Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Storing Treasures

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Take a look at this restoration project. A taste is shown above.
This is what one of the owners, Mary Cooper, had to say about the process:

Anyone who's moved into a near ruin, lived through the destruction and restoration, and done most of the work themselves can appreciate the intensity of feelings that flash across Mary Cooper's face when she talks about her home.

"It was a long struggle and more work than anything I'd ever done," Mary admits. "But I didn't concentrate on all the things that were missing. When I shined a flashlight inside and saw a Creole ceiling with exposed beams overhead, it took my breath away and carried me through."

As someone who has done some refurbishing and refinishing, I know the work and sweat that goes into a small project. I can only imagine what Cooper went through to get this house looking like this. This house is her treasure -- a source of great pride and the reason for a huge sense of accomplishment. Or at least it was.

This house, in case you didn't read the linked story, is in New Orleans, a few blocks away from the Mississippi River. Chances are Mary's home is severely damaged, but I have no further information on her situation.

I do not mean to make light of Mary's plight, but when I was told about this story today my mind flashed to two passages of Scripture. First, a parable told by Jesus:

Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

The other passage also comes from the mouth of the Master:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

There is nothing wrong with having nice things, provided we are not living for our luxuries instead of living for our Creator. But the things of this earth can be gone with the passing of a storm.

Once again, my prayers for all who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina and their families.


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It's horrible to know there is a devastating hurricane about to strike. As Christians we pray for those affected and maybe make preparations for relief efforts after the storm passes. But in the meantime we wait to see what happens. And these days, that means we turn on the television and watch news and weather reporters standing outside in high winds, heavy rain and dodging flying debris. It's on the Weather Channel. It's on CNN. It's on NBC. It's on about a dozen stations on my satellite dish.

The reporter, like Mike Seidel above, cannot simply tells us how heavily the rain is falling; he must give us some visual perspective. Hence, we have what I call The Blowing Reporter, or TBR. A lone figure, silhouetted against a background of rain falling sideways, struggles to keep the wind from knocking him out of the camera frame and keeps himself looking as calm as anyone standing outside in a hurricane can possibly be.

I'll admit it can be very addictive, watching TBR. It's as if your eyes are not able to be diverted until the camera is off. What is it that we're trying to see? Do we truly need to know what a 100 mile per hour wind looks like? Are we simply amused with the sight of a guy trying to keep a jacket hood up or a ball cap on? What is it?

I think there is, submerged somewhere deep within us, a desire to see something happen to the reporter -- not something truly serious, but something we'd later see on America's Funniest Home Videos. True, there are probably a few people who would chuckle at seeing TBR knocked senseless by a flying stop sign, but for the most part we just want to see the unexpected. Most everything on television is scripted. That's why a live broadcast is usually very popular -- we might get to see something go wrong. It was that kind of thrill that made Saturday Night Live such a popular show in the mid 70's. Usually television is so predictable and "safe". Even reality TV isn't so risky as a live Janet Jackson halftime show.

At some level we like seeing things go wrong. We enjoy seeing the mysterious de-mystified. We like seeing the high and mighty brought back down to our level. We salivate at the thought of Martha Stewart going to prison. So when we see a normally blow-dried and perfectly made-up reporter turned into TBR, we enjoy it. We actually root for people to fail. Or at least to look foolish.

Is it jealousy? Is it a need to make ourselves feel better about ourselves? Maybe both. I'm sure it's different with everyone. I know that I like to root for the underdog, but I'm not one to hope for someone to mess up their lives so that I can feel better about myself. However I know of people whose joy is found in the failure of others.

I believe it's much deeper than hoping to see a live blooper. Establishments are prime targets to be brought down. Some people resent the rich and want to see them brought back to earth -- better known as "the way I have to live." Corporations must all be corrupt if they are making money. The powerful don't deserve their power. The rich don't deserve their money. The intelligent don't deserve respect because they aren't as smart as they think. The mindset may be subliminal to a degree, but it's very real in many circles. TBR is often just a scaled-down version of this inborn inferiority complex.

I know people who make it a point to try to disprove everything they learned growing up in Sunday School. Is it a personal reaction to past failings of the Church, an attempt to escape personal responsibility, or a desire to see Christianity toppled and disproven? I can't read minds, but again I would imagine there's a little of everything in many of those folks.

So is watching TBR and hoping for a blooper a sign of our depravity or just an innocent way to while away the time? I'd pose that watching TBR and hoping to see something go wrong is evidence of our desire to be on the same level as those we regard as being above us.

But then again, I could be all wet. Just like the average TBR. ;-)

Postscript: My prayers for all who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina and their families.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Help From His Friends

Found this story (a tip of the ol' ball cap to In the Agora) that comes from my wife's old stomping grounds. It seems that an Amish woman, Mrs. Esh, spotted a coyote who had been after the family's herd of 140 sheep. She called her husband, Amos to get his rifle. He shot the coyote, but by the time he got his shots off, the animal had crossed a fence onto a neighbor's land. The neighbor called the police to charge the Amish farmer with tresspassing.

After the judge found Amos guilty, friends and neighbors came forward and paid the $181 fine levelled against the man.

After reading the story, I got the mental image of George Bailey at the end of It's a Wonderful Life wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. It also reminds me of how Christians are to meet the needs of those around us and how many times I've failed to even notice my neighbor's needs.

Merry Christmas, Amos.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Reading, Reading, Reading

A few worthwhile posts from blogs not appearing on my blogroll. There's lot of great stuff being written and I wanted to highlight these:

I like this post at The Faithful Skeptic about the "right" amount of bureaucracy for a denomination. Brian uses the United Methodists as an example, but it's a question we've been wrestling with in my own denomination as well.

"Why Ask Why?" is a reassuring post at Uncle Sam's Cabin for those of us who wonder what we ever did to deserve all this.

Ben Witherington takes on the root of all evil -- is it money or the love of money? Read Paul -- Right on the Money for yourself and be challenged.

And try this post at YBMT about the experience of a "Christian outside of the institutional church" who encounters a person in need on a Sunday morning. Some good insights. I'm not linking it to get into an institutional church discussion -- just read it for the great observations Bruce gives.

And one from my blogroll:
Ron at Northern 'burbs writes so many good posts. I've all but given up debating at Evangelical Update because Ron uses all my arguements before I get a chance to! But Ron's recent post "A Modern Babel" really struck me. See if you agree.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Red Carpet

It used to be one of the trappings of royalty. The path for the monarch was laid out and marked as special -- almost like it was holy ground. The commoner didn't dare to set foot on the crimson path. That walk was reserved for the powerful and mighty (and sometimes deified).

These days red carpet is associated with a different kind of power -- celebrity power. At every award show, the red carpet is rolled out to cushion the steps of the likes of Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow. The only folks allowed on the red carpet are the celebrity interviewer -- the Joan Rivers-types -- who are celebrities in their own right. What once meant power of government now defines power of popularity.

