Friday, May 27, 2005

Fear of Commitment

Over the years, I've known many young men who would cringe at the suggestion of getting married. I am officiating at a wedding this weekend. Another young couple is starting life together. And the groom is fine with the whole "commitment" thing. He's ready to be married, and he's even looking forward to being a father someday. There are probably a lot more young men who are ready for a commitment than we think. The man in his 20's who will do anything to avoid the institution of marriage ("I ain't ready for no institution!") has become an accepted stereotype. But there is a lot of truth to it -- for man and even for women. And if you examine what's going on psychologically, commitment can be pretty scary.

What is there to fear from commitment? Well for the man who is avoiding matrimony, there is a fear of losing his freedom. A single man can come and go as he pleases most of the time, but a married man has someone who can restrict that freedom. Speaking as a happily married man, I know there are times when I can't just grab my clubs and run off to the golf course because I need to do something with my family or work around the house. When I was single, golf came before washing the dishes. Now I get to play golf only once or twice a year. But I get to do dishes whenever I want!

Commitment also means increased responsibility. If a guy loses his job, it's not just him who is affected but his wife also. He is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church -- that's a tall order. There are birthdays and an anniversary to remember, someone else to please, additional bills to pay, and countless other stresses which some guys are scared to death to take on.

Why is the the stress of responsibility so extreme? A fear of failure. What if he can't support a wife? What about kids? What if he can't keep her happy? What if he loses interest? It's not too difficult to fail at a commitment. Most everyone has failed in one way or another. But those failures weigh heavily on the mind of someone who sees an easier way of life if he just refuses to commit to a marriage.

As Christians, we make a commitment also. Our commitment is to our Savior. We live up to our commitment through prayer, reading and meditating on His Word, obedience, worship, service, loving others, and seeking Him. Just like in any human friendship, the ties between our Savior and ourselves are tightened by putting effort into the relationship. Yet too often, we don't put our time in. We know we should, but we have a fear of commitment -- in this case really committing our lives to Christ Jesus. Ron at Northern 'burbs wrote a wonderful post about Christians who are biblically illiterate. I maintain that such believers have a deep fear of commitment.

Think about it. You know people who know next to nothing about Christian doctrine. You know people who couldn't find 1 Samuel in their Bible if you gave them three clues and 20 minutes. And you know people who haven't prayed since their last family emergency. They know they should understand more about their faith, and read their Bible and pray and do what they're supposed to do, but they are too scared to take that step. Why? Fear of commitment.

Many people think that making a real commitment to Christ means losing their freedom to do what they want to do. Actually it means losing one's freedom to sin without getting an attack of conscience. Maybe June loves to get drunk every weekend and John sits at the computer every night watching pornography. Making a commitment would mean a complete change of lifestyle. Even in more subtle ways, a person's life changes when he commits himself to Jesus Christ. And change scares people. Especially people who are comfortable with their sinfulness.

A commitment to Christ also means increased responsibility. It means that a person has to set aside time for spiritual disciplines, for service and for sharing. She has the responsibility to learn more about her Savior and her faith. Others will begin to look to her in a different light, like one who can answer questions about Jesus. People will be watching closely for her to slip up so that they can shout "Hypocrite!" at the tops of their lungs. The responsibility of that true commitment can scare a person to death.

Then, like other commitments, there is also the fear of failing. It's bad enough to fail when it's just you on the line, and when there are other people counting on you failure is horrible. But imagine what it's like to disappoint God with your failures. It could be overwhelming. A commitment to Jesus can be so scary that too many so-called believers are more willing to live a lazy, careless Christian life than to actually follow the teachings of the Master.

Isn't it ridiculous? Prayer life get skipped. Bible study is ignored. Loving others becomes a joke. All because of a fear of commitment to the One who laid down His life for our sins. It's a struggle most of us face from time to time. But how valid are our fears? Do we lose our freedom with Christ? No. We are actually freed from the chains that those sinful behaviors wrap around us. And if we value sin more than Jesus, how can we in good conscience call ourselves "Christians?"

Is there more responsibility for a Christian? In a sense, yes. But we are called to be responsible in all facets of our lives. We must keep our car under control and on the right side of the road. We are to show up for work on time. We have to watch movies without scraming "FIRE!" at the top of our lungs. Responsibility is a normal part of our lives. Responsibility as a Christian focuses on honoring His name and expressing our appreciation for what He has given us.

And how odd it is to fear disappointing God. We disappoint God every day. Yet if we sincerely ask forgiveness, He forgives. Why would we fear failing as a committed Christian, when so many of us fail as a Christian in name only? If we call ourselves by His name, we have no need to fear commitment. For the One we offer ourselves to is the One who loves us as no other.

The bride and groom promise to honor their commitment to one another. For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health. Those commitments are made to someone who may not live up to his own promises. But God's promises never fail. His commitment to us is solid. We have no need to fear devoting ourselves to a deeper relationship with the One who is faithful and offers us hope for today and for tomorrow.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Hanging On for Dear Life

I remember going to the circus with my third grade class at the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We all wanted to see different things. Some were waiting for the elephants. Others loved the lions and tigers. Of course plenty of people were looking for clowns. To me the amazing stuff happened above the rings -- the tightrope walker and those trapeze artists. Sure there were safety nets. (We wouldn't want someone to fall to their death in front of a zillion third graders, now would we?) But the daring of those young men flipping and twisting high above the ground, being caught by the strong arms and sure hands of the catcher. I always wondered about the catchers. It seemed like they didn't do much. They spent nearly the entire act swinging upside down by their knees. Every once in a while, he would catch one of the flyers and toss him back where he came from. But aside from that it looked like the hardest part of the job was keeping all the blood from settling in your head.

Henri Nouwen wrote about a group of trapeze artists in Turn My Mourning Into Dancing.
I am constantly moved by the courage of my circus friends. At each performance they trust that their flight will end with their hands sliding into the secure grip of a partner. They also know that only the release of the secure bar allows them to move on with arcing grace to the next. Before they can be caught they must let go. They must brave the emptiness of space.
Nouwen compares the flyer letting go of the bar to perform his stunt with the need for us to let go in our own life. And he's right. We look at all that God has given us and we hang on to them for dear life, knuckles turning white from our grip. But why are we holding so tightly?

Jesus said some pretty amazing things. I think there are a lot of people who skip the parts between the Christmas story and the Easter narrative. They miss some of the tough statements from the Master and don't understand contextually just how revolutionary His teachings were (and still are). In Matthew 10:34-39, He says:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Some may think, "Certainly that can't really be what Jesus said! After all, He's the Prince of Peace. The guy who said to turn the other cheek. Why would He talk about bringing a sword?" But that's the danger of not reading and understanding Scripture in context.

Jesus was honest about what following Him would mean. Arguments would happen. Families would be broken up. Hard choices would have to be made. Many people would be happier if Jesus had never been born, because that way those people wouldn't have to make a decision for or against Him. And those are the only two options. I know plenty of people who are still considering the decision and others who have been blessed enough to have had time to change their decision before they died, but still there are only two possible choices. And Jesus was straight with us that we could easily be the black sheep of the family for choosing Him.

Jesus said all this to point out to us that the things of this earth aren't to come between us and Him. The excuse that Dad would be upset if I became a Christian isn't valid according to the Master. He says, "Of course Dad will be upset. That's not the point. Love Me more than your Dad." Yet we hold tight to the blessings instead of the Blesser. We tightly grip the bar, afraid to let go and fly.

I certainly understand what it's like to hold onto my blessings for dear life. I don't want to lose any of my family. I've lost one son. I don't like losing anybody. And it's not much easier to lose someone because they are uncomfortable being around a Jesus Freak than it is to lose someone to death. Yet Jesus says to put Him before family. Let go of them.

Job had to let go. He lost all his children in one fell swoop. Holding tightly to them, praying for them, loving them; none of it kept them from being killed. Yet Job let go and didn't curse God for the disaster. He let go and flew and was caught by the strong arms and sure grip of the ultimate Catcher.

If we are to follow Christ's teaching, we must not be afraid to let go of our family, our work, our friends, our reputation, our blog, and even our very lives. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I lost my life rather than lose something else precious to me. Yet when we don't squeeze so tightly and instead love and trust Jesus, we fly and experience being caught by the strong arms and sure grip of the Catcher. Instead of valuing our earthly blessings supremely, we must store up our treasure in heaven. We'll have to give up the family, the work, the friends, etc., eventually anyway.

My three year old daughter has many toys which she loves. I gave her those toys. Should I not expect her to love the one who gave her the toys more than she loves the toys themselves? Why should it be any different for me? Shouldn't I too value the Giver of blessings more than the blessings themselves? Yet too often I find myself hanging onto them for dear life. I must let go and love God more than anyone. I mustn't love my life more than the Lifegiver.

