Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Power of Touch

The story is told by Matthew, Mark and Luke of a leper who meets Jesus. It's a great passage, if for no other reason than the fact that it gives us a little more insight into our Lord's personality. Luke tells us that the man fell down before Jesus as the Master approached. Let's not forget that it was the duty of the leper in those days to basically stay out of everyone's way. They were to make noise and yell out, "Unclean!" to warn passersby that a leper was near. They were the original "Untouchables." And they were to remain untouched. But this man did not yell a warning or run to get out of the way. This man wanted to see Jesus. And after gaining His attention, the man said something startling: "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."

I can almost see the smile on Jesus' face as He told the man, "I am willing. Be clean." Did the leper really doubt that He would want to do it? An odd way to express his faith, but it was effective and Jesus' healing was immediate.

But easily missed is the beginning of the thirteenth verse: "Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man." Seems pretty normal, huh? But it wasn't. Leprosy was a double curse for those it afflicted. It not only caused pain and discomfort as diseases do, it also sentenced the victim to a life in exile. Families were left behind as lepers were cast out of the city. This was the only way the people had to stop the spread of the disease. So the afflicted people were forced to become nomads and beggars for survival. But beyond that, they also lost the company of anyone besides other lepers. No one in their right mind was going to touch a leper and risk getting the disease. Plus, touching a leper would make you ceremonially unclean. Contracting leprosy meant a life devoid of human contact, filled with disgusted looks and ridicule.

So here is a man who has not been touched by another person for as long as he has had the disease -- likely many, many years. And what does Jesus do? He reaches out his hand and He touched him! Jesus had no worry about getting leprosy. He had no worry about being ceremonially unclean. Jesus wanted to show the leper His love. Nothing conveys love like physical touch. Read through the Gospels and see how often Jesus touches someone or something. He was not aloof and "proper", but was close and loving; unafraid to offer a touch of His hand no matter what others might say.

I've never read Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, but I plan to do it someday. Frankly, I've put it off because I know Chapman's premise and understand much of it already. As human beings, we express love differently. But I know that I express love through touch. To me it is the most meaningful way to give love, but moreso, it is the most meaningful way for me to receive love. At many points in my life, I've been someone who people are comfortable being around, but very uncomfortable getting close to. So when someone puts a hand on my shoulder or reaches out to touch my arm, that's when I feel loved. It's the same way in marriage. I never feel any more loved than when my wife puts her arms around me or places her hands on my arm or even just holds my hand. There is something almost magical about touch. It can convey love in a very special way.

Of course there are drawbacks to using touch to convey love. Some people take touch the wrong way and feel threatened (sometimes with good reason). I've been reading Tracey's posts at Worship Naked about getting prepared to work at a camp for disabled kids. The staff was instructed which kinds of touch were acceptable and which were not. It was odd to read about Tracey being instructed to "hug sideways" instead of the normal way, so as not to convey the wrong message to the kids. So much power in the use of touch.

So what should we do about the power of touch? Obviously we must be careful in the way we use it, but we cannot just construct an invisible "force field" around each one of us -- expressing our love for one another only from a distance. I'm not sure I know the answer here. I doubt there is an answer to cover every situation. And I'm not really a "hug sideways" kind of guy. Perhaps what we need to take from all this is simply the presence of that power. The loving touch of the Master's hand did it's share to heal the heart of a lonely leper. A loving touch from me can express the Christlike love I have for someone who is hurting or despairing or rejoicing. There's too much power there to ignore.

"Lord, help me to express my love for others in the most effective and appropriate ways possible. Give me the strength not to shy away from human touch to share the wonderful comfort and joy You have given me. And help me to use the power of touch wisely."

Plugging other people again

I stopped by Ragged Edges this morning to catch up, to find that Lance has been fired from his job, possibly for something he blogged about earlier this week. I hate the thought that this could be the reason, but it gives one pause for how much about ourselves we make public.

It also got me to thinking about the proper response for a Christian. What kind of recourse could/should you consider? Here's the "offensive" post about cowardice, and then read the results in this post.

Aside from that, there's always Christian Carnival Seventy-something up at ChristWeb. Some wonderful reading there.

One entry you don't want to miss is from Catez at Allthings2all. It's a beautiful piece about the impact of being willing to "wash others' feet" and truly live the Gospel. Read Chasing the Dragon.

And don't miss the beginnings of a new blog started by Marla Swoffer and some other very intelligent and talented ladies - Intellectuelle. Here's the story behind it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It Just Doesn't Matter

Posted by Hello

The topic of the radio talk show was, "What is your favorite Bill Murray movie?" Immediately I was overwhelmed by the possibilities. Just think of them all. As a young man with an interest in golf, I loved Caddyshack, often imitating Murray's Carl the Groundskeeper stepping up to address the ball doing the fake television commentary: "The Cinderella story coming out of the pack, to lead at Augusta. He's about 185 yards away. Looks like he's got an 8 iron. . . Oh! It's in the hole!" Or ten years later, Murray played the psychotic title character in What About Bob? But how could you leave out Groundhog Day where he played a weatherman reliving the same day over and over again? Or Murray as the wise-cracking Dr. Peter Venkman getting "slimed" in Ghostbusters?

My pick was Stripes; a goofy movie about a guy who has failed at life and so decides to join the Army. It's one of those movies I've seen a hundred times and can't seem to turn off when I find it on the satellite dish. The radio host's pick was a surprising one -- Meatballs -- Murray's first "real" film. I don't remember much about Meatballs. I do remember seeing it back in 1979 when it first was released. I recall that Murray played a "cool" counselor at a summer camp for kids. His camp had an annual sports contest with the "rich kids' camp" across the lake, and the rich brats always won. So Murray gave a pep talk (of sorts) to the kids, telling them that they should try their hardest because "it just doesn't matter if we win because all the cute girls would still date the kids from the other camp because they've got all the money." The campers then get worked into a frenzy, chanting, "It just doesn't matter! It just doesn't matter!"

I never quite understood the whole "It just doesn't matter" rationale. To me, if it just doesn't matter, then why bother? Doesn't that seem the more natural reaction? Or am I just lazier than most? Whatever. It must have worked because those rich kids got whipped for the first time and more hilarious camp hijinx ensued.

But the whole apathetic mindset still rears it's ugly head in real life. What? You don't care about apathy? (Pausing until you get the pun. There. That ought to be long enough.) I have to admit there are days when I don't care just how much I don't care either. And about some things, that's probably OK. I can afford to be apathetic about Paris Hilton "retiring" from whatever it is she is retiring from. It just doesn't matter. It's not a problem that I don't care about someone setting a new world's record for continuous hopscotch playing. It just doesn't matter. But when it comes to my prayer life or my devotional time or my study of the Word... it matters.

In my line of work, I get to talk to all sorts of people about spiritual issues. I'm amazed at the people who consider themselves to be "good Christians" who not only don't read their Bible, but don't feel the slightest twinge of guilt about it. "Hey, it just doesn't matter, right? What difference does it make to God if I've read Lamentations or Amos or Romans?" Or a guy like Bill, who openly admits he only prays when he needs something, but wouldn't think of offering a prayer of thanks. But it's not just those people. It's even people like, well, um. . . me.

There are times when I'm tempted to put God on the back burner. It just doesn't matter if I forget to thank Him for my meal or if I skip devotions tonight, right? Of course in the overall scope of things it probably doesn't matter if I fall asleep before my quiet time this evening. But the damage is done in equating my relationship with my Savior with another item on the to-do list for the day. Once again, it's the heart which is important. And while I can justify missing some private time with God, it's the attitude of wanting to miss it that is important to recognize. When I see that in myself, I am ashamed. Because the condition of my heart does matter.

If you struggle with apathy concerning your spiritual life, know this: God wants to share time with you. Don't you think it matters when you want to put off your Creator to catch some goofy Bill Murray movie on television?

We should all remember that a relationship with Jesus Christ is not a burden, but a priviledge. We make it a burden when we try to slough off and shortcut our way through our Christian walk. We throw another heavy weight on our own backs when we fail to realize that Christ frees us instead of shackling us. We weigh ourselves down when we think we don't matter to God. And we nearly knock ourselves over when we tell ourselves that spending time with God just doesn't matter.

What matters is the condition of our heart. A person with an apathetic heart is tired and bogged down with the world's troubles and concerns. But a happy heart belongs to the person who knows that his devotion and service to His Master do matter. It really does matter.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Master of My Domain

Imagine if you will: One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. But without coffee for anyone.