We live in a culture where celebrity status is held in the highest esteem. Actors, athletes, singers or anybody who has had their kisser plastered on the TV in a marginal program are held up as gods (little "g" -- most of the time). Why is it that a guy like Rupert from Survivor or whoever won on The Apprentice are thought of as important? Simply because we worship celebrities. The supermarket check-out aisles are filled with important, can't-live-without information about Ben, Jen and ten dozen others who faces are recognized by celeb watchers.

We run to a famous person and ask for them to sign their name, then treat it as some kind of treasure. How odd that is! Why do we feel the need to associate ourselves with the famous? Are we really any better off from once having shaken the hand of Tiger Woods or Meg Ryan or Dr. Joyce Brothers? Yet celebrity worship is a part of our culture, and it's getting to be a bigger part all the time.

Celebrity worship wouldn't happen in a church though, right? Well, what about this little stunt pulled by Rev. Perry Noble at his church in South Carolina? (a tip of the ol' ball cap to Monday Morning Insight):

If you were at New Spring yesterday I hope you have calmed down by now. I have seriously pondered hiring the police to escort me around town for the next several days. But before you get ready to call the office with a bomb threat you need to remember two things, #1 - You have got to admit--it was funny! #2 - You will never forget what worship is! For those who might not have been there--let me explain what happened. (You have got to go to our website and download the message--even if you can only listen to the first five minutes I promise it will be worth your time.)

Yesterday I began telling this story about how Lucretia and I went to a really nice place to eat supper and had the privilege to meet Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. I went on to say over the course of time I spoke with him and told him all about our church...and to make a long story short (once again, listen to the message) he asked could he and Faith attend a service. I told them absolutely and then announced to the crowd that he was there and asked if they would help me welcome him to the stage.

I will have to admit I have never seen anything quite like what took place...in short, people went bonkers. At the 6:00 service last night people even were trying to get their camera phones out to take pictures--it was the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed.

I walked off stage for a second and then came back out and asked, "you bought that?" I have since realized that at that very moment my life was in danger--people were ready to pull me off the stage and beat the poo poo out of me. They had their hopes up that Tim was there...and I had lied to them (God has forgiven me).

But I used the entire illustration to make a point--which I will expound upon here, why is it that we can get so excited about Tim McGraw, a person who has really never done anything for any of us--but when it comes to worship we sort of go through the motions. The fact is that Tim McGraw was not in the house yesterday--but Jesus Christ was...and I asked, "What would happen to the church that was just as excited about Jesus as we just were about Tim?" I believe a church like that could transform an entire community...even region of the country.

What we are passionate for will show. Many people are passionate about politics. I believe it is the responsibility of every American citizen to vote; however, my hope does not lie in the Republican or the Democratic party. If I truly thought politics could change the world I would resign as pastor and run for office.

Others are passionate about sporting events. People will spend tons of money and time every weekend in the fall when it comes to football. We go into the stadiums and scream until we can't talk. We get sunburned in the early part of the season and some even suffer frostbite during the latter part. Now I am a huge football fan--but what difference has a football team ever made when it comes to eternity.

Passion consumes us--every person you meet is passionate about something...and there is no exception. My point yesterday was why can't we be passionate about something that matters, the church--or someone that matters--Jesus Christ?

I would have to say that yesterday was one of the top 10 moments in New Spring's short history. I pray we never forget the lesson we learned yesterday--that every time we get together that Jesus Christ is in the house...and that we will be pumped about it and continue to invite others to see & hear what is going on.

(Props to Fellowship Church and Ed Young. This was not an original idea--I first learned of this about four years ago when I heard a tape of Ed doing this same illustration to his church. I have wanted to do this at New Spring ever since...but the time was not right until this past weekend. You guys at Fellowship keep cranking out the creativity!!!)

He makes quite a point, doesn't he? Why would Tim McGraw be a bigger celebrity than Jesus Christ? Probably because our friends would be more impressed if we went to work on Monday and told them we met Tim McGraw over the weekend than if we told them we truly met Jesus.

We roll out the red carpet for celebrities because we value them. Yet the red carpet is a pale imitation of the original:

A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

When John the Baptist applied these words to himself, it became clear to us that the highway was made straight for the King of Kings. It was the terrain which was made flat and straight for the coming of Christ Jesus -- the One at whose name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His Lordship; even the earthly kings, athletes, movie stars and other miscellaneous celebrities. Kind of puts things in their proper perspective, don't you think? Fame is fleeting. God is eternal.

Check Your Links

Maybe I'm just paranoid, but something odd has happened this week -- twice. While checking some of the blogs I have enjoyed, I found two which have discontinued but someone else has taken over the URL. Each of these two blogs now have a kind of fake post with obvious links to porn sites. I won't give the names of the former blogs, but I encourage everyone to check their blogrolls to make sure the links are still current. One of these blogs was still on my blogroll until I discovered it. Both of these were Blogger blogs. I hope no one is taking old domains and using them to promote those sites, but that's kinda what it looks like.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Simplest Things

While waiting for my son to come home on the school bus, my wife and three year-old daughter sat on our front porch. It's not a porch in the traditional "folksy" style -- it's the slab of concrete between our side door and our driveway. It's functional for using the grill, very short skateboard rides, sidewalk chalk art shows and the like. It also has a two-person swing where my wife loves to relax and a small plastic slide which my little girl occasionally uses. While waiting for the bus today, she discovered that she could sit comfortably under the slide, so she started calling it "my new home". She explained to me that even if it rained she would stay dry under that slide. I asked her about what would happen if the wind blew while it rained, but she ignored me. Nothing was going to get wet in her new home.

My wife went inside and got an old sheet and threw it over the slide, making the girl's new home into a tent. When my daughter figured out what was happening, she squealed in such a high pitch that I'm still checking the windows for cracks! Over the next three minutes, I heard five or six such squeals along with at "Thank you, Mommy!" gratefully sung at least four times. In short, the girl was thrilled. All because my wife threw a sheet over a slide.

The girl is like that; three years old, intrigued by the world around her and satisfied by the simplest things. I brought her something last weekend that elicited much the same squeals-of-delight reaction. All it takes is something a bit unexpected, but simple.

Do you remember the last time that something simple made you happy? I know my day has been made by something as basic as the touch of a hand against my arm, or a smile, or a high-pitched squeal of delight. Perhaps you've been thrilled over your favorite team winning or finding just the right shoes to go with that new outfit. (I don't get the "shoes" thing, but then again, I'm a man!) Realizing the blessings we've been given will often put a grin on your face and a song in your heart.