Letting go is only possible because we can trust the One who will catch us. Nouwen quotes one of the trapeze flyers:
Henri, everyone applauds for me because when I do those leaps and backflips, they think I am the hero. But the real hero is the catcher. The only thing I have to do is stretch out my hands and trust, trust that he will be there to pull me back up.
Once we let go, we can fly. And the Catcher will grab hold and pull us back up. Let go and trust Him.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Odds, but no ends

Interesting day for me. Within three minutes this morning I saw:

(1) an Amish man getting cash from an ATM,

(2) a Korean man speaking in broken English while wearing a jacket emblazoned with "Proud to have served in the U. S. Army."

Hopefully things look better over at Christian Carnival #71 at Technogypsy. A lot of good posts I need to get to in the next couple of days.

And one entry dealing with Buddhism at Vox Apologia XIX. Next week's topic is: "The Objections: Is Christianity Absurd?"

Now, I'll be getting back to work.

Monday, May 23, 2005

With Gentleness and Respect

Back in my college days there was a street preacher who made his appearance each Spring at the busiest pedestrian intersection on campus. I'll call him Preacher Man. He'd make the front page of the college newspaper every time he showed up. It was like Preacher Man's arrival was another sign of Spring, although sometimes it was more like the beginning of Summer weather.

Preacher Man would stand up on a concrete bench along the sidewalk and preach at the people. Not to the people -- at the people. But what really got the small crowd going was when a young woman walked by with anything less than modest clothing. That's when Preacher Man would call after her, "You're a whore! You're dressed like a common whore and you act like a common whore and you're going to hell!" Tact wasn't Preacher Man's strong suit. Of course the guys who walked with the girls were called "whoremongers" which caused many of these college students to dig out a Funk & Wagnall's to see what that meant. When they located the definition, most were too confused to pursue the matter any further.

The most common argument around Preacher Man was the old, "Judge not, lest ye be judged" tirade. That is the most quoted verse of Scripture among non-Christians, after all. To the best of my knowledge, Preacher Man wasn't running around with anyone dressed like a whore and he was always wearing that same black suit. Maybe someone objected to him taking off his jacket to reveal his long-sleeved white dress shirt, I don't know. I'm sure ol' P. M. was a sinner, but I doubt that he was a "whoremonger" to use his term. Yet the overarching complaint was that anyone could condemn behavior as wrong in public to the offender's face. Or at least to the side of her face as she walked by.

Now Preacher Man may have been right on all counts. Everyone of those women could have really been whores, or at least dressed like it. Everyone of those guys could have been whoremongers or aspired to be one. But it was the delivery which really honked people off. Here was a man in a bad, sweaty suit, standing on a bench so he was two feet above them, telling them rudely that they were wrong and would burn in hell. Did the message get through to anyone? Perhaps. But it's likely that the delivery turned off many more people than it attracted.

Recently at I'm Not Crunchy!, Alice and kate shared stories of some self-professed evangelical Christians whose actions were pretty pathetic. It is stuff like this which turns people away from Christ, not attracts them. And it happens way too often. I know that when I leave the Indy 500 this Sunday, there will be the guys outside the track "preaching" with bullhorns again, illustrating all the tact of the Rev. Preacher Man. I admire their courage. I deplore their actions.

Folks have tried to defend such behavior by using Isaiah 55:11,
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty,but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Yet in context, this passage talks about God keeping His promises. It does not say that if you shout a Bible verse at someone they'll come to believe it. Still well-meaning Christians go around shouting of their beliefs while showing little regard, let alone love, for the people they are shouting at.

I've run across this quote from Francis Schaeffer a couple of times in the past month:
Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.
To me, this is the natural extension of 1 Peter 3:15-16:
But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Peter, Paul and Jesus Christ each gave us the example of sharing with gentleness and respect. Sure Jesus took a whip to the merchants in the Temple and shouted at the Pharisees, but with those who hadn't tried to take over His religion Jesus was gentle and respectful. The woman at the well, the rich young ruler, Zaccheus, Mary and Martha, countless lepers and disabled folks -- Jesus did not come at them with guns ablazing. He didn't water down the truth, but He didn't shove it down people's throats either. He preached to people, not at them.

Paul went to argue philosophy with the brainiacs on Mars Hill, but not by shouting them down. He made elegant defenses of the faith while on trial for his life using the etiquette required before an earthly judge and leader. Paul and Jesus both presented the Gospel by the method expressed by Peter: with gentleness and respect.

There are times for righteous anger. But dealing with people who simply disagree is not one of those times. I honestly believe that if you do not treat someone with gentleness and respect, you are doing more harm for the Kingdom than any good you could be doing. I don't know of anyone Preacher Man led to Christ, but I know a few people who set themselves promptly in the opposite direction after hearing him. My prayer is that I can effectively share the Good News of Jesus Christ without dragging His name through the mud of my own disrespectful behavior.

Update (5/24): Upon learning that the aforementioned street evangelist is still active in ministry, I've decided to delete his real name. In the post and the comments, I've replaced his name with the pseudonym Preacher Man. I do this because my purpose in this piece is not to "get" Preacher Man, but to illustrate how many Christians treat others without the proper respect called for in Scripture. I'd like to give Preacher Man the respect he deserves.

"Four Million Dollars Down the Drain"

Benny Hinn's crusade to Ghana wasn't apparently what he expected. He reportedly shouted from the stage, "Four million dollars down the drain!" Interestingly enough, a report shows that three million was spent on hotels, transportation, technical infrastructure and the like. To his credit, Hinn admitted that the money could have been better spent.

Now I fully realize that it takes some cash to get to Africa and that corruption in many African countries is rampant, but $3 million?!?!

Granted, I have a less than favorable impression of Hinn's "ministry" to begin with, but I wonder how many people could have been fed, clothed and housed for $3-4 million.

Down the drain indeed.

(A tip o' the cap to Reverend Mommy)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Refresher

I finally made it to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday. I know, I know, you've already read about my thoughts on Indy here. But something struck me while I was there, and no it wasn't a car doing 220 mph!

I ran into one of my internet buddies back in Gasoline Alley. I don't get to see him often -- it's been almost two years since I had seen him last. It's been discouraging for him lately. He's worked as a crew member on race teams, as well as holding other jobs around the race track. He's been around the Indy Racing League scene for years. Yet for the last few months, he had lost most of his enthusiasm for racing. The last team he worked for had disbanded and the excitement just wasn't there. I had noticed in my cyber-discussions that he wasn't feeling the same as he once did.

When I saw him yesterday, my friend was excited and smiling.

What was the difference between last month and yesterday? He was at Indy. The Speedway. He told me that when he got to the track, things brightened up immediately. This is a man who has stood on the track and started one of the cars when the command, "Gentlemen, start your engines" is given. Just being at the track with the sound of screaming cars, a faint smell of burning rubber and methanol, and a two and a half mile oval with almost 100 years of history dripping from the walls and fences -- it was a refresher. Like the old Aqua Velva television commercial where a man is slapped on each cheek with a palmful of after shave to which the man replies, "Thanks, I needed that." My friend said to me, "I feel great. There's just something about this place that gets under your skin."

After I left my friend and returned to my seat, I began to think about what he had said. And I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if that was how everyone felt about being at church on Sunday morning?"

Let's face it. A sizeable chunk of the congregation each week is simply going through the motions. It's routine. It's something they have to do -- an obligation. They wake up wanting to stay in bed or play golf or watch TV or ANYTHING besides heading to the local house of worship. But if they want to keep a good reputation, they don't dare miss too many Sundays. There is no real trace of worship in their hearts.

But what a Sunday at church should be is a refresher. Like my friend feeling better upon reaching Indy, so too we should find relief in worship. Not from a beautiful or convenient building. Not from finding a good parking spot. Not from getting out quickly to do something more fun. We should be refreshed by the encouragement of fellow believers. We should be refreshed by offering our hearts in worship to our Creator. We should be refreshed by focusing on someone other than ourselves.

A friend of mine has a job where he works four days and then is off work for four days. It fits him and his family's schedule nicely except for the fact that he is at church for four Sundays and then can't be at church for four Sundays. He says he really misses being there for a month at a time. I know what he means. Being a pastor, I don't mind the occasional Sunday off but by Wednesday of the next week, I really need to worship. It catches up with me quickly. Does everyone feel like that? I suspect far too many wouldn't be able to relate to that empty feeling inside -- the God-shaped hole with a few other indentations for fellow Christians.

It doesn't have to be in a church building. It could be a school, a home, a parking lot or anywhere, but God has made us with the innate need to gather together in worship. Private worship is great, but it doesn't fill the bill like corporate worship.

