Friday, September 30, 2005
Twenty Years Ago: 1985. Livin' large and livin' lonely. It was my first apartment with no roommates. In hindsight I probably should have found a roommate, but I was flying solo. I was working as the evening DJ at the local top 40 radio station in Battle Creek/Kalamazoo, Michigan. This meant I spent six hours every night playing music for teenagers doing their homework. I also spent a lot of time talking to them on the telephone. Radio groupies. They can only get you into trouble. Fortunately I didn't take the (jail) bait.
The sad part was that working from 4pm until midnight, I had precious little time to meet other people. So I spent a lot of time by myself. I got rather used to it though.
One solution would have been church, but I got burned out on church shopping. That's tough enough to do, let alone when you are by yourself. I remember one big, old church where I walked in, sat and worshipped for an hour and walked out without one person even speaking to me. I probably have to share the blame though since I don't think I tried to speak to anyone else either.
Ten Years Ago: My how things had changed. I had been married for four years and had two little boys at home and had lost another boy shortly after birth. My radio career was over. I was busy with my t-shirt and sweatshirt business, operating in six malls that year. But the pressing detail of my life was my call to ministry. After years of running from it, God finally got me into a hammerlock and I gave in. My schedule allowed me to take classes full time for my Master's degree, and I was doing my best to soak myself in Scripture and in theology. It was an intense time, but it all went by so fast.
Five Years Ago: I was an established senior pastor at my current church. I had grown into being a minister in a small country church. Each year featured a challenge of it's own, but they usually boiled down to working to glorify God vs. working to glorify something or someone else. Seems like that hasn't changed much.
I was also working toward becoming part of the local community, but having a tough time fitting in. I knew the parents of my boy's friends and a few others from little league baseball. But the hardest part was finding the community. Our church is in the middle of nowhere -- eight miles from the nearest town. The congregation is involved in three different school systems and three different communities, so which community should I be a part of? I finally decided to bloom where I'm planted, but I still have a hard time straddling communities.
One Year Ago: Not a lot of different wrestling matches then from what I go through now. I still have the same struggles. A teenage boy, an almost-teenage boy and a precious little girl light up my life. A beautiful wife who loves me and whom I adore. Who can complain?
One Day Ago: I tried to mow the lawn, but I had mower problems. I spent the rest of the early afternoon doing bookwork for the shirt business. In the afternoon, my oldest son had a football game. He plays left offensive tackle. He had a good game. The team was down 14-12 with about a minute and a half left. They managed a touchdown with just over a minute remaining and also made the two point conversion to go ahead 20-14. The other team pulled a trick play and completed a touchdown pass with just 30 seconds left in the game. They took the lead 22-20 after converting the two-pointer. We were down to desperation passes. Three failed. The fourth was completed over the middle and the reciever dodged tacklers for 68 yards, crossing the goal line as time expired. We won 26-22. After that, I picked up my other son from his practice and we made it home for supper around 8:00. Grilled cheese and tomato soup on a rather chilly day. My wife and I watched some television for a change during the late evening. I climbed into bed around 12:30. My wife made it there somewhere about an hour later.
One Hour Ago: The kids and I arrived back home from the local high school football game. We won 56-0. My wife, meanwhile, was doing some shopping for my daughter's upcoming birthday party.
Five Favorite Snacks:
Pepsi. I always drink too much of the stuff.
Ice cream. Provided the temperature is above freezing. Below freezing, I'll substitute hot cooked pudding.
Little Debbie Dunkin' Stix. Junk food to the extreme, but only 50 cents a pack!
Peanut butter. Usually in a sandwich, but sometimes on saltines or just a spoonful out of the jar.
Mellocreme Pumpkins. The autumn candy of choice.
Five Songs I Know the Words to:
Oh, you've got to be kidding me! Just five? I worked in radio for ten years. I know the words to songs I cannot stand! How about that? Five songs I can't stand, but still know the words.
Rapture by Blondie. I heard it on the radio this afternoon. Still don't get the part about the man from Mars eating guitars.
Rock Me, Amadeus by Falco. OK, I'll admit I don't know the German words, but all the English ones I have down pat. This was one of those songs that eight year old children loved to call and request when I was a disc jockey twenty years ago. I tried everything to avoid playing it, but had to do it to keep my job. I would shout other lyrics to try to drown out the words -- all to no avail. But I did get people looking at me when I used to sing along, "Mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes. Please pass the mashed potatoes."
Heartbeat, It's a Lovebeat by the DeFranco Family. I remember blowing this song up live on the air. It wasn't a real explosion. (Drat!) I just got hoarse from screaming at the record, so I plugged in the sound effect of an explosion and started it as I pulled the needle off the black vinyl grooves. It got my point across.
Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks. Now come on. Who doesn't hate that song? But radio played the everlovin' snot out of it back when there weren't a lot of choices on the dial. So the words have stuck with me.
Convoy by C. W. McCall. Come to think of it, I really don't hate this song too much, but my wife does, so I always tend to play this song REALLY LOUD every once in a while just to assert my control. I said, let them truckers roll, 10-4.
What I would do with 5 Millon Dollars: Now this is a tough one. I'm not one for longing after expensive things. That's got to be some kind of spiritual gift, I know. First thing would be college funds for three kids followed by a retirement fund for my wife and I. I have no real desire to retire, but I wouldn't have to put any financial burden on the church as far as salary goes. Beyond those things (and of course a tithe), I'd probably get new vehicles since my truck will go over 200,000 miles next week. We'd probably make a few home improvements and get a computer for each one of us in the family so we wouldn't keep trying to push each other out of the desk chair. Then maybe I'd spend some escaping someplace for a while.
5 Places I would escape to for a while: Hey, now there's a coincidence! But seriously, I'm going to assume that these escapes would be for my wife and I, as I can't think of wanting to escape without her.
1. Cabin in the woods. We used to take a week and rent a cabin at an area state park each winter before the kids' school got to be such a pain to deal with. We'd arrive on Sunday evening and stay through Friday. In the dead of winter. No phones, no television or radio. Just a woodstove, a small kitchen and a wonderland of nature around us. At that time of year there would be absolutely no one else in the whole park, just my wife and I and a few herds of deer. Oh, and the raccoons my wife mistakely fed one night. The next night there were around 100 of the masked creatures trying to get in to raid the refrigerator!
2. Seashore. Not Florida. Someplace that isn't all "touristy" but is quiet and laid back with the sound of the waves beating against the shore to lull us to sleep at night.
3. The mountains of Colorado. Again we'd avoid all the trendy places, instead searching for something quiet and out of the way. When we were first married we lived at the foot of an almost 3000 foot mountain. Today we live on land so flat we can watch traffic on the road four miles away. The mountains would be a nice change of pace.