So why is it that we crave so many things which are not simple? Why do we work so hard to accumulate stuff? In my first apartment on my own, I had a couch and loveseat, a couple of barstools, a television, stereo, bed and dresser. That was it. That was plenty. Today I have all kinds of luxuries I don't really need -- including this computer if it comes right down to it. I know people who plan and devise strategies for being able to get that huge-screen TV or that "mid-life crisis" car or even a bigger, better house. With a few people, this lust for more extravagance drives them. It is the reason they get out of bed in the morning. They need more. And then they need the next big thing.

It's been pointed out often that when Jesus taught the disciples (and us) to pray, He said to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." He said nothing about steak, waldorf salad or Krispy-Kremes. Our focus is to be on asking for the basics and let God provide for those and anything beyond that daily bread. Yet how many of us would be satisfied by a simple loaf of bread? The Israelites were whiny and childish because they had to eat manna every day! That was a literal example of God giving daily bread, but it wasn't good enough for the Chosen People wandering the Sinai deserts. They wanted some of those leeks and onions from Egypt. Oh how hard it is for us human beings to be satisfied with the simplest things.

From my reading of Scripture, luxuries are not bad but coveting and lusting after what you don't have is bad. And not being happy with what you have over and above daily bread seems pretty unappreciative to me. Yet I know I have my days when I get grumpy because all I have left in the cereal cabinet is Rice Krispies instead of Cap'n Crunch or Frosted Flakes. Stupid, isn't it? The simplest things can make us so happy, but the lack of anything more usually upsets us. We think we are entitled to more than simply daily bread. When we think we are entitled, we treat God's precious gifts as though we are good enough to merit them. And if we can get that way longing for better food or clothes or cars or houses, then isn't it pretty easy to think we deserve heaven based on our own record? Foolish humans. We're saved by grace, not by works. Our lives are transformed by the simplest thing -- accepting Jesus Christ.

"Lord, help me to continually see Your hand in the simplest of pleasures, and help me to remember that the simplest things are all I really need."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lost in the Music

So there I was yesterday morning, tooling along in the truck on the big drive to work, hitting the buttons on the radio. I hit the classic rock button and the cab was filled with the tight harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young singing Carry On. I've always loved the style and rhythm from Stephen Stills' guitar on that record. Then there was that harmony.

I remember seeing Crosby, Stills & Nash (hold the Young) in concert back in 1985. On that night the trio was dead on. I could've sworn they were even talking in perfect harmony. For someone who likes good harmony as much as I do, it was heavenly. Oddly enough, a couple of weeks later I saw the television broadcast of Crosby, Stills & Nash performing at the Live Aid concert and it was horrible. I thought I was listening to Clinker, Stinks & Clash. How things could have been so different was beyond me. The songs aren't fun to hear with these three guys so out of tune. The main component that appealed to me wasn't there.

In the truck yesterday morning, I found myself singing along with Carry On, alternating between the four parts. As I sang, I ralized that I knew most of the words but really had no clue what the song was about. I still don't know. Something to do with a breakup, but that's as far as I can get with it. There are probably hundreds of songs which I know the lyrics but have no idea as to the point of it all. Sometimes it's better that way. Stephen Stills did a tune in the early 70's called Love the One You're With. The premise of this song (as near as I can figure) is free love. Witness the lyrics, "If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with." As a college student I saw a few guys try this line of reasoning with co-eds.
"Yeah, I know I have a serious girlfriend, but she's at home, you know, and we have this understanding. And she's not here and you're here and you look sooooo gooooood and my roommate is gone for the weekend, so I was thinking..."
I never knew that line to work, but maybe I didn't go to school with a ladies man like Stephen Stills!

But the point is that if a song has a good beat and it's easy to dance to, or maybe if it reminds you of something or someone in your past, or perhaps it just makes you feel good, we tend to overlook the lyrics. If the guitar is cool, we'll belt out, "If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with," at the top of our lungs even if our personal moral code believes this sentiment to be ridiculous. Even more so if we don't know what the lyrics mean. I heard a father say that he came home from work to find his four year-old daughter strutting through the house singing, "Do me baby one more time!" Certainly the girl didn't know what Brittany Spears meant by that, but the song was cool, so she was singing it -- much to the chagrin of Daddy! I'm still amazed when I really listen to the lyrics of songs I grew up singing along to, at what those songs were really about. I find myself thinking, "I used to walk around the house singing THAT?!" It's the power of the music, making meaning meaningless to us.

I find that Christian music is the same way. Unless we go to the effort, we don't really get what's in those psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. I have stopped the congregational singing of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing on a Sunday morning to ask if anyone has any idea about the definition of an "Ebenezer" since they had just sung about it. No one did. After a brief exposition of the Old Testament passage where this is explained, we went back to our singing.

Even the songs on Christian radio have the same problem -- singers singing along with no idea of the point of the song. There are plenty of songs with almost no meaning and just two or three repeated lines. Those songs are popular, I believe, partly because they are so simple. Precious little brain use is necessary to understand, "I am a friend of God, He calls me friend." We get the "friend" part, but we don't contemplate how costly it was or how amazing it is. We've come to this weird idea that there is no thought needed in worship or anywhere in our relationship with our Creator. Just have faith that everything will work out without your own effort and wait for the next sensory experience -- don't think. And that's just plain wrong.

I love a good emotional worship experience as much as the next person, but a real relationship isn't built solely on feelings. There's got to be more. Just as many newly-married couples find emptiness once the infatuation stage is over, we too can lose our spiritual fire without a regular tingle up our spine unless we have a stonger foundation for our relationship with the Divine. We crave words without thinking. We need more. We want to lose ourselves and not worry about anything, but we are told to actively seek God's will.

We have to move past a dependence upon feeling. We can't subsist on a catchy tune and a good beat. We can no longer sing the words without understanding the meaning. We have to dig deep in our personal relationships with Christ. That means actually reading and studying the Bible instead of relying upon what we already think we know. That means stopping to pour our hearts out to the Master in prayer instead of simply knowing in the back of our minds that He is there. That means seeking His will instead of doing what we want and asking forgiveness later. That means not just singing the lyrics, but understanding the song.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

And the last shall be... well, last.

I played golf on Monday. That's a major accomplishment for me. Usually it takes an act of Congress to make enough time for me to hit the links, but I managed to block out the morning for a pastor's golf outing. Florida scramble. That means a 4 player team, taking the best shot after all four have hit. My team? None of us had been on the links this year. Three of us had played together twice last year. The fourth had golfed once in the past nine, count 'em, nine years. I was the one with the recent experience, as I had hit a hurried bucket of balls at the driving range Sunday afternoon.

Needless to say, we weren't in contention for first prize much beyond the time we strapped our clubs on to the back of the golf carts. Eight over for nine holes. That ended up a mere fifteen shots behind the winners. On the other hand, we did have our moments. The guy with 18 holes experience in nine years hit the longest putt of the tournament -- just shy of 40 feet. I missed the longest drive by about 10 yards, but I didn't miss a moving golf cart on the 3rd fairway. There weren't many trees we didn't dent either. And one of our foursome actually hit the shortest drive. He actually knocked the tee out from under the ball. The tee flew forward about ten feet. The ball, however, dropped to the ground in exactly the same spot it had been sitting. It was reminiscent of the old pull-the-tablecloth-off-the-table-without-breaking-the-dishes trick. Truly, this was something to behold -- a drive of 0 feet, 0 inches, with the total distance travelled the length of a golf tee.

