorite programs, and one that I still tolerate even though it is a shadow of what it once was. Last night's show saw Dr. Carrie Weaver finally meeting her biological mother for the first time after a four year search. Since the character first appeared on the show, she's had a strangely dark and lonely life. Finally she found a bright spot. She and her bio mom spent time getting to know each other -- mom, the formerly troubled teen turned Christian who had been saved from despair by the church and daughter Carrie, the lesbian. I'll bet you can see it coming too, can't you?

So the gay thing comes up, the Christian is horrified and the lesbian is disgusted at the intolerance of this fundamentalist. The daughter stormed off. The two made one last attempt at a reconciliation. Mom said she would gladly love her long lost daughter, but Carrie insisted, "But can you accept me?" The horribly intolerant, hate-filled, holier-than-thou, judgmental Christian refused. (At least that was the subliminal message I was receiving.) Then Carrie uttered the words which echoed in my brain: "If you can't accept me, I don't want your love."

Of course I realize that a television show is not usually going to handle deep theological issues very well, so the stereotypical responses from the mother character didn't surprise me. But I was taken aback by the beautifully summarized statement of sinful rebelliousness. "If you dare tell me that I'm doing something wrong, I don't want any part of you." Or better put, "I hate people who think I'm wrong."

I think most people would be able to handle God if there wasn't that whole pesky "judgment thing" which comes along for the ride. If God would just accept us as we are, then there would be no problem. But if God says that her greed is wrong, then it's "Forget you, God!" and that's the end of it. No need for God's love if He can't allow me to be my own lord.

That even looks weird to type it. What a freaky way to look at life, offering our token worship and devotion so long as I am never forced to live up to the words, "Jesus is lord." But what the average non-believer forgets is that God offers acceptance of the sinner, but still condemns the sin. If we choose the sinful lifestyle instead of our Creator then why would we even fantasize about God's love. Yet there are many who choose sin and will only accept God's love if He accepts their sin as "right" or at least right for him. A man basing acceptance of God's love on God not only looking the other way at his sin, but honoring his sin is a logical dissonance, to say the least.

In our own way, we all struggle with this issue. It may not be a matter of rejecting God's love, but we sure hate giving up our pet sins. Satan knows my weaknesses. And truth be told, I don't even need Satan to lead me to temptation because I can find it just fine on my own, thank you. But with His strength I can resist and not try to force my sinfulness down the Father's throat. I truly am loved. Despite God not accepting the sin, I thank Him that He accepts this sinner and offers me His love. And I am very grateful that He accepts the repentance of anyone who calls on Him -- especially me.

The Albatross of Tradition

I spent yesterday morning in a meeting with the church's insurance man. Nice enough guy. Seems like a knowledgeable fellow, hard-working and all the rest. But I can't help it. I hate insurance.

A comedian once said that insurance was legalized gambling. A health insurance company says to you, "I bet you won't get sick," and you answer, "Oh, yeah? Just watch me." And we find ourselves actually wanting to get sick so we get some money back out of that policy we pay on every month. Well, maybe that's a little extreme. But there's nothing I hate more than sending a check for the car insurance knowing that in all likelihood it simply goes to the insurance company's account and sits there. I know, I know, peace of mind and all that stuff. It still doesn't make me rejoice at sending out a few hundred dollars. I hate insurance.

The church decided to reassess our insurance situation in part because of a nearby church which was burned down about six years ago. The arsonist was caught, but still we realized that it really can happen. Then another church in our denomination burned last month. So we called the agent and set up today's meeting. Have I mentioned that I hate insurance? As I looked around at the church, I saw precious little that couldn't be replaced with something better. Carpet, sound system, tables -- they've all seen better days. Even the new additions and refurbishments to our building were quite replaceable.

I remember talking to the pastor of the nearby church which had burned. He said that he doubted that church would have grown any physically or spiritually if it hadn't been for that fire. And instead of being shocked, I understood exactly what he was saying. A church -- like most big organizations -- doesn't like change. We become too comfortable with the status quo and it takes something big to get us to move. We live with the albatross of tradition around our necks, unable to remove it.