4. Backroads. Driving through the less traveled roads of America with no real agenda, just looking at what is around.
5. Following the IndyCars. We both love to watch IndyCar racing and would love to go from race to race to be a part of it. Races are always a thousand times more enjoyable in person than they are on television.
5 Things I would not wear: Aside from women's clothes? Hmmmm.
Sandals with socks.
5 Favorite TV Programs:
CSI. I love a good mystery.
CSI Miami. I love a horrible actor in the middle of a good mystery.
Andy Griffith reruns (but only the ones in black and white).
Any show that ranks things 1-100. Worst reality show moments, best country music duets, most memorable movie lines... I'm a sucker for a good list.
5 Greatest Joys:
Watching my children.
Snuggling with my wife.
Seeing a job accomplished.
Spending time writing.
5 Favorite Toys:
Sirius Satellite Radio. Hands down.
A ball. Any ball.
CD player with shuffle mode.
5 People I will tag to play:
Oh, no you don't. I played along, but I'm not dragging anybody else into this. Tell you what, I tag the first five people who have read all the way to the end of this post. That'll teach ya'!
Thursday, September 29, 2005
I've always liked mowing the lawn. I know I haven't always had the best of luck mowing, but it's one job where you can see your work. Looking out over a freshly cut lawn gives me a sense of satisfaction from a job well done. It looks like I've been working. When I finish reading a book it still looks the same. The lawn looks better... different.
But my lawn doesn't look better. It does look different, but in this case different isn't good. Today the mower gave out part way through the job. It was a free replacement mower after "The Pond Incident" so I can't really complain. But now it won't start until I get a replacement part, and the lawn looks silly. I got a few passes done on the edge and around the house. There there is a stripe down the middle of the front yard where I was cutting when something happened. It reminds me of a football field with the yard lines mowed shorter than the rest of the field. Perhaps I should paint "CARDINALS" at the end and put up a goalpost.
It looks silly. Passersby must think I'm trying to do lawn art of something. It's obvious it's not supposed to look that way. But it does. I like to think of it as a work in progress.
I'm a work in progress too. The Bible even backs me up on that. I'm slowly (very slowly) being conformed to the image of Christ Jesus. But in the meantime, I look silly.
I talk about the need to give every aspect of my life to Him, but I still hold back. I believe that we shouldn't judge the salvation of others, but in my mind I still occasionally find myself doing just that. I tell people to flee temptation, but too often I sit down on the couch with it and enjoy it's company. In short, I am not what I want to be. I am not what I should be. I'm only partially completed. I'm still a work in progress.
When people see me, they may not notice that I'm not finished yet. But I'm sure some can figure it out if they try. I'm still struggling. I'm not perfect. And I hope that people don't see that as hypocrisy because it's not. It's simply failure. I may start out with the intent of mowing the lawn, but after a few passes I tend to give out. And it's only the Mechanic's loving hand that can get me back on the right track.
Someday I'll be completed. I'll have it all together. I won't look like someone should paint a team logo across my chest. But until then, I'll continue to struggle and fail and get up again and lean on the One who can get me through. Then I'll venture off on my own again and fail. Because I'm still a work in progress. And I don't dare forget that.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
In the meantime, you might check out (Getting and Losing) Religion and the discussion at Eternal Revolution.
Also this amazing profound post, Oh... so it wasn't the music from Tiffany at To Love, Honor and Obey.
And a plug for my friend Tom at Brain Twitch and his post Developing the Developing.
Excuse me. Time to wash off the archives.
Monday, September 26, 2005
But where I truly strike out is drunkenness. It's beyond me. In college, I knew people who would get good and drunk to go to a concert. In the morning, they remembered little of the event they had been waiting months to see. What's the point? Weekends were spent in pursuit of an altered state of consciousness. If there was no buzz, it couldn't have been any fun. The whole point of Friday night was to be drunk. In their way of thinking, the number of beers consumed was the indicator of how good the weekend was. I saw this far too often. And I remain puzzled to this day. Grown adults still live for the opportunity to get plastered. And from my spot, I've come to strike three.
So as I approach this subject I do so with a certain amount of knowledge on the subject, but with absolutely no desire to have even an occasional drink. But then as a kid I never liked spinning around until the room was spinning even when I stood still. Maybe I'm just funny that way.
Michael Spencer posted a commentary which really sounded familiar. His post, One Big Happy Lie: Southern Baptists, Alcohol and Me is focused on the same argument which my denomination has wrestled with for years and years -- can you be a Christian and drink alcohol? Or the way it has been tossed around in my circles -- should using beverage alcohol disqualify someone from church membership?
From the post:
My pastor preached against drinking in other churches with ferocity. There was no other name for his approach. It mattered deeply to him, so much that alcohol ominated many messages. What separated Southern Baptists from other ChristiansI'm sure there are plenty of people in the church who drink alcohol. I have no doubt that if you would ask if they drank, most would deny it. I've known members of other churches who kept beer in the fridge even though their church took a stand prohibiting it. I assumed it didn't come as a bonus from Amana when they bought the appliance. But I've never let it worry me. To admit to having even a beer once a year would mean risking becoming a social outcast in many congregations, so it's not exactly something you'd broadcast proudly throughout the sanctuary. But like Spencer, I'm not about to question someone's salvation because of a glass of wine.
was teetotalism. We said the church covenant's promise "to abstain from the sale and use of alcohol as a beverage" with emphasis. God was serious about this booze issue, and he was watching.
I wasn't raised as a Southern Baptist. I wasn't even raised in my current denomination, but this was the same worldview I grew up in. The short answer for me was that if you are a Christian, you don't have anything to do with alcohol. You don't buy it. You don't drink it. You don't patronize places where it is sold.
It was all very cut and dried. Very simple. But there was a problem -- it wasn't biblical. Still isn't.
I was led into my denomination by the Holy Spirit. It was confirmed to me in many ways, but the clincher was that my new found denominational home lined up doctrinally with me. The essentials were stressed, but in the non-essentials there was liberty to teach any number of orthodox positions. The only doctrinal hang-up I really had was their rule that members were not to ever use beverage alcohol, period. No sip of champagne at Cousin Julie's wedding. No can of beer after mowing the lawn. Nothing. By church doctrine, a member could be disassociated because of a single swallow. And I had a problem with that. I still do.
But I was encouraged that there were many within the denomination who thought as I -- that the Bible made no such stipulation on believers. Sure, we're told not to be drunk, and not to break the law by underage drinking, and not to be a stumbling block for others, but there is no Dry Commandment.
Over the next few conferences that I attended, I saw this issue hit hot buttons with people all over our church. Some were in my boat, trying to set biblical standards without going beyond in legalism. For others though, allowing members to have a sip was akin to starting a brewery in the church sanctuary. Their emotional pleas to the conference delegates were swollen with tales of drunk drivers and alcoholic parents, but never did they refer to a biblical mandate. It was the elevation of tradition to the canonical level. The Pharisees would have been proud.
