Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I Wonder

Over at Cerulean Sanctum, Dan was writing about life out in the country as a takeoff on my earlier post. It's a great read -- bonus points to anyone who quotes Three Dog Night, Rush and Psalm 8 in the same post! But Dan's post went in a little different direction, speaking of losing too many of rural spots in favor of the ever-expanding suburbs. But he really touched a nerve when he wrote:
We've lost our sense of wonder in the Church. We've packed the Lord and His glorious Creation away in one of Bloomingdale's Little Brown Bags and let our imaginations be filled with the perishing for no other reason than because we can. Isn't it easier that way?
Have we, the Church, truly lost our sense of wonder? Sadly, I think we probably have. At least that's the evidence I have seen far too many times. After all, we cannot sense the wonder of Almighty God if our interest is fixed upon the earthly.

Take for example, the case of this United Methodist church in Georgia. Infighting forced the conference (denominational region) to shut the place down. In the United Methodist system, the physical assets including the building officially belong to the denomination. Thus when the church was closed, the property did not belong to those members. This greatly upset the local folks who believed the building to be theirs. They even tried to have a "worship service" in the yard, but were escorted off the property by law enforcement. Now why didn't these few people meet in a home or another building? They were too worried about the earthly while ignoring the heavenly. In fact, if they were a little more aware of the heavenly perhaps they wouldn't have forced the conference to shut the doors.

But it's not just the extreme congregations. We take far too much pride in our stuff, especially our facilities. Taking care of what we have is one thing, but succumbing to a culture of materialism is quite another. If we are more concerned with the financial or physical state of our church than the spiritual state, we have no chance of seeing the wonder of God.

Beyond that, we have a set idea of what will please God. Usually that idea is based upon another church which is big and crowded on Sundays. We have a little bit of the "Keep up with the Joneses" disease in the church too. John Wilks does a great dissection of the disease from a youth ministry standpoint here. We get jealous, wanting what other churches have, just like everybody else does. If they can do it, we can too -- if we do it just like they do it. But it's not having similar programs or similar facilities which should require our focus, but the one Spirit we've been baptised into. A successful church is too often defined by it's ourward appearances, not it's inward desire. It's no wonder we have lost our sense of wonder.

Even in our worship services, we often find ourselves going through the motions. Our hearts are far from God when our focus is trying to figure out the harmonies of the songs or checking the clock to see how much longer until the service is over. Frankly, most of the time we go to a worship service with the primary thought of "What can I get out of this hour?" We're self-focused. We choose a church based on what we can get instead of what we can give. How are we supposed to keep a sense of wonder with this attitude?

Then there is our personal relationship with our Creator. How many churches downplay the Word of God by not reading it, quoting it or even encouraging people to read it? How many provide any accountability to keep people in the spiritual disciplines? I've remarked before how disheartening it is to tell a Bible study to turn to 1 Samuel only to watch people who have grown up in the church and taught Sunday School struggle for a minute or two before looking in the index to find the book! The Bible isn't a priority in the lives of most church members. And if the Bible isn't a priority, you can be sure that prayer is neglected as well. We don't even seek out or look for the miraculous anymore; we resign ourselves to helping each other cope with the disappointments without anything more than a token prayer.

Yes, I fear that the Church as a whole has lost its sense of wonder. We have stored up our treasures on earth instead of in heaven. We are so consumed with the temporary that the eternal is forgotten. God no longer inspires awe because we don't persue Him or consider Him without losing our place worrying about the new carpet or the new program or what's for lunch after the service.

But what can we do about this? I don't have the answers. However we need to have our minds renewed -- transformed from following the leader to truly seeking what God wants from us. And it's time we started believing in miracles because a miracle is what it's going to take.

Some may say I'm just being pessimistic or overly sensitive and maybe I am. But I see God as an afterthought in too many church decisions and actions. I wonder if we can see Him past the buildings, the songs and the youth car wash. And I wonder if we're aware of the fact that God is so much more than we can imagine.

Quit Putting It Off!

The Christian Carnival will be here tomorrow, and I'd love to have some entries from those of you who stop by here periodically. There is much great writing that never shows up come carnival time, so let's remedy that today, alright? All you have to do is pick a post from your blog from the past week that you'd like to share.

Then send an email to the Christian Carnival's submission gmail address* with the following details:
* The name of your blog and a link to your main site.
* The title of your post and the URL of the post.
* Include a short (one or two sentence) description of the post. Your description may be edited by the host, but is often used just as it is.

It only takes a couple of minutes. You might as well share your thoughts with as many people as possible, right?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Passing Out Awards

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While skipping around the satellite dish last night, I stumbled across yet ANOTHER award show. This is at least the third I have found this month, and we haven't even had the major award shows yet! These were presented by the Screen Actors Guild, or S. A. G. But unlike the Grammys or the Emmys, these awards were not called the Saggys -- that would have been much too fun! They were the "Actor Awards" and each presenter would give the nominees and say, "And the Actor goes to..." before reading the winner's name. Aside from that it looked like the same old celebrity love fest. At least with the musical award shows, we get a little entertainment between acceptance speeches and botched cue card readings.

So why does Hollywood, etc. have so many award shows? I'm assuming there are more which don't make the satellite dish anywhere (although that seems impossible). But what is the point? I have always heard that the awards are a chance to honor the person or persons who gave the best performances of the year. If there was just one set of awards, then I could buy that theory. But the Golden Globes, the Academy, the Screen Actors Guild and other organizations each want to be the ones to bestow that honor. Can't they all get together and make one big award?

Having more than one award show does offer the chance for more than one person to use their acceptance speech which has been neatly folded up and kept in a shirt sleeve or a secret dress lining pocket. But doesn't that defeat the purpose of honoring the best performance? Personally I think it's an opportunity to dress up and have photographers take pictures of them for the celebrity magazines. Not to mention the after-show parties. Or the gift bags with freebies worth thousands of dollars. But there is something to the idea of honoring great work. The losers are always saying that "It's an honor just to be nominated" -- sometimes through clenched teeth -- and I believe that's true also. The real honors aren't in limiting the recognition to just one recipient. After all, there was more than one great performance, right?

I know a man who made it a habit to write little notes to people. He called them "Attaboy" or "Attagirl" notes. They were notes of encouragement for a job well done or Christlike actions. The simplicity of the idea was, and still is, striking. If Hollywood can throw lavish banquets to honor those who perform their craft well, why shouldn't we be offering our own version of encouragement to those needing "an award" of sorts? The award shows are usually just that -- shows. This has got to be from the heart.

The nice thing about the blogosphere is that most every post comes with a built-in place called "comments" for us to deposit our little "Attaboy" notes. It's easy to encourage a blogger because the template of the web page almost begs for it. Perhaps that's why blogging has such a draw for some people. After all, everyone needs a little encouragement.

But what about the people you know in "real life"? Do we encourage them? In Acts 4 we read about a guy named Joseph from Cyprus whom the disciples started calling Barnabas. Why? Because Barnabas means "Son of Encouragement." What a legacy to be so known as an encourager that your name reflects it! Maybe that's what we need to strive for. I know many people who struggle with their Christian walk, with their finances, with their love life, with their job... I'm betting you know a few too. How about forgetting the fancy outfit, the envelopes and the statuettes and going out to be a Barnabas this week? That's my goal for the week. Who's with me?

Saturday, January 28, 2006


I promised I'd get rid of the green a while back. Now it's finally happened. What a relief! Hope you like the new surroundings. I'm not quite satisfied with it yet, but I'm progressing. I'm still working on the comments, trying to decide whether or not to bring back the Haloscan or just work with the Blogger comments. I should decide before the weekend is over.

Also I've reworked the links, dividing blogs into brain, soul and walk categories. Don't worry too much if I've moved your link, as I'm not sure exactly which category everyone should fit into. As I've always said my blogroll is for my convenience, so even if it doesn't make sense to you it will (hopefully) make sense to me.

Still a few margin problems, but overall I think I kinda like it here. Whaddya think?

Good Reads - 1/28/06

I had to let everyone know about a few great posts you truly need to read:

Legacy - What will your legacy be? (A tip of the ol' ballcap to CenturiOn at Pyromanics.)

A Brief Parable - Why are we shocked when it bites? Apply it the way you wish.

21 Steps to a 21st Century Church - A five-part series at Cerulean Sanctum about what the Church must do in this century. This link will get you to the five links. Don't miss any. We may be discussing some of them later.