Yeah, we finished dead last. But we did win the Duffer's Award and took home $20 restaurant gift certificates and free driving range time. And we probably had more fun than anybody else on the course. I wonder if they'll allow us back next year...

Oh, by the way, Christian Carnival #84 is up at WalloWorld. Lots of posts to get a brain functioning again after a long weekend.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Vacation and Church

Wow! I'm still not caught up. It's been quite a weekend. We got away for a vacation-ette Friday and Saturday. (Two days away is about as much as we can handle this time of year!) Then it was church on Sunday, a golf tournament, yard work and youth football on Monday. I haven't seen much of the Internet for the past few days, but we had a great time! We spent two days at Lake Michigan lounging on the beach and climbing mountainous sand dunes. It's a traditional trip for our family. In fact, it dates back to when I was a boy. I've probably stepped on every grain of sand in that park at least once, and I have the worn-out feet to prove it! But it all comes back to the joy of watching the kids playing in the waves and burying each other in the sand, and seeing my wife smile at the sound of waves lapping against the shore.

The area surrounding the dunes has changed a lot in the past 35 years. The small shacks I remember on the road along the lake have been replaced by large homes with prices nearing seven figures. The junkyard-resembling shops have given way to trendy shops and upscale restaurants.

I notice new things every time I make the trip. Over the past few years, I've tried to pay close attention to the churches I pass. I'm sure there are more than just the ones I've seen, but I sure haven't seen many. My mind drifts away to what each of these churches are probably like. The small Episcopalian Church must be very "high church" despite the less-than-gothic building. The Baptist church looks to be very fundamental-ish and cold on the outside. The "community church" seems very casual and seeker-oriented -- at least that's likely the stated goal. Of course I could be very wrong. After all I'm judging based on architecture and pre-conceived denominational stereotypes. But then again, isn't that how most churches are judged? Not just by visitors, but by church shoppers as well?

While talking to a pastor friend today, I found out that he's taking a 12 week sabbatical and is planning visits to 12 different churches. Part of the point for him is to experience different worship styles and see what other congregations are doing. As a pastor, I miss the opportunity to do that. On top of that, my vacations never seem to allow me the opportunity to experience worship somewhere else -- I always seem to be either on the road on Sunday or back for services at my own church, like this past vacation-ette weekend. But I wondered this past weekend which church I would visit if I were still in that area on Sunday morning.

To be honest, I would probably choose someplace which I figured would be quite different than my present church. Something inside me would want to try the high church approach, but I figured I'd probably end up at the community church with the sign out front announcing that they were saving me a seat on Sunday (with two actual chairs strapped to the sign). I really don't know how to go about selecting a church to visit, knowing it will only be a single visit. I mean, sure, there's prayer and asking for direction, but aside from an audible voice from heaven, a stray lightning bolt or a strong sense of the Lord's leading I end up falling back on architecture and stereotypes. Maybe you have a better method.

If I have no good method for deciding on a church to visit, why would I think the average church shopper or seeker would be able to tell a healthy church from a group of backstabbing, gossipping, hypocritical pretenders? It's true that most of these people would have some idea of the demographics of a congregation -- age, income, education, reputation -- going into a decision, but a church is often judged by the size and shape of the building and by the name on the sign out front. So how can we show that we are looking to honor God by our architecture and our church name?

I don't have an answer. I just figure that most people aren't above the surface-deep methods of choosing a church that I would fall back on. And that saddens me. Church shoppers look for their own needs to be met instead of focusing finding a place where they can love God with all of their hearts and souls and minds and stength and loving their neighbors as themselves. If a building looks nice and the name doesn't offend, the church gets a look. If the shopper's checklist gets enough checkmarks, the church gets a second visit. It's a sad commentary on our self-centered lifestyle. And I know that I'm no different. That really saddens me.

"Lord, help my worship to be more than just trying to meet my own needs. May everything I do be done to bring glory to You."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Outgrowing the Hummer

What happens when the tank, er, SUV you've been driving just isn't big enough anymore? You move up in the world, brothers and sisters! And as a special service to those who are too big for their collective britches, er pickups, I bring you the Navistar CXT.

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That's right, boys and girls. It's like driving the tractor of a tractor-trailer big rig. In fact, the legal vehicle weight is exactly one pound (that's 16 ounces) shy of requiring the driver to be a commercially licensed driver! The word is, just don't take the turns too sharp or your rider will likely be knocked out of the passenger's seat. Oh, and it does get a tree-hugging 9 miles per gallon. OK, maybe not tree hugging, but perhaps it blows the tree a kiss as it rolls by.

Once you've picked up your new CXT and taken out a second mortgage to fuel her up, why not drive it down to Christian Carnival 83 over at All Kinds of Time and fuel up your mind and your imagination as well? And if you finish there and still need more, don't forget about the accidentally-ignored-on-this-blog Christian Carnival 82 at ...in the outer... And since it will take a lot to fill up your tank, see the list of past Christian Carnivals over at Matt Jones' blog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

All Things Work Together For Good

It's the most quoted verse at the funeral home. Certainly you've heard it before. Maybe you've even tossed it out as words of comfort. You know. The wording changes from translation to translation, but the gist is simple: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Or more commonly, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God..." Romans 8:28. The verse that springs to mind so easily, but which so many people find distastful while experiencing grief.

Reverend Mommy found herself dealing with a horrible situation in the Atlanta area. A older couple are dead from a murder-suicide at the local hospital. She blogged while dealing with many of the same emotions we all feel in the depths of tragedy. I know. I've been there. And somehow the comforting words of Romans 8:28 aren't all that comforting while wallowing in misery. We wish the people would just be like the early version of Job's friends and just sit there and keep their traps shut.

What is it about this verse that bothers the grieving? Do we mean to say that we don't believe what Spirit-inspired Paul writes in this verse? I think our quibbles deal with a couple of basic misunderstandings. And perhaps these wouldn't be misunderstandings if we felt like really breaking down the verse in question and doing a grammar study. I rarely feel like doing that when I feel happy, let alone when I'm overcome with sadness. But instead of doing some sort of breakdown of the Greek, let me just put forth these understandings as I see them and I as have lived them.

First of all, the word "good" is just plain offensive in the midst of tragedy. Certainly there can be no good in a horrible traffic accident taking the life of a popular teenager. How dare we mention "good" when a mother is killed and a baby must be brought up by other relatives. Where is the good in cancer, or in a murder-suicide? Of course when we are calm we can see that Paul is by no means telling us that everything that happens is good. He would have been either stoned to death or a full-time tentmaker if the early church would have taken that verse as a whitewashing of the evil in the world. Instead, Paul is noting that God uses the bad things for good. Like Joseph, standing before the brothers who had sold him to the Midianite caravan and declaring that God meant their evil for good, Paul is trying to get us to see beyond our earthly perspective.