This past Summer our denomination finally changed its alcohol stance. We still discourage the use of alcohol, but drinking is not a test for membership. It's the right decision. But I've still heard a few people claim that we've taken a step backward -- that somehow we are advocating the use of alcohol.
How is it that peripheral issues can become so intertwined with Christianity?
Saturday, September 24, 2005
I would take no for an answer,
Just to know I heard you speak,
And I'm wondering why I've never,
Seen the signs they claim they see,
A lotta special revelations,
Meant for everybody but me,
Maybe I don't truly know You,
or maybe I just simply believe...
Now I've never felt the presence,
But I know You're always near,
And I've never heard the calling,
But somehow You've led me right here,
So I'm not lookin' for burnin' bushes,
Or some Divine graffiti to appear,
I'm just beggin You for Your wisdom,
And I believe You're puttin' some here...
lyrics by Chris Rice
Those lyrics say it well for me. I don't need no stinking miracles or wild freak show. I need more of Jesus Christ in my life, and I am pretty sure I can find it in praise, prayer, worship, thanksgiving, confession, forgiveness, service and studing Scripture. I'm not looking for burning bushes or writing on the wall. I simply want to know Him better. What's more, I don't expect any huge miracle display. If I get one, fine. But our lives as Christians are basically normal.
I came across a post at Internet Monk which says much the same thing. Actually it's a three year old post, but it's plenty current. If at all possible, click here and go read it before you read on.
Spencer begins with this:
I'm tired of weird Christians. I am tired of hearing people I work with say that God is talking to them like He talked to Moses at the burning bush or like He talked to Abraham. I'm weary of people saying God speaks directly to them about mundane matters of reasonable human choice, so that their choices of toothpaste and wallpaper are actually God's choices, and therefore I need to just shut up and keep all my opinions to myself until I can appreciate spiritual things. I'm tired of people acting as if the normal Christian life is hearing a voice in your head telling you things other people can't possible know, thus allowing you a decided advantage. I mean, if all this were really happening, wouldn't these people be picking better stocks?
I've always wondered about people who stop and ask God's direction for every little decision. I've especially wondered about the people who claim they hear God tell them the right choice for every little decision. At one Bible study, we discussed whether or not God cared who would win the Super Bowl. The consensus was that God could use any outcome. Not all decisions are God's Will vs. Not God's Will. And I have to admit I'm baffled by those who claim differently.
The fact is that our lives are surprisingly normal. I don't get IMs from God. Do I seek God's leading in my major decisions? I sure do. But I'm sure that much of my life is to be led by discernment -- by using my intellectual prowess filtered through what I've learned by being His disciple.
Spencer sums it up:
[M]aybe you are like me. You are an ordinary Christian living an ordinary life. You don't hear voices, see visions, or believe you are under constant attack by demonic forces. You may have some experiences that you call supernatural or miraculous, but they are the exception, not the rule. When you pray for people, things usually don't change; you change. You have no authoritative insight into what is going to happen in the future. You suspect that if you were filled with the Spirit, you would love God and people more, and do the right thing more often. You'd be more like Jesus. You wouldn't be running around in circles pointing out angels on the roof. The fruit of the Spirit would make you a person others would want to be around, not someone who would frighten animals and small children.
I've always told people that miracles aren't an everyday occurence -- that's why they call them miracles. Yet we seek them at every opportunity. Why?
I think we struggle with the idea of a God who isn't always "in our face." Some of my friends live their lives every day denying the existance of deity, and their experiences seem to prove them right. No stray lightning bolts. No angelic visions. No ladders to heaven. No chariots of fire. They feel vindicated in their disbelief. They wonder how I can believe in a God who must obviously be painfully shy.
But shy isn't the word. The word is probably related to "stealth" or something along those lines. He is present even when we don't notice. And while that makes it difficult for some to believe, it also makes many believers nervous. Then we get people "surfing in the Spirit" or imagining visions or worse yet, believing that some esoteric feeling is always a prompting from God. I know of Christians who sought a divorce because they were certain God was leading them to leave their Christian spouse. The story has been told of the disabled woman who felt like God wanted her to steal a sum of money to illustrate the teaching that we possess all we see.
In desperation to feel closer to God, the normal won't do for too many people. Instead they go off equating God with common inner desires for love, power, money and respect. But God wants more from us than following our gut. He expects us to know Him and to seek Him in prayer, worship and especially in the study of His Word. We know Him not because He gives us feelings, but because He transforms our thinking by the renewing of our minds. It may not be as flashy as a miracle show, but it's the way to truly know God better.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Anyway, during the interview the ghostbuster explained that she could see departed spirits who never followed the light into the next world. According to her, it's a little like missing the last train out of town -- don't go and you can't change your mind later. Her claim is to be able to see these spirits, even if she is simply talking to you on the telephone. There were a couple of contradictions in her accounts, but finally she told the radio hosts that someone in their building who has a lot of pictures of animals around their desk has a departed spirit following them. Nobody knew of anyone in that building with a bunch of animal pictures, but our whisperer calmly assured the radio cast that they'd probably been overlooking that desk and would figure out who it was in the next few days.
Personally her schtick sounded an awful lot like some of these other paranormal experts. Be vague. Try to get the person "buying" the services to provide more information. Have limited revelations. Use descriptions so vague that almost anyone will be able to associate with them. When John Edwards (the Crossing Over guy, not the senator) had his television show everywhere, I used to try to do the trick along with him. It's not really that hard when you work with a person who desperately wants to believe.
"I'm getting a woman's name beginning with S. Is there a female in your family whose name starts with S?"
"Not really. Oh, there's Aunt Estelle!"
"Yes, that must be right. Estelle!"
Pul-eese. I couldn't watch much of that show or it's ugly twin program Pet Psychic, which still shows up on Animal Planet from time to time. These poor people were desperate for peace, but looking in the wrong place.
There was a bit of a surprise in the interview. One host asked the woman with ghost vision about her spirituality and she answered back that she is a practicing Catholic! When asked about the biblical admonitions against speaking with the dead, she claimed it all to be a matter of interpretation. She interpreted these passages to mean that we should pursue communication with the dead, but these "departed spirits" aren't really dead because she believes in eternal life. She never enlightened us on who the dead actually are if everyone is eternally alive, not surprisingly.
She also said that if you have a ghost living with you, the first thing you should do is contact your priest or minister and have them bless the house because, in her words, "it couldn't hurt!" After that blessing you should get a special Native American spirit stick and try to drive off the departed folk. There was a third step too, but it didn't make any more sense than anything else she said.
I guess I shouldn't have really been surprised. People will always twist a biblical interpretation to fit their own preconceived notions or their experiences -- real or otherwise. It was just so odd to hear a professed Christian expouse such an anti-Christian worldview.