Friday, January 27, 2006

How To Get Here - Late January '06 Edition

Sometimes I really can't understand how search engines find this stuff. But once again, I present a list of actual searches which pointed people toward Attention Span in the past couple of weeks:

casually dressed in shorts and a sweatshirt, he - ...typed the first thing he could think of into Google just to see the results. Little did he know that he would wind up at a place where people come looking for:

Percentage of people waching NBA basketball games in New York State? - Hey! Rain Man stopped by my blog!

why do dogs run faster than people - Well, the two extra legs come to mind. But it's probably so they can catch up with that stinkin' frisbee.

why is it important that we know the meaning of our personal name - It's probably more important that we know the spelling of our personal name.

ed of the spear - Perhaps they'll cast me in the sequel...

how to spell asparagas - sometimes I don't even try to figure out how a string like this will get these people here. I just open my arms and say, "I don't care what you ate or how you spell, welcome!"

Finally you can get here without a search engine from Christian Carnival CVI hosted by Technogypsy, if you don't mind a quick stop in the country on your way. Next week Christian Carnival CVII (that's 107 to us non-Romans) will be held right here, smack dab in the middle of Attention Span. I'd love you to contribute, especially if you've never participated before. Here's all you do... pick a post from your blog from the past week that you'd like to share.

You may contribute any post written during the seven days preceding the Christian Carnival (Wednesday). You may wish to consider that the readership of the Christian Carnival will be more varied than your usual readership, and you might do better contributing a post with broad appeal. Then send an email to the Christian Carnival's submission gmail address* with the following details:
* The name of your blog and a link to your main site.
* The title of your post and the URL of the post.
* Include a short (one or two sentence) description of the post. Your description may be edited by the host, but is often used just as it is.

So, there you have it. I look forward to seeing you again. I'll be cleaning and rearranging things while you're gone.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

To Forgive Really Is Divine

A few years ago I read a book by a woman named Debbie Morris called Forgiving the Dead Man Walking. I didn't know much about her when I picked up the book, but her story was capitivating. Morris was one of the victims of two men, one of which, Robert Lee Willie was the subject of the book and the movie Dead Man Walking. That book was an anti-death penalty piece, but Morris' story was more than just another angle on the crimes of Mr. Willie. It was Debbie Morris' recalling the events of not only the horrible atrocities she lived through, but also the emotional process of coming to learn to forgive her attackers. It didn't come easy. It was only through her coming to faith in Christ that she could even consider such a thing. Yet eventually Debbie Morris forgave the two men who had scarred her forever. Even as Sister Helen Prejean protested to have Willie spared execution, Morris was able to forgive him and come away from the mindset of vengeance.
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The whole issue of forgiveness took on a new light for me after reading that book. I saw that it really was possible to forgive -- not forgive and forget, but forgive and truly come to peace with those who have hurt me.

This post at MapleMonkey is inspired by one of Rob Bell's NOOMA videos. (A tip of the ol' ball cap to Monday Morning Insight.) Here's the meat:

[Bell] suggested that until you are able to look at someone who has wronged you and wish them the best in life, you haven't truly reached a state of forgiveness. It's one thing to say "I forgive you". Not that that's an easy step either. That step alone could take years. But to then look at the person (either figuratively or literally) and tell them that you want the best for them and that you hope their journey is 'blessed'--that's a whole different thing. Our natural inclination is to wish they get what they deserve, and not in a good way. We usually want that person to suffer for what they've done, or at least pay the toll. But that's a call for vengeance. That's a sign that you haven't truly let go of your bitterness or resentment. You haven't really forgiven them.

The blogger is right. There is a "theoretical" forgiving and a "heartfelt" forgiving. We can often say we forgive someone, yet still harbor bitterness. That's theoretical. It looks good on the outside, but the heart isn't changed. Jesus wants us to forgive from the heart as He did and still does. One of the hardest things to do is to forgive as Jesus forgave. You remember Jesus, right? He's the One who, while hanging on the cross, looked down through blurry eyes and streams of sweat and blood at his executioners and prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." How can I ever hope to do something like that?

In my daily life, I'm sure I offend many people. Just being a pastor is an affront to some. But then there's the fact that I'm a flawed human being and I do a fine job offending people via my behavior. I make stupid attempts at humor which aren't always appreciated (just as my wife). I assume the worst about people. Too often I'm too quick to fire back a response instead of taking the attitude of Christ Jesus. I don't like doing these things. I am sorry after I do them. I ask for forgiveness when possible. But I know that some will never forgive me. Some won't ever hear my apology. I know there are several people today whom I have hurt, and it hurts me to know that I've disappointed my Savior in the way I've dealt with other people.

But when the shoe is on the other foot, am I willing to truly forgive? Like Jesus did? Seventy times seven times? I try, but I fall short sometimes. But there's another factor to figure into all this -- I cannot do it on my own. Just as Debbie Morris found out, it is Christ in us that enables us to do anything good at all... especially forgive those who have wronged us.

Alexander Pope was right when he said, "To err is human, to forgive divine." We know all about the erring part. But forgiveness! How are we to forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart? By allowing Him to work in our lives. We can forgive only because we have been truly forgiven. And when we refuse to forgive, we demean the very forgiveness we have been granted by our Heavenly Father.

"Lord, forgive me for offending others, and I pray for their forgiveness even if I never know about it. But more than anything, show me how to forgive as you have forgiven me."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Distorted Sense of Reality

Posted by Picasa I don't get much choice in the matter. My family is hooked on the show. After getting enthralled by the competition and the "talent" on display last season, my wife and kids simply must watch American Idol. If you haven't seen the show, certainly you've heard about it. The Great American Talent Search -- if your idea of talent is singing ballads and cheesy dance numbers. Sure some of these young folks can belt out a tune, but in the end it really doesn't matter who wins because the top group of contestants all get a chance to make a record anyway.

My wife will watch the whole season enthusiastically. My boys start to lose interest once the more talented contestants are all that's left. And I know many more people just like them. What my precious sons love to watch are the people who are... well, not that good. They stand up before the three judges and they simply make fools of themselves. And people love to watch that. It's not because the performances are heartfelt or emotionally moving. It's that they are bad, and it's always comforting to know that other people can look even more stupid than you did when you drove off with two sacks of groceries on the roof of your Subaru.

What makes the early stages of American Idol so enticing is that the people who come in to audition are all thinking the same thing: "I'm so good. I'm going to be the next American Idol!" Each of these poor people have either deluded themselves or have been talking into believing that they can sing better than anyone else waiting in line to audition.
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It can be downright painful to watch. Sure sometimes it's gratifying to see some obnoxious, egotistic singer get put in her place by an obnoxious, egotistic judge, but for the most part these people are terribly hurt when they are told bluntly that they couldn't carry a tune in a five-gallon bucket. One contestant was told that if she's going to sing in the shower she should get a soundproof shower curtain to save others the misery of hearing her. But all insults aside, Idol brings a parade of self-deluded people into a television studio and lets America watch them get hit by a firehose full of reality.

I wonder how many of these contestants continue the delusion after being denied a spot on the show. I'm sure there are many. We don't part with our pre-conceived ideas easily. If we are told repeatedly that we sing wonderfully, we typically adopt that idea and place it in our treasure chest full of truth. Nothing leaves that treaure chest unless we want it to go. Not even a videotape of a screeching-voiced audition and insults from three judges will pull it out of some truth chests.

All accepted truth is like that. If we consider something to be true, we'll be hard-pressed to discard it -- even if there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. At The Gad(d)about, Matt wrote about an opportunity to witness to a Mormon friend about Biblical inerrancy, but found that his friend wasn't paying a bit of attention to all the evidence which refuted what he'd been taught in LDS Sunday School. He would gladly proclaim the "truth" but wouldn't entertain the notion that his "truth" was the equivalent of an off-key, forgotten lyric American Idol audition. He wouldn't give up his distorted sense of reality.

I could rattle off example after example of people not accepting the evidence for Jesus Christ and show how their ideas of truth are clung to like a struggling climber gripping the lone strong reachable limb for support. And we'd all nod, say "Amen," and shake our heads sadly at the stubborn, lost people with such a distorted sense of reality. But instead, let's point the flashlight in the opposite direction, shall we?