But for those who are suffering, there is no good. There is no possibility of the situation being anything different than it is perceived -- tragedy. Something which God should have prevented. Instead, people throw out a verse which seems to suggest that not only did God not prevent the terrible thing from happening, but that He sees it as being good for us.

Growing up, I was told that the worst tasting foods were "good for me." Spinich, lima beans, liver and onions, rutabegas... this stuff was supposed to be good, but my little kid mind only saw the yucky taste. I argued that cake should be good for me because it was good. It didn't work then, and it doesn't work now!

But "good" in God's eyes isn't always good to us because we lack His perspective. You see, the other major misunderstanding with Romans 8:28 is that we want God to work things out for good for us NOW. After all, NOW is when I need a little "good" in my life. Thirty years from now is not on the mind of a person in the wake of tragedy. If there is going to be some good we want it NOW, but it doesn't come. Even a short smile at a funeral home soon turns to anguish again. The pain doesn't subside, even though we wish it would. Yet God's game plan doesn't often work on our timetable. The "good" which God works in us takes the shape of "hope" and "character-building" -- things which aren't exactly timed for our drive-thru, pop-it-in-the-microwave lifestyle.

I haven't really blogged much about our first baby; not because of shame or intense pain but really that the story hasn't been weighing upon my heart. The short version is that after a seven-month problem pregnancy, our son died just over 16 hours after he was born. My wife and I were left as a young couple with shattered dreams and questioned faith. I could see absolutely no "good" coming from the situation despite efforts of others to coach me in that direction. I don't remember anyone tossing out Romans 8:28 during the funeral or the visitation, but truthfully most of that time is all a blur. Nothing was going to console me. My son was dead.

It's been over 14 years now -- hardly a tick of God's mighty clock -- and today I have a thimble-sized dose of perspective. Don't get me wrong. I don't see my boy's death as "good" by any means. But again, that's not what Romans 8:28 says anyway. What I see almost a decade and a half afterward is how God has worked in the lives of both myself and my wife. He has used the pain we've gone through to bring the two of us closer together. He has used the pain we've gone through to bring us closer to Him. And He has used the pain we've gone through to reach out to other people who are hurting.

Am I at the point where I can say, "Yes, it was a good idea for my baby to die before living for 24 hours?" No. But I can see a thinning of the fog. I have an inkling how God can use the terrible to build our hope and our character. I now have a slight idea of ways God can use to break my pride and increase my dependence upon Him. And I see how I can trust Him in good times and in bad because He loves me with an everlasting love. Despite my shortsightedness and my rebellion, God uses what happens in my life for my good and for His ultimate glory. Amen and amen.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Astronomer or Astronaut?

Of all the ways that God could choose to communicate with me, I wouldn't have guessed that it would have been by watching the last half-hour of a lousy movie sequel on television. But I'm frequently outguessed by the Almighty. And I was Friday night. My wife had taken over the computer (she often sets up barbed wire, land mines and other booby traps to keep me away from it) while I relaxed for a while with man's best friend -- the TV remote control.

The movie I happened across was Jurassic Park III. I was only vaguely aware that a third movie was even made in that series. It was one where nobody could talk the stars of the first two flicks into coming back to wrestle the dinosaurs again, so there was a new team of people trying desperately to escape a new flock/herd/gaggle/covey/gang of prehistoric creatures. I had missed the important plot points but the special effects looked interesting, so I put the remote down on the couch and watched.

In a peaceful moment, with no attacking reptiles anywhere to be seen, one of the characters waxed philosophic about life. He said something to the effect of, "There are two kinds of people -- astronomers and astronauts. Astronomers explore exciting places without leaving the comfort of their home. Astronauts explore those places while risking their lives to get there and get back." It was delivered as a thought-provoking line by actor Sam Neill, portraying Dr. Alan Grant, so I gave it some thought.

Does Jesus want us to be astronomers or astronauts? The first angle I thought through was that of missionary. Certainly God doesn't call all of us to pack up the family and move to China or Africa or Nicaragua. So wouldn't that mean that those of us on the home front would be the astonomers, receiving our information about the four corners of the earth from the astronauts who were out there in dangerous territory? In that sense, God would be OK with me as an astonomer, right?

Then I remembered that the mission field isn't always foreign. After all, the Christian church in the United States is located in the midst of a huge mission field. I remember reading (and I'm too lazy to look it up again) that America was one of the largest missions targets for Christianity. I personally know of churches which have been started in my area specifically to reach those who have up until now, rejected Christ Jesus and His gospel. Since I interact with many people every day who do not follow Jesus, then I am actually on the mission field. The question is whether I go out or I hide in my space capsule.

But what about people who can't get out and about anymore? After all, astronauts eventually retire. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aren't making shuttle flights on Discovery or anything -- they gave that up long ago. However, when is a person too old or too incapacitated to be a reflection of Jesus Christ?

In my first years of pastoral ministry, there was a sweet old lady living in a nursing home who had been a member of my church for around a zillion years. She turned 100 shortly after I began my pastorate. This lady was a pleasure to sit and talk to. Despite having living in the same place for three-quarters of a century, she had enough stories about her life to have been a world traveller. One day as she was approaching her 101st birthday, she asked me why God hadn't taken her home yet. She hadn't asked to pass the century mark -- her husband had been gone for 30 years. "Why am I still here?" she wondered.

I told her that I had no idea. (Honesty is always easy for me when it comes to acknowledging my shortcomings!) But I told her, "All I know is that God is still using you. Here. In this nursing home. For something. And whoever that person is or those people are who are being blessed by your presence... they still need you here." In hindsight, maybe one of those people who still needed her around was me. But she was still an astronaut; still out exploring, even though the territory often seemed familiar.

Truth be told, I can't think of an excuse for us not to be out of our safety zone. The astronomer may learn many things about the world, but the hands-on experience of the astronaut is our call as believers. Our faith is not just a private matter. It is not something to read about and not to live. Our faith is something that should be our way of life, and we should be putting our lives on the line if necessary to be in the midst of things -- sharing Christ and living in the strength of the Holy Spirit. We are to live to bring God the glory He so richly deserves. And we can't do that if we are not active in our faith. It can't be done "safely" because Christianity has nothing to do with being safe.