It's Sunday afternoon now, and for all the work that I put in during the week to prepare for Sunday, I am left refreshed. It's not due to a successful service or because my work for the day is done. It's because I experienced and worshiped God in the company of His people.

Are you refreshed?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Alice - The Interview

Ever try something new, only to have it turn out incredibly different than you ever imagined? That's what happened to Alice (the blogger formerly known as "not-crunchy") when she entered the blogging world. Alice, a self-proclaimed typical lefty-Democrat, blogs at I'm Not Crunchy (her original blog), but also has begun Evangelical Update, a blog which is aimed to help those who think that we evangelicals are nuts to understand that we're really not crazy! From that purpose, some great discussions between liberals and evangelicals (and a few belong to neither category) have ensued -- all in a spirit of love and respect for one another.

I've always enjoyed my discussions with Alice because she has been willing to listen and debate on an intellectual level, not simply on a "Here's where your wrong" basis. It has also taken some incredible strength to tolerate a bunch of evangelical bloggers challenging your every belief, and Alice has been gracious throughout. I'm proud to call her my friend. Alice and I had a recent "cyber sit-down" to talk about Evangelical Update and her experiences with the evangelical community.

AS: When I first found your blog, you were just getting started with I'm Not Crunchy, blogging about the environment and your journey to law school. How did you end up with a majority of your readers being evangelical Christians?

Alice: After I started my blog, which was supposed to be about the environment, I was all excited about blogging and looking for new ones to read by clicking on the "Next Blog" button at the top of Blogger blogs. I came across the blog, Amy's Humble Musings and posted a comment there. Unbeknownst to me, Amy is quite popular and my post directed some traffic to my blog. Since I have always had a general fascination with Evangelical Christians, I decided to change the focus of my blog from environmentalism to whatever popped up in discussion with Evangelicals.

AS: Now you have a second blog, Evangelical Update. The way the new blog is set up, Christians and non-Christians learn from each other. Where did the idea come from?

Alice: From the beginning of my adventure with Evangelicals on my first blog, I wanted to use it as a learning experience. I've told a lot of my friends and family about it, and they are always very interested in what I've learned. I thought that it would be valuable to others like me who want to know more. I will be honest here: most liberals that I know think that Evangelicals are not very bright. I want to help change that perception because it is obviously no more descriptive of this segment of America than of any another segment.

Around the turn of the year I read a transcript of a Bill Moyers speech on Evangelicals and their view on the environment which completely outraged me. It turns out that parts of Moyers' speech were wrong and he apologized for his mistakes. But reading that speech left me so completely baffled about the Evangelical world, that I wanted to learn more. Thus stumbling across Amy's blog was good timing for me (and as I'm sure any good Reformed person would say, maybe it was not a coincidence!).

AS: Personally, which previous ideas that you had about evangelicals did you find to be wrong?

Alice: Interestingly, through all of this, not a single person has been hostile toward me. Maybe hostile toward my ideas, but not me personally. This surprised me because one of my stereotypes of Evangelicals is of the "foaming at the mouth" crazy woman protesting abortion at a women's clinic. (I still think that that demographic is out there -- I just haven't run across their blogs, and probably wouldn't waste my time reading it if I did!) But I don't think that they are typical. There also does not seem to be hostility toward those with lifestyles with which they disagree (homosexuals, other faiths, etc.). To be honest, another impression of mine was that Evangelicals do not think about their faith on a deep level -- that their interpretation of Christianity takes a simple view of things for the sake of simplicity. I was definitely wrong on that one.

AS: Which of your ideas about evangelicals were reinforced?

Alice: Several -- that their lives revolve around religion, that they think those who do not believe that Jesus is the only path to salvation are going to hell, and that they absolutely believe that they have the correct interpretation of Christianity.

AS: Has this whole experience changed you in any way?

Alice: It's probably too early to say, but one big change in me is that I'm no longer angry with Evangelicals, though I do still get very frustrated with some of the things I read. I had a negative experience with some Evangelicals in college (I went to school in Springfield, Missouri -- headquarters of the Assemblies of God and home to two or three Bible Colleges). After that experience if I so much as thought about it I would get fuming mad. That anger is gone, because now I understand where they were coming from.

One great side-benefit of this experience has been a re-examination of my belief system. I have never been so challenged to define and defend my beliefs. I am no closer to being the Evangelical definition of a Christian than when this started, but I am re-thinking the idea of "What is a Christian?" I realized that while I like to say that I follow the teachings of Jesus, I need to learn more about those teachings before I can honestly say that.

AS: You mentioned on your blog about your curiosity about the influence of the Christian right and the Republican party. Have you had any insights about this?

Alice: Not a whole lot because I think that the group I tapped into are not the typical Republican-voting Christian-right. If anything, I've learned that Evangelicals are just as disgusted with politics as anyone else. I also learned that not all Evangelicals are as gullible as I thought when it comes to the intersection of politics and religion. Many liberals (myself included) feel that the Christian Right has much too large an influence on politics and is the main contributor to the current polarization between the two main parties.

AS: What has surprised you about Evangelical Update?

Alice: The original intended audience was liberals only. When I first started it, I was only getting Evangelical readers and commenters, which really frustrated me. Then a few liberals, Christian and other, came in and a conversation started. Commenting has made the site exponentially better than I envisaged, because liberals can now get the original viewpoints -- from the horse's mouth.

AS: What should evangelical Christians know about non-Christians?

Alice: I'll start this one by saying that it is really hard for me to call myself a non-Christian, because I think of myself, culturally, as a Christian. I grew up in a Christian church and am comfortable with Christians. I first questioned some of the fundamental aspects of Christianity at age 14, and since then have never been able to look back, despite much effort. Needless to say, this is not a good topic to bring up with some people like my Grandma, so I feel like I'm going out on a limb and "exposing" my non-Christian self on the internet, just in case it gets back to Grandma! I want Evangelicals to know that I am a typical former or non-Christian. Hopefully Evangelicals find me reasonable and earnest in my beliefs (or lack thereof) and see that I am not inherently evil or trying to wreak havoc in this world. If anything, I want this world to be a better place, just like they do. I think that it is also important to remember that the vast majority of the world's population is not Christian.

AS: What has your husband thought of this whole experience?

Alice: At first he was concerned that the experience was upsetting me too much (it was stressful for me at first because it was me vs. about 20 people!). But I calmed down quickly, and we have had a lot of great conversations about philosophy that I'm not sure we would have normally had. He occasionally reads I'm Not Crunchy but I don't think he has ever read Evangelical Update -- just as I don't read the postings he makes on the web about criminal profiling because it doesn't interest me.

AS: Do you have any further goals for Evangelical Update?

Alice: I'll have to see how time-consuming law school is, but my participation will probably end pretty soon. I hope that someone else can take over because the idea seems to have truly captivated many people. It takes a lot of time to put together a cogent review of any topic regarding Evangelicals because they are such a diverse bunch. Therefore the new approach is to just gloss over the topic and let the commenters do the rest. But, I got myself in hot water by glossing over a topic the other day, so I need to be very careful if I'm going to try to keep my posts at least half-way objective. I do not have any defined goals because these blogs tend to define themselves.

A few cautions to new readers of Evangelical Update. First, the discussion goes fast. A lot of ground gets covered and with so many there to participate the process can be very quick. Second, the discussion doesn't end when the next topic is posted. Don't be afraid to check down the page for more conversation on older posts. And third, read expecting to learn from those who disagree with you.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Culture Shock

Imagine having grown up in a poor nation, not speaking English and being unfamiliar with much outside of your own country. What would it be like to find yourself suddenly surrounded by the materialistic culture and traditions of the United States? In the current issue (May 23, 2005) of ESPN: The Magazine, Dan Le Batard writes about the tribulations of some Latin American ballplayers as they learned the culture:

When [Florida] Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo arrived in this country from the Dominican, he accidentally set off a hotel fire alarm becuase he thought it was a shampoo dispenser. When former minor league reliever Euclides Rojas arrived from Cuba, he considered buying dog food for his son to eat because he saw a smiling child romping with a dog on the can. (Rojas couldn't imagine Americans would buy special food for their dogs.) . . . You'd be amazed how many poor, uneducated minor leaguers get to America without an understanding of car alarms, cell phones, credit cards or even refrigerators that pour ice and water from their doors.

Le Batard's article reminds us that the things we take for granted are not universally known or accepted as the norm. Much is unique to our culture. And if we Americans were suddenly transplanted into Hong Kong or Nairobi, we'd suffer some severe culture shock.

Not only does America have it's own culture, but Christians -- especially American Christians -- tend to have our own culture as well. We have certain standards of behavior to which we expect conformity. "Don't rock the boat. Don't examine our reasoning too closely. Don't look at things as Jesus would. Just do it our way." How nice.