Ghost stories have been around since Bible times. Some can be explained by understanding the mindset of sad and grieving people. Others can only be explained as demonic activity. In other words, it's not really Great Grandmother hovering in the corner bedroom telling you to listen to your heart, it's something disguised as Great Grandmother. Remember the passage of Scripture warning us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light? While I believe some of these sightings are from honest people who genuinely see things, the majority are probably bunk. The few which aren't are reminders that we don't see all of what is going on in this world. And while it may seem pretty scary on the surface, I am comforted by the fact that "Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world."
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
I miss that man.
I've tried instrumental music also. I took piano lessons for two years as a boy and can still play the introduction to White Christmas. Don't ask me to play much else though. As a sixth grader I learned to play the trombone. Jazz band, marching band and the assorted chuch orchestra are all on my resume, but I haven't played more than a scale for twenty years. I just can't be cool as a wandering trombonist. The best I can muster is being a tolerable part of a symphony orchestra.
I almost took up the saxophone, but they were mighty expensive. That would have been a wee bit cooler, but it's not much of a solo instrument unless you're watching some old film noir flick.
But my oldest boy has done me one better. He's a guitarist. I can say that now. Six months ago he was just "taking guitar lessons" but he's getting pretty good. And I enjoy hearing the strumming and plucking through the house. It just sounds "right". He's not ready for an Eric Clapton sound-alike contest or anything, but he's able to sit and make up his own rhythms and explore a whole range of chords. To be honest, I'm jealous.
Most of the time, I don't "get" art, but music is a different story. I'd love to be able to lose myself in a typical chord progression and just worship. To sing along with a steady strumming. To control the tempo and the key. To praise Him musically as I feel like it. That would be wonderful. I'd love to sing by myself in harmony too, but I'm not holding my breath on that happening either.
Music touches a place in the soul where we're inhibited to go otherwise. There's a lot of power in the song. Don't believe me? I'd be willing to bet that you could repeat the lyrics to more songs than you could recite poems or pieces of prose. Music is usually more memorable because it involves more than just the brain. Granted there are many people who never quite get the words right, but the music is still anchored in the memory. Is it any wonder that the largest book of the Bible is a collection of song lyrics?
So as the strains of the six-string serenade me, I head off to my office to plan out another day. It's a great gift -- music. Whether you play or sing or just hum off-key and enjoy, God provided this access to our soul. And for now, I'll have to be satisfied to listen or occasionally sing along. You don't want to be around if I pull out the ol' trombone.
Phil Johnson's reply to an email intended for the other Phil Johnson.
Last week's Christian Carnival (#87 for those of you scoring at home) was posted last week at Pseudo-Polymath. This week's carnival (#88 if my first grade math hasn't failed me) will appear on Wednesday at Digitus, Finger & Co.
A new type of carnival is readying it's debut. God Or Not will be a discussion between the faithful and faithless. Actually it would be between those with faith in God and those with faith in something else. In either case, a tip of the ol' ball cap to Eternal Revolution for the heads up. First round is about two weeks away. The topic is original sin.
Oh, and the holiday season is upon us. Be glad you missed this holiday. Apparently Jeff the Baptist has Holiday Fever.
Monday, September 19, 2005
When the offering plate is passed down the pew, some people understand that they are giving back a tiny portion of what they have been given, while others give with the mindset of paying a bill. Even among those who understand the principle of giving of a tithe, it's quite another matter when it comes to other giving -- or even more giving. We treasure our belongings; our treasures. Although we're willing to sacrifice our ten percent, going beyond that is pushing it. And we'd better get a receipt so we can write it off on our income taxes.
It's tough for us to read Luke 9:23-26 and hear it the way the original hearers of the words did.
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."Of course, we hear the part about taking up our cross and we see the foreshadowing of Jesus' words, but those gathered to hear Him wouldn't have known anything about that. To them, taking up our cross was an allusion to the criminals who were being led out to their crucifixion, bearing on their shoulders and backs that which would eventually kill them.
Jesus is warning His followers that they will have to willingly carry around a great burden which will eventually prove to be their undoing. And if the cross doesn't kill them, then they will feel it's weight all along their journey. But the good news is that compared to the weight of the world, that cross is light. We don't have to live up to the standards of people who can't agree on what the standards are supposed to be. We are to live through the power of the Holy Spirit to love God and love our neighbors, and we uphold one another in that task.
Today we tend to underemphasize the principle of sacrifice in the Church. After all, how are we going to increase church attendance if we tell people they have to drag around a burden as Christians? They'd never go for it! And so we have churches full of people who fill a seat and get their noses counted in attendance and may even put a check in the offering plate, but they have no clue about taking up a cross every day.
One of the traditional lessons the Church has used to teach sacrifice is the celebration of Lent. For the forty days prior to Easter Sunday, a person is encouraged to give up something of value to him. Making that sacrifice for a forty day period is a way to prepare us to celebrate Jesus' ultimate sacrifice for us. But an interesting thing tends to happen. If you're like me, and you've given up, let's say chocolate, for Lent, you abstain for forty days. It's hard at first, but then you don't think about it as much. Then you see the light at the end of the tunnel entering Holy Week. Then right after leaving the church building on Easter Sunday, you're headed home, ready to overdose on chocolate eggs, chocolate bunnies, M&Ms, Hershey bars, or anything even mildly edible so long as it's DIPPED IN CHOCOLATE!!
And the experience is over. You've deprived yourself for forty days, but now you can go back to normal. There's nothing wrong with that lesson, but the sacrifice Jesus calls us to isn't just forty days long -- it's every day for the rest of our lives! Do we really get a grasp of that? At Lent we typically choose something which we may miss a little, but it won't hurt us too badly. (And it's probably something we should be cutting down on anyway.) But taking up our cross daily may entail giving up something, not just to make us feel better, but to take those resources which we would have used another way and instead offer them for God's use.
For example, I've been told numerous times, "I'd like to read the Bible every night, but I just don't have the time to do it." But from what Jesus says, I ask, "What are you willing to give up to make it happen?" The incredulous looks and the gasps are priceless. You see, usually we have time to read the Bible and pray and worship Him and seek His direction... but, American Idol is on! Or we have to read the paper. Or surf a few more blogs. Or go volunteer with the Little League team. It may be a very deserving cause, but is it more important than opening up ten minutes of your busy schedule for your Savior?
But let me get real about cross carrying. What are we willing to give up for Jesus after all He gave up for us? There are the martyrs who have given all for Christ. They continued to stand for Jesus even when threatened with death. They knew that it would soon be over and that they would be standing with Jesus in moments. In Acts, Stephen looked up as he was being executed and saw Jesus in heaven and knew he'd soon be there. Fantastic sacrifices. But at the risk of belittling them, the martyrs often got an immediate reward. What about the sacrifices you are called to make that we have to live with for years and years and years afterward? Are you so willing to make the sacrifice if we know it's not just for forty days, but for a lifetime? What is it that you are holding so dear that you'd rather keep it than give it to God?