I read an interview with Tony George, the President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now the Brickyard, as it is known, is overflowing with tradition. And racefans, like churchgoers, sink their fingernails into the woodwork and refuse to let go. Mr. George said that the best thing about Indy is the tradition and the worst thing about Indy is the tradition. I shouted a hearty "Amen!" from my seat in front of my monitor. The traditions are celebrated, but efforts to change anything are met with howls of protest. Tradition is wonderful and terrible at the same time. The traditions of Christmas and Easter often give more meaning to the celebrations. But sometimes the traditions become the focus. We have to find a way to perform all the holiday activities because "it just wouldn't be right if we didn't," as if Christmas would be less meaningful if we didn't drive around for an hour looking at the displays in the park.

Jesus had some pretty nasty things to say about the people who valued tradition over substance. Why would we think that our traditions are more important than the ceremonial washings of the Pharisees? What is it about tradition that makes it hang around our neck, unable to escape from it? Does the very existance of physical structures like the church building promote tradition about Christ over relationship with Christ?

I hope that our church can rid itself of this albatross. I don't want to lose every tradition. I just don't want to celebrate tradition for tradition's sake. And I don't want anything getting in the way of serving Christ on His terms. I want to insure (if you'll pardon the expression) that the past is celebrated, but not consecrated. The temptation to honor the means instead of the end is a strong one. I pray that my church and its pastor rely on the Holy Spirit to distinguish between honoring man and honoring God.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Myth of the Perfect Person

I have never met anyone who claimed to be free of sin. I've always wanted to meet one though. I've heard a couple of them on call-in radio shows and their literally "holier than thou" attitude floored me. However I've never been fortunate enough to bump into one of these folks. But I'm ready. My first question is already prepared.

"Do you consider pride a sin?"

I figure that watching Mr. Perfect answer that question which will amuse me to no end. After all if someone has convinced himself that he no longer sins, I'm certainly not going to be able to convince them otherwise. So I might as well have some fun watching somebody claim no pride in having no sin. How would you not be proud of something like that?! It's like asking someone to shout the reasons why they continue to keep a vow of silence.

I remember a few years ago when a man sold semi-nude photos of Dr. Laura Schlessenger to a magazine. There is a segment of people who really resented Dr. Laura telling callers to her radio show that they were doing something wrong. After all, who was she to tell someone else that they were doing something wrong? When it was revealed (pun intended) that Dr. Laura had posed for these pictures twenty years previous, the anti-Dr. zealots really went off the deep end. After all, here was proof that Dr. Laura did something wrong, so who was she to judge? The question that I kept posing was simple: If one must be perfect to recognize sin, then we can't be expected to know the difference between right and wrong, so how can God hold us responsible for our sins? It presents a logical dilemma for those who believe in moral absolutes. Those who deny moral absolutes have their own set of problems.

The fact is that we are expected to know right from wrong, and we are not perfect. So there is no hypocrisy is pointing out sin even though we ourselves are sinners. The idea that our sin disqualifies us from understanding that rape is wrong is preposterous. Obviously we all sin, but we don't go telling everyone all about every sin. Some sins we barely admit to ourselves.

I ran into this quote in from an amateur book review from a woman going by Sally Ann A. at

"The only problem I have with this book (and preachers in general) is that they are imperfect too.. how are we supposed to take advice from imperfect people? "

When I first read this sentence I sat before my monitor with a confused look on my face. Was Sally Ann saying that she would only take advice from perfect people? If so, I have a question for them!

Then I looked at it a little deeper. Sally Ann went on to say that the preacher/author admitted that he was a sinner, like this made him ineligible for the ministry. As I look back at my time growing up in the church, I don't think I ever looked at the preacher as a "sinner" -- just as someone who was supposedly speaking God's word.

As a pastor I often ask myself just how much information the congregation wants which confirms that their pastor is imperfect. I am not perfect. I'm not going to claim otherwise. And of course, contrary to Sally Ann's quote, I'm not into dishing out "advice" about things. I tell people what the Bible says and what it means to our lives. Ann Landers, I'm not. But if putting up an illusion that I am perfect is what it takes to get through to someone like Sally Ann, I'd rather not become a hypocrite. We all can recognize sin. The Bible says that God wrote His Commandments upon our hearts. A person's imperfections only put him in the same league as everyone else - a sinner in need of a Savior. Plus, we also have the opportunity to learn from our sins provided we don't deny them.