Are we afraid to have our version of the truth challenged? I'm not really talking about original sin or the Trinity or the deity of Christ here... what about the way we determine truth? I knew a man who was convinced that God will not hear your prayer unless you end your prayer, "In Jesus' name, Amen." Say it, and God will answer. Skip it or forget it, and you've wasted your time praying. When I challenged his way of thinking, he didn't jump up and down and scream, "HERETIC!" at me. He nodded, listened to my words and arguments, and thanked me for telling him. Of course I didn't change his opinion at all. I could have spent 40 days and 40 nights explaining that those words aren't some kind of password to get God's attention, and he still would not have listened. He wasn't going to pull that "truth" out of his treasure chest. He had been taught this and had cherished it for years. He was quite happy with his distorted sense of reality.

It's a pretty common reaction, really. Too many times we've put the wrong bricks in our foundation of truth and we're scared to death to pull it out or else the whole thing could fall. Or we don't want to examine our precious truths because if one of them is wrong, couldn't they all be wrong? Yet each Christian and each collection of Christians has his or her own false truths which are treasured too much to be parted with. From "We've always done it this way," to "But I was always taught..." our reality could stand a little pruning.

I'm always happy when I hear of churches not being tied to traditions while still worshiping and serving God. Collecting an offering without passing a plate or basket, giving away smoke detector batteries or bottles of water without a tract or sermon, holding services without turning to Willow Creek, Saddleback or old traditional methods -- it shows a willingness to look at those things which so many Christians hold to as truth. When a person or a church is willing to do this, it is surprising just how little of "what we've always done" is truth rather than tradition. And more important still is the teaching of Jesus telling us not to put tradition ahead of doing what is right. Or more simply put, we can't let our comfort level determine how God wants us to worship Him, serve Him and love Him.

Still too many of us are like the tone deaf singer, shrieking the Theme from Fame, then laughing off the evaluations of the judges who told us that Aunt Martha was wrong -- we really can't sing well. We're afraid to give up our distorted sense of reality.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Nag, Nag, Nag

Answer honestly: Have you read your Bible today? If your answer is "no" please hit the X in the upper right hand corner and go read it. The Holy Spirit inspired a whole lot better stuff than is rolling around in my mind tonight.

Struggling With Confidence

I knew that reading through the Bible in a year would bring many more Scriptural issues to mind as I was writing here at Attention Span. In the log of my journey, I was interacting with Psalm 20 and 21. These two psalms were written as companion pieces; one to send the king off to battle and the other to welcome him home with thanksgiving to God for a victory. But what struck me was the confidence of the psalmist (David) as he writes. Each psalm was written so that much of it was sung by the assembled crowds, there to see the army off or to welcome it home. And the words exude confidence that God will grant the victory, then again that God will similarly grant future victories. There seems to be no shade of a doubt with the psalmist here, although admittedly there are passages from the psalter which show a struggle with doubt.

But I'm a little like Job in that I look around and I see the wicked prospering and the good floundering. I do not see the righteous always coming out on top in this world. Didn't David even entertain the notion that it might not have been God's Will for him to whip up on that day's enemy? I've always admired the retort of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, standing at the edge of the fiery furnace when they essentially told their executioner "God can save us, but even if He doesn't that doesn't make your actions right." That I can live with. An admission that God's plan may be for something much better than what this world has to offer. No less faith. Just less certainty of where the victory will take place.

But David marched off to war, positive he would return victorious. He had to be positive. After all he composed the words for the psalm which would welcome him back, right?! King David wrote that his enemies trusted in horses and chariots, but that he trusted in the name of the Lord. But I have to face the fact that I don't have that same confidence that everything will work out fine. I've been burned before.

Most everyone these days knows (or knew) someone in a battle with cancer. In my congregation, over half the people we pray for as a church on a regular basis are fighting cancer. But I know that God will choose to take most of those people in the next couple of years. Sure, there are occasional miracles. But by and large I know that God's victory will be in what happens to the people around the cancer victim and the final victory won by the victim at death. This isn't the same confidence which pours from David's words.

There are people who claim that any of these people will be cured if they have the faith. I say that's nonsense and disproven over and over by Scripture and by real life experience. God's cure is not always an earthly cure. Because I know that, I cannot stand before a 50 year old cancer victim and tell her that God will heal her completely and that she'll never have to worry about cancer again. That would be foolhardy and irresponsible on my part. As Christians we get sick, we have accidents, our spouses leave us, our kids die, our bodies get decrepit, our businesses fail, we get fired, we are robbed, and we suffer the heartbreak of psoriasis and the onset of halitosis. To deny this is turning a blind eye to what God does for us in the meantime.

I struggle with confidence about a cancer patient ever being cancer-free. I struggle with confidence about a spouse coming back home again or an accident victim making it through surgery or a child turning from pills and booze. But I do not struggle with the fact that God uses these experiences for the good of the families, the friends and even the people who simply read the story in the newspaper or hear about it on television.

Perhaps David had more information than he lets on in the psalter. Maybe he had special knowledge that a victory was God's plan for him and for Israel. But my confidence is no less in the Lord than David's was when he wrote the song which would welcome himself and his victorious troops home. Some trust in chariots and horses. Some trust in doctors and lawyers. Some trust in the power of the mind and the strength of the body. Some even turst in faith itself. But my trust is in the Lord my God. For I know that without Him, there is no reason for confidence.

Monday, January 23, 2006

More "Spearing"

I have read countless essays throughout the blogosphere about the controversy regarding the soon-to-be-released motion picture, End of the Spear, which is the story of five missionaries who gave their lives fifty years ago, and of their brave families who forgave the killers and led the people to Jesus Christ. I figure you can find the essays critical of the whole project on your own. I've already expressed my own thoughts. But here are two, which I consider important.

First is a piece written by Albert Mohler for crosswalk. It is a very even-handed piece which deserves a read to get all sides of the controversy.

Second is a review of the film by Ben Witherington, who takes the movie as I plan to -- ignoring the off-screen problems of the actors, and concentrating on the incredible story which is told.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

God Speaks in the Country

I live in the country, and I like it that way. I grew up a country boy, and God willing, I'll live in the sticks all my life. There's just something about being out of town.

I've never really lived in a large city. The biggest city I've ever resided in had a population of around 100,000 people. Mostly that's just circumstance, but at the same time I've never really had a yearning to live in a big city. When I worked in radio, the career goal was to make it to a big-city station -- that's where fame and fortune could be found. Yet I never found it that appealing.

I grew up outside of a small town in Indiana. When I say small, I mean small. The population is 1000 during a good year. It's closer to 800 these days. Only a fraction of the businesses which used to be there are still around. Conveniences like a grocery store are down the road eight miles. There's just enough to get by, and a short drive down the highway will get you more, if you need it. Our house wasn't on a farm, but it was right near a dairy farm. We went there for FRESH milk to make homemade ice cream and the like. Bordering our house was a pasture where my grandparents raised sheep -- just a few head. The fields behind the house were either planted with corn or soybeans most years. And on a clear night, if you turned away from the security light, you could see more stars than you could ever hope to count.

I lived in a few large towns after I left home. Little apartments, part of a house, even a trailer once. After my wife and I moved back home to the Midwest, we bought a small home, again in town. But when I took the pastorate of my church, we bought a house out in the country after eighteen years of living on a city lot. One night we were preparing everything so we could move in that weekend. We had spent the evening cleaning and painting. We even had a small picnic dinner, sitting cross-legged under the hanging light in what was soon to become our dining room. Finally we got everything packed up to go. The family loaded themselves into the van while I locked everything up. After the last key had been turned, I swung around to walk to the vehicle. That's when it hit me. Like a ton of bricks. Or more accurately, a ton of stars. The night was cloudless and it seemed that every star had been plugged in just for me.

I stopped, unable to move. The words formed in my mind instinctively... "Hello, God!" It was like being smacked in the face by the first verse of How Great Thou Art. "I see the stars. I hear the rolling thunder. Thy power throughout the universe displayed." I could feel the tears welling up in the corners of my eyes. God was here. And for some reason, He especially wanted me to know it at that point. And I knew it.

I don't get those feelings often enough. But I recognize them when I see them. And last night I saw them again in the words of David's Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming froth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.
Here's an invitation to all you city slickers to come out and take a look at the heavens which declare the glory of God. He speaks out here.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What Would It Look Like...

... if a large middle-upper class church in the United States shared with an ultra-poor church in a run down section of Central America? I don't mean just sending the occasional gift, but sharing as in the first few chapters of Acts. Is that even possible? Would anybody in the large American church even consider sharing in that way? Would the Central American church be better off or worse?


Friday, January 20, 2006

Easy Targets

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It was easier back in the day. "Don't drink, swear, smoke or chew or hang around with people who do." That pretty much laid it all out for us, right? Let's shun sinners. But not all sinners, just the smokers, drinkers, chewers and expletive users. It was a simpler system.