Now that you've stopped screaming, allow me to ask this question: What would this country be like without coffee or any of it's derivitives? So much of our country runs on coffee-fueled workers -- blue collar and white collar -- who just can't seem to get going for the day without their cup of Joe. I've never seen the statistics, but I can only imagine the percentages of people who do almost nothing between getting out of bed and having their coffee.

I remember occasionally getting up early with my Dad and going to the coffee shop with him for breakfast. I can't recall Dad every eating any breakfast, but he always had a cup at least partially filled with java. And there was a couple of tables surrounded by the locals getting together to talk politics, news and gossip; each man seated behind an ivory white mug. It was the common bond tying them all together. The excuse for them to be there. Coffee.

These days, coffee has only risen in popularity with all the foamy coffee drinks and offshoots becoming standard fare. In most decent-sized cities, it isn't tough to find a Starbucks. Even in the small towns, it's pretty easy to find a place for a coffee product. Convenience stores offer cappuccino. Bookstores push espresso. It's common. It's everywhere. And people need it to get their day going, and some to keep it going. So what's the problem?


Are you controlled by coffee? Are you it's slave? Remember what our ol' pal Rocky said in 2 Peter 2:19: "For you are a slave to whatever controls you." Or as the NIV translates it, "for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him." Now certainly Peter was making a different point in the text, but it's hard to overlook the reality of what he wrote. If there is a thing you crave from the time you get up in the morning until you finally get your fill, how can you say that it doesn't control you? How can you claim not to be mastered? Perhaps the best test is to see how hard it is to go without. Then you'll know how much control you really don't have.

Now please don't think that I write this as an enemy of the world famous coffee-picker Juan Valdez. I have no complaint with coffee. It smells pretty good. I can't stand the taste though, so I see no reason to force myself to like it by repeated attempt to get used to the flavor or by drowning it in milk, sugar or foam. Still I would never think of myself as more spiritual than any coffee drinker. Because before I can do my little Superior Dance, I am reminded that I suffer a different form of the same slavery. I, too, need my morning caffeine, but mine is flavored with cola and carbonated water.

I don't like being mastered. I don't enjoy "needing" a Pepsi to really get going in the morning. But as anyone knows who has tried to withdraw from caffeine, sometime in the afternoon comes the headache. Frankly, that gets me every time. By 3:00, I know I've got to get some to take the edge off the pounding that is starting in my brain. I'm addicted. I've been mastered.

But caffeinated drinks aren't the only things which can master us. The title of this post brings to mind an episode of Seinfeld where the four main characters all try to refrain from a certain activity. As long as they withheld, they could tell themselves (and each other), "I am Master of my domain." Of course being Master didn't last too long, illustrating yet another thing which tends to control us -- sin.

The Bible is clear that we are to be "mastered" by only one thing -- our Master. Our Creator. Our Savior. Yet we often find ourselves as a slave to greed, or to television, or to Internet porn, or to laziness, or to work, or to the praise of others.

Or to something as simple as coffee.

"Lord, give me your strength to overcome anything which contols me and keeps me from loving you with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength."

Friday, June 24, 2005

Remembering My Childhood

Tagged again! Oh, when will the madness end? Can't we all just play Red Rover or King of the Monkey Bars? Sorry. Has anyone seen my medication? That's better.

Jeannie at Sharing Life tagged me while I was too far off base, so now I get to have a flashback sequence.

The question is five things you miss about childhood.
(1) Innocence - Frankly, I don't know how I listened to all those 60's and 70's pop songs without really thinking about all the buried and not-so-buried sexual innuendo in the lyrics. To listen to them now makes me think, "Was I really singing that song while walking around the house? In front of my parents??" I miss not seeing the suggestive side of most everything on TV. But beyond that, I miss not being weighed down by all the concerns of the world. I didn't give much thought to the war in Vietnam. My mind was on other things. I didn't think much about world hunger. I was wondering what Mom was cooking for supper. I know that I've become a more caring person now, but I miss simply being innocent.

(2) Freedom - I know what you're thinking... freedom? As a kid? Yeah, to a certain degree. I mean aside from doing my chores and getting to school or baseball practice, I really didn't have much I had to do. I would have had no need for a Palm Pilot or a DayTimer. If I felt like going back to our woods to play, I could do it (provided I let an adult know where I was). I was allowed to ride my bike all over the place. We lived in the country, about a mile from town, so there were all kinds of cool places I could go on my bike. These days, as I look at my calendar to see where I have to be next, I miss the freedom I used to have.

(3) My hometown - As I said, we lived about a mile from town. "Town" was very small - around 1000 people. But in those days even a town of 1000 had shops which held all kinds of curiosities for a young mind. I can still walk down the sidewalks of that town and remember what each building used to hold. The drug store, with it's wide selection of candy bars. The cafe where my Dad and his buddies gathered every morning to drink coffee and talk. The Dime Store where I could buy all kinds of trinkets and bulk candy scooped up and bagged just for me. The barber shop where I had the choice of hair styles -- the "schoolboy" or the "butch" -- the barber didn't know any others, I think. The doctor's office, the carpet store, the butcher shop, the fabric store and the bank. Then off the main block was the library where I participated in the Summer Reading Program for most every year I lived there. And on the edge of town was the grocery store where we stocked up every week.

It's funny. My wife grew up in a similar, although slightly larger town. Now we live just two miles from a town of around 1000 people. Not a lot of storefronts after the grocery store went out of business a couple of years ago, but it feels like home. Or at least as much like home as I can hope for. Even my old hometown doesn't feel much like my old hometown anymore.

(4) Playing baseball - Is there anything quite as unique as a game of baseball played by kids? As the father of two boys who play on two different teams (and one 3 year old girl who thinks she can play on any team), I see a whole lot of baseball. But I don't play anymore. In fact, my oldest boy uses my old mitt from high school. I'd have to bum a glove just to take infield.

I played ball all through school. There were little league games, pony league games, travelling teams and school teams. But what I miss the most is the pickup games at recess or after school. A makeshift infield, an old bat and a bunch of kids with gloves. We'd choose up sides then one captain would toss the bat to the other and the two would go hand over hand to the knob at the end to see who would bat first. We weren't in it to be heroes or to show off. We were just having fun. Like the kids in the movie The Sandlot we all shared the love of spending a warm afternoon throwing the ball and running the bases.

(5) Grandpa Norris - He was a quiet man with a quirky sense of humor. I enjoyed being around him, as I did all of my grandparents. But at this point in my life I see that Grandpa Norris and I shared some special things. Our personalities were similar (yes, I'm often the quiet one with the goofy sense of humor). We each left secular work to enter the ministry in our 30's. We each pastored small country churches. And we shared the same sense of wanting to see things that no one else saw -- call it the road less travelled because Grandpa got us lost on more than one occasion just driving around to see what he could find.

I miss Grandpa Norris as a figure from my childhood, naturally. But I also miss him knowing how much more I would appreciate having him around now. I heard him preach many times, but I can't tell you what he preached about at any time. I was too young to appreciate him. I would love to be able to sit down with him now and ask him about his call to the ministry; about attending seminary while trying to support a family like I did. I'd love his opinions on power struggles in a small church. And I'd just love to talk about his love of Jesus -- not just theology, but relationship. In a sense, I'm missing an opportunity that I never had.

Wow. That was a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be.

Remove the first person from the following list, bump everyone up one spot and put your name in the number 5 spot. Please link all of the blogs as they are linked now or risk future blog-shunning. (GASP! NOT "BLOG-SHUNNING!" OH, THE HUMANITY!) Oh, alright...
Journaling through the valley
Threefold Cord
Anne's Cafe
Sharing Life
Attention Span

Now, select four unsuspecting souls and add them to the list...
No. So shun me. As I've mentioned, I'm a chain breaker. But I invite anyone to take up the challenges of FlashbackLand. Post a comment if you're brave enough.


Read this. Don't give me any lip, just go read the post at off shore fisherman. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


When I heard the news Tuesday night, I'll admit I was a bit shocked. Brennan Hawkins, the eleven year old boy lost on a Boy Scout campout was found alive and in relatively good shape after spending four days and nights alone in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. Usually those stories don't turn out well. Missing people often become dead people -- either by foul play or by natural events. Brennan was one of the lucky ones (if one believes in luck). But you don't have to look far to find the stories of those who aren't so lucky.