There are many customs which we elevate to a status equal with Scripture at times. Oh sure, we'd never admit outloud that our traditions were that important, but just try to break one of those unwritten (and occasionally written) rules. Some church boards come unglued if the pastor changes the order of service. Tongues start to wag if a person attends church in less than shirt and tie or a dress and heels. And heaven help the mother who doesn't sprint from the sanctuary when the baby starts to fuss during the sermon.

I remember when officials at the local Christian college would sit in the parking lot of the local theatre, watching for students coming out of a "questionable" (PG) movie in order to report those students to the Dean. I've read old letters to the editor of my own denomination's publications complaining about a scandalous picture which showed a young woman dressed in knee-length shorts. I've watched people decry brothers and sisters as unspiritual because they smoke cigarettes, yet ignore their own spare tire hanging over their belts. And don't even get me started on the whole issue of drinking a glass of wine.

Today a lady was telling me about the current controversy at her church. There are a few young men who attend the services wearing ball caps. And apparently there are some who equate a baseball cap with the gates of hell. Actually, many are complaining that the guys are not showing respect by refusing to remove their caps in the sanctuary. Such an act, they believe, is an offense toward God. I haven't spoken with the young men in question, but I'd bet it has more to do with them not wanting to fix their hair on a Sunday morning. But these guys don't consider it a lack or respect. To them a hat is just another item of apparel, not an instrument which causes disruption. Either way, some questions are raised. Is it more important to honor cultural norms like removing one's hat or simply to be in worship to begin with? Is covering one's head disrespectful in general or just disrespectful in our current culture? What standards of behavior do we expect to be a part of a worship service? Are we just being legalistic?

Somehow my mind keeps drifting back to Jesus' discussions with the Pharisees. Those guys had all that "rules stuff" nailed down. But as Jesus said, they neglected "the weightier matters of the law" like justice, mercy and faithfulness in exchange for ceremonial washings and man-made rules. The Pharisees missed the whole point. It wasn't that people needed to adapt to rules, traditions and culture, but to accept what God was giving them -- Jesus Christ. That's still the case today.

How often do we find ourselves trying to enforce cultural expectations on others instead of loving them? Do we try to force everyone to look and act the same without any regard of whether or not those standards are scriptural? More importantly, how many people have we driven away from Christ and from His Church by expecting a recent convert to have instantly rid herself of all habits and behaviors which traditionalists could find offensive?

What is it like to try to break into this Christian culture? I'd hate to have to learn the "language" of the church, like the immigrant trying to figure out how a cell phone works -- or why he even needs a cell phone in the first place. It seems to me that we get so bogged down with our own expectations that we often miss the beauty of the grace of God. Not that we should give up on obedience, but we must understand that our works don't make us more worthy for salvation. There should be no difference between the expectations of coming to Christ and coming to the Church. After all, isn't the Church the Bride of Christ?

I've asked a lot of questions because I think we need to be asking ourselves these things. We really need to question our motives; the reasons for our rules and our culture. If people are not living up to our expectations, we have to be honest enough to understand that our expectations may not be right. We cannot concentrate on what we find acceptable, but upon what God finds acceptable. We must not judge others by our own tradition and culture as the Pharisees did 2000 years ago. We must seek to please God by judging by godly, not cultural standards. We must love as Christ loves us. We must look to raise up Christ instead of pulling others down.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Cab Ride

I received this from a friend of mine. "Aunt Barb" is a former hospice nurse who recently was the recipient of an extra dose of God's grace provided through two very special people. I wonder how often we pass up the chance to be used as an instrument of God's grace because we're too busy with our own lives. It's funny how often people step away from their lives to be used to bring ourselves and others an extra measure of God's grace and mercy. My prayer is that God would use me whenever possible to bring His love to those who need it so badly.

Twenty years ago I drove a cab for a living. When I arrived at 2:30 am, the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Under these circumstances many drivers would just honk once, wait a minute, then drive away. But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on a taxi as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needed my assistance I reasoned to myself. So I walked in the door and knocked. "Just a minute" answered a frail elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her eighties stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pill box hat with a veil pinned on it just like someone out of a 40's movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase.

The apartment looked like no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knick-nacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box with photos and glassware. She asked me to carry her bag and assist her to the cab. She took my arm and we walked slowly to the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness and I told her I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my Mother treated.

When we got in the cab, she gave me an address then asked me if I could drive through downtown. I explained it was not the shortest way, but she did not mind since she was in no hurry.....She was on her way to a HOSPICE!

I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw her eyes were glistening. She explained she had no family and the doctor said she did not have much time. I quietly reached over and turned off the meter and asked her which route she would like to take.

For the next 2 hours we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived as newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a
furniture warehouse that once was a ballroom where she had danced as a girl. Sometimes she would ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and she just sat staring into the darkness not saying a word. As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon she suddenly asked me to go.

We drove in silence to the address she gave. It was a low building like a small convalescent home with a drive that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab and were solicitous and intent and watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The small woman was already seated in a wheelchair and asked how much she owed. I told her nothing and she said I had to make a living and I responded "there are other passengers".

Almost without thinking I bent and gave her a hug and she held me tightly. She told me I had given her moments of joy and thanked me. I squeezed her hand then walked into the dim morning light. I did not pick up any more passengers that shift and drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of the day I could hardly talk. What if that little old lady had gotten an angry driver or one who was impatient, in a hurry and absorbed in events of his own life? What if I had refused to take the run or just driven away? On a quick review I don't think I have ever done anything more important in my entire life than I did last night.

We are conditioned to think that the value of our lives revolve around great moment, but great moments often catch us unaware. Often times it is in retrospect that we realize we have just experienced a moment of grace. God does not often manifest Himself to us in claps of thunder but mostly in the still, small whispers that are so easy to miss. It is in those unscheduled moments when we have the opportunity to reach out to one another and give of ourselves that we truly experience the living Christ who is present in each of us. Those are the moments of grace when we can be Jesus to one another.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Of Poached Eggs and Moral Liars

C. S. Lewis popularized the argument in his writings. Was Jesus a lunatic, a liar or the Lord? More importantly, is the question still valid? Is the trilemma still a valid argument for the deity of Jesus Christ?

First we must remember why the trilemma was originally posed. Lewis is attempting to refute the designation of "good moral teacher" which is often attributed to Jesus. He states that there is no logical room for that choice; instead restricting the possibilities to three (four, if you count "legend", but no one seems to deny the existance of a man named Jesus anymore). Simply put, Jesus was right, He was wrong or He was nuts. The other important foundational consideration is the veracity of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' words. If one doesn't accept the accuracy of Scripture, the trilemma falls flat. However if one considers the Gospels as true, or at least reasonably close to true, one must then deal with the deity claims of Jesus.

Lewis' choices are simple. First, was Jesus a lunatic? Here he pulls out the most memorable illustration I've read in Christian literature. As a lunatic, Jesus would be on the same level as a man who claimed to be a poached egg. Now there's a mental picture for you! And certainly a lunatic could claim to be God, but I'd rather not follow a lunatic. And the rest of Jesus' reported behavior doesn't indicate someone with leanings toward breakfast food. Lunatic doesn't appear to be a logical choice.

Was Jesus a liar? Lewis points out that a liar wouldn't be a proper characteristic of a good moral teacher. Years ago, that statement may have been easier to accept. These days I have heard people claim that there are good moral teachers all over the place who are far from perfect. In fact, if we are to accept moral teachings from anyone then we are learning from sinners -- often liars. There is no one perfect, right? So the new argument is that Jesus could be both a liar and a good moral teacher.

However, the modern-day examples of moral teachers are mostly without any claims to deity. That puts Jesus up on another level in my book. Claiming to be God is not the same as adultery or plagerism or cheating on income taxes. I would assert that one cannot falsely claim to be the ultimate moral authority -- the way, the truth and the life -- and still be a good moral teacher. Yet the argument is weakened by those who see no difference.

Is the trilemma still a valid argument? I would say yes, but it is not as effective today with people who will accept moral teaching from immoral sources.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


I live in the country, a couple of miles outside of a very small Ohio village. There aren't many things you can do in my town. We have one gas station and one other small convenience store, a bank, a hardware store, a pizza place, an ice cream stand, a beauty shop, two grain elevators and a couple of bars. There is a four-way stop at the main intersection in town, and a "part-time" stoplight out in front of the school. As you might guess, there isn't a great deal of the out of the ordinary around town. Even a trip to the grocery store means a ten mile drive to the county seat.

On one of those grocery runs this week, I noticed a small 8 1/2 by 11 page tacked to the store's bulletin board. On the notice was the frequency of what was billed as a "new radio station" licensed to my little town. This was news to me. The county has only one AM-FM combination, aside from this new startup. And I am still unaware of any new radio tower being erected anywhere in the area. As someone who made my living working in radio, I figured I'd know if a new local station was going on the air. Apparently I was wrong.