We didn't want to be seen with someone smoking a cigarette. After all, people would think that we: a) approved of smoking, b) approved so much we smoked also. Guilt by association. Nothing will damage your reputation quicker than to be seen with a pariah of Christian society.

We weren't to shop at a store which was open on Sunday (with the possible exception of a restaurant where we could eat out after church). We couldn't be seen going into or out of a tavern. Just to be safe we shouldn't even look in the windows to see what went on there. And a store which sells alcohol isn't worthy of our business. Movies? An instrument of the devil. A Christian would never go support this sinful industry. Unless Walt Disney was behind it. Then we could attend, but don't think about going back.

Now perhaps you don't remember those days. Maybe yours were more strict or less strict than this, but if you were brought up in a church or spend part of your life there then you remember the attitude. The rules were well defined. A Christian shouldn't associate with "those types" of people. After all, we didn't want to be dragged into their sinful ways or have someone think that we had.

The targets were easy to see. The neighborhood bar and the liquor store. The theatre with the lighted marquee. The cigarette and cigar smokers. Since they were easy to see and distinguish, they should have been easy for us to avoid. Of course there were exceptions. The Ricardos on television both smoked and were sponsored by a tobacco company, but we still loved Lucy. The local drug store is where we had our prescriptions filled. We simply overlooked the stacks of cigarette packs behind the counter where we paid. Ah, the sweet smell of hypocrisy.

We Christians are awfully good at setting up targets. We move them around from time to time, but they still serve their purpose. They let us know that there are bad people out there and we don't want to be dragged down to their sinful level.

The best way to spot a target is from an elevated position. We simply make sure we stay above the filth and squalor. Don't get our hands dirty. Don't leave a smudge on our shoes. Shoot from the crow's nest. Remember, we're better than that.

Except we're not.

The smokers weren't breaking Biblical law any more than the overeaters, and we sure weren't going to cancel the church potlucks. The drunks were sinning, but then again so were those of us whose head inflated to the point where we thought we were better people than them. Somewhere we forgot about the sin of pride. And in the midst of shunning sinners, we forgot that we too are sinners.

Today in some circles, I see targets drawn around homosexuals. I even see Democrats put in the cross-hairs. And while I appreciate the desire to point out sin and warn people of its consequences, I wonder how many people we're going to dismiss without so much as a token prayer, let alone the kind of love which our Lord and Savior advocated.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Our Discontent

I ran across this quote from an author named Mike Bellah in his book, "Why We Think We Need It All and How To Survive When We Don't Get It."
Baby boomers are not very content. Becasue our expectations are so much higher than our reality, we tend to be discontent, restless and bored.
These two sentences written by a baby boomer nail us to the wall. And this condition only seems to intensify in later generations. We have a weird idea of what we should have. I've blogged before about our distorted view of what we deserve. But it's not just that we think we need it all, it's that we aren't happy until we get it. We lose interest in anything except acquiring that thing we expect to have next.

Edwin Arlington Robinson wrote a poem about a rich man who had it all -- or so everyone thought. Yet the wealthy Richard Cory was miserable enough to kill himself. And he did. Robinson never explains why, but many stories have been told about rich people who were depressed because they wanted more. "Money can't buy happiness," we're told. The presence of money prods us to seek more of it. The newest technology is great until somone else has something newer, faster, smaller and shinier. And over the course of a few years we've gone through upgrade after upgrade like a fat guy going through a box of Twinkies. And it's still not enough.

Contrast that with Paul, who claimed to be content in any circumstance. Or David, who was satisfied with his portion and his cup given by God. How can we be content when we don't have what we think we deserve? Maybe it becomes a matter of remembering what we deserve.

It's funny though, we're discontented when we want something more but we are quite content with the status quo if unwanted change is coming. If your worship service is before Sunday School and you enjoy it that way, chances are you won't be content if worship is moved to after Sunday School. Our contentment tends to focus on our own selfish desires -- our comfort zone. Yet that's not where our contentment is to be based. We are to be content in Christ Jesus.

If Bellah's comment that "our expectations are so much higher than our reality" is true, then we need to refine our expectations and not base our contentment upon meeting them. There is nothing wrong with striving to do better. There is no sin in working toward that goal. The sin is in being discontented because we cannot achieve that goal. Paul did say that he was content in plenty and in want. That happens when we seek first God's Kingdom and His righteousness and let God give us the other things. And with all the commercials and newspaper ads trumpting the latest and best, we need to fix our contentment in what we have -- in what God has blesses us with.

I know that I can struggle with contentment if I get focused on what I think I need. But when I realize the incredible reality I have been given, then and only then can I be content.

"Lord, help me to see all that You have given, and to understand that you want what is best for me, not what will cause me to lose my contentment in You."

How To Get Here - Mid January Edition

More, more, more... These are actual searches which directed people to Attention Span this month:

a. j. jacobs missed jeopardy question - Sounds like someone is getting desperate trying to dig up dirt on ol' A. J.

"getting a perm" barber - Oh, yeah. How does somebody find a bald blogger with a search like this, HUH?

husband affection - Just pointing out to my wife that if people want to know about affectionate husbands, they are directed to her husband!

stripes staring Bill Murray the movie army theme song with the trumpet - You search that many words, you're bound to come up with every blog in the 'sphere, right?

boys hair perm punishment - Sticks and stones may break my bones, but perms will make the guys laugh at me and shove my head in the toilet.

church reception facilities in chicagoland - Apparently Attention Span resembles the yellow pages.

why do kids break things - They don't. The dog did it. Really.

short history famous five - How famous can you be and still have a short history?

what is flip wilson doing? - Well, since 1998, breathing isn't on Flip's to-do list...

Finally you can get here without a search engine from Christian Carnival CV hosted by Dunmoose the Ageless.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Worth the Fight?

Another admission: I've never read Elisabeth Elliot's, Through Gates of Splendor. It was one of those books I just never got around to. Sure, I know the story. Or at least the major points. And I was excited over the weekend when I sawa theatrical promo for a movie called, "End of the Spear," which looked suspiciously like that story. On Saturday, I found a mention of the movie at a blog and decided I'd best check up on this.

Eventually, my blogosphere travels took me to sharper iron where there was a post about a problem with the film. It seems that one of the starring roles is being played by a homosexual. And not just any old homosexual -- a"homosexual activist", whatever that means. Me, being a few years behind on my pop culture, hadn't a clue who this man was. I still don't, aside from the homosexual activist tag. And to make a long story short, there is a huge outcry about this actor playing one of the martyred missionaries. (I might add that there is some kind of concern about a watered-down Gospel message in the movie as well, but I haven't found any documentation on that yet. Since I haven't seen those specifics, I won't address that whole argument.) But I wonder if it's really that big of a deal concerning the private life and private sins of the actors in a "Christian" movie. I considered the dilemma and thought it really shouldn't matter.

Then yesterday, I had a chance to do some thinking on the issue. I realized that I had faced this issue previously -- twice, in fact. In college, a Christian buddy and I went to a neighboring school to watch a presentation of Godspell, the musical based on the Gospel according to Matthew. I did not know any of the actors, but I knew the girlfriend of the man portraying the Jesus character. I waited until after the show to ask my friend a question based on my inside information.

"So what did you think of the guy playing Jesus?"

"He was OK, I guess."

"Would your opinion change if I told you that the actor isn't a Christian?"

"He isn't?! Well, that just ruined it for me!"

The lead actor was a young man who knew all the Christian terms but didn't believe. He had been "acting" as a Christian while he was sorting out what to do about religion. Now this made a big difference (at first) for my friend who, when ignorant of this information, had no problem with the actor's performance. Of course I knew the young man's spiritual state going into the theatre, so for me it wasn't a big deal.

During the summer after I graduated high school, I was in a production of Godspell. No, I didn't play Jesus. I played Judas. (Now there's a topic for a whole new post!) Anyway, the 18 year old actor given the part of Jesus was a homosexual. Let me clarify. I don't know if he was at that point, but everyone suspected it. Today he's living with his boyfriend, so we can quibble about the timing, but for all intents and purposes the person playing Jesus in our production was gay. Did that destroy the message for anyone? I really can't say since I was a part of the cast. But I don't think the knowledge of that kid's questionable sexuality affected the show in any way.
So looking at my personal experience, the only shock is the sudden gaining of information which we really don't care to know.