The parents of Natalee Holloway are still waiting to find out what happened to their daughter in Aruba. That small island has so little crime that the authorities don't seem to have enough experience to do a thorough investigation. The result is that the Holloways are lost in limbo. Surely they cannot logically believe that their daughter is still alive, although they are careful to say they haven't given up hope. In truth, they just want to know what happened and bring whoever is responsible to justice. It's sad to watch them waiting and hoping against hope. It's as sad to watch them as it was happy to see Brennan's parents overjoyed at finding their son.

Those of us watching the situation want all the questions answered too. We want Natalee's parents, relatives and friends to have the peace of mind which comes with closure.

But we don't always get closure. At my local Wal-Mart, there is a large bulletin board filled with posters of families who have no closure. Missing small children. Missing teenagers. Even missing adults. Pictures are often computer enhanced to show probable changes in appearance from growing older - that's how long they've been gone. Some of the children have been gone for two years. Others have been missing for up to twenty years. These families just don't know. They have no answers.

I recently heard the story of a family who found their lost daughter after something like eight years. She was a teenager, gone without a trace. It turned out that the girl had gotten mad at her mother and had left, moved a few miles away and got a job. She then lived for all those years intentionally without contacting her parents. A tipster eventually turned her in and the family got their closure -- although I'm not sure if it ended up being as satisfying as they would have liked it to be. But at least they had their answers, didn't they?

Why do we desire closure? Why does a woman who has been dumped by her boyfriend want to go and tell him off? Is it simply a matter of getting in the last word? We love to do that, you know. And at the root of that desire is our own need for control. Even if we cannot control what happened, we at least can master the information. We want to know the whens and whys to make us feel like we can handle it; that whatever happened had a reason and we can watch for the warning signs next time. Not knowing means we have no control at all.

Biblically I think back to old man Jacob. He wasn't that old at the time, but he soon started walking like an old man. Jacob woke up to find himself in the middle of a wrestling match that he couldn't seem to win. Finally after seventy or eighty rounds, the stranger wanted to call it off and Jacob realized just how little control he had in the situation. He was fighting a seemingly endless battle against a total stranger. And now after messing up Jacob's hip, the stranger wants to call it quits. But Jacob doesn't want to stop. So what does Jacob do? He asks the stranger for a blessing! Now doesn't that sound stupid? Hours of sweating and straining and a hip injury and Jacob wants this guy to bless him! Then He asks for the stranger's name. Something. Anything. Jacob didn't like having no control. He wanted some answers. He wanted closure.

As human as it is for us to desire closure, we have to be ready to deal with life without it. Because God is not a God of closure. He doesn't see fit to give us all the answers. From God's thinking, it's not so important that we know all the whys and wherefores. God says, "You may not understand, but trust Me anyway."

And we mere mortals counter with, "I trust you, Lord. Just tell me why anyway." We still fight for the answers. We still fight for closure. Even when we know that He is faithful and trustworthy and true and all that other good stuff, we still hate to be left in an open-ended situation.

I've met a ton of people who wrestle with the whole "Why" question. I've got to admit, I still struggle with it occasionally. Why would God allow a young woman to be abducted? Why would God allow a little child to be taken? Why would God allow a tsunami to kill hundreds? Why does God continue to allow evil to flourish? We think we ought to know. We think we deserve some kind of closure.

We don't.

Our quest for control is futile. Our tiny little chunks of greymatter cannot handle the complexities of God's universe. As He spoke through Isaiah:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We can't even begin to fathom the depths of God or His purposes for each of us. Still, we think we should have closure. How foolish.

I pray that Natalee's parents, family and friends will soon have their closure, and that the perpetrator(s) will be brought to justice. I pray that all the families of those pictures on the wall at Wal-Mart will get their closure. I don't even mind if someone undeserving gets the last word in a relationship. But I know that closure is not necessary for faith.

"Lord, keep me strong in my faith, even when I don't have any control and I don't know all the answers."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Update - So Far So Good

Just to follow up on this post, conference is almost over and so far there has been good discussion and charity in disagreement. Many things have been changed and approved -- some I like, others I don't -- and some ideas will wait two years for a referendum process of all church members.

The part I was disappointed with was the attitude of wanting to hold onto so much control over small details at the local church level. No Santa Claus proposals yet, but still a feeling that every denominational church should look and work like every other one. It would be a wake-up call for some to visit some of our denomination's churches where English is never spoken, eh?

But as I stated in the comments of the other post, most all churches and denominations have to face this kind of thing. Those who don't face a pastor/leadership accountable to no one on earth, and that's not good either. Unless of course they have one of those "sinless" pastors!

Anyway, thanks for the prayers and please continue praying. The tough stuff might come from the local churches once word starts to filter back.

Back to work on my regular stuff. After I finish, I'll be checking out Christian Carnival at In the Spirit of Grace. See ya' there.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Going on now. . .

My denomination (Church of the United Brethren in Christ) is currently having our national conference, assembling delegates from all over the United States. It's an odd process, mired in Robert's Rules of Order and competing views of what a denomination should look like. The past twelve months or so has been very contentious for us UBs. A referedum to pursue a merger with another denomination failed. A new organizational structure has been proposed to eliminate as much "middle management" as possible. The frequency and makeup of the national conference will likely be changed, as will the legal ownership of local church property. And the age-old argument of whether to require alcohol abstinace or promote it will rear it's ugly head once again. It's all very dizzying and it's not likely to improve.

Various local churches have thrown fits about one thing or another in this whole process. If no changes are implemented, some churches will probably leave the denomination. If any changes are implemented, other churches will probably leave the denomination. It's strange that an association intended to tie churches together can become a scapegoat for churches breaking apart.

Tie it all together with the attitude of some who are more interested in legalism than in sharing Christ with the world. Two suggested changes in the church bylaws are the outlawing of Santa Claus on church property and forbidding "loud rock music" in churches. Somehow I think there are more pressing issues the delegates should spend their time on this week.

I don't know what the best approach for a denomination is. But I do know that all the things the UBs have debated over the past year are not things to divide over. Yet I'm sure that some will divide. And that saddens me. It saddens me that some are more worried about loud music in a sanctuary than about the dying churches and the unbelievers dying without Christ. It saddens me that some are more upset by a different organizational structure than about living their own lives for Christ. And it saddens me that we treat the local church and the denomination like they were described by God on Moses' stone tablets while we ignore our purpose as Christians.

I know that not everyone is guilty of those things which make me sad. Many are on my side -- even those with definite opinions on the best organizational structure. Yet I have this feeling that the next 2 1/2 days at conference and the weeks that follow will be marked by too many people putting preference before piety and comfort before Christlike-ness.

Please pray for us this week.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Camp 'n Puke

Last Friday was a big day around here. First of all, it was my wife's birthday and second of all, it was our wedding anniversary -- but all that was put on hold. Not only did we have a Little League game to attend that night, but that morning I had to make the trek to church camp to pick up my 11 year old after a week on the spiritual mountaintop. Well, I'm not sure it was a spiritual mountaintop, but it's one week he looks forward to during the other 51. I'm just assuming a little spiritual content based on my own observations.

The trip to camp is a little over 90 minutes one way if you don't stop. However we always stop, much to my chargrin. Usually it's an ice cream diversion on the way back and a slowly-served and slowly-eaten fast food meal on the way there. Considering I'm usually hauling a couple of extra kids, this can get a bit expensive. On Friday I had precious few funds and the campers had just eaten so I decided to forego the traditional stop to save both time and money.

I had some extra passengers for this trip. My older son, who also is looking forward to a week at camp, wanted to tag along. Then my wife decided that I should also take the 3 year old, giving her time to get some work done at home with no kids to bother her. (Those of you who have kids understand this.) So I had three seats filled on the way down and picked up three campers -- one was my kid, the other two boys needed a ride home. The 11 year olds coming down from a camp high, a reserved 13 year old, a tired 3 year old and the driver, all ready for the trip to be done.

I made it past the usual ice cream and fast food stops without a lot of complaining. The toddler was asleep again -- unusual for her on one of these trips -- and the campers were busy recounting all the fun things they did over the past week. We were more than halfway home when I began to get a little worried about the little girl. The sleeping thing wasn't weighing heavy on my mind, but the lack of a "potty break" for her on this trip was haunting me. The only time I have to worry about "accidents" are when she sleeps for a long time, and she had been sleeping... well, a long time.

So my 13 year old woke her up and tried to encourage her to want a potty stop as I drove into a rest area. She refused the opportunity, claiming she didn't have to go, so I hit the highway again. About 7 miles later my oldest wanted the potty stop, so I decided we could take a quick break and I'd make sure everything and everyone was going to stay dry the rest of the way home.