Maybe it's your luxuries. Many people give from the abundance of our riches. The fact is that this is how far too many people give to God through the church -- whatever they think they can afford after keeping what they want. "I'll gladly give this to God, provided it doesn't hurt my lifestyle." I read somewhere that if you own a car -- that's just one car -- you're richer than 96 percent of the people of the world. That's just ONE car. How tightly we grip our extravagant lifestyle.
Maybe it's your freedom. We hold tight to our right to decide for ourselves what to do, giving only lip service to seeking God's direction. We don't like to be told we cannot do something or associate with someone. We hate being told we're not good stewards of our time and our talents, but it's usually true. But we hate even more sacrificing what we want.
The sacrifices of bulls and goats didn't accomplish any real salvation. That was accomplished by the one ultimate sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God. But the nation of Israel was being taught that what they had was not their own, but a gift of God Almighty. Yet even today, we still haven't completely learned that lesson. If we had, would there be any sacrifice too great for our Lord? Would there be any hesistation to take up that cross every morning and drag it around with us all day?
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Usually I'll sit and wait for him to finish the work instead of dropping it off and coming back later. Greg's shop doesn't have one of those fancy waiting rooms with cable TV, upholstered chairs and a stack of National Geographics from the late 90's. I sit in the office. The mechanic's office. The floor is cracked concrete with various grease and oil stains. In the winter a space heater warms the room, but when it's hot the center of the place remains empty. Two desks sit on opposite sides of the room. One is the gathering place for the other guys at work to have a smoke or grab a bite to eat. The other desk is Greg's. The computer monitor is almost crowded out by papers, parts books, sparkplugs, bits of hose, cigarettes, Diet Coke cans, empty packages, and assorted pieces which must fit into the average Buick somewhere. My seat is an old chair from a dining room set, long since discarded. I lean back against a large, off-white cabinet, it's doors streaked with reminders of grease-covered hands feeling for the door handle. The walls are covered with a type of wood paneling which dates back a number of years. Since the building is quite old and has had many tenants over the decades, I've often wondered who put up such dark wall coverings. A few assorted signs adorn the walls. Near the door, a dozen different business cards are stapled. The front windows are partially covered by two large sets of blinds, leaving about a foot on either end open to the sunlight. In the rear corner is the restroom with matching wood paneling on the door. The fixtures inside that room are rust-stained, old and small. A hook and eye screw serve as the latch. Near the entrance is the door to the work area. The lighter pressed wood is covered in nonsensical graffiti. Throughout the room is the smell of oil and cigarette smoke.
I feel oddly comfortable in this room. I don't miss having a coffee machine in the corner, as Greg will offer me a Diet Coke from his lunchbox-sized cooler. The grease and oil don't bother me, as I rather expect that from a place full of people elbow-deep in engine parts every day. The rest of the surroundings are just simply a part of the experience. I remember shops like this as a boy, traveling with my Dad to get an oil change or a lube job. Greg's office fits right into my frame of reference. To be honest, a car dealer's waiting room seems much too sterile to have any real work being done there. But I would wager that a sizable majority of people would have the opposite feelings. Most would be uncomfortable with that office and certainly wouldn't sit there for an hour, talking with the workers and reading a book.
On Monday, Greg told me about his weekend at a small business workshop in Indianapolis. He and his wife stayed at the hotel where the workshop was being held. The room cost him $179, and Greg said that it sure wasn't worth it. It was simply a $79 room which happened to be in the right location. The staff was rude to him and the room was no better than the average Motel 6. All that expensive image which went along with the name on the hotel sign meant nothing to Greg. To him it was something akin to putting a tuxedo on a mechanic -- a lot of fancy hoopla covering up the average reality inside.
I've mentioned before that I'm working through Mark Waltz's book, First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church. I may do a few specific blog entries on some of the ways I've either hated or loved his ideas, but for now let me explain the premise. Waltz correctly states that people matter to God. The book is a compilation of various ways his church in Granger, Indiana looks to serve guests. The author talks about not simply average service, but extraordinary things which make a visitor say "Wow!" Most of the things to this simple country pastor seem over the top and showy. It reminds me of trying to put my mechanic friend, Greg, into a tuxedo.
I have no problem per se with things like valet parking, huge atriums, coffee shops with discounts for visitors, armies of greeters stationed in layers or shuttle buses with seats arranged in a U allowing you viewing access to the video presentation of the church's various ministries. Where I have the problem is when we use things like this to impress people. To me, there is a difference between impressing and serving. Comfort is one thing. Luxury is another.
How about these two extremes?
This is, of course, the former Compaq Center in Houston which now serves as Lakewood Church. Joel Osteen's flock has been in this building for a few months now. Certainly a large group like Lakewood needs a big building, but this? I can't speak to the luxuries or lack thereof, but I would imagine the facilities are very nice. It doesn't quite seem like a "church" to me, but I can accept it as such. Then there is this:
Isaac Long's Barn
This is where my denomination was born. That's right, we were born in a barn! Back in 1767, Isaac Long's barn was home base for a series of revival meetings. At one meeting the two founders of our denomination first met and a friendship was developed. The barn had a reputation for being used frequently for religious meetings, but it was still a structure built to house animals.
I imagine that somewhere between the two extremes is where we must be. Although my Savior and my denomination were each born in a barn, that doesn't mean we must meet weekly in such surroundings. On the other hand, I wonder exactly how much luxury we should worship in. The church is maintained by gifts which are given to God's service. Is it serving God if we dwell in luxury? Is it the best use of His money?
I read the comments from someone who used to work for a major ministry broadcast and wondered why the facilities needed to be so upper class when some of the donations came from people scrimping and saving on a bare bones income to send a small gift to that ministry. Indeed. I am always wondering if my church is using the money given to God through it in a manner pleasing to Him. I don't want to worship in a barn, but I don't need a palace either. And I realize that everyone isn't comfortable in a dirty, greasy mechanic's office, so I'm not sure exactly how to draw the line.
At the end of it all, it comes back to presenting Jesus Christ. I want everyone present on Sunday morning -- faithful member or visitor -- to meet and experience their Creator. I want people comfortable so that they can concentrate on that experience and not on the stains on the carpet. However I don't want them to go home with a feeling of "Wow!" about the church and no feeling whatsoever about the One we meet together to worship.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Wouldn't living in a town like this make it tough to think about evangelism? I mean, any unbelievers are pretty much set in their ways. Who do you focus on serving?
Wouldn't such a place breed complacency in the church? How would you remain motivated?
Shouldn't there be an increased emphasis on missions work, especially work out of the local area?