Looking at it from the vantage point of another sin, if I found out that one of my favorite actors had been convicted of beating his wife and smacking his girlfriend, my opinion of him would go down. However it wouldn't get in my way of seeing him play the part of another person. I still watch The Naked Gun movies and laugh at the performances of an alledged murderer. I watched an old Jewish man portray God Almighty. I've even seen liberal Alan Alda playing a Republican! I'm sure I've watched homosexual actors before and survived the experience. I've found that I have no confusion between character and actor. I'm betting that I'm not alone on that count.

So I'm back to square one on this issue. Why should we make a real issue about the lifetstyle of an actor, especially if there is questionable doctrine in the motion picture? As Christians we need to know when and when not to pick a fight. In my opinion, this isn't a good fight.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Of All The Things I've Lost...

Alright, I know I'm getting older. Last month the odometer turned to 44, and perhaps my mind is getting a few miles on it. But I'm not ready to turn over my short-term memory just yet. Still I may not have a choice in the matter. And as the t-shirt says, "Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most!"

After getting home from the church, I decided that I had better fill up the tank in my wife's van since it was below "E". Since my wife needed some snack crackers to take to a Christmas party this evening, I decided to hit Wal-Mart. (Yes, I buy things at Wal-Mart, so I may possibly be the anti-Christ!) Wal-Mart is about ten miles away. To get there I have to drive through my little town. With two football games to watch this afternoon, I got in a hurry, hopped in the truck and headed for the store.

I had driven three miles and was almost through town. I was looking around at the houses and thinking about the song on the radio when I realized I had a slight problem. You'll notice that it was my wife's van which needed gas, but I had absent-mindedly hopped in my truck and headed off. I eventually noticed it too. Since it's not easy to fill the gas tank of a vehicle ten miles away, I slinked back home to switch rides. While at home, I checked to see if I had left my mind in the driveway. No such luck.

We're trying out a new cat this weekend. Sort of a feline test drive. It's a cat who needs a home and we're seeing how he works with the other animals around the house. So far the jury is out. But he's different from our other cat. This new cat is nocturnal and extremely active. We're not used to that around here. He's the type of cat who decides suddenly that he just has to be in the other room... NOW! Whoosh!

Now I'll admit that on occasion, I have also found that I'm not in the room I want to be in. I'll stand there wondering whatever possessed me to walk from the basement to the kitchen in the first place. Then the only way I can remember is to trudge back down to the basement to find whatever it was that I was staring at which made me think I needed to go to the kitchen. I get more exercise that way!

But my mind... the short-term part can play tricks on a person. And thinking about it, I realize just how much I take for granted. I've talked with people who have slowly lost their eyesight. As their vision deteriorated they tried to do a few more things to store up some visual memories. Reading. Staring at grandkids. Watching a favorite movie. Later on those activities would be impossible. The memories were still there, but the chance to do it again was gone. These folks had a chance to treasure the gift of sight for a little while longer. They learned not to take it for granted.

I've watched people with Altzheimer's slowly lose the battle to keep a clear mind. I've seen active people become bedridden by cancer. I've known people who lost a child or a parent. Each one had something precious taken from them. Some have been angry. Others have been understanding. But all have suffered loss. That's horrible. And it's horrible just watching from my vantage point. However, it's a reminder of just how much we have. If we didn't have so much, there wouldn't be so much to lose.

I love the book of Job. It's the struggle of a man who "had it all" only to find himself at the end of the day with almost nothing. And in his anguish, he called upon God to ask why all of this had happened. Job demanded an answer. Of course Job wasn't ready for the answer he got. But Job wasn't left with nothing. He had his mind. He had his vision. He wasn't confined to a sickbed. He even had three sincerely misguided friends. And he had a God who had not forgotten about him.

Isn't it amazing that even in the throes of agony we still have been blessed with so much?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Self-congratulatory Blather

Today is my one-year blogiversary. When I started, I really didn't know what to think about my blog. I didn't even tell my wife about this place for the first two weeks. Hey, it even took two months for me to put a site meter up.

I'm still not sure what to think about Attention Span. I'm not surprised it still exists, but I'm a bit shocked that I have over 300 posts up. I'm amazed that I haven't run out of topics. Sometimes I wonder if I'll run out of sermons to preach, but so far I haven't. At least that's my opinion, you might check with my congregation! But even with a common theme of seeing God in my life, there are so many different avenues I haven't reached yet. God is good.

I called this blog Attention Span after discovering that Short Attention Span had been taken. And I didn't want to wrestle over the title since Kevin does a great job with that title. I kicked around a few other names, but had no real favorites. I couldn't even fully explain what I meant by "attention span" for the first few months. Even now the blog description at the top leaves a lot to be desired. But, being a stubborn guy, I've stuck with the name and everyday I get no less than half a dozen people who google their way here trying to find out information about their child's normal attention span. Like I could tell them that! If I had it to do over again, I'd probably use the title I'm using for my 2006 Bible reading blog, Clearing My Head, as that seems to be what I'm doing when I sit down at the keyboard.

The look of the place hasn't changed much in a year. I started with some sort of simple white template for a month. I moved to the blue look, then went green in October. Let me confide in you... I'm sick of this green. I'm working on a few things, but I'm no master of html. Any hints you can drop me are appreciated. No matter what, Attention Span will have a new look sometime in the next few weeks.

When I began, I had a blogroll of five, if I recall correctly. Steve Dennie's whatever was on there and has remained, as has Tom Datema's Brain Twitch and Mike Dennis' Life of the River. bemuse me began on the list also and is still in the blogroll although he'd be in my daily reads if he'd post more than eight or nine times a year. The other early (and still) favorites were Ron's Northern 'Burbs Blog, Kristen of Walking Circumspectly, Tracey from Worship Naked, Jeff the Baptist, John the Methodist of Locusts and Honey and Shane's Wesley Blog. Then there was Amy Scott, of Amy's Humble Musings, through whom I got to know I'm Not Crunchy's Alice and a few others. The spiderweb of acquaintances from that point is remarkable, as I have met a number of people who not only are great writers, but also are great friends, some new and some old. My blogroll is not indication enough of how much these people inspire me, challenge me and touch me. It seems that with every week, I discover more, and I thank each of you for your friendship.

The most popular (or at least the most read) post over the past year is probably Rick Warren Is Right and Wrong. I was one of the few who wasn't a raving maniac about Warren one way or another, so that post was easy to read. I still see around five or six hits on that page each week. Another popular one has been Fear of Commitment where I compare the stereotypical male fear of committing to one woman to our natural fear of committing to God. There are plenty of others. The Flip Wilson Theology trilogy was a lot of fun. The post on Katrina and God's Judgment was very timely and generated a lot of discussion. Unfortunately the comments got lost in a Blogger issue afterward. Then there was the post about The Handyman's Secret Weapon which I still enjoy. However my favorite post to write is the one with which I will end this first year and begin the next. It's an ode to my ol' hound dog.

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Hounding God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate it when I treat God like a dog.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Good Reads - 1/12/06

While strolling through the blogosphere, I happened upon some posts which should be shared. I'll start with The Ultrasound Generation from Dr. Al Mohler's Blog. The post tells the story of some ten million baby girls aborted in India for the simple reason that ultrasound detected that they were female.

"When we think we have it nailed..." discusses the damage that some of the Christian battles for doctrinal supremecy on debateable issues. A teenager coming to grips with the faith is probably not ready for a full-blown condemnation as believing heresy. Mike at Soul Renovatus tells the story.

Are we really much different than Pat Robertson? Before you scream "YES" at the top of your lungs, read Anthony's piece at Abelard's Ghost, "Okay, okay! Rethinking Pat R..." See if this hits home.

Let the cessationist debate begin! Phil at Pyromaniac presents a reasoned post explaining why most all of us believe that many of the apostolic gifts aren't preserved in their original form. Read "You're Probably a Cessationist, Too" for a true beginning to a doctrinal debate. If these issues don't interest you, then skip it. I tend to skip past the comments at the 'maniac's place most of the time, but I may actually try to take it all in for this discussion.

And don't neglect the good stuff at Christian Carnival CIV arranged in a random order and hosted by Random Responses.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

My Hope Is Built...