After I pulled into the gas station parking area the boys all filed out, headed for the facilities. Meanwhile I got the girl unbuckled from her seat belt and picked up her half-sleeping body. She clung tightly to me as I whispered in her ear to wake up for a trip to the bathroom. As we stepped inside the door of the gas station, my darling three year old daughter looked at me through bleary eyes and said, "I'm sick."

I figured she was still to sleepy to know what she was saying. I was wrong.

I asked her if she felt like she had to throw up. She started to answer me. She got out one or two syllables before everything else got out. All over my shoulder. And my arm. And my shoes. And quite possibly a few other places. Still in shock but knowing this probably wasn't the last of it, I raced outside only to get another dose on my neck and back before I got her down to the sidewalk.

All the vomiting made my daughter feel better, of course. I cleaned her up pretty well as most of the mess was dripping from my shirt and not her new jeans. So, reeking of regurgitated apple juice, I loaded up the van and got everyone back home so that I could dash to the shower and cleanse myself of the previous hour. When I had finished, I was clean. The memory remains however; not unlike the memories which Satan keeping bringing to our attention of times in our past when we smelled of our sin. Thank God that His cleansing is effective and that we don't need to continue our regrets for long-forgiven sin.

Anyway, my son was home from camp with many stories to tell and a few that he's been a little shy about. But since it's not our first camp experience, I have a pretty good idea of most of what went on. I know he enjoyed it because he tells me he's ready to head back in about 51 more weeks.

Over at Wesley Blog a week or two ago, Shane had this great post about whether church should be more like church camp. Spiritual fire always seems stongest in a camp-type setting. As Shane posts, many find "church" dry and boring, especially after a mountaintop experience like camp (or Promise Keepers or a spiritual retreat or conference). But I don't think it's simply a matter of making Sunday worship more like camp. We can't climb to the top of the mountain consistently week after week and still have the same feeling afterward. We as Christians must grow from the mountaintop experiences and from the everyday, humdrum Christian walk on level ground. The trick is finding the excitement when camp is still 51 weeks away.

Lord, keep me growing on a long, familiar journey.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Shhh! Don't Tell!

Listening to the radio this week, I was surprised to hear this story about a 4 year old boy dying during a ride at Disney World in Florida. And I was surprised on two counts. First, I was taken aback by a young child passing away while riding a normally-operating ride. Granted it may have been a bit too intense for him, but there was likely something wrong with the boy before getting on. But second, I was surprised that news of a death at The Happiest Place on Earth made the national news. I don't spend my life sitting next to a TV with a 24 hour news station blaring, but I try to keep up. Generally I would think news like this wouldn't escape me, yet the story says that this is the second death of the year at the park. A 77 year old woman in very poor health died there earlier this year. This is the first I've heard about it.

The major theme parks in Florida agreed a few years ago to report any serious injuries to the state. Aside from that agreement, there is no guarantee that we'd hear about a tragedy. Now I won't accuse any theme park of covering up any incidents, but I know it can happen. About 15 years ago, there were two shopping malls in a city near me -- one on the more popular side of town and the other on the less desirable part of town. I worked at each of these malls during the early 1990's, so I became familiar with what happened there. The local news was always reporting about crimes committed at the mall on the wrong side of the tracks, but the incidents at the higher class mall never seemed to make the news. Conspiracy? Perhaps. I knew of some nasty happenings which went on in the parking lot of the popular mall, and when I watched the local news to see the coverage... it wasn't there. Yet every purse snatcher and shoplifter at the lower class mall made the 6 o'clock report.

It's only natural to want to cover up the bad things that happen in our neighborhood or in our lives. We don't like to have our dirty laundry aired in public. In business, we don't want loud complaints. Socially we don't like to talk about the fights we have with our spouses. And to a certain extent we cover it all up until we cannot cover it up any more.

Years back, it was a practice in certain retail stores to use the old "bait and switch" to drive up sales. They would offer a cheap washer at an amazing price to bring in customers, then when they come to buy the salesman would tell them, "No, you don't want this $199 piece of junk. What you want is the beautiful deluxe model for only $549." The cheapie was used as bait to get the customer in the store. Then they lowered the boom.

There are some verses in Scripture which we Christians tend to treat as something to keep quiet. Jesus said things like "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." And "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." Or even, "In this world you will have trouble..." Paul and Peter go on and on about the persecution and the hardships of the Christian life. But all of this tends to get shoved under the rug, especially if we're trying to bring someone to Christ.

There are so many people who fall for the whole Prosperity Gospel. It's hard to miss the televangelists who claim that "God loves you and He wants you to be rich!" They're all over my TV. I think there are some Christians who here that nonsense enough times to think that any perceived lack of stuff means that God doesn't love them, or that they aren't praying enough or correctly. People walk away from Christ because they cannot reconcile Christianity with anything less than upper middle class happiness.

But beyond that, we tend to cover up the whole persecution and hardship notion to potential converts. "Don't want to scare 'em off!" Yet if we ignore the tough parts, we help a new Christian to build a house on sand instead of solid rock. Because the storm's a-comin', my friend.

And sometimes we all tend to forget all that cross bearing. We fool ourselves into thinking that our comfort is king. We want it our way. Our style of music. Our preferred schedule. We want our free time and we don't want Christ or the Church infringing on it. And we don't want the people at work to ridicule us for our beliefs, so we don't talk about it and try to cover it up. We may declare our faith as a semi-anonymous poster on the Internet, but in the real world we keep our mouths shut.

But the beauty of the Christian life is not that we won't experience trouble, but that when we do experience it we have the strength of the Holy Spirit to see us through. We have the assurance that this world is not all there is. We don't need to cover up the hard part of Christianity -- not to others and certainly not to ourselves. Because as Jesus told us, the hard burden of life becomes easier, not harder if we follow Him.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Free Advertising for Others - 6/16/05

As I tried to do some catching up at a few other sites, I happened across a series of posts from Agent Tim about some alledged misinformation being spread about Rick Warren. Read "Rick Warren Responds to Lies?" for the information. Lighthouse Trails, who has been investigating says they will respond shortly.

Also Tim has this post and this follow-up post discussing problems with the PDL, which is very fair. I've already sounded off with this post (which is the most read at Attention Span unless you combine the whole Flip Wilson Theology series together).

And of course, it's Christian Carnival time and it's up at Daddypundit. Among the highlights:

A short but good one from Parableman which rings true to any of us parents with musically-inclined children.

Hammertime at Team Hammer's Musings has a good read on Biblical Inerrancy.

And at Callmeteem, read about one of the big dangers for pastors (not to mention laypeople) -- the need for humility.

And you really need to read Cookie Monster from Paula over at Listen In. Just do it.


I still wonder if I did the right thing.

He was an unexpected guest last Sunday. I was in my makeshift office at church during the Sunday School hour. It's my practice to spend some time reviewing sermon notes and praying before refreshment time which immediately preceeds morning worship. The little office is just inside the front doors of the church, so I can hear if anyone comes in needing to be directed to a Sunday School class. That almost never happens. However last Sunday I heard the doors open and close and the shuffle of footsteps outside the office door, but the sounds stopped suddenly. I opened the office door and there, with his back toward me, was a man. I stepped nearer to him and tried to get his attention but seeing a fairly large hearing aid in one ear I tapped him on the shoulder giving him a start. He turned and faced me nervously, looking at me with sad eyes.

"I'd like to talk to someone," he said in a slightly hushed voice. I nodded, led him into the office and invited him to have a seat, unsure of what would happen next.

His name was Frank. He looked to be around 60, with close-cropped hair on the sides of his head complementing the nearly bald scalp on top. The smell of stale cigarette smoke stood around him. He was dressed in blue cotton twill pants with a matching shirt -- one which begged for a white oval name patch embroidered in red. He was slight of build but had a paunch around his belly which looked out of place. As Frank sat down on the upholstered chair, he seemed hesistant; almost as if he wanted to run back out the same door through which he had entered.

Frank appeared to be in a desperate state. As he began his story, he warned me that it would be strange. Somehow I doubted that it would be all that odd and in truth it probably wasn't all that uncommon. Frank had lost his wife to cancer two months earlier. His beloved Jean was gone, leaving him without any family nearby. He had been seeing a counselor connected to the Veteran's Administration and taking some anti-depressants which had been prescribed for him. But Frank hated the medication and had no money to continue taking them. His one last chance was to travel to Massachusetts to be with his brother and to receive and support help out there. His counselor thought it would be the best thing. So Frank had begun the trip from Lafayette, Indiana, but was running out of money. He had sold most of his belongings over the past sixty days to support himself and now had almost nothing of value left.