Just one other note... the town has the reputation of being very "clique-ish" and hard to break into. What a sad label to have to place on a so-called Christian town.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
It wasn't that many years ago that I was a lazy Christian with no desire to delve into things like doctrine or theology. I was still a newlywed, building a life together with my bride. My faith wasn't really deep. I was happy with a Savior and Protector, provided He didn't intrude too much into the other areas of my life. My spiritual journey was starting to go deeper, but I still wasn't taking it seriously enough. Then one weekend I was asked to join a friend at his church for Sunday morning. I agreed.
I didn't know much about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I knew they did a lot of door-to-door evangelism and that they had some odd beliefs compared to the way I was brought up. But hey, there was "Jesus Christ" right in the name, so how bad could it be? So my wife and I came for the morning service and to get introduced to the Mormons. The church was a couple hours away from where we lived, so it wasn't quite a church shopping visit. Maybe more like a chance to sample a particular ethnic food. It's all food, though... right?
I don't remember everything about the service. In fact, most of it is buried in the back closets of my mind somewhere beneath the answers to my 12th Grade Senior Math final. I remember that the service seemed familiar in format -- hymns, Scripture, offering, speakers. There were three people who stood to give testimonies, no sermon that I remember. What I remember is one speaker who was a girl of high school age who kept repeating something to the effect of, "Why do they think that we aren't Christians? Why do they think we aren't like them?" At the time I wasn't aware that there was any controversy.
I also remember singing from a hymnal filled with songs I'd never heard before. I love to sing and tried to sing along, but the words were somehow wrong. One hymn's lyrics were "Joseph Smith built an altar..." I couldn't even choke the words out. This was just bizarre. Even in my spiritual laziness, God had given me the discernment to understand that this wasn't right. It wasn't glorifying God. It was glorifying Joseph Smith. And who was Joseph Smith, anyway?
After the service we smiled broadly and shook hands with the folks as we departed. They were sure nice people, but I felt a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was like I had eaten too many cookies or had scarfed down a rotten piece of meat. It wasn't right and I knew it. I didn't know how I knew it or how I could ever explain it, but something was wrong. I thank God for the gift of discernment and that I didn't ignore it.
My friend is still a Mormon. From all I've been able to get from him, He doesn't see the difference between Christianity and Mormonism, except for the extra books in the LDS holy writings. The gift of discernment is either lost or being ignored. The thing is, my friend is being lazy in his spirituality also. The differences between Mormonism and Christianity are huge. Even key terms like "grace alone" and "only begotten Son" have been redefined by the LDS leaders to bolster their own peculiar doctrines. Yet he, and most others with lazy spirituality (in either camp), don't take the time to see, to study, to understand, to differentiate. What a waste of the gifts granted by God. I think of the years I wasted in spiritual laziness and where I could be had I taken my faith seriously, and it brings sorrow to my heart and tears to my eyes. But thank God that He can still use me despite the failures of my past -- especially to warn those who will listen to take their faith and calling seriously.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Kevin at Short Attention Span did some great interaction with a Cal Thomas column chiding people to stop enabling political preachers by sending them money. There are a ton of good points about what our Christian duty is and isn't. Check it out. (A tip of the ol' ball cap to Jeff the Baptist, who found it before I did.)
Hammertime at Team Hammer's Musings is moved to worship by something he never quite understood before in, "He Is Here".
And the tables have turned at Eternal Revolution, well for one post anyway. Chad has done a "pulpit swap" of sorts with I AM of Evangelical Atheist. Want to know how one real-life atheist thinks? Read this. Follow ups are here, here, here, and probably more places.
And of course, there is plenty more to digest at Christian Carnival #85 at Techogypsy.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
This afternoon Kenny's wife came home to find him on the couch. Dead. Kenny was about my age, but was at least half a foot taller. Actually I never got to meet him face to face. We passed each other once without knowing it. But we talked and talked through Internet connection. We always talked about wanting to get together, but we were separated by about 1000 miles until about a month ago. He had just relocated to be closer to his daughters who were the lights of his life. But we hadn't met up yet. Now he's gone.
We met through a couple of online bulletin boards for IndyCar fans. Sometimes we were on the same side, sometimes we were debate opponents, but Kenny always treated me with respect. He treated most everybody that way. But Kenny was very outspoken. You knew where he stood on most issues. He didn't mince words. Sometimes the pure emotion of his diatribes got him into trouble, but he was always honest. Refreshingly so.
Kenny was, what I called, a lapsed Catholic. He had a lot of problems with the Church at Rome. Their doctrines conflicted with his liberal politics and that tended to set off his temper. Kenny told me back in '98 that "we would have to sit down and have a long talk." I told him I was always ready, but he kept putting it off. Finally last year, we had an electronic conversation. He had a lot of questions about the Christian faith. It eventually turned into a series of 20 long emails. I still have a copy of that discussion. Looking over the documents, Kenny's questions weren't much different from the questions of any seeker. I answered everything, but still couldn't satisfy the conflicts within his head. The discussion was left open-ended with a promise to continue to consider all I had shared with him.
We hadn't talked much about spiritual matters over the past year. I don't know what was going through his head over the final twelve months of his life, but he didn't share any huge theological epiphanies with me. It's likely he had just pushed it all to the back burner and forgot about it. Now he's gone. The conversation that never really ended is now over.
I don't know where Kenny is now. Not knowing his heart, I certainly can't judge Kenny. I do have my suspicions, but I put my trust in the only perfect Judge who knows the contents of a man's heart.
And I am reminded that it's not my job to bring Kenny into the Kingdom -- it's the Holy Spirit's job. But it still hurts. I am grateful to God for the opportunities I had to share with Kenny and for his receptiveness to what I had to say. I am thankful for his friendship, albeit an electronic one. I am sorry that I didn't get to meet him face to face. But mostly I feel a sense of emptiness because of my lost friend.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Besides that, everything is just a bit out of whack. A quick glance at the clock in the middle of the night takes a minute until I figure out where the clock went. And if I want to cuddle with my wife, I have to make sure I turn the right way or else risk a nasty carpet burn on my face! I guess it's really not that big of a deal in the big picture, but the little things are different. What I naturally expect is not necessarily reality.
I've been reading a book called, First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church, in which the author, Mark L. Waltz, suggests looking at your church facilities through the eyes of a visitor. I've gone through this exercise before. I've taken our church board through our basement, brainstorming ways to improve the surroundings. We came up with some good ideas just by understanding that visitors would really notice the cracks and cobwebs that we always overlooked. Getting a different perspective really opens your eyes to see things in a new light.
I'm a big fan of using many different Bible translations. Sure I know that there are some downright deceptive versions floating around or being promoted by specific cults, but there are so many translations and paraphrases which are useful in giving a fresh spin on a familiar passage. Each time I pick up the NASB or ESV or even the Living Bible, it's like hearing the words with a different accent. Reading something like the Message will cause me to notice details which I had carelessly bypassed previously. Then I can pick up some of the other versions and put everything into a proper, fuller perspective.