I ran across this quote from C. H. Spurgeon. Let me say that I'm not the kind of guy who quotes Spurgeon or Lewis or any of the other noteable, quoteable Christians with any regularity, but this one caught me unprepared:

"It is the most bitter of all afflictions to be led to fear that there is no help for us in God."
Now I could run with this quote in a couple of different directions. First, as a Christian, to be convinced that God will do nothing to comfort me, to rescue me, to strengthen me or to direct me would indeed be a horrible spiritual place to be. In 2 Samuel 16, Shimei curses the fleeing King David, telling him essentially that because David has lived a life of war that even God will not save him. David alludes to this in Psalm 3, when he writes, "Many are saying of me, 'God will not deliver him'." David knew better, but I've talked to people who see no hope in God whatsoever. The horrible nature of their grief and dispair is more than they believe God can handle. Heaven, hell and divine promises mean nothing to a person who is lost in sorrow and fear. The bitterness of that fear does seem to be stronger than any other I can imagine. There are plenty of these people who leave faith healing crusades still in wheelchairs, still nearly blind, still wracked with pain, hopeless because the "healer" didn't call on them from the audience. The fear of being damned with no care from God would be seemingly unbearable.

But the other way I could understand this quote is from a non-Christian, or even an atheistic position. The atheist sees no possibility of hope in God. This life is all there is. Yet it's different for her because in her worldview, nobody has any hope. Saint or sinner, genius or idiot -- we're all doomed to decomposition after we've struggled for every breath we could manage. And I suppose there is some comfort in that for the atheist. Death becomes the Great Equalizer. Sure she'll get nothing more, but neither will anybody else.

And so the idea of a God who saves only those who come to Him on HIS terms becomes an affront to her sensibilites. She can become upset by those who have hope in God because it seems like a rather capricious system. It's like winning the lottery or being struck by lightning. The only "rules to the game" seem to be giving up your common sense or your freedom to win. Since this is unacceptable, atheism seems the more fair system. A hopeless system. And that would certain make me bitter toward the idea of God and toward those who expouse such a view.

So there are those who are bitter because they view the world as a hopeless system, and those who believe themselves on the outside looking in. Whether it's simply dismissing the concept of God or thinking you've personally done something to exclude you from hope, the result is the same. But while that may be bitter, it's not the most tragic. The most tragic situation is not those who are hopeless, but of those who live with a false hope. These people have placed hope in something that will not happen.

My fourteen year-old still has hope that someone will buy him that dream car this week and drop it off at the house. A woman who was caught in the act of adultery has hope that her betrayed husband will eventually forgive her and welcome her back, despite the fact that he has been happily remarried for five years now. A gambler hopes that the one to whom he owes much more than he has will forget about the debt for a while. False hope is worthless. Yet I don't go a day without talking to someone with false hope.

A person with a false hope in the power of his own works is in a dangerous situation. Jehovah's Witnesses and Latter-Day Saints think that God will save them based upon what they do on earth, yet the Bible tells us that works do not save. These people have doomed themselves based upon a false hope. Followers of all other religious faiths have done the same thing by trusting their leaders who tell them that one must be good to attain heaven, nirvana, godhood, perfection or whatever promise that faith makes. Yet if I'm hoping to be good enough for a perfect God, then I'm hopeless. I know what's in my heart.

Finally there are so many people who call themselves "Christian" yet have put their hope in their own efforts. Being better than some selected other people is the only standard they choose to accept, and they convince themselves that this is how it all works. My heart aches for those whose hope is terribly misplaced.

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Wanna Buy My Son A Car?

My oldest son is 14, so it's only natural that he's thinking about the day when he'll have his own wheels. He's scoped out a few, but it's going to be a while before he needs to be thinking about driving, let alone owning and paying insurance. But every once in a while a car comes along that a guy just has to have. Today, my son found that car.

Here it is:

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Here's another view:

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If you're wondering, it's a 1999 Dallara IndyCar listed at eBay. It's street legal, with headlights, taillights, turn signals and the whole nine yards. It has a different engine than it did originally -- that's okay since this car was turning laps with an average speed of over 220 miles per hour, and I really don't think the boy needs to get to school that fast!

This car has a sentimental attachment for him. As an eight year-old, he wrote an email to his favorite driver, Eddie Cheever, the 1998 Indy 500 winner. In return, Cheever emailed back, telling him to stop by the garage on a certain day and he'd let the boy sit in his race car. So, on a hot May afternoon, Cheever took our family back into his garage and let both of the boys sit in his backup car. He took some time with each of them, showing them the controls, the pedals, the mirrors and letting them experience the inside of a car that would top out around 250 miles per hour in straight line speed. Well, the boy hasn't been the same since.

In Cheever's garage that day was his primary race car and three other cars so we can't be sure, but there's a good chance that this modified street legal car was the Eddie Cheever backup car in which an eight year-old and a six year-old boy had the experience of their lives.

So, if you have an extra 25,000 dollars lying around with nothing to buy, think of my poor race fan son who would love to driving to school in the car of his dreams, and bid. We'll handle picking it up. And could you toss in an extra few thousand dollars for insurance?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Separating God and Country

I posted a couple of days ago about the way the minds of so many American Christians link patriotism and Christianity as almost one and the same. This was an extension of my July 4th post about the American flag's presence on church property. Anyway, in the comments section, Bob of gratitude and hoopla pointed out,
I hear all the time from people who have mistakenly equated Christianity with Americanism. It sounds foolish to our ears, perhaps, but where did they get that idea? Did we give it to them? I think the answer is yes, unfortunately. We have to work at correcting this misunderstanding, for we bear that responsibility. I thank God for my country, but it does seem that we American evangelicals are far too "at home in this world".
Now I can argue that personally, I didn't give these people that idea, but I realize that Bob was using "we" to refer to Christians in general, especially teachers and preachers. But the responsibility to correcting this misunderstanding falls on me and upon all who are reading this. So how do we do it? How do we get people to see that Christian does not equal American? Here are a few ideas:

(1) Get the American flag off of church property. We don't have to fly flags, right? And flying the American (or Canadian or whichever) flag forces us to put Christianity and patriotism on the same level, or if both flags are on one pole it's the Christian flag which is pushed to the bottom. You can't tell me that the symbolism isn't noticed at one level or another by the general population. I went off on that topic here.

(2) Preach about Christian sacrifice. What should we be willing to give up for Christ? Think about this: Almost every church in America has people sitting in the pews who would gladly lay down their lives for their country, but who wouldn't in a million years give up their lives for God. You know it's true.

(3) Along with that idea, preach about the advantages of being a Christian. Those who would die for their country realize that they want the advantages of being an American to be available to others. They will give their lives so that others can continue to enjoy those benefits. But do most people understand the advantages of being a Christian? Aside from being "fire insurance", what about the value here on earth -- peace which passes all understanding, hope, strength, faith, etc. Does the average person in the good ol' U. S. A. know about these things? I'd bet not. Perhaps the idea of Christian sacrifice wouldn't seem so foreign if we realized the benefits we're already using.

(4) Teach priorities. Do not denegrate this country. It's a great country. I'm sure Canada is fantastic too. But this is not our home. Our first priority is to our Creator and Savior.

(5) Don't allow anyone to inject "America" into the Scriptures. I've heard so many people interpret 2 Chronicles 7:14 as applying to the United States, yet in context the promise to "heal the land" is for the nation of Israel. Americans are not the "people who are called by my name". Not that we shouldn't humble ourselves, pray and seek His face, but the promise is not for America.

At least those are my ideas. Feel free to argue any of them or suggest more. But a clear teaching of Scripture is needed to give a clear understanding that we are called to be Christians before we consider our home country. I argued in my last post that we are to be Christians before we are doctors or fathers or any other role we fulfill. Being a Christian first makes us better doctors and better fathers and so on. In the same way, making sure Christ is our first priority will make us better citizens, and it will put God solely on the throne as He deserves.

Friday, January 06, 2006


He sounded so noble saying it. So professional. And sadly to too many ears it sounded right. Me? I just shook my head.

My wife and I were watching er tonight. It was a show where it seemed every little plot line concerned abortion. And at one point a doctor accused her superior of not helping a 15 year old rape victim get an abortion because he was Catholic. He spewed right back at her, "Listen I'm a doctor first. Nothing gets in the way of me helping my patients." I could just hear the cheers of the tens of thousands watching this tired drama in their homes. After all, a doctor has to be a doctor before anything, right?

I have read many things about the U. S. Presidential election of 1960 with Roman Catholic candidate John F. Kennedy scaring many voters with his church affiliation. Rumors circulated that JFK would take his orders from the Vatican instead of listening to the will of the People. I have seen many news reports where potential judges and justices come forward to tell questioners that their religion would not color their view of cases brought before them. And I wonder to myself, "Is this right?"