The situation had gotten to him. Frank confessed that this was the third time that suicide had entered his mind. He said that twice before he was unable to follow through, knowing it wasn't right. The third time had been just a few minutes before he walked into church. Frank planned to drive out into the country and kill himself, but out in the middle of nowhere was a church. Deciding he needed someone to help him sort things out, he pulled into our church's parking lot and stepped inside, hoping that someone could tell him what to do.

As Frank unravelled his tale, I became more and more confused about what to do. Certainly his story could be on the level and God had placed Frank in my makeshift office so that He could speak through me. Of course it could be just as likely that Frank was running a con, intent upon getting as much easy cash from gullible church people as possible. Or the truth could lie somewhere between these two extremes. Frank hadn't come in asking for money, but for advice. Still money was the only tangible thing I could give him, and I'm sure he knew that. I knew that I could take him into the adult Sunday School classes, let him tell his tale and watch the people supply him with plenty of money for the trip to New England. Yet at the same time, could I essentially endorse Frank's story and tacitly encourage gifts for this man as someone who is supposed to shepherd the flock? There was no clear-cut answer. Stories of con men walking in the door of other churches kept flashing through my mind. But in front of my face was a man who seemed genuinely hurt and confused.

We talked for around 15 minutes. I tried to explain to Frank that he knew suicide was wrong; that's why he hadn't been able to go through with it. I attempted to give him some hope, telling him that God could fill the empty space. And I tried to gently guide him into hearing the Gospel message, but Frank could see nothing past the immediate pain and the lack of money and hope. As we wrapped up our talk, I prayed with him -- half wondering how well Frank could even hear what I was praying.

As I walked him to the door, I reached in my wallet and pulled out the cash I had with me. It was no more than a five and seven or eight ones. He hesitated to accept it, asking twice if giving him this money would hurt my family's finances. Finally after my reassurance, Frank took the paltry sum and placed it deep in the front pocket of his pants. He looked at me with those sad and tired eyes and then gave me a hug before turning and walking out the church door.

I walked to a window to see what would happen next. Frank got into a white van with a license plate from Lafayette, Indiana -- at least one part of his story checked out. I stepped away for a moment to take care of something and when I returned to the window the van was gone. I didn't see which direction it had taken from the church.

I still wonder if I did the right thing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Name Game

Flipping through the radio presets yesterday, I stumbled across an old Black Crowes song, She Talks To Angels. Now I know this isn't a typical "pastor song" (whatever that means), but my musical taste has always been a bit ecclectic. Anyway, the lyrics are about a woman with a drug problem and the wild claims she makes. The chorus reveals just how far gone the girl is:

Says she talks to angels
They call her out by her name
Oh yeah, she talks to angels
Says they call her out by her name

Now obviously, the woman is having hallucinations from whatever she's injecting into herself. But she brags about how well she is known by the heavenly beings -- they know her by name. Personally.

Those hungering to be known say that there is no such thing as bad publicity. "Just make sure my name is spelled right," they remind the reporter. Celebrities hire agents whose responsibility it is to find ways to keep the star's name in the public eye. The name is the key. It's a personal connection. Is it any wonder that the television show Cheers began with a theme song describing the bar as a place "where everybody knows your name"? We like to be known. We enjoy being recognized. I love running into people I know in unexpected places. I call out his name and he calls out mine. Our name is the summary of who we are.

In biblical times, names were even more personal. Often a Hebrew name would signify a parent's prediction of that child's future or the circumstances of the child's birth. There are some pretty tough names to live with mentioned in the Old Testament. The prophet Hosea's kids bore horrible names. His daughter was named Lo-Ruhamah, which means "not loved" and his youngest son was named Lo-Ammi, which means "not my people." Imagine facing the kids on the playground at Hebrew school with a name like Notloved or Notmypeople!

While our names today may not always reflect our personality, they come to encompass what kind of person we are. "Well, you know Ed," someone may say, trying to explain my bizarre behavior. "You can't believe anything Ed says," another chimes in. In this example, my name has become synonymous with poor character -- an odd liar. Those who have poured that meaning into my name have done so from personal experiences with me. I heard that very thing happen to a man yesterday. A couple recounted the lies they had been told by a guy named Forest B. To them, the name Forest B. represents a liar based on their unfortunate personal experiences.

But our goal is that important people should know our name. You could certainly impress some people if you could tell them that President Bush calls you for advice! The more important the person who knows you, the more impressed others become. I remember walking up to a local TV sportscaster while I was with a bunch of friends. Now the sports guy and I used to work together back in my radio days, so it was a quick handshake reunion for us. But my friends were impressed. I'm not sure why. He's not that impressive! Just think if I'd have talked old times with an ESPN anchor! They may have passed out!

Still the most impressive thing I can think of is the fact that I am known by God. He knows my name. And He loves me. I don't really understand why, but He does. He loves me enough to die for me.

Of course He knows you too.

Oh, and about having a name known by important people, I'll close with this from Philippians 2:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (emphasis mine)

Attention Christian Bloggers

Adrian Warnock is compiling a "master list" of Christian blogs. Plus something big is up. Check out this link for more info.

One other interesting read from you should check out. It's an interview with Moby (the musician, not the whale) about how he struggles with his Christianity. I'll be honest. I didn't know he was a Christian. But I think he covers that territory in the article. (A tip o' the ol' ballcap to John at Locusts and Honey.

Monday, June 13, 2005

"Well, I know what I mean..."

On some of my trips around the area, I pass a sign which is placed at the corner of a field. It's pretty non-descript; just white background and dark letters, but it stands out. The words painted on the sign are simple ones: FARMERS PAY MORE TAXES". Now, I'm a big fan of the farmer. I live in farm country. But one question crosses my mind every single time I pass that sign -- More taxes than what? More taxes than they should? More taxes than I do? More taxes than truck drivers? More taxes than they used to?

I'm no professional writer, but I play one on the Internet and I'm pretty sure that if you use the word more, there has to be a than at least implied somewhere in the sentence. The fact is I have no idea what the sign means, other than the fact that farmers pay a certain amount of taxes. Yet I'm certain that the person who painted the sign, paid for the sign and posted the sign knows exactly what he or she means. That farmer likely doesn't know that I am confused by his expression of free speech (unless of course he's heard me screaming, "MORE THAN WHAT???" out the window of the truck as I pass by!) Mr. Farmer is sure he's making a clear statement, while I along with most everyone else rolling by on the four-lane highway are scratching our collective heads and yelling out our collective windows.

I often wonder how many times each week that I lay out a brilliant (if I do say so myself) opinion or analysis only to have my reader or listener nodding agreeably on the outside, but on the inside thinking, "This guy isn't making any sense." Probably far more often than I care to consider. I know it happens in the context of my faith. I'll assume that I'm talking to someone who has at least a passing knowledge of the life of Jesus only to find out that this person thinks that Joseph and Mary were two of Jesus' twelve disciples! So my explanation of the theological ramifications of the Transfiguration probably swooshed right over my hearer's head.

I try to do what I can to eliminate the misunderstanding. I have a list of "church words" that I try to avoid unless I can explain them to be sure my meaning is clear. After all, a lot of people will just play along so they don't have to admit they really don't understand what grace is. Or justification. Or resurrection. Or any number of other words or terms we Christians toss around on a daily basis. It's easy to assume that someone who is a church member will have the same perspective as I do, yet it's rarely the case. But if I talk about sitting in an apartment listening to the bass beat from the stereo vibrating the walls for minute upon minute, hour upon hour, until suddenly it stops as an example of mercy, then we start to understand each other.

On top of that, some faux Christian churches use the same buzzwords but alter the meaning. "Faith" becomes some kind of force like electricity. The "Son of God" becomes the product of physical sexual relations with Mary and the Heavenly Father. "Salvation" becomes something we earn by being good enough. And sadly, too many people are none the wiser.

We must make ourselves clear. Never assume the other person has the same perspective as you do. It's easy to forget. But if I'm going to preach the Gospel I want to be sure that my words are understood correctly. Sure, I know what I mean. But I must communicate so that others know as well. If that means avoiding "Christianese" or explaining my terms, then I'm willing to do it. And I pray that I can do that without condescension and with a godly amount of love and patience.

And the Book Meme

When it rains, it pours. Tagged again. This time by Quotidian Grace.

1. Number of books I own. I'd guess around 200-300. I don't keep myself heavily stocked, so to speak. I've learned the value of the public library, and I am blessed to live in a county with a good one -- unafraid to carry titles by Christian authors. Perhaps a more interesting question would be how many Bibles do I own. That would be around 15 or 16.