We each have a mental filter which processes all the information shoved into the brain. There are preconceived notions which get in the way of us seeing things the way they really are. I've known older folks who grew up in the midst of segregation who could never move past the prejudiced brainwashing they received at an early age. I've talked with a grown man who never knew their father because he believed raising children to be "women's work" and remained aloof. True to form, he had little to do with his children as they grew up.
I've talked with plenty of people who see the church through a filter of preconceived notions. Some see a reminder of superficial smiles hiding treacherous hearts when they drive past a sanctuary. Others are reminded of a childhood of being dragged to stale services where strict rules were enforced. Still more write off Christians as gullible rubes who are taken in by charismatic leaders and peer pressure. How foolish it is to let mental filters and ingrained agendas distort reality!
But I cannot simply cast stones at those outside of the church. Too often those of us in the church view others in the same close-minded way. We see a poor family and reach out to help, but we rarely see them as equals -- as potential members at our church. "Maybe someone else's church, but not mine!"
We may talk to someone who claims to be an atheist or an agnostic, and immediately the anger and resentment rise to the surface. The person is written off as forever lost (or unelect, for you die-hard Calvinists) and we either go into battle mode or we stomp off declaring our frustration with such idiocy. But too often we don't see the reality of a person with real questions or real concerns about Christianity or religion in general. The guy going into the bar? Just another drunk. Not worth my time. The lady in the overly revealing dress? Just some promiscuous woman. No one to lose sleep over. They've made their own beds. They've refused Christ. Let God distribute the punishment.
However, one of the things we are to do as Christians is to look at this world through Jesus' eyes. What would Jesus' perspective be on those people you've long since forgotten?
When Jesus was asked about His choice of dining companions by the religious bigshots of His time, He reminded them that it's the sick who need a doctor. Certainly the Pharisees shouldn't complain that He was bringing "religion" to those sick folk who were living without it, right? Then again...
The self-righteous had long since given up on that loser heading into the bar and the lady in the skimpy outfit. They saw those people as lost causes. But Jesus had a different perspective. He simply saw them as lost. People who needed what He had to give. People He loved.
Too many times I don't see people to love. My preconceived notion tells me they're not worth my time. The filter in my mind says to forget about them. But I'm not seeing reality -- I'm seeing my own distorted perspective. I'm awakening in the middle of the night and looking to my right to find the clock. But I'm on the wrong side of the bed.
"Lord, help me to see the people I see this week the way You see them."
Sunday, September 04, 2005
I love the first verse of 1 John, chapter 3: "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" How incredible it is, indeed! After all, we certainly don't deserve to be called God's child.
There is a belief that all people are God's children, but the Bible doesn't tell us that. Sure we are all God's creation, but we are not taught that God adopts us all. In the Old Testament, Israel is referred to as His children. In the New Testament we see:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.Adoption comes with receiving Christ as Savior. There is no other way. As politically incorrect as it may seem to some, you are not God's child if you have not turned over your life to Jesus. That's what the Bible tells us.
God didn't have to adopt us. We could have simply been given salvation, but God went the extra mile and made us part of the family. Back in the times of the Roman Empire, adoption was frequently a process for a childless man to find an heir. Adults, not infants, were the ones being adopted. Infants don't quite understand it all the way an adult can. Can you imagine Bill Gates needing an heir and picking you off the street? That's nothing!
I've always had a good insight into adoption. I was adopted as an infant; plucked from an uncertain future and given so much more. But perhaps my insight is still insufficient. I don't remember my life before my adoption. That only makes good sense since I was only six weeks old! So I really don't know what I was saved from.
I also cannot remember a time when I wasn't a Christian. I can remember plenty of times when I didn't act like a Christian, but that relationship has always been there. My testimony isn't flashy and dramatic. I didn't live the life of a complete heathen. I wasn't pulled from the penitentiary. I didn't live like Nikki Cruz in The Cross and the Switchblade, or even like a singing and dancing Shark or Jet in West Side Story. I don't have a full grasp on what kind of life I have been saved from, except in seeing people I care about struggle in a life without Christ. So my view of the alternative isn't exactly firsthand. The skeptic in me sometimes wonders if it is so bad with living a life with ME as a center. Then, when I think I have it all together, the rain comes down and I run back home like the prodigal who selfishly wandered too far. Back to my Father. My Father, who tells me I don't have to live like that. My Father, who lovingly wraps His arms around me and holds me. My Father who will never leave me nor forsake me.
God Almighty is not simply my judge. He is not just the One who provided a way out of the penalty for my sins. He is my Abba... Daddy. That I can call the Divine, "Father" is nothing short of amazing. It is a priviledge no human being deserves. But it is a priviledge freely given by our Creator through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
"Lord, I thank you that I, too, was twice adopted."
Saturday, September 03, 2005
I can't remember or bookmark all of them, but a couple have really stood out. I found these words at a blog called by farther steps:
America is a sinful nation. We are a nation that elevates sex and impossible standards of physical beauty to the pinnacle of existence. Nationally, we are more interested in “Sex in the City” than we are in God and our neighbor. We don’t hate God we ignore him. We’re indifferent about spiritual things and fill the void with voyeuristic television.What a perfect description. Especially the line, "we don't hate God, we ignore Him." Doesn't that speak to not only our national attitude, but our own sinful rebellions?
Also some good reading at nelmezzo, where the poster focuses on our desire to point fingers at other when the fingers are pointing at us all.
And from a strict Reformed tradition, Joe Thorn at Words of Grace, offers up his thoughts on the subject shining the light on humility.
There are a ton of other posts out there -- on Katrina, on judgment, on the breakdown of order -- which will keep you as transfixed as the video from New Orleans did earlier this week.
And when you want to broaden your horizons, there is a lot of good stuff still on my reading list over at Christian Carnival 85, hosted this week by Crossroads.
Friday, September 02, 2005
It seems that everywhere I turn on the world wide web today, the same subject follows me -- is Katrina God's punishment for the wickedness of New Orleans?
I'll admit I've tried to stay a little detached from the Katrina coverage this week for fear of sensory overload. I don't keep CNN or Fox News on 24/7 and I haven't been scouring the net for more information. (Reviewing my blog posts this week seems to contradict me, but it really is true.) Anyway, I hadn't heard much of this judgment talk until Tracey at Worship Naked pointed out a post at another blog with that implied theme. Byron at a ticking time blog picked up the theme as well, interacting with an article from "Repent America." Since then I've read various other bloggers chiming in with links to other posts and remembrances of the same type of discussion happening after 9-11.
Allow me to repeat and expand upon what I posted at Byron's place. Equating natural disasters with God’s judgment is dangerous territory. I realize that New Orleans seems a mighty sinful place, especially around Mardi Gras time. And I know that there was a particularly hedonistic group having a big event last weekend in the Crescent City. But making the jump to making Katrina into some sort of fire and brimstone is beyond the scope of what we can assume. Plus, those doing a little "superior dance" about the horror at the mouth of the Mississippi should really check their own backyards. "Ye who is without sin..."