There is a position open at a local university for a philosophy professor to teach from a non-sectarian position. Now while I can certainly present material which is non-sectarian in nature, can I truly be teaching from a non-sectarian position? Can a public school teacher really hide his or her faith so that nothing taught will be colored by it? I don't think it can be. Or more accurately, I don't think it should be. I'm not calling for teachers to strap crosses on their backs and pass out Chick tracts between classes, but by the same token where is the point where a Christian looks like any other teacher?

I've been thinking and writing a lot here about being a Christian first and an American after. Does the same thing apply to our jobs as well? Should the doctor have shouted, "I'm a doctor first!" or should he have said something about him caring about his patients because he was a Christian?

I've done the little exercise a number of times where you list all your identities. For example, I am a Christian. I am a pastor. I am a father. I am a husband. I am a son. I am a seller of t-shirts. I am a friend. And so on. What I read in the Bible is that we are to be Christians first and that relationship should affect how we behave as fathers and pastors and friends and t-shirt sellers. Separating my faith from the rest of my life is a surgery from which I cannot easily survive spiritually. And no matter how noble it sounds to say, "My family comes first. I'm a father first and foremost," I think that's mistaken. Because being a Christian should make me a better father and husband, etc. The one overriding identity in our lives must be our faith or else we've relegated God to the backburner.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


In the mens dorm at college, there was always a spirit of revenge in the air. Someone was always playing a prank or making a joke at someone else's expense. Just good clean fun, mostly. And the victim couldn't wait to find a way to exact a little vengeance. "Paybacks are hell!" was the cry, yet they never seemed to achieve eternal punishment status. But each new trick needed to be a little bit more nasty or embarrassing or original than the last. Prank was repaid with prank. Joke for joke. It's a good thing we liked each other or it could have been horrible because no one wanted to skip their turn to give a payback.

That seems to happen a lot in this world. Evil is repaid with evil. A Palestinian terrorist blows up a bus in Tel Aviv and the Israeli army blows up something in Palestinian territory. Payback. It's how the world operates. Never mind the whole "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord" thing. We want to exact our own pound of flesh and reap the temporarily sweet victory.

But paybacks also come in another form. We payback with good. We're instructed to repay good for evil, which is really just off the charts when it comes to the world's definition of common sense. But sometimes it's even hard to repay good for good. This morning I walked into a church building. The entrance had two sets of doors -- one to get out of the cold, the next to get into the main building. As I entered, I held the door open for the gentleman behind me and allowed him to go first. He then came to the next set of doors and held one open for me, allowing me to enter in front of him. Payback. We're even. No worries there.

However, the reason I was going into this church was for a funeral. My neighbor, George was being laid to rest today. I talked a little about George earlier this week in the long meme. George was a man who would do whatever he could to help out. I cannot count the number of times George bailed me out of bad sitations. And I'm not alone. I heard more stories today about George sacrificing his own time -- once, even his own Christmas Day -- to help out someone who needed it. If I needed to replace a belt on my lawn mower, he'd walk over, pick it up, fix the belt and while he was at it, sharpen the blades. My driveway (as well as a dozen other driveways around here) were plowed clear of snow almost as soon as the last flake fell to earth. An extra bag of sweet corn always made it's way to our porch when his garden was ready. We were encouraged to go for walks back into his woods, and more than once I saw George driving his loader into my back yard to dump a load of firewood for us, cut right out of that woods. Now tell me, how do you repay someone like that?

We tried. But to me, it seemed that everything we did for George were just hollow gestures. I tried to make sure I went over to visit for no reason, not just when I needed help or a little advice. We would talk about his late wife or his current wife living in a nursing home with Altzheimer's. He'd show me the latest tractor he was working to restore. Last year, I stopped to visit him at the regional hospital once I found out he was there. I visited at the same time as his pastor, and George was happy to have two ministers there praying for him and checking on him. But in the last month and a half of his life, I never made it to the nursing home to see him; not even knowing which home he was in until mid-December. I was planning on going to see him this week, but he died New Year's Eve. No more chance to pay George back for all he did for my family and I.

Besides being at the hospital, there was only one other time when I knew that we had done something which had really touched George's heart. It seemed like such a small gesture. It was summer and George was mowing his lawn. Realize that George fixed mowers as a hobby, so he seemed to always be mowing! But as George's mower buzzed in the background, we were grilling cheeseburgers. In the summer the majority of our meals come from the grill and cheeseburgers are quick and easy. Having plenty of burgers cooked up, my wife took one hot off the flames, put it on a bun and wrapped it in foil. She then gave it to my son and told him to take it over to George on the mower. I watched as the boy flagged down George and gave him the surprise. He took a few bites, then started the mower rolling again, eating the rest as he cut the grass.

A week or so later, I was over at George's place and he stopped in mid-sentence to tell me about that cheeseburger. He said that he doesn't usually eat cheeseburgers, but that cheeseburger was hot and cheesy and tasted about as good as anything he's ever had. It was a perfect meal right at the perfect time. Even the next time I was there, he thanked me again for that cheeseburger. I could tell that this small thoughtful gesture had paid him back in kindness. And all it was was a cheeseburger, delivered at just the right time. It wasn't a complete payback in my mind. Not by a long shot. But I'm glad that our family was able to do something for George.

I cannot payback my Savior for all He has done for me either. Of course He isn't asking for a complete repayment. He knows I can't do it. But what He wants is me. That isn't too much for me to give. I'm just a lousy cheeseburger, hoping to touch the heart of the Master. And I know that's the perfect gift.

How To Get Here - 12 Days of Christmas Edition

They just keep rolling in. These are actual searches which directed people to Attention Span this month:

how to make wife jealous - Some have the jealousy built in, but apparently others need to have jealousy installed later.

what alcohol to drink at a concert - I'm not sure I'm the expert on this one, but I'm guessing cheap beer at the symphony probably isn't a correct answer.

andy griffith toupee - Really? Surprise, surprise, surprise! You think it made him look like a goober? Was it just so he could hang out at Floyd's Barber Shop? Did Floyd know or couldn't he tell through those thick glasses? Did Barney ever shoot it off his head? And what about Helen Crump...

christian obstacle course - jumping stacks of Bibles, running past the dens of sin without entering, offering plate toss, you know how it goes...

rick warren buys saints - I never pictured Mr. Saddleback as an NFL franchise owner, but perhaps I was wrong. If true, I'd say this confirms that the Saints will be moved to Los Angeles. Maybe all the coaches will have to wear Hawaiian shirts.

One other way to get here is by following the link from Christian Carnival CIII, now posted at Miserere Mei. And while you're there, stop by and check out some of the best of the Christian blogosphere this week.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Is American Culture Compatible with Christianity?

Back on the July 4th weekend, I raised a red flag, so to speak, about the linking of Christianity and patriotism. The impetus behind the post was the American flag's presence in church sanctuaries and on church grounds. You can read The Star Spangled Idol if you want the background. But now I'd like to expand that whole idea because it seems that so much of what we celebrate in the United States seems to run contrary to what I read about in Scripture.

Again, I'm not bad-mouthing the good ol' U. S. A. I'm not some sort of commie or anarchist. Hardly. I'm just pointing out that the culture that we live in as Americans (and possibly as Canadians, English or others) promotes ideas which run counter to scriptural teaching. If we blindly accept all things American as "Christian" then we run the risk of losing our faith in the name of patriotism. Think of it as "testing the spirits" or being a Berean.

Let's get at the cornerstone of our republic -- freedom. As a country, we celebrate our freedom. Well actually we celebrate our many freedoms, and those freedoms seem to multiply like rabbits in heat every time we turn around. We must be free to do whatever we want in the spirit of American freedom. Throw off the fetters of bondage. Be free to be you and me. Of course in our human depravity, this quickly turns to freedom from responsibility.

We have the freedom of religion -- we can worship any god in any manner. We have the freedom of speech -- we can say whatever we want and we don't want to be punished for what we say. We have the freedom to peaceably assemble -- we want to hang out with whomever we want. We desire freedom from want, freedom to do as we wish, freedom from authority.

Isn't it interesting that the only real talk about freedom in the Bible is the freedom which we enjoy in Jesus Christ? I guess that's to be expected when a few of the books were written by a guy who was chained to a Roman guard while he wrote! It is, literally, the Truth who sets us free. But it is a freedom with a kind of bondage built right in. We are to be slaves -- slaves to Christ, that is. It is not earthly freedom which really concerns God, it is our spiritual freedom. This distinction is important to understand. That is where the idea of American freedom needs to bow to God's definition of freedom.