2. The last book I bought. Over the weekend I bought How Shall We Worship? by Marva J. Dawn. A few days earlier I picked up Why Men Hate Going To Church by David Murrow. (I'm a sucker for a provocative title!)

3. The last book that I read. I finished up Henri Nouwen's posthumous release Turning My Mourning Into Dancing. Interesting read, but it bogged down after a good beginning.

4. Books that mean a lot to me. I have to start with the Bible, of course, especially The Living Bible. I rarely read this paraphrase anymore, but for a boy trying to appreciate the relevance of an ancient book, TLB really helped me to understand what Scripture is all about. Aside from the Bible, I'm going through J. I. Packer's Knowing God once again. It's always a refreshing read. Most anything by Philip Yancey makes me do a lot of thinking. How Now Shall We Live? by Colson and Pearcey was an eye-opening read which helped me define my thinking more clearly. Beyond these, there are many books which mean a lot by helping to round out my understanding of many different theological issues.

5. Tag 5 other bloggers. Nope. I'm the chain-breaker, remember?! But if you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged.

Other reads

While I get my thoughts sorted out, here are some great posts to read from Christian Carnival 73 at Reformed Politics:

The entry from Beyond the Rim, "Look at Me, Ain't I Wonderful?" is a good one, forcing us to consider why we look to be held up as special simply for acting as we are supposed to do.

John over at Locusts and Honey has a great treatment of Brian McLaren's "A New Kind of Christian" which is must reading -- especially if you've never read McLaren's ideas before.

Phil at Another Man's Meat has a fine reflection upon the sights and sounds in God's Cathedral at Kansas Turnpike, Mile Marker 109.

The Headmistress Zookeeper at The Common Room ties some interesting quotes together about how we justify our own actions in Reason Never Begins It.

Oh, and one not at the Carnival... I love to come across posts like this one at Molten Thought. It's fascinating to read the spiritual journies of other people.


Friday, June 10, 2005

Musical Meme

OK, Ron from the Northern Burbs tagged me for this so if you don't like my answers you know who to blame!

Total volume of music files on my computer: 1.50 GB. The thing is I rarely play them from the computer. I've been spoiled by Sirius Satellite Radio and if I want music while I type, I'll usually open the media player at the Sirius site.

The Last CD I bought was: Jars of Clay - Redemption Songs. Some excellent stuff here.

Song playing right now: To be honest, I'm not listening to music right now. The computer is in the same room as the television and my wife is watching something sans musical accompaniment. The last song I remember playing on the radio as we were driving home from my son's baseball game tonight was How Great Is Your Love by MercyMe.

Five songs that move me, or Five songs I listen to a lot or that mean a lot to me (in no particular order): JUST FIVE?? How in the world do I do this? After all, I can be "moved" by the Chicago Bears Fight Song ("Bear down, Chicago Bears. . .") Let me see here. . .
How Great Thou Art - I simply can't sing it without a tear or twelve running down my cheeks.
Love Song (Third Day) - A song sung from Jesus' point of view detailing how much He gave for us.
Great Is Thy Faithfulness - My favorite hymn. Period.
The Dance (Garth Brooks) - This song has special significance from our first son who died over 14 years ago. "I would never miss the dance."
Wait For Your Rain (Todd Agnew) - A song of confession and repentance which truly finds me where I am. "I cannot believe I'm this dirty. I'm ashamed to even ask to be clean."
MacArthur Park (Richard Harris) - I have a soft spot for tragedies involving cakes. Bwah ha ha! Sorry I couldn't keep a straight face for that one. I'll stick with the five above.

Who are you Passing this on to? Nobody. I'm the guy who breaks chain letters, so there! OK, if you want it passed to you, consider yourself tagged.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


It had been an exceptionally long three days. I had semi-collapsed on the loveseat for a short period of recovery before picking up my son at baseball practice. My wife was taking a break to sit on the couch and relax with a little television. Her channel of choice? One of those do-it-yourself home remodeling channels. I don't know which one because they all blur together into one long series of extreme home makeovers. But the show I was hearing in spite of all attempts to silence the noise around me was different. This was a show about a family shopping for a new house. An odd premise, I thought, then went back to trying to block out the sound.

It turns out that this particular couple had a few particular characteristics in mind on their wish list. They wanted a house on a cul-de-sac, with separate wings for Dad's music studio and Mom's exercise salon, and the front door had to be facing east. Yeah, I said the front door had to be facing east. At this point I resisted throwing my pillow at the television, which I considered as incredible restraint.

East? Why east? I thought for a moment it might be something to do with feng shui, the Chinese tradition of placement and design. An Eastern Religion worldview could have been behind it, but the couple explained that they wanted the first rays of sunlight to stream through the windows of their front door.

Oh. Whatever.

As I tried to continue resting while hearing this couple tromp through various abodes nestled somewhere in their price range, my mind drifted back to the conversation I heard on the radio that morning. It was something about star athletes who demanded special rights in the clubhouse -- getting the biggest locker, being able to invite along a posse of hangers-on, having control of the music played in the room. Of course the biggest stars get the biggest perks. Some get special flights to away games or tickets to bring along family. Roger Clemens isn't even required to go to games when he's not scheduled to pitch!

Then, as the couple argued over whether a certain room would make a better exercise salon or music studio, I started thinking about some of the other stories about those who think they deserve more than anyone else. I have heard the rumor that backstage at a concert, absolutely no one is allowed to make eye contact with Barbara Striesand. Actually I've heard that same rumor about Diana Ross and a couple of other people. Some acts specify what foods are to be available backstage for the band to eat. I've seen a couple of those contracts. They almost turned my stomach -- not the food, but the demanding tone of the requests. The story has been told for years that in the 1980's the band Van Halen required that in the dressing rooms, many bowls would be filled with M&Ms candy, with all the brown ones removed. I always thought I'd like the job of picking out all the brown ones, but I'd probably weigh around 650 by now!

After the couple had decided on their dream house and the show was over, I left to pick up my son from practice. And I continued thinking about human attitudes about what we deserve and what we need. In America, most of us have some bizarre ideas about what we need. I've watched people considering buying a t-shirt say, "Well, I really don't need it..." To which I say, "Of course you don't need it. All you need is one set of clothes, and you could probably survive without that!" Usually they get the point. What they mean by "need" is not really the true definition of "need." But we get in our heads that we cannot survive without at least two cars in the family, a faster computer, another book or CD, a new pair of shoes, or a cell phone with bluetooth. On top of that, we have a distorted idea of what we deserve. Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that we deserve more than we have -- even if we have a great deal to begin with.

Now I can't blame the house-shopping couple. If they want to hold out for a front door which greets the morning sun, more power to them. But the attitude we deserve or need more than what we have really sickens me. It's a heart condition. Materialism at it's most basic. Let's face it; we're spoiled.

Of course, it's not just a secular problem. It's probably less of a problem in the secular world because most of those folks are already kneeling at the altar of comfort and greed anyway. If you worship yourself, self-esteem or the like, materialism is both the norm and the ultimate goal. But in Christianity, materialism is a temptation. It moves our emphasis from where it should be to where it shouldn't.

I've written about this attitude in regards to church shopping before. If the couple from television was actually looking for a new church, they'd be seen as pretty shallow. After all, what does it matter which direction the front church doors face? But when we go from church to church looking for one with a good worship band, or a dynamic speaker aren't we doing much the same thing? We forget that worshipping is the onus of the individual. If I get nothing out of a service, perhaps it's exactly what I put into it. And if I put more importance on being entertained than on being challenged, then I cause my own problem.

But I also see this materialistic attitude creep into other aspects of my life. Sometimes it doesn't creep, it marches in with brass bands and floats made from rose petals. I look longingly at a new laptop while trying to squash the thoughts of people struggling to make ends meet. I wish for a bigger air conditioner to cool the house, forgetting that much of the world has to put up with temperatures over 72 degrees. I consider buying a new suit, choosing to ignore that many people have only a few items of clothing to their names.

It happens at church also. "It sure would be great to have a new sound system," I tell myself, even though my voice can easily be heard without much amplification. It's easy to start wanting newer, bigger, better, more, more, MORE, MORE!!! Don't I deserve it? Doesn't God's church deserve it?

We deserve death. It's not our works that save. If we truly got what we deserve, we'd be dead and separated from God forever by now. It's only by the grace and mercy of God that we do not get what we deserve. So why do we forget that? Why does materialism have such a strong pull on us? Why is having the newest, biggest, best and most crowd out any thoughts of our responsibility to loving our neighbor as ourselves?