"Lord, let me not look for ways to hide in my comfort zone, but to search for the means to live for You and to bring You the glory."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Samson and Terrell

I'm a football fan and I love talking football this time of year, but I'm sick to death of hearing about Terrell Owens. In case you don't follow pre-season football, Terrell Owens (T. O. to the rabid fan) is a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles. T. O. is the best player in the league. If you don't believe me, just ask him! Seriously, Owens is good -- very good -- but he is the poster child for selfishness. Everything T. O. does is for his own betterment. Period. He is the antithesis of a team player. All summer, Owens has been complaining that he is underpaid and has been asking for, or more accurately demanding a new contract. The thing is, Owens signed his current contract last year and it's good for six more years. There is no compelling evidence to restructure his contract, but still he whines.

Then this past week, T. O. had a shouting match with his coach and stormed out of training camp. The accounts of the confrontation differ, but it's obvious that Owens' attitude is a distraction for the whole team. It's hard to focus on getting a team ready when one player demands all the attention. A day or two later, T. O. was doing interviews with ESPN again denying any responsibility for his actions. It's to the point where I don't want to see this multi-millionaire egomaniac in uniform at all this season.

As I waded through the vast heaps of information detailing everything from Owens' past injury problems to his favorite breakfast cereal, it occurred to me that I had seen this act before. No, I'm not talking about T. O.'s antics over the past few years. I'm talking biblical characters, here.

Samson was another big shot. He was unchallengeable in physical strength -- a top athlete. The mighty warrior had cut down 1000 Philistines who had tried to trap him. Samson was also spoiled rotten. After spying a Philistine beauty on a trip, he came home to Mom and Dad and ordered them, "Go get her for me as my wife!" He seaw a skull full of honey and grabbed a fistful, even though it violated the strict Nazarite vows he had taken. He solicited prostitutes. Everything Samson did was to satisfy an immediate need. He lived on emotion. Even Samson's death wasn't the noble sacrifice we sometimes think it to be. He makes clear that he pulls down the pillars of the temple to exact revenge on those who had gouged out his eyes. It wasn't a victory for Israel. It was a hollow victory for it's judge, Samson.

What kind of man was this mighty warrior who allowed Delilah three chances to neutralize his incredible strength? You'd think he wouldn't have been stupid enough to betray his secret when it was blatently obvious that Delilah was working against him. After all, he had awakened once with seven fresh thongs tied around him and another time with the braids of his hair pinned down! But Delilah had him wrapped around her finger. She would give Samson whatever he wanted, which was the key to Samson's heart. It was all about him. Samson had incredible power, but he lacked the wisdom to use it properly. At the very least, he lacked the self-control to keep himself out of trouble. Samson's appetites drove him. His life was focused on pleasing himself; satisfying his felt needs as soon as humanly possible.

The resemblance to Terrell Owens is remarkable when you think about it. But isn't that the way we expect things these days? Even in the lives of Joe and Joanne Pewfiller. Others aren't important. It's all about me.

It's about my favorite worship style, meeting my family's needs, having a preacher who doesn't put me to sleep, not asking for too much of my time or my money, or forcing me to make any kind of real committment at all. It's the Terrell Owens attitude. The Samson Lifestyle. Yet Jesus talked about the exact opposite. The first will be last. The last will be first. If you hold tightly to your life, you'll lose it. If you give your life away, you'll find it. If you want to follow, take up your cross and follow. Then He gave us the ultimate example through His life:

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.

"Lord, show me where my attitude is too focused upon myself and give me strength to take up my cross each day to follow You."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Judging Bono

I'll admit that I've been up and down in my thinking about U2 lead singer, Bono. I recall the early 1980s when the Irish group burst on the scene of hip music (read: MTV) and it was openly discussed that three of the four members were actually Christians. I can't remember another time the word "Christian" was uttered on MTV until maybe a new Christian Slater movie was released. So I immediately took notice of this band riding through the countryside on horses singing, "All is quiet on New Year's Day".

Later I heard the names of the band members.

"Bono? Are you serious? Just one name? Spelled like Sonny and Cher Bono?"

The name screams "PRETENTIOUS ROCK STAR" almost as loudly as "The Edge" screams "WEIRD ARTIST NOBODY CAN FIGURE OUT". "These guys are Christians? Yeah, right."

My skepticism faded a bit as I watched the early years of U2, but later on it returned in full force. I believe it was the Zoo tour when I saw some of the nasty rock star antics I'd seen in anti-Christian bands come to the forefront with Bono and his mates. I wrote him off as a Christian. I had already written off his music a few years earlier. It just didn't appeal to me. And the prima donna attitude really turned me off.

Over the past few years, I've run across Bono in small doses -- a TV appearance here, a song on the radio there. These days I see him more as what he probably is: a struggling Christian. Sure, we all struggle in our Christian walk, but Bono lives in a world where Christianity is completely alien and worldliness is king.

The reason for all the thinking is this synopsis at World Magazine. Read it. It's a comment on a snippet of an interview with Bono by a rock journalist, this section concerning grace and karma. (A tip of the ol' ball cap to Stephen of Doggie's Breakfast.) (Late add - I also see that Quotidian Grace guest-blogged about this synopsis at Locusts and Honey.)

The author points out that many people question Bono's faith. Yet in a private interview, Bono sounds a little like C. S. Lewis using the Lord or Lunatic argument with his interviewer. At one point, the journalist says simply, "The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that." It's really an eye-opener for those of us who doubt the sincerity of the singer's Christianity. I wish every member of my church could witness like Bono did.

Of course there is always the question of someone who can talk a good game, but doesn't live the life. And that's a good point. I know my fair share of people who could explain substitutionary atonement, but don't live their lives in light of that fact. Knowing about God isn't enough. We must actually know God.

But it's not my place to judge whether or not Bono is really a Christian. That's God's job. My job is my own salvation, my own faith, my own repentence, my own relationship with Christ Jesus. I don't have the information to judge Bono or anyone else, nor do I have the mental capacity. I can judge his teaching, which in this interview is right on the money. I can judge his actions, some of which are good and some of which are evil -- just like the rest of us. But I must resist the temptation to relegate someone to heaven or hell without a knowledge of that person's heart. It's not my definition that's important. It's not a liberal definition or a conservative definition that matters. A Christian is defined by a person's heart and judged by an all-knowing and perfectly just God. Our own contemplation over a celebrity's salvation is worthless unless we have the opportunity to be the evangelist.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Sports Grace

It was a usual Tuesday for yours truly -- around 4 hours in the vehicle with the radio playing. I caught a lot of sports talk today and there was a familiar theme resounding through the major stories:

Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers (not the singer) had his suspension reduced by an arbitrator. Rogers shoved two cameramen in a widely-broadcast temper tantrum and was fined $50,000 and suspended for 20 games by baseball commissioner Bud Selig. The arbitrator thought 20 games seemed like it was too long, so it was cut to 13 games. Rogers will start for the Rangers Wednesday night. Selig is spittin' mad about the arbitrator's decision; and for good reason.