When I got back to the van to get the groceries back home, I tuned in the new hometown station. Kind of Top 40 and rock mixed together. I heard no live voices, just some taped announcements which I couldn't understand. That could be because of my bad hearing kicking in, poor reception, or a really inexperienced announcer. But for better or worse, my hometown now has a radio station although I doubt I'll be a regular listener.

I got to thinking how a new radio station sets out to get listeners. Certainly you can't just hope a lot of people will be playing with the "seek" button in the car and stumble across a song they want to hear and eventually find out that this is a new station. So you have to advertise. This costs money. Well, most advertising costs money. What my new hometown station found was one free mode of advertising -- local bulletin boards. It worked for me. And the station owner's hope is that I will tell others because that's more free advertising. From all I can see, the station is not advertising in the local newspaper or area television stations. There are no outdoor billboards with the call letters splashed across them. The owner is counting on a few free signs and a lot of word of mouth.

I've recently put up a store at eBay to sell merchandise. Yet unless I give the address to people or get listed on search engines, no one will shop at my store. Most people reading this have blogs which could remain mostly secret with no blogrolls or links or other tricks to get people to visit your site. Unless we advertise, almost no one will show up.

I'll admit that I'm uncomfortable with some ways that a church advertises. Let's face it, most of the time the church is advertising itself, not Almighty God. I know, I know, we're hoping to bring people to church to introduce them to God. At least that's the common line. Sometimes though, I wonder. Are we looking for glory for God or is that just a nice side effect to glorifying the church? Perhaps that's another post entirely.

It seems to me that our main advertising concern should be in pointing people to Christ. Why is it that we expect people to accept Jesus Christ as Savior if we aren't ambitious enough to get the word out? We think that certainly everybody knows, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Many around us are living with completely false ideas about who Christ is, what He said, and what Christians believe. They get those false ideas because we are just plain poor modes of advertising. We mess up the message.

I'm not just talking about having someone ask you a question about God and you giving them the wrong answer. Certainly that happens when we get too scared to admit we don't know and the first answer to pop into our heads comes tumbling out of our mouths. But we give God false advertising by the way we live our lives. Christians are often called "hypocrites" because we don't live perfect lives. Obviously we can't live perfect lives, but how many times have you sinned in full public view and laughed it off like it didn't matter? I've caught myself doing that once in a while. What a lousy advertisement for my Savior! When we sin like that we should be admitting our guilt not simply brushing it aside, secretly a little glad that we can fit in so well with the other sinners around us.

Every Sunday, I close our worship service with a benediction based on Matthew 5:16.
"Go in peace and let your light so shine before men that others will see the good deeds you do and praise your Father in heaven."

That's my idea of good advertising.

Instead of hoping some "seeker" finds Jesus by hitting the "seek" button, examine yourself. Are you falsely advertising Christ by what you say and do? Are you seeking to glorify God and not you or your church? Are you giving God any "word of mouth" advertising? Do you know the truth well enough, and if not what are you doing about that?

All it took was a little piece of paper tacked to a grocery store bulletin board to get me to try a new radio station. A huge multimedia campaign isn't necessary. What is necessary is the sign on my heart and on my life, directing people to Christ Jesus.

Odds and Ends

Just a few things. . .

I have received precious little feedback concerning my homeschooling post and questions. I hope you'll take the time and answer my seven questions. I know there are a lot of homeschoolers who stop by here on occasion, and I really would like your input. I promise I'm not out to throw homeschooling families under the proverbial bus. I think my Rick Warren post should prove that.

Speaking of Warren, I've found that nothing will increase a site's traffic faster than writing a post on Rick Warren! Even with all the hits on that page, most all the comments here and on other sites have been highly complimentary of a balanced approach. I try to make that a hallmark of my writing, and I encourage others to do so as well.

Vox Apologia is having a slow go of it right now. It's a great idea for a blog, but unfortunately there have been few submissions. The blogging topic for the week is "The Trilemma: Useful or Useless?" All you C. S. Lewis fans may want to get in on this. The deadline for accepting entries is Sunday at midnight. Check the site for more information. I have not contributed in a while because I just didn't feel the leading of the Spirit on the topic for the week. Perhaps the system may need to be modified. I'd just hate to see this one go under.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Brickyard calls to us...

Posted by Hello

The post title is from a Firestone tire commercial. It summarizes what fans of the Indianapolis 500 feel every year. The Brickyard calls to us. I have always been a fan of IndyCar racing, and in particular, the Indianapolis 500. Now please, I'm not talking about NASCAR; that's something else entirely. I mean Indy. The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. "THE 500". The 2.5 mile paved track in Speedway, Indiana hosts around 300,000 people on Race Day each May. The track used to be paved with bricks back in the early days, giving it the nickname, "The Brickyard."

Having grown up in Indiana, the race has not escaped my notice from the earliest times I can remember. I remember pulling for Parnelli Jones and as a more mature eight year old, rooting for Al Unser, Sr. and listening to his back-to-back wins in 1970 and 1971 in the Johnny Lightning Special. As a teenager, my favorite was Tom Sneva - the first man to run over 200 mph at the Brickyard. When Sneva finally won in 1983, I felt like I had won it myself!

These days I don't have just one favorite. I'll be rooting for about a dozen or so, rooting against about another dozen and basically ignoring the other eight or nine. I've be fortunate to have met a number of these guys and have friends who work on the teams. Being an IndyCar fan and having strong opinions, I ended up meeting a lot of folks involved in the sport through an internet bulletin board site, TrackForum, which I help moderate. Even with involvement through the world wide web and decent television coverage from ABC Sports and ESPN, it's not enough. I need to be there. The Brickyard is calling me.

I got my first taste of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in the mid 70's when my parents took me to the first day of qualifying one year - Pole Day, when the top drivers try to outqualify each other for the first starting spot. I saw the sights I had only been able to imagine up to that point. Even the hazy images from the flickering television screen couldn't bring into focus the landmarks, the eccentric fans, the smell of hot rubber, and above all, the speed of those racing machines. It was a few years later before I was able to return. By the time I was in college, the Speedway was just a an hour's drive away and I got to be a regular visitor. One year my Buick Century overheated waiting in traffic to get in forcing me to push it into the nearest parking space so I could get in to watch the action.

The responsibilities of parenthood kept me away from the track for a couple of years also. I remember the first time my wife and I brought my two boys to Indy. They were six and four at the time and had very little idea of what they were about to see. After waiting for a morning rain to clear and the track surface to dry, they seemed only moderately interested as the race cars were pushed out to the track and even less impressed by the noisy engines when two cars pulled onto the track. But about 45 seconds later, I pointed their heads toward the proper place and told them, "Now watch this!" Moments later two brightly-colored IndyCars streaked by for the first time at nearly full speed -- over 202 mph -- and those two boys who were mildly bored were suddenly jumping up and down and cheering. The Brickyard began calling them that day.

It's May again. The cars are at the speedway. The drivers are preparing for qualifying, which begins this weekend. I have reports emailed to me throughout the day, telling me who's doing well in practice, how fast each car is going and what is new with the teams. I can pull up live timing and scoring from the track and watch the speed reports myself. A subscription service sends pictures of the cars. But this year is different. I won't be there for qualifying. Commitments here at home will keep me away. I may be able to get to Indianapolis for the final practice and then for the race itself, but that can't come soon enough for me. You see, the Brickyard is calling me.

Other things call me too. Like the Sirens' song which tempted Odysseus, I am called by all manner of sinfulness. Selfishness is usually the loudest and it's song makes me feel so good. Usually it is the background music for many of the other calls I hear -- prejudice, lust, impatience, laziness, unrighteous anger -- they all dance to the beat of the Selfishness Orchestra. These are calls which I must resist on my life's odyssey. But I can't. Certainly I can't resist on my own power. Mercifully I don't need to tie myself to the mast of my ship as our Greek hero did. I am empowered from within. Whenever I need that strength, it is there thanks to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet the call of selfishness tries to drown out all other songs. And I enjoy the beautiful music of selfishness so much that I often refuse the power to resist. I know that I can resist with His help, but I choose the rhythms of rebellion instead. And I often feel the same regret expressed by Paul in Romans:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
"What a wretched man I am!" he continues in verse 24. I know the feeling, Brother Paul. I know the feeling.

But although sinfulness is calling me, so is my Heavenly Father. He calls me to obedience. He calls me to love Him. And He calls me to join Him in heaven someday. This final call is much like my call to the Brickyard. Even though I won't go to Indy exactly when I'd like this year, I know I'll get there eventually. And it will be great. So too, I know I'll get to heaven eventually. And I know it will be great. But oftentimes I don't have the same anticipation awaiting my trip to heaven as I do with my trip to the Brickyard. I know that I should. But I'm quite happy with what I've been given. I'm happy with the work I'm expected to do and with the tools I've been given to accomplish it.