Let's face it, church. We're spoiled. Spoiled rotten. And if we can bear to pull ourselves off of God's throne for a few minutes, we need to take care of the widows and orphans, those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely, naked, sick and imprisoned. We've got to be God's instruments. We must allow Him to use us as anything He desires. And we have to get over ourselves. We may be children of God, but we are nothing without Him. Concentrating on the material things keeps us from being and doing what God wants us to be.

I pray that I would not be a spoiled Christian, seeking first the things which rust and moths destroy and thieves break in to steal. Give me strength, O Lord. Keep me from spoiling.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Judith Christ?

I heard it on the radio Monday morning. The NEW Bible. I mean, REALLY NEW. Well, the four gospels anyway. It's so new, they've discovered the "truth" about our Savior. He was a she! That's what they claim in "Judas Christ of Nazareth, The Gospels of the Bible, Corrected to Reflect that Christ Was a Woman, Extracted from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John." Catchy title, don't you think? Here's a piece from a news release about this new "translation":
"This long-awaited revised text of the Gospels makes the moral message of Christ more accessible to many, and more illuminating to all," says Billie Shakespeare, V.P. for the publisher. "It is empowering. We published this new Bible to acknowledge the rise of women in society." This new Bible includes:
The Parable of the Prodigal Daughter, The Lady's Prayer, and other revised favorite passages, such as:
* Her birth -- Luke 2:4 And Joseph went to Bethlehem. 5 To be enrolled with Mary, his wife, who was then pregnant. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn child. 21 And her name was chosen to be Judith.
* Her crucifixion -- John 19:17 And She bearing her cross went forth. 18 There they crucified Judith. * Her resurrection -- Matthew 28:1 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Judith who was crucified." 6 "She is not here; for She is risen."

How sad. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Now some folks have such a problem with the Truth, that they want to remake Him in their own image.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


I used a rather weird illustration yesterday during the sermon. It was actually a kids' story that I decided to turn into an "everybody" story. I wanted a visual to remind the people that if we want to know God, we need to get deeper with our relationship with Him. So I told everyone to take a certain page from the morning bulletin and wad it up. I produced a crudely made target, which I set at the front of the seats. Then, row by row beginning in the back, I instructed the people to stand up and throw the paper wad at the target. Being a small church, it only took a minute. But the point was made -- it's easier to hit the target if you move closer. And if your target is knowing God, you begin by getting closer to Him. Deepening the relationship. It was fun and memorable.

Later in the day, I talked to one of the teenagers who had brought two of her friends to our church for the first time that morning. She said that one of her friends thought our church "was so cool, cuz, like, well, I've never ever seen anything like that in church before!" Of course, her friend was Roman Catholic, so she probably went home and told her parents who promptly barred her from associating with us heathen paper-wad-throwing Protestant freaks! But it was an interesting switch for me. We're a small country church. I doubt that in the church's entire 130-year history that we've ever been referred to as "cool". I'm not sure that it's a bad thing, but it's really not what I'm striving for.

I know churches who try to be cool. I don't doubt that the staff and many of the people truly love the Lord. But I missed the part in Scripture where the church should try to fit the world's definition of "cool". It seems to me that the object is to get the world to think that what we do naturally is cool.

Some churches are a cool place to hang out. Coffeehouse, hot band, great activities. I don't have a problem with that stuff per se, but my question is all about the motive. Do we bend to fit the world? Or are we expressing our love for Christ in a heartfelt manner?

I can get cynical. Especially when I see dozens of churches planted in the well-to-do sections of town, but only a couple dare to bring the Gospel to those on the wrong side of the tracks. Or when I see congregations very concerned about needing new classrooms and installing theatre lighting, but only giving token mention to helping the poor. And I get frustrated. Do we have our priorities in order?

Our church isn't very musical. Yesterday we sang along with a Michael W. Smith CD, sang another song a capella and sang a hymn with piano accompaniment. We make a "joyful noise" but we won't be recording our own worship album any time soon. We'll use tunes from 1521 through 2003 as the mood fits. But I read various places from people who look down upon congregations who actually sing songs from the 1970's. Apparently a few of these people think that the worship team should be playing only the Top 40 praise songs or else, well, they're uncool. I don't get it. Did the early church stop singing old songs when something new was written? I have my doubts.

So what's my point? I guess I just wonder how much importance we place upon being cool. In my opinion Jesus was cool, but not because He had a great place to hangout or played in a hot band. It was His love. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He looked to accomplish God's work and bring Him glory. He spent much time in prayer. He served others. He welcomed obvious sinners and had the harshest words for the religious establishment. He lived what He taught. And He told people the Truth in many different ways for the sole purpose of bringing them to God.

That's what I want a church to be. That's cool.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Secondhand Knowledge

Working at an outdoor flea market is an interesting experience. There are usually two things which the sellers discuss among themselves: the number of shoppers at the market and the weather. Everyone can see how crowded the market is each day, but the unknowable factor is the weather. Meteorologists never seem to get the forecast right, or at least not often enough. And in a place where a heavy shower can mean the end of a business day, many people keep one eye on the forecast and the other eye on the approaching clouds.

As in all communities of people, there are some who are pessimists. In an outdoor market, these folks are sure the rain is coming, and it could be any minute now. They are quick to believe any report of possible precipitation and spread the word to anyone who will listen. These people almost seem to relish in hardship; enjoying the opportunity to complain about their misfortune. There are also people who are gullible. If someone tells them a thunderstorm is five minutes away, they'll believe it even though there isn't a cloud in the sky. This makes for an interesting phenomenon. The original weather information, often exaggerated, is passed from dealer to dealer in an adult game of "Telephone" until you hear that all kinds of meteorologic mayhem is about to blow you into the parking lot and dump an entire lake on your head. I've learned never to take weather information seriously when it is passed around because secondhand information is often distorted from the original.

Biblically speaking, when we hear that Brother Bill is engaged in a certain sinful practice, we aren't to simply believe the secondhand information. We are to confront Brother Bill. We may find that the story has been distorted by someone who didn't understand or wasn't listening properly. We may even find that the story is intentionally changed by someone who isn't especially fond of Brother Bill. Clearly secondhand information can be dangerous. It can give us wrong or distorted information and it can give us false confidence that we know something when in fact we remain misinformed and ingnorant.

In J. I. Packer's, Knowing God, the author points out that it is possible to learn about Christianity secondhand, but that this isn't the same as experiencing Christianity firsthand. How true that is! I can read blog after blog, article after article, opinion after opinion and have a pretty good idea about what Christians believe. I can accumulate knowledge from textbooks and biographies. I can pour over theological treatises and memorize facts of all kinds. However this is only secondhand knowledge. And secondhand knowledge can be dangerous. It may be wrong and it may give us false confidence that we know the truth when in fact we don't.

So am I saying Christians shouldn't read or study what others have written? Of course not! But what I am saying is that knowing about God is not the same as knowing God. And often the difference lies in our motives for obtaining the knowledge. It is quite a temptation to let knowledge "puff me up", to paraphrase Paul. I enjoy studying and arguing theology. I like knowing the answers. But unless I live them out, my "book knowledge" does me no good. In other words, talking the talk is nice, but walking the walk is necessary. I can accumulate knowledge for knowledge's sake (or usually for my own prideful self-esteem) or I can seek knowledge because it helps me to experience God's love and grace in a personal way. That's a key difference, as God looks upon the heart.

This also doesn't mean that experience should be placed above the authority of Scripture. Experience is a pitiful way to determine truth. Without the Bible as the final authoritative word, any ridiculous happening can be twisted to fit Christian beliefs. But experience is an incredible way to live out the truth. Walking the walk brings it home to us -- it makes it all real. My confidence is not in myself, but in the assurance that what I believe is correct. I greatly admire the fine scholars of our faith who teach doctrine and defend the Gospel to those engaged in secularism and worldliness. I'd love to have the mind of a J. I. Packer, a G. K. Chesterton, an N. T. Wright or a Millard Erickson. But even more, I'd love to have the heart of God.

Lord, continue to pull me to You. Impress upon me the burning desire to know about You so that I can know You better. Help me to seek you so that I can experience Your presence and know Your love and Your grace firsthand.

Standing on Scripture (and other stuff)

I've seen a lot of Christian-themed merchandise in my life. This is a new one on me. Insoles for your soul. Yes friends, you too can stand on the Word of God! Perhaps it's "witness wear" for a Japanese restaurant?