Vancouver Cunuck winger/thug Todd Bertuzzi was reinstated to the National Hockey League. Bertuzzi was suspended indefinately near the end of the 2003-2004 season for a vicious attack on Colorado player Steve Moore who was severely injured and will likely never play hockey again. The Canuck's assault was a blind-sided sucker punch which knocked Moore out cold before he even knew what hit him. With the reinstatement, the NHL's suspension boils down to only 20 games since the league didn't play last season due to contract disputes.

Baltimore Orioles slugger Rafael Palmeiro's ten game suspension for steroid use will be up this week. Palmeiro is the same guy who sat before Congress and swore up and down that he had never used steroids. He tested positive a few weeks later. He is expected to be in uniform for Baltimore on Thursday.

Have you picked up on the theme yet? That's right. Athletes getting off easy for their mistakes. And justice is being cheated on each and every count. Palmeiro's suspension was only for ten games instead of the fifty games the baseball commish was pushing for. Considering the way Rafael drug (excuse the pun) his sport and his own record through the mud, ten days was really an easy punishment. Rogers' twenty days was a bit short to begin with, in my opinion, but now an arbitrator has decided that enough is enough and Kenny can go ahead and pitch tomorrow night. I'm sure he's learned his lesson. Yeah, right. Then there's Mr. Bertuzzi who will be able to get back to work when the NHL season opens, but his victim is looking for other ways to make a living -- he won't be playing professional hockey. His suspension works out to be the same length as Roger's suspension was supposed to be -- a lousy 20 games! These professional athletes get away with murder... or at least assault.

Job observed the injustice of the world, "the tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure— those who carry their god in their hands." The justice that I want to see done, I often do not see. Like the man of patience of the Old Testament, I see the bad guys win far too often. And I'm not happy about it at all. Those lightning bolts from the sky don't show up when you need 'em.

Jesus told a different kind of story. In Matthew 20, He weaves the parable of a landowner hiring workers for his vineyard. Setting up an agreeable pay schedule with his employees, the workers went out into the vineyard. But there was so much work that the landowner had to keep going out to hire more help, even up to an hour before the workday was over. The boss decided to pay everybody the same amount he had promised to the workers who had put in a full day's work, but this caused whining and grumbling among those expecting more money. The day-long workers thought the landowner wasn't being just. These certainly had to be unfair labor practices. But as they were told, the workers all received what they had agreed to beforehand. The worker and the landowner didn't have the same perspective on what was just and what was unfair.

I was getting pretty upset today about the hockey thug and the violent pitcher and the steroid-enhanced slugger. They certainly weren't being punished justly as far as I was concerned. Like Job, I saw success for those who don't deserve it.

Then I began to consider what I really deserve. I mentally reviewed the laundry list of sins I have committed, and I saw the way God repeatedly forgives me when I ask. The multitude of rebellions I have led against my Savior, He does not hold against me. The penalty I should be paying was paid by Christ at Calvary. And while I still think that those sports suspensions were nowhere near long enough, they remind me of the grace shown me by my Heavenly Father, and I stop to offer my thanks to the God who is a God of justice yet also a God of grace.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Not the person I thought you were

The expression, "You can't judge a book by it's cover," is so incredibly overused yet at the same time so accurate. While looking through some old elementary school yearbooks this weekend, I was reminded of a few people I had misjudged. One kid was named Andy. He had been born without arms. Actually his arms ended around the elbows. One arm had a fleshy ball grown from the place where the forearm would have extended normally. The other arm featured a short "hand" which looked a bit more like the claw on a crab than anything which should grow on a human being.

Andy first came to my school in second grade. My best friend at the time, whose main interest in life was basketball, saw Andy walk through the classroom door and whispered into my ear, "Uh oh. A weak man." He was thinking only of the new kid's contribution to our elite second grade recess hoops squad. But I was no deeper. "Yup," I agreed, nodding my head. We saw the disability and stopped.

Over the next couple of years, I got to know Andy a lot better. It turns out that he wasn't the "weak man" my friend thought he was. Well, basketball wasn't Andy's game, but he was pretty good at baseball. I stood and watched him swing a bat in amazement more than once. Throwing was still a bit of a challenge, but Andy was fun to be around. Around fifth grade, I realized another talent of Andy's. The kid could draw. I'm not talking just the goofy stick people and houses with circles of smoke coming out of the chimneys that I could handle. Andy did sketches with a pencil wedged between the crab claw on one arm and the fleshy ball on the other. Beautiful stuff. I've always wanted to be able to draw like that and here was a kid with nothing below the elbows who had artistic talent dripping out of his ears. But looking at Andy that first day of second grade, I never would have realized what he was like.

I saw this article at crosswalk.com about tsunami relief efforts in the heart of the Islam world. A tip of the old ball cap goes to Kevin at Short Attention Span who wrote a great post springing from this quote in the article:
“We are watching carefully to see how out of the ashes could come some remarkable opportunities to demonstrate God’s love,” says Stafford. “The people who are in the refugee camps are saying they never knew Christians. They told us, ‘We only knew what we were being taught and we thought that you were very different than you are. You are very loving people; we want to hear more about what you believe.’”
Those refugees obviously had heard a lot of faulty information. Christians aren't really the monsters those people had heard about. Well, most of us aren't anyway. But until there was objective proof that their beliefs were wrong, these folks were not going to change their minds about Christianity. In short, they would not change their perceptions until there was something different to perceive.

I get frustrated at the stereotypes of Christians which are accepted so often as truth. Perhaps the reason I get so frustrated is that I keep running into people who reinforce the stereotype. Take televangelists for example. One common stereotype is expressed in this joke:
"Televangelists are just like teenagers. Either way, all you get is a hand in your wallet and a goofy haircut!"
A quick check of the religious television channels does nothing to discourage this stereotype. Now I fully realize that a bald man has little solid ground from which to criticize another man's hair. And I am aware that a television ministry costs a significant amount of money. But program after program reinforces the "give me money and pray that God will heal my hair" stereotype. Perceived truth becomes accepted truth without evidence to the contrary.

In the same fashion, Christians are portrayed as hateful, so in steps the Rev. Fred Phelps who will go so far as to protest at a serviceman's funeral to spread his "message" about homosexuality. Perceived truth becomes accepted truth. Yet our job as Christians is to live up to our commitment to Christ and in doing that providing evidence to shatter that sterotype.

Christians are said to be hypocritical. And if you define hypocrisy as saying one thing and doing another, then there isn't a Christian who wouldn't qualify as a hypocrite -- after all we all do some things we willingly admit we shouldn't do. The perceived truth becomes accepted truth. Yet as believers we are to practice what we preach through the strength provided by the Holy Spirit. And when we fail we aren't to make excuses and try to justify our actions; we are to be honest, confess our sins and make restitution where possible. The other part of shattering the "hypocrite" stereotype comes with the way we deal with sinfulness in others. We cannot condemn as if our hands aren't stained with our own sins. We are to explain how God defines sin and offer help brother to brother and sister to sister -- not superior to inferior.