I heard a radio talk show host once say that America was built on rugged individualism. He claimed that what made this country great was the idea of the settler being set free to make a better life. After all, it was only because of his hard work and ingenuity that the country became what it is today. The hard-working American drives this country was his assertion. I've heard much of this line of thinking. But this glorification of the individual is also something which is spoken against by none other than Jesus Himself. We are to believe in God and His strength, not our own. I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST, who gives me strength, right? Yet we are quick to grab the credit for ourselves -- not just to impress others, but also to impress ourselves. When we begin thinking that we are all-important, we seat ourselves on God's Throne. America is built on the strength of the individual. Christianity is based on the strength provided through Christ. And while these two don't have to be contradictory, too often the individual is celebrated and the Christ is ignored and forgotten.

Finally, much of the thought in this country upholds a materialistic worldview. America was once described as the Land of Opportunity; where everyone could come and stake his claim. More. Biggest. Best. Newest. Most powerful. Fastest. These are the idols that our society makes sacrifices to on a daily basis. While having the newest or the fastest may not be sinful, the attitude which says that we should strive for these things to succeed is sinful.

I've mentioned a couple of times lately, the influence of materialism in the Church today. Steve's post at whatever noted the differences between an upscale church and an economically lower-class church. Dan from Cerulean Sanctum and I discussed whether this Todd Agnew song glorified poverty or called for the rejection of a materialistic attitude in the Church. Part of the issue is that much of America won't look at a church unless it reflects what the average American is looking for -- a comfortable place which won't force a person to change. Perhaps I'm a little cynical when I say that, but I fear I'm accurate.

Here the church faces a big problem: Do we try to look more like the world to get attention or do we stand out from the crowd and attract people by our love? Do we sell the idea of being a part of a happy society or do we disclose that what Christ calls us to do is to take up our cross daily? Or can we be both? We can be a happy congregation and preach Christian responsibility. Certainly we can have nice things and be Christian. Yes, our sanctuaries can be beautiful, seats cushy, sound clear and lighting perfect, but the problem lies in putting comfort or excellence ahead of our commitment to Christ. America says, "Be comfy. Get the best. Look out for number one." Christ says, "Make the best use of what I give you, but don't get so wrapped up in mammon that you lose Me." Like any sinners, we sometimes forget that part, and American culture reassures us when we do.

We must be Christians first, citizens of our earthly country second. Equating all things American with Christianity is a fatal mistake that the Church cannot afford to make.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Remembering 2005

Bethany the newlywed from A Picturesque Life tagged me for a meme, and loyal Attention Span readers know that I mostly avoid those things. But this is a nice tool for me to look back on my life over the past twelve months, so I'm playing along this time. I'm not tagging anyone, but feel free to borrow the questions if you'd like.

What did you do in 2005 that you’ve never done before? Um... Turn 44? Not a lot of risks taken by yours truly this past year. Not necessarily unwilling to try, just few opportunities and fewer finances.

Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions and will you make more for next year? I don't do New Years' resolutions. I didn't this time, although I am beginning a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year campaign today. I'll also be blogging a journal about it here.

Did anyone close to you give birth? Not this year, but my sister is due in February.

Did anyone close to you die? One close friend, Kenny, whom I had never met face-t0-face. Then my neighbor, George passed away on New Year's Eve. George was the man who really made us feel welcome when we moved here. He plowed the snow out of our yard. He fixed and serviced my lawn mower. And every once in a while, he'd drop by a gift like a grocery sack full of sweet corn or a pickup load of firewood. George's first wife died after a long illness and a year later he married his second wife. Shortly after they were married, she was diagnosed with Altzheimer's. She is in a care facility with no memory at all. Until his cancer became unbearable George visited every day, despite the fact that she didn't recognize him at all. His funeral will be Wednesday.

What countries did you visit? In the movie, The Blues Brothers, the barmaid at Bob's Country Bunker tells Jake and Elwood Blues, "Oh yes, we have both kinds of music -- country AND western!" In that sense I've been to many countries. However they've all been inside the borders of the United States.

What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005? Materially? Maybe a laptop. But I've been waiting for that for a few years anyway, so I can wait a few more. More than anything though, I'd like to have more consistency. Instead of catching a few minutes here and there during the day for Scripture, I'd like to have an established time. I think it would be nice to have a consistent bedtime and "get-up-time" and maybe a weekly schedule. I also know that this is pretty near impossible, but it's something that I'm going to work on in '06.

What date from 2005 will remain etched in your memory and why? I'm guessing my days just aren't memorable enough. Aside from my birthday, anniversary, kids' birthdays and Christmas, I doubt I could remember any specific date. But then again, I'm getting old...

What was your biggest achievement of the year? Perhaps it was keeping this blog up and running for most of the year. Aside from Attention Span, most of my year has been pretty typical, achievement-wise.

What was your biggest failure? Same thing here. Aside from my daily failures, nothing seems to stick out.

Did you suffer illness or injury? Nope.

What was the best thing you bought? Gas. It may have been pricey at times, but it always worked!

Where did most of your money go? To my wife. After that, I don't know. She keeps the books, after all. If I were to venture a guess, I'd think most would go for the mortgage, van payment and paying off other debt.

What did you get really, really, really excited about? I'm not sure I have a great answer for this one. I really got into watching my boys play baseball and football. I love watching my daughter, who is learning more and more every day. But one event doesn't come to mind.

What scripture is a theme of 2005? 2005 and every year:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. - Romans 7:15-19.

Compared to this time last year are you: a. Happier or sadder? Still happy. Not sure I can get any happier.

b. Thinner or fatter? Probably about the same. Should be thinner, but I'm not.

c. Richer or poorer? I'd guess poorer this year than last, but it's not by too much.

What do you wish you’d done more of? Reading and studying Scripture, playing with the kids, kissing my wife (can I say that?)

What do you wish you’d done less of? Wasted time, some of it surfing useless websites.

How did you spend Christmas? Christmas Eve with my family at our house. Candlelight service at church at 8:00, then a trip to see a live nativity scene. Christmas morning at home, then a two-hour drive to my mother-in-law's for my wife's side of the family.

Did you fall in love in 2005? Every single day.

What was your favorite TV show? My new favorite is Criminal Minds (Wednesday night on CBS). Not as graphic as CSI, but still mysterious. I'm drawn to these enigmatic characters in a mystery setting - Agent Gideon, Gil Grissom, et. al. Keeps thing interesting. And it helps that these shows aren't produced in serial fashion, so I can miss one or two and not get behind.

What was the best book you read? The book that made me think the most was Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. I plan on revisiting that book this year.

What was your greatest musical discovery of 2005? Probably my son. He has really blossomed as a guitarist. I even like listening to him practice. Now things are changing, though. He's plugged in. His new guitar is acoustic/electric, so he's been able to try his hand at a little Jimi Hendrix feedback. Not the best way to wake up, let me tell you.

What did you want and get? I'm trying my best not to want. For Christmas 2004 I received Sirius Satellite Radio and spent some time playing with that. I realize that wasn't 2005, but close enough for me!

What did you want and not get? I'd still like to get a laptop, but that's for another day.

What was your favorite film this year? I'm trying to think of a good movie I watched in 2005, but I'm coming up blank.

What did you do on your birthday? Mostly watched it snow. Good size storm that day around these parts.

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Seeing more spiritual growth from myself and my church.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005? Fashion? Me? Ha! How about sweaters in cold weather and t-shirts in warm? Add the occasional suit to preach in and that's pretty much it.

What kept you sane? Sleep, and lots of it.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Oh, please. When most people become famous they lose all appeal to me.

What political issue stirred you the most? I'm mostly apolitical. I don't believe that there are many politicians with altruistic motives and they dominate the conversation and twist the information. I've tried to keep an eye on the situation in Iraq, but the politics get in the way.

Who did you miss? Comin' up blank.

Who was the best new person you met? I'm not sure I met anyone new who is a big part of my life today. Most new people in my life are the on-line kind, like many of you stopping by here at Attention Span. In almost one year of blogging, I've gotten to know some very interesting and stimulating people and I thank each of you for your friendship.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005. I'm learning about the need to be loving instead of simply being right. That's a tough habit to begin.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. I'm glad you asked.

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting
Those kicks were fast as lightning
In fact, it was a little bit frightening
But they fought with expert timing

Oh wait, that's the wrong song. Let's try this one:
Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart

Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You're

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Who Am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again
Who Am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me

I am Yours
Whom shall I fear
Whom shall I fear
'Cause I am Yours
I am Yours

Thanks, Lord for a great 2005. I can't wait to see what you have in store for 2006.