Anyway, I just wanted to remind you (as well as me) about the many fine posts which I hope to get a chance to read soon on Christian Carnival LXXII (pronounced "Lex-ee-ee") over at A Physicist's Perspective. I've only read a couple, as I've been busy reading about putting Scripture inside my shoes.

Also worth a read is "What's Absurd About Christianity?" posted for Vox Apologia XX (pronounced "ex-ex").

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to change my Odor-Eaters. . .

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Posted by Hello
While flipping through the presets of my radio the other day, I stumbled across a tune by jazz great Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy is one of the musicians credited with creating "bebop" music in the 1940's. As you can see from the picture above, he was easy to spot. The bell of his trumpet was pointed up instead of straight out, and Dizzy played his horn with his cheeks puffed out, almost appearing to be blowing up a balloon. But it wasn't simply his appearance which made Dizzy unique -- it was the music. He was a huge influence on the jazz scene before and after his death in 1993.
I was fortunate to hear and meet Dizzy Gillespie while I was a college student in the early 80's. A friend of mine was in the music department and she knew I'd appreciate attending a lecture given by Dizzy to a bunch of music majors. He talked about his early career and about his recordings with legends like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and others. He played a little bit as well, the sweet music flowing freely from the elevated bell of his trumpet. I was no music major, but I could sure appreciate his mastery of rhythms and harmonies, not to mention the fact that I was staring at living history.
The lecture included a time for questions from the audience. Of course this being a group of college students, the questions were very general as no one seemed to know many specifics of Dizzy's resume. One of his more recent credits was playing a short solo piece on an extended version of the Stevie Wonder tune, "Do I Do." It was hardly a complicated piece -- kind of a throwaway improvised solo for an incredibly talented musician like Gillespie. Yet a young woman stood up and asked Dizzy to play that solo.
Dizzy just shook his head, thinking of some way to make the coed understand. He didn't "know" the solo. It had just been played off the top of his head. It meant nothing to him. Yet for this 20 year old young woman, it was the only Dizzy Gillespie music she was familiar with. She wasn't as impressed with the musical pioneer as she was the guest soloist on a Stevie Wonder tune. She wanted to hear the Dizzy she knew.
I've often thought of that lady who wanted to hear an improvised solo duplicated live. I wondered if she really missed all the history and groundbreaking experimentation in music, or if she just froze trying to think of a good question to ask. And as I heard Dizzy's trumpet come alive again on my radio, I began to think about the way we treat our Creator. Are we happy with one small portion of who God is or do we crave more knowledge about Him? In musical terms, are we happy with, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" while we ignore "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," and "I Know Whom I Have Believed?"
A study of the attributes of God is always worthwhile, mainly because there are always some we forget about. . . or ignore. . . or never discover in the first place. We love to think of the picture of Jesus holding children, but we tend to put the image of Jesus making a whip out of cords and clearing the temple far in the recesses of our minds. It's as if we are creating God in our image -- or at least the image we want Him to be.
In Romans 11:22 Paul wrote, "Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off." The kindness we can handle, but we don't like thinking about the severity. Like those who enjoy the "New Testament God" but cannot stand the "Old Testament God", too many try to pick and choose His attributes like vegetable choices at the buffet. But it just doesn't work that way. We cannot choose to have a loving God who is not holy, nor can we serve an omnipresent God who is not just. We cannot engage the Dizzy Gillespie who plays a cameo on a Stevie Wonder album without dealing with the musical pioneer who helped establish an entire genre of music. So, why would we attempt to subdivide the Supreme Being?
There are certain aspects of God which draw people. How could you not be drawn to a forgiving, merciful, powerful and loving Creator? Yet we cannot dissect away the part of God which tells us to be perfect as He is perfect. We cannot ignore His call to obedience. We cannot throw out Him allowing us to suffer so that He can hold us up through it. We cannot separate the God we think we want from the God Who is. Some churches attempt to do just that. They preach about the God who loves and twist it to say that God wants us to be rich and comfy. However the idea of picking up our own cross to follow Christ is all but surgically removed from their Bible. Not only is that dishonest with Scripture, it's dishonest to themselves.
The Lord is perfect in all He does. We, on the other hand, are far from perfect. So our understanding is what must be adjusted. Our worldview must fit with reality -- the truth which is given in Scripture. So to deny God's justice or His severity is as ridiculous as defining a musician by one performance.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Weekend Sightseeing

What a weekend it's been! I've been running almost full-time since Saturday, with work and play. I'm still not done yet, but I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not going to describe everything. However I saw some mighty interesting things over the past few days.

It began Friday night and Saturday with a wedding where I officiated. People are always fun to observe. Two families coming together to become one. And this wedding had many races, nationalities and cultures coming together to watch two people commit themselves to each other and to God.

On Sunday it was a two and a half hour drive to Indianapolis for the 500. Beautiful day. We watched a great race and I saw many things. I also avoided seeing a few. I managed not to see any exposed human flesh on display by the drunken fans. I'm not talking about simply skimpy outfits, I'm talking about women lifting their tops to expose themselves. Sometimes it's pretty much impossible to avoid altogether, but I was fortunate this year. I do wonder what that group of guys was yelling about as they watched something going on in the ditch running through the parking lot. I'm guessing that I'm probably better off not knowing.

I'm not sure why some people feel the need to display themselves in public. Maybe it's just a need to feel appreciated. Perhaps if the people were booing instead of cheering, the practice would stop. But I don't look for that to happen. I suppose that some will take the applause any way they can get it.

Drunken behavior is often a bit odd. I saw one rather intoxicated man who appeared to be in his 30's, who ripped down a vinyl advertising banner from the fence surrounding the speedway grounds, then wad it up and stuff it in an empty cooler -- all in full view of everyone. I don't know what he was going to do with it. I doubt that he knew what he wanted it for. He ripped the thing trying to pull it down anyway. But he strolled off with an almost-worthless hunk of vinyl signage jammed into a wet, smelly cooler. I hope he enjoys it.

I did encounter two different sets of folks with portable public address systems doing some street preaching, a la Preacher Man from this post. Actually that's not quite accurate. Preacher Man was much more loving in his approach than these characters. I heard very few of their words, but the emotions came in loud and clear. I heard hatred and venom and contempt and self-righteousness and a few other attitudes which sicken me coming from someone who purports to represent Jesus Christ. The guys were passing out tracts nearby. They approached me with a combative attitude. When I told them, "I'm already headed there, Brothers," one of them shouted after me, daring me to argue with him. I pray for those who were turned away again by the actions of a few of His followers.

Traffic is always interesting when you are in a large crowd. Some people never want to wait in line in the proper lane. They take the empty lane as far as they can go, then try to push, plead, intimidate or slip unnoticed into the line. This may save them 20 or 30 minutes, but for those in line already it makes the wait that much longer. If they would simply get into line at the rear, it would move faster for everybody. But those folks don't work toward the greater good -- they concentrate on the individual good. And the rest of us sit in line.

On the other hand, exiting the parking lot, I found a line which moved quickly to the main lane leading to the street. Near the head of the main line was a car who was just sitting there, in no hurry. She was in the way of other cars who were trying to form two exit lanes. The traffic was slow because this driver either didn't know what she was doing or didn't care to follow instructions. I guess it works both ways.

While driving home on the interstate, I saw a car on the shoulder of the oncoming lanes driving with his flashers on. As he got closer, I could see that he had no right front tire. Period. He was driving on three tires and the right front rim. Not only did he have a messed up tire, but because he chose to continue driving he surely now has a messed up wheel and possibly a few other problems. I've had the choice of what to do when I had a flat and no spare, but I've never made the choice to roll down the highway on the rim. I've got to wonder what the reason was behind that decision.

Finally after a short night of sleep Sunday night, I was off to an extended day of work on Monday. I work in the heart of Amish country, so I'm used to the sights around the area. I even discussed a couple in the post and comments last week. I've seen many strange things. Monday is usually laundry day for the Amish. While driving past, you see the neat rows of clothing hanging on the line. There is a row of dark pants, then a row of underwear, then socks, all neatly arranged on the clothesline. I drove past an Amish house Monday with the lines almost completely full of drying clothes. Everything was lined up. Then I noticed the clothes nearest the road -- a line of white t-shirts. All plain. Except the one on the near end. Across that shirt was the logo for Hooters Restaurant! I wondered if the family knew what the words on the shirt meant. Probably not. But still. . .

One more day of work, then I can rest my eyes. Thanks to all those who left comments and suggestions for more writing. I'll get to it when my mind clears!