So why am I not so anxious to get to heaven? Well, I'm sure it has something to do with the unknown vs. the known. And not just a little about taking care of the responsibilities I have here on earth - namely my family. But I know that even if God calls me home this afternoon that He will provide for my family. I've talked to a number of older people who were longing for heaven as soon as possible. As a 95 year old lady once told me, "I'm ready to go home now."

I'm ready too. But I'd like to continue to enjoy what He has given me here for a little while longer or a long while longer. After all, I have an eternity to enjoy Him in heaven. And there are a few more people I'd like to bring along. Like my kids at the speedway, I'd like to be able to say, "Now watch this!" Then point then to Christ Jesus and watch them jump up and down and cheer that He died for them too. Then they, like me, will hear as our Heavenly Father calls to us, inviting us to come home.

More on the N.C. church membership scandal

Certainly you've heard the story of the pastor in North Carolina who reportedly expelled nine members for not voting for George W. Bush? As always, there is another side of the story reposted at Scotwise. I'm not taking sides here, but it's always good to hear BOTH sides. (HT:Dr. Ray Pritchard's blog at

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

LXIX and XVII Reminder

Christian Carnival LXIX (69, isn't it? Why can't those Romans use numbers like the rest of us?) is up at Semi Colon. I'm manning the booth where you throw baseballs at the target and try to knock Rick Warren into the tank of water. But it looks like there are a number of good posts I need to catch up on in the morning.

The latest Vox Apologia Symposium (XVII, for those of you scoring at home) is up with one lone post on the Resurrection: The Level that Moved the World?

There may be other posts using Roman numerals out there, but I think this should tide you over for a day or two...

Monday, May 09, 2005

"I'll take 'Pop Duos' for $400, Alex"

The phone rang this afternoon as I was home with the kids. It was my wife, calling from her part time job. She had a question for me, and she knew I'd know the answer. The question? "Who were the two guys who were around the same time as the Beach Boys, but. . ."

"Jan and Dean."

"Jan and Dean! That's it! Thanks!" And the phone went dead. It was obviously quite the productive day at the boutique! That had to be one of the shortest phone conversations I've ever had with my wife. Even when we're not speaking to each other we talk longer than that! But she knew that if she wanted the answer, she could always call her former disc jockey husband. It's tough to fool me on trivia, especially music trivia pre-1990.

One of the games I like to play with my satellite radio system is to listen to 5 seconds of a song and then identify the song title and the artist. I'm mighty good at it. I've always said that I am the King of Useless Information and it's a title I wear proudly. God has gifted me with a mind which remembers the last names of all the castaways from Gilligan's Island and the lyrics to obscure Beatles album cuts, but can't recall the names of people who have just introduced themselves to me. If it's trivial, I probably know it -- if I care about it at all.

Back in 1980 I was a freshman in college. This was before someone got the brilliant idea to set up a game called Trivial Pursuit. So when a sign appeared in my dorm announcing a Trivia Contest, I saw the opportunity to finally use all this garbage which was cluttering my brain. I needed a team of four, so I recruited the guy in the next dorm room who was a sports nut. Then we got the guy who was really into movies. Then lastly, we signed up my roommate who agreed to sit quietly and fill the required fourth chair. The plan was flawless. The areas I wasn't well versed in, I had guys who could cover me. We would be unbeatable.

In the tournament, I was on fire. The sports guy chipped in a few answers and the movie guy got one or two (and my roommate sat there in the fourth chair very well) but I was unstoppable. Two blowouts in two rounds and we were on to the Trivia Bowl, playing for, um... well I don't know what we were playing for, but it didn't matter. I knew what I was playing for -- pride! I can get quite competitive and this contest was bringing it out in me.

As the finals began, I was back in form. The format was simple: be the first to hit the indicator light when you know the answer. The "indicator light" was actually a desk lamp with a push-button power switch, as this wasn't exactly a high budget affair. If one team answered three straight questions correctly, they were asked a bonus question worth double the points. I came out of the gate strong. I answered 4 of the first 6 questions. The host, who was a junior communications major, was becoming annoyed that I could answer most any question he asked. I sat confidently slouched in my seat, right hand hovering near the indicator light waiting to hit the button and show off my knowledge. I answered three in a row and the host pulled out the bonus question. He read it with a sneer, as if to say, "Here's one you'll never get."

I still remember that question. "Name the serial number of the starship Enterprise on..." I cut him off there and without breaking eye contact said confidently, "NCC 1701." The host stared at his card incredulously. All that came out of his mouth was, "Uh, yeah." The assembled masses were duly impressed. I smirked the defiant smirk of pride. Somewhere my fans were doing the Superior Dance.

Why is it that knowledge, as Scripture says, puffs us up? Why do kids like to taunt others by chanting, "I know something you don't know"? I remember back in ancient times, when MTV actually played music videos. In between songs, the announcers (VJs) would rattle off trivial facts about the artists. John Oates likes green Chicklets or The Police video was shot with a CP-2 sepia enhancing battery-operated filter over the camera lens. Stuff like that. The reason they did, according to the MTV executives, was that in that demographic, knowledge is power. I loved the power of knowing I was smarter -- at least when it came to important things, like trivia.

I still have the tendency to "puff up" in my knowledge. I'm not always patient with people trying to find 1 Samuel in their Bible. I've been known to occasionally show off a la Cheers' resident know-it-all, Cliff Claven. I know I'm not alone, and I'm certainly not the first. The Gnostic movement of the early Christian years focused on obtaining special knowledge to gain spiritually. It made sense to enough people that it was a formidable false teaching for a number of years. After all, doesn't God bless the person who knows the most stuff?

The truth is, God blesses the person who knows Him. I could memorize books of theology and seven translations of Scripture, but if I have no relationship with Jesus it's all pointless -- "Chasing after the wind, " as one incredibly intelligent person once put it. Instead I must know my Creator and Savior.

By the way, the finals of the Trivia Bowl in college? We lost. After my shining moment, the other team began coming up with too many answers. It came down to the last question, and nobody on our team knew which soap opera had a major character named, "Phoebe." The other team did. We complained, calling it a stupid question, as if asking for the serial number of a fictional space ship was an intelligent question. But it was all over. So I packed up my ego, and went to the dining hall for dinner, awaiting another opportunity to impress people and puff myself up. After dinner I tried to run down a gentle breeze but failed at that also.

Knowledge is meaningless. Knowing Christ is everything.

Home Schooling -- why?

The topic has popped up on a number of blogs recently, and I thought I'd take an opportunity to hear from the many home schooling families scattered throughout the blogosphere. There are so many stereotypes and caricatures of home schoolers that I wanted to get a little clarity. So here's the deal: here are seven questions for you to answer honestly. You may leave the answers in the comments here, or place a link to your blog in the comments so that I can read what you've written there. (I know some people don't like to get too wordy in the comments sections.) You may even send them via email to rev-ed at verizon dot net if you'd rather. The more response I get, hopefully the truer the respresentation, so don't be afraid to let other home schoolers know and encourage their response.

The questions:

(1) What is the one biggest reason you homeschool your kids? (ex. fear of "indoctrination" at public schools, cost, desire to be closer to your kids, dangerous situations at public schools, etc.)

(2) What is the biggest challenge for you in homeschooling?

(3) Aside from church activities, what outlets have you found for your kids for socialization with other kids or involvement in sports?

(4) Approximately how many home schooled families do you know?

(5) How many years of home schooling will you do for each child? (ex. up to sixth grade, up to high school, complete high school,

(6) What is the one thing you wish non home schoolers would know about home schooling?

(7) Have you ever regretted your decision to home school?

As for me, I have the utmost respect for parents and families who home school, as I know it can be a ton of work. We considered home schooling, but by God's providence moved into a school district which is not slanted away from Christian values or teachings. Until a lawsuit a couple of years ago, a weekly Bible class was offered for elementary students and assemblies sponsored by the Parent's Club began with prayer! I figure I should support a school system like that. And I've kept a close eye on what is taught and how it is taught. And it doesn't hurt that I know a number of the faculty, so I get to hear the inside scoop.

I'll admit that I would have fears about home schooling if I were considering it. My boys are at the age where almost all of their sports activities will be through the school. Then there's the realization that I would have to relearn some of the things I forgot years ago! Other families I have talked to have had more radical fears about home schooling, especially in getting their children to interact with other kids, and a lack of the "gift" of teaching.