How authentic should a pastor be with the congregation? How much information about my failures and rebellions against God would you want to hear from the person who brings you spiritual leadership. I'm not sure there is a perfect answer for that question. But I know that it would be difficult for a human being who had never sinned to understand why anyone else would sin. Scripture says that angels would like to understand what salvation is really all about, since they've never experienced it. Even Christ came to earth and the Bible says he understands temptation because He Himself was tempted. I've met pastors with prison records and they are some of the most spiritual people I know. You see, sinners understand sin. Sinners understand forgiveness. And sinners understand grace.

I am thankful for the sinful teachers I learn from every day. And I am thankful for the only sinless One as well.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Other Side of the Pulpit

I was reminded again today how different leading worship is from being in the pews. Not necessarily better, but different. I was at a meeting of pastors and we started our meeting with a worship service. It was beautiful. The songs were wonderful and the teaching was powerful. I love being a participant from time to time, almost as much as leading worship.

In my Bible I carry a 3 x 5 index card as a bookmark. I actually have many bookmarks in my Bible, but this one carries special meaning to me. On it is a series of crudely drawn cars, trucks and vans. A few of the trucks have names on them - my sons' names. At the top of one side is a ghost which looks more like a coffee stain with eyes. The card itself is still in fairly decent shape, and that is good because it is staying in my Bible for a long time.

Those little vehicles and the blobbish ghost were drawn by me to entertain my four year-old son during a long worship service. At least it was getting pretty long for him, so I did my best to listen and actually pay attention while using my deficient sketching skills to keep a small boy occupied. And it worked. Looking at the card, the boy must have been really bored to have appreciated my poor artwork. But he behaved and I worshipped. Although I was a little distracted, I still enjoyed being in the presence of God with my son.

That 3 x 5 card stays in my Bible to remind me of what it is like on the other side of the pulpit. The people who are there bring in a whole set of situations, as well as a whole set of distractions that are unique to each individual. That card reminds me that the person in the fifth pew may have had a rough morning getting to the church, or that the lady in the back may need to rush from the service to a family dinner. There are plenty of things competing for the minds of people -- even those sitting in the pew. I need to make sure that the way I present the Gospel is memorable enough to stick in an overcrowded mind and to reach a needy heart. It's not just a matter of delivering a sermon and leading a few songs. It's hitting people with truth right where they sit. That index card brings back the memories of what it is like sitting on the other side of the pulpit.

The other thing that card reminds me of is that each person there is part of a family. Whether it is a group of blood relatives or a family of friends and co-workers, that person is a part of a larger group. After the service is over, the experience of worship should make a difference that this person's family should notice. So in effect, I am preaching to far more people than can fit in the sanctuary. My benediction is an admonition to "let your light so shine before men so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven." It goes from the pulpit to the pew to the public.

No matter which side of the pulpit you are on, worship is a way to communicate spiritually with God. And no matter which side of the pulpit I am on, it is an experience, which for me, has no equal.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Fifth Grade Worries

Ah, to be ten again! That was the life where there was no pressure. There were no cares. Nothing but a whole lifetime ahead, full of promise and unexplored wonder.

As I was reading through Ravi Zacharias' book, Recapture the Wonder, I became lost in one of his analogies. He says that people talk about childhood as being carefree, but in reality kids really do have cares. And he's right. When I was in fifth grade, there were a ton of things I cared about. What will happen if I strike out against my best friend who pitches for the other team? Will I get picked to be in the class play? What if Dad doesn't have time to throw the football when he gets home? How come the Orioles can't win a pennant? Why does my cousin have hair growing under his arms? I wonder if that girl will say yes if I ask her to skate with me at the class party.

Stress? Sure, there was plenty! I certainly didn't want to lose my baseball cards on the playground. I didn't want to be picked for the kick ball game after the nerdy kid. Worries? You bet! Shoot, we took tests! Most adults have put that thought out of their heads until it is time to renew the drivers license. There were plenty of things to be concerned about. Lots of things occupied my mind in my spare time. Even more things clamored for my attention when I didn't have spare time.

Looking back now those concerns seem minor -- even silly. The girl at the skating party is gone. I never won that kick ball scholarship. Hair is growing under my arms now, as well as most everywhere else except my head! Why was I so worried? With the perspective of over thirty years, the cares of a fourth-grader are nothing. After all, today I have some REAL worries to deal with.

Now I become occupied with the kids' grades, saving for college, deciding on new merchandise to sell this Summer, being a good husband, caring for my friends and for the people of the church, fixing the broken light fixture in the living room, finding time for devotions and, of course, the ever critical lack of money. Now, we're talking problems! This stuff is major. I can't leave anything to chance. Worry jumps on my back like a veteran jockey.