If you buy into the whole "We Know The Hurricane Is Judgment" scenario, then you've got to be consistent. The same claim could be made for every icestorm, every earthquake, every tornado, flash flood and volcanic eruption. How could we as humans with limited knowledge be expected to distinguish between a Hurricane of Judgment and an Earthquake of Coincidence? "There are no coincidences," you say? Are all of these disasters judgment sent from God?
A couple of years ago, a small town in Illinois was wiped off the map by a tornado. Sounds like the same kind of judgment called down upon New Orleans to me. Natural disaster. Horrible consequences. But why hit this little burg? Was it because God was angry that the convenience store was selling beer? If so, then why aren’t the other small towns with beer sales completely flat? Was there a church there with a particularly fractured bickering congregation? Then maybe my home town will be next. A philandering pastor? A corrupt mayor? An uncaring populace? If those caused Tornadoes of Judgment to appear, I'm suprised there's a city left standing in North America!
It's really quite convenient to pretend we have God's knowledge and offer a reason for disaster by pronouncing condemnation. This is little more than an offshoot of Prosperity (health and wealth) teachings. How offputting it is for unbelievers to hear admitted Christians claim to have Divine insight; all the while claiming moral superiority instead of freely admitting their own sinfulness. I guess some think that their own sins "aren't that bad" when compared to others. How sad that any person who claims the name of Jesus Christ can think that he must be living right because his house is still standing.
Don't read me wrong -- I'm not denying that God can not punish through means of nature. But for anyone to claim to know that's what is going on is foolish at best. Anyone charging that Katrina was God's judgment upon New Orleans or upon a particular group should pick up his or her Bible and read the Old Testament book of Job. Am I the only one who loves Job?
Job's friends spent speech after speech trying to get disaster-victim Job to admit and repent of all those terrible sins he committed which caused God to strike him. Yet while proclaiming his innocence, Job pointed out that the righteous often fail while the wicked get rich from their wickedness. The simplistic attitude of Job's friends was further rebuffed by the Almighty Himself at the end of the book. Yet still we have those who sound like Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar in their ignorance.
Let us as Christians leave the judgments to the One True Judge and thank Him because we deserve the worst judgment imaginable yet are spared only by His grace.
If you're not familiar with fantasy football, it's an opportunity to pretend. Live in Fantasy Land, where reality is not in force! Payton Manning and Priest Holmes don't play on the same team in real life, but in Fantasy Land it's possible. As a team owner, you choose players from any of the NFL teams to be on your team. Usually teams are divided up via a draft, with owners taking turns picking players in a system reminiscent of choosing up sides on the school playground. Then you track the performance of each player in his "real" game and transfer points to the fantasy game. It's actually quite addictive to football fans, and it makes a mid-season game between two lousy teams a lot more interesting.
But football in Fantasy Land affects the way you watch the game. The win-loss record of the Seattle Seahawks means little to me, but I watch carefully to see how many yards the running back has gained in the game. It's really odd. If I see that a touchdown has been scored in another game, I scramble to find out who scored it. If it's one of "my" players, I feel like doing a touchdown dance myself. In many ways, Fantasy Land is preferrable to reality -- especially when your favorite NFL team stinks on ice.
Fantasy Land is also sought out every weekend by people in search of a buzz. Drugs, alcohol or something else -- it's the exit ramp out of reality. I've never understood the need for someone to get drunk or get high. To me, it's more scary to lose control like that. I remember people in college who would get loaded to go to a concert. That baffled me. Why pay good money to see a performer you enjoy and then alter your consciousness so that you can't remember it later? Maybe they were going to New Kids on the Block concerts or something similar. Why else would you try to forget?
Of course I know plenty of people who drink their way to Fantasy Land just to forget. Ol' pal Budweiser can make the problems go away. Well, for a few hours anyway. For these folks, Fantasy Land is just a temporary rest stop -- not much more than a nightly vacation from reality.
As I type, the city of New Orleans is the capital city of Fantasy Land. What we would think of as normal reality is not present. Instead, violent people roam the streets in search of food, water and merchandise. Death is commonplace. What few authorities which are in place are helpless to control the situation. Looters cannot be arrested and jailed because the jails are destroyed. Desperate people are doing whatever they can to get nourishment. Desperados roam the streets with no fear of being punished or even stopped. It is simply unreal.
I am careful not to judge these folks. Certainly they can't all be judged by the same standard. I'm sure that some are trying to come up with any possible way to save their families or themselves. Who could blame a person for going to extremes to save a dying infant? Others are living in panic, looking for lost children or spouses. I cannot imagine the tension and the helplessness those people are dealing with right now. Then there are those who thrive in an environment where anarchy is a way of life. Some have specualted that these folks purposely stayed behind in town hoping to take advantage of those who had evacuated.
No matter the individual circumstances, those wading the streets of the Big Easy are living in Fantasy Land. Life as they knew it is gone -- maybe for good. In it's place is a land where nothing seems to make sense. Stealing isn't punished. Food isn't available. Corpses litter the streets. Safety isn't assured - it's not even likely. This Fantasy Land isn't like having your troubles taken away, or even like having your favorite things all together in one place. The Fantasy Land that is New Orleans is a living nightmare which makes no logical sense.
In a sense, much of America is a Fantasy Land right now. Gas prices are skyrocketing. In many places gas stations are out of fuel entirely. We are approaching a holiday weekend in a very uncertain state. I have no idea if the price of gas will still be $3.19 in the morning or over four dollars. I can't be certain of anything because when people start to fear for their safety or their own personal convenience, they start down that road to Fantasy Land, dragging the rest of us with them. The fear of being unable to drive where we need to go is overwhelming to some. We are uprooted and, unlike 9-11, we don't have an Osama bin Laden to blame it on. Indeed, all we have is a faceless entity named Katrina.
As a Christian I see hope through all of this. Much of what we fear losing is far beyond "our daily bread" anyway. There is a small shirine built to honor the idol of Convenience in most houses of the Western World. We can afford to lose some of that. Perhaps all the worry will help us to concentrate on reality. In a very real sense we live in Fantasy Land every day. We wrap ourselves up in work or a TV show or the kids or a new romance -- maybe the situation in New Orleans and the effects outside our own front door are really pulling us out of Fantasy Land. I pray that all of this trouble will remind me that my life does not consist in the sum of my possessions. I'm happy to be reminded that there is more to life than winning a Fantasy Football game. I hope that this will help me to focus on pleasing Christ and not pleasing man. I thank God that He can use the terrible tragedies of life to teach us.
And again I offer prayers to the many people affected by Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath. I pray for the safety of all those living in the nightmare of a Fantasy Land known as New Orleans. And I pray that all of us will be reminded of reality; on this earth and what lies beyond.