So I'd appreciate all the honesty you can muster, even if you feel like you need to be anonymous to do it! Thank you all in advance for your replies.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


At our house we noticed something a little odd here on Mother's Day weekend. In the window box outside my son's bedroom, a robin has built a nest and laid four baby blue eggs inside. I've got to question the judgment of the mother-to-be. Sure we have three cats who patrol our yard, ready to play Wild Kingdom at the drop of a hat and this robin has picked a place where the felines can't reach. But at what a cost? The nest is dirctly outside the window of my noisiest child -- eleven years old who runs almost constantly at full throttle and full volume. I'm sure when it was nest building time, it may have seemed like a good idea. After all, the windows were closed. Maybe an occasional shadow to frighten a nesting mother, but it probably didn't seem too threatening. Today though, the windows are open, the kids are out of school and Mama Robin must wait for a while for the kids to go to the back yard or for the boy to go to baseball practice just for a little peace and quiet.

Is she regretting her location decision now? All I know is that when I have passed by the room in the hall, I could see a very nervous nesting bird with eyes wide-open. She's built the nest, she's laid the eggs. Now she's going to stick it out until the end. Hopefully soon, our kids can have a "birds-eye view" of the hatchlings and be able to watch the young birds being cared for by the new mother. Hopefully, Mama Robin won't "chicken out" and abandon the eggs because of all the eleven year-old boy noise.

I've never known a first-time mother to have all the answers. I've known a few who thought they knew it all, only to find out how lacking they actually were. A soon-to-be mother will quite likely make decisions they will later regret. Maybe it's the color of the nursery walls. Perhaps Mom will decide on a name which just seems ridiculous a few years later. I had relatives with the last name "Nichols" who thought it was a good idea to name their daughter Penny. That's right -- Penny Nichols. Hey, nobody gets it right every time.

I remember being a first time dad-to-be. I actually was a first-timer twice. The first time, our son died 17 1/2 hours after his birth. All the nervousness my wife and I had the first time was multiplied exponentially the second first time. We weren't just careful about everything, we were overly cautious. I pushed my wife around places in a wheelchair just to be sure she didn't exert herself. We didn't want the second pregnancy to turn out like the first.

Even when our son was born healthy and happy, I still second guessed every decision for a while. He had a bad case of jaundice which caused him to spend five of his first seven days in this world in a pediatric suntan booth. When we finally got him home for good, my nerves were shot. I didn't know what to expect next. My wife knew better, but still we wondered if we were really making the right decisions.

And considering all the times we messed up, he has turned out remarkably well. He's survived an attack by a swarm of bees, running his arms through a glass window at a dead run, breaking his wrist in a playground accident and all kinds of scrapes and scratches. He's survived not only his own bad decisions, but those of his parents' as well.

We don't know the answers. Especially as parents. So Mama Robin sitting on her four precious eggs in my son's window box may do just fine after all. I'm sure she's watching out for those precious babies inside -- it's instinct for her. And perhaps the little birds will enjoy being serenaded by the sound of vicious battles on PlayStation 2, who knows? I have my own opinion that a nest in that window box is a bad idea, and I base that on my knowledge of what goes on in that room. Of course God knows if my decisions are good ones or bad ones because He knows all about this world.

My trust is not in myself, for I certainly know better than that. I'm fallible. Probably more fallible than most. My trust is in my Creator; the One who formed me and directs me, whether I bother to listen to Him or not. And as I think this evening about all the mothers and all the moms-to-be wondering what will happen next, I ask God to bless them, comfort them, and give them the good sense to listen to His direction. After all, who knows what to expect? Only the One who can use even the bad times for good.

Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Rick Warren Is Right. . . and Wrong

Where there are people, there is debate and that's certainly the case with Pastor Rick Warren and the Purpose Driven Life issue. Face it, brothers and sisters, any big church movement is going to get some scrutiny -- perhaps more than deserved -- by Christians who are naturally suspicious of anything new, and naturally suspicious of anything big. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek went through this a few years ago. Time now to send Saddleback Community Church and Pastor Rick Warren through the gauntlet. And as I read around various Christian blogs I see so many extreme feelings from both sides. That usually means that each side is mentally out-to-lunch and that each side has a pertinent point or two. This very well may be the point with the PD phenomenon.

In my estimation there is good and bad within the PDL movement. What qualifications do I have to blog about it? Well as a pastor, I recently took my church through the 40 Days of Purpose. For those who aren't familiar with it, in the 40 Days campaign the life and teachings of the church are formatted in the same way as The Purpose Driven Life. For seven Sundays the pastor's message focuses on that week's theme. The congregation is encouraged to read the PDL book and small groups meet to discuss the book and a separate PDL video study.

I wanted my church to go through the 40 Days for a number of reasons. Firstand foremost, I felt that this was what the Lord wanted me to do. But beyond that, I wanted to encourage the people to take the process of discipleship more seriously and to begin a few small groups to make God more a part of their everyday lives. Because many in the congregation knew people who had gone through the 40 Days at another church, they were receptive to the idea and it helped many to commit to the whole process. My goal was not to make our church a "little Saddleback" since after all our congregation would likely fit in just one bathroom at Saddleback Community Church! My goal was to encourage the people in their walk with Christ.

So with that background, let me give you my opinion of the whole 40 Days/PDL experience. Remember, these are my opinions. Your milage may vary.

Rick Warren is wrong
First the bad. I could cut and paste from various web sites and present the bad part, but there is so much hyperbole it can become unreadible at times. The biggest problem which stands out to me is the lack of a clear Gospel presentation. Ordinarily in a discipleship ciriculum that wouldn't bother me much, but this is being marketed as a way to bring people to Christ. That's just not right. Absent from the whole presentation is the idea of repentance -- not simply an optional concept, but a requisite. The version of the Sinner's Prayer in the book or on the small group tape makes no reference to being a sinner! That's just a poor presentation of the Gospel. Reports vary on whether it's this way at Saddleback Church, but I doubt that a Baptist preacher could ignore the idea of repentance permanently.

Another problem I had with the material is the use of dozens of translations and paraphrases of the Bible to find just the right wording to proof text a teaching. Some of these texts are used out of context, although the general principle is taught in Scripture. It's almost as if Warren is trying to hard to justify his thoughts through Scripture without producing an extended study of the topic. In the interest of brevity, too much gets left out. Although I will say this certainly informed me of more versions of the Bible than I was previously aware of!

I also didn't like the whole "marketing" feel of the campaign. There is a website to help you out, which is probably wonderful for conducting a huge 40 Days campaign. Ours was run cheaply for a small church, so some of the bells and whistles simply weren't necessary. There are a couple of dozen extras you can buy. These may be quite useful, but when I start to see 40 Days music and 40 Days keychains, and 40 Days this and 40 Days that it all begins to look like the moneychangers in the Temple. I'm sure that's not the intention, but that's the "vibe" it gave off to me.

As a pastor, I set aside seven Sundays to teach the concepts addressed in the book. And I have no problem with preaching about the purpose of life, evangelism, worship, fellowship, etc. That simply is no problem. I also have access to sermon transcripts for the seven Sundays. There is the expectation that the pastor will probably use the outlines for these messages for his own. I tried to stick with that, but sometimes the points weren't clear for me or were a bit repetitive. I used the outlines as an original template, then made changes where I felt they were needed.

Someone asked me if the pastor was supposed to simply read the transcripts of Warren's sermons instead of doing his own. Let me tell you, it's not possible. For one, they are loaded with references to Southern California and Saddleback Church which make no sense to a Midwestern boy. For another, they are loaded with songs and multiple pastors and personal stories and skits that you'd be a fool to attempt it. This in addition to the fact that the sermons had to be at least 45-50 minutes long and I don't get that kind of time on Sunday morning. Something about attention spans. . .

Finally, the whole PDL movement is proclaimed a success by many people because of the sheer number of people at Saddleback, the sheer number of churches participating in the 40 Days and the sheer numbers of reported conversions and recommitments from the program. This touches on my discomfort with the idea of numerical increases equalling true success. If this were true, we'd all be Latter-Day Saints, as the Mormons continue to grow despite anti-Christian doctrine. Numbers do not always equate with God's blessing.

Rick Warren is right
For all the trashing that Rick Warren and the PDL program takes in the blogosphere, I think it's important for me to point out some of the opposite point of view. The most important thing about the PDL material is that it actually gets people who have been spiritually stagnant to consider something more than just what's in it for them. The opening chapters of the book emphasize the point "It's not about me," over and over. And frankly, that's what much of the Christian church needs to hear. We can become such whiny, self-indulgent creatures that we are indistinguishable from the outside world. Some wear that fact like a badge of honor instead of the scarlet letter of shame which it should be. Christians are called to be in the world, not of the world. The Purpose Driven Life would be a success in my book even if it only addressed the topic most need to hear yet refuse to listen to -- selfishness.