Christians are brushed off as lazy, gullible and easily manipulated, accepting anything they hear, especially in a church building. Again there are multiple examples of people who buy into anything simply because someone they respect says it is so. With heads nodding, weird theory and false interpretation become fact because too many Christians don't know how and don't have the inclination to be Bereans and check out the truth. The eyes of the world see Christians believing nonsensical rumors that Joshua's 24 hours of daylight has been found by scientists or that in Russia they've bored a hole into hell. And once again, perceived truth becomes accepted truth. Yet if Christians would have some passion in their relationship with Jesus Christ, they would disprove the stereotype of the lazy, manipulated Christian each and every day.

The list of stereotypes are endless. Christians are stupid. Judgmental. They gather on Sunday to reassure each other to keep believing the myth. They only care about the people in their church. They send missionaries to make themselves feel better. They don't believe in science. They want to destroy the earth to hasten Christ's return. You've probably heard a bunch more. Some of them are so ridiculous that they are hard to disprove. Yet our Christian walk is supposed to focus the light of Jesus Christ in such a way that others will see the Truth and toss the stereotypes in the dumpster. Just as the Master proclaimed that the world would know us as His disciples by the way we love one another, it should also be apparent to the world that their stereotypes are wrong by the way we live our lives. Our faith isn't our own private affair. It's living proof that we're not the people the world thinks we are.

Am I the person the unbeliever thinks I am? What am I doing to shatter the stereotype? Do I allow those people to see Jesus shining through me or am I content with letting them mutter "Uh oh. Weak man," beneath their breath? It comes down to the way I live my life - in public and when no one is looking but God. After all, I'm not the hateful, hypocritical, lazy, gullible, stupid, judgemental person that they think I am. At least I hope not.


What do you say to a Christian who doesn't attend church? Try this response from Shannon at wind scraps. After all, it's true. A tip of the ol' ball cap to Milton of Transforming Sermons.

Do you or your church actually transform the community around you? Shane at Wesley Blog has a great challenge written from a Methodist perspective, but applicable for all kinds of churches.

Also check out a new site. Chad has placed his blog, Plaid Berry, on hiatus while he heads up a new group blog called, Eternal Revolution. I've only been able to skim the new site, but it looks like a gold mine. I'm also proud to be included on that blogroll. Can't wait to dig in.

I'm continuing to modify my blogroll. I'm still not exactly sure how it will turn out, but my goal is for it to be a tool for me to keep track of the great writing on the web, especially if I experience another DSL outage. Don't be offended if your link gets moved around a bit.

Carry on.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Jealous God

What a crazy couple of weeks I've had! I've experienced trouble and comfort, disappointment and joy, harried confusion and relaxation. Last night capped it all off. It was my 25-year high school reunion. That's right, a quarter of a century. Seniors to Senior Citizens. Get all the jokes out of your system. (It really doesn't matter, since I'm a bit hard of hearing anyway...)

The 25-year reunion went well -- at least for me. My wife did not have fun. My wife was not pleasantly entertained. My wife was not a happy camper. My wife was bored stiff. I can't blame her though. She didn't know anyone at the party aside from me, so there wasn't much for her to do. The music stunk; an obvious statement since most any music popular between 1977 and 1980 stunk. So she had to watch me greeting people whom I had not seen in years. But even that went better than the last reunion she attended with me.

Fifteen years ago I attended my 10-year reunion with my bride at my side. We had been married for just over one year and she was dutifully walking with me as I reminisced with old classmates. Suddenly there was a shrill "ED!" followed by a female reaching out toward me. It was Penny, a family acqauintance and friend from school. I turned to give her a hug when she grabbed hold of me planted a kiss on my lips, right in front of my young wife!

Now I knew that Penny didn't mean anything romantic by the kiss -- the action was just a part of her personality. Everybody around us knew that too. However, my wife didn't know anything of the sort! I spent more time that night explaining that "That's just Penny," that it became a bit trite. Sure she was jealous. She had every right to be. I would have been jealous if the situation had been reversed. Thankfully last night a hug was all I got from Penny, saving me from another evening of hollow-sounding explanations.

Jealousy is nasty business, right? We should never be jealous... right? Well then, what do we do with the various descriptions of God as a "jealous God"? In the Second Commandment, God comes right out and tells us, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God..." Then when God has to write them out again on a second set of tablets fourteen chapters later, He really drives the point home: "Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God."

It's pretty much hard to deny that God is a jealous God. And we know that God and sin are not compatible in any way. So how do we reconcile these two ideas?

J. I. Packer argues in Knowing God that any description of God's characteristics are anthropomorphic; or in other words, descriptions of God are "dumbed down" to enable human understanding. A description of God's love or His forgiveness has to be put in human terms so that we have a chance to grasp it. The same thing is true of God's jealousy. Where we see jealousy as having a sinful, selfish and often immature root, we must remember that God doesn't have any of that sinfulness or selfishness or immaturity which color our own feelings. So God's jealous nature is not some green-eyed monster lurking within, but a zealousness to preserve the relationship between Himself and His people -- namely us.

I attended one high school reunion where a group of ladies were chatting about one of their former classmates. It was a catty chat, with three ladies try to drag down the reputation of their beautiful, former cheerleader classmate. They ripped her up one side and down the other -- from the perfect blonde hair to her hip-shaking walk. The sad part was that these girls were displaying their jealousy, but it wasn't the same kind of jealousy that God admits to. This was a jealousy designed to tear something apart.

But God's jealousy is designed to build up that relationship between Creator and His created. His jealousy is more clearly understood as zealousness. It's the same zeal we see in Christ as He walked through the temple kicking tables and taking names. Jesus cleansed the temple from the corrupt dealings of the moneychangers et. al. and it was because He stood for the honor of His relationship with His heavenly Father. It was a zealousness to strengthen, not a jealousy to destroy. My wife's jealousy fifteen years ago was a justified jealousy. It was rooted in the desire to preserve that relationship to which we had each committed ourselves. That jealousy was concerned with preserving a marriage, not in tearing down an individual.

God's jealousy is for His people. As Christians, we are His people. He wants us to live for Him, not to get sidetracked on self or to chase after any old "idol" that comes down the pike. He is jealous for us. So why is it that we aren't so jealous for Him? Where is our zeal? Where is our passion for that relationship with our Creator?

"Lord, I want to be jealous for You and for my relationship with You. But, like Israel, I am a stiff necked person. Grant me Your strength to be jealous. Just like You."

Friday, August 05, 2005

Carnival is up and so am I

This week's edition of the Christian Carnival is posted at Dunmoose the Ageless. I have no entry this week due to a number of extenuating circumstances, including a 72 hour bout with my DSL. Now I can sort through all those half-written posts to see which one I will get finished.

By the way, thanks to those who were concerned that my absence might mean that I did something stupid with my lawnmower again. I didn't. Yet.