Then I'm reminded of Jesus saying something like, "Is your worrying really helping matters any? Don't you think your Heavenly Father will take care of you?"

Then Satan elbows me and asks, "Do you really want to give up control of this? Aren't you the only one who knows what you want?"

And Satan's argument is a good one. I hate to give up control. But by God's grace I can give up control and worry through faith in Him.

Zecharias goes on to say that the worries we have now will fade away in heaven. Just as silly as the worries of a fourth-grader look to a grown adult, our present worries will seem silly to us then. All that will matter is that we are in the presence of our Creator, Savior and Friend along with all the people in the faith who have also made the trip.

This doesn't mean that the concerns of this world aren't worthy of our effort. They just aren't worthy of our worry. Although the thing with my hair is really getting annoying. . .

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Meeting with God

The service today was different. Really different. After our greeting time, there was nothing planned. Well, not exactly nothing. I did have some things I wanted to say based on Scripture passages and I had some choruses and hymns picked out that we could sing. But beyond that, it was just Holy Spirit time. No Junior Church. None of the trappings of a "normal" service at our church. So what was wrong with me? Was I just lazy?

One of the burdens God has plopped on me recently is the need to meet with God during a service. I remember the years before I became a pastor; sitting in the pew and just following along with the order of service in the bulletin, mentally checking off each item and counting down until we hit the benediction. In essence I was just mailing it in too many Sundays. I felt better for having gone through the motions, but I wasn't really doing what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn't engaged as I should have been. And I know that this has happened to most everyone.

Jesus had some nasty things to say about the Pharisees' obsession with tradition. I doubt he'd like our version any better. The folks at my church are wonderful about their goofy pastor changing the service around and catching them off guard. I know of churches where exchanging the hymn for the prayer would cause an after-worship board meeting. But even if we aren't overly rigid in our liturgy we still have our expectations. We depend on the service to run a certain way. When things get routine for me, the temptation to coast through is strong. I don't want anyone under my spiritual care to be tempted to simply accomplish "church" on Sunday morning when we come to meet with God.

I read this morning of Moses having to put a veil over his face after speaking with God because he literally glowed from the experience. That's what I want my time with God to do for me. Isn't that what we all want? Or do we desire deep down to cling to the comfort of the ritual order of service? Are we genuinely irked when the service runs ten minutes long so that we don't get home on time? Is Sunday morning all about us or about God?

The church building itself holds no magic. I don't have to meet God within those walls. I met God while driving home at sunrise this morning. The reds and pinks and oranges flushed the eastern horizon with color, as if God has just gotten out his paintbrush. On Saturday night the clouds were nowhere to be found, but there were thousands of twinkling stars which had all been put in place by my Creator, and they were all winking about His love for me. Friday night I met God in the Fort Wayne Memorial Coliseum while bands were singing and playing at volumes these old ears have trouble with these days. The sanctuary isn't the exclusive home of God. But it is a place we've set aside in which to meet with Him.

I've always wondered about the Shroud of Turin. Is it really the burial cloth of Jesus? In a way I'd like to be reassured that it isn't. Would my faith in Christ be deepened if I could see the cloth He was buried in? Would my relationship with Him be stronger if I could touch that shroud? Somehow I doubt it. I think that just like Jesus told Thomas, we are even more blessed because we believe without having to see for ourselves. We have a tendency to bestow great honor on relics and traditions -- physical manifestations. But God has always been about the spiritual. I think it's a blessing we don't have the origianal copy of Ephesians with "Love, Paul" scribbled at the bottom. Would we be so in awe of the physical that we would forget about the spiritual? Our physical traditions are tools. Relics. Things which point us to God. As odd as it seems, our humanity seems to want to stop to admire the pointers and ignore the object they point to. After all, the pointers require only blind repetition or infrequent attention. The object they point to requires our hearts.

The service went fairly smoothly. The kids were pretty quiet. The Holy Spirit was palpably present. I think most everybody present met with God today. Hopefully even when we go back to the routine liturgy next Sunday we'll understand and remember the meaning of worship. While it's comforting to have a routine, some of the freshness can't help but to be squeezed away. We've been given such an priviledge to meet with God and be His children. Why would we want to go through the motions?