The topics which Warren brings out, the five purposes, are all valid. Most of these have been ignored by the people in the pews for their entire lives. We know we are to worship, but we stupidly think an hour or two a week is plenty. We hear about fellowship, but we are too private to have really deep relationships. We read about discipleship but are too obsessed with our own lives to make any real time commitments. We hear the call to do ministry, but we keep ourselves spiritually inept enough to where we can say "no" to any opportunity in our path, claiming, "I don't know how to talk to those people," or "I'm not gifted to do something like that." We know the call to do evangelism, but we push that off on the pastor because he's the one getting paid for it.

I've read many people rake Warren over the coals because they consider PDL too simple or too elementary. Guess what? Apparently there is a huge segment of people sitting in churches on Sunday mornings who need it to be simple because they haven't picked up on it any other way! If your walk has progressed beyond all these principles, congratulations. Now, how about stooping down and helping your brothers and sisters who are still unable or unwilling to get the basics? Many people understand the significance of the Resurrection, yet I still speak about it every Spring. I've read the whole Bible, but I'll be dogged if I don't keep reading that thing! The concepts which are presented as Warren's five purposes are important to be taught and retaught for the edification of the Body.

Warren's initial question of invitation into the whole process is very valid. "What on earth am I here for?" The question of life's meaning has hounded philosophers since ancient times. It is no less perplexing for the unbeliever today. Death is scary to many not just because of the unknown nature of what is beyond, but also because all that they have toiled to achieve ends at that point. Your priorities must change. That's scary. To delight in the temporary pleasures of this life in an attempt to take one's mind off the dilemma is futile when the reminders of death are everywhere. Any attempt to get people to consider the whole idea of the meaning of one's life is well worth the effort.

Also the entire concept of getting the whole congregation concentrating on a goal helps to encourage fellowship and mutual growth within the body of the church. The principle of accountability can be a motivating factor for many people. You are not studying these things alone, you have company on your journey. That is a comfort and an encouragement. And when it comes to moving away from selfishness, we can use all the comfort and encouragement we can get. Plus the community of believers coming together in small groups is promoted throughout. This is not only another way to bring new people into the church fellowship, it provides a bit of the accountability factor to those who become a part of a group. My main goal from the 40 Days was to see these groups continue, and that is what is happening.

As is often the case, the extremes are wrong and the truth is found somewhere in the middle. I enjoyed the first incarnation of this material in The Purpose Driven Church more than ten years ago. The tailoring of that material to a personal level is not an exact science. Overall though, I think the PDL and 40 Days program are useful provided you understand what they are. This is not an evangelism program in itself. You must supplement Warren's material for it to accomplish that purpose. This is not a complete discipleship formula. There is more than PDL, even in Warren's own church. This is not the most incredible thing to hit the church in years. But it is a very useful tool to encourage people to break out of the self-centered lifestyle we all tend to fall into and truly take some time to consider what God wants from you. We don't stop with Day 40, but we continue on the rest of our lives growing more and more in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Taken at face value, Warren's book has some fundamental problems that cannot be overlooked. These are not insurmountable though. They can be and should be corrected. Once you hit that understanding, the PDL material can be very helpful to your church and to your life.

Do Not Miss

I don't care who you are, you really need to do some reading at Idle Rambling Thoughts. Jennifer has done a series of posts entitled, "Graceland". Here is part one. Then follow the story along and watch how God provided in Jennifer's life in the midst of tragedy.

When you're done and are still needing more to read, there's always the latest Christian Carnival over at Kentucky Packrat. I've only scratched the surface over there, but there's always plenty to choose from.

The latest Vox Apologia Symposium is up. A different approach, as no one entered, so entries were pulled out of the blogosphere.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't call your attention to a new blog, Evangelical Update, from our old pal "not-crunchy" who has apparently tired of the peanut butter-ish pseudonym and now simply goes by Alice. The point of Evangelical Update is that it is mostly for liberal non-Christians to understand what conservative Christians are all about. Yours Truly has been included in the cast of characters.

Alright, that's enough for now. Hit the streets. But, hey... let's be careful out there.
Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Like an Old Newspaper Clipping

In our kitchen it sits. The multi-purpose device which hums and rattles is often the focus of the room. We open it's doors many times each day. Usually when I open one of its doors, I'm looking for food. Maybe a drink. Maybe a snack. Sometimes I just stare inside hoping that some package will jump up and yell, "Hey, I'm delicious! Try me!" But that doesn't happen. So I either pick something, or I frown sadly and close the door. That's when I'm usually face to face with the great neglected function of the family refrigerator -- the bulletin board.

At our house we clean out the refrigerator on a fairly regular basis, but it's rare indeed that we ever clean off the refrigerator. That means that many of the things which are held by magnets on the door and on the side of the appliance have been there for quite some time. There are "Student of the Month" certificates for each of my boys from their school. One is from 2003, the other from January 2004. There are three fairly recent pieces of artwork, torn from their coloring book. By "recent" I mean sometime in the last two months. Pictures of nephews, friends and relatives dot the door. The adults still resemble their photos, but the kids have almost doubled in size since the pictures were shot.

Among the rest of the clutter is a comic strip. I believe the strip is called Baby Blues, but the title was cut away long ago. There used to be three of these comics, but two have disappeared. Missing is the clipping of Bloom County's Opus forgetting the words of the National Anthem and making up his own ("O'er Grandpa we washed, were so gallons ice-creamy!"). Gone is the strip where a wife plants a beautiful flower garden, then turns to the husband and says, "Your turn," while motioning to the heap of tools, empty bags and trash which she obviously wants the husband to clean up for her. I believe that clipping was trashed by my wife, since I posted it because it resembled her tendency in wanting me to clean up after her planting exploits. I can't prove she ditched it though, so in the future I'll have to used the words "alledged trashing!"

The Baby Blues strip is a shot back at me and the kids. The wife has cleaned the dishes and then is shocked to discover that the laundry basket is overflowing even though she completed the laundry an hour earlier. The husband comforts her and offers to start sorting the laundry while the wife gets a cup of tea. When she returns to her kitchen, the wife then is greeted by a sinkful of dirty dishes where nothing but cleanliness was there just a moment before. It's a good summary of how things can go for her at times.

I still look at the comic from time to time. It's easy to pick out. It has turned quite yellow which is a stark contrast to the rest of the refrigerator door. I believe this clipping is around ten years old because it had been magnetically stuck to our last refrigerator and we got rid of that around eight years ago. So in ten years, this common piece of newsprint went from white to a dark yellow. Of course everybody has newspaper clippings which have turned yellow over the years. But why do they do that? Why do old newspapers turn yellow?

Information age that it is, I went to and found out. It turns out that newsprint contains a substance called lignin. It's main use is to give the paper more strength, but when lignin is exposed to oxygen and sunlight it begins to discolor. If you leave this morning's paper in the bright sun all day, by evening you'll notice the change of color. The paper itself is bleached white when it is manufactured, but after being in the air and being exposed to the sun the white fades. Even preservation methods cannot keep newspaper clippings from eventually getting yellow. The existance of lignin assures a graduation discoloring.

I have no lignin in me. But I have something which can cause me to turn from the bleached white color to a dingy yellow. It's called a sin nature. God bleaches me white when I ask for forgiveness. He does that because I truly turn away from what I've done wrong (or neglected to do right) and ask forgiveness. Yet I still have this lignin-type nature which affects me. When I go out I am exposed to the temptations of the culture around me -- materialitic, sexual, philosophical, narcissistic temptations -- which can turn me yellow in a hurry if not for the power of the Holy Spirit within me. Even with the Spirit within me, I find that I often don't bother to follow, opting instead to chase after what pleases me rather than what pleases God. The world looks yellow, but I am to remain bleached white. That's my call as a Christian.

Jesus used the example of Christians being salt. He said that if salt loses its saltiness, it is worthless. Now I've never kept salt around long enough for it to lose that flavor, but the point is made. Christians are to be different. A little spice, if you will. And while Jesus walked the earth, salt was mostly used as a preservative. A few Christians can help the whole world from smelling like rotten meat. Jesus' point is that Christians are different. We are not to be "just like everybody else." We are called to be salt. Light. Non-yellowed newspaper. But it doesn't seem to work out that way. Too many times Christians are indistinguishable from the world. We share a common yellowish color. And too many who call themselves Christians don't care.

One expert said that "while nothing lasts forever, you can make a newspaper clipping last for several decades or longer if you treat it carefully." She calls for using acid-free and lignin-free papers to wrap the clipping in and Mylar sheets and even soaking the clippings in a solution of milk of magnesia and club soda. But even with all that the clipping will eventually yellow. Once the yellowing starts, you can never get the newspaper back to its original white.

Praise God that even when I am exposed to the temptations of the world and my own sinful nature, He washes me white as snow again when I ask His forgiveness. I don't want to live my life looking like an old yellowed newspaper clipping.